EVERY WEEK, The Stranger receives thousands of press releases hyping events throughout the Northwest. Some of these events are thrilling, others are insignificant—and every once in a while comes that rare press release hyping an event to which we wouldn't send our worst enemy. Until now.
Are you Christian?" my guide, whom we'll call "Linda," asks first thing. "Linda" is a rotund Christian with eyes framed by lauglines and a solid handshake. She and I are standing in a partially constructed courtyard of the Bartimaeus cohousing community in Bremerton.
"I was raised in the Mormon faith," I say, "but the LDS are too liberal with their women."
"So you're Christian?" she persists, missing or deliberately ignoring my joke.
"Totally." I'm lying, but it's for a good cause: I really want a condo. I've been scouring the Seattle housing market for three months, with discouraging results. Seattle proper is expensive and I am poor. My editors ordered me to check out the Bartimaeus Christian cohousing community, because everyone knows that only addicts and the homeless choose to live with Christians, and only when they're a waltz away from death. Christians: better than death. Sometimes.
"Cienna, you can't become Christian just because you're cheap," my friend Natalie whispers to me. I disagree. I'm desperate, and thus, open-minded. If buying a decent house requires me to say "God bless you" when my neighbors sneeze instead of "Shut the fuck up," so be it. The only problem is, I have no idea what type of Christians I'm dealing with—tolerant folk who just happen to believe in God, or the batshit-crazy variety who spend their free time lobbying against progressive women's health care and protesting equal rights for gays. So I've dragged Natalie along to interpret for me because she was Christian once. Or perhaps she was just homeless. I can't recall.
"Ah! Here comes the rest of our group!" "Linda" calls as a car pulls into the near-empty lot. It seems that not one, but five people have come to welcome us to Bartimaeus. Our new guides are "John," his wife, and their two energetic young children. The family discovered Bartimaeus online and traveled from Kazakhstan (where they were doing missionary work) to join the community.
Bartimaeus is a 24-unit residence tucked up against a wilderness marsh. The community has been designed to have a low ecological impact to the area. Instead of roads, there are wide walking paths punctuated by soon-to-be grassy courtyards winding through the subdivision. A covered parking lot sits discreetly next to the community house, where families will gather on a weekly basis for communal meals and prayer. At the moment, the houses are only half-finished and the property is vacant. Only three Bartimaeus condos remain on the market, and one has been reserved to house a family that "needs help getting back on its feet." Several families are already lined up.
The condos we tour are spacious and lovely, with slate entryways and large covered porches. Every kitchen was designed with a view out onto the other condos, so I "will be able to watch my neighbors while cooking and doing dishes, and vice versa." I choose to find this quaint instead of creepy and intrusive. We tromp past the future site of a large community garden to the salmon stream winding around a corner of the property, while butterflies dance about our heads. I swear I see a unicorn through the trees. It winks at me.
"This marsh can never be developed," "Linda" tells me. "I want to put a bench down here for silent reflection and prayer."
"Amen," I say enthusiastically. I glance at Natalie, but can tell she isn't sharing my enthusiasm for Bartimaeus. I suspect the trip is giving her flashbacks of being Christian and/or homeless.
"I received my BA in history, but I felt that it was a lot more information than I needed to know," Natalie lies to the stay-at-home mom. "I like to be on a need-to-know basis." Unlike my lies, Natalie's are directionless and mean-spirited. Still, God aside, I could be happy in a place like this, especially since a two-bedroom condo is comparable to what most one bedrooms (with half the square footage) would cost on Capitol Hill.
"What sort of people are you looking to welcome into your community?" I ask. "You know, other than Christians. Any thoughts of mixing it up a bit?"
"We are primarily looking for young Christian couples," "Linda" reiterates. She turns a hairy eyeball on my left hand. "Vacancy!" trills my ring finger.
"I am pretty much engaged," I say vaguely, a little uncomfortable with her nosiness.
"Actually, Cienna was just telling me that she was a big ol' dyke back in the '80s," Natalie interrupts, "until she was old enough to learn it was a sin. Who's the lucky man, Cienna?"
"I was seven in the '80s," I snap back. It is the first truth I've uttered since becoming Christian.
"What does your almost-fiancé do for a living?" "Linda" asks me, ignoring our exchange. Either these Christians are the forgiving kind, or they're not big on math! Rejoice!
"My partner, Craig, works from home." Craig is my best friend and roommate. Acting straight is a party trick he reserves for his parents.
"How wonderful! You can both be stay-at-home parents!" "Linda" exclaims. "Do you want children?"
"Yes!" I say. "Millions!"
"Unfortunately, we only have two-bedroom units left," she tells me.
Natalie jumps into the conversational stream: "So 'Linda,' who isn't welcome in this community?"
"Everyone is welcome, but we first ask for a signed pledge to live by our Statement of Faith and Lifestyle."
Ah, fuck. They expect me to sign things. I'm a little offended that my word as a Christian isn't enough. The Statement of Faith and Lifestyle is thrust into my hands, along with an application and agreement form. It's long, so I skim.
We believe in the equality and dignity of men and women of all races, ages, and classes. Nothing wrong with that. We believe that a healthy community is based on mutually developed trust and accountability to one another rather than legalistic regulations that would stifle freedom and spontaneity. Agreed! We believe in obeying all laws concerning the use of drugs. Fuck. Never mind. We believe in the family, celibate singleness, and faithful heterosexual marriage as God's design.
I also believe in the family, but after growing up with three dads (thanks, Mom!), I believe that marriage is slightly less temporary than the flu. Neither Craig nor I believe in celibate singleness; the only celibacy in our household is tragically situational. Also, Craig is going to take issue with the whole heterosexual-as-God's-design gimmick. I wonder if we can bargain for gay sex on the weekends for the sake of my sham Christian marriage. The Christians can cinch their kitchen blinds if they don't like it.
We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice. I suspect this means they expect me to read it. I am disappointed. Why do I have to be Christian or homeless to find affordable housing? If I fraudulently sign this pledge, I will probably be bitch-slapped by God. Since I'm not into abusive relationships, I decide to cut my losses.
"I need to go home and pray hard on this for a bit," I lie. They completely understand.