With my fiance who I love very much.
With my fiance who I love very much.
So, let’s say hypothetically you’re three weeks away from being married. You have to buy plates at Target, and find give gallon buckets to put the flowers in, and your mom’s pestering you about what kinda of shoes your little brother needs, and your fiancé keeps reminding you that you two are three weeks away from being married so, no, it would not be wise to go see a movie at this moment so, how do you keep your sanity?
The following is a compiled list of essential things one must need, a pre-marital survival kit of sorts.
Since I am going to be married in a few short weeks, I thought I’d share with you a piece I wrote almost exactly a year ago, when my friend Mike was getting married. Hope you like it.
Every time a couple gets married, two single people die.
Leslie Knope-Parks and Recreation
People in Salt Lake will use the word “show” to describe multiple events, usually only two or three of which are actual “shows.” Movies, concerts, plays, poetry slams, etc., are bundled up in the title of “show” as an all-encompassing “event.”
So today, in Utah fashion, I guess you could say we as a community are going to a show.
Today is the day of our first wedding as a community. My roommate Mike is marrying his girlfriend Dani after nearly four years of dating. Josh is ordaining the wedding and I am a groomsmen along with a few others from our church. It’s all very exciting.
For the bachelor party we shot guns in the desert just beyond the Salt Flats. Afterwards we had dinner at Nate Stoltenows’s house and proceeded to go drinking at The Republican and My Ex-Wives Place (actual name of bar, which I believe is named after the owner received the bar in a divorce settlement.) Though Mike and Dani didn’t necessarily meet and grow up through our church, they have been a huge part of it from the beginning and so it is a blessing to celebrate their oneness, their physical manifestation of the union of Christ and his bride.
This wedding marks the first of many for the summer. I’ve already been to one in April, next week Dan and Laura are getting married in Portland, Tim and Steph are getting married in New York early September and I have two other friends who are getting married in other parts of the country. Oh! To be in your twenties!
Weddings when you’re single are the happiestloneliest of times. You are very happy, excited, but sometimes, not all the time, you feel a slight twinge of loneliness because you are not married, maybe not even close. I think that’s why the movie Bridesmaids did so well this year. I think many people have a hard time watching other people join their lives together when they find themselves approaching their late twenties, early thirties, and still have no one.
The wedding was held at The Point, a ballroom on the sixth floor of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which is, remarkably, shaped like a point. The room’s walls are made of glass and offer a near three hundred and sixty degree view of the entire Salt Lake Valley. The whole room funnels into a triangle shooting straight between the Wasatch mountain range on your right and the Great Salt Lake to the left. At first, we all thought it was weird to have a wedding on the top floor of a cancer center. It felt disrespectful, irreverent. But maybe dark places, places of death, can also hold places of light and life. Maybe the people who built the Huntsman Cancer institute knew this. Or maybe they just wanted to make money. Either way, the view was incredible. As I stood with a glass of wine watching the sun set upon the Great Salt Lake to the west and bits of pink splash the white tops of the mountains to the east, I realized I had never been happier to live in this city. Perhaps it was the booze talking, but it felt like a big deal considering I spent the two weeks before repenting for my lack of love for the city. But tonight, tonight I love this city. Call me a sucker for emotion, for sensuality, call me drunk if you will, but I love this city.
The wedding was great. There was good food, good friends, meaningful speeches, and a deep sense of respect and thanks to the God who gives us these things.
Towards the end of the night, about ten of us left to decorate Mike and Dani’s car in the garage below. Josh and I went to observe. After ten minutes the car had more penises and crude words written on it than anything I’ve seen in public. Josh and I washed our hands, hoped the grandparents wouldn’t be coming outside.
I hang out with a lot of people who disagree with the very concept of marriage. They have no desire to get married. They’ve seen their parents’ marriages fall apart and sometimes even their friends and feel that marriage no longer works. Some think of it is a failing traditional moray of archaic family structure. Some think of marriage as a social construct, unnatural to the natural world. They think we should be free to love anyone and everyone, have multiple consenting partners and live in the same primitivesque way as animals. But I still I think all of us want intimacy. I think we even desire jealousy in relationships.
