Slouching Towards…

slouching towards bethlehem

This week my sense of equilibrium gave way as I read the news of violence from downtown Portland with Left and Right Wing groups clashing together with weapons and angry words. Last week, two men were killed defending a woman in a Hijab from a white supremacist who spoke of his free speech and right to violence–going so far as to say he hoped his victims died. A couple days later, a similar incident occurred on the MAX with another Right Wing individual screaming for his freedom of speech while beating the conductor. People on the train subdued the man and released him to the cops when they arrived. I understand why the Left responded with violence. I understand that the Right believes they are being marginalized while marginalizing people on the Left. People on the Left have legitimate fear because people on the Right do carry out their hatred. I live in that fear on the Southside of Indianapolis where people such as myself can be accosted in Jesus’ name without any consequence. I grew to hate them. I grew to hate Trump. I grew to hate anyone under the name of Christian and/or Republican because that’s who beat me and ostracize me. I roared. I flashed my education. I humiliated them with my scholarship. I felt powerful as I browbeat my oppressors. For the moment, I felt that warm feeling of catharsis sliding down my bones. The feeling was like the bliss of heroin after the asprin drip in the back of the throat had dissipated, but then there was the rush of pain after the come down. Trump was still in control. Straight, white Christians were still in power, and nothing changed. In my mind, I always had Portland. My return to the northwest is in the works. Nothing soon. A few years, maybe. I want to return because I remember the feelings of peace and acceptance. When I read the news all my illusions were exposed as childish fantasies, and I realized I am in the middle of a W.B. Yeats poem.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

When Yeats penned these words he saw the effects of World War I. The old ways of God and country  mixed with technology unleashed a cruelty never before imagined by anyone. Machine guns ripped apart bodies on smokey European fields, and soldiers doubled over in a fetal position as they wretched their last breath from mustard gas. There was no glory, there was no honor, and if God were there “he” already skipped town because we were too much to handle. In those dangerous days people thought, from their literal understanding of biblical prophecy, that Jesus’ return was imminent. That he would descend upon his white horse to slay the wicked with the sword pouring out his mouth. For Yeats that would have been a double tragedy. Twenty centuries of Christianity brought about The Great War, and now the image of the problem is the solution? That is too much to handle.

Where was the redemption promised? Where was that abundant life Jesus spoke about to his disciples? Almost a century after Yeats, and I can point out the effects of those promises as executed by the political leaders who look to Jesus as their example. Children deprived of education, the poor deprived of food stamps so they can eat, Flint, MI and the contaminated water, attacking Muslims, attacking immigrants of color, attacking LGBT, attacking transgender, oppressing women, Rich men creating wars so the poor can die to increase their bank accounts, and so on and so forth. There are Christians who will say these leaders who promote such ideas are not real Christians, but these people read from the same bible. Doctrine is not about following the example of Jesus but a healthy mixture of money and charisma. What is sad is these examples aren’t new today, nor were they new a century ago. Yes, right now the end of the world feels imminent because Donald Trump and his colleagues seem hell bent on destroying the world so they can be comfortable in the few years they have remaining, and I hear Christians calling out “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” The body of Christ here on earth has already done considerable damage. What improvement would the head bring?

