Mom

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At 5”3 ½, she is tiny with thick, long black hair sprinkled with some gray. She wears glasses, her voice squeaks like a mouse, and a laugh that bubbles like The White River on a quiet day. Don’t let her small, innocent demeanor fool you. She has strong convictions, and she will never budge from them, but only for the sake of loving people. This is my mother in law, but I call her Mom. She also possesses a natural sass that is deliberate and endearing. I do the laundry, dishes, cooking, and general cleaning—most of the time. I have been on my own for quite a few years before I met Ronnie, and I like cleaning by myself. I also get a little testy when she comes into the kitchen while I’m cooking. Yesterday, as we were gathering laundry, Mom asked Ronnie why she didn’t do laundry, “Don’t you live here?” I couldn’t help but laugh.

Mom is a Christian whose sole ethic is based on loving God and loving other people, and that love overrides any doctrinal opinions. I have only recently called her mom in the two years Ronnie and I have been married, but that had to do with my own wrecked relationship with my mother. The relationship didn’t end because of anything I did, I think, but since my return to Indianapolis, my mother has told me that I was a mistake, and I am the reason that she had a miserable life married to an unstable man. I finally realized why our relationship had always been volatile, and I am finally at a place in my life where I need to make some vital changes. That side of the family is mean, bitter, hostile, and narrow minded. My brother and I are nothing like them, but I can see if I continue holding on to my old wounds instead of healing, I will become them. I don’t want that life. I want to have joy, peace, and love instead of treating people as excuses to be nasty. That’s why I love my mother in law, it’s why I like her, and it’s why I call her mom. She’s all about love even in the face of opposition, and I want those people in my life.

To some degree my mother in law had to work on being loving because she had bit of a temper when Ronnie and her sister were young girls. Parenthood can make anyone crazy—even the nice ones. My father in law saw his wife raise her hand at Ronnie and her sister, and said he didn’t feel comfortable leaving his kids alone with her. That was a wake-up call to her, and she started making changes. At her heart she is kind and patient, and her love for her children is second only to God. She’s not abusive in any way shape or form, and nowhere close to the level of anger and physical punishment I received from my father and the rest of my family. I’m not a parent, and the closest I have to an opinion on being a parent is watching my friends with their kids. I knew them and traveled around the country with them before the serious consideration of kids, and I saw how they adapted to life with kids. The evolution is an interesting one as they went from diaper changing, to first days at school, to prom, college, and now talks of marriage. I’ve a good friend who will be a grandfather this September. I do the typical old guy thing and remark how I remember when these “kids” came up to my knee, or how I could fit their entire body into my hand.

I don’t regret not having kids, and one of the reasons I don’t want them came from what I experienced from my father and mother, and what I learned the year before my father died. I knew my father was abused maliciously by his father, and in one of those incidents, my father’s lower back was broken by his father’s steel toed boot. Why? What did he do? My father was fourteen and he worked on a farm with his father. At four in the morning my father had a hard time getting out of bed because he would get home from school, resume farm work, and go until as late as nine in the evening. Adults have a difficult enough time doing that let alone fourteen year old boys. His father lost his temper, and started kicking until the snap of bones echoed throughout the room. Did his father care? Absolutely not. Nobody in church or the community did anything either. People have remarked that in that time and place nobody intruded on another’s family. I understand that, but even practical sentiments have limits. Nobody can abide a battered child. The community and the church were scared of my dad’s father. He was a bull of a man born in 1911, stood at 6”4, thick arms, barrel chest, square jaw, and tossed 150 lb. bales of hay with one arm like you and I toss a wad of paper. He also had a vicious temper he knowingly hid at church to play the part of good man and good Christian. Everyone saw through it of course, but no one could take him, and no one wanted to end up in the hospital. My father suffered that alone. When his father died, he realized he was free to be his own man.

We didn’t go to church until I was nine. My mother was and still is cynical and dismissive of organized religion, and my father wanted nothing to do with God because of the life he had been dealt. For the most part my father was a peaceable man towards us kids, and he had a laugh that would crack like a whip especially when we spent time with my godparents. They would tell stories in their gravelly tones, blow out punchlines with their smoke, and wash them down with beer. Those were fun times, and the only time I saw my father come close to physical violence was defending me and my aunt. My aunt’s second husband physically battered her, and when my mom saw the marks she didn’t ask questions, “You’re moving in with us.” Nevermind that my mother and aunt were daughters of a cop, nevermind that my mother knew how to use a knife, and nevermind that all my family towered over this man with wide chests and broad shoulders. Apparently, he never paid attention to our family dynamic. His name was Joe, but I called him Tosser, and he earned that name. When I was eight he tried to muscle his way through the front door while I was in the living room playing with my trucks and watching cartoons. My father, with one hand around Tosser’s neck, picked him up, and threw him into the bushes. No roars and no bellowing, but a calm tone, “She doesn’t want to talk to you. Now get off my property.” We never saw him again, and when he saw my dad twenty years later, Tosser was still scared.

