Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

“Switchfoot is a surfing term… To switch your feet means to take a new stance facing the opposite direction. It’s about change and movement, a different way of approaching life and music.” – Jon Foreman (September 25, 2000)

Just shy of a decade ago, I had fallen in love with a girl who I hoped would one day become my wife. She however was less than sure about our relationship’s long term chances. So, in pursuit, this Southern California boy was visiting New England for the first time, approaching life and love and God from an unfamiliar stance.

One hot summer day in July 2003, Jaime and I took the train into New York City. It was my first trip to the Big Apple and in our travels we came across the now defunct Virgin Records Megastore in Times Square. Jaime’s younger siblings Robert and Cassidy had recently introduced us to a San Diego-based rock group called Switchfoot via shareware mp3 downloads and I remember pledging my musical allegiance upon hearing lead singer and guitarist Jon Foreman quote Pooh Bear as he lamented, “Tut, tut, it looks like rain”. Back in that era reigned by Napster, we were even willing to buy actual albums from this unappreciable band if only we could hunt down their CDs. After coming up empty in Connecticut, we figured if we could find these guys anywhere the Virgin Megastore was a good bet. Sure enough, there was one copy each of “Learning to Breathe” and their just released “The Beautiful Letdown” in stock. With $30 between us, Jaime and I had enough to secure the discs, but in the days before ubiquitous iPod use, the question was who would own which album?

I suggested this be our first official joint purchase as a couple. Jaime was not as committed to this idea and quickly countered, “What if we break up?” Hoping I would eventually be able to win her heart I replied that if we broke up, she would keep both albums. This settled the issue and as a memento I kept that receipt in my wallet for years until the ink faded right off of it. We rode the Metro North back home that afternoon poring over the liner notes of the albums and meditating on the lyrics.

Easy living, not much like your name
Easy dying, you look just about the same
Won’t you please take me off your list
Easy living please come on and let me down

The next summer, being “young and dumb” but willing to commit to God, each other and a life of the road less traveled we were married. We have been riding life switchfoot ever since, trying to embrace the change and movement that comes with living outside of your comfort zone. This choice has undeniably created in us a better story, though in all good stories something important must be at stake. Ours has been no exception, requiring forging ahead through hardship and the unknown.

It has not been easy to merge the lives of a West Coast introvert and an East Coast extrovert. It was not easy to be married at 21 while trying to finish college and make a new life in Montana, a place we had never even visited before picking up the keys to our first apartment. It was even harder to leave that first home together in Big Sky Country along with some of the best friends we’ll ever have in order to head back east. It certainly has not been easy to have three small children just three and a half years apart in an area of the country where raising children before all your ducks are in a row is socially frowned upon. It has not been easy to make it on one income, while trying to pay back loans for two college degrees, in order to allow Jaime to stay at home and intentionally mold our children. I certainly have not always enjoyed the transition from worrying only about myself to carrying a social work caseload between 12-18 families or adolescents involved in the foster care system who rely on me daily to help solve their problems in the face of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse etc. It is not currently easy to live in an experimental communal household, sharing everyday living space with a total of 12 people leaving little, if anything, that is solely one’s own possession. No, nothing has been easy. Instead, it has been beautiful. It has been worth it.

Last month marked the eighth anniversary of being married to the love of my life. In these years that have seen us start a new life and family together, Switchfoot has consistently supplied our soundtrack. Jon Foreman’s voice alternately dancing around and belting out the Gospel has become almost familial and the band’s own maturation over the past decade has seemingly mirrored our own journey and developing theology. Serious fans since that first joint purchase, Switchfoot gradually built up their status to favorite band as our common refrains have grown from “In the economy of mercy I am a poor and begging man” to “Do you love me enough to let me go? Every seed dies before it grows.”

