Year of Sundays

One year ago, Amanda and I embarked on our Year of Sundays tour of the Portland church scene. To celebrate, we decided to head back to my roots in North Portland and visit a full gospel church, just like we did in our first week of blogging. That’s how we landed at Emmanuel Temple Church. Can I have an amen!

Hard to believe it’s already been a year.  Since it has started, we’ve met some amazingly good people (even if they are believers), we’ve been picked up by a big religious news network and already have a speaking gig or two of our own lined up. Not to mention a crazy-beautiful love story. And 2012’s Year of Sundays is shaping up to be, as Larry David would say, pretty… pretty… good.

But stop back in a couple of days.  You have GOT to hear what I have to say about the Emmanuel Temple All Star Band and Choir.

I haven’t written a goddamn (pun intended) thing here since OCTOBER. I’m pretty good at math and that equals nearly three months of silence from this here heathen. I think I’m overdue to at least check in and apologize, but I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to slowly, but surely, explain why I lost my mojo and how I intend to (hopefully) get it back.

After our lengthy hiatus, Joel dragged my ass out of bed two weeks ago for Greek Orthodox church. Somehow in the hours after I passed out on New Year’s Eve, but before he joined me in mutual unconsciousness, it was all decided while I snored: we were starting up the blog again and we were heading straight to a Greek Orthodox church.

Joel even gave me a week before making me go, but still, I’m not gonna lie: absolutely NO part of me wanted to go to church that Sunday. I mean, wasn’t there something I needed to scrub? Or launder? Or bake? I would have done ANYTHING to avoid going to church. Any. Thing.

But alas, the bald man is a cruel task master and we were out of bed and on the road before 10:00 with three kids in tow.

That was our first mistake. Who in their right mind thinks it’s a good idea to take two children under the age of ten to a two-hour Greek Orthodox service?


Do you know what they give you when you first arrive at a Greek Orthodox church?


It went downhill from there. I mean, just look at the definition of ORTHODOX and tell me we all didn’t know ahead of time that it was going to be a disaster…

orthodox  — adj

1. conforming with established or accepted standards, as in religion, behavior, or attitudes

2. conforming to the Christian faith as established by the early Church

Conformity! It’s what’s (NOT) for dinner!

By the end of the service, I was BEGGING Joel to quit taking pictures so we could just leave. Please! For the love of Christ! GET ME OUT OF THERE! My head was not even in the same ballpark as the game. I not only didn’t want to BE there, no part of me wanted to write about it afterward. I just wanted to forget it ever happened. (Especially the part where my son knocked over my coffee cup not once, not twice, but THREE times and how the only thing I had available to sop up the mess was my daughter’s coat and oh, BY THE WAY, did I mention our washing machine is broken and it started to snow the next week and she had no coat?)

I had lost my mojo. My first instinct was to chalk it up to writer’s block.

“I’m lame!”

“I have nothing interesting left to say about religion!”

“No one comments, anyway, so who cares!”

I could keep going on and on, and I honestly DID keep going on and on, but Joel continued to insist that we move forward. That we honor the contract we signed with Beliefnet. That we keep getting our asses out of bed for church.

So last Sunday I desperately hoped that a trip to Mars might perk up my writer’s block.

That’s all this could possibly be, right? Writer’s block!

But Mars Hill was just like every other fundamentalist church we’ve been to. In fact, it was EERILY similar to City Bible Church. So much SIN and SATAN and JESUS. “If we don’t talk [with our spouses] about our sins, we don’t really believe that Jesus died for our sins.” I have to admit, it REALLY freaked out my inner feminist when the pastor insisted that all the men stand over their wives and make the following vow:

“My church will be served… by me.

My wife will be loved… by me.

My wife will be served… by me.

My family will be led… by me.

My wife will be prayed over… by me.”

He even went on to say that a man can’t stay bitter over a woman he’s praying for, but when I turned to Joel as we heard that he admitted, “You can. I’ve done it.”

All I could think was WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN? I have an equal responsibility to my man as he has to me. Why weren’t the women praying over their husbands? Does Jesus not care about them? Is Jesus a chauvinist? (Stop laughing.)

Aren’t the women responsible for their “REAL MARRIAGE” too?

I know I have nothing BUT responsibility when it comes to Joel and making our relationship work.

Lately going to church has felt like one more obligation I can’t quite meet. One more item on my mental to do list when, frankly, keeping Amanda P. Effing Westmont and all her baggage afloat feels like the first ten pages. I can’t check anything of my list, much less even write the list in the first place.

So church. Yeah. Not my highest priority.

Last night we were driving to pick up Joel’s daughter for the weekend when he casually asked me where we were going to go this Sunday. I took as deep a breath as I could muster given that anxiety has made me feel like I have the lung capacity of a runt gerbil and answered honestly: “I would rather not go to church every week.” Can’t we just go every OTHER week? Or something?