Things changed after we started going to church. The change wasn’t gradual but an instantaneous snap, and my father crushed us with his iron fist. My father put upon us bruises and broken bones in the name of God and St. Paul, or so I thought at the time. As I got older, and wandered around the states meeting different people, I understood my father as a flawed human being—a good person, but a flawed person nonetheless. I knew of my father’s physical abuse, and how church triggered my father’s anger because he was beaten down in God’s name. My experience was only a shadow of what my father endured. Where he walked through life with a permanently damaged back, I walk through life with a permanently bent ring finger on my right hand when I blocked a blow to my head. As my father sat on Death’s doorstep, he became confessional. He told my mom that he had been sexually abused by his uncle, his father knew about the abuse, and didn’t care. My mom was dumbfounded, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to think I was less of a man.” My brother and I were in our thirties, and in the other room. Our mother looks at us, “Delman, I’ve got a pretty good idea you’re a man.” After hearing this, all those years, I finally realized my father was a walking time bomb from his PTSD. To his credit, though, the only substances my father abused were coffee (six pots a day), and cigarettes (five packs of Kool Filter Kings until I was thirteen when he became an elder).  Considering the life my father had, he was better than he should have been. What brought out the anger of my father was having kids and church. Outside of my father, I observed similar things with my friends who had kids. They aren’t mean or abusive, but their kids bring their psychological baggage to the surface, and press that baggage against their eyeballs.

Mom didn’t grow up like I did, or like my dad. She was a PK (preacher’s kid), but she was a good one—the first good one I ever met, and I’m an elder’s kid who ran in those leadership circles. Her life was the American life as advertised in “Leave it to Beaver” and other shows from the 1950s, but far from the norm in real life. She was the daughter of a Baptist minister who, through the course of Mom’s childhood, pastored churches in Iowa, South Dakota, Michigan, and retiring in Minnesota; and his home was legitimately peaceful. People talked, people prayed, and people got along with each other without yelling or explosive expressions of anger. Mom’s parents had the traditional gender roles, but the impression I had from the telling is those roles were never imposed upon by either of her parents. She came from an environment where love was the rule, but like anyone who has kids, that saint like love can evaporate at a moment’s notice. That doesn’t make her lovingkindness a pretense to buy off God or please daddy when he’s looking, but it does mean that she tries to love when she does slip into anger. When my father in law confronted Mom about her temper, she knew exactly what she needed to do to regain that lost peace. She had a good foundation. I’m jealous of that, but I don’t wallow in the envy. I’ve a mom who shows me what love and peace looks like. At present, I do not know what work I need for my unlearning and reeducation, but I know I want what she has, and I’m lucky I get to call her mom—luckier still, she likes being my mom.

Changing Lanes

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(Taken from the south part of I-465. This is the White River rising from the rain)

I’ve a friend from high school who moved to Glasgow, Scotland in the early 2000s as a missionary associated with Calvary Chapel. He may or may not be a missionary anymore, and I would lean on the may not because his views, like mine, started to change when he listened to people who didn’t believe and when his father died. He and I returned to school at the same time. I went to Ivy Tech and transferred to Blackburn College studying Literature and Religion, and he went to University of Glasgow to study Literature and Philosophy. After I graduated, I wandered about the United States, and after he graduated he began work on his Phd while taking a position as a professor in literature. His wife is a professional photographer, and she will post her work on Instagram and Facebook while he takes pics from his phone. They both post their shots on Instagram and Facebook, and the occasional photo that does not involve their kids is Scotland’s weather. In Glasgow, the sun hardly shines, and when it does there is much rejoicing. More times than not there is rain, and my friend often remarks how dismal his life has become in the last fifteen years. Adding to the misery he can’t find the proper ingredients to make a decent Mexican dish, and if he were able there would be no joy because he’s damp. I’ve told him the weather sounds lovely, and I could do without constant sunshine damaging my skin. He dismissed my remark outright, and told me to do it for fifteen years then get back to him. Fair enough.

It’s been raining for the last three days with winds that cause the drops to fall at an angle. Everything is sopping wet, and the sidewalk going from my apartment to the van is a small lake. That’s the Southside mostly. The area is such a bowl that when there is constant rain there are flash floods. Not to mention that when tornadoes come, they mostly destroy the Southside because of that bowl shape in the topography. There are exceptions, and in the four decades I’ve been alive, tornadoes touched down north of Washington St. two times. The White River has risen tremendously, and we are five miles east of the bank. I’m not worried about the growing water. As close of a threat that can be, the most dangerous thing in Indianapolis in this weather are the drivers. Myself included.

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Every morning and every evening it’s the rush hour 500, but the fast driving doesn’t stop after rush hour—the amount of drivers decrease. I’m used to driving quickly and changing lanes while drinking my coffee or tea. In fact that’s how I learned to drive. When I took my driving instruction to get my license, my instructor had tremendous faith in his ability, and threw me into rush hour traffic going downtown to the 65/70 split on I-70 West. During regular hours the merging can be hectic, but it is manageable, but during rush hour the split is a bottle necking parking lot. Lucky for me when I find myself in an overwhelming situation, I disconnect from my emotions and become focused. I zipped through traffic avoiding being sideswiped by people who change lanes without their signal, and got off the interstate at the Pennsylvania exit. Downtown is just as intense during rush hour, but the traffic is significantly slower. The roads are still the same width as they were when the city was first built—similar to the streets of New York that have remained the same width since it was New Amsterdam in the 1600s. My instructor took me near Ft. Wayne and Alabama, and told me to parallel park with oncoming traffic. Obviously, I survived the ordeal, and I learned how to adapt to drivers who care for nothing and no one outside their car by becoming like them.

As righteous as I would like to feel about the goodness of my driving, I am just as much of an asshole behind the wheel as any driver in Indianapolis. Speaking for myself, though, I try not to be. One of the dangerous things that happen in Indy while driving on I-465 is other drivers will not let you merge even though they are supposed to by law. Semi drivers will do this as well, and there have been a few times they ran us off the road merging from Kentucky to I-465 East on the south part of the intrastate. There is absolutely no regard for life here, and the people shrug their shoulders proclaiming “This is Trump’s America!” as I ascertained from bumper stickers and stickers on the rear window. That’s what happens when the sun is out, but continues when the water is coming down hard and visibility is limited.

