Fifteen historic places of worship throughout Santa Monica will be featured in the Santa Monica Conservancy’s annual architectural tour on October 7, 2017. Sacred Placeswill explore the architectural beauty, history and culture of churches, chapels and a synagogue. Selected for their cultural diversity as well as their historical significance, these sites play an essential role in our City’s history and character.
“If you have been in the vicinity of the sacred – ever brushed against the holy – you retain it more in your bones than in your head; and if you haven’t, no description of the experience will ever be satisfactory.” ~Daniel Taylor, In Search of Sacred Places
The tour includes two churches established 1n 1875, the same year as the land auction which established Santa Monica: First Presbyterian and First United Methodist. By 1886 they were joined by St. Augustine-By-The-Sea Episcopal and a Catholic parish, forming a cluster of church structures in the new downtown on 3rd and 4th Streets, near Arizona Avenue.
Phillips Chapel, our oldest African American Church, was founded in 1906 and soon occupied a former schoolhouse relocated to its present site in Ocean Park, near the homes of many of our earliest African American residents. A later and much larger African American church, Calvary Baptist, is also featured on the tour.
The Hispanic parish of Iglesia el Sermon del Monte, affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, conducts Sunday bilingual services. Originally established in a small storefront mission on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice, the church relocated in 1973 to Ocean Park, where it occupies a former Baptist Church with magnificent stained glass windows. Another predominantly Latino congregation, the St. Anne Church, and Shrine feature a beautiful outdoor shrine first created in the 1950s.
The Unitarian Universalist Community Church was founded in 1927 by a group seeking socially and politically liberal ideas in their place of worship. They selected Santa Monica’s famed architect John Byers to design a warm and intimate space for their gatherings. Santa Monica’s oldest synagogue, Beth Shir Shalom, was formed in 1939 during the Holocaust years.
A less familiar faith is found in downtown Santa Monica, where St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox is a church deeply rooted in the teachings of St. Mark the Apostle, who brought Christianity to the Egyptians in 37 A.D.
The tour is self-driving and great for biking. It is suggested that guests download this map to elect a check-in location and plan their tour, as time may not permit visiting all 15 locations. At check-in, you will receive a wristband and a detailed brochure. All ages welcome.
Tickets may be purchased on the Conservancy website or at the check-in locations on the day of the tour. Tickets are $25 for members and $30 for the public. Members of the site congregations and of the Santa Monica History Museum will also receive a special discounted rate. Tickets purchased at check-in will be $30 for members and $35 for the public.
List of Tour Sites:
First Presbyterian, 1220 2nd St. *
Iglesia el Sermon del Monte, 2nd and Hill Sts.
Church in Ocean Park, 235 Hill St.
St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox, 1245 4th St.
St. Augustine by-the-Sea, 1227 4th St.
St. Monica Catholic Community, 725 California Ave.
St. Paul’s Lutheran, 958 Lincoln Blvd.
First United Methodist, 1008 11th St.
Unitarian Universalist Community, 1260 18th St.
Pilgrim Lutheran, 1730 Wilshire Blvd.
Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave.
Phillips Chapel, 2001 4th St. (open only from 3-5 pm)
Hidden at the dead-end of an alley in Culver City, between a vegetarian restaurant and a temple, lays the The Bhagavad-gita Museum: A Treasure House of Spiritual Knowledge, an artistic masterpiece that brings an ageless spiritual wisdom to the aural and visual reception. Henry Thoreau sees our modern world and its literature as puny and trivial in comparison to the Bhagavad-gita and George Harrison, who visited the museum in the late 70s, compares it to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and finds it more attractive than the Disneyland.
What do the Bhagavad-gita and its museum have to offer? Is another theology and philosophy the answer to our brutally conflicting world of –isms?
SETTING THE SCENE
A blind king is anxiously listening to his minister who clairvoyantly is reporting live from miles away of the greatest trial-of-arms in the history of man. Ninety nine sons of the king, with allies from all over the universe are going to fight till death with their five cousins, headed by Arjuna – the mystical archer. But Arjuna, son of the Wind-god, is despondent seeing his friends and family on both sides ready to lay down their lives. His body is trembling and he can not bear the weight of his mystical bow, which he had seized from Indra, the king of gods.
