How Will We be Seen by the People of Portland? Sunday, January 24, 2016

I started writing this early this morning while waiting on the first of a few airplanes to try to get home tonight.  Now I sit in a hotel in Chicago, not knowing if I’ll even get home tomorrow.  In a way, I’d love to have been home to watch the snow fall this weekend. It would have been nice to curl up with a blanket and the dogs, watch the flames dance in the fireplace, and put on a pot of homemade soup. It would have been nice to not be anxious about flights or extra nights in hotels.

I’m realizing there was a reason to be stuck, though.  And no, it was not just to experience treasured time with friends old and new, or finally get my first Voodoo doughnut, or sleep, or eat the wonderful Sweet Potato Pumpkin soup I just had for dinner. No, it was to begin to think about how a group of 1,000+ United Methodists might impact a city for two weeks in May during the 2016 General Conference…if we choose to.  Wait!  That was part of yesterday’s ponderings while being stuck in Portland.

More than a thousand United Methodist from all around the world, speaking various languages in a multitude of accents and local dialects. United Methodists with political views and understandings of life from one end of the spectrum to the other.  A group of people from places where fracking is a major environmental concern to communities where disease-carrying mosquitoes cause loss of life on a regular basis.  People from cultures and heritages that teach them that even talk about sex among family members is taboo to countries like ours where same-sex marriage is the law of the land.  United Methodists who gather every 4 years to try to represent a global church that at the forefront should model to every person in the city where we gather what it means to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ.

So in a few months we’ll assemble in Portland, a city as diverse as we United Methodists, yet in many ways an example forus.  I heard one person these last few days say that Portland was a place where no one judged another. My Birkenstock wearing feet in January weren’t even noticed.  Never have I experienced a place with as many ways to recycle, reuse or compost.  Know what else I learned about Portland?

  • Oregon’s Interstate 5 corridor is known as a hub for prostitution and sex trafficking.Walking around yesterday, one of the young ones told us that he had read in a Time Magazine article that Portland has the most strips clubs per capita in the country.  Yes, Portland has long been touted as the exotic dance capital of the U.S. The State Supreme Court has long protected the right of strip clubs to host totally nude entertainment.  In a couple of the areas we walked through, there were multiple clubs on one block. Friday night, we ate at a unique gathering, really a “church” of sorts, called The Oregon Public House. The first nonprofit pub of its type, their website reads: “Running our Pub in this way has allowed us to create over a dozen new jobs that pay industry-standard wages, provide advertising and promote awareness for nearly 100 different NPO’s, donate thousands of dollars each month, and create a venue and place of community for new friends and neighbors to chip in and be a part of something truly world changing. This ground-breaking model for business is literally the first of its kind and we believe this could begin a new wave of business and mission that has the possibility of changing the way we work, spend, and care for our communities.” – Isn’t this what church is supposed to be?  Portland also has the title of the craft brewing capital of America.  At the same time, the city hosts more nonprofit organizations per capita than any other city in America.  So what an idea! Combine the craft beer, fellowship around great food, and support of nonprofit work that betters the community – even the adult entertainment industry.  One of the charities supported by The Oregon Public House and its patrons is The Cupcake Girls, a nonprofit working to bring respect, resources, and relationship to those working in the adult entertainment industry.  Might not be our image of “church,” but it focuses on mission, nurture, and transformation of the world.  Umm???
  • Despite Portland’s reputation for liberal politics and deep commitment to doing good, homelessness is in your face all the time.  One estimate is that there are almost 4,000 homeless men, women and children in Multnomah County alone, and experts estimate the actual number of people who are sleeping outdoors, in shelters, in their cars, in temporary transitional housing or on someone else’s couch may be four times that. News reports say homelessness in Portland is actually a housing  Portland lacks enough permanent housing andemergency shelter space. Help is everywhere – we passed Gospel missions, feeding programs, health care clinics – but housing is not.  What’s the role of the church – offering one-time help or being part of the sustainable solution?
  • A 2011 study found 876 coffee shops brewing in town. Travel+Leisurenamed Portland the #1 coffee city in America. You will never go un-caffeinated – and please don’t come in May asking for Starbucks.  And don’t go looking for what we consider a traditional lunch on the weekends.  Portlanders love brunch – as we learned yesterday when only the brunch menu was available until 3:00 PM.  Food carts are everywhere.  One writer said food trucks “pop up in Portland faster than the hair on a Chia pet.”  Portland is known for having over 400 food carts and mobile eateries – every possible type of food you can imagine.  You’ll also discover there’s a serious gluten shortage in Portland. You literally can drink (coffee or beer) and eat yourself into a coma if you’re not careful.  Funny, isn’t it then, that we United Methodists can work ourselves into real tizzies about how we offer communion elements. One common loaf vs. tiny little pieces of pita bread vs. gluten-free for everyone vs. purchased, no taste wafers.  Hand sanitizer, plastic individual cups, full liturgy or informal, sung or recited responses, once a month or every Sunday, and oh, the number of laity who have no idea that once the elements are consecrated they can take them out to others. Yet, we’ll go to Portland and try all kinds of new things, lick our fingers, not wipe our mouths, and stand in line with people of every type and background for doughnuts. Where’s the real open table?
  • We walked by a building yesterday where the side was painted with “Keep Portland Weird.”  Some say Portland is so weird because the Willamette River flows north. Portland is a city of bridges; 11 bridges span the Willamette River.There are even pedestrian crossbucks to stop you from walking into street cars on the bridges.  There are a multitude of walkers and cyclists.  The public transportation system is so easily accessible and reasonable in cost that you’ll be using the light rail, buses, or streetcars to get around the city easily in no time.  What impression will the people of Portland get when we walk all the way around the Convention Center to avoid another United Methodist whose views are different from ours?  What will they say when we cross the street to avoid the homeless? What will they say when our meal tables are segregated by skin color or gender or politics or geography?
  • We walked lots of places and road around on the light rail, but I saw only one church.  That just happened to be the Church of Scientology in a storefront in downtown. One reason why – only 32% of Portlanders identify as being religious adherent, the least in America.  What an opportunity we have when we’re there!  What are we going to do with it?

I’ll stop there with my ramblings for tonight about The UMC and our opportunities while we’re in Portland for General Conference.

But wait, there are a few other things you might want to know if you’re headed out west with us…

  • Yes, it rains but bring your hooded jacket or sweatshirt. Umbrellas are for tourists.  I am thinking seriously about cutting my hair before going back in May. When your hair responds to humidity like mine, there might not be another option.
  • All carbonated beverage containers are worth $.05 including soda, beer, and fizzy water. If it has bubbles, it’s worth money! Save them and take them back to the grocery store to get your money back. At the least, place them beside a trash can so someone else can benefit. (And by the way, Portland is a Pepsi city. If you are a Coke fan, plan to get your fix from the store.)
  • If you’re going to rent a car, in Oregon only the gas station’s attendant may legally operate the pump. Do it yourself and you’ll get slapped with a $500 fine.
  • Portland does not fluoridate its drinking water.  If that’s an issue for you, make sure you bring fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash.
  • Portland is lax on a lot of laws and a big one is nudity, which is totally allowed if done as a form of protest. Enough said about that!

I know you hope I’m not stuck in Chicago tomorrow!!!!

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