An Evangelical Pilgrimage
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Posts from — August 2009

On the Name


Portland, OR :: This project was originally conceived three years ago under the title “The Way We Worship.” My plan was to write twelve essays on twelve churches. The essays would collectively document the diverse ways in which American Christians gather for prayer, praise, teaching, and fellowship. I wanted to explore everything from megachurches to house churches; churches that are dying to churches that are thriving; congregations that meet in white clapboard buildings on a country road, and churches that meet in brewpubs and coffee houses in the middle of the city; postmodern churches on the “cutting-edge” and churches that are profoundly, proudly modern.

While the simplicity of this idea still appeals to me, I’ve come to feel constrained by the original title and structure. There is an obligation to look for archetypal churches, which lacks spontaneity – and besides, I want to meet people, not archetypes. In addition, the title “The Way We Worship” implies an almost exclusive focus on Saturday night or Sunday morning services, which isn’t enough. Far from it (cf. the well-written but ill-conceived recent article by Jason Boyett on the Relevant website, “6 Denominations in 6 Weeks”, about which I will have more to say in a future post). Finally, the rigid framework – twelve essays on twelve churches – doesn’t leave much room to write about my family’s physical, spiritual, and relational journey.

Last week I was reading a collection of Wendell Berry’s poetry, and I came across a Sabbath poem that beautifully summarizes my present goals for this project – and for myself apart from this project. The “rarest wildflowers” are the people Kate and I will meet on our trip.

I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and who goes,
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.

It was Dave who suggested the title “On the Narrow Road,” a play on Jack Kerouac’s 1957 classic novel “On the Road.” A quick internet search revealed something interesting: the only other use  of the title I could find was a 1989 book by Lesley Downer called “On the Narrow Road: A Journey into Lost Japan.” Downer’s book retraces the steps of the 17th century Japanese haiku poet, Basho, who wrote about his own pilgrimage in a travelogue sometimes translated as “The Narrow Road to the Interior.” The word “interior” in Basho’s title refers not just to mountainous interior of northern Japan but to the poet’s own inner journey. I picked up a copy of Basho’s travel narratives at Powell’s and, reading late into the night, I realized I had found a kindred spirit. Basho did just what I wanted to do: he headed north, visited temples (churches), and talked with people along the way.

Basho, a Zen Buddhist, wrote with a level of detachment I admire. He doesn’t defend or criticize or even celebrate. His poetry and prose are not didactic. His writing just is. My sociologist friend Matt will probably say that detachment is all but impossible when dealing with a subject – my spiritual heritage, American evangelicalism – so intimate and charged with meaning. But I feel like the pursuit of detachment, if not it’s attainment, is critical to this project’s success.

There is plenty to celebrate in American evangelicalism; God knows there is plenty to criticize. But I am not a good enough writer to do those things well. I’ll stick with the basics: this is who I am, this is where I come from, this is where we are going.

August 18, 2009   14 Comments

Trailer and Truck, RV or Van?

Trailer Pic

Portland, Oregon :: John and I go in circles on this topic when we talk about how this trip will work.  Should we do a trailer and truck combo?  An RV with small car towed behind?  Or a camper van?

I’m 98% sure I would prefer the trailer/truck combo.

Pros: “space” of our own, flexibility to drop off the trailer and drive the truck with relative ease, potentially less work, John could drop off the trailer with me and Molly while he chases down people to interview for his book.

Cons: it could be long and therefore difficult to maneuver through a city, some people say hard to drive

Yesterday John brought up the camper van idea again.  I’m not sure we could survive the whole year in this.  We would be relying on people to open their homes all of the time (which I originally thought would be the best experience).

Pros: very low cost, more compact, easy to maneuver, rely on others more.

Cons: SMALL space, no toilet (unless we got a port-a-potty), no fridge (likely), we would always be driving our “home,” rely on others more.

Some people are hard-core RV fanatics.  They swear that this is the way to go.  Get a small-ish RV and pull a small car behind.

Pros: small home on wheels ready to go, leave the RV and drive car around town

Cons: BIG, most RVs require a lot of work, might be difficult to maneuver through a city, more challenging to find free/cheap repair help for an RV than a truck.

Maybe we’ll just join the Living Small Tour

Please share your thoughts and experience with us!

