Theology and Public Transportation
I wrote this a few months ago while I was living in Washington, DC and working at Sojourners. It is my hope to write more about my DC experience in coming days…
I heard a sermon in which the speaker asked a silly, but profoundly important question. He asked the chapel full of seminarians where the most important location was in the small town in which the school is located. Is it this chapel with its beautiful stained glass and singing? Is it the building that houses the classrooms where you learn theology and philosophy? Is it one of the local church congregations? No. It is Cluckers (the local gas station). The speaker went onto to posit that he believed that Cluckers was important because it was where the world collided in our small town to refuel, talk about the goings on, grab a drink and eat the best baklava this side of the Mediterranean.
Things are different for me now. I’m living in a major world city, where I often use public transportation. Like Cluckers, public transportation, in such a metropolitan city, is where the world meets. Rich and poor, powerful and powerless, young and old, all pile into buses and the metro. This is a great place to people watch and think and pray. One day as I was doing this I was reminded of the Joan Osborn song, “What if God Was One of Us?” There is a line directly following the title line, ‘just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.’ I got to thinking about what Jesus would notice, and say and do if he were riding the metro. I began to think he would be pleased to see societies’ hierarchies and barriers temporarily removed as nearly every socio-economic background, religion and race huddled together trying not to fall down as the train jerked forward.
Though the more I ride, I notice something I believe would disturb Jesus and should disturb us. As I rode certain lines in certain directions the demographics changed. Instead of a multicultural mélange, the faces on the metro became more homogenous. One could almost know which stop was theirs by looking at the number of people in the car who did or did not look like them. I wonder how Jesus would react. Would he start flipping over the turnstiles or would he stand on a seat and preach? Would he heal the blind man standing by the door or would he multiply the amount of money still left on everyone’s ticket? I don’t know, but I’m sure that he would do something, perhaps something crazy, certainly something creative, to let people know that they were loved and cherished by God.
As people interested in reconciliation, the way of Jesus, this modern day segregation should sadden us, inform us and challenge us to keep working for a world where love and justice are the norm; a world where skin color, your country of origin or the language you speak don’t have to play a role in deciding which area of town you should live. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with wanting to live with people who are most like you. There is however a terrible evil lurks just below the surface of this desire that works its way into our lives when we get too comfortable with where we live and with whom we associate. This evil is complacency and apathy towards the struggles of the ‘other’ and it is a structure, a principality in which individuals are content with being walled off with folks like them and failing to join in the journeys of others for more than a short metro ride.
What if our whole lives looked like the line for baklava and a soda, or the trip on the red line metro train? What if we were intentional about meeting people most unlike us and participating in their lives, helping them when they needed it and sharing our food, our journeys and our lives together? The moments we share when our paths cross on the metro, subway, or bus look more and more to me like our local church congregations ought to and the way heaven appears in Scripture. If we can get together to share our journeys to work and school and to restaurants and stores, why can’t we get together and share our journey into eternity?