Saturday, December 31, 2016

Joe Omundson

Why I love the Moab community

It's the end of 2016! When I started this project in February I wasn't sure how long it would last, but 73 posts later I'm excited to keep writing. I have a long way to go to become a good writer; it's trickier than I thought. I'm glad I got started and stuck with it because now that this page is established it feels great to have an outlet for whatever I want to write. Special thanks go to my mom and my dearly departed step-mom for pushing me to keep writing.

I have a few halfway-written drafts in my queue and I decided to pick one of them to finish for my final post of 2016. I'd like to share this description of a day in the Moab life. I've written some posts recently outlining the difficulties I face with my lifestyle, but I also want to highlight the beautiful parts that make it worthwhile for me. This is the story of Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.


I woke up at about 9:30 in the morning. It was 40 degrees in my car, parked underneath the cottonwood trees. My friend Eric had been visiting from California for a week, and he was leaving this morning so I said goodbye and wished him a good return trip.

I skipped breakfast and drove six blocks to the donation-based gentle yoga class. Eleanor is a 73 year old woman who has lived in Moab for 40 years, and she leads the class twice a week with light and laughter. There were three other students this morning and as usual I was the only male, and the youngest person by 30 years. The class was peaceful and we left feeling refreshed and happy. I usually attend 3-4 times per month and am always grateful for that joyful group of people.

From there, I drove a couple blocks to the food bank. I was eligible for my monthly haul. I was planning to hitchhike that weekend and needed some food to take with me. I ran into Cameron and his dog Juno and I chatted with him while we waited. There were still several people in line ahead of me when a semi-truck arrived with some pallets of food to drop off. I helped unload the food. Jason, another guy who lives similarly to the way I do and helps out at the food bank, was coordinating the food distribution and instead of filling my cart with the "standard" items he gave me an empty cart and said to take whatever I wanted. So I chose all the healthiest options and left with a good pile of food. I went home and made lunch, spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and about a pound of ground turkey that needed to be consumed that day.

I went to the shop to work on painting some cabinet doors. Brooke came over to clean out an adjascent room and we talked sometimes. Then Mathieu showed up, my French-Canadian motorcycle-vagabond friend, and he taught me how to ride a motorcycle, which was something I'd always wanted to learn.

Adrian had invited me to the locals showcase, a free concert to kick off the folk music festival that weekend. I went there that evening with Dennis, my van-dwelling friend from New York, and we met up with Adrian and Ben and some of their friends. The last act was the Fiery Furnace marching band, which had people up and dancing, and everyone followed them as they marched outside to finish their performance in the street. I ran into a different Ben, a thru-hiker who I met in Stehekin this summer as I was finishing my PCT hike, and said hi to him.

When the marching band was done, a couple I didn't know approached me and asked which bar I thought would be a good one to walk to. I gave them a couple ideas, including the Rio, where I was heading next because it was karaoke night and my friends wanted to do that. So I walked to the bar, found Dennis, but sat at a table with this couple (Justin and Rebecca), who bought me a beer. They were living out of their trucks and staying in Moab for a few weeks. Adrian came and the four of us talked. Her roommate was also there for karaoke with some other friends, and I was excited to be invited to join their weekly writing club.

At the end of the night I walked back to the cottonwoods to show my new friends and invited them to camp there with me, which they ended up doing for a couple weeks.


What I love about small town community is how easy it is to see people you know, and to meet new people. Without creating any schedule these interactions flowed effortlessly. Without spending a dime, I was able to participate in yoga, get groceries, see a concert, go to a bar, and learn to ride a motorcycle in one day; all within a 3-block radius. Other days, I've participated in bike parties, met awesome people at Fresh Moab Coffee (where it's donation-only and you make it yourself), eaten at community dinners, shared the library as a communal living room, seen local parades and festivals, gone dancing in the desert, and enjoyed campfires on the edge of a huge canyon.

Portland might be a progressive place with a lot of cool people, but I never had days like this when I lived there. It's so busy and anonymous that if you want to see a familiar face it has to be carefully arranged. My personality seems to do a lot better in the more intimate setting of an interconnected little town. Here, community interaction is built in to daily life, and everything you need is just a few minutes away. Less chaos, more rest. As much as I miss my friends in the big city I can't forsee myself going back to live in a place like that anytime soon. Moab's community is too strong of a vortex.

I was thinking about leaving on a journey to South America this spring, but I think I'm going to stay in town through the summer, sink my roots in a little deeper, earn some money, enjoy the nice weather, and be more prepared to leave town when it starts getting cold here around October. 2016 was pretty good to me but I'm excited to see what changes 2017 will bring.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Joe Omundson

My extraordinary friend Alex Wall

There are difficulties and perks that come with writing a personal blog. It can be intimidating to publish intimate details of my life for all the world to see; vulnerability has the risk of attracting judgment or making me less employable. At the same time, it's freeing to talk about the things that matter most to me and to know that I have nothing to hide.

But my favorite thing is when someone reads my blog, relates on a deep level, and reaches out to make a connection. It doesn't happen often, but it's really exciting when it does.

I was hiking the PCT in Northern California in May of 2015 when I got to a town and checked my email. Waiting in my inbox was a message from Alex titled "Philosophical brothers?". I was instantly elated. He introduced himself, explaining that he'd previously undertaken a walking trip across the country, and was planning to do another big one. He'd read some of my PCT blog and was on the same page philosophically. He was interested in meeting me and possibly doing some joint writing about the paradigm we are both passionate about moving toward.