While “The Beautiful Letdown” is an all-time favorite album and “Hello Hurricane” has become my constant companion on business trips down south, it was really Jon Foreman’s solo effort in releasing four seasonally themed EPs in 2007-2008 that set him apart in a class of his own. Acoustic throughout all 24 tracks, Jon artfully and intensely sings prayers to God and pointed criticisms of ourselves that are spot on. Some of the songs are so profound they had us wondering where this guy has learned about God and how we might be able to do the same. But while his recordings have great depth we found only shallow pools of information about Mr. Foreman’s own background. Thus, a pipe dream was constructed. Jaime and I wondered if it would be possible to someday ask him ourselves where he gets his theology?

Enter Hannah Lavoie.

Our good friend Hannah not only is a ginormous fan of Jon Foreman she also has become quite adept at tracking him down, boasting three different meetings with the man. Hannah was also about to celebrate her 20th birthday and had come across some insider information that Jon Foreman was going to be playing a FREE solo concert in New York City on the evening of her special day, August 3rd. Hannah wanted to know if Jaime and I wanted to conspire with her a way to get to the concert and possibly meet Jon. While both excited, my amazing wife took one for the team deciding to stay back with the kids to ensure a solid bedtime routine before embarking the following day on a cross-country family plane trip to San Diego. Meanwhile, Hannah and I formulated plans to get into the City early enough on a Friday afternoon to ensure a first-come, first-serve seat in an old high school auditorium seating less than 600.

Jon Foreman was playing in tandem with a church event facilitated by a newer and impressive group calling themselves Movement NYC and the night had the energy of a youth rally. At 29, I must have ranked in the 90thpercentile of age making me “old” folk for the pilgrimage, but I could not think of a better way to help Hannah usher in her 20s. After a time of worship and a devotional thought from the pastor of the church, Jon and drummer Aaron Redfield finally came out with electricity buzzing through the humid air of the packed facility. Dozens of fans leapt from their seats to crowd the front of the stage and Hannah and I exchanged a glance and thought, “Why not?” We joined the hard core fans up front and laughed at Jon’s jokes, sang our hearts out to favorite tunes plus a few covers and snapped some photos. Jon opened the show with a new song called “First Light” which carries the same soulful acoustic sound that powered his EPs and appealed to my own fascination with the light-dark theme:

Jon opens the solo set with his new unreleased song “First Light”

When your heart is feeling is low
And the weight is on your shoulders
And the tears begin to flow
From the lies

Just remember what you know
Just remember what I told you
The seed you planted, love, will grow
Give it time

And you know it
But your heart has doubts
You believe it
But you want it now

The day is dawning
The day is dawning
It comes in morning
First light

Highlights of the show included Jon mid-song inviting a fan up to play bass on his guitar while breaking out his harmonica and listening to him discuss life and music in between songs. In his humility, Jon stated he writes songs about things he does not understand, namely God, death, politics and girls. He played for over an hour jamming with Aaron and then for an encore asked if it would be alright if he played two songs before launching into pieces he refers to as cousins, “Your Love is a Song” and “Your Love is Strong.”

At the conclusion of the set, strategy ensued about how best to locate Jon for a chance to ask him some questions and maybe get a picture with him. I looked to Hannah’s expertise in this matter, but we found ourselves in a dilemma as Hannah’s tried and true formula had been to wait by his tour bus after the show. In such a small venue and playing as a solo act, there was no tour bus to speak of and there were multiple exits from the building. We made small talk with one of the youth pastors of the Movement NYC church who after hearing we had traveled from Connecticut and that it was Hannah’s 20th birthday stated he couldn’t tell us where Jon would be exiting the building, but did offer that Mr. Foreman had arrived in a van parked just outside the exit closest to where we were standing.

Rather surprisingly it didn’t take long for the crowd to disburse and less than a half hour after the show there was only Hannah, myself and maybe a dozen others waiting around for a chance to meet Jon. Hannah thought aloud about what question she might ask Jon and wondered if he would recognize her, this being their fourth meeting and third in less than a year. As for me, my question had long been rehearsed.