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Though, I feel the same trepidation as Yeats, I am weary. Violence and insults come from both sides hurled towards the other, and I have done more than my fair share contributing to the violence in the world. I have not shown love, but fear, loathing, condescension, and smugness towards those on the Right. In the beginning I had a good reason. While they felt threatened by my presence and my questions, I never struck them or slandered them while justifying myself with God’s grace. Had they never hit me–figuratively and literally–I would not have felt the desire to retaliate. My response is not on them. I made the choice to sneer and belittle, but they are not completely innocent in the matter. While the Right introduced suffering to me from their words and actions, I exacerbated my suffering and theirs when I responded likewise. Though the Right is motivated by their understanding of Jesus, I take that understanding of Jesus and spit upon their faith as savage and childish. An eye for an eye until the whole world is blind. Looking to myself as one example, I see a similar patterns occurring between the Right and the Left in Portland and the rest of the country. No one group is better than the other no matter how they spin their rhetoric. Both sides perpetuate the violence, and somebody, regardless of who, needs to stop and say, “The violence ends with me.”
Is there something new imminent, or will the coming of Jesus only make matters worse? If that is the case, he can stay in Heaven because whatever this is, that he started, isn’t working. The magi crawled under the bright conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter proclaiming the arrival of the messiah to the people of God in Jerusalem. All of Jerusalem shook with fear, and their nerves were calmed with the blood of children Herod slaughtered to protect his throne. Today we don’t have Herod, we have Trump who has the support of Evangelical leaders, Catholic leaders, and more than half of their respective churches. The religious establishment that killed toddlers for political stability had Moses and The Prophets, but today the religious establishment destroys the innocent in the name of Jesus. Something isn’t working. Is it Jesus, is it the church, or is it both? If, indeed, the end is upon us, I shudder to think what will be born. For the time being each one of us, on both sides of the cultural spectrum, can, at the very least, stop responding with hate. We’re wearing ourselves out slouching towards whatever end awaits us.

 

 

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Portland Cares

A few days ago, I was saddened to hear about the three stabbing victims on a Portland MAX(train), two of which died. Jeremy Joseph Christian, who is a white supremacist, attacked a woman in a hijab while three stood up to defend her. He told CNN he hoped his victims died and that Portland needs to wake up to free speech. My mind went all over the place, but kept hitting one point. The only time I have seen white supremacy flourish has been in areas where there are only white people. I saw it in Southern Indiana, Southern Illinois, and Nebraska where such speech is not met with immediate consequences. Portland seems to be under that sway being 98% white, but there are many people who live there who will resist the hate and defend the victims. That’s a fair sight better than the places where I lived an walked: Indianapolis’ East Side, East St. Louis, and South Side Chicago. If anyone walked into those area shouting racist epitaphs and attacking people of color, those racist would quickly find themselves on the business end of a twelve gauge or a nine.

Warren Central

Two years after I graduated high school my brother was a Junior, and came across a Nazi skinhead–the only Nazi skinhead in Warren Central–who dressed the part with his shin high red doc martens with the white laces, tightly cuffed blue Levi’s, and a white shirt. In between classes this guy would stand in the hallway shouting “sieg heil!” My brother told him to knock it off or he might end up in the hospital. In the early to mid-90s when my brother and I went to Warren, white people were the minority–not by too much, though only 60/40. Racism existed, but racist comments, for the most part, were kept close to the chest. To utter such things would cause the same kind of riot that happened in my Junior year. The guy wouldn’t listen, and kept yelling out his Nazi sentiments.

During that time there was construction taking place on the tunnel connecting the school to Walker Career Center. Walker Career Center is something akin to a trade school where people can learn skills such as printing, typing, welding, electrical work, and mechanical work to prepare them for a job after graduation. Getting to class on time from the Career Center to the school, or vice versa was next to impossible–many people ran. Depending on the weather kids will walk through the tunnel or walk outside. There were many pieces and tools around the jobsite such as two by fours and lead pipes, and one afternoon, in between class, the Nazi was beaten to a pulp with fists, pieces of wood, and pipes. I never advocate violence of any kind, but when things like that happen, the attacking party has a legitimate grievance. Obviously, such a response does not curtail racism, but a racist will think twice before he or she will assert their stance. Three men stood up for the young lady in the hijab, and two gave their life so that a woman could live in safety. Today, people rallied together in downtown Portland to march against hate. This is the better response.

This is the Portland where I lived and loved.