He's no typical blogging thru-hiker, though. Alex wanders between rural spaces, small towns, and urban centers, inventing his own route. He sets out with no money, camps rough most of the time, and relies entirely on donations from his readers. When he runs out of money he goes hungry, sometimes for days at a time. He assumes the societal risks of a homeless person and explores all the implications of how that dynamic affects his interaction with the world.

Alex often includes a map of his improvised campsites

Shortly after our initial contact, Alex embarked on a 367-day tour of the country, starting in California, working north through Oregon and Washingon, then traveling east and south across the country to Georgia, and eventually back north to Maine. Sometimes he rode a bus or a train, but he walked many of the miles on foot.

From the very first email he's been supportive of my life path and encouraged me to keep going. We've never met, but we stayed in touch, sharing many thoughts, struggles, and goals. He's about 20 years my senior and he got a later start at his ambitiously free-formed lifestyle. The age difference is an interesting complement because in a sense he can play a mentor role to me, and in return he is excited that I am starting his kind of work at a younger age, with potentially more time to develop it than he has. Interestingly, he has medical concerns with his heart, like I do. Alex is one of the few people who can fully empathize with my journey, and if you look at the comment section beneath my posts you'll often see his love and support pouring out.

Alex is one of the most prolific and vivid writers I've ever encountered. Throughout his year long journey, rain or shine, hot or cold, food or not, he maintained the insane workload of writing a photo-infused account of every day's experiences -- a "Living Magazine". A lot of people blog daily, but Alex doesn't hold back on anything, and he has a perspective that few people would ever voluntarily assume. The story of his daily experiences is interesting, but what strikes me is the clarity with which he presents the internal struggle of life in the bottom class. It's a special thing because it requires a huge amount of dedication. It's exceedingly difficult to write under the circumstances in which he places himself. He does this grueling work with no promise of financial return.

Keeping dry is a constant struggle in rainy weather.

He is deeply sensitive, highly empathetic, and cares passionately about the welfare of all human beings. And it's not an abstract concern, it's something that plays out practically in his life. His ability to communicate both the realities of daily life and his theoretical conceptions is something I aspire to emulate. He has the kind of wide-open mindset that is able to perceive the systemic whole of our reality and foresee various ways that society could evolve to provide a better future for all life on earth.

In addition to the candid descriptions of personal experience, and illustrations of his dreams and visions, Alex often gives walking tours of the places he explores, sharing dozens of photos of the most interesting things he finds. Those interested in history and geography will find his accounts of people and places fascinating.

Union Station in Portland, Oregon

Alex has written so much content that I have only read a small percentage of his work. I am horrible at following blogs and he knows that I have not kept up with his journey as closely as many of his readers. But the work I have read is always illuminating, and stunningly raw. I don't know of anyone else who has undertaken a similar life venture and laid it out so plainly for people to understand. I am writing this blog post because I really want more people to be exposed to his writing. It deserves more attention than it gets, more attention than I can give it. Please take some time to check out his story, and send some money his way if you can!

This is this start of his most recent journey, a good place to start reading, as he left San Francisco on June 21, 2015.
Follow his Facebook page for regular updates.

(All photos courtesy of Alex Wall)
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Joe Omundson

I get anxious too

Some days my life feels good. I feel supported by my community, content with my life choices, hopeful for today and the future. I'm looking forward to a life of adventure. It looks something like this.

It feels good to be in that state. I prefer it. My energy is pure and I get to offer you something positive. That's the image of myself I try to use publicly. I want to contribute happiness and warmth. I want you to feel supported by me.

But other days my life feels painful and it looks more like this.

I won't let you see me like this. I don't want you to pity me, I don't want to bring you down. So I take time alone until it passes. If I have to interact with you, I won't pretend like I'm feeling great, but I won't tell you what's really going on; of course, I can't hide my body language so it's probably obvious that I'm struggling.

I'm feeling like I don't fit in anywhere. I'm feeling violated and forgotten. I'm feeling useless. It's nothing you did wrong, which is why I don't want to burden you with it, because I respect your right to feel good and not have to deal with my baggage. I'll deal with it myself, like a cat who searches out a secret place to die.

At the same time I wish there was someone to hold me, and listen and understand. I'm strong enough to get through it on my own but my life can be a lonely experience sometimes. I don't know what to do about that.

My heart is wounded. Literally, my chest was sawed open and my heart was cut up. I was anesthetized for that experience but I don't think my body is unaware of what happened; I think it still remembers subconsciously the jigsaw splitting my sternum. Really though, that's just a symbol for the deeper emotional violations I have endured in my heart. Internal trauma invisible from the outside. Performed in the name of righteousness and love. Because there was "no other option".

My life has been like this for a long time and maybe that's why I feel so much empathy for people who struggle with life in ways that other people don't understand. That's why the music that resonates with me is often so intense and anguished. People who are truly healthy and happy are enigmas to me, fascinating magical creatures who I want to surround myself with and learn from. But I don't feel like I can play on their level and it bums me out. Something about me is broken, or maybe I just don't know how to gloss over the ugly parts of life like some people can. I feel everything freely.

