When Ronnie and I lived in Portland, OR we walked everywhere and used the bus or street cars. We quickly discovered we didn’t need a car to get around Portland. Most bus routes have buses that come every fifteen minutes, and there is an app to track your bus, or a number you can text to figure out your bus’ eta. We lived off of Caesar Chavez and Francis–a couple blocks south of Powell–on Portland’s Southeast Side. In the morning we would pack our rucksacks with our laptops, notepads, and books and walk across Powell to catch the bus that would take us to Southeast Grind. Southeast Grind is a twenty-four hour coffee house with tables, chairs, couches, tables, bar stools, walls decorated with flyers of upcoming music or art events, and is always packed. Ronnie and I would go in, order a coffee, and send out resumes while looking for apartments. We stayed with a friend of Ronnie’s, but we needed a place of our own asap.
We arrived to Portland in early June, and could feel the shadowy heat of summer approaching us, but the heat never became unbearable. While we were taking the bus to a local car dealership to pick up a van Ronnie’s dad bought for us as a wedding gift we chatted with a lady to pass the time. The temperature that morning was ninety degrees, but it was ninety degrees without any humidity because the Pacific Ocean–which was less than an hour away–knocked out the humidity allowing for a tolerable summer. She told us how hot it was that day, and so far the hottest day Portland had seen in a long time. I chuckled and circled my right hand, “Oh, honey, I’m from Indianapolis. This is quite pleasant compared to central Indiana. Over there it would be ninety degrees plus an extra twenty degrees that feels like you’re covered in a towel soaked with hot water.” We laughed, got on the bus, and made our way to our respective destinations.
Eventually, Ronnie and I had to leave Portland because nobody would hire us, and the housing market was not as high as her friend led us to believe. At the time, Portland’s housing was maybe 6%, but only to single people. Renting companies and people who sublet turned away couples. I do not know why that was, but Ronnie and I found out we were not the only couple who bad luck in securing a place of their own. We had a little bit of money we could use to risk homelessness in Portland, or leave Oregon altogether before our money was exhausted. We opted for the latter. We drove south on I-5, and stopped at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Multnomah to buy a large tent and grab a quick dinner at a Panera, and head to California.
One thing to note about Oregon outside of Portland is there are absolutely no lights from any of the small towns, nor any billboards. The only lights would come from other drivers who whipped by us without any care in the world that elk roamed these areas at night. I was petrified and crawling at 40 mph with white knuckles glued to the steering wheel. We found a Denny’s so we could use their wi-fi, and look for a motel that night. As I pulled in there was a field across the street from Denny’s, and there was a herd of elk grazing. One looked up right at me as if to say, “Oh, you in the wrong neighborhood, boy.” Thankfully, we were able to find a place, but, unfortunately, it was twenty-four miles away, and took us thirty minutes to get there. The next morning, we left for California, and eventually to Reno, NV.
When we arrived to Reno, Ronnie and I sat down at a Del Taco to eat and use their wi-fi. Our immediate concern was finding a room to sleep that evening which Ronnie did exercising her talent in finding the best deals on a room. We got a room on the eighth floor of a hotel a block north of the glittering Reno sign.
The lobby of the hotel was also a casino full of bright, flashing lights, clicks from buttons and slots, alcohol, and stale cigarette smoke. Our window faced the east, and we could see mountains in the distance. Below us we could also see people swarming to and fro to the next bar or the next casino. As much fun as it looked to roam around Reno at night, Ronnie and I had been on the road for seven hours driving from Crescent City, CA, and we were exhausted. Not to mention the Del Taco was ripping up our insides–I regret nothing. After the bathroom, the showers, brushing teeth, and me shaving, we crashed into a dreamless sleep. We woke up at eight the next morning. I opened the curtains to see a different Reno in the sunlight breaking over tall buildings and distant mountains. The street below us were like any other street of a city’s downtown: slightly packed as people made their way to work. Ronnie and I did some yoga, planned the next leg of our trip to Salt Lake City, UT, packed up our things, and left the hotel.
Before we left Reno at ten in the morning we stopped by a McDonald’s to pick up some oatmeal and coffee that we ate and drank in the parking lot. We were next to I-80, and after we threw out our trash, we were on the interstate. Outside of Reno is a vast desert, and in between Reno and Salt Lake City is seven hours of sand and salt with little gas stations and fast food places sprinkled along the way. This was our first time driving through the desert so we stopped by every gas station along the way filling up our tank and buying 24-packs of water. I didn’t know if our little van would make it, but just in case, I wanted to make sure we at least had water.
Northern Nevada is hot like any desert. I have been told by family who have traveled about the United States that the southwest was compatible to our sinuses, and the heat out there was dry. The way they put it, dry heat was preferable to the soggy heat of central Indiana. I believed them, until I went through Nevada. The difference between the dry heat of the desert and the humid heat of central Indiana caking your nostrils is the difference between being fried and boiled–it’s still FUCKING hot! Ronnie and I were miserable, but our air conditioning didn’t die on us, and we met a woman who worked at the Subway in Elko, NV who was a fresh breath of encouragement.
Crossing into Utah from Nevada is like night and day, mud and snow. The salt flats are arid, and when we stopped at a welcome center there was a little watchtower we climbed to take pictures of the scenery. There was nothing there, but the amount of salt on the terrain resembled a fresh layer of snow. I could feel the air cracking my hands and hollowing out my nasal cavity mixing with my apprehension of the remaining few hours to Salt Lake City. I thought there was nothing in Northern Nevada after Reno, but Utah, from the Nevada border, makes Northern Nevada seem a booming metropolis until you come to Salt Lake City.
