An Evangelical Pilgrimage
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Important Update

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Things have been quiet around here. The last post is five weeks old. I think we’ve posted just six times in the last two months. Some of the posts are only marginally about our trip, and most don’t mention the trip at all. The dearth of updates doesn’t reflect a lack of activity, a calm before the storm of our scheduled departure in early March. We’ve actually posted less because of just how very much activity there has been behind the scenes. Everything has happened, the ground beneath our feet shifting from one day to the next. Daily updates would have been exhausting and cruel. Only our families and Dave and Kristialyn should have to go through that. Now the ground has stopped shaking and everything is changed. It’s time to fill you in.

In short, we are postponing the trip. Our adventure was possible because my work as a grant writer can be done from anywhere as long as I have a telephone and internet access. But the grants business has slowed to a trickle. My unspoken belief that my line of work was recession-proof — thanks to the stimulus money, what one of my colleagues calls ObamaBucks — was foolish. We haven’t had steady grant work since October. My family is now in a position where we need to hunker down, finish paying off debt, and start saving money again to replenish the cash reserves we’ve burned through these last few months.

We don’t regret in the least our decision to pack up and leave the city we love. We’ve made our way up and down the West Coast, as we always intended. We spent wonderful time with my family in Keizer, with Kate’s family in Grass Valley-Nevada City, and with friends in Chico, California, which is where we are now. We even made it back to Portland a couple times. Since October, we have been the recipients of an enormous measure of hospitality and grace. I know that Kate is looking forward to utilizing her own gift of hospitality when we settle down. And it is time to settle down.

Time on the road taught Kate and me several valuable lessons. One important lesson is that today is provided for, and that that can be enough. A second, related lesson is to hold loosely to future plans. The rest of the blog post was written and should be read with those two lessons in mind.

Kate and I foresaw the need to make this decision, and so we talked and prayed for a few weeks about where we want to settle down. It ultimately came down to two choices: Grass Valley-Nevada City, or somewhere near these two little towns in Oregon, Mt. Angel and Silverton, which are just a few miles apart and not far from Salem and Portland. Both areas have a lot in common: they are communities which seem to be intimate with their landscapes, supportive of rural living but still within easy driving distance of urban amenities like airports and museums and the arts, proximity to family, proximity to outdoor adventure like hiking and camping, open space, plenty of inspiration for my writing. In addition, these communities seem like they could support a small bookstore, which has become a recurring feature of our daydreams.

In the end, we decided on the Mt. Angel-Silverton area. What ultimately tipped us toward Oregon is our community there. These last few months, we’ve taken the American dream of mobility and life without geographical constraints to an extreme, and we don’t want to keep living there. Though our lives have been untethered from any actual place, we were always orienting ourselves, like magnetic north, toward our friends and family. We have some special people in Oregon. Like Dave and K-yo, Mark Lore (of thedaysoflore.com) and Alexis, Dustin and Cara and Moses, Libby, Yubi, the Westbrooks, Sarah and Trevor, Brit and Andy, the (Stable) Gabels, the Brunos, and Jon (Daddy) Riker.

Kate will be going back to work, something she is actually excited about. I’ve started sending e-mails asking about apartments and houses in Mt. Angel and Silverton. Our plan right now is to drive back to Oregon on January 17. For good, it seems. We don’t have a place to stay yet, but we know we’ll manage somehow. There are even strong signs that the grant business is ratcheting up for the spring — too late to save our trip, but very welcome.

On the Narrow Road isn’t dead. We’ll continue to use this blog to document our family’s attempt to live in a way that does not conform to the broad road of consumerism and American excess. It’s time to learn how to live within boundaries, submit ourselves to a community and a place and to God. It’s time I learned how to live a life governed not by the overwhelming appetites of the present, but by the accumulated wisdom of the past, with an eye on the future, planting sequoias, judging each decision by how it will effect the world Molly will inherit from me, if there is a world left for her to inherit.

I hope to continue writing the OTNR book. Instead of writing the book in the form of a long travel narrative, I am going to go back to my original idea: 12 essays about 12 churches. Each article can stand alone, and I will try to publish them in magazines as individual essays. Then I’d like to add a 13th chapter which would be the account of a month-long road trip (very different than the 36 weeks Kate and I originally planned) to re-visit the churches, talk to people along the way, and draw some broad conclusions about evangelicalism in America. If it makes sense for us financially, I’d like to start the project by visiting my childhood church in Lincoln, Nebraska this March or April.

And so our adventure will be a journey not measured in miles but in the distance from the head to the heart, and between Kate and me, and between us and you, our community. Thank you for coming this far, gentle reader. Won’t you continue on with us?

January 5, 2010   10 Comments

Merlin’s Justice

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Grass Valley, CA :: I’m sitting outside a Starbucks in Grass Valley. This town is where Kate grew up. It was a beautiful Sunday. I went for an hour-long walk with Molly today, and then went for another long walk by myself later in the afternoon.

It’s 7:30 p.m. A clear night after a beautiful day, but it’s getting cold now. It’s actually too cold to be sitting outside without a jacket, but I needed to be within earshot of the five guys drinking their coffee out here on the patio. They are all drinking venti sizes of something and, judging by their energy level, their volume, the way they keep talking over each other, and the way they are all standing instead of sitting, they got extra shots too. At least two of the guys are more under-dressed than me, wearing shorts. All of them have longish hair, and a couple of them are making valiant attempts to grow facial hair.

I needed to be within earshot of these guys because when I walked up to the store they were engaged in a passionate discussion about something and I wanted to know what. I just Googled some of the phrases I keep hearing: “berserker,” “Thor,” “The Courtesan,” and “Merlin’s justice” (which is not, it turns out, ancient Britain’s version of Montezuma’s revenge). They are talking, loudly, about role playing games. Just now, one of the guys shouted out, “Regular melee is the best, magic melee sucks ass.”

Yeah, these guys are nerds. But who cares? I had zero friends when I started halfway through my eighth grade year at Lowell junior high in Lincoln. It was the RPG guys who took me in, so, yeah, I know my way around a 12-sided dice.

I realize that I’m arguing with no one in particular, but how is what these guys are doing any different than the thick-necks who get together every week to watch and argue about professional sports? If anything, watching an NFL game is harder to justify than a role-playing game, because at least with DragonQuest (or whatever these guys are playing) they are more than just spectators. They enter a story and exercise will and their choices have consequences.

But I’m not going to begrudge the nerds or the jocks their past-times. Ultimately, what they are doing is creating community, and the worst thing of all is to be isolated.

I have no idea where all this came from. I have a lot of catching up to do on this site. I need to talk about our trip to California from Keizer. I need to explain why I am posting haiku of all things on my Twitter feed. But I sat down at my computer and this is what came out. Now it’s so cold I can’t feel my fingers, so all that other stuff will have to wait.

Updated: In an earlier version of this post, I said “if anything, the NFL is more meaningless than…” That was not only bad writing, it was lazy writing. Both of these activities – the sports-watching and the gaming – are packed with meaning.

November 15, 2009   7 Comments

Encouraged by Generosity

Keizer, OR :: I expect to post many stories under this title. Today I’m excited about going home. Home for me is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. Although it’s likely that home will mean a lot of different things over the next year.

Since we left our rented home in Portland we have been blessed and cared for by John’s family in Keizer. We are now making our plans to stay in NC/GV for November and our family and friends are offering to be some of the first who house us on our journey. This entire adventure will not be possible without accepting offers of generosity from others. It’s humbling and encouraging.

October 28, 2009   3 Comments