Chapter 3- There are Problems

Chapter 3

 

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.

I chain-smoke.

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.”

“I understand.”

“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. 

 

The Diction and Lexicons of Utah

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“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 SLC

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

 

Today, at the A…

Today, at the Airport

 

An anxious mom, frantic,

 like we all should be

The blue security people

always look me twice,

a game: Try to tell which people

in front of you

are going to Houston,

or New York

and don’t rely on just the cowboy hats.

In front of me

A middle aged tool (businessman) hitting

 on a pretty girl young who lives in Brooklyn,

she’s from the south and you can tell by

the way she keeps a smile, an interested look

The flight attendant was like you look very well dressed today and I was like no, no….so you like living in Brooklyn? say I’m young for my age, some…

 

 

Tonight in the Sky

 

An oil rigger worker sits next to me in sky

says he wants a smoke, a beer, and a shot

when the earth comes up. I agree

Go back to reading about beauty, late

capitalism façades consumer contest one-up-man-ship, houses clothes eessetterra and

There’s a terrible movie on about what “love” is,

And I don’t think it is what these people are saying it is, it is

not

In front of us.

 

I want to break glass

 jump through the tiny air window,

eye-level with the moon, falling through that black cloud horizon

Land with a thud in Ohio

dark, blue, and endless. 

The Resurgence of Records

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This is an article I wrote for the Daily Utah Chronicle

New technology has the tendency to replace older technology. This is the way the world works. Sticks and stones are replaced by bows and arrows. Bows and arrows are then replaced by guns and heat seeking missiles. However, as technology progresses there are always a select few who hold onto their current technology because they know it is just as good as the new stuff, if not better. Such is the case today, with music. Recently there has been a resurgence of listening to records and Randy’s Records is one record store that has been through the high time of record sales to the low, and back again.

 

Though Salt Lake is a smaller city and may not have the sheer quantity of music stores that other cities have, it still has some incredible music and record stores. Graywhale music has a plenitude of records, C.D.’s and other entertainment and has six locations in the greater metro area of Salt Lake, one right next to the U on 1300 East. Raunch Records is an incredible store and the place to hit if you like skateboarding and punk music. They’re located on 2100 south and 1100 East and hold local punk shows every now and then.

 

But Randy’s Records is the foundation of record stores in Salt Lake. We talked with Chris Copelin, a clerk at Randy’s Records, about the store and how she’s seen record sales fluctuate.

 

How long has Randy’s Records been around?

 Randy’s Records has been open since 1978.  We are the oldest record store in Utah.

 

 

Who started the store?

Randy started the store himself in 1978, and he still works in the shop every day: buying used records from folks, and EVERY DAY he puts out about 100 records that are new to the shop!! 

 

What made Randy want to start the record store?

Randy wanted to open the record store because he loves music.  In 1978, he had already been collecting records for about 20 years, so he had a lot of records to sell!  At one point, he had over 30,000 45RPM records in his personal collection!  Since he had so much knowledge about collecting records and loved music, it made sense for him to open a record store.

 

 

How have you seen records change over the last few years?

Record sales have definitely changed over the last few years.  Many vinyl stores went out of business completely in the 1990s when CDs began to take over the market – because so few people were buying vinyl and very few artists were releasing their music on vinyl as a format.  As for the stores that entirely switched over to CDs in the 90s – most of them went out of business when CDs became a dead medium due to downloading.  Randy has managed to stay in business all these years because of his belief that analog records are the superior format. He was in a lot of debt in the 90s, but still stuck with records because he really believed that people would come back to them.  This dedication of his has paid off –  he was definitely right that people would come back to records! 

 

 The shop is busier now than it has ever been.  I think that people are into vinyl again for many reasons.  I think there are a lot of people who appreciate the huge difference in sound that analog offers – it has a bigger dynamic range, and an overall warmer sound.  It is more REAL!  But I think there are just as many people getting into vinyl now because they are tired of disposable things like MP3 downloads.  When you buy a record, you bring it home, admire the artwork, put the record on the turntable, flip it over for side two, maybe read the lyric sheet.  It’s a more engaging experience than scrolling through songs on an Ipod.  Also, you can re-sell a record, and you can’t do that with MP3s!  And going to a record store is FUN!!!  In some ways,  it’s like a thrift store – you never know what you are going to find.  You can learn about new music from interesting people who may have different tastes and perspectives than you have.  It’s a good experience!!

