Saturday, March 19, 2016

A New Kind of Heaven

It is now officially spring time! It’s a season for new flowers and fresh ideas to break forth from the winter slump. While the weather here has not taken any noticeable turn from the average 70 degrees and sunny, there is definitely a new energy in the air. Trees and bushes that I thought would only ever be green are suddenly breaking out with purple and pink flowers! Their smell greatly improves the stale, city air, and also inspires me to think about the ways I, myself, will blossom at the end of this year.

This green vine I pass walking to work has erupted in beautiful, pink flowers!

My life would have certainly changed if I had only come to L.A. for one month. Now, after 6 ½ months, I can easily make an extensive list of ideas and virtues that have changed through my experiences of working in homeless outreach and in my Latino neighborhood. One idea I’ve been processing most recently is how I have come to see God differently, gradually taking him out of the box I was taught to put him in.

Rowena and Gio picking lemons in the garden.
The sermons at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood are posted on their website so people can listen to them any time after Sunday. This month I have started listening to the previous Sunday’s sermon on one morning per week during my bus ride downtown to work.  It’s been interesting to see the different ways I relate to the message when I am on the bus versus when I am in the sanctuary.

On the bus, I listen as the pastor talks about our neighbors, and then I see 2 middle aged Latino women, an older Korean man, a white man with tattoos and a Dodgers hat, and a young African American school boy pay their bus fare.

In the sanctuary, I am surrounded by middle and upper class white people with whom I can relate to so easily.

On the bus, I listen to the pastor talk about living graciously in the midst of suffering, and then I see a poorly dressed man on the sidewalk run in front of the bus and through traffic to give a man on the other side who is begging for money half of the sandwich he has.

In the sanctuary, I think about my own suffering as I work long hours far from home but still muster up the energy to play with 20 neighborhood kids at the end of the day.

What I love the most about listening to the sermons on the bus is the prayer at the end. In the sanctuary, everything is quiet and you can do your best to focus and feel good about how we might change the world.

On the bus, everything is loud and busy and real.  That prayer suddenly goes out to the mother in the seat ahead of me, struggling to keep her and her child’s bags together in the small area. Or a word of love and peace gets sent to the couple behind me arguing about last night.

It is so nice to sense the presence of God in my life outside of the sanctuary. I spend the great majority of my time out in the real world, where life is so busy it feels like God can’t catch up and I have to slow down back in the Sanctuary to find that spirit again. But listening to that prayer on the bus, I find a very different feeling of being with a God who drives 1000 mph all day, every day, and still manages to keep everything in order.   

A few weeks ago our site coordinator, Matthew Schmitt, gave a sermon on racial reconciliation. The line that has stuck with me the most was about how Heaven will be a place with people of all cultures and particularly of all music; rock will blend with classical, which will blend with steel drums and sitars, then bluegrass and pan pipes. Everything we can imagine and more will be present and beautifully come together!

A clear view of the City of Angels
Before this year, I’m pretty sure my vision of heaven was still all about cloud furniture and choir robes. Now I am coming to see that the Heaven God has in mind is actually full of beautiful, smiling faces in every color, maybe even on a bus together, with the most eclectic music and flowers and food the world has ever known! With that diversity in mind, I would definitely say that Los Angeles is a piece of Heaven on Earth.

Oh yeah, my family came to visit! Here we are at Olvera Street
experiencing quite a bit of diversity!