Ronnie and I have been planning on moving out of Indiana in the next couple years, and I started researching cities in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington near the coast. I would read the reviews varying from favorable to disgusted. One day, I decided, for kicks and giggles, to look up Indianapolis. I did not read any favorable reviews, and those negative accounts could be taken with a chunk of salt if they only came from people who moved here from out of state. Residents and new comers alike speak of Indy as hostile, violent, slack jawed, and proud of it. Yes, there are pockets throughout the city where people are good to each other and have strong communities, but, for the most part, the culture is full of assholes who voted for Holcomb, Trump, Pence, and other Republicans because they have a platform of, “God, and I hate Muslims, Queers, and critical thinking.” Now, with the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act many of these “god-fearing” supporters with preexisting health conditions are requesting their doctors to lie about their record. Good luck.

I did not realize how hostile my hometown was until I lived in Portland, OR. Living on Portland’s Southeast side, I never needed a car to get anywhere, and if I did have a car, I would still use public transportation. Portland has roughly two million people in the city, but most of them ride their bikes or take the bus. If you drive on I-5 north or south, you wouldn’t be able to tell because the interstate is always a parking lot. My first time driving on I-5, I was furious shouting from my wheel, “What the fuck?! It’s 11:00 why does it still look like rush hour?!” Ronnie looked at the entrance ramps, and answered my question, “Everybody is stopping so people can merge.” My anger instantly deflated. I noticed Portland drivers will slow down when I flipped on my turn signal so I could change lanes. I didn’t realize that, collectively, the town was genuinely nice enough to stop traffic so everyone could get in and go wherever they needed to go.

I couldn’t be angry about that level of kindness, and I was reminded of that when we watched a comedian from Portland. He talked about setting a timer at intersections, have a car stay put while the light was green, and watch how long it took for other drivers to create a cacophony of swearing and beeping horns. He said in Portland five minutes would pass before the stopped driver would get a tap on his window, “Hey, buddy, you doing ok? Do you need any help?” Of course there was laughter in the audience, and I laughed too. Besides Portland, I have lived in Chicago and St. Louis, and no driver is close to being that kind. But in Portland that niceness is the norm, and most people respond with passive-aggression when they’re angry. Passive-aggression is annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as getting shot or have jaw broken by brass knuckles. When Ronnie and I would hang out at the twenty-four hour coffee shop, Southeast Grind, I noticed some of the regulars would invite any homeless person they saw wandering into the shop where they would buy the person a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I’ve family here in Indy who write off the West coast as liberal and hippie dippy, but what’s so hippie and dippy about being kind to people regardless of what they believe, who they love, the color of their skin, or their economic situation? I like being that way, and I aspire to be that way by unlearning what they and my community taught me. Kindness and respect isn’t liberal or conservative. It’s being human, and I think many people here in Indy have forgotten that.

Yoga

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I do yoga every now and again to help out with my shoulder and knee issues. I enjoy working out and keeping in shape, but I’m now at the age where being 6”8 is catching up with me in my knees, shoulders, and blood pressure. Instead of ceasing all manner of working out, I changed my routine to adapt to my current situation. Before I made the transition, I had already incorporated a few yogic poses in my work out with planks, Hindu push-ups, and Hindu squats. After I experience painful issues, I ended the push-ups and squats, and focused on planks and cardio. Planks are a wonderful exercise targeting every muscle of the body especially when I turn my palms down on the floor. I rarely did yoga because I couldn’t do the poses correctly and my inflexibility made my sessions unpleasant. I never went to an instructor, but, through watching youtube on my tv, I was able to pull up basic yoga poses from generous instructors. Before I did yoga, I dismissed it as a soft exercise that could not help me achieve my workout goals. When I did the basic approach, I sweated buckets and my heart rate broke my chest with 150 beats per minute after fifteen minutes. I bowed my head in deference, and recanted my disrespect.

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Before I sat down at a desk in Dr. Meyer’s Asian Religions class, I only knew of yoga as an Eastern exercise practiced by white women in $800 lululemon yoga pants. One of the books we used for this class was Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. This book is a book worth having in your library and read until the pages fall off the binding. Smith was a devout Methodist who saw the validity of different religious traditions, and incorporated what he learned into his own Christian practice. Smith’s chapter on Hinduism opened my eyes to a different perspective on ontology, and various spiritual paths through Yoga. Yoga involves physical positions such as downward dog into upward dog, but is not limited to the physical. Yoga, to put it glibly, is a spiritual tool to go beyond yourself and experience the divine according to your individual needs. One form of yoga centers around logic and rational thinking, and another form include physical poses, but one is not better than the other. Think of Brahmin or, God, if you will, as sugar. You can either examine the sugar, you can taste the sugar, or you can become the sugar. There is no incorrect way to your approach of sugar, but there are specific tools to specific approaches.

