Friday, October 16, 2009

Los Angeles ... my personal travelogue

Going to L.A. is an interesting experience. Having never been there I did not really know what to expect. My knowledge of the city and southern california in general came from television. Specifically, reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies. And as we all know, TV teaches you what it wants you to believe. So what did I learn in my 5 days in "tinsel town?" A lot! But here it is whittled down into it's easiest "must know" form. Throw away the AAA Southern California guide ... and trust me. :)

-What is Los Angeles about? Easy. CARS. 10,000,000 people live in the L.A. basin and I think each one owns 5 cars. And they are all running. That might be an exaggeration but it does not feel like it when it's 10:00PM and you are still sitting in rush hour traffic. The locals call I-405 "the 4 0 5." But they pronounce it "the 4 or 5." That is because you usually do 4 or 5 mph when you drive on it. They are not exaggerating.

-Though the cars are legion the drivers are surprisingly friendly. I could not believe this one but 5 days proved that the inital act of kindness we experienced was more than a one time anomaly. If you need to change lanes and you turn on your blinker .... lo and behold ... someone lets you in! Of course, it's made easier by the fact that everybody is cruising along at 4 or 5 mph. Still, in nice midwestern St. Louis attempting to change lanes in rush hour will get your rammed or shot.

-Smog. The locals call it haze. My response? HAHAHAHAHA! I know smog when I see and smell it. The city is virtually surrounded by mountains but you really wouldn't know it unless you actually went to the edge of the city and ran into one. That's because you can't see them. Why? Because there are 2,500,000 cars all idling on the expressways at once 24 hour a day.

Do you see downtown L.A. in this picture? Of course you do! That's it in the smog. Do you see the mountains behind the city? Of course you don't! But if you could they would look like this ...

Yeah. That's a hang-glider BELOW us. So the mountains are really mountains. Big enough to jump off of.

-It is possible to stand in your 3rd floor bathroom in a 5 story hotel and actually hear the traffic outside through the ceiling fan. No, this was not a Motel 6. This was a Springhill Suites. As in Marriott. Did I mention that there are a whole lot of cars out on the roads 24/7?

-You know that "HOLLYWOOD" sign you have heard about? Well, it really is big and it really is up there above Hollywood Hills. It isn't that easy to find. You can't just stand around LA and see it. You have to look for it. I gave up and googled it to find it's location and the best places to view it. There aren't that many. And if you want to climb to it .... uh uh. The first thing you will see up there is a police helicopter buzzing you telling you to climb down. The second thing you will see is a police car and a nice man with hand-cuffs offering you a stay in "Hotel California." Well, that's what you get if you survive the rattlesnakes. How do I know that there are rattlesnakes? Because I read the signs. This is what they said ...

-If you are not going to L.A. for the beaches ... don't go to L.A. Well, there is the sunshine. And the warmth. If those things count for you, hop a plane. Just remember ... the cars out number the planes and the beaches combined.

-As crowded as the expressways are in L.A. there are a few with virtually no cars on them. These are called "Tollways." Nobody drives on the tollways. Sometimes there aren't even people in the toll booths to collect your money. But if you drive through without paying they will take a picture of your license plate and send you a bill for $55.00 so I don't recommend this practice. How do you pay when there are no toll booth attendants? Easy. They have those machines like at a car wash where you feed your dollar bill in but instead of giving you tokens it lets you drive. God help you if your dollar bill is ripped or wrinkled and there is a car behind you. Please don't ask how I know.

-Would you like to see L.A. at night? Okie dokie. Here it is...

-Always remember that your trusty GPS might know the quickest or the closest route to your destination but it does not not not take into consideration the condition or safety of the roads along your route. This is a really important thing to remember. Again, don't ask how I know.

-The very best food item in all of L.A. is called the "Pazookie" and it is served at a place called "B.J's." A Pazookie alone is worth the price of your airline ticket. And it is almost worth the drive from the airport through the city to the restaurant. Almost. A Pazookie looks like this ...

