November 17, 2008

California Dreaming
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Southern California seems to be an idyllic place. Its moderate climate has been a magnet attracting people, tired of harsh blizzards, bitter cold and snow shoveling  to a paradise where the sun shines 320 days a year, rain is infrequent and humidity is low.

So, how come we’re so preoccupied with natural disasters? We’ve just come through a rash of very destructive fires, in which nearly a thousand homes were destroyed. Last week, we experienced “The Great California Shakeout”?.   In schools, workplaces and private homes people faced up to what might happen when “The Big One”? hits on the San Andreas Fault. The Santa Ana winds are  a more quiet threat to our peace and comfort. Beyond their contribution to the spread of fires, the winds themselves can do a surprising amount of damage to homes and other structures. Both drought and flood have caused serious damage in the past, further threatening Southern California’s calm image.

I’ve done a lot of reading about the Mount Lowe Railway and the other entertainment attractions that thrived in the hills above Altadena in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This center for leisure activities once included, in addition to the railroad, three large hotels, a zoo, a planetarium with advanced telescopes, and numerous organized campsites. People from all over the U.S. were drawn to this hub of vacation activities.

But the glory days of the Mount Lowe Railway complex lasted only about twenty-five years. Hardly any evidence is left of the many structures that were part of the Mount Lowe experience. Why did this prosperous venture end so dramatically and so thoroughly? I was amazed to learn that it was a series of natural disasters that put an end to the whole Mount Lowe enterprise. Repeated fires and violent windstorms hammered this impressive human accomplishment into the ground.

Right here in paradise. In sunny Southern California. This place of mild moderation is capable of being very angry, violent and inhospitable.
Some people have Southern California temperaments. Their laid-back style seems to epitomize life in the Southland. And a person with this type of temperament has a calming effect on others. They don’t seem anxious about anything and show confidence that everything will work out. “Whatever!”? Those of us who are more volatile wish we could be more like them. Just hanging around with them is like a vacation in Southern California.

But the calm exterior of the person with a Southern California temperament may cover unresolved forces threatening to explode into a major disaster. The dry underbrush of spiritual neglect may be fuel for the next spark of misfortune to set off into a firestorm. The Santa Ana winds may rise up and tear apart flimsy structures he’s built in his life. And there may be a serious fault-line in the very bedrock of his character, making it inevitable that The Big One will someday strike with full fury. That’s when Southern California Dude becomes a pathetic, sniveling coward. And that’s when he’ll need you. He’ll need someone who’s fallen apart before, and has recovered. Go to him, and say: “Pick me. I’m an expert at falling apart. I’ve done it thousands of times. I can show you how to come to the Lord when you’re at rock-bottom and find forgiveness, renewal and restoration.”?

Sometimes it takes a person with a shivery Minnesotan temperament or a dour New England reserve , the one who likes to vacation with the mellow Southern California Dude, to pick him up when he finally falls apart.