Our little house was situated halfway between Hollywood and Sunset – two of the major thoroughfares providing the constant rush of traffic across Northeast Los Angeles. Directly across the street from us was a hospital parking garage with two sets of heavy traffic spikes. At shift change, a rapid series of metallic clunks peppered into our windows as cars pulled out of the garage. Three hospitals within four blocks provided the blare of sirens and the whir of helicopter blades. Pedestrians moving to and fro – speaking Thai, Armenian, Spanish, and English – shouting, talking, laughing.
Quiet was rare, noise was normal. But in the midst of this noise our ears tuned in to the heartbeat of God for this place. Every siren a reminder to pray. Every language spoken a celebration of creation’s diversity. Each noise a reminder that the city was a sacred place to await and participate in God’s redemption, a soundtrack for faith and ministry in this place.
But this summer, after eight years in Los Angeles, following a quiet and familiar voice inviting us to consider a new possibility unfolding for our family, we moved north to the East Bay outside San Francisco.
Into the Quiet.
No rushing cars.
No clunking parking garage.
No pedestrians speaking much of anything.
Just that ringing sound our ears make when they don’t have enough to do. Our familiar soundtrack, the rhythms by which we heard and followed God, had drawn to a close.
And then, after a day or so, our ears began to adjust. This place which we experienced as silent began to sing. Barking dogs. Humming Cessna’s making their approach at the nearby airport. The cars and the sirens on Clayton. The regular, round-the-clock approach and departure of BART trains at the station just blocks away.
The soundtrack hadn’t stopped. A new chapter of songs was beginning.
Early in the Hebrew Scriptures, God is asserted as a God on the move. When humans are kicked out of paradise, God leaves the garden in protection and pursuit. When the scattering takes place at Babel, God follows a family from generation to generation, waiting for the right time to unleash the promise of blessing. From the cities, temples, and thrones of empires to the deserts and caves of the wilderness, God’s presence is heard and felt and experienced. From place to place the pitch and tempo change, but the melody line remains recognizable and inviting.
Change of Place, Pace, Program and ProximityMy transition did not just involve a new neighborhood and ministry context; the change of place is just the part of the transition that’s easiest to talk about. It satisfies most of the questions I’m asked and most of the questions I ask myself. But there’s a lot more that’s been upended and overturned. There’s a lot more that’s new.
In Los Angeles I was bi-vocational. I worked full-time in higher ed while serving our congregation as a pastor in that block of time that exists outside of the traditional 40-50 hour work week. My rhythms of living, working, and playing were centered in a largely walkable and bike-able proximity that served as a home base and gathering place for my ministry leadership. Our congregation’s life was highly relational with regular but de-centralized and de-programmed gatherings.
Now I’m paid a full-time salary to focus my contribution towards the faithful flourishing of our congregation which has population pockets spread throughout the East Bay. While there’s still a place or two I walk, most of my transit involves bikes, trains, and the occasional car. Our new congregation is still highly relational, but with a bit more centralization and programming that drives my regular rhythm and routine of leadership.
These things aren’t inherently good or inherently bad, but they are things. They are part of this transition and part of the processing that will unfold over time as we settle into new rhythms in this new place. While I can name them as things, I am less sure about how each of them contributes to the whirlwind of life’s new rhythm.
But in the midst of the transition, in the midst of the noise, in the midst of these questions, the God Who Moves is present. Speaking. Inviting. Encouraging. Connecting.
The pitch and the tempo have changed but the melody line is unmistakable.