-Flight time from St. Louis to Orange County is approximately 5 hours. Oddly enough that is not as long as it takes you to drive from the far southern L.A. suburbs (like San Clemente) to the far northern L.A. suburbs (like Simi Valley) and back again. Did I mention that there is a lot of traffic in this city?

Well, that's the skinny on L.A. There is, of course, a lot more to be said but this little blog is getting long and you need your rest. So I'll shut up now.

I'm done.

Why are you still reading.

Seriously. That's all.

Sheesh. You don't give up easily, do you?


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Family Is Officially Nuts

In response to Christopher and Laura's anniversary celebration video another family video was created. My daughter Kelli, her husband Joe, their two children Elle and Paisley, and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law Jim and Alisha felt compelled to respond. The results? Breathtaking moves worthy of a new John Travolta movie. Viewers beware! (Note: click on the video for a better picture.)

And the two ... became one

My youngest son and his bride of one year celebrated their first wedding anniversary this week. In honor of the event they made a little video to show the world just how happy they are. Welcome to Christopher and Laura's Sunday Night Dance Party!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Worship Is All About

Tonight I watched something that brought tears to my eyes. If you know me, that rarely happens. But it is not every day that you see an act of sincere worship. Worship for no reason other than to say, "God, I love you. We love you. And we hope this pleases you."

Debbie and I attended worship at Saddleback Church tonight in Lake Forest, California. I've always been curious about Saddleback. Not curious enough to fly 1,800 miles to check it out, but since we are hoteling about 30 miles from them we decided that this would be a fitting way to end our L.A. vacation.

It's an amazing little facility they have there. Unlike most mega-churches, most of it is outside. It's a weather-friendly area. We made our way into the worship center about 30 minutes before the service began. The place began to slowly fill up. I honestly don't know how full it got. As the worship band began playing and the singing began I found myself half participating and half observing. Honestly, it was an awesome experience. You could feel the energy from the worship leaders. They seemed, even early on, to be into it. Deeply.

Eventually Rick Warren spoke. I had never heard him deliver a sermon before but this one nailed me. I mean, dead in the heart. But never mind.

At the end of the evening we were invited to participate in communion as we left the room. The worship band began playing in earnest. After a few minutes Debbie and I made our way to the rear of the auditorium and found one of the tables where the communion elements were prepared. Each person served themselves and spent as much time as they desired in doing so. Debbie and I finished our private time with God and we turned back toward the stage. The room had emptied out. The worship band played on. They played as though the room were full. I stood amazed as I watched their leader dismiss most of them, one group at a time. Eventually there were about 10 musicians left on the stage. They began playing "Grace Greater Than All Our Sin." Rick Muchow, the worship leader sang quietly. I looked around the center ... the worship center that holds 3,800 people. I turned and counted. There were 30 people left in seats. Thirty. This would be the end. Everybody had gone on and were on their way to homes and restaurants. And then I saw Rick look at the 10 musicians and pat the top of his head. I'm not a musician but I knew what he meant. "Take it from the top." And they did. The soothing strings of the violins. The beauty of the flute. The single acoustic guitar. Each of them looked upward, not focused on any human being. Lost in reverence and awe. And I realized ... there is only one reason for them to still be playing. There are 30 people here. Less than one seat in every one hundred was filled. And yet they played with more heart than they had all evening. You see, they ... the worship leaders ... were worshipping. They were not leading others in worshipping. They were worshipping themselves. The could be no other reason. They played through two more worship songs before wrapping it up. They played every note and every verse to God alone. And you know what? In twenty minutes the worship center would fill again and they would start all over. They didn't seem to mind. Their spirits were connecting with The Eternal.

It was not a job for them tonight. It was not really even a ministry for them tonight. Tonight I saw raw worship. Musicians playing, singers singing, for the simple purpose of making God smile.

That touched me far more deeply than any act of service I have seen in a long, long time. Thank you, Saddleback, for reminding me of what it is all about.