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Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism speak to me in a way that Christianity does not speak to me, but that has to do with my baggage with the latter. That does not mean one is right and the other is wrong, but I’m not going to listen to someone speaking the truth after they have beat me to the ground. The other reason for my affinity for Eastern religions is they speak to my inner mystic. That’s how I relate to my spirituality. I “see” the divine moving in and out like breath moving in and out of lungs. There is a pulse to life that I can feel when I sit still, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. Mysticism exists in Christianity, but, what I’ve observed, is treated with suspicion, disregarded, or buried. I’ve read extensively on Christian history and the writings from those spiritual heroes such as Meister Eckhart in the 14th century. Meister Eckhart once prayed, “I pray God, I would be quit of God that I may see God.” What he’s saying is he wants to experience God without his own preconceptions and religious boxes getting in his way. That’s some Zen lunacy Eckhart is laying down for those who have plucked up the courage to leave the buildings and hear God’s voice unencumbered by the dead weight of a priest’s droning chant.

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At the time I was at school, I took advantage of the free counseling on campus, and discovered a friend in my sessions. My counselor incorporated Buddhism and Buddhist teaching into our talks, and his eyes lit up when I brought up yoga. He’s very much into martial arts and body weight resistance for his exercising, and told me what he learned from one of his teachers, “Without meditation, yoga is simply stretching.” I took those words to heart, and they gave me a different way to relate to my own exercises. Exercise is good for the body, but if the act is limited to just the body that will eventually die and decompose, then the fruits will be shallow and limited. But when spiritual practice is integrated with the physical then the body becomes a tool to dissolve the ego, and lose yourself in the divine. There is nothing right or wrong with treating yoga as a physical exercise. There are many health benefits to practicing yoga, but treating yoga only as a physical exercise you will also miss out on the spiritual benefits.

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Tonight, while I did my basic yoga to the throat chants of Tibetan monks, I focused on my body and my breath. The inflexibility is still there, and my joints are quite stiff. Instead of becoming frustrated, I looked upon my limitations as echoes of my heart’s condition. I have become stiff and inflexible with my hatred and fear I learned from my family and my Christian experience. Do not misunderstand, I do not blame my family or the Christian religion for how I am today, or hold either responsible for my struggles. During those early years, I was alone, and made a choice to survive by retreating into my head while disconnecting from my heart. For a time that disconnect helped me get through some bone shattering trauma, but eventually, I left that environment. Adapting to the outside world has been difficult, and I’ve much to unlearn. Hiding is easy, but facing your past and your rotting broken heart so you can heal is difficult and takes a warrior’s courage. I listened to my heart speaking through my clumsy transitions and sharp pains in my shoulder and knees. I said nothing, but embraced the supplications with my breath.

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My yoga practice takes between ten and fifteen minutes, but after I finish, I am able to get into a half-lotus position to do a brief meditation. According to teachers, lotus or half-lotus is a comfortable sitting position, and more so when I’m sitting on my linoleum floor. The hardness bites into my ankles and I am incapable of being inside my breath. Where I am in my spiritual practice it takes me at least fifty breaths to go into full concentration so who I am can be liquid flowing between myself and God, whom I refer to in the feminine rather than the accepted masculine approach. Neither one is the “right” way to address the divine, but the use of the masculine is a reflection of the patriarchal hegemony and misogyny in our culture. Where I am with my sexuality, I am uncomfortable in addressing God with such oppressive language, and is a constant reminder of the violence I received. Changing the language and my relationship to pain, I can do the healing work allowing my heart and body to flow like a gentle stream.

Satiated Thirst

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This morning is crisp with a sliver of ice in the air, and a bright sun unlike yesterday with a gray sky and gusts of wind knocking about my van on I-465. How my little van made it through the mountains of Northern California and Northeastern Utah without being knocked off still amazes me. No mountains in central Indiana to speak of, save for a few slight hills and smaller inclines. I am sitting at The Thirsty Scholar Coffee Bar at 16th & Pennsylvania, and I managed to get one of the bigger tables resembling a German setting. According to my late, great aunt Barbara who lived in Germany for a few years, German restaurants are designed with big tables, and people who don’t know each other are often seated together. The way she described the setting there is a real sense of community. But the functions of these two settings are only similar in appearance. There is a dark haired woman sitting diagonally from me, and the table next to me are two people poring over a computer. Diagonal to them sat an agitated man who left after slamming down the screen of his computer. During the day, students, corporate movers and shakers, hipsters, and regular folk off the street come in to discuss the day, write, and research over coffee, specialty coffee drinks, tea, wine, and beer. After 6:00, The Thirsty Scholar becomes like a restaurant where you have to make reservations, and waitstaff.

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Sometimes there is street parking along Delaware next to historic houses and the Greek Orthodox Church, Joy of All Who Sorrow, or Redeemer Presbyterian Church depending on which side of Delaware you park. Today, though, Delaware was packed, and when I went to the little parking lot behind Thirsty Scholar there was no parking available. Lucky for me, though, there was an available space one hundred feet away from the parking lot. I didn’t see a sign that said I could be towed, nor a yellow paint so I took the space. Because of the weather today, I decided to wear socks and my chuck taylors with my baggy black, chef pants. I tend not to wear my chucks if I’m walking for an extended period of time. I have flat feet. Flat feet and shoes with no arch support wrecks the ankles causing me to limp and shuffle. Walking half a block is of no consequence to my feet, and not to mention, chuck taylors go well with this outfit. I appreciate my chuck taylors in the same way I appreciate my rope sandals I bought at a mall in Joliet, Il. I can feel the concrete with each step, and I feel connected to the city where I walk. There is the added ambiance of walking downtown that I enjoy. No matter what city I am in, downtown has its own rhythm I like to feel with each step.