 

 

Check out Randy’s Records in person at 157 E 900 S or online at www.randysrecords.com

Thoughts on Buying Things From a Dirty Hippie Or: I Thought I Was Ready To Be Married, But I Was Not Ready To Register at Bed, Bath, and Beyond

I’m learning lots of things with this whole getting married ordeal. My forthcoming nuptials are less than three months away and so far I’ve learned the difference between a maid of honor and a matron of honor, I’ve learned what the color blush looks like, and that it does not go with a brown suit.

I’ve also discovered that a good pots and pans set costs more than a months worth of rent and that those plates are not worth buying because they chip easily. My fiancé has taught me that the color of a kitchen aid is of such vast importance the universe itself pales in comparison, for it will forever determine the colors and items with which we stock in our kitchen for years to come! I’ve learned that a duvet is not a blanket, but a blanket cover.

I’ve also been learning about thread counts in sheets and why you want your bathroom towels to match your curtain shower. I’ve also learned that my scanning of random items in Target and Bed, Bath, and Beyond is not nearly as funny to my fiancé as it is to me. Who wouldn’t want cocoa butter lotion and a copy of Cada Dia Es Viernes by that heretic from Houston? Apparently I am not allowed to register for the third season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the Mos Def album, or the postmodern looking lamp. I am told repeatedly that people will buy the things I scan.

I’ve also learned the exorbitant price tag Weddings carry with them. Shoot man, we’re having our wedding in a backyard and it still going to cost some pretty hefty g’s.

Today I went suit shopping at the City Creek Center. I didn’t want to go there, but it was the only place. After two hours of looking in stores a piece of my soul fell off in the Macy’s dressing room. Everyone in Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, H and M, and wherever else I went but have since tried to block out of my memory, knew I didn’t belong there. One lady in Nordstrom’s asked me if I was lost. Another gentlemen politely asked me what I was doing here and if I needed help.

After throwing up over a set of pants in Nordstrom’s once I saw how much they cost, I went to Macy’s. There was a very nice older man with glasses named Craig who decided he would take pity on my poor, dirty, anarchist soul and teach me how to dress. I learned so much! I learned what my size was in a suit jacket and that they measure it by your chest (mine was pretty big, needless to say), he also explained to me that fancy shirts are measured by your neck size and do not come in small, medium, and large. He told me the right height at which your slacks should rest above your shoes and how much of your shirtsleeve should be sticking out of your jacket.

At one point I was trying on a pair of dress shoes and he gave me a shoehorn. I didn’t know what it was, but it was red and long and looked like some sort of stick the Aztecs would have used to play some ancient form of baseball with. At first I just stood there, holding it like a scepter, or a very long and skinny, plastic baby.  I stared up at him. I asked him If I should blow into it like we did with the rams horn at church, but he explained to me that it was not the sort of horn that made noise, nor was it ever at one time attached to the head of a shoe like a rhino’s horn. Shoes do not technically even have heads.

“I really don’t know what to do with this,” I said. He showed me how you use it to help your heel slid easily into your dress shoe.

“Of course!” I said. “I knew what it did, it’s just been awhile. I was testing you. I’ve been living in a teepee in Wyoming you see, I was never raised by humans, my mom was a wolf who raised me in a cave next to the Yukon River.

In the dressing room I took off my shirt and in the mirror my potbelly stuck out like a hairy pregnant woman’s photo shoot. The bright lights made my skin feel pale, translucent. I took off the rest of my clothes and set them down. All my clothes looked like dirty dishtowels compared to the fancy clothes I began to try on. My hair was disheveled and my beard was fraying into several different directions. After I tried the suit on, I realized that no amount of money spent on a suit was going to make my lumpy hair and pubic beard any more attractive. If anything, put a suit on me and I look more homeless than I did with tattered jeans and hand-me-down t-shirts.

