Oregon and Washington: A Microbrewery Church and a Shinto Shrine

The first riding day of my motorcycle pilgrimage began with a flurry of emotions.  The night before I was so restless, I didn’t drift to sleep until around 4 am.  I was afraid, excited, impatient…much like the night before a big AP Physics test or before a visit to Cedar Point when I was younger.  Because sleep had eluded me for so long, I awoke too tardy to make my appointment at McMenamin’s Brewery to speak with the owner.  It was already 930am.  I was anxious to get moving.   My head was throbbing.  For a moment, I thought about skipping the brew-church and blasting up into Washington state.  In order to get well into British Columbia for the night, I had five or six hundred miles ahead of me, on a bike I’d never ridden.
I raced to the lobby to grab my Holiday-Inn-Express-famed warm cinnamon roll and jumped on the rented 2011 Bavarian Motor Werks 1200 cubic centimeters GS (Gelände/Straße meaning off-road/street).  As I was mounting my trusty stead that Motoquest, the rental company, had named Blanca due to its pearl white plastics, I noticed something disheartening.  The rear tire showed substantial tread wear.
I arranged for the bike to be delivered to the hotel before my arrival to Portland late the night before, so I missed the opportunity for an in-person once-over with the Motoquest representative.  Rear motorcycle tire tread life usually lasts 4 to 7 thousand miles, and if they left a used tire on my rental, I may be forced to replace it before I finish my planned 6 thousand miles. The tire looked to have at least 2 or 3 thousand on it, and with Whitehorse the only city between BC and Anchorage where I could find a replacement, my adventure began with a big concern.  But I rationalized it by telling myself, they wouldn’t give me a tire which couldn’t make it to Anchorage, so I turned the ignition key, pushed the starter, and felt the rumblings of the twin opposed boxers.  In neutral, I twisted the throttle, to warm the engine.  As I turned back the right handgrip, I felt the motorbike sway side to side.  It startled me.  I turned the throttled again, and again, I felt the motorcycle sway.  It was already a hazy, rainy morning in Portland, cutting down visibility which makes operating a bike more treacherous.  Now, the bike was rocking back and forth when applying the throttle.  I found out later from my Godfather and riding guru, Dave Baker, that a boxer engine has a gyroscopic mechanism which causes that swaying when at a stand still. But at speeds, the sway is negated to unnoticeable by the inertia of the forward moving bike.
Slightly perturbed, I embarked upon my short journey down I-5 to McMenamin’s Old Church and Pub.  It was about 20 miles South, in the opposite direction of Alaska, which felt difficult and wrong.  It tested my patience, but I wanted to begin my multifaith pilgrimage as planned.  After a few minutes of low visibility rain and fog, the scenery opened up under a super bright, vivid sun that made the pines and wildflowers pop with clarity.  Only right after rainy cloud cover can the sun emerge to make the earth look so real, almost ethereal.  This vantage of Portland reminded me of a Appalachian Mountain River town, with its industry centered around river trade, and the narrow river valley rising upwards with scores of conifers.  The Rose City felt crisp and friendly.  I battled the Prius’s and the Outback’s for a few miles, but the interstate opened up just out-of-town which gave me the first glimpse of the freedom that motorcycling promises.  I was doing it.  I was riding a motorcycle to Alaska.  I was taking a multifaith pilgrimage.  Pure joy.  I exited I-5 and encountered a purist’s nightmare, suburban sprawl, planned communities, starbucks.  I endured and pulled into the church-now-microbrewery’s parking lot.
An hour late to my appointment, I approached the entrance but noticed the brewery dark and the door locked.  Either the owner failed to show or had left.  It was still an hour or so until McMenamin’s opened for lunch, so I settled for walking around the grounds snapping photos and contemplating the deeper meaning beneath a church being resurrected as a microbrewery.
