It took awhile for me to mobilize after sleeping so long, but after some cold instant coffee…a disgusting Todd Staple… I packed up and mentally steeled myself for a day likely spent sitting on my butt at the same gas station unable to get out of Asheboro. The on-ramp was no good because of North Carolina’s aversion to shoulders.
I climbed out of the palmettos, or whatever they were, and walked back to the gas station, to the wonderment of Saturday’s traffic. I’ve never grown tired of the looks of amazement when people see me walking places usually reserved for cars. I bought some real coffee, sat down where the driveway and road met--far enough back so as not to attract unwanted attention from Rosco, Cooter or the rest of Boss Hogg’s Band of Merry Morons.
I put on the headphones and there I sat for most of the day. There was an occasional trip inside for coffee, water, and cigarettes, but the day was playing out as expected. It was hot too; low 90’s with the sun blazing, but somewhere along the way I had come to enjoy sitting in the sun. Thankfully, I had brought my old stupid looking army surplus Desert Storm hat so my baldhead was not scorching.
The thought began to occur that I should consider alternate routes out of Asheboro and toward the coast. I had time to study the atlas, and began tinkering with the idea of going SOUTH on US-220/I-74. The Outer Banks had long lost its charm and, honestly, I couldn't have cared less about WHERE I stuck my damn foot in the damn Atlantic anymore! The trouble with rolling south from Asheboro was that it would take me into one of the most rural parts of North Carolina and, since I was feeling like the Happy Hitcher, that did not appeal.
It was then that I learned that there was ‘old’ US-220 running parallel to 220 back north to Greensboro. This road would take me directly back into Randleman and toward I-40 if I wanted to walk. Had I sat much longer, that is exactly what I would have done.
Hurricane Fay was something to consider as well. The weather forecasts were for a great deal of rain from yet another system on Monday and there was talk that Fay could make her slow-moving way into the Carolinas after she made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Insanely perhaps, this motivated me to get there! I still have an unnatural urge to ride out a hurricane and would definitely do a tropical storm in a good tent or a bivy. Just to do it. There was still too much uncertainty about the track of the storm but it would be hard to ride out a tropical storm hitting the coast sitting in ASHEBORO!
As the day wore on, I was content either waiting for a ride or walking. It did not really matter to me and at about 3:30, as I was preparing to hoof it, a red pickup truck pulled up next to me and asked if I was hungry.
Most of the time when people asked if I needed money or food, it depended on the situation as to whether I would accept. My ride from Winston-Salem to Greensboro asked if I needed cash and I politely turned it down because, well, I really didn't and I hoped that would help to kill the freeloader stereotype in some small way. When Skeeter asked, (I’m not joking this time! That was his name! Cooter's cousin?) I was on the verge of saying no again but when he said that there was a barbeque going on and that they would have no problem with me joining I decided to accept. I needed real human interaction and this seemed like a possible gateway to adventure. Besides, it beat talking to the phone booth. One I'd already named Phil.
As we were leaving, Skeeter looked at me and asked if I was homeless. This took me slightly aback, because NEVER had anyone asked up to this point. "Nope", I said wondering if I smelled like pee. He then gave me a look I will never forget. Either disappointment or anger! He actually hoped I WAS homeless! It would make perfect sense two minutes later. Skeeter asked me where I was headed. When I answered, "anywhere along the coast", he added that there were a lot of people who had come in from the coast for this ‘cookout’ and that I may be able to find a lift with one of them. I would later learn that to be a crock but, for now, this looked promising.
Skeeter (I love that name) pulled into a parking lot loaded with Harleys. There was a band onstage playing different versions of 'Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door', a dunk tank, lots of tables, and dozens of people milling about.
It immediately became clear why Skeeter had stopped & why he was so disappointed I had a home: It was a church gathering. He was hoping to bring a hungry stray to the flock so they could feed and then save him!
I dropped my backpack beneath a tree and, oddly, felt like I was doing a remote broadcast for a radio station. The moment the station arrives, if there is a crowd gathered they fawn over whomever exits the vehicle.
Several of the parishioners went out of their way to introduce themselves and welcome me asking where I was headed and where I’d come from. When I told them I was from New Mexico, had gone up the Pacific Coast, hopped a freight train, then hitchhiked from Idaho, they, to a man, returned a look of horror!