The next afternoon Kyle talked about jealousy at church. We are still in Exodus as a community and are walking through what it means for a new community to come face to face with this God who has rescued them out of Egypt. We have seen the attributes of God as provider through manna and water in the rock; we have seen God as a God of abundance, rather than scarcity. And today we see God as entering into a covenant with this new Israelite community through the Ten Commandments. I think it’s important to understand God as a God who does not promise to take care of the Israelites if they follow his commands. He has already taken care of them. God does not give them rules and say, “If you hold up your end of the bargain, I’ll hold up mine.” God is already, has already, held up his side of the bargain no matter what. It is through these “rules” that God helps us understand his character and attributes, our identity as a set apart people and our relationship to each other. And ultimately, these rules shows us how utterly incapable we are of keeping them. It brings us close to our need.
Sometimes reading through the Old Testament can feel as if God forgot to take his medication. In the Old Testament we see an angry, jealous God reminiscent of Al Pacino on PCP. This is the God who smites Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, okays genocide, and wipes out entire nations of people. He is wrathful, He is powerful, He is Zeus with lightning bolts. A God who smites those who get to close to the ark, who makes people wander around in deserts for forty years. Who allows Israel to be taken captive by neighboring empires on multiple occasions. They deserved it. A God wipes out humanity with a single flood and decimates all who get in his way.
In the New Testament we meet a God who is loving and gracious, forgiving and compassionate. This God loves sinners and hangs out with homeless people. He accepts you for who you are. Both of these Gods are one and the same. The Just and the Loving. The Jealous and the Gracious. It is hard to make sense of. Some people preach a gospel of the righteous, indignant God. These are the street corner solicitors, the proud pissed off preachers. They push God into your jugular because God is angry with you and you are going to hell. God is a God of fear, awe and respect. He must be appeased. You are sinful and if you do not repent you will go to hell.
Others preach a gospel of love and grace. They hang out with the disenfranchised doubters, the scandalous sinners and speak that God is love. God is a friend and Jesus a lover of the broken. They will tell you that you can do nothing to earn God’s love for you, it is a gift to accept, a drink to indulge.
And both are, to some extent, accurate views of God. God is righteous and loving. It is a hard paradox to accept for me. It seems contradictory that God would simultaneously love the whole world and condemn it for its sin. That God would call us his enemies and then die on the cross for us and call us friends. The New Testament seems to contradict the Old Testament and vice versa. Both show different, but equally true sides of God.
In the New Testament you meet this guy Jesus who says that you should love your neighbors, he even says that you should love your enemies. Not just love them, but go out of your way to help them. Walk two miles rather than one. To repay their evil with good. He even says that if someone tries to take something from you, give them more. If someone hits you, let them do it again. If someone asks for your coat, give them your shoes too. But one day Jesus makes a whip and starts to drive people out of the temple. I’m not sure if he hit anyone, but I’m pretty sure this is not considered pacifism. Then there is the whole thing on forgiveness. He says you are supposed to forgive. No holds barred, no exceptions, just forgiveness. No matter what. The idea of forgiveness contradicts the idea of justice. You don’t get what you deserve, there is mercy and compassion. What is unfolding between the Old and New Testaments? It seems like God was a little angry, had a few, and then got real friendly with us. When did God transform from a football coach to my grandma?
My old roommate’s stepdad was an alcoholic. The guy was a jerk, but when he drank, he would just get real friendly and start handing out money. It seems that God is the same sometimes. One minute he’s drinking and the next he is handing out money.
If there is one thing the Bible is not short on its paradoxes. One story says one thing and then another says something that appears to be entirely different. Jesus says in one passage that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, implying that we should put down our weapons and stop fighting. You start to get a little teary eyed and hopeful as Jesus speaks about peace and love and how there is another way to live. Then later He says that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Wait, I thought Jesus wasn’t into swords? Didn’t He tell a guy named Peter to put his down?
But you can’t deny that God is a Jealous God. To some people that doesn’t sound right, but we all know that if Mike came back from his honeymoon early with another girl we wouldn’t all say, “Well, that’s Mike!” And when Dani came back, fuming, furious, eyes of fire sort of angry, we would probably support her in her wrath. She would be justified in her anger, in her jealousy.
We all want to be desired. We all want a to enter into a relationship with another person who is solely committed to us. Which is why marriage is a beautiful thing.
