I am a native Greshamite. My wife and I both grew up in and around Gresham. I loved my home town. From the time I was very little, I was drawing maps of it and memorizing every little spot on every street.
When I was about 19 years old, I scheduled an appointment with the mayor and met with her in her office. Though I had recently dropped out of Gresham High School and was, by all external measurements, not worth a darn, I told her I wanted to have her job someday. She was kind and gave me some good advice and information (e.g. the mayoral position was unpaid!). At the time, I was a proud GCE (God and Country Evangelical) and had dreams of making Gresham nationally famous for patriotism of the GCE sort.
Much has changed. I have not lived in Gresham for many years. And I am very much against the idolatry of the GCE spirit, preferring rather to ground my citizenship in the kingdom of God. But my love for Gresham has not changed. And my yearning to return there gets stronger and stronger all the time.
It is quite a different dream now, though. Gresham is not the suburban retreat it was when I was a kid. Much of it is now more of a rough suburbia. The Rockwood area, a strip of land between Portland and Gresham proper, was annexed by Gresham some twenty-five years ago and is now considered a “sketchy” part of town. The Gresham Police are kept pretty busy dealing with crimes there. Most of Gresham has become less attractive to American dreamers (white picket fence, RV pad next to the house, etc.). Many people, when they hear of our family’s desire to get back to our Gresham roots, think we are crazy. One friend actually found a Lion King meme making fun of Gresham and posted it on Facebook to make his point.
That’s okay. We like Gresham now more than ever. We have no desire to live in the more gentrified parts of town. Our desire is to “enjoy the company of ordinary people” (Romans 12:16, NLT).
In the last couple of years, Gresham has become famous for something else. In fact, something happened a couple of years ago in the heart of Gresham, just a block away from the apartments where my wife and I met.
A woman went into a bakery owned by a Christian couple and ordered a wedding cake for her “same-sex wedding.” The owners explained that, because of their beliefs, they couldn’t participate by making a cake for such a “wedding.” What has ensued has been a major battle in the courts and the culture wars. It has made national—and, I’m told, international—news. The owners of the bakery had to shut down their business and the Oregon Labor Commissioner has ruled that the bakery owners must pay the homosexual couple $135,000 in damages (emotional distress, etc.). For those in the “same-sex marriage” camp, this has become a sort of Rosa Parks story. For GCEs, it signals the plunge over the cliff of an American society which has abandoned its Christian roots. (My own perspective is different from both of these, but that will have to wait for another post.)
This is my home town. It may be a very challenging place to live for the Lord. But if He calls us there—and it seems very much that He is doing so—we will go. It is where my family and I want to be. If He lets us return there, we will serve Him and seek the shalom of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).