A Religious Experience
My second week in Cincinnati has included several new adventures, but before I get to them, I’ve got to share two religious experiences I had. To put it in context, I’ve got to say some negative things about religion first. Please know that I’m sharing my own experiences and reactions, and not judging you personally or your belief system. The gist is that I realized that I’ve been deeply angry with Christianity and their concept of God, and it’s not ok. It’s something I need to work through. Let’s get into it a little.
There are 3 main reasons I’m angry with Christianity. The first is that I was raised Catholic, and I understood the message to be as follows: “You’re all horrible people. Hate yourself. God is probably going to light you on fire forever. If you’re on your best behavior, and constantly apologize, he might not, but still could.” Messages like this and others contributed to my abysmally low teenage and young adult self esteem which in turn led to a variety of bad life decisions. I take personal responsibility, but the root cause, in my mind, was that teaching. For instance, Catholicism didn’t force me into a 3 year relationship with an emotionally abusive girlfriend, but it primed me for it.
Coming in at a close second is that I perceive a large number of Christians acting in a non-Christian way. I get it that we’re all imperfect and doing the best we can, but it still bothers me. As I see it, Jesus gave the following instructions, among others: “Love everyone. Help those in need ceaselessly and to excess. Voluntarily give a thief more than he’s trying to steal from you because he obviously needs it. Give give give until it hurts and then keep giving. Own nothing and devote yourself to kindness, love, compassion, and empathy.” I don’t think Jesus would be happy with many American Christians. We vote against programs for the poor, refugees, immigrants, minorities, all of whom are groups in need. Jesus, I suspect, would be all over helping them as soon and as much as humanly possible. I just don’t understand how anyone can call themselves Christian unless they feel the same way and take similar actions. Instead, we throw away our perfectly good TV to go buy a bigger and better one. That’s got to piss Jesus off. I think it comes down to this. Religion is give and take. Believers can ask God for things, and are obligated to return the favor by helping others. I see a lot of asking and not a lot of returning. Individual Christians can be great. You’re probably great and everyone you know probably is too. I’m talking big picture though. The American aggregate is supposedly predominantly Christian, and yet our actions are not. We might donate a little or volunteer sporadically, but Jesus set the bar really high, and it’s my opinion that we don’t come anywhere close to the expectation he set. It’s like he asked us to walk from the east coast to the west coast, we walked 5 miles, got tired, and laid down to take a nap … for 2000 years.
Last, it seems to me that religion has been coopted. Perhaps this is really just a corollary of reason 2 above, but people en masse seem to use religion as a way to create barriers between “us” and “them”. It’s easy to ignore, marginalize, or even wage war against “them”. They are different and somehow less. Muslims? Less. Poor? Less. Mexicans? LGBT? Women? Less. Underserving. Wrong and in need of interventional correction in any and all forms. We must create obstructions to them living happy normal healthy lives under their competing belief system, right? Christianity is the one true way to live and get into heaven, meaning that the majority of the billions of people who ever existed are going to hell, right? That concept abhorrent. It is devoid of the values Jesus espoused.
Currently, I don’t identify with any one religion or ideology. I am open to all faiths, philosophies, and sciences in my search for grand big picture truths. Taken together, these represent the culmination of thousands of years of study across all global cultures. Dismissing any one of these summarily is to throw away knowledge. Right now, on my trip, I’m exploring this somewhat passively. At some point, I think I would enjoy a comparative religion class. The problem is that it’s not possible to explore this topic completely without being open to the positive messages of Christianity. Sure, I’ve got ample well justified reason to be angry with Christianity and God, but there’s a huge gaping hole in the spiritual tapestry without it. Furthermore, is it really God and Christianity I’m angry with, or is it people? This is the “revelation” that hit me this week. I had gotten to the point where I was aggressively closed minded to Christianity and to even saying the name God. Jesus’ message was indeed one of peace and love. Every other element of hate, intolerance, and violence seems to have been edited in by us at one time or another. These texts are heavily edited, revised, redacted, etc. It’s a wonder we’ve got any clue at all what the teachings were. How much do you trust a random 4th century Roman emperor or a British King a thousand or so years later? I wholly reject all message of intolerance and hostility and assert that these were our own invention. This then allows me to take a deep breath, and revisit the teachings of Christianity. I am still angry, but it’s now redirected at people (as a group, not individuals) instead of God. In time, this realization may allow my anger to dissipate. People are imperfect. Of course they manipulated the messages along the way to serve their own purposes. I’m no saint. That’s for sure. Perhaps this is just another lesson in acceptance. It’s likely that all messages across all faiths and philosophies have been tainted by human contact.