Portland-Oregon

When Ronnie and I lived in Portland we were on the southeast side off Powell & SE Cesar Estrada Chavez. It’s a beautiful side of town a mile north of Reed College, and a ten minute bus ride from downtown. We didn’t have our little van at that point, and Ronnie and I got around Portland using the MAX and buses. Living in Portland, we didn’t need a car anyway—and neither did most of the residents. The people who did drive usually came from Vancouver, WA, fifteen minutes north, or from surrounding suburbs. Everyone else made use of bikes, electric bikes, longboards, or the mass transit system. Almost everyone had a rucksack of different shapes and sizes to store their computers, wallets, phones, food, water, and whatever else would be problematic to carry by hand. I did it when I lived in downtown Indy when I would ride my bike to the Ivy Tech campus or take the bus if the weather turned nasty. Rucksacks are as essential as Ford Prefect’s towel in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—always have your rucksack. Walking around Portland, I felt like I was living in Kerouac’s “rucksack revolution” as stated in The Dharma Bums. In the morning, Ronnie and I would pack our laptops, folders, books, water, and food, and take the bus to Southeast Grind to drink coffee while looking for jobs and apartments.

Southeast Grind 1

There is a parking lot behind Southeast Grind, but it can only hold a few cars so most people take the bus or ride their bikes. Walking in to the coffee shop there is a waist high barrier on the right, and on the left is a cork message board at eye level—both sides are covered with local music events, art shows, rallies, etc. Walking up to the cash register to place our order there is a bar where people sat hunched over the computers writing and reading while talking to the barista. Behind them there are metal tables and chairs, couches, and cushy chairs, and outlets are numerous for phone chargers and computer plugs. Most of the people there are from the neighborhood, students from University of Portland and Reed, and they are typing away at their computers like a trumpet player clicking his keys while blowing to get the right chord. Many people sit there for hours and well into the night because Southeast Grind is a twenty-four coffee shop. Brilliant!

Southeast Grind 2

A coffee shop opened all day and all night, and filled with artists and students does cultivate a warm energy, but that is not why we liked going there. Portland is extremely affluent, and the economic disparity is blatant. Portland has one of the highest homeless rates in the country with something close to 2,000 people sleeping on the streets. When Ronnie and I would go downtown to the farmer’s market we saw people sleeping on the benches in dirty clothes as people walked by. We saw the same thing at a Buddhist festival in a park near the Willamette River. Driving around downtown at four in the morning, we also two homeless guys beating each other for a corner. Because of gentrification rent is extremely high—over $1,000 for a studio apartment no bigger than a bedroom, and employment opportunities are slim to none. It’s not fun to be poor and struggling in Portland, but what I noticed is no one struggles alone.

As Ronnie and I sat on our computers in Southeast Grind, I noticed a homeless guy walk in with a guy in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. They sat at the bar, and the guy in sandals ordered them both a coffee drink and the homeless guy a sandwich. I caught the conversation, and was surprised to learn that Sandalman didn’t know the homeless guy. Sandalman saw the homeless guy on the street and offered to buy him some coffee and a sandwich because the homeless guy was a fellow human being. Sandalman’s attitude is a common thing in Portland. That is one of many acts of kindness I have seen throughout Portland, and when Ronnie and went to regular services at Shambhala Center the people there were fully accepting of us—I even met some guys who were friends with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. There is genuine compassion and a genuine desire to help others because what I saw from Portland is we are all in this together. Portland is called the “Rose City” because of its environmental beauty, but the beauty of the people are what constantly blooms regardless of the season and weather.

Plot Twist

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This morning the alarm went off at 4:45. I slept out in the living room on the hide-a-bed Ronnie’s mom found for us at a Goodwill in the Castleton area. Because Ronnie’s back was hurting last night, and I wanted to be out of bed before the devil to get in some walking, I opted for the living room. The mattress is firm, and with the added comforter for padding, the sleep was quite comfortable, and I did not wake up stiff and groggy as I normally do. The reason, I got up so early to walk had to do with meeting a friend at a coffee shop this morning, but with the weather change added another reason. It’s hot. Yesterday was eighty-three, and today will be eighty-seven. It’s also spring and that means there is pollen and freshly cut grass to make breathing difficult. When heat is added, I feel like there is a weight compressing my chest and shoulders—the movement is sluggish. Mornings are terrible, but in the afternoon there is quite a bit of humidity in the air that feels like a towel soaked with hot water breaking your neck with its sopping weight. This morning was a little humid, but I didn’t think it would would be too bad so I put on my jogging pants, wore socks and shoes, and wore my Dharma Punx hat. I was feeling sluggish and overheated, but I was able to watch the transition from night, to twilight, and the beginning of the sun rise. A new day.

