December 17, 2004

Hello, Darkness? This is Candle.

In all of the heavy skirmishing that seems to have flared up this season over the place of religious expression in public fora, I was delighted again this morning on my ride in to see a guy I've taken to calling the Metro Missionary.

The Metro Missionary is a clean, neatly-dressed, middle-aged Korean man whom I've been seeing off and on for years on Dee Cee's Orange Line. He'll get on at a station (often Court House, although this morning it was Foggy Bottom), sing a hymn, bless everybody and wish them a good day, and then get off at the next station. I presume that he then goes on to other trains, and perhaps even other lines, working his way around the District. He never asks for money or for anything else and he never tries to make individual contact. Just a simple testament of faith through song and he's off.

As a matter of fact, the man has a rayther pleasant light baritone voice. He seems to specialize in 19th Century fare such as "Rock of Ages", but last week he gave us a very nice rendition of "O Little Town of Bethlehem". Today's was a melody I know very well, but I did not recognize the words.

You never know what kind of reaction the Metro Missionary is going to provoke. Most people politely ignore him. But sometimes it gets ugly. A couple years ago, some clown at the other end of the car started yelling at him that he had "no Constitutional right" to be singing hymns on Metro (thereby displaying not only beastly manners but also an appalling lack of understanding as to what the Establishment Clause actually says). This heckler eventually became so irate that he stormed down the car, grabbed the Missionary and threw him off the train as the doors opened, in the meantime shouting for the transit police to come and arrest him. But most of the time, as I say, people ignore these little recitals. A few will murmur "thank you" and smile, but that's about it.

Today was different, however. For whatever reason, the car was very receptive. When our Missionary finished up, he got the biggest ovation I've ever seen, coupled with many a "thank you" and "God bless" from the passengers.

I like to think that for all the trouble he goes to, this man actually succeeds in spreading a little love and light with his roving recitals. It's easy to dismiss him as an eccentric or even as a crackpot, but when you stop to think about it, his effort is really rather admirable in a way. I'd certainly never do anything like that. But I wish him nothing but the best in his own efforts.

Posted by Robert at December 17, 2004 02:52 PM

Great post. I don't ride that line too often, but I seem to remember this fellow last time I was up that way.

Posted by: The Maximum Leader at December 17, 2004 04:02 PM

Cool! New idea for something to try when I hit retirement in a few years!

Posted by: Nathan at December 17, 2004 05:59 PM

No, that's not a tear! Shut up!

Posted by: Brian B at December 17, 2004 07:54 PM

I did that one afternoon in Mexico City with a great group of Mexican teenagers. About 5 of us would get on a short Metro line, me on a little guitar, all of us singing a rousing Christian pop refrain in Spanish, smiling and laughing. Then, pronouncing a peaceful blessing,we'd disappear as soon as the doors opened again...and grab the next train going in the opposite direction. Unforgettable for us, and likely so for the stoic Mexicans in that huge city.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at December 19, 2004 10:39 AM

I used to live down in DC (86-91) and I'd occasionally see missionaries on the Red line. They ranged from the easily ignorable to the intolerable..Don't recall the one you mentioned though...

Posted by: LarryConley at December 22, 2004 02:37 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?