So why am I ranting way up high and mighty on this soap box? Well, I do want to share the details of my trip, and while this has nothing to do with the Airstream or the adventure sports, figuring out life is a big part of my trip. Secondly, I joined Emily for 2 religious experiences during my second week in Cincinnati. They were moving and powerful, a guided meditation and a church service. These were my first Christian experiences in many years. Emily is a member of a non-denominational church called Crossroads and I decided to join her at a service and then a meditation event to get a feel for it myself. It was at these that I felt my hostility towards Christianity well up. It was almost as if a voice in my head from out of nowhere loudly took over and screamed “Fuck you!”, to myself of course, but kind of Breakfast Club style if you know what I mean. The strength of this “voice” shocked me. I teared up as I faced this deeply rooted hate and took the first step in letting it go. I’m happy I had this experience.
As an addendum to this topic, I’ll share the superficial experience of Crossroads. I certainly liked the church’s messages and depth, but the surface level presentation was also phenomenal. This is a high production value organization. You can have a deep moving experience in a prison cell, but it’s so much easier to connect with a message presented well. The Brave experience, I’m tempted to call it an exhibit, is a multimedia immersion experience at the Cincinnati Citylink Center. You wear headphones of the type museums offer for self-guided tours. In a sequence of chambers, you are invited to sit comfortably, listen to the narrator and some music, and meditate and / or pray (starting to wonder how much of a difference there really is there). It’s easy to make the experience your own. There’s a dim room with comfortable chairs for meditating. The chart room contains nice work benches for you to answer some questions for yourself on a hand out. You choose the hand out that corresponds with various large messages on the wall, selecting one that resonates with you. Still another room includes a large projection of a writhing sea that you can go sit in. The walls cascade down smoothly, I’m assuming over bleachers, so that you can go sit right in the sea. Exiting that, you pass into a room with a sandy floor, a large projection of people exploring a church, or maybe it was a temple, I think in Jerusalem. I’d be happy to really delve into the details of the experience, but that’s not the point. I simply want to convey that this was a deep and moving guided meditation experience with impressive and appropriate production value. The church service was similar. Held in arena style, it opened with a Christian rock band that clearly shares musical influences with many of the bands I listen to. The pastor is legit, a graduate of the seminary with great messages and obvious charisma. He struck me as a genuinely nice guy. There were people there with stories like mine, disillusioned with traditional threatening messages or looking for redemption from challenging life circumstances. The whole thing had a very welcoming feeling. There wasn’t even any of that “let’s all drink the cool-aid” vibe that you might expect from some alternative churches. It just straight up seemed like nice people on a similar journey to my own. I was very glad that Emily invited me to both experiences.
The Cemetery, Parks, Bike Trail
There were a couple of other beautiful but heavy experiences. Monday, April 18 was the 22nd anniversary of the suicide of a high school friend of Emily’s. It seems everyone has dealt with it, but it’s still a day of remembrance. I joined her as she visited his grave and the site in the woods of Ault Park where he did it. Both the cemetery and the park were tranquil places that are worth a visit in their own right. The cemetery is huge and old, but still modern with hundreds of years of space left. Some of the graves are large and ornate commemorating the lives of significant city figures, prominent businessmen, and politicians. There are fountains, rolling hills, and elaborate landscaping. The park is much more natural, but the trails are equally peaceful. We stopped for a meal at Melt, a delicious vegan place in nearby Clifton, a section of Cincinnati.
