Being Religious: It's the New Coolest Thing

All across allegedly godless L.A., lawyers are finding solace in their religion

Published in 2004 Southern California Super Lawyers — February 2004

Popular sentiment once held that Gen-Xers believed REM’s “Losing My Religion” pretty much covered everything that needed to be said about matters of faith. They bobbed to the beat of nihilism, their slumped posture giving them the bearing of a question mark — an apt symbol for an affluent slacker class that shrugged at life, death and God above.

Like most stereotypes, the depiction carried a pinch of truth: In their youth, Gen-Xers raised slouching to the level of performance art. But now deep into their 20s and 30s, they’re standing tall as they file into churches, synagogues and mosques in ever-swelling numbers. In fact, religious groups across the country report that young professionals make up the fastest-growing segment of their congregations. Generation X, it turns out, has heeded the call of a higher authority than Michael Stipe.

Which brings us to Daniel Lula, an associate with Payne & Fears, and Joshua Hofheimer, a partner with Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood. Successful attorneys by day, both men seek to serve and spread their faith with the kind of passion that Xers previously reserved for the mosh pit.

In Love With Religious Pomp

Dan Lula passes on Britney Spears and The Da Vinci Code for Scarlatti and the Anglican Breviary. Honest!

Call it divine perspiration.

A few years ago Daniel Lula wanted to buy a copy of the Anglican Breviary. But the book of ancient prayer, an English translation of the Roman Breviary that dates to the 16th century, had lapsed out of print since its U.S. publication in 1955. Used bookstores, eBay, estate sales — everywhere Lula searched, he came up with nothing.

Nothing, that is, save for a growing list of people who asked that he contact them if he ever found extra copies. Around the time the list reached 150 names, Lula recalls, he and his wife hit upon a doit-ourselves solution. They would invest their sweat equity into publishing an exact reprint of the 2,000-page text, right down to the typeface and gilt-edged pages.

“The Anglican Breviary is so important, such a masterpiece of language,” he says. “We didn’t want to see it disappear.”

Now, rather than swipe the rare volume from an unwitting monk and risk God’s wrath, anyone interested in owning it can simply visit Lula’s Web site (www.anglicanbreviary.com). Since the initial reprinting in 1998, he’s sold more than 2,000 copies, enough to bankroll a second run.

His Web site doubles as a breviary primer, detailing its history and how to recite the divine office, the daily Christian prayer schedule whose origins trace back 2,000 years. Lula also oversees a chatboard devoted to discussing the tome’s intricacies, and his budding status as a breviary scholar has yielded invitations from religious groups to talk about the venerable text.

If those endeavors bring to mind a man of the cloth, Lula, 28, admits he considered entering the ministry while an undergrad at Yale. He instead chose to become a man of the bar, graduating from Harvard Law School and joining the Massachusetts office of a New York firm before landing at the Irvine office of Payne & Fears last year. And, in so doing, he chose to accept the inevitable gibes that a devout attorney prays hardest for billable hours.

“You get that once in a while — ‘Oh, an ethical lawyer,’” he laughs. “Some people act as if that’s something new and interesting.”

New and interesting might best describe how Lula regarded the Anglican Church when he first attended High Mass during college. The New York native remembers “being sucked right in” as his lifelong ambivalence toward religion melted away.

“There’s a majesty to the experience. There’s the hush of whispered Latin, the grandeur of hearing Verdi, Mozart and Scarlatti in the setting of a church, the priests wearing resplendent vestments. You feel a sense of history, reflecting on how great minds through the ages have spoken and thought about these words.”

An Anglo-Catholic, Lula belongs to the traditional Anglican Church, which adheres to rituals of worship extremely similar to the ones the Roman Catholic Church practiced prior to Vatican II. In observing High Mass — marked by the priest singing the  liturgy — Anglicanism reveres the ideal of church as a sanctuary for preserving ancient traditions of worship.