On the way to Salt Lake City we saw signs warning drivers to watch out for deer, and we thought this odd because there were no plants and bodies of water. But what if there were deer in that part of the country? We shuddered to think. “I don’t want to meet the deer who can survive in the salt flats. That’s the kind of deer who swings at cops and laughs about it.” We drove on, and as the sun set we were outside of Salt Lake City. The sky was purple and cast its reflection on Great Salt Lake and the mountain, dark with shadows, was an open hand welcoming us with food and drink to comfort our road weary souls. As we drove to the house where we were staying for the night, I did not see any semblance of a desert or a salt flat, but a downtown area filled with coffee shops and bars under the shadow of the Mormon Tabernacle.
This past week, I was reminded of the differences of summer heat in Portland and across the desert. As I wrote about Donald Trump and Mike Pence, I found myself lost in a whirlwind of anger, bitterness, and resentment towards Christianity and churches. My one time of betrayal at The Dwelling Place was not the first time, but a long list of examples of the various abuses I experienced in many churches beginning with my father beating me into submission with his iron fists citing 1 Timothy 3:4-5 as he spat and cursed at me. He was an elder, and his family had to reflect his position. As I grew older, I wanted Christianity to feel true because I liked Jesus, but I’ve had a difficult time with the religion. A friend once noted that I had been trying to convert myself unsuccessfully for the last fifteen years. I’ve tried other churches leaving with different or similar bruises, but only figuratively because my size was intimidating. I’ve never been a bully, nor do I give any thought to my stature, but I have noticed that aggressive people tend not to be as brave towards me at 6″8 as they are to my shorter friends. I had already been scarred by the sexual and physical abuse of my youth with regards to faith and family, and the church in my adult life added another spectrum of rejection.
Seven months after my ex cheated on me and slandered me, The Dwelling Place siding against me as the worship leader made phone call after phone call threatening physical violence, and a year after my father died, I was on the phone with an old friend. He went through similar painful experiences, and he was in counseling while working on his Phd. in History. I vomited all the pain and grief I had been feeling that year, and when I finished he asked me, “Ok. For the sake of argument, let’s say she comes to you and apologizes, and wants to get back together with you, would you take her back?” Without missing a beat, I said, “Absolutely not.”
If I would never take back my ex who treated me with infidelity, slander, and violence why do I keep taking back the church who has treated me far worse than her? I view my relationship with the church–if I may be so bold–as comparable to a battered wife who finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired, and left for god knows what. Yesterday, the inside of my head became a festering maelstrom making me unbearable to Ronnie and myself. To get things settled, I walked two laps around the canal–7.2 miles–listening to some hardcore that roared about pma (positive mental attitude) or digging deep for a hidden strength to face current adversity. After the walk, I went up to a bench facing Indiana and Vermont, pulled out my earbuds, closed my eyes, and focused on my breath while surrounded by the morning cars and birds of downtown Indianapolis.
I returned home to relax more with the shades covering the windows while I played a game on the computer and listened to dharma talks by Noah Levine before I went to my orientation for future volunteer work. In his talk on “Understanding Samsara,” Noah spoke of the present religious and political climate, and the call to forgiveness towards our enemies. Forgiveness isn’t a one time thing, nor is it condoning what another has done. In my case, forgiveness came about when I decided the best thing I can do for my own healing is to completely disassociate myself from Christianity and churches. Who they are and what they do no longer concerns me because it’s no longer my circus. I took in the message, and thought about where to go from there. A couple hours later, a friend messaged me a link to the Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center in Bloomington, and I saw it as an answer to a question already brewing inside my heart. I thanked her, and she told me she thought of my struggles with people in Indy. She thought the center would be a good place for me. She also told me the center reminded her of Buddhist Centers in Portland and Tampa Bay. I had a good experience with Shambhala Center in Portland, and made plans to go to Bloomington this weekend.
I had a chance to practice this forgiveness yesterday as I left my orientation on Mass Ave. At the corner of Alabama and Mass Ave stood two people handing out pamphlets on the bible and the message of Jesus. At a quick glance, I noticed they were Evangelical Christians, and I bristled. Because of my manner of dress and tattoos, I’ve been a target for such people who want me to convert so they can say, “Look how diverse we are! We have one of these!” It was a struggle to keep telling myself, “These people have done nothing to me. What they are doing no longer affects me. This works for them, and they are not imposing on anyone.” In my head, I had already built my argument with scholarship cited, but I saw one of the Parking Monitors talking to them with friendly body language, and I moved on thankful the bristling had washed over me.
The following evening, my friend who is a pastor at Lynhurst Baptist Church, messaged me to check in on me. I told him what happened, and the conclusions I had come to concerning Christianity, churches, and healing. He told me that Lynhurst Baptist had not been negative towards me. From his point of view, he thought I was back to broad brushing every Christian and every church, and that wasn’t the case. Lynhurst is a good church, and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an authentic Christian experience, but it’s still a church–it’s a still a trigger. Like the difference between a dry heat and a humid heat, so it is for me concerning the differences between a bad church and a good church: it’s still a hot and miserable ordeal. I need to heal, and in that healing process, I may never be ready to set foot in a church without a rush of bad feelings and bad memories crashing against me, but I won’t put my past on anyone else anymore. There are people like my friend who have experienced joy, healing, and love in their Christian tradition, and they live out their faith/belief in a way that is tangible to others. They do good work. I’ve got to find my own tradition for that healing so I can be healthy for myself and others while participating in a good work to benefit people. We’re all on a path trying to get home, and we need different kinds of shoes to fit our different shapes of feet for support and comfort for the journey.