Adventures in Motorcycling: Pub Theology. Have We Kicked God out of the Bars Now?

I’ve covered about 500 miles on the bike so far and have ridden through Georgia, Alabama, and Florida in the last two days. Right now I’m hunkering down at the Key West Inn in Fairhope, Alabama. Just back from McSharry’s Irish Pub where I had a really good Sheppard’s Pie and a pint of draft Smithwicks. And for the first time in my life I experienced Pub Theology. Apparently the first Wednesday of the month they bring religion into the pub. But I don’t think this is really necessary. I would argue that at least in the southern part of the United States God has never really left the bar. He’s mentioned in just about every other sentence or at least every other conversation. Come to think of it a woman friend of mine and I were talking about Jesus just the other day in Old Havana Cigar Bar in Rome, Georgia. We didn’t really come to an agreement. I thought He’d be okay with certain things that she didn’t think He’d approve of. Tonight was a bit different. It was more of a lecture by an older man who, along with others, had done some inspirational work in helping folks out. I want to acknowledge that. But frankly, a few other heathens and I decided to head for the smoking area outside.
In the southern part of the USA you can’t go far in any restaurant or bar without some kind of spiritual conversation taking place. This morning, a man singled me out at McDonalds (because of my biker gear) and spoke to me about motorcycles and Jesus. I enjoyed the conversation though I didn’t agree that Jesus had a preference for Harley engine modifications made by the Screamin Eagle Company. Yesterday, In Dothan I met up with a friend at the Waffle House and we talked about Buddhism and she gave me a Tibetan Buddhist charm for my motorcycle. Though I consider myself a Christian I acknowledge contributions and insights from other religions. On my motorcycle I have a medal from St Columbanus, the patron saint of motorcycle riders. The medal reminds me to be reverent in my travels. I also have the Taoist Yin Yang symbol on a bracelet attached to my mirror to help me remember to be balanced and to trust the journey. Now I have a Buddhist charm to remind me to stay in the here and now and to show loving kindness and compassion to everyone I meet. I also have a hula girl which is there to remind me to not take myself too seriously and to be silly sometimes.
I was in a great honky-tonk in Rome the other day; The Sports Page. It had been awhile since I listened to some country western tunes but I’m relieved to know that God is still in many of them. I managed to hear some of my old favorites and the lines: “It wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels and taught all them good girls to go wrong.” And another I remember from years ago: “One night of love don’t make up for six nights alone. But I’d rather have one than none Lord ‘cause I’m flesh and bones.”
The south in the USA is Christ Haunted so expect Him to pop up not only on Sundays and Wednesdays in the churches but also in conversations anywhere, from the gas station to the bowling alley. And definitely, definitely in bars.

Biker Mind in a Cage and Enlightenment in Piggly Wiggly

I was having problems with my Jeep about a month ago and I took it to Mike’s to have it checked out. Mike has a reputation for doing good, honest work and he’s a nice guy.

“I’ve got good news and bad news for you.” I was told.

“What’s the good news?”

“You only need one part replaced.”

“And the bad news?”

“It’s your engine.”

So began the journey of various Jeep engine parts to Rome Georgia, an odyssey which is still going on.

No big deal, I thought.  I’ve got the bike and over the last few weeks, rain or shine, I’ve ridden her faithfully and wetly.

But today was different. I had to run a few errands (“messages” in Ireland) and I needed a car. I’d been asked by a friend to drop off some food for a housebound woman. No big deal for me, I was honored to do it.

My nephew Matt loaned me his and it was a strange experience. First of all I tried to get in on the wrong side of the car because my old reflexes from Ireland kicked in. (The steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car over there because they drive on the wrong side of the road!) I finally managed to get into the car, something we bikers call a “cage”.

Now, how do I operate this thing? Right, take the parking brake off. It’s already off. Again, I have to remember that I’m not in Ireland where they always use it. I crank her up and since it’s an automatic I reverse easily and then head out. First thing I have to do is roll the window down. I have to have the wind on me. There’s a great quote I heard which says that only a motorcycle rider understands why dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows. I mosey up to the main four lane. I’m thinking: There’s a cage turning, probably not paying attention. What about that lady driving talking on her phone? (Illegal in Ireland.)  I don’t try and make eye contact with her to confirm her driving intentions instead I stare at the car’s front wheel to make sure it’s not moving. It isn’t and I pull out onto the highway.  I realize what I’m doing. I’m driving a cage like a biker. I’m scanning the area looking for hazards, especially people who don’t see you and cut in front of you. I had the biker mind going in the cage. It was weird. I relaxed a bit and I thought: hey this isn’t too bad. Got a roof over my head, listening to some blues music. I can take a sip from my coffee cup. Smoke my pipe if I want to. (But not in Matt’s car!). This is kinda cool.

But I still had the biker mind going and found myself waving a salute to other bikers as they passed by.

I had to pick up some groceries for myself and while wandering around in the Piggly Wiggly I was thinking: better not get too much I don’t have a lot of room in the saddlebags. Then I realized again that I wasn’t on the bike. I could get anything I wanted; there’s plenty of room! This was great. But I didn’t like how my mind was shifting back to the idea of “buying stuff”. I used to be quite a collector of things: books, old coins, baseball cards, bad habits-you name it. But when I left Ireland after 16 years I gave most of my stuff away and managed to pack my life into four suitcases. It wasn’t easy or fun. In fact, it was painful because I was attached to all the things I had and the people I knew and loved. And yet it was freeing at the same time. It helped me to realize how little I really needed; what was important in my life and what wasn’t. It reminded me of what the Dalai Lama said: Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.

Non-attachment means letting go. It means recognizing that all things are impermanent: material things, our bodies, even our relationships. This might sound depressing, but it isn’t. It’s actually liberating. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”. You don’t suffer from worrying about getting something or losing someone. When I can keep this kind of awareness in my mind it helps me to appreciate every moment, to be centered and content with what I have, to be aware and grateful.  I’m much happier and healthier now.

I bought the few things that I needed and got back into the car. I drove over to the house, dropped the food off, rang the doorbell and left. On the way home I reverted to biker mode: watching for potholes in the road, tar snakes, inattentive drivers, road gators (bits of shredded tires from semi-truck tire blowouts), and steering aids (Bikers hate these! They’re gouges/ruts in the road from trucks. The ruts can guide your front wheel in a direction you don’t want to go.) None of us want to get into ruts. To go in directions we don’t want to go, because of someone else.

Surviving these hazards today, I came home. If I can stay centered I might survive tomorrow as well.

It was fun driving the car. But I still prefer the bike.