August 17, 2009   10 Comments

Yard Sales and Being

Coffee and Lemonade

Portland, OR :: I am too self-conscious to enjoy yard sales. On a missions trip to Mexico with my high school youth group, I stayed up late one night playing poker with a few friends. The whole group was sleeping in tents pitched close together, and I guess the poker game got loud (probably when I was caught cheating) because my dad, who had come on the trip as a leader and was staying in a nearby tent, came over and told us to be quiet and that we were “airing our dirty laundry.” My friends and I snickered at the idiom, which was unfamiliar to us at the time, and my Dad had to translate.

Yard sales air dirty laundry: they make public what should probably remain private. Here are our possessions, or at least the ones we are willing to part with. What do you make of my life? How much is it worth to you? And the insecurity works both ways. I don’t go to garage sales because I always feel obligated to buy something. To walk away empty-handed is to say “There is nothing you have that I want,” which is another way of saying, “I don’t want you.”

This is obviously ridiculous. We are not the sum of our possessions. I don’t see people that way, and I don’t see myself that way; not really, though once before I got married I didn’t receive any mail for almost a month – no letters, no bills, not even personally addressed junk mail – and I started to question if I existed, or if I was just a figment of my own imagination. This is an existential question every American should probably wrestle with at one time or another: Do I have Being outside the economic establishment? Am I an objective reality for anyone besides credit card companies and marketing agencies?

The sale was supposed to start at 7:00 but the first customer arrived at 6:30. Two others showed up soon after. The three of them – two men and a woman – knew each other. I think they must be professional garage salers. The guy who showed up first is nicknamed Eight O’Clock Eddie, apparently because he has a reputation for getting to sales first. The second guy wore a canvas vest like you might see on a television reporter in Baghdad, as well as a tam o’shanter and a Bluetooth earpiece. Eight O’Clock Eddie watched for a half hour as we set up the tables and organized our wares. In the end, he didn’t buy anything. The man with the Bluetooth bought an espresso machine, but he looked annoyed that we didn’t have more stuff he wanted. Sorry.

At any rate, a lot of other folks wanted to buy what we were selling, which is great. As Kate mentioned in her earlier post, we raised a combined $900 from sales, Kate’s coffee and cookie and lemonade stand, and some generous donations. This tripled my expectations and doubled my hopes. We also got rid of a lot of things we probably didn’t need in the first place.

The successful yard sale is the latest detail of the trip to fall into place. “Go forth boldly in the direction of your dreams; live the life you’ve imagined,” Thoreau wrote somewhere. Joseph Campbell said “Follow your bliss and the Universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” It troubles me to put so close together two quotes probably found on a thousand thousand bumper stickers. But I feel like going forth boldly and following our bliss is what Kate and I are trying to do – and the Universe, so to speak, is responding.

August 16, 2009   7 Comments

Yard Sale #1, Check!

Portland, OR :: Yesterday marked the first major step in our grand adventure.  We had a yard sale and sold “everything.”  It turns out we did not really sell everything – I walked back inside the house when the event was cleaned up and realized we have a lot more that can go, but it was a great first step.

For those of you who do not know why we had this yard sale let me take a few steps back and explain why we need to sell “everything.”

Over the last 20 months John and I have been meeting regularly with our two best friends, Kristialyn and Dave.  Our plan was to merge our lives and become neighbors, living in very close community with each other.  We considered co-housing (living in the same house), buying/renting a duplex together, buying a farm, living in yurts on some rural property, moving into parents’ homes, almost everything except for living on a boat (although that would have been a fun discussion, right Kristialyn?).

We desire to live together in a way where we can support each other’s dreams and needs, encourage our spiritual growth, raise curious children, and practice living a life closely connected to the land (on a farm of sorts).  Through our journey exploring options and building stronger relationships our plans for the future were refined and narrowed, we were even able to make a list of our five must-haves.  Our five must-haves were initally focused in a small town in California because I “needed” more sunshine.  We committed ourselves to praying for these five things to become a reality.  Within two weeks exciting opportunities presented themselves. But none of those opportunities were in that small California town. So we expanded our list to ten must-haves and left the location open.  That’s when things got tricky.  I realized three things: 1) God can really provide for us the right place (something I might have doubted), 2) I can go anywhere (also something I doubted), and 3) the time when we realize this dream might not happen right away (definitely something I doubted I would feel comfortable with).