I’ve been going through another reading and listening of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road because I miss the West, and the burden of my longing only increases as I read about Indiana’s General Assembly green lighting a religious freedoms law for students. The language implies that any student can carry religious items or conduct religious practices on campus. So ideally, a Muslim kid could bring his prayer rug or a Wiccan could perform a sacred rite during lunch, but that won’t happen. There will be a fuss from Evangelical Christians who behave like former Prom Queens who wants her popularity recognized outside of high school. In the world outside of high school she is a dime a dozen. Rather than accept this fact as an adult, she will live in denial and keep her high school mentality well into mid-life making her an unbearable presence at work. I am not implying The West is Utopia, but I never experienced an imposition from an unread religious group. Christians are active out in the West, but what I saw in Portland they were all about taking care of the poor, the homeless, people of color, immigrants, and so on without raising any attention to themselves. The West has its own issues, but Conservative Christianity isn’t one of them.

The narrator, Will Patton, captures the voices of Kerouac and the characters in On the Road making you feel as if you’re in the muggy Bayou with Bull Lee (William Burroughs), in the car holding on to your seat with Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) at the wheel, or in Carlo Marx’s (Allen Ginsberg) living room rummaging through books and cigarettes. As I make the laps around my apartment complex, I can hear the roar and hum of the morning traffic on I-65, and I feel the itching increase. I also smile. Driving across the country, I can now reminisce with the feelings of trepidation over the unknown as Kerouac did with his trips—but my trip was relatively safer. I had interstates with rest stops and wi-fi. Kerouac buzzed around the United States before the advent of the interstate and the country wild with highways with slight dabs of urbanity west of the Mississippi. I finish my walk. I go inside to peel off my clothes so I can shower and shave, and start the day.

When I finish the time is 6:25. I opened the door, “Hey, honey. It’s 6:25. Time to get up.” As she moves about beginning her morning routine, I ask her, “What would you like for breakfast this morning?”
“Oh, I’ll have some toast.”
“With butter?”
“How many pieces?”
“I’ll have two.”
I go into the kitchen to turn on the stove. Our toaster died a couple months ago so I use the skillets to make the toast. Even if we had a working toaster, I still would have used the skillets. Ronnie’s mom stayed with us all last week, and she brought her bread maker. Mom makes the best bread, and she cuts them thick—too thick for toaster. I’ve no complaints. She makes her bread so thick and hearty it can feed a body with one slice. I made myself three slices cut in half for peanut butter and jelly to eat at the coffee shop, and I started the electric kettle to make coffee for Ronnie.

The mornings are rushed. Ronnie usually leaves for work at 7:00 so she can be home by 5:00 and have a few hours to relax with crafts and YouTube. Mornings like this one where I drive her to work, she can go a little slower and eat her breakfast in the car. This morning, I took my time, because I didn’t want to forget about today. What is so significant about today? Two years ago today, Ronnie and I were married at The Federated Church in Carlinville, IL. That was a stressful time. Any wedding planning is stressful, but we made it worse by doing it during our last semester at Blackburn. We both had our Senior Seminars to do, and that required a lot of research and self-loathing in addition to the regular amount of work we had with our classes. She was a Psychology major doing her seminar on eating disorders and I was a Literature major doing his seminar on the Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and the book’s relevance to 21st century spiritual seekers in America. I spent hours researching, printing articles, writing, meeting with my adviser, revising, and keeping up with my normal work load. The time spent was worth the effort because I learned I am no literary critic or public speaker. With all the packing for our move across the country, the reading and writing, and planning a wedding, I am surprised I graduated with a 3.415 GPA—.85 away from being on the Dean’s List for the third time at Blackburn.