If life is the same way for you, you're not alone. If you think I have my shit together, I don't. I hurt every day. If you think I'm confidently strong, I'm actually anxious and doubtful all the time. Sometimes I feel totally hopeless and depressed. It sucks, right? But it's common... the world we grew up in inflicts these kinds of wounds (and worse) all the time. Society doesn't make it easy to talk about it or get help. That's why I write about it. I want you to know your experience is valid and I'm here if you need to talk to someone about it.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Moab to Durango and back

I had been planning to hitchhike to Durango on Friday all week. I was going there to visit my friend Dan, and it just so happened that there was going to be a big party at the place where he'd been staying. When Friday came, I wasn't entirely sure if I wanted to hitchhike after all; I thought maybe I'd do something around Moab during the day and drive there in the evening instead of hitching. But driving would require me to spend my last $20 on diesel, and my car insurance had expired a couple days before, so it made more sense to leave my car at home. Late morning came and I halfheartedly put things into my backpack and decided to at least give hitching a try.

I walked to Main St. & 300 S and noticed a wide shoulder. I decided to hitch from there instead of walking to the edge of town. It was just after noon so I had maybe 6 hours of daylight to work with (I don't hitch at night). In theory, covering a 3-hour drive in 6 hours of hitchhiking is reasonable to expect, but it's always more stressful when there's pressure to get somewhere in a limited time.

I felt silly standing on the curb downtown, like I was being judged for soliciting a free ride. Even though nobody at all was obligated to help me, I felt like I was being a burden on anyone who saw me. In my mind, everyone was thinking "who is this guy to stand there and ask me for a ride? Why should I trust him? Entitled asshole!" This discouraged me, and after waiting 45 minutes I started to think maybe it made more sense to take my car after all. I didn't particularly feel like making it halfway there, missing the party, and camping in a cow pasture in 20 degree weather for no reason.

I thought: I'll give it another half hour, until 1:30. If I don't have a ride by then I'll walk back home.

With maybe 10 minutes to spare, an RV drove to the curb and stopped. I wasn't entirely sure if they were stopping for me or if they were just pulling over to let their dog out for a minute, but the middle aged woman who got out asked me where I was going, and when I told her Durango she said "Us too! You can hop in." So I did.

It was a Texas couple returning home from a summer trip across the western states. Their RV was modern and tidy, and it pulled an SUV. I sat down on the couch and we rolled south out of Moab, watching the snow-capped La Sal mountain range pass by. Within minutes I was served a plate of cold cuts, cheese, veggies, and crackers. A friendly poodle dog curled up against me. This was my first time getting picked up by an RV. Not bad!

It was amazing luck that they were going straight to my destination. We turned east at Monticello and drove into Colorado. Sometimes I chatted with the couple, sometimes they did their own thing and I relaxed on the couch. More snowy mountains passed by the windows of the RV. We drove through the self-proclaimed pinto bean capital of the world. After a few hours we got to Durango, and they went out of their way to take me straight to where my friend was staying. Door-to-door service.

I walked up the driveway and found Dan doing some chores outside. The property is on a hillside in a valley lined with cliffs. Various buildings were scattered around the property, and I got a quick tour of a verdant greenhouse. A woodburning contraption provided the greenhouse with warmth. I was shown a small shack with a bed where I was welcome to spend the night -- a pleasant surprise, as I had been planning to pitch a tent. On one side of the property was a big old house which was slated for destruction. This was the motivation for the party: one last get together to celebrate the old house being torn down and a new one being built in its place.

I spent some time catching up with Dan and helping get the house ready for the party. People didn't start arriving until after dark, but eventually there were about 100 guests on the property. Dan told me I should meet a friend of his named Chuck who was really into hitchhiking. In the back of the house a bonfire warmed some of the crowd, and inside a bluegrass/jam band set up their gear in a corner of the living room. Throughout the night, the band played a tight and seamless musical journey; people danced and painted on the walls, leaving sobriety and inhibition behind.

I'm eternally awkward in party situations, and I only knew one person in the entire crowd, so I didn't stay up late. The shack was warmer overnight than I expected. Another friend of Dan's slept on the floor.

In the morning I went back up to the house and hung out with some of the people who were around. The owner of the property cooked breakfast. I checked out the results of the demolition party; the walls were covered in paint, and some were smashed in. Finally at around noon, the guy who had slept on the floor next to me was heading back into Durango and I rode with him. Before I left, though -- this being Colorado -- I scored a couple handfuls of some grade B buds to take home.

I was dropped off on the highway just west of Durango. I got a ride in 10 minutes. I hadn't had a chance to meet Dan's friend Chuck at the party, but he was in the car that stopped to pick me up! He and his friend drove me about half an hour west to the town where they live. It was cool to have a chance to talk to another hitchhiker because there don't seem to be many of us.

From here I got two more rides back to Moab. The first guy who picked me up, after maybe an hour wait, was a middle aged mountain climbing guide who lives in Durango. When I got in his car and said "thanks so much for stopping to pick me up", he replied "thanks for hitchhiking! One less engine on the road." I'd say maybe 10% of the people who pick me up are on a similar wavelength in terms of personality, social views, and life interests. He was one of them. He took me to Cortez. Something funny we saw was a dispensary on top of a hill with an enormous green-cross flag, one of the biggest flags I've seen anywhere.