The idea for this motorcycle pilgrimage began at my tenure as Chaplain at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.  My main responsibility consisted of supervising the interfaith community and creating programs to improve religious literacy on campus.  One of the Muslim student leaders, Ala, invited the creators of the 30 Mosques in 30 Days project to campus.  Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, during the month of Ramadan, visited thirty different mosques in 30 different states.  To a standing room only crowd in the BLUU, they told the story of American Islam through their pilgrimage, through their encounters, and through their conversations along the way.  Their inspiration gave rise to my idea to visit via motorcycle 50 different faith communities or holy sites, each in one of the 50 states.  I hoped to tell the story of American religious diversity and spread awareness.
While my project has evolved over the past few years, focusing more on multifaith pilgrimage and conversion during life’s transitions rather than being tied to visiting all 50 states to spread awareness, I chose to visit this microbrewery in Portland to officially kick off my trip because I felt it represented the culture of the Pacific Northwest and the deep spiritual changes presently impacting Christianity in the USA.
I wandered the manicured grounds, peered through the windows which revealed large mixing vats, and asked myself, “What does it say about us that our church buildings are now in the craft beer business?”  Could this be a better reflection of a community of love than churches that are still churches?  Would Jesus preach at First Presbyterian across the street or spread the gospel over a 6 dollar India Pale Ale?  Or is the trend of church-turned-brewpub’s representative of a transitional state that will lead to a radical new form of spiritual community?
I do think craft breweries can teach Christianity a few lessons.  I myself have enjoyed many deep conversations over a Crooked Tree IPA at Dark Horse.  Everyone, no matter belief or religion is welcome.  Life is celebrated over organic entrees and tasty libations.  It brings the community together.  People support each other in crises.  However, the craft beer scene may be equally elitist and segregated as many churches, drawing community members who are homogeneously white, bobo (bohemian/bourgeois), addicted to Instagraming plates of food, and sporting ironic mustaches.
As I sauntered to remount the saddle and head for Washington, I posed the question, “Why do I feel more comfortable enjoying community at a microbrewery than attending church?”
I blasted North on I-5, and as I crossed the Willamette River, the Mount Hood’s perfectly volcanic conical figure rose skyward.  I realized, at that moment, why everyone is moving to Portland.  I motored over the iconic Columbia River, vowing someday to return to catch a sturgeon, like Jeremy Wade on River Monsters. I’d settle for a sockeye.
After about 100 miles of pines and peaks, I stopped for gas.  Immediately, a 60 something man donning leather skin and a glorious white mustache approached me.  He quipped, “I wish I was you, today! Where ya headed?” “I’m actually on my way to Alaska, just started from Portland.” “That’s a hell of a ride.  The name’s Bill,” as he extended his hand to shake.  He told me about his old riding days, when he raced Huskies and Hondas.  “Now, I’ve got a damned Honda Goldwing.  I regret that I sold out but that son of a bitch is comfy.  And makes the Mrs. happy.”
Normally, I’m an introvert and shy away from stranger conversations, but I caught myself not wanting this conversation to end.  I even noticed Bill retreating to his truck as I refused to stop talking.  Why the difference in my behavior, I wondered.  Was I lonely already?  Does the motorcycle break the ice or give me confidence?  Or am I an active, extrovert member of the Church on Two-Wheels? Maybe motorcycling has created for me such a strong connection, such a powerful bond to others that it is truly my home, my spiritual home.
Seven months earlier in the Shenandoah Valley, my wife of two hours, Emily Miller, and all of our closest friends and family were cutting a rug to Home, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my Ma and Pa
Not the way that I do love you
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Back on the bike and back on the adventure, I belted out the chorus over the constant whooshing of the wind and the growl of the engine. “I wish Emily were here.  Then I would never leave.”
I rode through downtown Seattle, which rustled up memories of coming of age and the only friendship I regret losing.  Maybe, it can still be salvaged, I hoped.  I should stop in Queen Anne to see if Ben is home.
I kept riding.  In Everett, I cut over to highway 9 and headed north to the Tsubaki Kanagara Shrine in Granite Falls, the only Shinto shrine in the lower 48.  Here is the email correspondence with caretaker of the shrine.