“Man, you’s gots ta be careful out there! There’s some crazies who will kills ya! Weren’t you worried ‘bout that?”
These were Christians. Obviously very devoted to their religion, the word of ‘God’, Jesus; Peace on (White) Earth. All that. Yet they were utterly terrified of people. I was mildly surprised as to the extent, but not completely. This fed into my views of religion up to this point: that it encourages fear of the unknown thereby instilling a system of control, and perpetuates its own existence by providing conditional charity.
Yes kids, a church gathering was an odd place for me to be.
I took advantage of the food and grabbed a few hot dogs, coleslaw, and cokes. "It was nice to eat warm food again as I mingled around trying to get a better gauge on this odd group of people. They seemed nice, polite, and very respectful but my initial fears were legit: that this little Christian biker mob was going to take turns violating me with their engorged personal testimonies in hopes one would inseminate me with Jesus. A few did mention their faith, but none tried to explore my spiritual leanings. Rest assured though, I was waiting for it, and plotting how to handle it if and when it came up.
The characters at this gathering made this the most interesting collection of people I have seen at any church. (Not that I've seen all that many.) There were reformed bikers, recent parolees, recovering addicts, teenagers, young children, and ordinary people. "Like any respectable cult!", I said to myself. All interacting normally and talking about Jesus. There was an inordinate amount of “Amen’s” and “Praise God’s”, even for the setting. Several of them invited me to come to the service Sunday morning, and I replied that I just might if I was still (stuck) in town.
I also noticed something that astonished me considering the diversity: more blatant racism. Remember Titus & Stephen? Professing their belief in the word of God, but screaming, “take that nigger to jail!” in the next sentence? There was some of that, though not as extreme, and I slowly realized that everyone there was white. There were no hispanics nor blacks despite the high percentage in the area. Several in the congregation gave no thought to expressing their negative opinions of minorities. The religious hypocrisy was staggering in its irony.
We had arrived toward the end of the BBQ, so I helped tear down and prepared to leave. I then learned that there was another gathering that night, up the road in Randleman, and they invited me to stop in if I got up that way. I had become very interested in this little group. I wanted to see more to learn how they reconciled their racism and xenophobia with Jesus! Plus, the idea of more free food sounded good and I still hoped I would snag a significant ride.
I was getting ready to hike off when Pat, the Asheboro pastor, offered me a ride a ways up 220 toward Randleman. I rode in the back of his pickup until he dropped me off on Old 220, which was fine with me. I was probably 7-9 miles further north, closer to Randleman, and finally out of Asheboro.
Here, I got the first sales pitch. He asked me where I “stood with Jesus”. Not wanting to engage in a Holy War in a gas station parking lot, yet feeling confidently combative enough to serve notice that I was not a potential ‘stray sheep’, I told him that we “define things much differently, have different views, but are on the same team.”
I could see the wheels of religious intolerance whirling. He was not going to be content with anything except, “I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal Savior!” I managed to short-circuit the forthcoming sermon by simply saying I did not want to discuss theological philosophy with a pastor, but that I would try to get into Randleman later that evening where we could chat. That did not satisfy him. But, what could he do? He gave me directions, offered me money (which I declined) and we parted ways.
“What an interesting afternoon!” I thought as I walked into the gas station to ask for water (nope!) and get some cheapo cigarettes. I took a quick hose shower to cool off and prepared for the hike to Randleman.
It was now about 5:30 and, while the sun was dropping, it was still in the muggy upper 80’s. I started north down Old 220 thinking I was in another town I had missed on the map. I was frustrated to learn that I was not even out of Asheboro! This was NORTH Asheboro! This befuddled me because now I had no gauge as to how far it was to Randleman. It could be as close as seven or as far as 15-20 miles.
No. It never occurred to me to just stop to ask.
The walk was sweatily exhilarating! I stopped regularly to rest, drink lots of water, and just watch the world around me. “This is SO much better than sitting by the highway!”, I thought to myself. I saw a water tower in the distance after walking a couple of miles but was not sure if it belonged to Randleman or “Way North Asheboro”! I held my hopes in check until getting close enough to read it an hour or two later: it was indeed Randleman.
