The Church and Public Transport


July 4, 2013 by lucieromarin

It’s winter here. This means that the view from the bus window at 7:30 a.m, passing through our city’s Italian quarter – where the bright yellow paints and the red flowers in hanging baskets stand out against the muted luminous grey of the morning cold – is pleasantly conducive to fine thoughts.

However, my fine thoughts ended immediately upon the sight of a crazy man at the approaching bus stop. He was short, oddly-clothed, talking angrily to no one, and combing his fringe with a bright pink comb the size of my hand. Oh, please don’t get on my bus, I thought. Then, I thought, Lucy, it’s no one’s fault. They have to let him on. It’s public transport. This is the whole point of public transport. It’s public. You have to use it and so do the weird people.

Then the scales fell from my eyes. I looked the poor gnome with new respect as the bus sailed away from him (yes, he turned his back on us!) for, of course, the Church is public transport, and all our problems and privileges are mirrored in the experience of boarding a bus or a train. Everyone knows that some lines or routes are cleaner and safer than others, partly because of the employees, and partly because of the passengers. There are some lines that routinely let their passengers down. There are weird passengers, loud passengers, obnoxious passengers, tiny passengers in nappies screaming while you’re trying to think. None of them can be barred from public transport by virtue of the fact that their way of using it makes other people’s journeys uncomfortable; only the violent can be banned and the fare-evaders fined. Similarly, there are also courteous passengers, helpful passengers, and regulars you start to miss if you don’t see them. There are seasoned travellers, characters who can recite the timetable for you and tell you when it last changed, and there are newcomers, some of whom mean well and definitely want to get to the proper destination, but are not entirely sure if they’re on the right line or have paid the correct fare. Some drivers are smiley and friendly and always on time, and will go out of their way to make your journey comfortable and safe. Others drive like maniacs and neither notice nor care if you get flung halfway down the bus as they lurch into your stop – if they heed your request to stop at all. Public transport is a vast network of trains, buses, ferries, timetables, connections, fares, and trackwork that all makes perfect sense once you’ve used it for thirty-odd years, but is completely mystifying to outsiders, and a giant drag to people stuck on a bad line for too long.

I’m not saying this to justify bad behaviour. That the train-guards can’t throw out of the carriage all the people who yell into their mobile phones doesn’t mean that the yellers aren’t doing something wrong. It just means that you have to remember that your ticket only admits you to the journey; it doesn’t promise you’ll travel only with saints and nice people. If it did that, it would be saint transport, not public transport.

Well, it’s possible that everyone else thought of this decades ago and I’m just late to the party – but I’m glad I’ve had the thought at last! It means I can stop wasting time wondering when everything will be perfect, because the answer is ‘never’, not because the Ark is not doing Her work, but precisely because She is doing her work, which is to guarantee that as many strange creatures as possible outlast life’s storms and make it home.

3 thoughts on “The Church and Public Transport

  1. Cojuanco says:

    Yep, the Church Militant is a hospital for sinners, essentially (of which saints are a part, certainly). This essay speaks to me of someone who is used to taking public transport (though here in Southern California it’s not as good as it was in Sydney when I lived there, though in a couple years Metrolink will give CityRail a run for their money).

    • lucieromarin says:

      Wow – I’d never thought of CityRail as good! That gives me some perspective, alright!

      • Cojuanco says:

        Round here the automobile lobby is powerful, so public transportation schemes are often delayed or blocked altogether. That and many middle-class people somehow think that ‘undesirable elements’ might come to their suburbs on the train, spreading their criminality (bogus, but not all fears are rational). Los Angeles itself has good public transportation though, it’s most suburbs that have piss-poor coverage, with exceptions like Riverside where I used to live.

Leave a Reply to Cojuanco Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: