Coffee in Pasadena

While living in Los Angeles, I accidentally started attending a Pentecostal church, though I myself was raised strictly Presbyterian. How I got there is another story. But I got there, and I kinda liked it. I liked the chill young-seminarian vibes, the loud music, the social justice bent. They had amazing doughnuts and members who were decently nice. And so I kept showing up.

 A few weeks into my sojourn there, the pastor’s sister-in-law asked me to get coffee with her and then texted me several times to follow up. She was a tall, bubbly mother of several toddlers. Gangly and fashionable. I didn’t really like the thought of making strained conversation with a relative stranger, but I was determined to make this church-going thing work, and so I eventually agreed. She lived in the nearby city of Pasadena and asked me to meet her there. I picked a coffee shop I’d never heard of and took the train. She showed up late. Kid stuff, she said.

We didn’t have much in common, but I was trying to be friendly, so I smiled and laughed a lot and nodded vigorously to signal, “Oh girl, I so relate!” I asked her about her toddlers, and she sighed and waved her hand, indicating that they were too boring to discuss. She asked about my family, and so I told her about the six of us—I love talking about my family. I told her that my dad used to be a pastor, that I grew up in a Christian home. I figured she would like that detail. But soon enough, a pall fell over the conversation.

“Let me ask you a question,” she said in the sort of let’s-get-real tone that I know and dread.

“Okay,” I squeaked.

She stared me dead in the eye. “If your parents told you they weren’t Christian anymore, would that affect your faith?”

I knew I was expected to answer, “No.” The test was obvious: is your faith strong enough to withstand the slings and arrows of human imperfection? But I am a relational creature and like any other human being, I make sense of the world through what I know of the world. I could feel my heart begin to pound with rage. I have no patience for the creaky machinations of “witnessing” when it doesn’t bother to read the crowd. Once, while I was trapped on an underground train, a man tried to explain the concept of “grace” to me as I said, over and over, that I already knew what he was talking about. It’s like trying to prove you’re not crazy: you can’t do it. The harder you try the crazier you seem. Just try shrieking “I ALREADY BELIEVE IN GOD” on a crowded subway and watch the concerned looks bloom in the eyes of the believers.

I took a deep breath and looked her dead in the eye right back.

“Of course it would affect me,” I said. “It would shake my belief to the core. They’re my parents.

She sat for a while in silence and then tried a new tactic. That’s the thing about a certain type of Christian: they want to break you. She wanted to be confronted with something she could save.

“Why did you want to meet me today, Tori?” she said.

I gaped at her.

“I’m a mom,” she continued. “I’m not cool. I know you didn’t come all the way out to Pasadena just to hang out with a mom. So why did you come here today?”

I thought it would be impolite to remind her that I came because she invited me and I didn’t know how to say no. So I muttered something about wanting to engage more with the church.

“Hmm,” she said, nodding as though she’d finally figured me out.  

religion, Los AngelesTori Telfer