A week after our wedding, Ronnie and I were on the road to Portland, OR. The trip had a couple set-backs involving us getting lost in the middle of Wyoming at 2:00 in the morning facing down a mountain lion, and almost flipping the rental SUV over lava rock in southern Idaho because a deer threw her body in front of us. We made it to Portland two days behind schedule, and things were not working out as we hoped as were promised. We stayed with a friend of Ronnie’s who told us jobs would be easy to get, and we would find a place of our own in no time. When we arrived, her roommates were slightly hostile towards us. We asked one roommate, whom we got on with, if we did something, and she told us Ronnie’s friend did not tell her we were coming. We were also told Ronnie’s friend has a bad habit of not communicating to her roommates about anything. Finally, the friend lied about her landlord coming in to do an inspection. We had to leave, and stayed in a Motel 6 across the river in Vancouver, WA. We didn’t care about the lie, Ronnie and I were just glad to be out of that situation. We still had to find jobs and a place to live, and we were having no luck in Portland or Vancouver. I wanted to make this work. I wanted all the pain we accumulated on the road to be worth something. So I kept forcing Oregon on us.

Ronnie and I decided to visit Eugene, OR to see if finding work and an apartment would be easier. We spent the first night at a motel that had bugs crawling everywhere. Originally, we had the room for two nights, but we got our money back for one night, and found a nicer hotel for a cheap price across the street from a mall. I was still stressed because our money was slowly depleting, and Ronnie finally told me, “You know, we don’t have to stay in Oregon. We can go anywhere we want.” All the stress went away. Yes, our van was packed, we were homeless, and we could go anywhere. I was so weighed down on making Oregon happen that I didn’t realize we had the road before us. We could go anywhere we wanted. We still can. Her statement summarizes our relationship. We have complete freedom, and we do not bind ourselves to the arbitrary notions of what we “should” do.  We also complement each other in our journey. Her usual default mode is worry and stress when circumstances look bleak and out of control, but I am the gypsy telling her everything will be fine. How do I know? I don’t. Opposite to her, I had a life full of instability since I was born. There was always the threat of going without food, of being homeless, of my family completely disintegrating, and I had nowhere safe in home, school, work, or church. I learned quickly a stable life is an illusion, and even the most established are a paycheck, a phone call, or an email away from losing everything. Regardless of the circumstances, no one is truly bound to anything, there is always freedom.

There are times, though, when Ronnie and I switch roles. I, too, am prone to worry and stress, and more so after I we were married. It is one thing to live that five by five life when you’re single, but takes on another dimension when you’re in a relationship. I get caught up in what I think I should be doing, and those things dissipate. I become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety because the instability caused my previous relationships to dissipate. Before Ronnie and I were married, I told her, “I can’t promise you a comfortable life, but I can promise it will be interesting.” I did not say this to her to give myself an out, but looking back upon my life, I thought it would be foolish to promise something I never had. She wanted to marry me anyway. She told me she didn’t care if we had the biggest mansion or a cardboard box on the street just so long as she is with me. That does sound cliché, but a week after our wedding, she got in a car with me to drive across the country to Portland, OR. She followed me even though I had no idea what would happen, but she wouldn’t go back and change anything.

Ronnie has made my life considerably better. She understands human nature and is compassionate, and earned her degree in psychology to give her insight academic weight. She understands how much I have to work to unlearn the teachings of my family, the trauma I experienced from them, and to learn the things they did not taught. That statement does not imply my family is responsible for who I am, but it does mean I need to surround myself with better examples so I know how to apply new teachings and new ways of thinking. Somewhere along the way, I adopted their violent, arrogant, and condescending attitudes as a hiding place when my soft underbelly was kicked. Unfortunately, my choice has made my life more difficult than it already had been. I would have eventually overcome those easy choices, but being with Ronnie increased my rate of evolution. I’m not her project, I’m her life partner. We’re a team, and we both work to help the other grow. This is one of her parts in my life. This is how she changed my story, and this is how she is helping me break the Smith/Culbertson cycle. Who Ronnie is, transforms me into a better human being.

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.

American Jesus

broad ripple

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.