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October 27, 2005 - Image 20

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-10-27

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9T 9

- ,f


American Prophet: The L
of Care)

arey McWilliams is probably the most impor-
tant American writer you've never heard of
- especially if you were born after 1960.
True, some aficionados know that he wrote many
excellent books on labor, racial and ethnic preju-
ice, civil rights and McCarthyism; that he worked
prodigiously for social, political and legal causes;
and that he edited The Nation from 1955 to 1975.
A few old timers still recall his keen insights,
including his 1950 assessment of Congressman
Richard Nixon, "a dapper little man with an aston-
ishing capacity for petty malice." But almost no
one remembers that his book, "Prejudice," was
cited repeatedly in a dissenting opinion to the
Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitution-
ality of the Japanese-American internment. And
even many film historians are unaware that his
1946 book on Southern California inspired Robert
Towne's Oscar-winning screenplay for "Chinatown"
(1974), perhaps the most widely admired Holly-
wood film of its generation. - Peter Richardson
Academics and journalists agree that McWil-
liams has been woefully neglected. But a thorough
assessment of his work leads to a more surprising
conclusion: that McWilliams was one of the most
versatile, productive, and consequential American
public intellectuals of the twentieth century.
McWilliams was an astonishingly productive
writer. His first book, a biography of Ambrose
Bierce, appeared when he was 24 and a full-time
attorney. He composed his first bestseller, "Fac-
tories in the Field," between court dates and by
writing nights, weekends, and holidays. He pro-
duced seven books in the 1940s alone, two while

heading California's Division of Immigration
and Housing (DIH). Half of his books are still
in print, and most continue to attract the highest
critical praise. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., no friend
of McWilliams, conceded that four of his books
were first-rate. "California: The Great Exception"
(1949) is considered a minor classic, and "South-
ern California Country: An Island on the Land"
(1946) is still regarded as the best interpretive his-
tory of the Los Angeles area.
McWilliams was as influential as he was pro-
ductive. Cesar Chavez credited much of his under-
standing ofCalifornia agribusiness to McWilliams.
Hunter S. Thompson freely acknowledged that his
first big break-the idea for "Hell's Angels," his
first bestseller-came from McWilliams. His
other fans have included urban critic Mike Davis,
playwright Luis Valdez, California historian
Kevin Starr, writer John Gregory Dunne, Reagan
biographer Lou Cannon, and countless journal-
ists who continue to cite him extensively. In the
academy, too, McWilliams's work still registers
in Chicano studies, labor history, and urban plan-
ning. Patricia Nelson Limerick, a leading histo-
rian of the American West, noted in 1993 that her
field was still catching up to McWilliams's work
of 40 years earlier.
At least some of McWilliams's influence began
with his impressive network. Over his 50-year
career, he came to know H.L. Mencken and Mar-
tin Luther King Jr., Mary Austin and Jerry Brown,
Robinson Jeffers and Orson Welles, Edmund Wil-
son and Harry Bridges, Arthur Miller and Alger
Hiss and Upton Sinclair and Eugene McCarthy.
At "The Nation," he also published talented

younger writers who would go on to reach even
larger audiences, including Ralph Nader, counter
culture observer Theodore Roszak and social his-
torian Howard Zinn.
Yet most of McWilliams's appeal now is due
to his keen perception and trenchant writing.
His ability to see social patterns steadily and
whole led him to topics that other writers would
neglect until their significance was more obvi-
ous. In the 1940s, he helped reverse the unjust
murder convictions of Latino youths and called
for federal protections against racial discrimi-
nation. In the 1950s, he opposed loyalty oaths
on campus, denounced McCarthy at the height
of his power, and championed civil rights in the
South. Later, he became an early and outspoken
critic of the Vietnam War and President Nixon's
mischief. Most Americans eventually came
around to these views, and the Supreme Court
ultimately accepted his arguments about the Jap-
anese-American internment, the Hollywood 10
and federal protections against discrimination.
In this sense, he earned the title of American
prophet many times over.
When first offered, however, McWilliams's
judgments earned him powerful enemies. The
House Committee on Un-American Activities
identified him as a radical in the late 1930s, and
California's Associated Farmers labeled him
"Agricultural Pest No. 1, worse than pear blight
or boll weevil." In 1941, J. Edgar Hoover consid-
ered McWilliams for detention in case of national
emergency. Earl Warren announced that his first
official act as governor of California would be
to fire McWilliams. From 1943 to 1949, he was

to s
as t
a n
its I
to a

Pastor Steve Hayes talks about his favorite Bible verses at New Life Church, which meets in the Modern LanguagesEBuilding
every Sunday.