I usually try not to think about marriage at weddings, because then I’ll get to thinking about how I’m not married and probably never will be and will remain single, frazzled, stuck eating ice cream on a yellow couch like Liz Lemon. I always feel horribly selfish when I start thinking about myself at weddings. Here I am, to celebrate someone else’s life, and all I can think about is how none of the bridesmaids are single. Really? None of you are single!
However, living with a family helps block up some of my romanticism. Jeremy and Emily will be arguing in the next room about something, while I try and watch Harry Potter with the kids, but I can’t watch the damn thing because Avianna and Alidia are climbing on me as if I am a fake tree in the monkey cage at the zoo.
Then Alidia farts on me. I hope it’s dry.
Marriage is hard. Having a family is hard. I’m glad lots of people told me this so that I am no longer disillusioned.
Right now I am starting to feel nostalgic about high school relationships. It seemed simpler. You liked someone, they liked you. There was no conversation about what your five year plan was, your past relationship baggage, or where this relationship was going. Or no, scratch that, you knew where this relationship was going; it was going to last forever! That’s where it was freaking going.
When I was a junior I dated a girl named Becca. She lived in Evergreen. She had long curly hair and made purses out of Capri sun packs. We would make out all day in parks, like one of those disgusting teenage couples you probably snicker at now. When she left at the end of the year to move to Hawaii with her family, I thought I might die. I didn’t, luckily, but I remember the next time I saw her and how different it felt. We both went to college, had life happen to us. A year and half later we caught up, and I realized that things would never be like they once were, both of us flying through the summer night air as if we were invincible. We were now adults.
I dated another girl named Mackenzie. She lived in Littleton. We used to work at Christian summer camp together. One night we were sitting on her couch when she threw a pillow at me. I knew what this meant. Eventually we kissed. Next week we hung out again. We kissed this week also. Then I was idiot and didn’t call her for a while, and before I knew it, she was dating some other guy. But those were the best two nights I ever spent with a girl. We would take late-night trips to the park by her house. Go down the slides. Push each other on the swings.
However, I’m glad to be where I’m at, well, most days. And since taking a break from dating, I am genuinely excited about the next girl I will intentionally date. It could be a month. It could be five years. But when it happens, it will be good. It will not be forced. It (hopefully) will not start out with me feeling lonely and desiring a warm body to hold.
As we all left the wedding that night, you could feel the summer air start to roll in off the desert. It reminded me of the first night of summer, the first night of the year when you can stand outside in a t-shirt and feel comfortable, warm even. I am glad that God gave us seasons. And I am glad that Salt Lake has them. I guess I’m trying to appreciate the one I’m in.
 And yes, by this I mean we would break Mike’s kneecaps.
 Replace Ice Cream with Cold Beer and Cigarettes
There are problems. Many of them. Some big, some small. When the twelve of us all sat around in a living room to talk and dream about Salt Lake it sounded so fun. We were excited. But now we realize what it means. It means moving. It means selling houses, buying houses, quitting good jobs, looking for other ones, leaving friends, and even family behind, hoping to find new ones once we get there.
There are lots of hard conversations. Between family members, lovers, friends, etc.
There are details. Logistics. Finances.
There are strings attached.
Jeremy can’t find a job. Kevin and Karen can’t sell their house. Beth and Howie can’t sell their house. I mean, in this economy, selling a house? It’s absurd. Jeremy’s wife Emily, her parents will flip out. Kevin and Karen’s son, Braden, he gets diabetes right before they pack up to leave. He is five.
Lucas will have a hard time graduating. Jonathan is leaving his girlfriend.
Everyone is leaving the beautiful city of Portland behind and we wonder if any city will be as good.
Joy, Kyle’s wife, will have no vegan food to eat. We’re sure of it.
The coffee is horrible. The beer is even worse, 3.2%! And so many strip malls.
I will have to transfer schools, again. Lose credits, etc. I will have to leave the girl I am dating.
But we press on, move out slowly. Kyle and Joy get a house. Kevin and Karen sell theirs. Braden is okay. Things are progressing. Beth and Howie sell their house.
Yet even in Salt Lake, things are not easy. Jonathan can’t find a job. Kevin and Karen have a hard time finding a house. This other couple, Nash and Kora, and their daughter Bellie, they decide to move out and right before they come out, they find out the bank they took their loan out of has shut down. Gone under, kaput. Their agent can’t access the loan. It’s frozen. Who would have thought that numbers and money can freeze like ice? So they can’t move into their house on time. They get to Salt Lake and have no idea if, and when they will get the house.