Mainline megachurches, feverish to woo and wow congregants, unleash rock music, strobe lights and big-screen videos in a miasma that sometimes resembles the Super Bowl halftime show, minus only the wardrobe malfunction. But signs abound that more young people are recoiling from the multimedia spirituality of their parents. Most notably, the country has seen an explosion of so-called alternative churches, with members gathering in coffee shops, school gyms and other low-fi locales to talk body piercing and extreme prayer.

Meanwhile, at Lula’s church in Hollywood, the number of Gen-X couples has ballooned from very few to two dozen in the last year. “I think young people are looking for a way to disconnect from their increasingly wired life,” he says. Of course, this being Southern California, disconnecting requires a commute — Lula drives 45 minutes from his Irvine home to attend St. Mary of the Angels. Yet even as gas prices eclipse the cost of plastic surgery, he figures it’s a small sacrifice.

“In a world that’s so chaotic, the church provides a place where at least once a week you can revel in beauty and serenity,” he says.

Anglicanism offers a lawyer the added appeal of its rich, fractious legal history. Indeed, it has kindled constitutional infernos across the centuries, from its creation as the state-sponsored Church of England to its U.S. descendants resolving to split from the crown.

More recently, the theological and liturgical changes wrought by the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s have roused traditional Anglicans to accuse Protestants of turning too liberal. Tensions spiked last year with the appointment of a gay Episcopal bishop, an episode that Lula laments as morals gone wild.

“There’s tolerance of anything other than the traditional Anglican ethos,” says Lula, who has served as an ecclesiastical judge. “Churches have become far more left-leaning than their congregations.”

The Vatican II reforms also doomed the Anglican Breviary, as U.S. churches adopted a simplified prayer book to address what could be called WADD — worship attention deficit disorder. By sponsoring the reprint, Lula played a role similar to the wildlife biologists charged with saving the condor, rescuing a part of history from virtual extinction.

“The response to [the reprint] has been overwhelming,” Lula says. “The breviary is something I’m committed to preserving for future generations.”

He takes the same earnest approach to his work at Payne & Fears, the firm with the name that even Jay Leno has joked about. He handles a range of business and commercial litigation, juggling the kind of caseload that can sometimes devour young associates. Lula relies on his faith for respite. He lives a few blocks from the office, so most days he hoofs home for lunch and midday prayers. Evenings find him updating the prayer calendar on his Web site or devising lessons on how to use the breviary.

In short, as he strives to uphold the lawyer’s oath, he abides by the words that run along the bottom of every page on his Web site: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. The rule of our prayer is the rule of our belief.

“A lot of lawyers get caught up in thinking only about the next client meeting, the next court appointment, the next case,” Lula says. “Prayer helps you keep perspective.”

On both life and billable hours.

Unwired, Unplugged, and Waiting for the Queen

Joshua Hofheimer’s “New Generation” group discovers what’s really fun and meaningful, and — surprise! — it’s the same as what the old generation discovered

Three little words that mean so much are spoken countless times every Friday night in Los Angeles. They pass between couples, and in that instant, lives change forever.

“Whatcha wanna do?”

The options seem infinite: Crash movie premieres and after-parties. Sneak into Sky Bar or The Viper Room. Cruise Sunset to glimpse the live-action dramedy that is Paris Hilton.

The choice for Joshua Hofheimer and his wife, however, never proves so difficult nor dramatic. The couple either enjoys Shabbat dinner at home or at a friend’s house. Most often, they stay in with their two young children to celebrate the start of the Jewish Sabbath. They light traditional Shabbat candles, offer blessings in Hebrew and savor a kosher meal, content to let the rest of L.A. go about its chaos.

“Shabbat is a reminder of what really matters,” Hofheimer says. “It’s important to step back from the frenetic pace of the week and reflect on what’s happening around you.”