For my last ride on this trip I got picked up by a truck driver, another first. Just like with the RV, I wasn't entirely sure if he was stopping for me or not, so I was a bit nervous about climbing up and opening the door. Generally, drivers who are working for a bigger company aren't allowed to pick up hitchhikers, so the only ones who will give you a ride are people who own their own trucks. This guy was driving through Moab on his way to SLC. He was silent for the first 15 minutes or so and I started to think it would stay that way the whole time, but then he started talking: about his dysfunctional third marriage; his belief in aliens and UFOs; his story of getting the truck. It was so interesting because here is this guy whose interactions with his kids and wife (and women in general) were deeply saddening, and his logic about aliens raised my eyebrows quite a few times, and yet he's the one who was generous enough to stop and give me a ride and be vulnerable about his life. We humans are such a crazy mix of strengths and weaknesses, ugly and beautiful!

I said goodbye and jumped out of the truck when he was stopped at a light in Moab. Just 4 blocks to walk to get home. I laughed to myself, as I always do, about the magic of what had just happened. Without spending a single dime I got a fancy ride straight to my friend's house 3 hours away, was provided food, beer, weed, and a bed, saw a cool live music performance, and made it back home the next day. I wondered: how much would most people expect to pay for those experiences? How amazing is it that they can be found for free, if you're willing to be flexible and take a chance? Why don't more people try this?
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Monday, November 7, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking the quiet roads of SE Utah

It's thrilling when I extend my thumb for the first ride of a hitchhiking journey. My interaction with the world shifts completely because of a simple hand gesture. In a minute I might still be standing on the shoulder, or I might be zooming down the road, introducing myself to a stranger.

At 11:15 on Friday morning I walked south on Main Street with my backpack and an extra gallon of water. I held out my left thumb even though I was still downtown, and a car swerved to the curb within 30 seconds. I hopped in.

It was a local businessowner headed a few minutes south of town. He was the first of four drivers who gave me rides that day. The second was a man with 3 kids who works for the BLM fire department, and the third was a really sweet guy from Bend, Oregon who was driving to Telluride. His name was Bala and he gave me a gift of cannabis, rolling papers, and a lighter.

By the time the fourth driver picked me up, I'd traveled only 22 miles in four hours, but with him I made it as far south on 191 as I needed to go -- a few miles past Blanding. Toward the end of the ride we realized we were friends with the same couple in Tucson.

My goal was to take SR 95 & 24, the lowest-traffic highways I've hitched so far, 165 miles northwest through Hite and Hanksville. I walked west from 191 past the farmhouses and driveways until I found a private place to camp on the wide floor of a wash.

I fell asleep to the sound of rain, wondering whether I would get flooded out of my spot.

The wash stayed dry, but it was raining again when I left camp and walked to a safe waiting spot. I got picked up by the first car that passed. The guy driving was a fellow through-hiker living in Colorado. Two hours later a man who works at Natural Bridges picked me up; we were both from Portland. He gave me beer, cheese, and water, which I enjoyed as I waited three hours for my next lift. I think his name was Stewart.

Did you notice that I got six rides in a row from males traveling alone? That's typical, but the next ride came from a friendly male/female couple from Anchorage. They were about to start a six-day backpacking and packrafting trip, and they drove 20 miles out of their way to drop me at a campground where they thought I'd have good luck in the morning. Their names were Joe and Eileen.

Leprechaun Canyon campground was full of at least a dozen different groups. I put my tent near someone else's camp -- far enough, I thought. An hour or two later, when I was already in bed for the night, my neighbor returned and brought with him the sound of country music, expletives, and beers cracking open. He made passive-aggressive remarks at people and their dogs. When he noticed my tent he unleashed some highly unpleasant sentiments in my direction, and I felt an urge to talk with him, or leave, but I decided to ignore him and stay put. I figured anyone who drives to a popular campground on a Saturday night and then complains about other campers is determined to be angry.

I woke up at 3:30 and vanished from camp to avoid harassment. For an hour I followed a white line lit by stars, startling a cow. I made my bed on a flat area near the highway but didn't bother to set up my tent. A big pack of coyotes yipped and whined in the distance, another pack answering down the canyon. Dew collected on my sleeping bag and I rested until pre-dawn lit the eastern sky.

The morning was silent; I could hear white noise growing and reflecting off the canyons before I ever saw a vehicle approaching. This gave me a minute to jump up and get into position. After a two hour wait -- and three people who stopped to ask if I was OK --  a couple who were returning to Colorado after a canyoneering trip made space for me in their truck.

Stephanie and Chris were going through Moab on their way home. We talked about life goals and ideas. They drove me to within a couple blocks of where I live, and as I was saying goodbye to them my friend drove by and I rode with him for the last two blocks.

Hitchhiking the quiet roads was like fishing in a lake that only has a few fish but they're extra hungry; even though there weren't many people driving that way, the ones that passed seemed more likely to pick me up. I love this method of travel as a social experiment because I meet the most interesting, generous people. I also see the condescending looks from people who speed by in empty cars. The unpredictable nature of it reminds me to trust my fate and be open to possibilities.

Here's a map of the route I took:

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Joe Omundson

My deconversion letter

I sent this email on May 6, 2009. I never looked at it again until last night and I wasn't sure what I would find. It was really interesting to revisit my thoughts from 7 years ago, and I realized that I can't really explain my loss of faith any better than I already did here -- so here's my letter, now that I'm out to the whole world. [Sometimes I'll add notes and they'll be formatted like this. Also I edited the formatting to break up some walls of text. Otherwise it's completely unedited.]

Hello beloved Mom, Dad, and Wife.

I'm not really sure how to write this, because I'm not sure how much of it you expect/know already, or how much it will shock you.
But I guess I can say that if you want to keep your image of me being a committed and contented Christian, you should probably close this right away.