On Tuesday, I took a solo bike ride up the Little Miami River rail trail. This is the longest dedicated bike path I’ve ever encountered. It runs from Cincinnati up through Dayton and beyond as I understand. I gather it’s more than 80 miles long. I did a little over 50 miles as an out and back trip from Milford to Morrow. It’s very much like the Minute Man Bike Path in parts. There are expanses of untouched nature punctuated by towns. However, there are important differences. First, its less crowded. I know I was there on a week day, but still. The Minute Man trail is filled with crowds of pedestrians, mothers with double wide strollers, and skaters who are oblivious to other trail users or perhaps annoyed by their presence. There’s a real attitude problem there, a sort of self-righteous indignance. Sure, there are nice people there, but the Arlington / Cambridge cyclists are the worst. Think Portlandia’s caricatures of cyclists yelling “Bicycle rights!” constantly at everyone. By contrast, the Little Miami is filled with pleasant people who are happy to engage in light conversation or answer questions. The towns are friendlier and there are fresh local beers on tap at patios immediately adjacent to the bike path. The nature scenes are breath taking as you ride through fields, forests, hillsides, and along the quiet winding river. There are old supports for a long since vanished bridge, an old factory, barns in a charming state of disrepair, and lots of wildlife. The towns are all different too. Milford was nearly urban while Morrow included both a converted train station with Pennsylvania Railroad Caboose on display along side a pretty run down and perhaps largely abandoned Main Street.
National Park Film, Murals, Findlay Market, Airstream Factory, Peggy
I spent the rest of the week hanging out with Emily again. I helped out a little with her business, took care of a neighbor’s dogs with her, we cooked together, and went to see a movie on the National Parks. It was great! It followed climbers as they visited a variety of parks. It was more adventure film than PBS documentary, and I loved it. It was a little like the Warren Miller movies. These climbers were related to Alex Lowe, the famous climber who died in an avalanche many years ago now. The movie was shown at an old railway terminal, a large building with interesting architecture and beautiful murals. It also houses other museums, but we did not have time to check them out on that day. The city overall has beautiful murals everywhere. There’s a walking tour to check out 35 murals already completed with more planned. They are all unique and spectacular. One of a bird in particular would make a great tattoo. We checked out many of them, including a large one on the Sam Adams Brewery. That’s right, I said the Sam Adams Brewery. Go home Sam. You’re drunk! Are you lost? Boston is that way! It was so weird that this Boston brewery was here, and enormous! We also checked out Findlay Market. What a great place! It’s more or less an open air weekend market. Booths set up in pedestrian allies, and permeants shops open their doors for people to meander in and out of. There’s a farmer’s market, trendy fresh made customized dog food, specialty coffee, various high end arts and crafts, flowers, and food of all sorts including the broadest array of spices I’ve ever seen in one place. Take that Penzy’s! I’d happily, even enthusiastically, visit this market every week. Even the people hanging out there were super cool. It’s very dog friendly. The whole city seems to be. Cincinnati is home to the most elaborate dog park I’ve ever seen. You can walk around with your local craft beer bought in the pedestrian part of the park. The fenced dog portion is partly paved, and partly grass / turf. There’s running water for the dogs to play in, and no mud to speak of. The dogs were well behaved, and there was a wide range of owners hanging out and socializing. This wasn’t some sort of conservative Midwest scene. There were all manner of haircuts, tattoos, and clothing styles right outside of Cincinnati Music Hall where the Pops play. A performance was just letting out, and mixed into the environment were well dressed and refined patrons adding an air of class to it all. This city keeps getting cooler and cooler.
I did have to go to the Airstream factory on Friday to pick up a replacement part. I’ve been staying at the East Fork Campground and needed to go to the dumping station. I did a hurried, lazy, and incomplete job preparing the trailer for motion, and I neglected to raise one of the rear stabilizer jacks. Fortunately the factory is only a 2 hour drive away, and I kind of wanted to visit it anyway. It’s a large place. I didn’t make it on the tour, but I got to see the grounds and visitor area. They were super friendly and helpful, and it made me happy to see a lot full of new Airstreams. The old jack came off fairly easily, but 2 of the 5 bolts were frozen and I had to shear off the heads. I borrowed a drummel tool from Emily’s mom and machined flat head screw driver grooves into the shanks. Hopefully the penetrating oil will do the job and I can remove them or perhaps drill them out. I’m waiting to install the new jack until I do one or the other. Either way, it’ll be fine with 3 bolts only if necessary.