I will be visiting the shrine on Thursday May 10 probably in the afternoon.  Will someone be there to show me around and maybe answer a few questions?  I would like to take pictures and video, too, if that’s allowed.  I am writing a book about different religious communities around the USA and would like to include your shrine in my book.
Jake Hofmeister
Hello Mr. Hofmeister,

Thank you for your email. I am sorry to report that I must be in Japan between 5/7 and 5/12…I will be at the shrine on 5/13..is it possible for you to reschedule your Omairi/ visit?
yoroshiku/ best regards

Rev. K. Barrish
America Tsubaki Okami Yashiro Kannushi

For the second time on my trip, I wasn’t able to meet a member of the religious community, but I decided to visit anyway.  I spent 30 minnutes making wrong turns into public schools and subdivisions, but finally found the entrance.  An impressive Torii, a large Japanese gate, welcomed my arrival.  I rode down the long steep gravel drive flanked by dense sentineled forest.  I pulled up to the shrine and cut the engine.  It was a most tranquil landscape, the definition of peace.  There where azaleas and hastas and granite prayer paths.  Signs of welcome and invitation abounded.  The Pilchuck river rippled glacier blue Cascade mountain water.

I dismounted, grabbed a Peanut Toffee Buzz Clif bar and pour a cup of coffee out of my olive green Stanley canteen.  After my quick nosh, I lit an American Spirit cigarette and sat on the banks of the river.  Two drags in, I threw the cigarette and the entire pack in the river.  I vowed never to pass lonely time with a cigarette again, as I had occasionally in the past.  I felt ashamed over soiling God’s pristine creation, but felt that the power of the ritual warranted it.  I, then, walked the grounds, marveled at the beauty.  Origami cranes brought up memories of learning about World War 2 in elementary school.  I partook in ritual washing of my hand and mouth and proceeded to ring the bell to enter the shrine.  It was locked, though disappointing, I felt something move in my soul.  Maybe it was a connection to others that had been here or to a religion that originated thousands of miles away.  Visiting that shrine changed me a little bit, but at the time, I wasn’t sure how.  I hopped back on the bike to figure it out.

In the scholarly compilation Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination contributor Abderrahmane El Moudden suggests that travel integrates community through awareness of the wider community and gives the sojourner a sense of local consciousness through the newborn ability to contrast.  Through the 3 stages of travel, embarking on the unfamiliar, the testing of adventure, and the reintegrating into one’s home society, the traveller’s identity and selfhood are challenged as cultural filters are deconstructed and new insights gained (Sam I. Gellens).  As S. Naipaul puts it, “All travel is a form of gradual self-extinction” (Barbara D. Metcalf).  As a Muslim embarking on Hajj, I yearned for religious learning, meaning, spiritual insight, and personal transformation.  Who was I becoming and who was being left behind?

My afternoon cruise at the base of the Cascades provided a glimpse of the grandeur of the landscape ahead.  I arrived at the border crossing at Sumas in the early evening.  I supplied my passport to the attendant and motored into the foreign country to the north.  I rode the Trans-Canada Highway 1 to Hope, BC.  Exhausted, I called it a riding day as only an hour of daylight remained.
Hope, nestled on the Fraser River and surrounded by craggy peaks, is the gateway to the Cassiar Highway, the only alternative route to the popular Al-Can.  I pulled into a cheap motel in the heart of town.  I was greeted by a friendly neighbor sitting outside the room next to mine.  Terry was smoking a cigarette and listening to the Blue Jays game.  I removed my helmet and put on my 59/50 Reds cap.  He noticed and must have figured I’d love to hear a 30 minutes narrative about his trip to the Blue-Jays Reds game in Ontario back in the big red machine days.  I listened, partly interested, partly yearning to fill my starving stomach with Hope’s finest cuisine.
Almost everything was closed, so I pulled into a Subway.  I’m still disappointed that my first dinner on this epic journey was processed lunch meat at a multinational conglomerate.  After a tasty Canadian Italian sandwich, I walked to the liquor store to grab some beer.  My beer pretension revealed itself, as they only carried Budweiser equivalent Canadian mass-brews.  I grabbed a six-pack and walked to the park overlooking the river.  I cracked a slightly cooled, fizzy yellow beer and reflected on the day.  The adventure really begins on the Cassiar, I thought to myself.  Then I remembered a road-trip to Alaska up the Cassiar I took with my parents and my brother, Kyle.  I wish they were here, too.  Then, I’d definitely never leave.
In 2008, my parents, my brother, and I took the trip of a life time–to the last frontier.  I was 25 and my brother, 21.  At the time of the trip, we were both going through difficult transitions in life.  We were trying to become men, differentiate ourselves from and confront our parents (especially our father), find meaning in life, and somewhat naively with a bit of narcissism, someone important.  The trek commenced with my brother, having partied all night with the Twang (his trusty group of 8 friends), still inebriated.  I took the wheel and headed west.
Having graduated from Louisville Seminary and looking for work, I had been hired by our great friends and Geneva Hill’s Angels motorcycle pilgrimage creators, John and Fay, to work a month as a counselor at Ross Point Camp and Conference Center in Post Falls, ID.  The motorcycle pilgrimages that my family took with them when I was young planted the seed that flourished into this project.  Kyle was to drop me off in Idaho and head to the Monastery of St John of San Francisco in Lassen, CA.  His devoted and eventually troubled relationship with Orthodox Christianity was at its most intense at the time.  My parents were going to fly out to California, meet up with Kyle, and pick me up in Idaho, and then head north.
Kyle and I encountered a midwest monsoon causing an I-70 closure in Indiana.  We took back roads down through Bloomington, into Kentucky and Tennessee, and on into Little Rock for the night.  Little did we know at the time, how this adventure would profoundly influence the trajectory of our lives.
I settled into my Hope hotel bed for the night.  I could hear rumblings in Terry’s room next door.  Did the Blue Jays win or lose? Whatever the cause of the ruckus, I drifted to sleep wishing I didn’t have to wait until the morning to get back on the bike.

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