Eventually I found a suit and Craig did his best to lie and tell me I looked good in it. He told me how much it was going to cost and I had to smoke several cigarettes right there in Macy’s before I could take my debit card out. Truthfully, I got a good deal and my suit was still on the way cheaper end, but I don’t like spending more than a hundred dollars in a store unless I can sleep in it too.

My balls were chaffing because it was hot and I was wearing cheap underwear. I looked at the David Beckham underwear collection and thought maybe I’d give it a shot. I asked a lady how many came in the box for fifteen dollars.

“How many? She asked inquisitively. There’s only one per box.

Figures. Freaking David Beckham.

Bed Bugs

I’ve been learning a lot about bed bugs recently. It’s not by choice, rather, it was forced upon me to educate myself once my fiancé Cat and I found bed bugs in our new apartment. For a week Cat had been developing bites along her arm.

“It’s probably just mosquitoes, or bugs from camping last weekend.” I told her, thinking she was being overly emotional about bumps along her arm. You know how women are.

It turns out they were bed bugs. When I found the first one, crawling on the white bed sheets, reddish and brown and fat from my fiancés forearm, I put it in a Tupperware bowl and told her later that night that we did in fact have bed bugs. I had found two this afternoon.

The look on her face said it all.

“Really? Bed bugs? After all of this?”

She looked like she might collapse.

She looked like how I looked two hours before when I found the bed bugs. I cleaned our whole apartment after finding the two bed bugs and paced the living room with a beer trying to decide what to do. Then I smoked a cigarette and collapsed exhausted on our couch thinking that I was done with this thing called life.

 

Cat was supposed to take a relaxing month off of work to plan our wedding and grieve over her mom’s recent death. She was going to settle into our cute new apartment in the Marmalade district and start nesting, or whatever women do, to feel good about starting a home.

Three weeks later though, she’s a homeless couch surfer and I am a bed bug-apartment-exterminator ambassador trying to negotiate how to get bed bugs out of the apartment and whose fault it is and so on. Hence, why I’ve been learning a lot about bed bugs.

Did you know, bed bugs feed once a week on human flesh but can live up to seven months without feeding on anything? Also, they can live in electrical sockets, baseboards, and yes, of course your mattress and box spring. And perhaps weirdest of all, they’re attracted to your breath. They follow your breath, like some weird stalker. It’s very creepy really.

Bed bugs leave eggs in your clothes and bite in patterns. They only come out at night and it’s nearly impossible to see them in the day. You can see the traces of what they’ve left behind. It looks like crumbs on your bed sheets, tiny black dots no bigger than the point of a pen splattered along your windowpanes and baseboards.

             Bed bugs have been around for many years but have recently grown due to increased travel, resistance to insecticides, and stricter EPA standards. Damn you EPA! I’ve learned that until the 90’s bed bugs were virtually non-existent because of a certain chemical they sprayed buildings with.  That chemical however, turned out to be highly toxic and would cause birds to drop out of the air dead or something, it was probably DDT. Since that chemical was outlawed, bed bugs have returned and given truth to the once meaningless phrase, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Because now, they roam rampant over cities and apartment complexes undeterred by how clean your apartment is or whether or not this is an especially busy time of your life and you have no time to deal with fumigating your apartment before you get married.

 

Last night Cat and I spent our time drying her clothes (because heat kills possible bed bugs) and watching Batman.

We’ll probably have to do the same tonight. And tomorrow. Tomorrow someone is supposed to come by and spray our apartment.

And maybe after that she can live in peace again. But it might be better to move, if we could get out of our lease that is, which I don’t think is possible. Even after having bed bugs, it’s hard to get out of a lease. You never realize how much of a death certificate you are signing when you sign a lease.

After we got the bed bugs I looked up our written agreement on Pest Infestations. It says that we are responsible for bringing any pests into the apartment. The owner is not liable and the responsibility to pay lies with the tenant.

