Day 69 Friday, September 16 Gold Beach to Bandon, OR 55 miles
I fell asleep after dinner tonight and awoke in one of those “What time is it and where am I” types of hazes. I knew as I was riding today that I was pushing my body to its capacity. With home beginning to pull me forward with a little greater determination I hadn’t realized that I had ridden six days straight. I felt like I just left Kelseyville a couple of days ago yet it was already the sixth day of riding since then. Even last night I was toying with the idea of taking a rest day in Bandon before planning my final few days back into Portland. It wasn’t long after my arrival that I knew I needed to wake up in the morning with the luxury of riding casually along the beach or choosing not to ride at all. With permission to slow it down seeping into my bones, I just laid down “for a moment” on the bed and that was that!
With each stage of this pilgrimage unfolding I am amazed at how the picture of what this is about comes into focus one piece and one day at a time. I definitely had my “Eureka moment” three days ago. I felt it, but was a little nervous about giving it too much credibility until the feelings and the themes remained consistent for a few more days. As I wrote previously, I am discovering this pilgrimage is really about helping me discern my call. Today I spent much of my time reflecting on this breakthrough about feeling trapped and my realization that it need not be that way. I was reminded of why I began to study religion passionately in the first place and what drew me to the place in the pulpit.
I was first moved in college by reading Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society followed by his two volume work on The Nature and Destiny of Man. Neibuhr was a theologian who had a tremendous impact on the public policy of his time offering a theological critique and basis for addressing Nazism, communism, and the role of democracy in societies. He challenged religious conservatives for their narrow view of the Bible and religious liberals for their naïve idealism about the world. My reading of Neibuhr was then followed by a year’s worth of honor’s research on the Protestant response to the Holocaust and was moved by the faith of Deitrich Bonhoeffer who was jailed and hung for his failed assassination attempt on Hitler. I read some of Gandhi’s work and his use of spiritual principles to bring independence to India from Britain. In seminary I followed this with a study of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches and writings and his brilliant oratory that was compelled by his religious convictions in his calling on America fulfill her own proclaimed values for freedom and liberty.
This is why I became a preacher and pastor. I believe in the power of our theological convictions to change, transform and call our society to a higher standard, more compassionate politics, and a truer reflection of our deepest humanity. I have never felt that honoring the separation of church and state means we must divorce our faith from our politics. How could I ever separate my conviction that America should have universal health care from my religious belief that “I am my brother’s keeper” and that Jesus life was about healing the whole person—body, mind and soul? I was both shaped and inspired by the passion, the intellect, and faith of these and many other figures in our history who had a powerful impact on society because of their religious faith. Some say that religion has been the source of some of the world’s most destructive eras. True. Religion has also been the source of some of the most profound movements toward transformation, compassion, and freedom.
I am feeling some relief and greater clarity as I am sorting out what happened at my “Eureka moment”. I don’t completely understand how I let myself get there, but somehow over the years I began focusing more on the survival of our religious institutions and the barriers that have kept us from connecting with the culture around us. I have tried to act as a bridge between our rich tradition and emerging spiritual forms and structures. I have often felt caught in a “no man’s land” between the two never quite feeling like I fully belong to either community. Without being aware of what I was doing, I think I have been trying to protect the one place where the great religious social reformers still had a voice—in the church and our worshiping communities. In this new time, religious commentary is not only ignored in the public square but often considered inappropriate or offensive.
But, I believe that good theology has as much of a place, as much of a voice, and as much validity in the public square as good psychology, good sociology, and good political ideology. Good theology sprouts good ethics and good ethics keeps science directed toward goals that enhance life rather destroy life.
As I am writing, the big issue I began with ten weeks ago was how to heal the spiritual schizophrenia I have felt for so many years. This false dualism is beginning to shed its ugly skin. The truth of the matter is there is a split in our communities between the religiously faithful and the “spiritual but not religious”. I have felt it for years and this pilgrimage and my conversations only confirmed how difficult it is for these two groups to talk and come to a common table. But, my own split personality (I use that term loosely, not clinically!) is the result of trying to figure out just where my theologically-informed voice really fits. Traditionally it has fit in the pulpit, but I am frustrated that the pulpit has become a place to talk specifically to the church while I feel called to speak to the larger society. Yet, in our current climate to speak theologically in the public square is to invite charges of over-stepping our religious boundaries. Do I limit myself to the confined world of the church or do I take the risk to share my religiously-informed voice in sometimes hostile public square? This has been my unspoken, unarticulated and unknown subconscious dilemma. I feel relief that I can see it openly now.
Where does that leave me now? Again, I don’t know that I will need to change my commitments or my life goals. I already have the privilege of speaking in the pulpit on a regular basis. And I am increasingly active in city and county politics and planning. For now I think it just means that I no longer need to worry about where my voice fits. I just need to use it wherever I am and let the rest unfold. I need to worry less about creating a community that reflects my voice and just use my voice and let the community form (or not form) around that. I think that is called trust. I am shaped by the great theological social reformers of our tradition and our community. They are my heroes. They are the saints who I have attempted with limited success to pattern my life after. This is my call. This is my voice. All my theological heroes were not concerned about serving the religiously faithful. They concentrated on using their theological ideas to serve humanity. I am beginning to remember why I got into this business in the first place. What a relief.