I've spent quite a bit of time on this so please read carefully.

Please, don't talk to anyone about this email. You can share it with your spouses if you wish but please impress upon them that it shouldn't be talked about with other people, especially people like Grammy who would probably excommunicate me and/or discuss it with every living relative I have. [I'm surprised I cared so much who they told, or what my family would think. But that's probably because I've now had the experience of 7 years out of the faith with nobody in the family mentioning it, which wasn't what I expected.]

What it comes down to is this: I'm not sure if I believe in God anymore. This isn't some stupid thing like I went to college and none of my friends were doing it so I lost interest. This is something that has been happening since the first months at Bible school [a 9 month program I did after high school]. You know me, and you know that if I have a conviction about the truth and merit of something, I don't lose that conviction because of peer pressure or because I'm tired of a church or whatever. No, this is something that has been on my mind probably every day for the last two or three years, and I need to finally tell someone about it or I'll go crazy.

I guess it started like this: I was so excited to go to Bible school, and finally learn some amazing things about the Bible, and learn all about its origins and all the fascinating facts that prove absolutely that it is the real deal, and how incredibly the OT prophets revealed the NT truths about Christ, and all kinds of things about words in the ancient languages and their meanings.

Instead of learning all the fascinating information about the Bible, most of the lecturers just did life-application stuff. They went through books of the Bible and applied the stories to our lives. That's nice, but you can do that with any book. Instead of learning convincingly about how perfect the prophecies were and how it MUST be the case that Christ fulfilled them, I was given a this suspicious philosophy: any given section of prophecy in the OT was either talking about: 1. the present day of the author, 2. Jesus, or 3. the end times. Isn't that convenient? So, if the prophet said something that seems like what was happening to Israel at that time, that's the first category of prophecy! If the prophet said something that looks like it relates to Jesus, it was prophecy about Jesus! If the prophecy was none of the above, in other words if the words are complete nonsense, it was just prophecy about what's yet to come! So there's no way for a prophet to be proven wrong....

Anyway, even if that was frustrating, obviously somebody else's failure to meet my expectations didn't really cause me to doubt. Basically this is what happened. Often throughout high school I would have the horrifying thought, what if there really is no God? What if this is all just playing out in my head? Why don't I ever feel God? How can I follow God when I never hear him? How can I know that just because I feel “convicted” about a passage in the Bible (this book that must be perfect), it's a living God communicating with me? [I totally forgot I felt that way so much in high school!] And maybe for a while I would pray about it, and it would concern me, and I would question. After a while, I would give up on the questioning, succumb to my desire to have a straightforward definition of my purpose in life, tell myself “who are you to ask these questions?”, and “you just have to have faith”, and with such self-brainwashing I would go back to what I had always known. Well, that's just some background, read the next [2] paragraph[s] and then I'll get back to this train of thought.

Christianity is either 100% real or it is another religion humans invented. What Christianity says is that there is a powerful, involved, loving God. If you believe it is the real deal, you believe it 100%, which means that God becomes your very breath, your reality that is more real than this world, your greatest desire and pleasure. The Holy Spirit makes all sin unpalatable to you, and rather than watch trashy TV shows and movies and youtube videos, you want to spend time praying and reading the Bible. You take Christ literally when he says that we shouldn't be like the Pharisees, whitewashed tombs who care about money and appearance, but rather be like the woman who pours perfume on Jesus' feet, despising her public image for a moment of intimacy with God. You despise the worldliness of the world. You despise sin. Compared to the the greatness of the love you have for your God, your feelings for your parents, children, spouse, are like hatred. God guides you. God loves you. You listen for God's direction, and then you let God's smallest whisper that you hear completely turn around the biggest parts of your life and plans, like the Lockes do, who we all love to laugh about [my "extreme" youth pastors who actually took faith literally]. You would kneel down in the street or sing to God in the square if he led you to it. You would take joy in being tortured for God's name in every way, and you'd bless your tormentors.

If your life as a Christian isn't like that, or at least becoming more that way every day via the movement and working of the Holy Spirit, why the hell would you want to be a Christian? I have absolutely no desire for a halfway lived Christian life. I don't believe in superstition or rituals or mysticism or tradition, which is all you're doing if you don't do it all the way, if you don't really believe it. And you don't really believe it unless you take what the Bible says about loving God seriously. Some people are afraid of hell, so they become “Christians” just in case hell is real, like it's some kind of an insurance policy; not sure if you'll need it, but you'll sure be glad if it turns out that you do. Some people become Christians so they can have a nice weekly concert and a nice group of friends and nice programs to attend. Some people grow up Christians and never question it. These people are simply seeking comfort and assurance and steadiness. I think that's bullshit. All I want is the absolute truth. If that truth is Christianity, really, that's awesome. If the truth is that there is no God, and Christianity is another invented religion, I have no desire to waste my time in it.

Anyway, at some point in Bible school I came to the questioning again. I so badly wanted to reinvest my life in Christ and his promises, but I just had to know if it was all real. How can you dedicate your life to something if you're not sure that it's real? We learned there that Christianity isn't about what we do, but what God does through us. It isn't something we can try to do, of our own effort, but something God leads us into. We don't get close to him because we tried so hard, but because he takes charge and draws us to him and fights for us. We don't follow his will and please him because we're good at it, but because we can't help it, because it feels so good to love him.