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The amount of cars on the street led me to believe there would be no place to sit in The Thirsty Scholar, but as I mentioned above, I found one of the tables that Ronnie I always wanted to get. Those tables are popular, and seem to be constantly occupied. The bell rang as I pushed open the old black door, and I saw people at my usual table. Before I looked towards the back, I saw the bar stools and bench facing Pennsylvania, and I sighed. Those chairs are ascetically pleasing but they kill my back, and I was not interested in spending hours of writing or talking on those Nazi torture devices. I was relieved when I looked over and saw only one person at the back table, and she was at the far end. Whew! I won’t have to worry about any discomfort from sharing my personal space with someone I don’t know, and likewise her. I’m clumsy in my social interactions, but I try to treat them as I want to be treated, and in cases such as these, I prefer unknown people to keep their distance. It’s an anxiety thing for me, somewhat, but mostly it’s about safety. Consciously, I understand I am in a gentrified area during the day and nothing is going to happen. In fact, people in this area are more intimidated by me because of my 6”8 frame. The best example I can use is muscle memory from old experiences in my neighborhood. I’ve improved in these situations by taking people case by case, but I have the occasional twinges.

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Today, I’m meeting with Ben who is the senior pastor of Lynhurst Baptist Church so we have a chance to talk more. We talk here and there after service, but between talking to all the people leaving the sanctuary, and herding his kids with his wife there isn’t much time—nor do I demand it. He offered to meet up sometime this week, and, through facebook, we agreed to meet at Thirsty Scholar around 11:00. I got here at 10 because Ronnie didn’t have to be at work until 9:45, and I thought it would be a waste of time to go home for twenty minutes only to leave for downtown. I had something brewing in my head, and I knew I would have a good introduction before I saved the piece and turned off the computer. An hour is not really enough time to write, but I wanted to see where my thoughts were going. Normally, two hours is a good time to sit around typing, inhaling coffee, dancing to avoid the distracting power of urination, and produce a first draft. I thought about saying the first draft would be strong, but when I finish it and go into editing mode, I cringe. The thoughts feel strong, and I feel like I’m writing in the rhythm of Sun Ra and His Arkestra. I’m part of the musical genius typing with the piano and saxophone keys blowing beyond all dimensions. Oh yeah, I snap, and say to myself, “Dig it, man,” and “Eat your heart out, Kerouac,” but mistake the cacophony of clanging trash cans rolling down the road for the drums guiding me to the face of God. As I read through the preceding paragraphs, my omission was a wise approach.

As I get up to get a refill, Ben walks in the door. I get my refill, he orders his coffee, and we sit at my part of the table while I save my introduction and shut off the computer. As we talk, I found myself vomiting all my hang ups with religion that began with and continued with abuse until I stopped attending church altogether. I had not meant to go into such digging, but the basis had to do with my existential dissonance believing while simultaneously desiring to no longer believe. For this, I am envious of my atheist and agnostic friends who are at peace with their point of view and are at the end of their internal struggle. There may or may not be a god, and even if there was, life still continues. My issue is the faith I was presented with as a child was the same faith I encountered as an adult with the same flavor of violence. When I returned to school, I majored in Literature and Religion, studied the evolution of Christianity in America from Plymouth Rock to Donald Trump, and learned I had been correct to dismiss such an infantile savagery. I had intellectual and academic grounds to turn back to my abusers, and dub their faith as worthless. Also, I could face current religious bullies and intellectually pants them with scholarship and credible sources.

The depth of my passion caused many people in my life to assume I was an atheist. I wanted to be, though, but in my heart, I am not. Before I had religion crammed down my throat, I did have mystical experiences, and assumed there was a god before I had been forced through church doors. My early experiences notwithstanding, I knew there was something better to Christianity than what had been presented. I’ve read the bible several times, and I pored over the writings of the early church fathers and Christian thinkers. For me, those leaders and thinkers had something I found absent in my own church experience. I didn’t know what was absent, but I knew I was fed up with the abuse I received in Jesus’ name. I didn’t want to believe because I didn’t want to associate with brutes in any form, nor was I altogether certain about my own level of faith.

Ben addressed the abuse with the story shared by one of the people in the congregation this past Sunday. This guy spoke of the abuse he experienced at the hands of his father, and how he sees his father differently as an adult. The abuse he experienced from his father was a shadow of the violence his own father endured. The man was trying to break his own cycle and embrace the truth, but his filter distorted everything. Looking upon those who have hurt me, I realized how glib I had become in dismissing them as hypocrites. There are legitimate hypocrites in the world, but understanding the truth and expressing that truth are two different things. People who are hurting, and come to something good in their lives, distort that good in their practice because of how they understand the world. Sometimes that distortion is harmful, but that distortion in no way nullifies the quality of the good. The people in my life who have done hateful things to me have gone through some traumatic experiences, but they found hope in Christianity. They really do believe that God is love and Jesus is the icon of God, but their limited understanding from the trauma gives way to a malevolent inconsistency. If I am to be completely honest, I have done the same thing to people in my life—even going so far as to flip off cops and truck drivers when they cut me off and put my life in jeopardy. Hurting people hurt people, and everyone does it to some degree. This approach changed how I related to myself and to religious people in my past and present. This approach helped me understand grace from a different perspective.