There was a Dollar Store and Goodwill at a strip mall on the south end of town. I was getting pretty tired after walking close to 8-miles, plus my soft feet were blistering, so I stopped at Goodwill and occupied their bench contemplating the worthwhileness of continuing on to the church. Here I met a couple of very nice women, who took pity on me and my piss- warm water with ice-water from the employee lounge. They also warned me not to drink the water in Randleman; “something about the pipes has been making people sick”. They said Randleman’s ‘downtown’ was only another mile, so on I went keeping an eye out for places to camp in case Pat's directions were inaccurate: “Go to the fourth light, and, well… you’ll see where it is.”
The fourth light came; I saw where it was. I was also glad to see that “HIS Place” was by an intersection of a road leading to US-220 where there was bound to be an on-ramp for camping.
It was still before 9 as I joyfully bounded inside knowing there was food to be had. I saw several familiar, smiling faces all warmly welcoming me and asking if I had walked from Asheboro.
This group had a different feel than Asheboro's. More families. More couples. More cheerful. Fewer bikers. Maybe they had partaken in the wine before I had gotten there? Or, perhaps it was the fact that I had been walking that put me in better spirits. I'll let you decide, but regardless: I was smitten with Randleman. I mingled for a bit before helping myself to hamburgers and fries—inhaling them after walking off the hot dogs several miles back. As I was eating, a gentleman who looked to be about 60 came over to chat.
Will wass originally from Michigan and had traveled the country the same ways I was. Will had walked and hitchhiked, but said, regretfully, that he never had the nerve to hop a train. He was one of the few people I had met here who were not convinced that everyone in the world was a murderer-in-waiting. He was also (coincidentally?) one of the few that had gotten out there to see it for himself. I wanted to chat more with him, but the pastor had interrupted the band to remind everyone that they were still in church, and that they should probably do some churchin’.
I really did not want to sit through this!
But, I settled in out of respect for the fact that they had welcomed me in and given me food. Twice. The least I could do was listen to what he had to say in hopes of maybe learning what bound this unique, diverse group together.
The pastor was a rough looking leather-clad biker type who clearly had not always ‘turned the other cheek’. And, looked like he could still “open the can” if needed. A regret I have is that I can't remember his name. Therefore, for the sake of the story I hereby dub him “Snake”. Pastor Snake. Nice.
Snake had an oratory gift and it was immediately apparent that this was not going to be the typical snoozer sermon. He began by criticizing “most Christians”. He condemned one of the things that irritate me most: loaded charity. Offering help only out of self-preservation & interest. Either as part of the Crusade or, as it pertains to my longstanding annoyance: because it will increase their standing with God! He verbalized it perfectly, bluntly, and to my amazement, with refreshingly appropriate anger! He pointed out that charity borne from self-interest is not charity at all; it is closer to a business arrangement: “I will help you only if it helps me!” To me, this has always stunk of the height of religious arrogance, hypocrisy, and deceit. Yet, not it’s only example.
Snake’s sermon then went on to topics that astounded and tingled my sense of synchronicity. He began to speak about several things I have been writing about since Ft. Morgan, and the things that Chris and I spent hours discussing in Denver. The “Splinter in the Mind”. Synchronicity. Self- doubt. And, amazingly enough, ignoring the institutionally-implanted idea that your life is expected to follow the course laid out for you by society.
All of this?
Are you kidding?
It occurred to me that the excuse I had offered Pat in Asheboro, that “we define things differently”, may have been closer to truth than I had thought. Snake uses the term “Calling” for what I term, from the Bhagavad Gita (and The Moody Blues!) “The Voice”. He seems to believe, as do I, that everyone has this voice somewhere, but not everyone hears, or listens, to it. I have termed that being “tuned in”. The catalyst that enables most of us to “tune in” is that “Splinter in the Mind” that just will not go away, forcing us to listen to that "Voice"; the tuning process.
He also dove into one of my themes: self-doubt. He took an angle on this that, while a bit dogmatic for me, I was able to fit in to my own experience. According to Snake, if you are following a “calling” and are experiencing crippling self-doubt, it is "Satan" striving to knock you off course. He went on to offer that it is arrogant to believe that your own feelings of personal doubt in any way supersede "God's Purpose for You"; that if you’re following God’s Calling there is no way doubt should ever be a factor; God would never put you on a path you cannot complete. In Snake's eyes, believing that intellect (logic) and emotion are more accurate or reliable barometers than "the calling" is absurd. In fact, it's egocentric arrogance.