Aaron Redfield, the drummer for Fiction Family (a collaborative effort between Jon Foreman and guitarist Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek) who accompanied Jon during the show was the first to emerge and very agreeable, telling us a little about his life in Pasadena and introducing us to his lovely fiancée. Following Aaron we had a chance to meet and talk with Jon’s childhood friend Todd Cooper who served not only as Switchfoot’s longtime guitar tech, but actually was the one who encouraged Jon to learn to play guitar.

Then Jon came into view and this was our chance. We scurried over to his vicinity and after awaiting a few questions and photo ops from others it was our turn. I couldn’t help but give the guy a hug while explaining that it was so good to see a fellow San Diegan on the East Coast; while he may have been slightly caught off guard he took it like a champ, or maybe a President, though I refrained from lifting him off the ground. I told him of that first joint purchase Jaime and I made nine years ago just around the corner and with sincerity he told me that it was an honor to be included in our lives this way.

Jon did recognize Hannah, this now being their fourth meeting, and remembered her as an admissions ambassador from Lipscomb University in Nashville. He told us the name Lipscomb always makes him want to speak with a lisp which he proceeded to demonstrate for us with a laugh.

I asked him about the comment he made earlier in the evening, the one about how he only writes about things he doesn’t understand. I told him I appreciated his self-deference, but also that he isn’t giving himself enough credit given that his lyrics prove otherwise and demonstrate being well-versed in the complexities of God, death, politics and girls. He smiled a knowing smile and then I asked him our question, “What informs your theology?”

“I read a lot,” he replied while beaming friendliness and continuing to project modesty.

Not wanting to let him off the hook that easy, I countered, “What do you read? Who do you read? I would like to read them too.”

He could tell I was being genuine, that this was not a flippant question. His countenance shifted somewhat, still affable but now with understanding eyes. He responded, “Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Pascal… people who are smarter than me.” Then again with self-depreciating humor he added, “Basically everyone.” The crowd chuckled and I could tell this may be all I would get from the man tonight, and I was content to let that be enough. Hannah and I asked for a picture with him to document the occasion, but as we readied for picture taking position and found someone to take the shot for us, another eager fan named Corey approached with a query.

Hannah leads the way to Jon Foreman after a free concert in NYC on her 20th birthday August 3, 2012

This young man in his early 20s stepped into the frame with his girlfriend and told Jon that he hoped she would soon be his fiancée, but that as a musician himself he wanted to know how to balance being a good husband with being a dedicated musician. “You’re married, right? How do you do it? How do you do marriage and music at the same time?” Thinking about my own wife and some of the dreams we share, the nature of this question resonated with me. In Corey’s voice was a plea for advice from someone further down the path, wanting to know if it is possible to be passionate about your work when the nature of that work will require being drawn away from your family at times.

Again with a smile Jon replied, “The best things in life are darn near impossible. Marriage, it’s darn near impossible. But it’s beautiful. It’s great. Music is darn near impossible. You just have to find a way.” Sounds like riding life switchfoot to me.

“What, then, is the difference between an admirer and an imitator? An imitator is or strives to be what he admires, and an admirer keeps himself personally detached, consciously or unconsciously does not discover that what is admired involves a claim upon him, to be or at least to strive to be what is admired.— Søren Kierkegaard (September 27, 1850) 

In mid-March 2011, I traveled to Lower Manhattan for work purposes and decided to walk over to Ground Zero during my lunch break. I had last visited the former site of the Twin Towers in 2004; when the “Freedom Tower” design had recently been unveiled, but clean up was still underway. As I walked down Vessey Street with St. Paul’s Chapel on my left, I stopped in my tracks and reached for my camera. The construction of the “Freedom Tower”, known officially as One World Trade Center, was already reaching into the heavens at approximately 700 feet with 58 stories completed and the beginnings of the building’s glass curtain starting to take shape.

The Freedom Tower takes shape in March 2011

Though far from the planned 105 stories, I already sensed the city’s proud buzz over the tower’s progress, an already but not yet phoenix rising from the ashes of 9/11. The new structure, even unfinished, radiates attitude and strength. The scene begs and bleeds emotion. I sat down in front of the Millenium Hilton and ate my turkey and cheese watching as history unfolded, contemplating the ascent of the new towers and imagining what the old must have looked like.

