Today marks the end of week one, Spring Quarter – my fourth at Fuller Theological Seminary. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on which perspective you take), PhD quarters maximise study – they are normally 10 weeks in length, but ours also flow over the sides and into breaks, so this is the quietest I’ve been all year. My grades are submitted (phew! I passed – A’s are compulsory in the PhD program)…. and now I’m recalibrating ready for a new mountain to ascend. I realised I haven’t yet written a snapshot of life in L.A., so this is to prevent panicked I’m-going-to-die posts as the only souvenirs of my time here. This is a week in my life….
SUNDAY: Today is Sunday, and so I walked up to Lake Avenue, the congregational church two blocks from my house. It’s where I’ve been attending, working around performances and crazy deadlines. This morning was Palm Sunday – both 9 and 11am services hold a couple of thousand people, but it’s hard to count. Today was the cutest thus far – the kids came in during the second song waving palm branches and signed deaf language symbols to Kari Jobe’s ‘Revelation Song’. Pastor Greg Waybright preached a brilliant message – he always does. I think he was formerly President of Trinity Evangelical Seminary, and I can’t fault his sermons, they are academic and popular, passionate and challenging, and always absolutely brilliant. That sounds overly effusive, but I’m telling you, Ps Greg jumps over my high standards every single time. Today was no exception… he started a series on Jeremiah – a timely reminder to the congregation to live prophetically. And as sentiment in L.A. stirs over the shootings of two young black men in the space of a few weeks (one in Pasadena last week), it was a salve on anger and a reminder that Christianity is not merely a placating drug, but a message that challenges existing world orders. I can’t do this, but Christ can do it through me. Amen.
I normally walk to Target after church. Target is a big deal for most of the students in Pasadena, and it is always crowded. today I have to buy a water filter, our is falling apart after six months and I’m sick of putrid California water combined with old apartment pipes that occasionally deliver a yellow tint to the sink. Erk. I stop in to kiss my husband – Tim works in a funky bakery, Europane, which is strict about weekends off, so I’m usually alone on Sundays if we’re not leading worship somewhere. If it’s sunny, I grab a coffee and walk around Pasadena’s 1920s style city centre, the tall palms waving towards the sky and mountains behind a constant changing palette of colours – there’s no snow today but I’m praying for it! …. I love white tips on the mountains. It has rained twice this week, which is very unusual. When it rains in Pasadena, you might as well throw a bucket of water over yourself as you leave the door – water seems to come out of the ground, from the sides, and up above. An umbrella is no use.
MONDAY/TUESDAY: My days blend into each other during the week, punctuated by blocks of classes, which I attend as an ‘Instructor in Training’. My supervisor Dr King has innovative ways of blending mission and music together – I do all the marking and also some preparation for classes like ‘Exegeting a Musical Culture’ in which the students explore their own city’s musical soundscape. I’d love students to map out Sydney’s musical cultures… maybe someday.
WEDNESDAY: On Wednesdays, Fuller has a food distribution program, so the homeless that are an ever-present reality in Pasadena arrive on campus, to wait for a box of groceries. Internationals are allowed a food box as well, and it’s good quality stuff, so we line up with the Pasadena characters to receive food. It’s humbling to stand there but it’s also a privilege – a window into the world of those that would otherwise fade invisible into the landscape. Tim has become friends with the security guards that watch over the hundred or so families. One week a lady stole Tim’s number from his back pocket, so he is ever vigilant to clasp it tight – a number such as 122 could mean you are standing there for two or more hours. We wonder if it’s worth it for a couple of cans of beans and a cucumber – but it cuts our cost of living down.
Wednesday is also chapel service – Fuller’s community meet to pray and worship together in the auditorium called Travis (Tim has only just realised this, he thought Travis was a guy with a big nose). It’s usually beautiful and bittersweet, finding a place of connection and yet also experiencing an aching of not being at home. When Hillsong’s songs come up I sing harmonies loudly… and I try to learn the other lovely melodies and follow the liturgical form.
Some Wednesdays I have class. Every class has assignments that must be uploaded, usually quite extensive, and so the days in which we do meet mean that my week’s agenda is set. This week, I don’t, and I also have no marking, so my breathing is much easier and I can enjoy the sunshine and quiet ambiance of Pasadena. The Professors are all incredible – the voice of each of them lingers in my head, they integrate faith, hope and thought so well.
THURSDAY/ FRIDAY: The end of my week means catching up on multiple things I’ve missed while freaking out about assignments. It is punctuated by a small group of friends that meets to study the bible in an apartment above us on the third floor (we love our group of eight wandering/wondering souls). Each day I try to avoid Fuller’s coffee shop, but I seem to end up there, sometimes with friends or new contacts. Fuller’s community is endless… it seems one great connection leads to another and I’m forever meeting people. I remember once an accountant told Tim how his finances improved by cutting out a daily cappuccino. Tim’s response on the way home was priceless, he said “I’d rather die than have to sacrifice a daily coffee”. We try, but we do badly in this regard.
SATURDAYS: We sing regularly in various places and venues, trying to find a balance between utter exhaustion and contributing our gifts… there are a number of churches in the L.A. region with which I have now fallen in love and feature in my prayers. I recognize the look of a weary worship pastor and try to say ‘yes’ whenever I can to help out. Last night was a Fuller showcase of musicians, each of them brilliant and are doing similar things… some gigging in pubs, some helping churches – all trying to find a balance similar to us. It was great to find solidarity.
On Saturdays, our organic vegetable box comes at 10am to the carpark next door. Having boxes twice a week keeps us out of grocery stores unless we have specific items we need. I feel quite unconnected at times, also without a car or television. But at the same time, it brings a peace that is needed right now. The vegetable box is a mix of seasonal goodies, and it takes an hour to put away – every week I read the letter from Uncle Vern the farmer… he makes me laugh with his antics… and try to figure out what to do with Collard Greens, or Flat leaf Broccoli. Usually we skype my parents on Saturday night, but occasionally we forget, which means we’re scrambling to find another time of the week that suits the sixteen hour time gap.
And then Sunday… and we’re back into things… this is what it looks like to do a PhD in L.A….