At 1:30, Ben had to leave because his water heater broke down this morning, and he had to return home to meet with a repairman. He mentioned he had KLOVE on the radio. I shook my head, “Why? What did you do wrong?” If you’re not aware, KLOVE is a Christian station watering down Christianity with the positive, corporate schmoozing of Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale. It’s god awful and enough to make Jesus do naked cartwheels out of the church. From what I’ve listened to, I think the demographic is complacent suburbanites who need an easy faith to swallow. The kind of language that will satisfy a five year old, but will insult adult sensibilities. Ben echoed a similar sentiment, “’Jesus loves me’ is good enough for my six year old daughter, but that is not enough for me.” Ben said that is why he became a pastor. All the studying, writing, and speaking in seminary gave his faith a depth that is simultaneously intellectual and mature. I slammed my hand on the table, “That is exactly my problem!” The tension I have with the current expression of faith is that it does not address my issues with poverty, dignity, or theodicy. The old answers don’t satisfy, nor did they ever. Faith is not a one size fits all, and neither is there one suited for all terrain. For shorter periods of easy walking, chuck taylors are suitable, but when I’m going through some gnarly hills, I need runner’s shoes with good arches that won’t wreck my feet.

East Side Voice

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It’s muggy weather today from the torrential rain last night. I enjoy the rain for the sound and smell, how green the trees and grass become, but the storms leave behind puddles and air clogging the sinuses like globs of wet tissue. Ronnie is meeting with a friend for pizza in the Irvington neighborhood, and wanted me to drive because she is still unfamiliar with the streets and parking on the East Side. I agreed to it because I can go to 10 Johnson Ave Coffee on Washington & Ritter, and crank out some writing. However, those plans had to change because of a live show going on at the coffee shop. The inside of 10 Johnson is divided into two areas. The first area is when you walk in, and there are small tables to the right with chalk art on the wall, and on the left is the counter where you can order specialty coffee drinks, tea, regular coffee, pastries, and regular food. When you make a turn to the right there is another room with books on the left with regular chairs, a brown couch, and a coffee table. To the right are benches, chairs, and tables for people to sit, drink their beverages, eat their food, and/or write. Behind the brown couch is what I call a Murphy Stage folded against the wall that can be unclamped, and pulled down elevating the band by six inches—not very much. Sometimes 10 Johnson host groups that take up the corner, and other times like this they have bands who need the stage. While the barista and the band set up, I typed out maybe one hundred words, and decided to pack up and leave. A band playing didn’t bother me, and I enjoy the groups who play at 10 Johnson, but I needed to get in some writing. The Murphy Stage took up a chunk of the room, and I thought I would be rude to take up space ignoring the band’s performance.

Walking east on Washington there is a bit of an incline, and air already stuffed with moisture made the walk difficult with the breathing. I’m in relatively good shape, but I also carried a computer and three books in my rucksack, and keeping upright while walking a subtle incline can be an interesting ordeal. As I walked up to Ritter to turn right on Washington, there stood a group of people with various styles of clothing, hats, and hair standing outside The Irving waiting to see a show. I am not familiar with the bands, but I have been to a few shows at The Irving, and it’s a good venue with smooth acoustics and relaxed communion. I could feel the heat coming out of my torso through my shirt as the cars rumbled past me spilling their exhaust into the air, but passing through my nose first. I moved closer to the right when the 8 bus roared by me and a woman went past me in a black and pink blur on an evening run. Across the street, and near the outdoor seating at Jockamo’s, a group of people stood talking, smoking and laughing. I waited for the light to turn red so I could cross the intersection at Audubon and go to Starbucks. As I went in, I stood behind two indecisive, and from their body language and talk, affluent white women. All I wanted was a regular blonde roast, and I muttered my impatience, “Fucking rich, white people.” Furthermore, one of these women left her purse and cell phone unattended to get cream. Clearly, she is not from the East Side.

As I’ve written before, I am fourth generation East Side. Apparently, at the turn of the twentieth century the outskirts of Indianapolis promised a chance for a better life to my thrice great grandparents from Northern Germany, Wales, and the Highlands of Scotland. They moved here, bought the land that became my neighborhood, and I grew up in the house my great grandfather built that was sold a few years ago by youngest great aunt. The goals of my ancestors petered out after my great grandfather’s early death. The people that bought up the remaining land across 30th & Shortridge built warehouses next to the already existing Fire Station, and they could dictate who lived, moved, breathe, and have their being in their area. That’s how I feel about Irvington.

I spent the first year of my life in Irvington before my parents had to move ten minutes north because they were about to lose their home. All of Indianapolis could hear the chorus of roaring from my grandmother and great grandmother from 21st & Riley to 30th & Shortridge, “It will be a cold day in Hell if my grandson should grow up on the street!” So we moved into my great-grandmother’s house, and that’s where I lived until I found my own place. I would often frequent Irvington with my mother as we went to art shows in the neighborhood to see the creations of our neighbor two doors away. Irvington is also where I bought my first hardcore tapes. I was seventeen, I didn’t have a car, but my mother was fine with driving me to a hole in the wall Punk Rock record store, and I bought Agnostic Front’s “Liberty and Justice For…” and The Crucified’s self-titled album. Agnostic Front came out of The Bowery of New York City’s Lower East Side, and The Crucified were a group of Christians who came out of Calvary Chapel started by Chuck Smith during the Jesus Movement in Southern California. The Crucified were influenced by bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, and I loved the sound immensely. At the time, Irvington, like any other East Side neighborhood, had a dangerous edge to it. My mother knew it, but she was unconcerned. She went to Tech by choice, and was known throughout our neighborhood as “Bad Ass White Woman.” She was six feet tall, and did not suffer fools lightly. She’s the reason my brother and I never got involved in gangs. She informed those guys that she would make their lives a living hell if they so much as breathed any intent to recruit us. I know there is a respect from gangbangers towards mothers, but I thought it funny they were more scared of my mother than a nine. I also went to Warren, and while I am by no means a tough guy, I can protect myself if pushed against the wall. But somewhere in the last 2000s, the neighborhood changed.

The medians on East Washington turned into little islands with quaint shrubs and little trees. Spaces were bought up from Arlington to Ritter, and turned into trendy restaurants and shops so people from the suburbs could move in and feel “urban,” or, at the very least, slum with us legitimate working class people to feel like they’re connected. Down the street from the Starbucks, where I am presently, is Indy Cycle Specialists. I would frequent this shop to buy necessary parts for my bike while I lived on East Michigan, four blocks west of Emerson. For one thing, the parts I needed to safely get around downtown so I could go to class were expensive, and the most basic of bikes they had there were $1,500. This is the East Side. Who the fuck has that much disposable income in this neighborhood—let alone for a basic bike? The people with that kind of money are the rich white people who moved in from the northern burbs buying up the real estate. Their presence hiked up the property value of the homes in the neighborhood squeezing out long-time residents who’ve lived here since my mother was a child. Like locusts, they fly in and quickly devour the livelihood of people who could barely survive before their arrival.

I brought this up to my friend, Eric who also grew up on the East Side. He told me he agreed with what I saw and how I felt, but that is the life cycle of neighborhoods. Yes, the East Side can be dangerous, Irvington in particular, and they can stay steeped in drugs and violence and implode, or have outside investors come in and rejuvenate the neighborhood. The latter are beneficial to those in their demographic, but debilitating to the people who have been in the neighborhood before it was marketed as trendy. I shook my head. I agreed, and I hated that he was correct, but I equally hated that I enjoyed some of the benefits like 10 Johnson and Jockamo’s Pizza. I felt like I was betraying my neighborhood, and I choked on the thirty pieces of silver while I washed it down with locally brewed beer and fashionable pizza. It’s a weird tension. Eric brought up a solution that he and his senior pastor pursued in an equally poor area on Indy’s Near West Side where they both live and serve as pastors.

The Indianapolis International Airport has a hefty amount of untaxed, unused land that investors wanted to use for a casino. They promised a revitalization of the area with all the jobs and money pouring into the neighborhood. That is true…to a point. The money coming in would be a short term solution, but would only exacerbate the poverty and desperation of Eric’s congregation and neighborhood. The money would come from affluent areas in the city and surrounding suburbs, and crime would increase because the economic disparity would be in the faces of the poor. People do dangerous things when they’re surrounded by squalor while their bellies are empty and growling. What was so disgusting about these proposals is they were done behind closed doors. The local councilman, Jared Evans, found out about the secret proposal for the casino and got local pastors involved to be a voice for the community. Eric and his senior pastor took on the local government and businesses by offering real and practical solutions to build up the community. Give the people in the neighborhood a hand up so they could create businesses on the unused land and give life to their community. Also the people could take ownership of their own lives and dignity, and could control their destiny.

That is something I can support. Creating new playgrounds and eateries for rich white people who want to look “native” in their $500 faded skinny jeans riding around on their $1,500 bicycles doesn’t help the original residents, but pushes them out while destroying their dignity. When I was an adolescent, and even today, East Siders have the unfortunate reputation of being hooligans and thugs. While that may be true for some people on this side of town it is not true of all of us. There are good people here, but sometimes people who are in survival mode are dangerous, and rightfully so. The new money assumes they can pop off and posture as they do in their former suburban neighborhoods because they could get away with that behavior. On the East Side, as well as the West Side, those same people risk losing teeth from a lead pipe to the jaw or they might be shot. Even as I sat here in this Starbucks, I almost showed the baristas real East Side. Ronnie came over after meeting with a friend, and has been patiently waiting on me as I write this piece. She has to use the bathroom, but the bathrooms are out of toilet paper. She asked the baristas for toilet paper, “We’ll get to it in a bit.” While I write this, it is 8:22 in the evening, there are two baristas, and they are not busy. I am annoyed. “I’ll go up there, and demand the toilet paper.”
“No, I’m fine. Just continue writing.”
“You know what? I have to use the bathroom, and I’ll get the toilet paper.”
“No. It’s fine. I can hold it. You don’t need to go all bulldog. If I needed to go that bad I would have gone into bitch mode.”
I was ready, too. They were rude to someone for whom I care a great deal, and I would have walked into the back room to retrieve the toilet paper. If they confronted me, like they probably would, I would tell them flat out they could either take care of a legitimate customer issue, or I could do it myself. Snobby, rich white boys need to adapt to the East Side and show proper courtesy, or they can fuck off back to the burbs from whence they came. You can’t improve a community with money alone. You also need to acknowledge the common dignity we all share as sentient beings.

American Jesus

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I’ve been going to the Broadripple Village since 1989 before MTV told all the jocks that Doc Martens and flannel shirts were “cool.” I also lived in the village in the late 90s. In those days the village was truly alternative and punk rock, and catered to many artists. Since then there has been an influx of the bourgeois from the North Side and the northern suburbs. Despite this current trend there are still pockets of artists and musicians, and people with good vibes. There is no direct route to Broadripple from an interstate or intrastate, and involves a lot of in town driving on the narrow road of College Ave. When I live on the East Side the quickest route was a brief stint on I-465 to East 56th St., to Kessler Blvd., to Keystone, and finally East 62nd St. Now that I live on the South Side–at least for the next six weeks, my direct route is I-65 North to Washington St., turn right on College, turn right on Kessler, and turn right on Guilford. That’s the route I took today to meet Eric at Monon Coffee Company in the heart of Broadripple Village.