He slightly lost me with his Satan reference. Nevertheless, is it a stretch to make the connection that, usually, self-doubt is NOT something that originates within? Is not self-doubt, and by extension fear, usually the voice of society, 'education', indoctrination, a critical parent, teacher, or friends? Or, even your own? In my experience: absolutely. How often can you really trace the nexus of fear and doubt back to something that authentically originates within? Not often, provided you have the courage to dig deep enough. Careful! That will bake your noodle if you let it.
One point where Snake and I have diverging views, as I do with most theologians and 12-steppers, is the view that people should NOT take responsibility for, and trust, themselves. Snake believes that having faith in yourself is folly, when all you have to trust in is God!
This thinking blew me out of AA (back in the day) because it prevents people from taking responsibility and control of their own lives. “I’m powerless! Help me!” “If I’m bad it must be Satan! If I’m good it must be God!” Externalizing both the good and bad in humanity, and ourselves. Suggesting that people are puppets simply here to have our "strings pulled" is a convenient thought to instill if you wish to eliminate critical thought and individuality. It collectively stunts intellectual (and spiritual) growth. It also eliminates the idea that each person is capable of not just critical, but original thought AND action; that we are capable of more than just having other people’s ideas and doctrine spray painted on our mind’s wall. When they mess up and come up with something successfully innovative, "God spoke to him!" If it fails? Gotta be that pesky Satan again!
I've said this before, but this is another of my major irritants: people assuming they are “educated” or “witty” because they can parrot someone else's material, but vapor locking when they are challenged to explain it or add something of their own in their own words. Looking at you, Moonbeam.
Externalization forces people’s ideas to be formed primarily by the status quo rather than teaching us to formulate our own as we go. Original ideas that are developed primarily independent of the standard, failed, intellectual fare, then seeking out the thinkers, philosophers-- even religions-- that suit our developing, distinct appetites.
Reading is great. Thinking is better.
Combining both (not in that order) to develop your own, original, philosophy is best. Blaze your own trail if you must; that is the essence of individualism.
Yet, in an odd way Snake also challenged each of these parishioners to challenge the status quo as it pertains to social expectations, saying that The Machine will indeed try to stop you from following your “calling”; silence the “voice”. Did he mean, by verbal connect-the-dots, that The Machine is Satan? There are examples of this sabotage everywhere; some are institutional and some a bit more subtle. I call it the “Ministry of Standards & Practices”. Maybe I'll post that rant here. Someday.
Finally, and most interestingly to me, were his thoughts on Synchronicity. He described it as “God sending angels out ahead of you to prepare the path", as long as you are on the prescribed trail. If you are following your calling you will not starve. Snake and I-–and many others—are in complete agreement on this, and as far as I can tell, the ‘nuts & bolts’ and the ‘how’ are irrelevant. He takes the same viewpoint on adversity met along the path as many others have: obstacles to be overcome and challenges which strengthen and teach us. For people on my end of the metaphysical spectrum: "experiences". Life to be lived. Easy to talk about; hard to practice.
Now, I have no opinion on the existence of angels! However, I have experienced these synchronistic things repeatedly; so have Chris and innumerable others. Those who tell logic and the accepted “method” to go to Hell, and just ‘do it’. We quickly discovered that things just ‘happen’ at just the right times and in the just right way--even if we cannot see it immediately. This is Synchronicity. It exists, even if I cannot explain how or why! I can also tell you, and Chris and others will back this up, that you cannot simply lean and rely on it!
You will not become Synchronicity’s Welfare Mother. Or, turn Karma or the Universe into your bitch. (That expanded theme would return, in force, a year later.)
You have to meet it at least half way. If you believe that sitting in your house, waiting for Leonard Cohen’s "Miracle to Come" is going to trigger Enlightenment and put you on that path, take it from me: you will wake up one day wondering how Pink Floyd’s “ten years got behind you” and asking why “no one told you when to run.” “You missed the starting gun” because WE are the ones who fire it. Or, you will find yourself stuck on the proverbial (or real!) lonely exit ramp. Trust me!
This was a powerfully unconventional 45-minute sermon, and lest ye be worried, I have not been converted. The sermon left me, despite the volumes written above, more convinced and certain about my previous stance on religion. What disturbs me is that I had missed these parallel ideas out of ignorance. Ignorance about the specifics in the Bible; which I have avoided like Herpes. The ideas appeal to me; made me realize that on some level we are all speaking the same but differently-coded language.