Well, where was that? If that's all true, where is it? Where? “Your love is a mountain, firm beneath my feet”, uhh, where? “Your love makes me sing,” well, not really? How do you experience God's love? You can't hug him. Yeah, sometimes when I'd pray on my bed I'd get a warm and fuzzy and loving feeling, when I tried to feel it. Kind of the same feeling as when I was in middle school and I would hug a pillow and imagine it was a girl I liked. So, I just started waiting for God to show up in my life and make me move. Earnestly, I did. I prayed a lot of nights, to the point of tears, “God, please show me your love, am I yours? Do you love me? I can't just make myself feel you and believe you anymore, I need you to drive my faith, not me. Please come in and do it. I need you”. Stuff like that. I went for a walk at night and knelt down weeping and begging and crying out in a ditch by the side of the road. All I wanted was a taste of his presence, a tangible knowledge that he was with me. Nothing! Not a sound, not a whisper. Did I do something wrong? Does God fulfill his promises, but not to me? So I kept waiting. And nothing happened.

Once again I tried to swallow my questions. This was about the time when I went to Austria [for the last 2 months of my 9 month bible program]. I thought, well, maybe it's just not my place to demand that from God. Maybe I can't expect that. Maybe I just have to be the type of Christian that does it all in his head, knows a lot about the Bible, puts the emphasis on the Greatness of God rather than his love. Maybe it's just my place to be subservient to him because I'm just a little speck and he's as big as the universe. And I tried it for a while, but in the end my brain still kept telling me that it was nonsense. I came to Antioch [a Christian guys' co-op where I lived for my freshman year of college] and tried again, but it wouldn't work.

And basically since then it's just been a kind of decay. I kept waiting to hear something from God but nothing ever came, and I became less certain of what I had believed my whole life, and I became more and more able to see Christianity as another religion, to explain a lot of the phenomenons [phenomena!] I had attributed to faith before. And I guess that's where I still am today, waiting to hear something... I refuse to ignore my questions and push onward again, because I know that a Christianity initiated and led by me goes nowhere satisfying.

“But Joe, you can't just sit there and wait to hear from God... you should read your Bible, and pray, and draw near to him and he will draw near to you.” Well, isn't that kind of true in any religion? If you want to maintain your Buddhism, maybe you should meditate more, and read the holy texts. Maybe if you want to feel better about Islam, you should pray 5 times per day and recite that Allah is God and Mohammad is his prophet and rid yourself of any non-Muslim influences. I mean, of course if you meditate on the “truths” in the Bible, and pray for hours to God, you might start to believe it's really true, and you might “feel” the things you're supposed to feel. If you think it doesn't happen that way, how do you suggest that the billions of non-Christians stick to their faiths all around the world?

Think about this one: imagine you were born in Saudi Arabia to a typical Muslim family, and you were raised reciting over and over that Allah is God and Mohammad is his prophet, and your parents believed it with all their hearts, and your friends did, and it was all you ever knew. Can you honestly say that you'd reject Islam when you heard the Christian gospel? Every faith has its experts, its scholars, its amazing pastors, the people who will convince you that your faith is THE faith, and disprove all other faiths, and give you utmost confidence in the accuracy of your holy text. Even the Mormons have that [LOL, "even the Mormons"! like they're so different]. Every religion has people willing to die for their beliefs. Every religion has people who are convinced beyond ANY shadow of a doubt that they're right. Therefore, I can't say “I KNOW that my Christian faith was the right thing, so I'll force myself to believe it again.”

Let me get one thing straight. It isn't my desire to lose my faith. I don't like it. It's not fun. I would rather it had gone differently; I wish I had been convinced by what I heard at Bible school, and by what I read in the Bible, and I wish I had heard God's voice assuring me that I'm his and that he's real, and I wish that right now I was on track with what I always wanted to do, living passionately for God and completely giving my life to him. I still honestly hope that this happens. I hope that God shows up in my life and moves me. I've been waiting for it for a long time. But I am not moving until he does. Way too many times in my life have I come up against my doubts, and swallowed them, and been unsatisfied, and there is no way I'm doing it again. If God really wants me, he'll draw me to him.

So, I guess if you want a positive look on it, you can see it this way: God is just putting me through an extended desert time, trying to mold me to be usable for him, stretching my faith to the breaking point so that he can use it, or something. Maybe that's really the case. I hope so.

To be honest, I'm scared. What if nothing ever happens, and I have to become an Agnostic or something? [Oh the horror.] What if I'm wrong, or stupid, and I die and go to hell? What are you guys going to think when you read this? I've bared my soul in this letter, and I'm not done yet.

Ginny, I love you. I'm so scared for you to read this. I don't know what to expect. My worst fear is that you
will find this unacceptable, and divorce me. I so, so don't want that. Maybe you think that the only reason I wanted to marry you was because you love God so much, and now that's all gone or something, and I don't like you anymore. That's not true. Even if I lose my faith completely, and you keep going strong with yours, I want to be with you if you will have me. I might not know how to experience God's love, but I know your love, and it means everything to me. I love you for who you are, for your sharp mind, your sweetness, because you understand me, and because you want to do something with your life. I'm really sorry for this. I know the deal was that we would get married and serve God forever. But I can't hide this from you any longer, and I don't think I've hidden it very well anyway.

