The Elegance of Cross-Country Train Travel–Oh the People You will Meet!

In my lifetime I must have crossed the USA at least 20 times, and always by air, that was of course until last week when I boarded the train in Harrisburg, PA and headed west to Southern California.

What is particularly elegant about this form of travel is that one can stop along the way. On my first day I had a four hour layover in Pittsburgh where I had dinner with a local queer environmental activist named Ellie. Then off to Chicago for two and half days. Next it was off to Albuquerque for exactly 24 hours. Finally I arrived at Los Angeles’ Union Station.

In the Windy City (which was really mostly rainy) I presented once again at Chicago Theological Seminary for an event sponsored by McCormick Seminary. I also explored John chapter 11 through theater and movement for McCormick’s weekly chapel service. I then performed Transfigurations at the LGBTQ Center on Halsted.

While in Chicago I met up with people I knew from previous trips and also got to meet new folks, including the team that works for the Marin Foundation. I met Andrew Marin almost two years ago at the Wild Goose Festival, where I grilled him about his work and his role as a straight Evangelical man taking on LGBT issues. It came at a time when I felt much frustration over straight male Evangelical leaders still stuck on the fence about justice for LGBTQ people. To me it seemed there was a whole tribe of Christian leaders who privately supported queer folk but publicly maintained an uncommitted stance as they travelled around the world, darlings of the Emergent Church set and traditional Evangelical space. They seem to directly benefit from their unwillingness to take a stand.

At the time Andrew Marin defended himself and his work adding, “You need to come to Chicago and meet the people there and see for yourself what we are doing.” So at last I did, and I am impressed. Andrew Marin has gathered around him a smart, diverse, and passionate group of people working with him to bring about dialogue with Evangelicals around LGBTQ issue. From what I can see they do good work and have ambition plans to do more. As I sat and listened to each of them talk, got to know Andrew’s wife, Brenda, saw how they worked together, how they listened to each other, and how they revealed their knowledge around the issues, I felt grateful that this work is being done. There is so much work to do in engaging the church in an effective dialogue around LGBTQ issues. We need more people stepping up and doing it.

From Chicago I took the train overnight to Albuquerque. Since each of my jaunts from place to place are over 12 hours, the train becomes a rolling community with people talking to each other, sharing their stories, exchanging travel tips, and sitting for meals together. I got to meet Susan and Owen, senior citizens from Michigan who attend a United Church of Christ congregation. I also bumped into Davey, someone I met when he was a student at Warren Wilson College. He especially remembered my Transfigurations play. In the Observation car with sweeping views of New Mexican landscape Davey taught me how to play Scrabble. What an awful game! (Sorry Scrabble fans; it’s just NOT how I work with words.) I met Bill, an American living and teaching in Korean,and I met Manuel, an Italian young man who just spent a year working on a farm in Australia.

The number one topic of conversation on the train was the weather, well really the many changes we are seeing on the planet with the climate. From Chicago we travelled west through floods until we rolled through Western Illinois and began to see the effects of the recent and growing drought eating up the Southwest and now large parts of the Midwest. While the country was gripped with the events in Boston, we crossed the country witnessing the unfolding tragedies on the land and in the lives around us all over the country and beyond.

In Albuquerque I performed at a Sufi worship center and spent time with Gwen and Jacob who showed me around town and stuffed me full of New Mexican Cuisine. I happened to be in town for the annual Founders’ Day Celebration, which took place in Old Town with lavish multicultural performances and more food.

Then on the overnight train to LA I met a man from Flagstaff, an Evangelical Christian with a open mind about LGBTQ issues. He was fascinated by my gender non-conforming Bible characters and my ex-gay past, since he has a friend who has struggled with coming out for years. Possibly I will meet up with him next week when I meet up with a dear friend, Abigail, who will drive up and spend the dayj.

While sitting up late one night with Brenda and Andrew Marin, I reflected that we live in the richest country in the world with so much access to social media and technology but so often we are totally impoverish with actual relationships. So many people are lonely and alone. I may have travelled cross-country alone, but I didn’t have the chance to be lonely. Even in the Starbucks as I waiting for my friend Worthie (aka Momma) to pick me up, I met Ken, a delightful man who is a potter and was so full of life at 7 in the morning when I was barely awake.

I’ll be in Claremont, CA area all this week. Next week I get back on the train and will see folks in Flagstaff, Wichita and Manhattan, KS, Kansas City, MO, and finally Akron and Cleveland, OH. Enjoy the pics from the trip.

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This post has 3 Comments

  1. Staśa on April 23, 2013 at 11:34 am Reply

    Oh, Peterson, this is lovely, and these pics are lovely, too. Thank you.

  2. Cheryl on April 23, 2013 at 11:58 am Reply

    What an adventure, both fun and productive. Still need to do lunch…whenever you have time!

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