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Journal 4
ROAD TO DAMASCUS-HYMN
TO THE STRANGE CLOCKWORK
OF THE UNIVERSE
Day 62 Grady to Bootleg
today:29 miles cumulative:1233

I have offended people with the sentence "…shackled to the couch of ignorance," from yesterday’s journal. Harsh words from an angry man. I am angry about what I saw in that church. Angry that it is happening all over the world.

I need, as I enter the "Bible Belt," to explain my position on Christianity, it is my position on all religions. In doing this I will surely offend many people that I have met and will meet in the coming months, many people that I consider my friends, people like Roddy, the pastor of this church that I am sleeping in, people like my grandmother, people like my entire hometown in Wyoming. I am not writing to make people happy, I am writing to get words out of my head to breathe, I WILL NOT EDIT MY THOUGHTS.
I have had my own vision on the road to Damascus.

Religion is a crutch, crutches are meant to help us walk, but at some point we have to try walking without them, running without them, dancing. Religion is something we are supposed to go beyond. "But if it comforts people and helps to establish some kind of morality, then what is wrong with it?" Because it is too easy, too cruel, too exclusive. Each is so exclusive that it damns all other ideas to hell, and if they are all damning each other, then heaven is empty. Each becomes so reliant on names and dates and numbers, all the things of man, and forgets the true godhead. We are willing to kill because we say God’s name differently, because we have the audacity to think we can name it better than others, to think that we can name it at all. Because we don’t like each other’s myths. Myths that are beautiful and are meant to be used as metaphor for our own journey as the hero. Myths that are not meant to be taken literally.

I will not lean on the names, I do not know Jesus. I do know god. I do not know Mohammed, but I know the one he met in that cave. I do not know the Buddha but I look for him every day in the mirror. I know god. I love god. And that is why it hurts me so much to see people confining god to one book. Like they can hold that infinite ocean in those pages and keep the rest of the world from writing it some other way. And to give god the pettiness of humans. To say "He," "wants, "needs," "expects." God does not want, need, or expect, any more than the sun or a saltshaker, or a fifth of bourbon needs. The attributes that we give that great power belittle it, they are human, they are petty. Think beyond the confines of our limited language and symbols. We live in the infinite but we are not willing to look further than 2 feet in front of us. No one name, no one book, no one practice. Gandhi said that he was comforted by the idea that there are no religions in heaven. If only it could be that way on the earth.

I damn dogma, not people. I don’t have a hell for you to go to. I will not preach an easy sermon, no formula, no names to recite in your bedtime prayers, no face but your own, and that’s the hard part. And even that is a mask for the unseen, unnamed, unknown. It does not stop in the mirror, it does not stop with any name or face, it is all faces, all names. No, your parents didn’t know what they were talking about, erase that old chalk board, but you can’t all the way because the chalk has been there for too many years and there will always be a trace, that tells you you are a sinner, that tells you to be ashamed, that tells you not to be free, that tells you to bow down to a name.

Open your mind, forget the rules, because the rules are weak and old and they are based on too many generations of crutches and couches and not enough questions. And yes we are all shackled to a couch of ignorance. I hate the idea of bowing down to a cross, to a statue, to any likeness. Idol worship. In the "Bible Belt," particularly, I believe that Jesus is being used as an idol not an ideal. It is easier to give everything up to some name or face or ritual than to take action your self, easier to let someone else carry your cross. Everyone here is focusing on Jesus instead of God, a drop of water in the ocean, YOU are a drop of water too, don’t lean on that name, and don’t spend your life leaning on others to lean on that name. Don’t tell Jared to bow down to Jesus, JARED IS JESUS.

I ask Roddy about all of these things at breakfast and he explains the whole design that god has as some kind of sick board game. And at the end of the conversation I see an image of a very twisted god who knows what will happen at the end of the game, and, according to Roddy and the church, knows who will be the unbelievers (the ones who do not worship Jesus) and lets them be anyway, giving them a chance to change even though he knows they will not, watching and wringing his hands waiting for the time when he can burn them all and lift rotting bodies of Christians from graves to set on his shelf like little toy soldiers and the strange part is that omnipotent one has created and allows to remain created, a figure called Satan, who he competes with for men and makes wagers with (God as a mass murderer in the story of Job), which makes him neither omnipotent nor compassionate, it makes him bored, and that sounds like the most childish story I have ever heard and a very sad god that I don’t want to know. "And what about all those kids in Nepal who don’t know what you are talking about Roddy?" That’s what missions are for is the response I get. Well, damn the missions, leave those kids alone. I am on an anti-mission.

Roddy, I shake your hand, I thank you for the meal, for opening your home to me, for the shower, for a night sheltered from cold north winds. I hug you. I love you, but I am afraid of what you are doing in the world.

I am afraid of what you will tell Jared, what Jared will tell his sons and daughters. Religious wars until the end of the world. Until we all kill each other.