In his anguish, he turns to his intimate friend, Krishna– the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has assumed the role of Arjuna’s chariot driver.
And thus Krishna begins to explain the first instruction of the Bhagavad-gita; that the perishable body and the eternal soul are not the same: that we are not this body; we are a spiritual spark that illuminates and drives the dead body and it is this spirit soul that differentiates a dead body from a living.
There are quite a few Sanskrit words that are part of English vocabulary nowadays. No one would need a dictionary to understand phrases like “bad karma” or “political pundit”. Dharma is another one of these words interwoven into the English fabric maybe as early as Jack Kerouac’s 1958 novel “Dharma Burns”. But what does dharma exactly mean? Many casually translate dharma as “religion” or sometimes “duty”. But there is no exact translation for this word in English. According to Oxford dictionary, dharma is “the eternal law of the cosmos, inherent in the very nature of things.” In other words, dharma of something is its inherent quality. For example, the dharma of fire is heat; the dharma of water is wetness. The dharma of something is the setting in which that something exists naturally and effortlessly.
One may ask why a word may not have an equivalent among more that one million English words? The answer lies in vastly-different philosophical, social, and cultural setting of Sanskrit and English (or other western languages). For a member of classical Vedic society, a society following the Vedas–books of knowledge, “religion” is observing the socio-economical regulations which are based on one’s nature and qualities. Such regulations are delineated in dharma-shastras (religious “weapons” -books) and are implemented by the government which in turn is supervised by the priests. In this setting, the difference between one’s “religion/duty” and someone else’s “religion/duty” is due to differences in their nature and qualities. It is meaningless to say somebody’s “religion” is better that someone else’s and there is no meaning in “conversion” from one dharma to another.
The dharma-shastras recognize four social roles and four economical classes based on the qualities of an individual. The four social roles include: celibate studentship, married life, retired life, and renunciate life. The four economical classes are priests, managers or warriors, merchants or farmers, and workers. Depending on one’s socio-economical nature, a “religious” person follows his/her dharma or duty and as such he materially benefits in this life and in future. For example, a family man has to provide for his family, be truthful and righteous, maintain internal and external cleanliness, be merciful and charitable towards others, and be in control of his senses and mind. Following dharma, qualifies one gradually to receive spiritual knowledge which ultimately leads to liberation from the cycle of life and death (moksha).
Even in such a liberal setting, the Bhagavad-gita culminates in its final word of its final chapter (BG 18.66), as if stepping into anarchism:
sarva-dharmän parityajya mäm ekaà çaraëaà raja
ahaà tväà sarva-päpebhyo mokñayiñyämi mä çucaù
Abandon all varieties of dharma! Just surrender unto Me! I shall deliver you from all sins. Do not fear!
To make sense of this revolutionary instruction which dismisses all the Vedic principles, we yet need to have a deeper understanding of dharma.
ABANDON ALL VARIETIES OF DHARMA
As already discussed, dharma is the intrinsic quality of something and the conditions by which that something exists naturally and effortlessly. We are born into certain bodies and have been trained and conditioned into certain qualities and as such we have certain socio-economical duties. But ultimately we are not these bodies and spiritually speaking, none of the bodily designations, qualities, and duties applies to us. But what is our spiritual dharma? What is the condition in which the soul is naturally, effortlessly and happily situated? What is the duty of a spirit soul? That would be our real religion —not the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim religion and so on.
“Your essential characteristic is that you want to love somebody, and therefore you want to serve him. That is your essential characteristic. You love your family, you love your society, you love your community, you love your country. And because you love them, you want to serve them. That tendency to engage in loving service is your essential characteristic, your dharma. Whether you are a Christian, a Mohammedan, or a Hindu, this characteristic will remain. Suppose today you are a Christian. Tomorrow you may become a Hindu, but your serving mood, that loving spirit, will stay with you. Therefore, the tendency to love and serve others is your dharma, or your religion. This is the universal form of religion. Now, you have to apply your loving service in such a way that you will be completely satisfied. Because your loving spirit is now misplaced, you are not happy. You are frustrated and confused.
That religion is first class which trains you to love God. And by this religion you will become completely satisfied. If you develop your love of God to the fullest extent, you will become a perfect person. You will feel perfection within yourself. You are hankering after satisfaction, full satisfaction, but that full satisfaction can be obtained only when you love God. Loving God is the natural function of every living entity. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or a Hindu or a Muhammadan. Just try to develop your love of God. Then your religion is very nice. Otherwise it is simply a waste of time (çrama eva hi kevalam [SB 1.2.8]). If after executing rituals in a particular type of religion throughout your whole life you have no love for God and your fellow human beings, then you have simply wasted your time.”
One often hears talk of “Islam and the West” or “Islam and America”. This brings up an image of two mutually exclusive realities. If we change one simple word, we get instead “Islam in the West” or “Islam in America”. That simple change makes all the difference. Instead of posing two warring factions, “Islam” and “America”, we see the reality of their interconnectedness. Islam is, of course, a “Western” religion, sharing deep roots with Judaism and Christianity. Muslims are much closer religiously to Jews and to Christians than we are to “Eastern” religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Muslims are also a strong presence in “the West”. Islam is the second-largest religion in Canada, Britain, and France, and may well be the second-largest religion in the United States. “Islam in the West” recognizes the entwined heritage of Islam and the West. The West as we know it would not be what it is without the contribution of Muslims. Think quickly of our number system, for example, and ask yourself if it is easier to do multiplication and division with Arabic numbers or with Roman numerals. To be sure, the number system came from India, but it was the Arabs who named it. Yet we often don’t see our connections, and people here in America often have a fear or hatred of Muslims.
My new book, Muslims and the Making of America, describes the realities of Muslim life in America, and highlights the contributions made to America by its Muslim population. To take only one example, American Muslims have served in the United States military since the Revolutionary War. There were some 300 Muslim soldiers who served during the American Civil War. That’s not a large number, certainly, but it also gives the lie to the oft-repeated claim that Muslims are newcomers to the United States. At the end of 2015, ABC News reported figures from the US Department of Defence that some 5,896 Muslims were serving in the military. That number may be higher, since some 400,000 service members did not self-identify their faith. So almost 6,000 American Muslims serve in the armed forces, helping to defend the country.
In America, we still think of violence as something unique to Muslims, and don’t seem to realize the violence around us. Charles Kurzman is a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who studies home grown Muslim terrorism. The numbers are, unfortunately, greater than zero, where they should be. But they are much lower than many people think. So for example in 2015, 19 Americans were killed in mass shootings by Muslims in America, 14 by the San Bernardino shooters (I will not glorify murderers by naming them), 5 by the shooter in Chattanooga. That’s less than the number of American Veterans who commit suicide each day (approximately 22), and about the equivalent of the number of Americans shot in any 8 hour period each day. Unfortunately, that changed this year.
On June 12, 2106, less than 2 days after the funeral of Muhammad Ali, an American Muslim killed 49 people and injured over 50 more in the worst mass shooting in the United States. The shooter was known to law enforcement, and had been questioned multiple times about ties to terrorism. His ex-wife told the Washington Post that he “wasn’t a stable person” and that he had beaten her. A former co-worker described him to the Los Angeles Times as “angry at the world”, as well as being “unhinged and unstable”. However, he was still able to legally purchase guns in the week before the shooting.
In a horrific way, the shooter also represented America, taking on our worst characteristics as a society. He was homophobic, and chose to attack an LGBTQ nightclub during Pride Month. Sadly, LGBTQ Americans are the most likely to be violently attacked in a hate crime. There were reports that the shooter had frequented the nightclub, as well as having a presence on gay dating sites. His ex-wife as well as a classmate thought he might have been gay. So his homophobia may have emerged out of his own sexual identity, which he may have had to suppress.
He also attacked the nightclub on Latin night, and the majority of those killed or injured were LGBTQ Latinx. So there was a deeper tragedy, of those marginalized for both their ethnicity and their sexuality being the targets that the shooter chose.
