28 March, 2011

I Saw What I Saw, and I Can't Forget It

Nearly a year ago I went to Germany for the first time. I went with a group from my church, on a mission to provide encouragement and support, but also to learn from, the Berlinprojekt, Kreuzbergprojekt, and Hamburgprojekt communities. I do not think that "life-changing" is too strong a description for the impact of that trip upon me. Chills still run up and down my spine when I remember being given the opportunity to help serve the Lord's Supper to my German brethren; tears still well up in my eyes when I remember the faces of the Hamburgprojekt team, shining with glory. After returning to the States I went to a Sara Groves concert with a friend. I had only heard of couple of her songs and was mainly going so that I could hang out with my friend. But I was overcome when she played "I Saw What I Saw." Granted, I hadn't just been to a third world country or witnessed extreme material poverty; but I had spent a week with people who indeed, in their courage and devotion and persistent hope, asked me what I was afraid of and what I knew of love. Walking through Prenzlauerberg, walking through Kreuzberg, walking down the Reeperbahn - "Something on the road cut me to the soul."

Last month I had the unexpected opportunity to go to Berlin again. This time, it was for work, but I made sure to take a few personal days so that I could spend the weekend with some friends and worship at Berlinprojekt. I loved once again singing to the Lord in German, knowing that He understood. I loved taking Communion, knowing that this corporate confession and the work of the Spirit are not bound by language. I loved listening -- I was struck by the intermittent sounds of children around the auditorium and up in the nursery. There were not so many children a year ago, I thought. But now -- now this place is teeming with children who will in time be able to say (unlike their parents, probably) that there was never a day that the church was not part of their lives, never a day that they did not know the Lord. And they will go out into all of Berlin, all of Germany, carrying their hope. God wants to enfold every nation into His kingdom, and He is faithful, generation unto generation.

16 March, 2011

Next stop: more concrete

I am generally a mild-tempered person. However, there are a few things in life that inspire downright vehement feelings within me...they include Disney teen stars, products that pass as "cheese," and the design of the DC Metro. Let's talk about the Metro, shall we?

One of the things I believe about design - whether graphic, industrial, architectural, fashion, etc. - is that it ought, essentially, to create order out of chaos. It ought to make the world a more easily understood and navigated place. It seems to me that some people respond to the need for such order and comprehension by assuming that a totally uniform aesthetic is the solution. In the case of public transportation systems in a teeming metropolis, I beg to differ. Think about it: At certain times of day and certain periods of the year (--and really, in the nation's capital, all the time), a high percentage of passengers are tourists who are not familiar with the city they're trying to enjoy. They are flustered by trying to figure out which line, which direction, which stop, where to go at the top of the escalator, and how in the heck to figure it out all before they are trampled under a stampede of commuters who know exactly what they're doing.

They should be able to quickly and easily locate and process that information. Cities like Philadelphia or London are somewhat better at enabling passengers to comprehend and act because they utilize the power of variety; each station is well-lit and has different colors of tile work, artwork and signs related to the history of the area around a particular stop, sometimes different fonts for each station name. At the same time, they employ standard signage directing you to exits or transfers. I can be on a moving train and know at a glance exactly where I am and which way I need to go when I alight, because each station has visual characteristics that distinguish it from the others while also maintaining a degree of consistency.

The design of DC Metro stations falls short of providing this courtesy to its passengers. Every station looks the same. Every station is poorly lit. The ceiling is a bleak coffered concrete shell. These stations are gloomy places to wait for a train. All the signage is dark and tacked on the wall where it is not always easy to spot from a crowded moving train. Furthermore, the type is often too small to read quickly or from a distance, requiring you to stop and peer closely at the list of stations in order to find out where to go. Once on the train, if you can't see the sign or hear the operator, there is absolutely no visual cue to tip you off to the fact that you've ended up in Dupont Circle rather than Forest Glen. I can't count how many times I've seen people half-rise from their seat, eyes wide and full of fear, trying to discern where they've ended up and if they should be worried (okay, I've been that person, too!). It seems unfortunate that supreme standardization actually causes the confusion it was surely meant to avoid.

I wish that the design of DC Metro stations told more stories; I wish it told you something about where you are before you even arrive aboveground. I wish it told confused and weary people exactly what they need to know in a simple, efficient way. I wish it communicated with people who are blind or illiterate or non-English-speakers! I wish it were brightly lit and full of color, rather than a gloomy gray system that matches the way its commuters look and feel too much of the time. Is that too much to ask?