I walked over to St. Paul’s, erected in 1776, standing less than a hundred yards from Ground Zero. The chapel miraculously remained standing in the midst of the 9/11 attacks. It was on these church fences that the New York City firefighters hung their street shoes before entering the towers, but never returned to them. It was here that first responders organized to provide assistance in recovering victims, before they too would fall ill from inhaling the toxic debris. Inside the church was an exhibit displaying badges from various first responder units. There had representatives from Santa Monica and Los Angeles County, near my location at the time of the attacks. Officers had been present from now familiar Connecticut communities such as Bridgeport and Stratford and units from as far off as Tokyo and Germany. There was a badge from my mother’s hometown in Santa Ana, California and from my paternal grandfather’s childhood home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A national tragedy had summoned a global response.

From the churchyard, I spotted the 9/11 Memorial Preview site and headed over to gather more information. The gallery boasted a timeline of significant events in regard to the World Trade Center site and digital renderings of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (NS11MM) and the four structures which will comprise the new World Trade Center. None of the new buildings will be constructed where the Twin Towers stood. The footprints of the Towers are being transformed into large recessed pools with streams of water flowing into an abyss below and the pools are to be surrounded by a continuous ribbon of named victims.

3D Model of the new WTC featuring the footprints of the Twin Towers to be utilized as memorial pools

I picked up a couple WTC Progress flyers, while an attendant employed at the Preview site confidently announced the NS11MM would be ready to open this September on the 10th anniversary 9/11. The memorial is expected to be the most visited site in America with nearly 1,500 visitors per hour. Passes reportedly will become available for reservation as soon as this July.

Digital artist rendering of One World Trade Center and Four World Trade Center

For any Tower Glass folks who may be reading, get this. Upon completion, One World Trade Center will boast an exterior cladding consisting of over one million square feet of prismatic glass. Over 12,000 glass panels, larger than 5’x13’, will be incorporated. The building was designed so that the “façade panels will form eight tall triangles of glass and steel, which will grow alternately wider and narrower as they approach the top of the building.” The tower’s exterior will “refract light and change its appearance depending on the weather and the viewer’s position.” Heavy.

New York is certainly no stranger to pushing architectural limits. The Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) was the tallest freestanding land structure on the globe for two years after it was built in 1930, before its record height was eclipsed by the Empire State Building (1,250 feet) which held the world record for nearly four decades. The original twin towers surpassed both the Chrysler and Empire State buildings with the North Tower standing at 1,368 feet (1,728 feet antenna included) and the South Tower at 1,362 feet. The colloquial Freedom Tower’s spire will stand at a symbolic 1,776 feet making it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth tallest in the world.

As I walked back toward City Hall, I discovered the One World Trade Center structure is already visible on the New York city skyline as viewed from the Brooklyn Bridge. I stared in wonder at this work of man and felt perhaps I could now better relate to this passage from Mark 13:1-2:

“As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

The Temple, the pride of the people and center of worship, had already been destroyed once in 586 BC by a “terrorist attack” when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians. The Temple was rebuilt in approximately 515 BC after 70 years of captivity and in Jesus’ time was in the midst of a decades long renovation and expansion project under Herod.

The historian Josephus records that the rebuilt and renovated Temple was constructed of white limestone blocks measuring 37.5’ long, 12’ high, 18’ wide, each weighing nearly 400 tons. No small architectural feat for the time. In fact, Josephus himself, appears to be have been smitten by the Temple’s grandeur, writing in his Antiquities of the height of the Temple’s Pinnacle contrasted against the depth of the Kidron Valley which it overlooked:

“This cloister deserves to be mentioned better than any other under the sun; for, while the valley was very deep, and its bottom could not be seen if you looked from above into the depth, this farther vastly high elevation of the cloister stood upon that height, insomuch that if any one looked down from the top of the battlements, or down both those altitudes, he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth.”