As we began to pray more specifically and truly seek consensus between the four of us we realized that staying within the Portland area might be the best option for now.  And that’s when the idea for this trip came upon John in a flash of inspiration.  It was like we were finally content with where we were and then, BAM!  Inspiration!

John came to me and asked if I wanted to travel around the country with him and Molly for year.  If you know John, you know he’s the kind of person who comes to me regularly (daily or twice daily) with BIG ideas.  Sometimes so big I just laugh, other times I just stand there speechless.  This time I paused and said, “Maybe, let me think about it,” something I never say.  John didn’t quite know what to do.  I think he had a few rebuttals planned, but never had to use them.  The next day I told him I thought it was just the right idea for us and at just the right time.  This surprised me because only five days before we were going to buy a house with D & K.

After we all experienced a little bit of whiplash it was clear (something that is hard to put into words) that this trip was the best thing for our family.  We all had peace.  When peace comes and settles in on you I’ve learned it’s important to accept it and sit still for a while.  Let it in and breathe.  Don’t try to shake it, embrace it.

So we did.  And after much discussion with D & K it was clear that our plans to live in close community with each other would be better achieved after this journey.  John and I have been living with such opposite schedules for so long, Molly being introduced to our family and Dave and Kristialyn still learning each other after being married for less than two years.

John and I have a tendency to make plans and change direction easily.  This has been a source of frustration for others and ourselves, but I also think it’s a gift that will be welcomed one day.  For now we wondered when this plan would be ditched for the next.  Every day for the first three weeks John asked me, “How are you feeling about our trip?”  I always responded, “good” or “excited” or “confident.”  I asked him the same question back and he always had the same responses as me.  He was confused, “Are we really going to do this?”

(A little more back-story: John and I have had credit card debt since our honeymoon almost seven years ago.  It has been an oppressing force and we have worked hard to free ourselves of it.  This has only recently happened when we reevaluated our lives and put our values first in how we were going to live.  I gave notice as a manager at Starbucks, cut back on my hours, we made more time for our family to be together and started tithing within our community.  We chose to live Kingdom values* first instead of our society’s values.  Today, we have zero credit card debt and only trace amounts of other debt!  We are grateful and thankful for our friends and family who have encouraged us, prayed for us and helped us realize this goal.  We have learned the truth about the spiritual connectedness between money, debt, and oppression.  This is a truth we will still have to work through but there is light at the end of the tunnel and we are becoming freer each day! Praise God!)

So, are we really going to do this trip?  “Yes!”  And we are able to do this because we are becoming freer, we are supported by a loving and generous community, our family and parents supports us and because now is the time!  Here we are sorting through all of our worldly possessions and deciding what is replaceable and what is not, what can we sell, what should we store and what needs to come on the road with us.  What are we going to do on the road?  How will Molly respond to this?  Who will we see?  Who will we meet?  How will we document this journey?  And how will we find ways to share what we’ve learned about community…but most importantly, what will we learn about God, community and how will this impact our lives and those to whom we return home?

That being said, we had a major yard sale on Saturday. People were able to give us donations toward our trailer fund.  We were blessed by so many people and encouraged by everyone! We made well over $900 and have the first major chunk of cash we need to buy a trailer and truck to haul our family across the country and back a few times over the next 15 months!

We are excited to share our journey with everyone through this blog and many other forms of digital connections (Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Email, etc…).  I will be focusing most of my posts on community, hospitality, food, farms and family.  John will be documenting our journey and his pilgrimage through Evangelical America.  Check on us, encourage us, challenge us, and love us.

Here we go!!!

*Kingdom values: this is something we started talking about a while back.  As Christians we talk about the Kingdom of God.  It’s mentioned a lot in the Bible.  We have a home church here in Portland and we’ve tried to understand what the Kingdom of God is.  Is it a future state or present?  We have come to the conclusion that it’s a present state that one can live in today on earth (Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven).  The Kingdom of God values very different things than our current society.  We’ve learned a lot about this through books like: The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics by Ched Myers and Body Politics – Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World by John Howard Yoder.

August 16, 2009   4 Comments