Hofheimer, 35, recognizes why young professionals lack the time for downtime — the day calendar on his Palm Pilot provides Exhibit A. As a family man and a partner with Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood, he’s on the run more than Super Mario. Yet it’s precisely because of his triple-espresso schedule that three years ago he cofounded Dor Chadash, a social group for young couples and families at Sinai Temple.

Dor Chadash, a Hebrew term that means “new generation,” fortifies the ties between the synagogue and its under-40 members, who gather for Shabbat morning services, holiday parties and other events to deepen their devotion to Jewish customs. The group, as its name implies, aspires to cultivate a new generation of temple and community leaders. But in a more immediate sense, it slows life’s rush by making a small town out of a megalopolis.

“When you’re young and trying to work your way up, you can feel pulled in so many directions, especially in a city as big as Los Angeles,” says Hofheimer, who belongs to the temple’s board of directors. “Dor Chadash gives people a chance to come together and share something they have in common. It offers them a kind of home.”

The group also organizes activities for kids as a way of passing on religious traditions to the next new generation. In that respect, Hofheimer hopes to instill in his children the reverence for Judaism that he learned while growing up in Virginia. He recalls how he and his siblings would count down the minutes until their father, a furniture chain executive, arrived home for Shabbat dinner.

“He worked long hours most nights except Friday. He kept that time for us,” Hofheimer says. “When the tie came off, we knew he was home for good.”

Those family meals sparked feisty discussions over religion, politics and culture that nurtured in young Joshua a lawyerly instinct to listen, think and speak — in that order. After graduating from Dartmouth — where he attended the college’s first-ever Hebrew class, served as president of Dartmouth Hillel, studied in Israel for a semester and brought kosher food to campus for the first time — he enrolled at Harvard Law School. Through class work, clerkships and his first year of private practice, he soon realized that he would rather negotiate contracts than win fat verdicts.

In other words, to resurrect a forgotten phrase, he’s a uniter, not a divider.

“There’s just a lot of satisfaction in bringing parties together, as opposed to helping one side or the other fight for money. When both sides benefit, you feel like you’re having a positive impact.”

Or like you’re freeing Southern California from the tyranny of hanging chads. Hofheimer has brokered deals for Los Angeles and San Diego counties to acquire touch-screen voting machines, which should prevent the region from pulling a Florida on Election Day. He’s also worked with Los Angeles County to obtain a new computer system for its mental health agency. His Rolodex bulges with agritech and biotech clients, and, in 2002, he hashed out an eightfigure contract for a telecommunications firm to build a network of global satellites.

His Bondolike powers of cohesion made Hofheimer a natural candidate when Sinai Temple officials sought leaders for Dor Chadash. The synagogue’s previous young-adult groups suffered from the kind of erratic attendance typically associated with the Clippers. Dor Chadash, by contrast, has thrived since forming in 2001, swelling from about a dozen members to 75; almost 200 people showed for its Hanukkah party last year.

Hofheimer ascribes the rising popularity of religion among the under-40 set to what might be dubbed the “ization” of the culture (not to be confused with Snoop Dogg’s “izzling” of the language). The specialization of everything from the law to health care to cable TV, coupled with the mobilization of workers who bounce from one city to the next, has cratered vast swaths of common ground that existed a generation ago. Young professionals, so wired to the virtual world, feel unplugged from the real one. Hofheimer thinks they want to reconnect through their faith.

“Even if they’re not going to be in a city all their life, people still look to put down roots. It’s important to build friendships and relationships, and something like religion gives them a sense of belonging.”

Better yet, Hofheimer adds, even as Dor Chadash delivers a shared experience, it attracts a greater range of personalities than does, say, a bar association gathering. Such groups expose members only to their own ilk, breeding a sort of peer incest. Dor Chadash and similar groups, meanwhile, draw all kinds, enabling young adults to chat up people from other professional and social circles. Hofheimer describes the dynamic much like Forrest Gump regarded a box of chocolates: “You never know who you’re going to meet.”

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