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.