I Accidentally Went Looking For God In Portland

Audrey explores what it means to be a queer Christian in a world where Christianity is weaponized against minorities, including the LGBTQ community.

Author’s note: I had this whole plan where I was going to get a disposable camera and document my Easter weekend trip to Portland and then write about it for the Wednesday after Easter. However, apparently nowhere in the city of Dallas does same-day film developing anymore because we live in a dystopian future so I had to mail the camera off and wait a week to get it back. Easter is all about new beginnings. Can we keep talking about God together? I will work on consistency and I hope you’ll keep commenting.


I arrived in Portland and Murph drove me straight to a pop-up lesbian bar. I ate a slice of pizza and sipped someone else’s cider and watched people dance to Beyoncé and The Weeknd. It was Maundy Thursday, and communion dripped over me. I was exhausted and starving and overwhelmed, and I don’t remember much except hugging Cee and hugging Nate and belting “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Pizza and beer is close enough to bread and wine, and I watched worlds collide as Murph (who lived in Nicaragua at the same time as me) and Cee (who makes the internet for autostraddle dot com) and a cute stranger (whose name I never heard) leaned across the table in a conversation I couldn’t absorb. As far as I know, nobody sold anybody to their corporeal death for 30 pieces of silver, but what do I know? I was just another queer hipster zipping through PDX and my body clock was two hours off.

I went to Portland with only two plans: Go to Powell’s, which is a five story bookstore that takes up a whole city block, and go to Good Friday services. Fernanda, who happened to be visiting Portland for a few weeks from Nicaragua, met me and we walked every aisle of Powell’s until we found ourselves in the rare books room at the very topmost corner. We parted with hopes to see each other again before I left, though in the end we didn’t.

I don’t know why I was so set on that second one, I’m actually not sure I had ever been to a Good Friday service before, but it felt important. 

All my other plans were “hello friends who live here please take me wherever you think I should go.” So Murph took me to this extremely tall waterfall which was very beautiful and very damp. At the gift shop, I bought a sticker of a beaver holding an umbrella that said “Oregon.” I promptly lost it. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

Have you ever really read the Good Friday story? Here is how I always thought it went: On the word of Judas to the state officials, Jesus is arrested and Pontius Pilate sentences him to death. Somewhere in there, Peter denies three times that he knows Jesus. He hangs on a cross between two robbers, wails “My Father, why have you forsaken me?” and then he dies. Joseph of Arimathea gets permission to take Jesus corpse off the cross to bury it in a tomb. It seemed like a clear case of state violence enacted against someone they perceived as a threat to the empire.

But there is a middle part that had never stuck for me that complicates my narrative deeply. Pontius Pilate, it turns out, believes Jesus innocent and can find no reason to convict him. He and the Jewish leaders argue back and forth. Because it is the Passover, Pilate has the authority to free one prisoner who has been sentenced to death. Pilate gives the throng of spectators a choice. They can have Barabbas, a “bandit,” as he is described in Matthew, or perhaps a “rioter” as he is described elsewhere, or they can have Jesus. In a great chorus, they ask Pilate to free Barabbas. They demand Jesus’s execution.

On Good Friday evening, I went with Murph to their church community, and with a few others we participated in a progressive Passion service, meaning we read scripture and engaged with different elements — ashes, thorns, ropes, water — that are part of the story of Jesus’s execution. In the dim light, I got lost in the account of the crowd demanding Jesus be executed. I started to wonder what else we trade grace away for so cheaply. What comforts and conveniences do we hold close to our chests because we are so terrified of change that we reject even that which might make things better?

That night we went dancing. It was supposed to be bachata night at Aztec Willie’s but the DJ didn’t show so it was the regular salsa playlist. Of course, they threw out a few bachata songs and a couple reggaetons, and we let the music carry our bodies through space.

I got stuck thinking about Barabbas. I didn’t really prepare for Easter, for the resurrection, for the return of the Alleluias in my hymns. I thought about how many church members today would probably stand in a crowd and call for the execution of a Jesus who challenged them to live lives of service, generosity, grace, humility and repentance. Who has time for all that when there is a Women’s Luncheon to plan?

Jesus also calls us to joy, I believe that deeply. So even as I wrestled with those questions, I reveled in the opportunity to be with friends I rarely see. I happened to be in Portland on the first sunny weekend of the season, and I took full advantage. I went to my first ever women’s soccer game #GoThorns and ate cheese on the ground at sunset. After dark, Cee and I talked until 1:30 in the morning about gender and feminism and heartbreak and the suspension hardware installed in their office ceiling. I don’t have a picture but I have a couple personal revelations I might share some other time.

On Easter Sunday, I didn’t go to a church, but I quietly praised God at brunch in community with friends and strangers and so many carbs and those tiny Cadbury chocolate eggs.

