Monday, February 8, 2021

California Calling: Reclaiming a Theology of Place for the Golden State

I'm told that U-Haul in California can't keep up with the demand from people hiring their trucks and trailers to pack up and leave for greener pastures. That trend hasn't been helped by two recent and very public departures of two very influential Californian residents; Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. Musk, the South African born  CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is one of the wealthiest men in the world. He's also one of the most vocal and was never going to leave quietly. In a series of tweets in May 2020, Musk  threatened to move the company's headquarters to Texas or Nevada, where shelter-in-place rules were less restrictive. "Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately," Musk tweeted. A few months later he sold two of his homes in Silicon Valley and announced he was moving to Texas and building a new plant in Austin.

 Popular podcaster Joe Rogan of “The Joe Rogan Experience” cited overpopulation, traffic, and “the need for freedom” as the reasons he has been persuaded to move from his current home of Los Angeles to Texas.I just want to go somewhere in the center of the country, somewhere it’s easier to travel to both places, and somewhere where you have a little bit more freedom,” he explained on his podcast.   

Officially, California added 21,200 people from July  2019, to July 2020, increasing the state’s population a paltry 0.05% to 39.78 million people — still by far the most of any state. But the bigger news is that 135,600 more people left the state than moved here in that period. It’s only the 12th time since 1900 the state has had a net migration loss, and the third largest ever recorded. * 

That's peculiar when you consider the many positive things California has going for it. Historically, people have flocked to the Golden State for its prosperity, its beauty, its creativity, its diversity and its weather. 

So, what are the primary factors people are giving for leaving the Golden State? I'm no expert, but I would suggest at least 5 Big factors.  

  • Cost of Living - the high price of housing and taxation is driving people to cheaper States
  • Progressive Politics - California has been a Blue State for years and that doesn't look like changing soon,  which makes Conservatives especially, feel controlled, labelled and claustrophobic. 
  • Erosion of Morality  - Many people have a fear that raising kids in a culture that has lost its moral compass is not worth all the beauty and opportunity that California has on offer.
  • De-Urbanization - Covid has swiftly reversed the pull that the urban centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco have had as major companies have allowed their employees to work remotely. Why live in expensive cities when you can earn the same and live in a small town in another State?
  • Zeitgeist - This one is harder to put your finger on because there's no stat you can point to. But it's in the air. It's where the mind tends to go and where the conversation tends to flow. It's a pervading mood. Basically, it's become fashionable to hate on the Golden State.  
I've written about this extensively before, but Californians by nature, tend to be less rooted and more transient than other people from other places. John Steinbeck, the California native, called it 'an incurable  virus of restlessness. The urge to be some place else.'  The five factors above have simply made our latent virus of restlessness more contagious and it seems like we are at some kind of tipping point. 

It's against this bleak backdrop that we find ourselves fasting through the Book of Joshua as a Church this week. There is a promise from God to his people before they cross the Jordan river into Canaan that, "Every place you set your foot I have given to you. Only, be Strong and Courageous." Of course, there are giants in this land flowing with milk and honey. They have already caused the ten spies' hearts to melt with fear. But God calls Joshua, Caleb, and the people to walk in a different spirit of faith and courage. 

There are significant parallels between Canaan and California. A land flowing with milk and honey and with many giants. There is a great need for the Church in California to recover a theology of place if we are to continue to make disciples of Jesus faithfully in the face of increasing hostility to the gospel. Our call is not to conquest, but to cultivation of gospel fruit in this revival-rich soil, even as the giants loom large. 

 Perhaps our State has lost some of its California Dreaming allure? What is needed then is for the people of God to recover a sense of California Calling. Jesus is still deadly serious about His people fulfilling His Great Commission in this place of promise.  

I see California Calling working itself out in a few different ways. 

  • It should involve people calling on the Lord in prayer to awaken and revive California again
  • It should  involve Californians consecrating themselves to God's calling on them to make disciples and to 'seek the peace and prosperity of the place where He has carried us into exile.' 
  •  It could involve calling people from other States and nations into the mission field of California. 
California Calling should be an ethic that operates in an opposite spirit to California pessimism.  
Why not amplify the beauty, diversity, prosperity and opportunity that is on offer in the Golden State while being discerning about the reality of spiritual and moral giants in the land? Why not change the narrative by speaking well of the place God has called us?
California Calling ultimately amplifies Jesus as the Golden hope of this Golden State.
There is no God forsaken place on the planet unless God’s people have forsaken it.
Who's with me?


  1. Very poignant points. Well written and a great twist to the prevailing trends. Thanks for the perspective. I will take it to heart.

  2. We feel so fortunate to have sat under your teaching for years now. Your writings minister to us. Keep up the good work and may your harvest be plentiful as you remain faithful to the King of all Kings.

    1. Thank you, Donna. Its been such a privilege to lead with you and Manny at Southlands and now seeing you play such a key part in Santa Ana is such a joy!

  3. There is no utopia...on earth. I've seen family members move out of the area looking for a more desirable place and for example, finding themselves a long distance away from healthcare. I agree with the ethic you spoke of being one of optimism. Great post Alan

    1. Thanks Loretta. That's good wisdom. I think a large part of our unsettledness is we are trying make earth into heaven. it never will be. if we make 'heaven' heaven, then we can cope with earth not being heaven.