Some believe the altitude referred to was in the range of 700 feet, the same height as the partially constructed One World Trade Center in the photos I took in mid-March. This Pinnacle is where Jesus was taken by Satan in Matthew Chapter 4 and in the Midrash is reported to be the place the Jewish people believed that Messiah would manifest himself.

From other Gospel reports we know Jesus was not anti-Temple, most notably in John 2:13-16, Jesus drives out the money changers from the Temple grounds and rebukes those who are “making my Father’s house a place of business.” Jesus probably had some fond memories of the Temple. Our only glimpse into His childhood (Luke 2:45-50) records that at age 12, Jesus spent three days at the Temple in the midst of its teachers, listening and asking questions. When his clearly upset parents ask him why he had decided of his own accord to stay in Jerusalem unbeknownst to them, he replied, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” The text states that His parents did not understand the statement which He had made to them. It wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus’ words were not understood (check out Mark 9:30-32).

Looking back to the John 2 passage, immediately following Jesus clearing the Temple of the profiteers, He is asked by what authority He is doing these things. “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-22)

It seems everyone is consumed with their own finite life, including the current construction projects and cultural icons, but Jesus appears to be consistently dwelling on his death and the sacrifice that would be required in order to reconcile us back to Him. A Creator Himself, He may well have appreciated the craftsmanship of the building and its beauty. The Temple had long been a house for God, but Jesus knew that for all its lofty architecture it would not stand the test of time (it was destroyed again in 70 AD). Alas, something infinitely more impressive was in their presence, but went unrecognized. The Temple had clearly become less a place of worship and more an icon of identity.

Today marks the 160th anniversary of the first World’s Fair. It was the during the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, 72 years ago, that the “world trade center” pavilion was first dedicated to “world peace through trade” paving the way for the Twin Towers which were finished in 1970 and 1971. While a nice slogan, global trade in a capitalist market has not accomplished world peace but in many respects has contributed to further oppression of the world’s most vulnerable peoples. Whenever we seek glory for ourselves in place of contributing to God’s design of shalom, we are bound for eventual destruction, regardless of how much prismatic glass or pristine limestone on our façade. This was the lesson of another famous skyscraper, The Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11.

With a common language and purpose, mankind had set out to “make a name for ourselves” and laid plans for a “tower with its top in the sky.” Perhaps Jesus remembered the Tower of Babel when he looked at what the Temple had become, and certainly the continual rising of towers in New York warrants our reconsideration of the story.

Will O’Brien of the Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia points out that the Tower of Babel was likely a ziggurat with a wide base structure that ascended in smaller bases until a pyramid-like point was reached. The ziggurat’s pyramid structure is also symbolic of the typical human power structure in which the wide base of society is made up of the powerless supporting a small point of elite and the ruling class. The ziggurat, much like our current skyscrapers and other famous phallic symbols was a structure constructed to attract awe.

O’Brien also notes that the Tower of Babel story can be viewed as an anti-imperial text. The phrase “make a name” indicates mankind was interested in creating their own glory. As such, God came down and thwarted the effort. In contrast, Acts 2 presents an alternative power structure in which the architecture of the Tower is reversed and instead the Holy Spirit descends from above and then disperses equally among the wide base of the people, the symbolically and traditionally powerless, led by uneducated fisherman with the equivalent of a thick Southern drawl. O’Brien suggests that the Holy Spirit, which Christ came to send, is literally the inverse of imperialism and Empire building. It is at Pentecost in Acts 2 that we see the dawn of God’s church, where language and communication is restored not confused, and people are reunited not scattered.

There is no denying that the new World Trade Center will be impressive from man’s vantage point. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum was thoughtfully designed and will powerfully remember all those who were lost. But perhaps we as the church would do well to remember our Builder and set the rising structures of awe aside. To dwell in the true beauty found among the poor in spirit and the mourners. To recognize that true power is witnessed in the resurrected Christ.

“This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said* to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:61-64