We probably glanced over that part when we got signed the lease. Thinking “We’ll never get bed bugs. That could never happen to us.”

But it did.

Bed bugs don’t care about your plans. They roll in and leave you dealing with the consequences. Like life they stand indifferent, annoying, and impossible to get rid of.

 

 

 

 

Chapter II

I was smoking a cigarette on the porch when Kyle called me. It was spring and I had just got done with finals at Portland State University. I was sitting on my tiny porch off Sixth Avenue in downtown Portland, looking out across the stream of cars crawling towards the city center, like ants.

“Hey man,” I said.

“Hey. What are you up to?”

“Nothing.”

“Cool. You leaving for camp soon?”

“Yeah, next Monday.” 

“Well look, I have a question for you, and I’d like to run it by you before I leave.”

“Sure.”

“How about tomorrow morning?”

“That works.”

“Where do you want to meet?”

“How bout…Genies.”

“Great.”

 

The next day I rode my bike over the Hawthorne Bridge, turned right on the Esplanade, then left, and rode all the way to Division. Genies was a breakfast joint on 11th and Division.

Kyle was already there. We ordered breakfast and he told me the generals. People wanted him to start a church in Salt Lake. He asked me about my experience starting a church in Denver. I told him what I thought.

Two years ago I lived in Denver with 18 people.  Fourteen adults, three kids and one baby. We pooled all our resources for funds, worked together, lived together, did church together. It was great.

“Why’d you leave?” Kyle asked.

“Mostly, I wanted to move to Portland. Kevin kept pressuring me. And I didn’t want to live in Colorado my whole life. Also, I didn’t agree with everything the church was doing.

“Yeah, like what?”

“Well, nothing big, I still love everyone there. Just things like they wanted to be a mega-church, and market themselves all over the place and there was lots of drama, and nothing necessarily wrong with those things, just personal preference I guess.”

“Hmm.”

“And I have always loved Imago, since I visited back in the day, when it was small, meeting in Laurelhurst.”

Kyle nodded.

“Also, I think there’s enough churches in the world. I don’t think we need any more buildings. I do think we need CHURCH though, you know capital church with capital letters.

“Yeah.” Kyle said. Then with a very excited face said, “Check this out.”

Kyle told me his whole story. Then he asked if I would be interested in something like that. I said yes. That since Denver, it had been on my heart, church planting that is.  Kyle said nothing was for sure yet. He said he would keep me updated over the summer.

I said, “Okay.”

After summer was over, we talked again. I was in a weird place, had been for a year, and still am I guess. I was disillusioned, tired of church, had so many doubts I didn’t know what to do with, angry at God. The reasons were many. I was also depressed, slightly lonely, drinking a fair amount and sometimes silently prayed that a bus would hit me on the way to work and it would all be over.

Mostly I just didn’t care. I wished I cared more. I really did.

So I met with Kyle at the Imago offices at Evangel and as we conversed I watched the yellow leaves of fall start to slip off the great big tree outside his second story window.

He told me that everything was on track. The Imago elders had met with the Orchard group, both Rick and Luke (the executive pastor) felt like it was a good thing, and basically everything was falling into place and there wasn’t a reason not to go.

Kyle asked me if I was still interested. I was. I was very much excited in fact. But I also wanted to be honest with Kyle about where I was at. So I said to him, “Look man, I am interested and I’d love to go but…I don’t really have my shit together.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” I said, and explained.

I explained that I didn’t know what I thought about the Bible, didn’t know what I thought about hell, didn’t know what the meaning of life was, how most days I didn’t want to be a Christian, how most days I just wanted to get drunk and sleep with a pretty girl, how I felt like less of a Christian than I have my entire life, how I just wanted it all to be over, how I felt like David Bazan, etc. Maybe this was young 20’s angst, maybe not.

             Kyle listened intently, and then said, “Look man, that’s fine. I’m okay with that, I know who you are and I like your honesty and I think people in that city could use some good ol’ fashioned grit and authenticity.”

