Work in Progress

Baseball, Seminary, Wrestling, and the Dreams and Days of one Mike Work's Angeles experience

Friday, July 22, 2005

I need a drink, so accompanied by Coltrane and Chardonnay, I write about tonight's events.

To recap my current life situation, I'm still in Pasadena, with one year of classes left at Fuller before an overseas practicum experience to be determined. My brother Brian's been visiting this week, looking at the LA Film School and deciding whether he's going to move here or not in January. I finished one class yesterday, and begin hebrew exegesis on Tuesday, leaving me a bit of a break from homework, so we've been hanging out, and I've enjoyed the time together. Tonight we went to Universal City Walk, walked around for a bit and had a late dinner at Panda Express. We headed out around 10:45, and after some meandering, wound up back at the Red Line station around 11:00.

We got on the subway, and after a brief trip to North Hollywood to drop off those headed in that direction, we headed south towards Union Station, where we would pick up the Gold Line and go back to Pasadena. We got there around 11:50, no worries, trains run late. Right?

Wrong. After about twenty minutes waiting for a train, a fellow passenger used the intercom to ask when we might expect one, and the word came back that the last train left at 11:52. So the 12 or so of us on the platform were pretty much screwed. Another train pulled in, and hopes that she might make another run were soon dashed, but we were instructed as to how to get back to Pas. I figured we'd be good to go, and the thought was to either go to the bus stop as a group (late night, safety in numbers) or for some of us to catch a cab together.

As I moved in that direction, Betty got ahold of me. While we were listening to the conductor giving us directions on how to get to Pasadena, this woman had approached Brian and I and asked if we were brothers, where we were from, and the like. Bri told his story, in town from Atlanta visiting, and when I was asked where I go to school, I let it slip that I go to Fuller. That's all I said, Fuller, not thinking that anything would be made of it, but she latched in and started asking 'spiritual questions,' and stuff like when we have fellowship, if i study the bible devoutly, and how often, what my favorite scripture was, and how it all went down.

Having spent the past month in the writings, what came to mind? Ecclesiastes, and the story of a guy who's done it all in life and sums it up by calling out the meaninglessness of it all, while telling us that there's not much better than living life and enjoying it, in light of all this. That's what's been on my mind of late, informing my questions on life direction, dream pursuit, and finding an honorable job that I could enjoy.

That got cut off about midway through, as she seemed disinterested in that answer, and asked what i was studying. when i replied cross-cultural studies, and explained that i was preparing to serve overseas, the response was, 'in the military or navy?' Me inside: 'God, no!'
Me outside: 'Well, maybe as a army or navy chaplain, but that's about it.'

At that point, she walked into the background, i again focused my attention on the conductor, and that was the extent of our interaction on the platform. I didn't make much of it, other than, 'well, i'm certainly not an evangelical,' recalling people i've known who would've made it their mission to lead her to a profession of faith right then and there. That's not my default, or even my second level of thought.

So we're walking down the platform, and I'm thinking about 'okay, how're we going to do this. we're all going back to the same area, and one of the young women we met on the station lives within a mile of our house, so maybe we can split a cab and we'll walk those last eight blocks home.'

And at the bottom of the stairway, this woman stops us, and wants to keep asking me religious questions. I'm thinking, 'can we keep walking? not to be an ass, but it's one in the morning, and we just missed our train. we need to get back to pasadena, and while i figured you were in a similar situation, i guess i was wrong. maybe you're thrilled that you met a seminary student who can answer all kinds of interesting questions and give you great deep spiritual insight, but talking about what little i know of kabbalah really means nothing to me, especially when i'm convinced that Christ-like spirituality is much more earthy than esoteric.'

what do i have? Life's a mess, but God has a way of working things out. And in saying that, I'm trying to make the point 'we missed our train and need to go figure out a backup plan,' but it's just not getting across.

After a few minutes of Betty asking me questions and me realizing that she really could and would stay there and talk all night, we excused ourselves. having lost track of the other travelers, and with them, my plans, we walked around outside Union Station, looking for a bus stop and waiting, but after a bus pulled up and the driver clarified that this was as far east as the 33 goes, we went back around and called a cab, which got us back to Pas around 1:30. Having not taken a taxi since Madrid 2000, five years past, I forgot that proper cab etiquette doesn't involve trying to do comparison shopping with every driver in the line, but that the first cab is the one you get.

So we're home, and I'm processing and pondering. This is the second time this week that i've met someone on the trains who was either homeless or mentally ill, and also more 'spiritual' than me, vocabulary-wise. Coming back from Best Buy on Sunday, I found myself across the car from a fellow who peppered his speech with all sorts of religious vocabulary, and seemed to just need to talk to somebody, release some tension. So I listened until my stop, and bid him well. Nothing more, nothing less.

The common threads with both people were homelessness and mental illness, and the strong correlation between the two just leaves me baffled as to what a god-like response in these cases looks like.

does god care about the poor?
resounding yes.

but what does that look like?
it's certainly more than teaching the homeless a few slogans and religious terms (believe me, most of the people i meet on the street have got plenty of those, and aren't hesitant to use them!), and it's certainly more than handouts; i'm convinced that giving someone a few pennies, 99% of the time, doesn't have a lasting effect. These harsh realities of life are way too big for individuals. Addressing problems and serving people requires strong churches, which both excites me and freaks me out, in the same manner as the prospect of marriage.

Life-partnership is just that, and the integration of another person into my life will change us both. Likewise, welcoming a human being into a community of faith involves more than teaching them a few slogans or giving them a few bucks, one-time-only, but a sense of inviting someone into our lives, and knowing that our lives will not remain the same.

pretty fucking daunting...


  • At 7:52 PM, Anonymous scott said…

    i liked this story. man, 5 years ago you'd be chided in fca for not handing 'betty' a tract. not that its a bad thing, just how different we were all taught, you know?

  • At 2:30 PM, Blogger Scott J. Pearson said…

    Wonderful story. You have brought a smile to my face and many thoughts to my mind.


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