There was a really adorable group picture that printed as a blurry grey blob even blobbier than that doorway photo, but I’m thankful to have it anyway. It’s good to remember that our connections to each other criss cross and converge, and that every once in a while we might stumble into a space that cocoons us with light, obliterates worries, and fills us with honey (or maple syrup, as the case may be). After brunch I went outside and admired a bridge and the very tall trees. Murph and I talked about dismantling capitalism from inside our work at nonprofits which is probably impossible but that doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying. I had coffee with Ev’yan, and despite not seeing each other since A-Camp 6.0 we fell into a conversation about sex, love, racism, work, community and the weather (by this point the sun had made it’s way back behind some clouds). Over tea, Nate tried to convince me that it is ok for me to be a person with a gender, or something. There’s no photo because tea shops are very dark and gender is a lie which cannot be captured on analog film.

I looked through this pile of photos 10 days after I got back to Dallas, and I meditated on each of them. I thought about the light, the coloration, the imperfections. I admired each person who had shared space and their selves with me. I thought about Barabbas again and considered that he was just one more person whose life Jesus transformed — after all, he got to live instead of suffering an unjust execution at the hands of the state. Maybe he went forth a better person, or maybe he kept defying the empire through theft and rioting — not that the two are mutually exclusive. I doubt I’ll ever be standing before a state official with the choice to execute the King of Kings or some other guy, but I have the choice every day to seek love or not, to fight and struggle for justice or collapse under the weight of the empire’s fist. Each choice is an opportunity to make good on the promise of the resurrection.

Adrian is a writer, a Texan and a sometimes-heretical Presbyterian. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They have a dog named after Alison Bechdel. Follow Adrian on Twitter @audreywhitetx.

Adrian has written 140 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. “Over tea, Nate tried to convince me that it is ok for me to be a person with a gender, or something.”

    I never relate more to you than when you quietly “, or something” in the middle of other important writing 🙂

  2. this is an incredible article. I’ve been thinking a lot about religion lately too, and the way it’s become a weapon – but something you captured beautifully here, and something I’ve been feeling, is that religion is really nothing if not pure love and creation. religion used for violence – personal or state violence, is there even a difference? – isn’t what God would want, or Jesus. and I see God in people shunned from the church. I doubt he cares very much for exclusion, violence, and hatred in the name of religion.
    or something.

  3. “Pizza and beer is close enough to bread and wine.”

    This was one of those revelatory moments. At church the communion wafer is so far from our normal food that before my first communion we all went and tried some from the sacristy, but the first Eucharist was really Jesus sharing a meal with his friends. And yeah, it was a holy day, and there was ritual and ceremony they probably followed because of it, and it affected their food choices, but he was using familiar food, normal stuff, and saying hey this basic life level stuff that you’re putting in your body to live, that stuff is also like, my actual divine body. Minus the “like” if you’re Catholic.

    That’s one of the things I find most interesting and compelling about the church, I think, the insistence that that the mundane and ordinary is also the divine and extraordinary. Our bodies matter.

  4. I love this article and all of your articles about queerness and religion. As a young bi Christian, I think a lot about church community and Jesus’ radical love and what it means for the LGBTQ+ community. Your perspective is insightful and beautifully articulated. Also I love Portland! Oregon is one of my favorite places.

  5. The person leaning over in the first photo is Raina Daniels. She is the Program Manager at the Q Center (queer community center) and overall amazing human.

    The falls is called Multnomah, like the county, named for a local native tribe.

    Any other PDX trivia questions just let me know 😉

  6. I struggle with religion a lot, I was raised agnostic by a lapsed Catholic and a former Methodist, and I’ve always been made equal parts envious and uncomfortable by people who live their religion out loud. This is lovely and speaks so much to the value in religion and the beauty and community that it ought to always exude, but, because we’re human, often fails to. Thanks.

  7. Thank you for sharing this! Spirituality and reconvening with my Catholic upbringing have been very much on my mind lately. It was really nice to experience someone else’s perspective of the Easter season. (Please keep writing!!)

  8. “I started to wonder what else we trade grace away for so cheaply. What comforts and conveniences do we hold close to our chests because we are so terrified of change that we reject even that which might make things better?”

    YAS. Let’s keep asking that.

    And…

    More giant waterfalls. And pizza. And dancing. And queerness. And disposable cameras. And getting to see you.

    This is beautiful.

    Thank you. Miss you. Fuck capitalism.

  9. Aubrey, Murph shared this with me and I’m grateful and humbled that our little church community could accompany and by accompanied by you on Good Friday. And, this is stunning. Thank you. Melissa (that pastor-type person who shook your hand and sung next to you around the cinderblock cross.)

  10. (okay this is a second version of a very wrambly first comment I wrote because it contained many of my feelings about Jesus I have no where else to share. I’ve attempted to condense it (and make it somewhat actually understandable) but it’s still going to be quite wrambly so sorry about that!)

    This Palm Sunday was the first Palm Sunday I’ve ever been to, and we read through the Last Supper and the Passion there. When we were reading through Jesus praying in Gethsemane, pleading to stay alive, I started crying. I never really thought I’d have that reaction, but I realised it was because it really truly bought home to me how scared, uncertain and Human Jesus was. And that despite all that he had dedicated his life to fighting for good. Thinking now about Barrabus because of this column once again brings home that message for me. Like you said, we too easily give in to “comforts and conveniences” when (to me at least) one of the key messages of this part is to keep fighting, to keep doing what is right and never give in just because the other option is simpler.

    Thank you so much for this column, for putting into words some of the more complex feelings I had over Palm Sunday and Easter!

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