Joel bristled at this idea, but since my daughter was in the back seat and we don’t like to argue in front of the kids, we tabled the discussion for later. As the rain pounded the windshield, I could feel Joel’s anger pounding me even harder from the driver’s seat. He was PISSED. But the odd thing was for the first time ever, I was 100% calm. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so simultaneously rational and emotional at the same time. I’ve been doing so much work lately to see through my anger, to see through my fears, to see my underlying sadness and I was still high on the fumes of a really great therapy session earlier that afternoon. So I did what my therapist has been trying to teach me to do: I sat there and I felt my feelings.

Dude, you guys, I felt them HARD. Sadness is really REALLY painful, especially in the gray matter right behind my eyes. So after we picked up Liza, I spent the remainder of the drive trying not to sob in front of my two favorite girls in the whole wide world. When we got home, I disappeared into our bedroom, curled myself into a fetal position and bawled my eyes out in the dark. Another thing my therapist has taught me: crying is really, REALLY good for you. It actually alters the chemistry in your brain in a positive way.

But by forcing myself to feel all those mother-effing feelings, I’d figured it all out. It was one of the butt-ton of a-ha moments I’ve had in the past few months of the best/worst therapy I’ve ever had. (Therapy totally works if you have the nuts to work it!)

The truth is that I haven’t wanted to write this blog because Joel and I aren’t okay. We love each other insanely much, but we’re both broken. Me especially. I lost my mojo some time over the summer when I began to feel like I loved Joel more than he loved me.

Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to type that just now? I don’t feel like an equal partner in the most important relationship I’ve ever had. My biggest fear is that I have found the love of my life (because I might not believe in Jesus, but God help me, I believe that Joel T. Gunz is The One), but that he doesn’t feel that way about me.

Of course, Joel DOES love me. He tells me so every day of my life and shows me in a hundred subtle ways, most of which involve the simple act of showing up and putting up with my crap. (Which is more than anyone would expect of a saint!)

But feeling loved.


It’s hard for me. I’ve never felt it before and I don’t know how to do it properly. Nothing is ever enough. I don’t know if anything he does will ever be enough because I have to love myself enough first. But the man is persistent. No matter how difficult I am, he keeps trying. He is still here right where I need him.

I started this blog not just as a chronicle of our various trips to church, but as a love story. I think that’s why it’s been so hard to write lately. I love Joel Gunz with every fiber of my being, but relationships are HARD. And when you’re as broken as I am, they can feel impossible.

But as I sit here and reflect on what Mars Hill thinks a relationship should look like, it kinda makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Basically, Mars Hill thinks our relationship can’t survive unless we’re having a threesome with Jesus. And as much as I like the idea of being the meat in a man sandwich, I’ve never once imagined looking over my shoulder to find JESUS bringing up the rear.

Joel and I may be broken and what we have isn’t the perfect happily ever after, but Jesus or not, WE’RE DOING IT RIGHT. Joel heard me sobbing on Friday and came in to check on me.

There were tears. And words. And angst. And anger. And even some regrettable hostility.

But in the end we agreed that there are only two things that matter: LOVE and PERSISTENCE. Frankly Jesus can go be a unicorn for some other couple because Joel and I are going to be fine. We’re always going to be broken. We might always struggle. But we love each other and we have faith that no matter what, we’re going to work it out.

If that’s not a “REAL MARRIAGE,” certificate or not, I don’t know what is. According to Mark Driscoll, Satan hates God, God’s people and “REAL MARRIAGE,” so I guess, as it turns out, Joel and I are totally safe. All we have is love and a commitment to keep doing the work. So tomorrow I’m going to church. I’m gonna do the work. I’m going to trust Joel to do the work.

We’re going to be okay.

So is this blog.

Click to make the Christian hipsters bigger. (You have to do it twice.)

For decades, Portland’s Southeast Hawthorne neighborhood has been a center for our city’s West Coast counterculture, offering more head shops, thrift stores and local arts and crafts than you can shake a doobie at. You don’t have to share all of its habitants’ political views to see that they have something worthwhile to share with the world, namely that you can thrive by maintaining an independent, do-it-yourself outlook.

That kind of thinking isn’t exactly encouraged by many Christians. According to the Mars Hill Church website,  “mankind is totally depraved” and there’s not a damn thing we we can do about it, except allow Jesus to wriggle his way into our ventricles. Not exactly a recipe for rugged self-reliance.

That’s how Mars Hill Church—let’s call them Martians for Jesus—sees it. This last Sunday, Amanda and I attended the Grand Opening of the Seattle-based group’s 14th “church plant”, located in the heart of the Hawthorne District on SE 32nd and Taylor. It was also the kickoff for an 11-week series on marriage called “New Marriage, Same Spouse.” Their basic message: ‘Got a sucky marriage? You’re not getting enough Jesus.’

According to Pastor Mark Driscoll, there’s exactly one—and only one—way to have a happy marriage. Speaking via live video feed piped in from Seattle because apparently there aren’t any local Jesus Martians qualified to cover the topic (and sell his new book), here are a couple of his grand pronouncements about the human condition:

Regarding intimacy in the marriage:

“The deepest intimacy of all is spiritual intimacy and if you don’t build that relationship with Christ as the center, invariably it’s going to be a weak and immature relationship. It may feel close and intimate and exciting, but that’s simply because of the presence of sin and not because the presence of the spirit of god is binding two people together.”