Emily and I took our dogs for several walks as well. Peggy had one minor conflict with each dog, but they are all friends now. Willy gives her kisses and Peggy trots along next to Rece like they are old pals. They’re still figuring out each other’s boundaries, but she seems to have accepted them and vice versa. Peggy is a high anxiety dog. There have been lessons this week in managing her anxiety. It doesn’t come up much when its just the two of us, but with Hank and other dogs around, it’s something to pay attention to. She’s fine, and she is learning to cope, but she does sometimes remind me that she’s a rescue with subtle issues that require an extra level of awareness. She’s happy though, and really just needs a little extra reassurance from time to time. On one of the walks, she was staying so close with the other dogs that I tried taking her off leash. We were in a safe park far from dangerous roads. She stayed with the group for some time, but then ran off into the woods. She has done this in other off leash experiments, but never gone far. This time I lost her. It took a while to find her. Here again, she hadn’t gone far, but didn’t come back when called. It got dark and I had to use a flash light from Emily’s car to slowly pick my way through the woods until I heard her tags. She did park once which at least pointed me in the right direction. Here’s where her very selective barking was actually a detriment! I decided to by her a shock collar which I intend to use primarily as clicker training with treat reinforcement, but I think being off leash makes her happy, and it’s probably worth the trade off in the rare event I might need a light shock. You can turn it way down so they barely feel it. I doubt it’ll take much at all to get her attention. I’m going to focus on the positive reinforcement first. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s enough.
Emily, Family, and a Plan
Something else a little serious happened this week. This is turning out to be a bit of a heavier post! I’m still having a great adventure and I hope reading this isn’t bringing you down! Well, last heavy thing. Emily’s grandmother is in a nursing home with seemingly moderate cognitive and mobility issues. I can relate. I recently lost both grandparents on my father’s side, and my mother’s parents are also under advanced senior care. The closer you are with seniors, the harder this time will naturally be. Emily is very close with her grandmother. Emily received a phone call just as we were preparing to leave her house for an afternoon out. Her grandmother had fallen and they had just called 911. We rushed over and arrived at the same time as the paramedics and fire department. It was a bit of an ordeal, but she was happily fine. These things can happen for so many reasons that it’s hard to tell exactly what’s up, but she had only minor bumps and bruises. We ended up spending a very pleasant afternoon with her. It wasn’t what we planned, but it had a great outcome! She didn’t need to go to the hospital, they had a nice family visit, and I got to meet her grandmother. She seemed to like me which is nice. Incidentally, her grandmother suffered another fall in the middle of the night later in the week. She needed surgery, but is doing reasonably well. In light of this week’s post, I feel it is appropriate to ask for your prayers, positive energy, meditation intentions, manifestations, or whatever your belief system allows.
I’ll add here that I love Emily’s family. Her father is an accountant and a generally upbeat, charismatic, smart, and friendly guy. I have enjoyed our discussions and look forward to more in the future. I met Emily’s mom in Florida as you might recall, and it has been great to see her again as well. I enjoy their family’s sense of humor and intellect. They are very welcoming. I have felt right at home. In fact, I keep extending my stay here. I’m having so much fun spending time with Emily, and this city really is awesome. We haven’t run out of interesting things to do at all! My updated plan had been to leave today. I was particularly inspired to hit the road after the National Park film, but there’s time. Part of me wants to just stay here for a few months, but I just feel that this trip has been so long in coming, and I need more time to have this soul searching and fun adventure. She understands and supports it. Emily and I are developing a strong relationship that will continue after I leave here. We have a variety of options to see each other as I travel, and we are excited about one another. I am motivated to proceed slowly and not to jump head first into anything, but being with her makes me happy. I’ll stay a little longer and will head out, perhaps later this week. She helped me develop a plan.
I think it makes sense to head northwest at this point. The western National Parks are becoming my focus. The southwestern ones are important to me, but things are beginning to heat up there, and by the time I worked my way through what I want to see, it could be fall, a bad time to head north. I think, instead, that I’ll start a park based trek from Mammoth Cave in southern Kentucky, heading generally northwest to Banff, Canada, hitting the Badlands, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks along the way. This will give me a host of other opportunities to see the Midwest as well. There are so many states to sample! When I leave here, there will just be West Virginia and Wisconsin that I have never visited east of the Mississippi, and I’ll get to them on my way back. From Banff, I’d love to head to Alaska, but that’s waaaaay further than it sounds. It’s like a 33 hour drive to the closest part! We’ll see though. That’s still an interesting option. More likely, I’ll head south towards Seattle and down the west coast from there as fall approaches. That’s so far out, though, that anything could happen.