Mom, I'm mostly afraid that I'm going to hurt you with this. I know what God means to you. I know how proud you were of me. I'm afraid that you'll cry for me, that you'll worry about me, maybe even be ashamed of me. I'm afraid that you're going to try to talk me back into it with arguments that I've heard dozens of times already. I want you to know that this isn't something I take lightly. But I have to be honest with myself about what I've experienced.

Dad, I'm scared to disappoint you. I don't want you to think I'm bad. I don't want to upset the Omundson Christian tradition, especially if Grammy has to know about it. Honestly I think you will understand it the most, and be the least upset with me. But I'm afraid of what you'll think about me. I'm scared of what everyone will think about me. I also want you to know that this isn't something I take lightly, and I don't want to be insensitive to the damage I can cause.

You guys can write back whatever you want, or if you want, we can talk in person. Please be as blunt as I have been. I'll take your anger and your hurt or whatever else you want to tell me. Feel free to pray for me, not that I could have stopped it. Again, I am sorry to be different from what you expected and hoped from me. I hope at least now you will understand why I haven't wanted to pray at meals, or go to church, or talk about God.

I love you and I hope you will always accept me.

I'm kind of stunned by how much fear I felt going through this process. It took years for a strong-minded person like me, with loved ones who accepted me fully after deconverting, to muster up the strength to come out like this. No wonder so many people feel trapped for life.

I hope that if you're going through something similar, this will be an encouragement that you are not alone, and maybe give you an idea how you could communicate your reality. And I hope that if you never were religious and have a hard time understanding why people don't leave, this will give you some insight into the mind of someone who is leaving a faith which corrals its followers within fences made of fear and shame.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Joe Omundson

A note to my Christian friends and relativevs

I created a Facebook page to promote this blog (actually recently. I sent invites to as many friends as I could.

Most of my Facebook friends are people I've met in the last 8 years, after graduating college. But I also have a fair number of friends who I met before that, including many of my relatives.

The biggest difference in my mind between these two groups of people is that the ones who have met me in the last 7 years know that I'm not religious. They are all people who know what I believe and what my lifestyle is like, and who accept my choices. I can say whatever I want in their presence and I know they will not attack me for saying it. They may not agree, but they at least accept that disagreement is OK.

It's kind of strange interacting with the other group sometimes. Most of them know that I was a devout Christian in my youth, and unless I've had a conversation with them about it specifically they might not know that I left that ideology 7 years ago, and am working toward very different goals than what they might assume. Many of them have invested a lot in Christianity, in making sure I believed in it, and undoubtedly see my rejection of the faith as a very wrong choice.

When I came out as an unbeliever in 2009, I only told my parents, wife, and close friends. Eventually I started sharing my thoughts more openly on social media but I never sat down with my relatives individually and explicitly told them, "I don't believe the same way as you anymore". I can only assume that some of my relatives have noticed changes in me, heard rumors from other family members, or have taken some time to read my thoughts online.

Yet I have not had any uncomfortable conversations pressuring me to believe again. I've been bracing myself for 7 years. It's always been confusing to me; do they know I'm not a Christian anymore? If they know, aren't they concerned? Is it just too hard to bring up? What do they think about me? Could they ever accept me if they knew I was never coming back? Do they avoid questioning me because they have doubts themselves? Because of this I have not always felt fully free to express myself publicly.

As I saw my friends responding to my invitation to like my new Facebook page, some of my conservative Christian family members were in the mix. Now they are my audience for all of the personal thoughts that I share on this blog. There is a conflict between my desire to be completely transparent, and my desire to write a blog that everyone can read. I think some of the most interesting topics to write about are very un-Christian; I want to explore ideas relating to atheism and spirituality, gender and sexuality, drugs and the psychedelic experience, etc.

I'm also realizing that ex-Christian topics are an area I want to keep exploring. It's been an interesting journey: when I first left my faith, I felt more resentful, scared, angry, and sad. I craved getting into debates about it so I could express my outrage. Eventually, as my life strengthened and I became more confident in myself, I lost interest in those kinds of debates. I realized I wasn't going to change anyone's mind and I wanted to focus more on my newfound happiness rather than my old pain.

More recently, though, I have been reaching out to communities of ex-Christians again to offer my support. Now that a lot of the trauma has fallen away, I feel I'm left with a greater capacity to wade back into the sea of Christianity and help people who are struggling to find the shore. Because of my own past I have an acute understanding for the impact of growing up in an authoritarian religious system and a lot of compassion for those who are having difficulty making sense of things. I feel that this is an area where I can combine my personal experience, empathy, and ability to explain complex ideas clearly, in an effort to help people accept themselves and make healthy choices to grow into strong, happy people.

As I spend more time writing, learning, and traveling, I'm going to be figuring out my specialties as a writer. I don't know if there's any one topic I want to write about full time, but I know Christianity is a big one for my life, so it's going to remain a focus at times. In the process of this, I'm going to be speaking out about the problems I experienced within Christianity, and I'm not going to sugar coat it. I believe many people are traumatized by a Christian upbringing and there is much healing to be done.

So, to my dear family members who are believers: I am sorry if this feels scary to you, or like an attack. I am doing my best to oppose the system of beliefs itself, and the mechanisms of social control, rather than confront individuals who adhere to the religion. It's not you I'm angry at. Yet my writing may very well offend you, and if you don't like it, I won't blame you for un-liking my page or ignoring my blog. I remember how uncomfortable it made me as a Christian when people expressed critical views, so I know how it feels. You are welcome to email me or reply in the comments with any questions or thoughts you have and we can talk about things.
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Friday, October 7, 2016

Joe Omundson

2 hits of LSD

On Tuesday morning I woke up, had breakfast, went to the donation-based 10AM gentle yoga class, and then drove straight to my favorite camping area in the desert. Along for the ride in my glove compartment were 2 hits of LSD. The forecast was sunny and clear.