I can’t find a job. I moved out here without one. Thinking it’d be easier. My school doesn’t transfer as well as I thought. And I’m still not sure if my girlfriend Laura is moving out here or if this means we will have to end things. Suffice it to say I am very anxious. I am slightly stressed, overwhelmed by transition. I think we all are.
We get out here and none of us have very many friends. So it goes. All of these things don’t include all the people in Portland, trying to move out here, but who aren’t here yet. It’s almost harder for them. At least for us, even if it’s hard, we’re here. How do you stay connected with a community of people six months removed?
But slowly it comes. Rolling in like the fresh air after a thunderstorm. Nash and Kora move in. Jonathan gets a job. I get a job. A pretty decent one, at that. One week I am looking for jobs and cursing under my breath and the next week I am promoted as manager for this new coffee shop. Now I feel silly, like I was freaking out for no reason and I should haven’t even worried, so it goes.
And boy, do we feel excited. We start to meet people. There is Dan who works at Whole Foods, and his wife Tuesday. There are the professional sisters, Abby and Tricia, one is a lawyer and the other a doctor, (they have a very nice house.) There is my future roommate Mike and his girlfriend Dani. There is Allen and Tim, and Katie and Isaac and Grace and Christine, and many many others. What we are doing is almost unheard of, it is Old Testament style. Packing up our tents, leaving Er for the promised land. We are Moses. We are Sarah. We fly, drive, walk through the desert to the desert, leave the green, enter the mountains, where there is snow and the drivers honk like it is New York and run lights like it is L.A.
My girlfriend Laura decides to move out. There is excitement, joys, hurrahs, etc, mostly in the inner workings of my head. But not for her. Laura, she is anxious, with good reason. She is also leaving her friends, her family. She has lived in Portland her whole life, moving is a big deal. People make fun of her for it. Ask her why she would do such a thing. This one guy tells her it’s a joke, says, “Good luck converting the Mormons!” She says that’s not why she’s going. He asks her again and she mentions she has a boyfriend there, me. This guy says “Oh, of course, that’s really why you’re moving there!” She says no. He keeps mocking her. Other people keep prodding.
She calls me later that night, crying. She doesn’t know what to think about anything. She feels crazy, unsure about moving, her insides gnarled like twisted oak tree branches, like purple and green flippy roller coasters. And I think this is the same feeling for a lot of people. I tell her that it will be fine, it will all work out. I tell her not to worry. “That’s not what I need to hear tonight,” she says.
“Well I was just trying to console you,”
“Well I don’t want to be consoled, I just want you to understand.”
“I do understand,”
“No, you can’t.”
“Yeah, I do. I moved out here.”
“Well I’m not like you, moving’s easy for you. I’m leaving all my family and my friends and I don’t know if I’ll get new ones.
“You will. It’ll be fine.”
“No, I don’t want to hear that.”
“No, you don’t.”
Long distance relationships are like surgery, you must avoid it at all costs, but sometimes, it’s all you can do.
Karen and Kevin get a house. But it’s a small one and Karen has some trouble getting used to it. She also doesn’t have any friends. She goes on mom and son play dates with other moms and sons.
Yet all of us slowly begin to make sense of things. We start to make friends. We meet amazing people. We find some good breweries. First there is Desert Edge in Trolley Square, where they make perhaps the best dang 3.2 beer you’ve had. There is the Beerhive, The Bayou, where the beer is expensive, but good. There is The Republican, an Irish bar, complete with IRA stickers, shuffleboard, and T.V.’s playing futbol. We find some good coffee shops, other mementos that remind us of our home.
And slowly this place begins to feel like home. We no longer see Salt Lake as a conservative Mormon, dry wasteland. We see it of the urban center it is. We see the art, the culture, the music, and all of a sudden we notice that it is really just the same as anywhere else. Yet, unlike Portland, the subculture here is still the subculture, not the mainstream, but we are okay with that.
Some things surprise us, like a high presence of the LGBT community, a high amount of hipsters, fixed gears, a decent amount of microbreweries, the number of shows that come through town, the people and how they are really just the same as in any other city, it’s different, for sure, but not bad.