So it was then that I said, “I’ll go.”

Though, as Woody Allen says in Annie Hall, I was a little nervous about a club that would have me as a member.

  •  

Slowly the word gets out. First Kyle and Joy announce the news to their home community (which I am a part of). Most everyone nods and says that this would be a great idea, and good luck and blessings and so forth and then Kyle says, “And if anyone wants to join, we’d love to have you.”

Then there is silence.

But people start thinking. First Jeremy and Emily decide to think about it, they have three kids—Cole, Avianna and Alidia. They decide to go.

Lucas decides to go. He is a bible student at Multnomah University, is part of our home community, and helped Kyle with the Junior High. He also has a mustache and an Elliot Smith tattoo.

Beth and Howie say no. Then after a few months, say yes. They live in Gresham and have two twin boys named Noah and Nate. Howie is finishing his degree at Western Seminary.

Becca is on the fence. She decides to go. Then decides not to.

Other people think about it. And this is just our home community.

Next comes Eric and Nish. Eric is a raft guide. Nish works for Imago. They just had a baby. Then comes Noah and Katie, newlyweds.

Then comes the big kicker. Kevin and Karen. You see Kevin and Karen have been with Imago from the beginning. I think Karen was the first paid staff member.             So for them to leave is a big deal, but Kevin remarked that one of the things that got him stoked about Imago in the first place was Rick’s desire to be a church that plants other churches. He just kinda forgot about that. Neither of them would ever have imagined leaving Portland, or Imago. Yet, they decide to go.

After a few months Imago announces it to the congregation. It is December 2009. More people start thinking.  A guy named Jonathan hears this and can’t believe his ears. He goes to Imago Dei Vancouver and for years has wanted to move to Salt Lake or Park City for ministry, but just didn’t feel like the timing was right. Now he knows why.

Then another surprise, Nash and Kora and their daughter Bellie, they lead the Buckman home community. Nash used to be an arts pastor in Seattle, when Mars Hill was just starting out.

And the list slowly grows. By May 2010, over 25 people from Portland have committed to moving to Salt Lake. Noah and Katie, both musicians at Imago, decide to come to.

The amount of talent is staggering. And I don’t mean talent in just the superficial way, like we have the best musicians. I mean the depths of everyone involved is staggering. The richness of people’s souls. The love dripping through their pores. The solid marble character.  The truth, the beauty, the community.

But we do have musicians, and artists, and writers, and speakers, and justice workers, and moms, and dads, and raft guides, and children’s pastors, seminary students, interior designers, vegans, gardeners, paralegals, etc.

We have so much talent, but like I said what’s even more staggering is the depths beneath. It is unprecedented I’m sure, although probably not, but I like to think so, it appears so, has to be so.

So we start to have prayer meetings and gatherings, informational sessions, vision casting, storytelling.

Everyone is excited. This all takes place from about September 2009 to December 2009. And before we know it January rolls in the new decade and Kyle and Joy are the first to move to Salt Lake towards the end of the month. Kevin and Karen go next in the middle of February. So does Jonathan. Next comes me. Then Nash and Kora in May.

And throughout the summer everyone trickles in. Like a small creek, melting from the peaks of Northwest, and steadily driving over the hills, the desert, through Eastern Oregon, Idaho, Nevada maybe, over the Wasatch range, and down into the valley of the Salt Lake.

 

 

 

Three Sonnets

Hot Ham Water

 

1.

 

                  Beggars stole our sense:

sensibility. We stole their loaves

 

 of bread white ironed t-shirts

                  brown leather shoes

 

the news of bridges, iron

fired caskets. Roaring train track clickety

 

clack. Smack to blame it on

                  distances of sidewalks

 

between our hands. Nordstrom’s

shopping bags. Our rags

 

stretched over

one-too-many-credit-card-lifestyle-bank-upgrades

 

tonight, our house: charades 

be there

 

 

2.

 

To:     From:

Subject: Concerning Recent Church Bullshit.

