Last year I went to a class in Pasadena, California. The professors challenged us to take public transportation as much as possible to see what missiological insights would arise. After flying in, being dropped off by shuttle to where I’d be staying, and checking in to my room, I decided that I’d go to the grocery store to get some food.
So how does one get to a grocery store in a new town where you’ve never been?
Enter Google Maps.
I pulled out my iPhone, searched for grocery store locations, and decided that I’d finally make my first visit to a Trader Joe’s nearby. From where I was, I would have to walk around a quarter of a mile and take a bus that would take me to the grocery store. I admit that I was thoroughly impressed with Google Maps. Not only did it tell me where the bus stop would be, but it also told me the exact time that the bus would arrive. After walking around 10 minutes in the heat, and then waiting for 15 minutes, I was ready for the bus to arrive.
This would be my first bus ride via public transportation since….I think ever. I didn’t know what to expect, but thankfully I had some cash on me.
After the bus groaned and thudded to a stop, I hopped on and sheepishly asked what the fair was to get to Trader Joe’s.
“$1.50,” she said, appearing restless and wanting to move on.
“Ah, ok,” I responded, as my $2 were sucked into the little slot.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked with this amazingly mean you’re-the-dumbest-person-I’ve-ever-met-look on her face and sound in her voice.
I realized that I had no idea how this whole riding-the-bus-thing was supposed to work. No one explained it to me and the driver certainly didn’t seem like the patient teacher-type. Was I supposed to receive some change back? Would it spit out a receipt for me? I had no idea.
“Um, I’m sorry, I just didn’t know if I was supposed to get a receipt or something,” I mumbled, feeling like a 5 year old.
“No, just sit down,” she said as she closed the door and began driving off.
Have you ever had those moments, by the way, when you feel offended and you do a nano-second scan of your brain hoping that something witty will pop out? I actually thought to myself, “how can I shame this person in a nice way without seeming too rude?” Pastors can’t be rude. It’s a rule somewhere.
Pointing my chin into the air as I walked past her I huffed in a slightly sarcastic tone, “Well it’s my first time on a bus and I appreciate how kind you were to me!” Ha! That would show her to mess with a pastor. I was not liking this whole bus-riding thing, by the way. I felt completely lost and juvenile.
On the 5 minute bus ride, while observing everyone like a hawk, I learned that you had to pull the little chord to signify that you wanted the bus to stop, and I learned that the middle doors don’t open automatically like the front door, but need to be pushed open (don’t ask).
I finally arrived at Trader Joes. I only had a backpack with me, so I had to be mindful of how much groceries I purchased–only enough to carry on my back.
On the return bus trip back I was lucky enough to get the same moody lady. I nodded with my chest held high as I entered the bus again. This time I was a pro.
*Swish swish* as money is sucked through the machine.
*Ding ding* as I later pull the chord to stop.
*Ping ping* as Google Maps shows me where I have to walk to get home.
And such was my time there spent. Several of my friends had cars that they rented for the class, and I would catch rides with them when I could, but sometimes I had to take the bus or metro.
So what’s the biggest lesson I learned?
That society, and the average church in general, is perfectly fitted to receive middle class drive-up people.
Everyone should have the opportunity at some point to place themselves in someone else’s shoes; to see from someone else’s eyes. What is life like for them?
Having an iPhone was a huge advantage to getting around in Pasadena and LA. But what if I didn’t have an iPhone? How would I know which metro to take? How would I know when the bus was coming? How would I know which bus to take? Sure, there are forms, and brochures, and maps, but how accessible are those things to the average person?
If someone doesn’t have a car, how will they get to your church? Your house?
In the community where I live, there is no public transportation system that I’m aware of. How would a person that doesn’t have a car get here? I’m ashamed to say that I’m not sure. But after using public transportation for several days it made me sensitive to what people of less means have to go through, and I certainly want to start asking those questions.
Beyond that, though, I think that the middle class church is dependent and assumes upon an attractional come-to-me approach. People have means. People have cars. People can and will come. Above everything else this experience forced me to see that society is not built around the less fortunate in mind, and that perhaps the church has to be the one that is going out–seeking those who will never come and ministering to those that don’t have the means.
So what about you? What has public transportation taught you about culture and society?