It is a strange mixture we are drinking. The sadness of leaving our home and yet the pure joy to be in a new place, a place teeming with possibility, with opportunity, as if we are coming to America for the first time.
And hopefully, this is not Gangs of New York.
Still the good is mixed with the bad, already, a few months in. There is some deep relational conflict brewing. Most of us aren’t sure what it is, but it’s there. Like some wolf we are sniffing, patrolling outside our community, we smell it. It is something deep and dark and menacing and not something any of us would like to deal with, but there it is. I am over it. I am sick of all the things that tear churches apart. I am sick of the fact that however many parties may be guilty or involved, it feels like something else entirely, as if there are invisible hands ripping out our seams.
I am sick of churches breaking, splitting, withering. And even though that’s not what’s happening here, there is the smallest taste of blood in the air. If you’ve gone through war with churches you know what I mean. The smell of rivalry, of conflict, of sides being drawn, swords being drawn. You hope that it will never happen to your church, but you’re never quite sure.
Starting churches is just so damn messy. You can feel pretty good about yourself heading off to plant a church, but little do you know that nothing else will bring the real you out, bring out those things you shoved deep inside, bring them to the surface, cause you to examine your entire life, all your relationships, what it is you actually believe in. It will grab you by the shoulders, whiplash your neck like a car wreck. This is starting a church. Perhaps on the surface not many people notice. On the surface it is shiny and exciting and new and good. But there’s always another side to things, a side many people like to never talk about. But real community is messy.
At the beginning of August I headed back to Portland for a Christian Anarchist conference (perhaps a topic for another time.) At the conference there was a good amount of people who lived in intentional communities. These intentional communities are often set up in parts of cities to live life together, often times amongst the poor, and espouse such common values as hospitality, simplicity, relationships, community organizing etc.
At one of our discussions at the conference we started talking about what it means to live intentionally, what it means to be a part of the church and how to do this well. Someone brought up the example of a fairly famous Christian writer and activist who they thought did this well, which is being a part of community and church and still being active etc. Many people were very idealistic.
But two other people were not interested in this purely ethereal conversation. They were not interested in the pure “idealism” of community. They had lived in communities for a while now. And they knew the reality of intentional community living. They knew that it was not easy. That it was hard.
They wanted to hear people write books on the failures of community. Not to bad mouth it by any means, but to learn from these failures, grow in them, so that we can all learn to live in a community, be a part of a church in a sustainable fashion, which realizes the dark reality along with the ethereal light.
But ever so slowly it comes together. Though all of our problems seem insurmountable at the time, they get resolved. We adapt, we do our best to struggle through the hard times. We are excited, but we also realize just what it is we’re stepping into.
“Are you a member?”
If someone asks you if you are a member, they are not referring to membership in the YMCA or the Yacht club, they are referring to your membership in the LDS church. A phrase slightly ironic for the fact that membership used to be required for people to go into bars.
Fry Sauce: A commonly used condiment in Utah. It’s a mixture of ketchup, mayo, and some other flavors and spices.
Mountain: Sometimes pronounced “Mow-uhn,” or “mou’n,” you don’t say the t.
“Oh my heck!” or “What the heck!”
A phrase employed by Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Variation: “Oh my hell!” Generally used by non-Mormons, if used at all, (I’m not sure who says these things but apparently, it’s a thing).
Salt Lake Real: Futbol Club of Utah
The D.I.-Stands for Deseret Industries, the main thrift store chain of Salt Lake, owned by the Mormon Church. An excellent place.
Show: describes multiple different “events.” A movie, play, concert (obviously) can all be referred to as a show.
Ex. “How was the show last night?”
“You mean Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the movie? Good.”
The Church: Refers to the LDS church. Not the worldwide Christian church. You may be asked if you are a member of “The Church.”
The Trax: Salt Lake’s light rail system.
The U: Refers to the University of Utah
The Utes: name of the athletic teams at the U.
The Y: Refers to Brigham Young University. Some people say “The Y” because there is a Y on the hill above BYU.
SLCC: pronounced “Slick,” Salt Lake Community College
Utah Jazz: Basketball Team
Wasatch: Mountain range, pronounced “Wah-satch”
Nicknames for Salt Lake City:
The Crossroads of the West
Crunk Lake City (as named by Big Boi)
Salt Lake Shitty (if you don’t like the city)
Nicknames for Utah:
The Beehive State