This was my 4th LSD trip, and my first time taking more than 1 hit. I ingested them just before noon, and I smoked a bit of cannabis as I was waiting for the effects to come on.

Having a solar panel on my car to power my stereo was brilliant. There was nobody around for a considerable distance, so I turned up the volume and my car became my reference point for the rest of my trip; no matter where I went I would hear the music and know where to return, not that it was difficult to find my car but it was an extra bit of insurance.

I started to feel the acid after maybe 45 minutes or an hour. I was lying in my car when the altered state of consciousness brought about by LSD distinguished itself from the THC I was already feeling. I am not sure how to describe this sensation for anyone who has not tried psychedelics; I think it would be like trying to describe the experience of dreaming or dying. The best way I can describe it is that it overrides a lot of the habitual neural networks your brain likes to use. When something comes to mind, you don't think about it in the typical way... you see more options, your filters are removed, you make connections with other ideas that didn't seem related before. Things you never noticed jump out at you. And your normal logical pathways for navigating the world don't make sense anymore. For me, music triggers certain emotions more directly, details become fascinating, and thoughts that I normally repress float to the surface.

I spent the next 5 hours within the general vicinity of my car. I had my music library on shuffle and noticed my emotions being highly affected by the kind of song that was being played. A metal song would play and I would connect with my grief and more intense feelings; a house song would come on and I'd want to dance. I would go in cycles where I would want to be walking around looking at things and vibing with the music, and then I would want to withdraw into my car and turn the volume down and relax and comfort myself.

I had stronger visual alterations than on any trip I've previously taken. I would look out over the rocks and trees, and all of them would be shifting, moving around like ocean swells. At the peak of it, my vision had a time delay. If I moved my arm in front of my face, I would see trails behind it. This was pretty entertaining. My vision was constantly blurring and unblurring, especially when I tried to do things like change the song on my phone. I didn't really see enhanced colors or geometric shapes or anything like that though.

I saw my life from more of a zoomed out perspective. There were cycles of many different timescales circling around; life and death, birth and rebirth, cause and effect and cause again. I thought about people, love, feelings, possibilities.

At one point I was on my mattress and was feeling very withdrawn, almost guilty for having music playing. I realized I was feeling something like shame simply for taking up space with my life in general. It was helpful to notice this because I recognized how absurd it was. I got up to move around and I felt more motivated to find my niche and fill it well, to become more responsible with my duties, to learn how to meet my needs abundantly and pour over into other people. I thought a lot about a certain woman and realized the depth of my desire to form a new relationship.

An interesting thing happened where I felt like there were other personalities inside my mind. I was interacting with them, or becoming them. One of them was like a young girl, quiet gentle and playful, whispering secrets and laughing. Another was like a young woman warrior who has been through some painful trauma but is learning to be strong and proud again. I thought this was interesting but didn't think much of it, until the next day I happened upon this page about tulpas.  I'm going to explore this idea more fully before I write any more about it, but I am very intrigued by it and might start working on creating a tulpa!

At my mom's house, she has one of those picture frames where there's a photo from each of my school pictures from kindergarten through high school. Between 4th and 5th grade, there is a shift that happens in my smile where it goes from being a warm natural thing to something I clearly had to force myself to do. I think that was the end of my "childhood", when my parents separated, and somehow feeling free to be happy stopped being a part of my character. I couldn't produce a natural smile because I didn't feel that way on a base level. It was further compounded when my parents were frustrated with me for not taking good smiling pictures anymore; I felt like, really, I'm hurting like this and you're upset that my photos don't look as happy as you want? Is the appearance all that matters? And I think after that, hiding my full smile became a matter of determination. I felt like to reveal my full smile was pandering to their unfair wishes. Like if I learned to take that kind of photo I would be in danger of forgetting my true feelings just to make them happy.

As the sun got lower in the sky, the lighting was perfect, I had a nice camera, and I figured I would try some self portraits. I felt anxiety as I held the camera in front of my face and the familiar urge to panic or make a forced smile. But I took a series of shots, focused on feeling my full warmth and letting it show. I'm 29... why should I have this irrational fear of appearing happy in photos? Do I still need to get back at my parents by limiting my joy in this way? Isn't it time I accepted my own happiness and allowed others to enjoy it too?

The weather was beautiful. There was no haze in the sky at all. I was looking at the La Sal mountain range on the horizon and it was totally clear. As the sun lowered and the light became golden, I grabbed my camera and ran around for an hour snapping photos.

Soon, it was 8PM. It was dark and growing colder. I knew I still had a few more hours before I'd be able to fall asleep, so I pulled my mattress out onto the slickrock, put on a favorite album, got under my down quilt and watched the stars. I also brought out my computer and started looking through some of the photos I'd taken. Sometimes I got up to take more photos.

Eventually, probably around midnight, I fell asleep. In the morning I woke up at first light and started driving the 25-30 miles back home. I stopped a couple times to take photos of the morning golden hour. I reflected on my experience and felt grateful. I returned to town with a greater sense of self-acceptance and a renewed desire to work on my life to build it in the direction I want to go.

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