Leap of faith
New Life Church puts a young spin on prayer
By Margaret Havemannr/ Daily Staff Reporter

icture yourself in a cramped dorm
room, a floor lamp casting shad-
ows onto the Dave Matthews Band
and Michigan hockey team posters stuck
to the wall. From down the hall, the
occasional eruption of yells and laughter
slips out from the crack under the door
to a room of boys beginning their night
of partying. Now imagine five girls sit-
ting in the dark room around a bowl of
raw brownie batter, each huddled over
her own copy of the Holy Bible. It is
9 p.m. on a Thursday night, and while
most students are holed up in the stacks,
sprawled on their couch watching TV or
getting ready for a night at The Necto,
these five girls, along with hundreds of
others in different rooms all around Ann
Arbor, will spend the next two hours
sharing their stories of how Jesus has
touched their lives in the past seven days.
Tonight is the weekly meeting of their
Life Group, which is one of the many
services offered by New Life Church.
New Life: Church for the Next Gen-
eration was officially recognized as a
church six years ago, when Steve Hayes
became the first full-time pastor. Since
then, "God has done amazing things
through NLC," its website says.
In less than a decade, the Church has
gone from nothing to being a staple in
hundreds of lives through the use pop

music, hip language and the creation of
a social community founded on strict
adherence to the Bible.
"Ever since I first attended, I knew it was
going to be the church," said Rebekah Mil-
ian, a Kinesiology junior who joined New
Life in her first week at the University. Mil-
ian grew up as a pastor's daughter, so find-
ing a church at school was very important
to her.
The Sunday church services - which
start promptly at 10:01 a.m. and 12:01
p.m. - have grown from just 60 people
to 500 regulars; the Life Group atten-
dance has gone from 20 to 250 students.
According to its website, "More than
40 students receive Christ each year,
with another 80 people receiving Christ
through NLC mission trips."
The seeds of New Life took root not in
the older, more conservative population
often associated with practicing Christians,
but instead among students at the Univer-
sity. It is the younger generation's dedica-
tion to New Life that enabled it to become
a part of the Ann Arbor community and to
grow into what has become one of the best-
attended churches in the city.
A new form of praise
New Life differs from traditional
churches, a fact that is obvious from

the moment a New Life member into
the congregation hall - also know as
Auditorium 3 of the Modern Language
Building. The MLB leads a double life.
By week, it's the unremarkable lecture
hall that houses hundreds of LSA stu-
dents and their professors. By weekend,
it's transformed: It's chalk boards are
hung with heavy curtains and its lecture
stage is taken over by rock-band equip-
ment - drum set, electric piano, ampli-
fiers - and a single microphone. MLB
3 becomes the meeting place for New
Life members to praise God.
For 30 minutes - half the service -
the audience bobs, sways and in some
cases head-bangs to catchy tunes laced
with lyrics such as "Jesus, you are the
savior of my soul," or "You're the only
one I could live for."
The audience - which fills the large
auditorium and comprises mostly col-
lege students and 20-something couples
with babies - can in some cases be
found during the songs with their arms
outstretched above them and their eyes
tightly shut. It's as if the music brings
them closer to God, just as prayer does
in a traditional service. Indeed the songs
- whose lyrics are projected onto the
same screen as a professor's Power Point
presentation - are the only chance the
congregation has "to praise Him for

everything," said the lead singer, Karen
Ostafinski, dressed in a vintage T-shirt
and zip-up hoodie. She graduated from
the University in 2003.
The half-hour of surprisingly well-
performed music (tunes that incidental-
ly are the type that stick in one's head)
is New Life's alternative to depressing
organ music and lengthy prayer, which
often turns younger Christians off
from conventional churches, said Sarah
Keyes, a student a Eastern Michigan
University who is thinking about join-
ing New Life. The upbeat music gets
people moving and involved, she said,
and it helps them feel closer to God at
the same time.
Milian said that the music is one of
her favorite aspects of New Life, along
with the sermons which are surprisi
ngly accessible to students.
New Life Church does not stray from
the strict teachings of the Bible in its
sermons. However, the pastors cater
their lectures - which are significantly
shorter than one would expect, at just
under 30 minutes - to the younger
generation. In a recent Sunday morn-
ing program called "My Favorite Pas-
sage," pastor Steve Hayes (who made
his way onstage accompanied by a Bon
Jovi song blasting over the loudspeaker)
attempted to cement his favorite Bible


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4B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 27, 2005

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