Today is a chilly sixty-five degrees with damp air and looming, overcast skies. The weather forecast calls for on again off again showers with temperatures ranging from the sixties to lower seventies, but a high of eighty-two on Sunday. That’s Central Indiana for you. During the spring season you have the chance of experiencing all four seasons in the span of a few days. There is a scientific explanation for this, but I do not know at present, and my suspicion is this wide of range on the weather spectrum is normal for the Ohio Valley region in the United States. The present weather is to my liking, though–it’s neither too hot or too cold, and perfect for chinos, sandals, and cardigans. It’s also ideal weather for opening the patio door to listen to the birds singing their greeting to you, me, and the sky, and my cats to engage with the sparrows who taunt them from the fence. I also have to monitor my cats who are of a mind to tear through the screen door to teach the sparrows some manners. They’re barn cats from outside of Omaha, NE, and they’ve seen a thing or twenty living through summer tornadoes and harsh winters.

Driving north on College Ave from Washington St is smooth until East 16th St due to gentrification, and a car rattling, tire damaging mess from East 16th St. to East 42nd St., and the roads are narrow. God help you if you get stuck behind a car waiting to turn left. You have to merge quickly and carefully because the average speed is 45 mph (the posted speed limit is 35 mph), and there is street parking. The only time College is a traffic nightmare is  during morning rush hour, from 7-9ish, and the evening rush hour, from 4-6ish; but the evening traffic can be extended if it’s Friday, and an all day event on Saturday. I drove to Broadripple after the morning rush hour and had little difficulty.

In the last ten years, parking has become an issue. If you park in the strip mall across from the McDonalds, or the Kroger on Guilford, you can get fined by the traffic monitors, or they will tow your car. In the 90s, nobody really cared, but now the rich dollar was coming in and businesses don’t need people like me parking where ever, and walking around with no money. From a business standpoint, I understand the complaint, but from a social point of view, I think they’re being assholes placating rich assholes who are in the village because they were told by their companies and social media that Broadripple is trendy. Pause for a moment to feel the dull throb of my eyes rolling on the computer screen. To avoid any hassle, and paying to park, I park on one of the side streets. Walking or riding a bike is preferable in Broadripple because the strip is a narrow clusterfuck, and a pain in the ass to drive through any time of day. Today, I went over the bridge and parked on the same street as Good Earth, and walked the two blocks to meet Eric.

Eric is the associate pastor at Lynhurst Baptist Church, and is one of very few people I can engage with on matters of philosophy and religion–that’s his academic background. He comes from the same rough area of the East Side as I do, and he went to the same high school graduating two years before me. He also ministers to a similar rough area on the West Side. He speaks my language in both hood and academic. Our friendship is not based on religion, nor is he threatened by my bare knuckled questions on matterss of faith and Christian behavior. In fact, Eric is just as hard hitting in his answers and is a good sparring partner. Eric’s degree is in philosophy with an emphasis on the classics whereas my degree is in literature and religion covering some of the classics, but focusing on the historically recent existential philosophers–my favorite being Jean Paul Sartre. Like me he moves in and out of the street and ivory tower, adapting to the company he keeps, but does not stay isolated in one area. He enjoys philosophy, but he also is around people broken by poverty, despair, and drug addiction who care more about when they’re going to eat next and very little of Aristotle’s different approaches to argument; however, Eric will put on his academic brass knuckles when engaging with the local government who want to displace those in his church. I do not share in his religious tradition, but I respect his expression of faith. He makes it real, and, by default makes Jesus real instead of the blankey many Christians have created. Eric’s practice reminds me of the statement made by the author of James’ epistle in the New Testament, “You say you have faith, but I will show you my faith by what I do.” Respect.

Eric had just returned from a week long trip to Seattle. His wife had to go for work, and he went with her to take in the people and some of the sites. I joked with him, “Motherfucker, better hook me up with some coffee from Pike Market.” Mostly, I suggested he get out to see the ocean and mountains when he got the chance. Seeing the Pacific was easy. Where they stayed downtown, Eric and his wife were in walking distance to the ocean, but could only see the mountains in the distance. I was a bit homesick. I lived three hours south in Portland, and I hated moving, but I had to because of money. I miss the ocean, I miss Mt. Hood, I miss the creativity, and I miss the coffee. So when Eric returned, I listened  to his stories, living vicariously through his impressions.  Later, I tasted his experience. He brought me back coffee from Pike Market. I did not expect this, but overjoyed just the same. Before I went home, I went over to Good Earth to pick up some coconut water, and they were cool with me grinding my beans in their store. When I returned home, I brewed the coffee to drink while I did some writing. The taste brought me back to the northwest as the Pacific tide rock back and forth on my tongue. I was in Seattle. I was on Cannon Beach in Northwestern Oregon soaking my feet in the ocean while burying my hand in the oncoming tide. I felt the comfort of home. I felt the divine connection reminding me of a quiet stability  at the core of constant change. Outside, gentrification emerges, infects, and decays, but inside I am content. Always at peace. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said that if “anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.” True, Eric gave me the coffee because he is my friend, but I can’t help but think, according to his faith, that his friendship is fueled by his desire to be a disciple of Jesus. As I have written before, I had to disassociate from Christianity and church because of consistent poor examples; but I know Jesus when I see him.

Heat is Still Heat

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.

Portland-Oregon

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.

RENO

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.

Elko, NV

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.

Salt Flats

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.

salt-lake-city-skyline-brian-jannsen

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.