The final stroke of lightning came shortly after Snake’s sermon when Will and I resumed our conversation. I felt comfortable enough with him to divulge a bit more about my ideas and experience and, of course, he repeated Pat’s question about where I “stood with Jesus”. I told him the same thing, that we are on the same team but define and view things much differently.
To my astonishment, rather than try to argue, or save me, I caught him slyly smiling and nodding his head. “What?!? Are you actually agreeing with me?” He knew exactly what I was getting at and, rather than argue for me to ‘get on board’, he continued asking about the trip and how I had gotten to be in Randleman. He asked about what triggered my traveling in the first place and when I used the “Splinter in the Mind” phrase, and quickly encapsulated the last four years, he looked astounded. He was convinced that I was ‘called’. If by “called” he meant that I couldn’t help what I was doing and that I was simply following my own steps toward singularity in mind, body, and ‘soul’, then yes, I agreed: I was called.
I was NOT however acknowledging anything beyond that. I would offer that I had seen and experienced many things, had compared my experiences with those of others to be sure that I was not nuts (self-doubt), had challenged my own ideas whenever I could and, instead of coming out dejected and beaten, my ideas have only expanded. They've found new avenues to travel and expand themselves. Ideas like an appreciation for the ideas behind, but institutional disgust for, religion.
Then Will pointed out something that stunned me in my ignorance. He just smiled and said, “Todd, do you realize Jesus Christ was NOT religious? He despised organized religion! He called them “fornicators” because they were *whispering* screwing the word of God!” Screwing, manipulating, and bastardizing truth for profit, control, and power. Of course, I did NOT know that. But, that made perfect sense. I would expect Jesus to despise organized religion, or else I'd discount everything he had to say!
I am now rather interested in this aspect of Christ. How much and why, exactly, did he despise organized religion? And, why is that so conveniently ignored? Or, should I get out more?!
I then remembered my Muslim ride, “Z”, telling me that one of the four lines attributed to Mohammad in the Koran is something akin to “live your life as a traveler”. This piqued my interest in the fact that Christ, Mohammad, and Buddha all have ‘wandering’ as a theme.
Despite this experience, it is obvious to me that hypocrisy remains deeply entrenched throughout organized religion. The fact that they use "God" as a weapon to control thought and action while instilling, and then manipulating, fear is unavoidable fact. And so are the obscene, tax-free profits many evangelicals pull in.
“God’s watching you, keeping score!” “Do what we say, or you’re going to HELL! By the way, my flock, God spoke to me and told me to provide bigger tits for Tammey Faye. Pony Up, and let's buy bigger boobs! For JESUS!”
Further, take a gander at Focus on the Family or any of the other douchbags blaming Katrina on gays, or whatever group they hate this week, just so you will vote Republican! Many people are taking that gander. Religion is experiencing a Vietnam-like recruiting crisis with more and more choosing "Spiritual But Not Religious" as their denomination.
When it comes to a ‘relationship with God’, I like Ramtha’s analogy at the end of “What the Bleep Do We Know?” (paraphrase): "to think that one little speck in some remote corner, of a remote galaxy, in a remote corner of infinity, could do something that offends God? THAT is the height of human arrogance." I suspect that there are many more, and we probably make up the real "silent majority."
Will offered to let me help him on a roofing job the following week and when he learned about my radio experience, almost shrieked with joy. He is organizing a “Christian Woodstock” in North Carolina and needs help getting the stream online. Ultimately, I turned down the roofing job offer but said I would definitely consider returning to help with the show. And meant it.
I took a picture of some of those still left at HIS Place and as I rode out of town toward US-220 with Will, the intellectual enormity had yet to settle about what I had just experienced. There was intensity to be sure, but the thoughts and ideas were no more than implants on that Saturday night. It would take almost two weeks to processed them properly, if only partially. (Thus the delay!)
Will dropped me at the ramp to 220 again. I was again unmotivated to walk, even after everything that had happened; choosing to simply revert to habit! The night however was NOT quite over. But, since I am over 4,600 pre-edited words already, you will have to wait for this little Dukes of Hazard scene.
4,600 is about the length of Obama’s acceptance speech, so kudos if you have made it all the way through; writing it was quite an intense non-stop 6 1/2 hours!
My hands hurt.