OK, now we can all breathe again, I am leaving this place and we will talk about things that hurt a little less. Roddy called ahead to a place up the road called Bootleg. There will be a place for me to stay there. But first I will stall at the local store. The shelves are empty, one bottle of aspirin, pepto bysmol, rubbing alcohol, matched, refried beans, chips, instant coffee, nondairy creamer, lemon juice, sloppy-joe mix, animal cookies, jiffy pop, beef bullion cubes, earthworms, and chocolate milk. Brandy, the girl behind the counter wants me to be sure to write down that they also have fresh pickles and a gumball machine. Brandy says she’s been to jail a few times, "…but just overnight, I’m not wanted or anything. Got put in a hospital once." She says she’s just hiding out from people for awhile, she’s been here for 2 years. Her sister Cody and her niece Chloe walk in and Cody wants to talk. She likes to write but she doesn’t know what she wants to say. "Who am I supposed to be?" she asks me. That’s a good title, a good question. A hard question. She tells me about the man who left during her 3rd pregnancy. "He changed, he’s not the same anymore, he’s not perfect anymore." She is almost pleading. "Why?" We all want to know why. Why does it have to be like this, people hurting each other and giving up and no money for another kid and everyone is afraid. How will we pay the bills? How will this end? Will he change again? Will love come again? Will I be strong enough? Are these questions hers or mine. Or yours. Universal questions, universal suffering, I need road music to save my soul today.

On the side of the road. 5 miles out a girl stops her car, she wants a picture of me. We talk on the shoulder of the road. And then I realize that this girl with her white flowered shirt sitting with me in the grass is beautiful and she says "y’all" and I begin to take photographs of her. But the film won’t stop winding and I know something is wrong. The film never caught, and the photos of Cody and Chloe and Brandy did not take and I am not happy about that. This has never happened to me before. The pretty girl’s name is Becca. Becca offers to take me back to town to take more photos and bring me back. But the back of her car is full so we duct tape the flaming chariot to the bumper. Questionable. Now we have more time to talk. She was not supposed to be on this road, she took some wrong turns and turned around a few times and she wasn’t sure why she turned around, and now we are both sure why. If my film would have caught I would have kept walking. Strange clockwork of the universe.

And sitting there we have found some connection and now the maps are out and now I am changing my route to walk though Arkansas, because that is where the pretty girl who says "y’all" is from. It is done. And I think for a second of all the people I will not meet on Highway 60 and of all the people I will now meet on highway 9. One meeting changes hundreds of others and hundred of others and hundreds of others, affecting my whole life, affecting the whole word, affecting the future of man, because every thought and action echoes in eternity. And a little kiss goodbye means one more barrier down between two people, and I wish all people kissed each other. I wish I could kiss every woman and hug every man without them cringing and making it some limited gesture of sex or attraction, just let it be a gesture of two humans who know what it is to be human, to hurt the same, to love the same, to be afraid, to know great joy, to seek the same answers to the questions that Cody has, the questions I have, the questions you have.

A kiss is a dance. Dance more.

And as she drives away I play on my harmonica a hymn to the strange clockwork of the universe for bringing us together, for changing my path, for new ripples in this still ocean building to the waves and hurricanes hopefully enough to stir the deep and bring those waters to the surface. Because even though I am the ocean I cannot always find deep waters. I need the storms to help them surface. A hymn to the strange clockwork of the universe. Quiet still walking night, flat panhandle cold clear sky, moon getting full, walking fast and no cars at all, and I stop to ask where bootleg is, the lights from houses I can see for 5 miles and it takes so long to get here, but then I am here and it doesn’t matter. Time is so slow until its over and then it is like it never happened. Time is not real. I do not believe in time.

Bootleg is an intersection, not a town. A man leans out the door of a small rectangular house. "Am I at the right place?" I ask. "Yep. You eat yet?" "No." "Come on in, my wife made you a hamburger." The man’s name is Jess, simple, and kind, we talk about fishing. He tells me about his best fishing trips. How big the Sturgeon in the Northwest are, and the Salmon, and about some old boy he used to fish with on Texas lakes. We talk about the weather but then we talk about fishing again. I eat a big hamburger patty between two slices of white bread, and then we eat Oreos and milk. All Jess wants to do when he retires is fish. Good fishin’ up in the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming I tell him. I do my best but I have no good fishing stories. I have fished on a few boats and drank a few beers but I have no trophies. I think it does not matter though, we both like the idea of just sitting out on a boat fishing and drinking beer, big fish or no. Quiet. I think we both want that, and that is enough for us to have a conversation about fishing. Jess lives at the county intersection, by the county barn, in a county house. Deaf Smith County. He sets up a cot in the Deaf Smith County barn next to a propane heater. "She’s all yours." A full stomach, a warm place to sleep, pretty girl today and Jess and Roddy and Cody, feet feel good, life feels good.