 

I’m sorry you left on the fastest east Garden

state wind to Oregon

 

the desert deserting you

an ugly organ piping,

 

you there.

like a too-quick-two-buck-chuck-blinding-mirror-dinner.

 

said we’re done here.

I’m moving to Arizona now, you hear?

 

Fine. I’m sorry your back was a cutting board

because (we all do a little cutting every now and then)

 

At least your kid’s in soccer practice

what color are the Jersey’s?

3.

 

I remember silk screen

snow, dotted toothpick pine

 

trees. Aspen’s softly

raining yellow leaves

 

Red sleds. Black-top-stove-top

chimney hats

 

smoke the color of

November streaking

 

through

April’s embers.                                    

 

Then there were the zombies:

bone gnarring marrow splitting venom greening, spitting

 

Zombies.

—they ate us all.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1: Of the Beginning of Things

The following is the first chapter of a book I’m working on entitled “Plant: One Interns Memoir of growth, mess, and starting a church in Salt Lake City,” or “The Tenacious Photosynthetic Doubt of Redemption in which a boy grapples with the most basic questions of life through heavy drinking and smoking.”

 

I promise other posts will not be as long. 

 

The first time I met Kyle Costello, we picked up dog poop together. It was August and a church I was a part of by the name of Imago Dei Community was holding their annual kickball tournament. I rode my bike there to help set up, locked it, and found my uncle Kevin. Kevin was a pastor at Imago and had recently convinced me to move to Portland from Colorado where I had grown up and lived my whole life.            

He was setting up the speakers under a make-shift-gazebo-thing when I got there. I asked him what I could do to help. He told me I could pick up dog poop. I said okay, hesitantly, and noticed that it was hesitant, so tried to pick up my voice and sound excited, “Okay!”

“I just sent Kyle over. Have you met Kyle? He just came on staff from a church in Las Vegas. Here…I’ll introduce you.”

 We walked over to where Kyle was and Kevin introduced me, “Kyle, this is my nephew, Levi.”

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Levi.”

“Kyle.” He said and offered to shake my hand, but then said, “I won’t, because there might be dog poop on it.”

Kyle had a shaved head like my uncle. He wore glasses, shorts and a brown polo. He looked youngish, around thirty or so and had broad shoulders. I would find out later that he was the kind of guy who ran marathons for cancer patients. I was the kind of guy who ran to the Plaid Pantry for cigarettes.

“Levi moved out here last summer from Colorado, just to be in Portland and maybe intern with Imago.” Kevin said. “I told him to help you.”

“Sweet.” Kyle nods, smiles. “Well…let’s pick up some crap.”

 

At that point, I would not have predicted that two years later the three of us and multiple others would be involved in a church plant from Imago to Salt Lake City.            

I never had any desire to move to Salt Lake City. Neither did Kyle. I was completely content in Portland. There were good coffee shops, good beer, good art, good music, a very diverse urban center, basically what I called, “culture.”

I wasn’t sure if Salt Lake had this.

What I knew of Salt Lake was conservatives and Mormons. Also, snowboarding. Salt Lake is a huge snowboard capital. So I liked that. But everything else…well, it was questionable.

All I knew of Salt Lake I knew from driving through it years ago on a road trip with my grandparents to California. I remember the Salt Flats stretching out like an ocean and the smell overpowering, like Yellowstone geysers. I remember how close the city felt to the mountains, as if the city came first, and the mountains had slowly crept up around it, like giants. I remember that the Olympics were about to be held there, so there were giant billboards and statues of Olympians in tight fitting spandex. Then all I saw was desert, desert, desert. This was what I knew of Salt Lake City.