Regarding having a thriving relationship:

Once a couple has followed the Mars Hill Christianity program adequately, “Then we’re friends and we’re actually close and we know each other. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all our unrighteousness. And that’s how it works. That’s the ONLY way that it works.”

In other words, if your godless relationship is bad, it’s because you haven’t added Christ to the mix. If, however, your godless relationship is healthy, you’re still doing it wrong.

Money shot , cha-ching!

Of course, it’s not enough that you’re a lousy sinner. The cosmic cards have been stacked against you as well.  Pastor Mark goes on:

“Satan absolutely hates God, he hates God’s people, he hates marriage and he especially hates Christian marriage. And so Satan attacks Christian marriages because he knows that if he can affect your marriage, he can affect generations—your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

So it goes: a message of powerlessness, with Jesus and Satan playing football with our souls.
According to this church, here are a few of the many rules essential for a healthy marriage. The list is by no means complete:

  • Have a threesome with Jesus. (See Amanda’s post for details.)
  • Make sure the husband is the head of the family, with the wife serving as capable helpmeet. (Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. Why should I???)
  • Don’t be gay.

Regarding that last bullet, Mars Hill Church has been quite vocal in expressing its beliefs against gay marriage—so much so that when they first took up residence in their new facility last September, local gay activists planned a series of protests, including a gay kiss-in.

Mars Hill is hardly the first local church to denounce homosexual marriage. So why did the queer community get all riled up? I think it has something to do with the fact that when the Martian Christians landed, they’d stated an intention to fix what’s wrong with our community—as if it were broken in the first place. As its website complains:

“The people of Portland largely worship created things without acknowledging the Creator.  From food to art to brewing to the best coffee you have ever tasted, Portland loves the gifts of the common grace of God without knowing the giver.”

Portland isn’t alone among communities that the Mars Hillians (rhymes with reptilian) see as woefully underchristianized. Their name itself refers to the Apostle Paul’s trip to Athens, where he famously became irritated at the amount of non-Christian gods in that city. So he marched up to where the city elders met at the Areopagus, a.k.a. Mars Hill, and said:

[Ye] men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. (Acts 17:22,23)

So, basically, Paul got a hair up his butt one day and 2,000 years later Mark Driscoll celebrates the occasion by starting a church.

I believe it’s that condescending “We’ve-got-God-and-you-don’t” attitude that contributed to hostilities between the church and the community it would claim to serve.

Rumor has it that the local Mars Hill leadership is in talks with the representatives of the gay community to ease tensions, while other, more conservative members of the church oppose such outreach. I think that’s a step in the right direction. If the church was to come to me for advice (which, shockingly it hasn’t, wtf?), I would advise them to go with that impulse—as a start.

Just because a community doesn’t share a certain distinctly American fundamentalist sect’s interpretation of Christianity doesn’t mean it’s failed to ‘acknowledge the Creator.’ My advice would be to close their Bibles for a while, take a cue from their pagan neighbors and let up on the religious arrogance. In the words of Bill Cosby, “If you aren’t careful, you might actually learn something.”

Or don’t. Fundamentalist churches like Mars Hill rarely convert atheists and agnostics to their cause. The best they can do is attract people who already think the way they do while pissing off everyone else.

If you live in Southeast, are queer or otherwise godless and you’d like to explore Christianity, I suggest skipping Mars Hill to visit nearby Theophilus Church. Same neighborhood, more chill vibe. Also, if you want a truly gritty, liberating experience (and you’re willing to put up with a little noise), pile the kids into the car and head a few blocks North to The Bridge. You’ll be glad you did.

In the meantime, Earth to Mars Hill, come in Mars Hill….

After what has been Portland’s bitterest commercial real estate battle since Wal-Mart tried to move into Hayden Meadows five years ago, today, Seattle-based Mars Hill (mega)Church celebrated the grand opening of its new “church plant” on SE 32nd and Taylor.

Located in the Hawthorne District, the site is practically ground zero for the local godless liberal community. And that seems to be the point. In a statement as backhanded as it is patronizing, Pastor Tim Smith throws down the gauntlet on the church website:

“The people of Portland largely worship created things without acknowledging the Creator.  From food to art to brewing to the best coffee you have ever tasted, Portland loves the gifts of the common grace of God without knowing the giver.”

Well, thank Krishna, Pastor Tim is here to set us straight! The problem, you see, is that Portland has “less [sic] Jesus followers per capita than almost anywhere in the US.” What he leaves out is that Portland also has more bookstores and a better-educated populace than most other cities. Coincidence?

As a free speech a advocate, I defend Mars Hill Church’s right to preach a gospel that alienates a significant part of their neighbors. But have they gone too far?  Maybe. Maybe not. Come back in a day or two and find out what I think.