The modern droughts in California have two culprits other than a lack of rain: salt water intrusion and insufficient water infrastructure.
Yes, over the last 15 years we did have a seven year period where it just didn’t rain. In fact, scientists said that because of global warming it would never rain again. Because of this calculation, the state made budget decisions that redirected billions of dollars of earmarked money away from improving water infrastructure into other initiatives. Which meant that in 2015, when it did start raining again, all the water ran straight into the ocean.
My three favorite places on the Monterey Coastline are Andrew Molera Park, Salinas River State Beach, and the Elkhorn Slough. At each of these locations you can see, or even wade through, the place where fresh water meets the sea– an estuary.
There is something poignant about estuaries for me; they are unlike any other parts of the Bay and Coast. Only specific birds, fish, and plants inhabit estuaries. In the place where the water is not fresh anymore but not salty enough, there is expectation and loss. Places in between are exciting but they are also inhospitable to nearly every kind of life that lives in the atmospheres on either side of them.
Californian farmers, like my dad who is a winegrower, are in a constant battle against the government, the Pacific Ocean, and each other over how to press out of the earth enough water to sustain the largest food crop producer in America and the fifth largest in the world.
When I was little, my mom would shew the four of us kids out of the house and into Dad’s white pickup truck on Saturday mornings. We’d pack in and drive a length of HWY 101 southward between our home in Salinas and San Ardo to check on the vineyards. In season, we’d venture even further south to Fort Hunter Liggett to go quail hunting, or to find a quiet spot on the Salinas River where we could cast off into little rapids and pull up rainbow trout for dinner.
Along the road, you see tall shepherd’s staffs hung with patinaed bells. The bells mark El Camino Real. Having driven this stretch of HWY 101 ad nauseam (literally until I was nauseated) I commented to my dad once that all the towns in South Monterey County are just about 20 minutes apart driving. He said, “Well, that’s how many miles you could ride on horseback in one day back in the mission days. The Spanish built a mission every day’s ride.” Along “the King’s Highway” there is a bell, a mission, and town every day’s ride.
There is no lack of religion in California, or spirituality. In fact, once I was able to spend three days up in Big Sur on a property that our friend’s dad was caretaker of. No one really gets to experience Big Sur. The state parks don’t even hint at what it really is. You meet people from Big Sur and there is a look on their faces like they have a secret. They do. It’s Big Sur.
I came home from camping on this pristine private property that had an IMAX view of the ocean, and I felt physically altered. No, I was not actually in a physically altered state, though there’s plenty of that available in Big Sur too. There is a spiritual presence in that place so potent that I came home feeling like I needed to check into Betty Ford. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Big Sur Land Trust exists less to protect the natural beauty of Big Sur and more to protect its spirituality.
The Salina, Ohlone, and Esselen, the native peoples that populated Monterey’s coastline and arterial valley, had no lack of metaphysical fervor. The Spanish padres had equal measure of religious conviction. Even now, this same dynamic plays out from the southern-most CA pitstop on HWY 101 to the northern-most.
There have been plenty of revivals in California. Moves and movements are the norm here not the exception. Just like the 20 minute intervals of towns along El Camino Real, revivals dovetail one to another. When Azusa Street Revival began to calm in 1915, Aimee Semple McPherson exploded on the scene in 1918. Sister Aimee’s life was cut short in 1944, but not before she established a new denomination, expansive charities for the Great Depression’s poor, and a colossal radio ministry not to mention a mega church in Los Angeles. Five years after Sister Aimee’s death, Billy Graham held 8 weeks of big tent revival meetings in Los Angeles where he had only prepared for three weeks.
When the Billy Graham Crusade came to Los Angeles, William Randolph Hearst sent a telegram to his reporters, “Puff Graham.” It meant to cover the story. The newspapers ran the story and Angelenos responded by pouring into the crusade that launched Billy Graham’s worldwide ministry. Billy Graham preached to more people in his 50 year career as an evangelist than any other person in history. He legitimized evangelicalism as a religious movement. The 1949 revival meeting wasn’t Graham’s first; his first was held the year before in New York City. But no one makes people famous like California does. Thank you, Hearst.
The 1950s are called “The Powerful Years for Religion.” Yet, when the 60s started to shake the hold of Christian conservatism that had settled into the West, the Jesus Movement seemed to just appear from the sea. The Jesus Movement did what the California climate has always done best, from the padres to America’s Pastor, it built a monument, sparked a movement, and made people famous. In this case, it was Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel along with John Wimber and the Vineyard.
By the time Calvary Chapel’s network of churches were packing in 1,000s over multiple services, Rick Warren was starting a bible study that would become Saddleback Church. The year was 1980. Up to date 20,000 people attend Warren’s church weekly and he has become an influencer of epic proportions having written books that, I don’t know, share what’s in the secret sauce?
To the best of my knowledge, being that this was the California Christian environment I grew up in, Christian revivalism did pretty well in the ’90s. The New Prophetic Movement had my family at revival meetings, hearing visiting evangelists almost every night of the week. Christianity commercialized and Spirit West Coast music festival moved into Monterey County every summer for over a week. We could hear the music playing from its host location, Laguna Seca Raceway from our house but we camped for the week anyway. My mom does not miss a moment when revival comes to town.
When I graduated from high school in 2004, I kinda left church in my rear view mirror for awhile, but as far as I can tell, there has never not been revival in California. There has always been some new movement, some new method of reaching youth, some new church that is bursting at the seams.
So why do the prophets talk about “the missing revival in California”? Why do churches feel so dry and empty? Pastors yearn for an outpouring. Yet, history seems to say that California’s pastors are chest deep in a flood already.
It’s missing because the water is brackish and the cisterns are broken.
Beware of the buzz of “LOOK, REVIVAL!”
We are coming into a revival of the quiet place, such as is transforming the nations where Christians would die if they became famous. California doesn’t need a new, big move so much as it needs to be transformed by a still small voice.