 

Like most good stories worth telling, there’s a back-story to how all of us winded up in Salt Lake. If one watched movies all day, one might get to thinking that every character suddenly arrived at exactly where it was that they were in the film and give little thought to the history, failures, suffering, families, marriages, and so forth that give things shape. The truth however, is that most of the exciting things that happen in movies are two hour glimpses of a characters whole life. Movies are compressions of time. So naturally, the bad parts are left out. Not even the bad parts necessarily, but the monotonous ones. So in writing this, I would like to write as much about those parts, as the exciting ones. Because the truth is, life is not exciting. Not all the time at least. There was a time I thought it was. I thought that every single moment was to be spent in some high-speed car chase or dangerous romance. When this did not happen I got disappointed. If I wasn’t leading a Scottish rebellion against England or subverting the Roman Empire as a gladiator I felt like I was failing somehow. But perhaps a lot of life is about finding contentment. Finding peace in the small things, the simple things. Maybe life isn’t epic at all, and maybe that’s okay. So this is a story about the small things, and how small things can be great things.

This is about mustard seeds and yeast.

This particular story, of a group of people living life together, gathering occasionally to sing songs, learn about the nature of God, and love a city (also known as a church) starts with the story of an individual, Kyle. Not because he’s the leader necessarily, but because he’s the most handsome, and well, just a good place to start.

 

 

Kyle grew up Mormon in a small town called Eely in Eastern Nevada. His family was fifth generation Mormon. So, kind of a big deal.  Kyle was 18 and about to go on his two-year mission when he started questioning his faith. And in that faith, questions are a bit, um, well…not quite allowed. It wasn’t even that his questions were out of place. Kyle was studying the faith and preparing an apologetic defense and explanation to those he would encounter, so he came up with a list of questions he figured most people would be likely to ask. He was able to answer all the questions except one or two. So he went to his dad. He handed his dad the piece of paper and his dad stared at it, slowly, and then looked up. His dad looked at him and said, “Why are you asking these questions?” Kyle explained.

“You don’t ask these questions son,” his dad, all of a sudden looking very stern-like, said.

A few days later Kyle got called into a meeting with his grandpa, a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And it wasn’t like going to grandpa’s house for milk and cookies. Kyle met with him in his office, an all-of-a-sudden-strange-looking place. His grandpa once again asked him,

“Why are you asking these questions?”

Kyle explained.

“You don’t ask these questions.”

Kyle stared.

“Why?”

“You know why.”

“No. I don’t. It’s for the mission.”

“Do you realize what you’re asking?”

“No.”

His grandpa stared.

“Your questioning me,” his grandpa shook his head. “You questioning your father, your great grandfather, your elders, the prophets…” etc. etc., etc.

So Kyle left that day for the first time wondering what it was, he really believed. Six months later he had his name resigned from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Six months later he didn’t even know if he believed in God. Kyle enrolled in the University of Las Vegas. He never went on his mission.

 

While at the UNLV he met Joy, his current wife, only wife at that actually. Joy was a Christian. With a name like that, go figure. Kyle and her started dating and so the conversation once again opened up towards faith, God, religion, so forth. It was a very messy time for both of them. Kyle didn’t want anything to do with religion and Joy, naturally, didn’t want to date someone like that, and neither of them wanted to force the other. They would break up. They would get back together. Then they would break up.

One day Joy dragged Kyle to church. It was a big church, what someone like me might call “hokey,” but all things considered, a good church. As Kyle sat there he didn’t feel or think much at all about it, you might say he was “Puttin time in with the girlfriend,” but as the pastor started speaking, something happened. The sermon was, by all accounts, typical, but what the pastor kept doing, and without perhaps anyone else but Kyle realizing it, was use himself as an example. As he preached, he would talk about the darkness in his own heart, how he was trying to overcome it, and how the Gospel was transforming him. To Kyle, this was astounding. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, this would never happen. As much as you put your faith in God, you put even more so in man, so for a man to get up there and simply explain that he, too, was afflicted with the human condition, was literally mind blowing.

This jacked with Kyle. For a long time.

So began a discovery back into the heart of God, but separate from religion.

Kyle became a Christian, married Joy, and a few years later was on his way to seminary. From here he worked at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas for a few years before he felt God telling him to move to Portland.

So Kyle moved. With Joy of course, and they didn’t really know what to do, but felt okay. They knew about Imago Dei and Kyle had met Rick McKinley (the pastor of Imago) at a conference a while ago, so they started to plug in there. Before long, Kyle got hired on as the youth pastor and everything in the world was good.

