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Monday, January 28, 2008

How a Salvadoran came to America, changed his name, and became a husband, father, writer, futurist, activist, artist and spiritual and cultural leader
Erwin Raphael McManus now serves as the lead pastor and Cultural Architect of Mosaic in Los Angeles

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Erwin McManus with Dan Wooding at the Crystal Cathedral

GARDEN GROVE, CA (ANS) -- When I first met Erwin Raphael McManus, I was surprised that his Irish name didn’t match his looks. For he a ruggedly handsome Latin who changed his name, and now leads a church that is unleashing creativity amongst the Los Angeles community in the furtherance of the Gospel with his Mosaic church.

So as we talked at the recent Rethink Conference at the Crystal

Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, where he was a speaker, I couldn’t wait to ask him about his name change.

“As you can see, I’m not Irish; I’m actually Latin,” he said. “Erwin McManus is not an adopted name, it’s just an alias and I made it legal when I was in my thirties because I married as a McManus, my kids were a McManus, so I thought I should probably become McManus.

“My mom married someone who lived under an alias who was involved in 'creative underground economies' and so evidently he needed a new identity so that’s how we ended up being called McManus.”

He added, “I’m originally from El Salvador, Central America, and so I’m a first generation immigrant. I became an American Citizen about four years ago and grew up on the east coast from Miami to New York and then I’ve been in Los Angeles for sixteen years.

With that cleared up, I then asked McManus to explain why his church is called Mosaic.

“We chose the name Mosaic because a mosaic is an art form of broken and fragmented pieces that are brought together by the hand of an artist who creates something beautiful, especially when light strikes through it,” he said. “So we wanted to say that our community of faith is a community of broken and fragmented people that are brought together by God’s masterful hand to create something beautiful especially when His light strikes through us.

“Mosaic has a few thousand people and the average age is about twenty-five from some forty plus nationalities. The Los Angeles Times says that we have the highest concentration of ‘industry artists’ of any church in Southern California so there are a lot of writers and dancers and painters and actors and artists and people who would be part of the artisan expression of Los Angeles culture.”

I then asked Erwin McManus if he considered himself to be a controversial person.

“When you say a ‘controversial person’ that sounds like a self identity,” he said. “I think I’m a person who seems to create a lot of controversy.”

I then pointed out that some websites put out all kinds of negative critiques about him, so I wondered how he dealt with this.

“Well, obviously when someone says something negative about you, especially something that’s untrue, that’s hurtful, it can be disturbing and certainly because I have a nineteen year old son, and a fifteen year old daughter, and another daughter who is our foster daughter who lives in Indonesia as a missionary, and when they’re reading all these things that are said about me, it’s very painful because people don’t factor in that you have a wife and you have kids and you have family,” he said.

“But I don’t really want to say what they say about me because it gives them more publicity than they deserve. I think the reality is that in Christianity when someone doesn’t conform to our standard understanding of what a person’s supposed to say and do, we immediately feel like they’re somehow heretical or disconnected.

“I once shared with my wife that I think a part of the problem with modern Christianity is that we really seem to be in an adversarial position against creativity, innovation, imagination and human uniqueness. I think that’s a fundamental problem and it’s not just about me.”

So did he see himself as a leader?

“I really don’t try to think like that as much as I try to think of myself as making the most significant contribution I can to human history,” said McManus. “I would say that I probably do think of myself as a leader mostly because I feel like I’m willing to step out courageously and do things that maybe other people long to do but don’t have the courage to do.

“So maybe I’m a leader in that I am trying to personify what so many of us have in our hearts but don’t feel permission to do or don’t want to take on the consequences of those actions.”

I then asked McManus the reason behind his church.

“I think for me it’s that I became a follower of Christ the week I turned twenty years old and I connected to Jesus and just passionately wanted to follow him and submitted my life under the authority of the Scriptures, but I never really felt at home in the cultural expression of Christianity,” he said.

“I had friends that I cared about, and people that I loved, that the cultural expression of what it meant to be a Christian was just an unnecessary hurdle between them and Jesus. And so it’s not for me about who can be coolest an who can be most inventive and who can be most innovative it really is that I have people that I love; that I care about who don’t know Christ, and I want to remove every non-essential barrier between them and God.”

I then asked him how people could pray for him.

“Well, you know, there’s all these conversations out there about whether a church is modern or post-modern or emergent or emerging and really we just want to be an experimental church; we want to be God’s r&d [research and development] department. And so really I think the way to pray for me and for Mosaic for what we’re doing around the world, is to just pray than we never lose our courage, never lose our faith, and that we’re always willing to risk and sacrifice one more thing to help one more person connect to Jesus.”

Note: Erwin McManus is the author of An Unstoppable Force, a Gold Medallion Award finalist; Chasing Daylight; Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul (also companion The Uprising Experience life storyboard); and The Barbarian Way; Stand Against the Wind and Soul Cravings.

He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and Southwestern Theological Seminary. He and wife, Kim, have two children, Aaron and Mariah, and a foster daughter Paty.

To get more information on the church, go to www.mosaic.org

I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.


Dan Wooding, 67, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma of 44 years. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. Wooding is the author of some 42 books, the latest of which is his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, go to www.fromtabloidtotruth.com. danjuma1@aol.com.

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