This week I've been (mostly) away at a week of Feasting for preachers called "Festival of Homiletics." Well, okay, I'm not really "away." The Festival came to my town this year, which meant that I could afford to go. I've been spending every day in one of the big gothic churches in our downtown area, listening to eloquent and truthful sermons and lectures, words that uplift and break your heart, alternating between taking furious notes and just sitting and letting the words wash over me.
There has been some pretty incredible music too.
I don't live far from downtown, so every day I've been taking the bus downtown. I haven't taken a bus for a few years, but long ago, before I was a pastor, I took the bus to work every day. When I was in high school, I took the bus downtown for piano lessons at MacPhail Center for the Performing Arts (I know, sounds impressive, but I'm really not that good.) And when I was a little girl, my grandmother used to take me on the bus downtown with her to go shopping, and to the public library. So, the bus and I go WAY back.
But like I said, it's been several years since I have taken a bus. I don't know the schedules, and had to google the bus company to find out what the fares are now (2.25 one way). I started out taking the 18 bus on Tuesday morning. It's a route I knew a little bit about, since I got on an 18 bus once by mistake long ago and ended up lost. But from that experience I learned basically where the 18 went.
It's a bus route that takes a basically straight route from where I live to our downtown area, stopping every block to pick people up. On the 18 you will find mothers with small children, the Somali woman with her head covered, the woman who rides with her carry-on luggage, boys with ipods in their ears. It's a pretty diverse crowd.
By the next day I had figured out that there was a bus stop less than 1/2 from my house, an express bus that stopped on a freeway exit, picked up people going to work, and got right back on the freeway. As you might imagine, this bus carries a somewhat different crowd. (I even ran into someone from my church!).
A few things about taking the bus after a long hiatus: You really have to pay attention to where the stops are. Some of the rules (I discovered) have changed about which buses stopped here. I also remembered that it's good to bring some reading material for the journey. You are riding together, but generally speaking, people don't talk to each other.
Taking the bus every day has taken me back, in a way, back to a time and place before I was a pastor. Taking the bus every day has taken me back to a time when I was a little girl, holding my grandmother's hand, and wandering through the aisles at the big public library downtown. Or back to a time when I sat at a desk every day, typing and answering phones and wondering what was the purpose of my life. Or back to a time when I didn't have a car.
So, I'm going to this preaching conference every day, and I'm remembering what it was like to be something other than a preacher: a kid, a student, a clerical worker, someone struggling to make ends meet, someone trying to figure out where God was at in the world, or in her life, someone going home exhausted every day.
And I think, that after hearing all of the eloquent words and wise advise of the week, maybe just taking the bus every day will do something to make me a better preacher.
What do you think?