However, not two months after they moved to Portland, their dog died. And then, two weeks later, Joy’s dad committed suicide.

Everything was not good.

But it was during this time, they learned what the word, “community” meant. And I mean, really understood not in a “I went to bible college so let me tell you about the Greek indicative plural past tense,” but in the way that you feel the woman you love deep in your bones.

The Costello’s were flying back to Las Vegas for the funeral when they were greeted by a mob of people that could honestly only be described as HEAVEN when they got off the airplane. The community of friends from Central absolutely swarmed them, Joy swept up as in a cloud of women loci, and for the entire week hovered in a swarm of love, compassion and community, not even allowed to descend to the dirt of the earth until she got back on the plane to return to Portland.

Yet, as soon as they go off the plane from Portland, they were swarmed again. They were film stars on the red carpet compassion of the Imago Dei paparazzi. They had expected it from Central. But this? They had barely been here a summer.

So if you ask them, they will say this was the summer they learned about community.

So the Costello’s did what they could to move on. They were loved. They were in community. This helped a lot.

It was nearly two years later when Kyle was asked to speak at a church planting conference held in Salt Lake City. A bunch of people wanted to take back the city from the Mormons and figured a church was the best way to do it. Salt Lake was a battleground. They invited Kyle to speak because they knew his background and figured he could give some valuable insight to how the next crusade of the Christian church was to be won.

As Kyle listened to speaker after speaker go on and on using terms like battle, fight, win, take-back and so on, his heart broke, and he also got a little angry.

When it was Kyle’s turn to speak, he did so. Mostly, he just spoke his mind and said that “taking back” the city from the Mormons was not the Gospel, it involved very little love and humility and was based on religious pride and Christian rhetoric rather than a desire to see transformation in the Mormon community.

When he was done, a lot of crickets started chirping. And as Kyle left the conference he thought very little of it. “I said what I had to say,” he thought.

But there was one guy, all the way in the back, watching. I picture him like Aragorn the Ranger, smoking his pipe in the dark back corner of the stadium, watching Mr. Costello, listening. Taking puffs and blowing O rings, a hood on his face.

A few weeks later, this dark ranger approached him, his name was Paul, and he was part of the Orchard group. A church-planting group.

“We want you to start a church in Salt Lake City.” Paul said.

“UhughufCough!” (is what Kyle said.)

“No, really.”

“No.”

“We liked what you said, we think you’re the guy.”

“I’m honored,” said Kyle, “And I really think someone should plant a church in Salt Lake, but not me.”

The Orchard guy said, “Well, we’ll be in touch.” And I like to think that this exchange happened in a parking lot and the guy flicked his business card at Kyle while saying, “We’ll be in touch,” very ominously, as if both of them knew that they had no choice. Kyle, you-are-the-chosen-one-sort of-thing. And then he lights a cigarette and peels away in a dark sedan, leaving Kyle in a dark parking lot, alone, standing with a briefcase beneath a dim lamppost and a confused look.

For a year the Orchard guy kept calling. Kyle kept saying no.

Seriously, who wants to move to Salt Lake City? I’m happy where I’m at here. Why are you still calling? I said no, don’t you get it? I don’t want to do it, I don’t feel called there, God says no, my wife will hate it, why are you calling me at three in the morning? Okay, maybe I’ll pray about it, yes, really I will, I’ll ask my wife, yes really, but I’m not saying anything, she’ll probably say no, not yet, no, will you calm down, it really is late you know, yeah, yeah, I know you guys are up for awhile in New York, have I been to New York? No. Do I want to go? I don’t know, is this a trap? If I go to New York does that mean we are going to meet? I never said anything you know, yes, I’ll look at that website, yeah, I’ll pray about it, this is really getting old you know…

 

Kyle eventually said yes. His wife said yes. His background/family/religious history said yes. God was probably okay with it. And eventually Kyle himself began to like the idea.

It’s just too bad it had to be Salt Lake City.

You know?