Unfolding the Map
All I can say right now is wow. If you go to the map to identify Potlatch and Tensed, Idaho you'll see that Tensed is the 200th point we've marked on the Blue Highways reading journey. Pat yourselves on the back, Littourati! Since I've combined some map points into one post, I've done about 175 posts on Blue Highways, and we still have a long trip to go. I think we'll make 300 map points before the book is finished. In this post, William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) picks up a hitchhiker who happens to be an evangelist for the Seventh Day Adventists. Despite a rough start, LHM comes to like him. I'll reflect on what there is to admire in evangelists, even if you don't necessarily want, like or agree with their message.
"...he climbed in, smiling, introducing himself. His name was Arthur O. Bakke...
"Now the first question from a hitchhiker never varies: 'How far ya goin'?' ...Arthur O. Bakke's first question was, 'Do you want a free Bible course?' Oh, god, not this, I thought. 'Jesus is coming,' he said. Save me, I thought and started working on a reason to turn back and head the other way.
"'....The Spirit's moving in you, but never mind that.' He pulled out a palm-sized notebook made of two pieces of linoleum. 'Where did you pick me up?'
"'Near Potlatch, Idaho.'
"....When I pulled in for gas, he checked his watch and said aloud as he wrote: 'Fueling stop at Tensed, Idaho.'
"Tensed is on the Coeur d'Alene reservation. As a young Indian scrubbed the windshield, Bakke leaned out the window. 'Would you like a free Bible course?' The boy never stopped wiping, but he looked in at me. I shrugged. 'Jesus is coming soon,' Bakke chirped.
"The Coeur d'Alene said, faltering, 'No read white man word.'
"Bakke thought for a moment. The Indian finished wiping, and I followed him inside to sign the credit slip. Filling out the form in a precise hand, he said, 'What's wrong with your buddy?'
"'He's okay. Just a friendly fellow.'
"'That's what they say at the funny farm.'"
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 2
Potlatch and Tensed, Idaho
What do you do when you're confronted by a person who wants to talk to you about God or Jesus? A person who fervently believes that by doing so, they will plant the seed to your salvation?
If you're like me, you probably close the door or walk away. You hang up the phone or you quickly change the channel from that religious station you accidently switched to when you dropped the remote.
When your own life is racked by doubts and fears, iffiness and uncertainties, and then someone tells you that the answer to everything is to simply let Jesus into your heart, is it surprising that many people feel like they are being exposed to a scam by some salesperson? I still go to a Catholic church relatively regularly, and I still sometimes feel that way after a sermon.
Perhaps you might think the person is a little bit crazy. Who in their right mind not only gives themselves over to the teachings of a person who lived over 2000 years ago, but also has based their daily life around that person and feels compelled to share their obsession with everyone else? Crazy, right?
Or, take my father's. When a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses came to our house and asked if he would be willing to talk about his salvation, my father did a masterful job of pretending that he was simple and only interested in the strawberries he was tending. Only later did I realize that as they were trying to point him toward the beauty of salvation, he was trying to point them toward the simple beauty of a garden of strawberries. My father was a damaged man which had major ramifications for me in my childhood, but that was one time that I was able to see some of his often hidden wisdom.
That's what I enjoy about these quotes from LHM - which I've culled from a much longer passage. We'll continue to ride along with LHM and Arthur O. Bakke, Seventh Day Adventist and earnest adherent of Christ, for a few more posts. From this dubious beginning, where LHM just wants to get him out of Ghost Dancing (his van) and where people, like the young Coeur d'Alene native man, smile and slowly back away from his offer of a free Bible class, LHM grows to like him and to admire him. In a way, I have also found admiration for these self-appointed messengers because I find that if you put aside religion, my thoughts and their beliefs can find common ground.
Evangelizers often preach that society is too materialistic. We focus on things rather than what's important. As I take in news reports this season of a woman pepper-spraying people in a store to get one of a dwindling supply of XBoxes on Black Friday, or mobs stampeding to grab two-dollar waffle irons at a Wal-Mart, I agree with those who would want to save me. We are too materialistic.
Evangelizers often preach that life has become too complicated, and that accepting Christ and putting our energies toward him will make things clearer. Currently, I am trying to slow my life down. I want to simplify and to de-clutter so that I can put my energies toward things that will lead to personal growth and happiness and which will make a positive influence in the world. I have no disagreement with making space in one's life for such meaningful things.
I often part ways with evangelizers, though. They often literalize the Bible and have an idea that they can slice through the mass of conflicting messages and know exactly what God and Christ intended for us. I am more aware of the conflicts inherent in the Bible, a document written by different people at different time periods and in different cultures that has been translated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English with all kinds of meanings lost and new meanings added.
Like evangelizers, I also choose what I think are the true messages of the Bible. Do we, as the Old Testament says, take an eye for an eye, or do we, as Jesus in the New Testament commands, love our enemies and turn the other cheek? Do we condemn to Hell those who can't or won't accept Christ, or do we walk among the sinners, the poor and the outcast as Jesus did? I tend to be one who wants to love enemies and turn the other cheek in most cases. I'm the guy who wants to walk among the sinners, the outcast and the poor. Not only do I find them more interesting than most of the supposedly pious, but I also learn and grow from them and their experiences. I don't see the evangelizers as being open to all except in the context of getting people to renounce everything and accept their Christian beliefs. Otherwise, they have no time for you. This has been driven home to me by the actions of a local evangelical homeless shelter in Albuquerque which won't shelter people for the night unless they promise to accept Jesus into their hearts, and a local, wealthy, evangelical mega-church who, according to one woman my wife met, refused to help her when she was down and out and advised her to go see the Catholics instead.
There are times, however, when I think it is very attractive to be so certain - to be so sure of one's convictions that all of the cloudiness and uncertainty of life disappears and things become quite clear. That's why I sometimes envy the evangelizers. If I can gain just a little of that serenity and conviction in my own life, I think I would be a lot more satisfied. I don't see giving myself completely over to Christ as the answer for me. I'm perfectly happy with the level of my participation in my church. For me, the challenge is accepting and believing in myself. That's why to me the message of the evangelizers is so deceptive. If I did completely devote my life to Christ, I would be subsuming myself. I finally feel, at the age of 47, I'm just truly getting to know who I am and I don't want to lose myself again.
Evidently the great guitarist Ry Cooder is known for his rendition of Jesus on the Main Line. I found at least five or six of his renditions on YouTube and this one is from his younger days in the 1970s. It's a great song, even if you're not into the message.
If you want to know more about Potlatch and Tensed
Next up: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho