127 Apocalypse Now with Father Mark Kowalewski

This podcast conversation with Fr. Mark Kowalewski, dean of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles, needs a longer introduction than usual because it might, at first, seem off-topic. But I think it’s safe to say that within the DNA of the urban homesteading, permaculture and ecological movements is a concern with how the world might end and the possibility of either hastening, postponing or avoiding the collapse of human civilization. Then there’s the fact that a significant portion of U.S. government officials believe in some form of a “rapture.”

Of course there are many divergent opinions on the nature of this end, everything from climate change, to energy depletion, to nuclear war to more fringy ideas such as near term extinction. I’ve always been interested in the stories that our cultures tell about the end of the world and what those stories say about present realities. Behind, on one end, the grim future of Mad Max, to another extreme, the techno optimist Mars colony fantasies of Silicon Valley executives is a ghost that haunts our imaginations about the end of things. That ghost, at least in the West, is John of Patmos and his hallucinatory book of Revelation.

Fr. Mark Kowalewski

I think it’s unfortunately too rare in our culture these days to consider the theological underpinning of the stories we tell. In this conversation Fr. Mark discusses everything from mainstream, orthodox views of apocalyptic literature to fundamentalist and evangelical notions of a “rapture.” We conclude with what these stories tell about our relationship to creation and to human culture. During the podcast Fr. Mark references:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Choral Evensong as Meditation

St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, Los Angeles.

Fellow thoughtstylist Rupert Sheldrake has helped create a website to promote the nearly 500 year old Anglican service of Choral Evensong. Sheldrake sees Evensong as a user-friendly form of meditation for those who might not normally cross the threshold of a church door.

Choral Evensong is a 45-min long peace-inducing church service in which the ‘song’ of voices sounding together in harmony is heard at the ‘even’ point between the active day and restful night, allowing listeners time for restful contemplation – Church members, agnostics and atheists alike. It is both free of charge and free of religious commitment, and its 470-year-old choral music tradition – established around 1549 – is performed live and often to a very high standard.

The Choral Evensong website lists places around the world where you can attend a service. If you’re in Los Angeles there is a Choral Evensong performance this Saturday November 17th at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral at 5 p.m. I will, likely, make an appearance as the Verger. The choir is magnificent and St. John’s is one of Los Angeles’ hidden architectural masterpieces.

You can also listen to Choral Evensong on the BBC via the website and app. It’s the longest running show on the BBC.

Bike Lane Blocking, An Angry Rant and Something You Can Do

Gavin Newsom campaign bus parked in a bike lane. Via @LABikeLaneBlock.

Los Angeles could be America’s greatest bike city. The weather is mild, the city mostly flat and a network of rail connections make the combo of bike and transit an appealing option. See Peter Flax’s article “Los Angeles is the Worst Bike City in America” for the gruesome details about why it’s so bad.

Let me just add that our climate crisis, so dramatically and tragically manifested in the wildfires that have swept California, requires us to make changes now for the sake of future generations. A good first step would be making alternatives to driving more safe and appealing. Unfortunately, LA’s allegedly “progressive” mayor and city council might as well be the Tea Party when it comes to transportation policy. Frankly, I’d rather deal with outright climate change deniers than our local elected officials such as mayor Garcetti who, rather than the un-sexy and often politically unpalatable work of installing bus only lanes and making the city more pedestrian and bike friendly, seems to think that the future lies in a techno-optimist future of flying cars and private tubes as peddled by Elon Musk. Instead of improvements we could have right now (all a bus lane takes is a line of paint) we’re waiting for a future that will never come.

I’ve held off writing this post for years but I can’t stay silent anymore. Let me share a few personal anecdotes from my time as a bike activist that illustrates the type of behavior one can expected from our local elected officials. Back in 2011, the city painted the first green bike lane, something you see in a lot of cities such as New York and Portland. Film companies objected because they said the green paint interfered with their shots. Councilman Jose Huizar (whose home and offices were raided by the FBI last week), in closed door sessions with lobbyists from the film industry, agreed to remove most of the green from the lanes, going against the recommendations of the department of transportation’s engineers. The entire city council went along with this and prevented the public from speaking at the council meeting. When I, politely, questioned then councilman Tom LaBonge about this decision he became agitated and intimidating.

I could go on about the transportation commissioners, the LAPD, the Automobile Club and Highway Patrol who opposed speed limit decreases. LaBonge’s former deputy Anne-Marie Johnson lobbied for the de-greened bike lanes and in her capacity as leader of the regressive Silver Lake Neighborhood Council supports removing the Rowena road diet. Or my own councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who keeps himself busy with vitue signalling photo opportunities, and might as well be a Koch family member when it comes to his opposition to a road safety plan for Temple street.

Many of the opportunities to deal with climate change are simple and don’t require technologies that don’t yet exist. But we also must not fall into the trap of thinking that the changes we need to make are only about personal choices. Many changes will also require us to work together, especially when it comes to those of us in cities trying to make it safe for people to walk and bike.

Film crew blocking Spring St. Bike lane. Via @ColinBogart.

Speaking of which, I want to conclude this angry and gloomy post with an opportunity for my fellow Angelino cyclists. While we have a few (not enough) bike lanes, those bike lanes are often blocked by film crews, Uber drivers and Highway Patrol officers picking up a burger. The LA County Bicycle Coalition has set up a reporting page to collect data on blocked lanes. The information collected will be used to lobby city officials. Unblocking those lanes is a whole lot simpler than a trip to mars or hailing an Uber drone.

Saturday Tweets: A Difficult Week

The American College of the Building Arts

I have lingering regrets about my choice of college degree. It’s not that I think that studying music wasn’t worthwhile, but rather that I was more invested in the idea of being a musician rather than the act of making music. And let’s not get into the plinky-plunky, modernist musical cat fight that passed for the musical curriculum at UCSD, where I did my graduate work.

If I were to step into a time machine back to high school and ponder my next move I have no doubt that I’d ditch the University of California and head to Charleston, South Carolina to attend the American College of the Building Arts. ACBA was formed in the wake of hurricane Hugo, when local residents found that there were no skilled craftspersons to rebuild the traditional buildings that grace Charleston. Skilled workers had to be imported from Europe. The founders of ACBA set out to fix that problem by offering a four year degree that combines shop classes with the liberal arts. At ACBA you can study traditional building crafts such as masonry, timber framing, ironwork, plasterwork and classical architecture as well as English, Spanish, science and math. Many trade schools will teach you plumbing and stick framing, but few will teach you the things that ACBA offers. Garden & Gun magazine has an article on ACBA if you’d like to know more.

Of course things worked out for me in the end. I met my wife Kelly at UCSD when I discovered that the art department grad students threw much better parties than the dour music department.