He also, as noted above, used guns that he had purchased legally to commit his murders. America’s gun deaths are a national disgrace and a national shame. In the ensuing debate over the murders, very few people mentioned that he used the guns that he had purchased for their intended purposes. Assault weapons, by definition, are designed to kill large numbers of people. You can use a rifle to hunt with, or a shotgun or handgun to protect yourself. But the only reason to have an assault weapon is to kill large numbers of people. And yet assault weapons are easily obtainable in the United States, even by a person who had been under the scrutiny of the FBI since 2013.
On a 9-1-1 call during the shooting, he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State. He also posted extremist Islamic statements on Facebook. Clearly, his interpretation of Islam is important here, and this part of his background needs to be investigated. But people belonging to other religious traditions have also committed mass shootings, and homophobia is sadly not unique to Islam. Matthew Shepard, to take only one tragic example, was not tortured and killed by Al-Qaeda.
American Muslim groups were quick to condemn the shootings (as they always do), and remind people that their sympathies were with the murdered, not with the shooter. The shootings also caused many Muslims to think about homophobia in their communities, and perhaps to rethink their views on homosexuality. There is so much work ahead that we need to do, both in Muslim and non-Muslim communities, to make the connections between misogyny, homophobia, and other hate crimes.
WOW, Pentecost was a diversity fest. This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.
“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” ~Acts 2:5-13
That’s how I feel at times when I go to City Council meetings. As if everyone is speaking a different language, but hearing the discussion in their native tongue. Their interests are at stake. If land use is in the agenda, for sure I’m perplexed and amazed. Maybe they had some drinks beforehand (I’m not talking about the councilmembers). It has not crossed my mind until now. Some people are drunk with power, that’s why I support term limits for City Council. Is time we bring reform to that area or our government.
Last Sunday was the church birthday. The night before, I walked to St. Anne’s for a quiet moment of silent reflection and noticed red programs stacked in a stand. They read:
Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. ~John 20:22-23
Sin is particularly interesting to me because, like most humans, I’ve sinned. Through confession, I own it in order to move on and change direction. I show up at life imperfectly. In the spirit of keeping it real:
“Perfection is shallow, unreal and fatally uninteresting” ~Anne Lamott
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” ~John 8:7
The concept of sin is heavy for most people that lack a broader concept of the word or its meaning. It was tough for me until I studied other traditions with meanings that allowed me to accept myself the way I am: imperfectly perfect. Lack of love or missing the mark are two of my favorites. Catholic guilt is a terrible thing.
“Our virtues are made by love, and our sins caused by the lack of it.”~Hazrat Inayat Khan
On Sunday, I went to yoga class early. I placed my mat at the back of the room and stretched on my own. My teacher had a substitute. Fifteen minutes into it, I started to cry. “What’s going on? I don’t have time for this, it’s Sunday, I want to have someZen, not a breakdown.” Then I remembered going to an Evangelical church in Malibu years ago. The moment I walked into the classroom where they met and listened to music, I started to cry. The friend who brought me to the service told me, “Don’t worry, that’s the Holy Spirit, is a normal reaction, just let it go” Was this the Holy Spirit at work in the yoga studio? Hmm. Here we go.
By the time I arrived to St. Anne’s my body was feeling ready to receive whatever message was there for me to get. After the service, I approached the deacon and priest to ask if it would be possible to bless my laptop. I’ve been working on some stories for a while now, way before I launched the blog, without knowing their destination. I want to make sure I’m writing them for the right reasons. I would like to feel there is purpose behind their publication. It would be nice to feel I’m transcribing them instead of writing them, to have any sense of ego out of the picture. I’d like to feel I’m doing some service to the community. I’d like them to come from a pure heart because, well….the issues are not particularly pure.
Both Deacon Raul Molino and Father Anthony Mbaegbu prayed, it was quite beautiful, poetry, a holy moment. I cried again, a lot! The deacon looked into my eyes and said:
–“That is the work of the prophet, this is your calling”.
– Oh, no,no,no,no.no! Father, you don’t understand, I’m just writing a blog, there is no prophetic business in that, I’m a sinner, that’s why I come to church, to heal, not to be scared like that sir!
He shared some spiritual wisdom. I was scared and stayed for another service. I sobbed for hours. If the Holy Spirit manifests itself through tears like my friend told me in Malibu years before, I definitely received it. No doubt about it.
Father Jorge Guillen is a theology scholar, he gave a memorable sermon with historical background, current church politics, weaved with spiritual insight and guidance. It was a first for me, it felt like professors you still remember from college because they were real, really good. I was lucky, he prayed for me after the service and with that, there was some confidence and peace to go about the rest of my day. I stopped by their cafeteria to eat some of the Mexican food the Guadalupanas cook every Sunday and learned more about their community.
I normally attend St. Monica’s at 5:30 PM service with Monsignor Torgeson. Both of them are Catholic communities but their demographic composition is distinctively different. St. Anne’s has an element of social justice that is not as evident in St. Monica’s. St. Anne’s is a little piece of East LA in Santa Monica, most of their services are in Spanish and the one in English is given by a Nigerian priest who is here for his PhD at LMU. You see where I’m going? We live in a segregated city. Is alarming to me that the land use we discussed last week at City Council promotes further segregation by having affordable housing off site. It could be easily controlled by the City Council. Wellbeing? Compassion? Diversity? Seriously? We can’t call our city any of that if we plant the seeds of further segregation.
Some years ago Jodi Low, Coordinator of the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market told me that perhaps the Virginia Park Farmer’s Market was more attractive to me than the downtown Saturday market because it was in the Pico neighborhood, where the poor community of Latinos and blacks traditionally shop. And …I’m the politically incorrect? Thank God I know who I am, and recognize the ill-managed social training of some city employees. However, at this day and age is still shocking someone makes a comment like that in a city like Los Angeles is beyong my comprehension. Santa Monica is a special pocket in LA. Since I have to pace myself, I will leave Laura Avery for next post. I would like to draw from the words of Jesus in his crucifixion:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” ~Luke 23;34
I have a good radar to evaluate intentionality. Some people know exactly what they are doing, they just don’t care. Two years ago while in campaign for City Council, I got in the elevator at City Hall to find an employee from the City Clerk’s office who told me: “keep doing what you are doing, they are scared” . My intention is not to scare anyone, my intention is to have an honest conversation about some issues that don’t align with the so-called City Wellbeing and do not affirm the Charter for Compassion. After the conversation we can go about the business of making change. Shall we? If we keep ignoring the white elephant in the room, you know what happens: “If you don’t pay attention, God will turn up the volume”. On another instance Rebecca Adams, Administrative Staff Assistant who used to to be in the City Clerk’s office told me -as if she was incharge of the office- “come another time because everyone was busy and they can’t help you”. Esterlina Lugo was ready to help me, but Adams was set on using her entitlement to make herself feel superior. It does not stop there. Last week, I sat on the same table she was sitting with other staff, waiting for the COSW meeting to start, she stood and left with someone I was striking a conversation to wait in front of the door. This juvenile behavior belongs to a scene in Mean Girls not a city that claims Wellbeing, Compassion, Empathy, Diversity & Inclusion. This stuff is relegated to films and fiction circa 1950 in the South. Do you agree?
Am I the problem? That is debatable. If you want to keep Santa Monica a city of of racial tension and discrimination, perhaps I am. On the other hand, if you want Santa Monica to be a real city of Wellbeing, Compassion, Diversity & Inclusion, I believe I’m part of the solution. I tweeted yesterday a new mantra: “Zoë, just keep writing” , I t came to me in a moment of quiet reflection. That is my job, to report from the frontlines, shine a light to issues that seem to get no attention but influence a fundamental part of our identity as citizens and our community.
I was betrayed on Friday. Perhaps I had a delayed reaction and was vulnerable and fragile by Sunday, therefore all the crying. Church was a place to find solace. One thing is when someone let you down, betrayal is a whole different business. Is a horrible feeling.
In Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, the ninth Circle of Hell is ringed by Biblical and Classical Giants. Nimrod , Ephialtes, and Antaeus are found here. THIS IS ONE TOUGH CROWD!
“The lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven. Well do I know the way.” — Virgil
Treachery is the ninth Circle of Hell. This last circle is dedicated to those people who betrayed their loved ones, friends, best friends, countries, cities, guests, and even to their masters. YES PEOPLE, CITIES! Are you betraying yours? According to Dante, the end game is not pretty. For me the best strategy in Public Relations crisis management is: own it, apologize, change directions.