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.

Hula girl is Back! Pure Consciousness, Shifty Shifter Shafts and Coffee.

Hula girl

Hula girl

My buddy Jeff “El Jefe” picked me up yesterday and we drove to the Harley dealer to pick up Big Red. As we rode down the highway in his police interceptor we had one of our usual manly conversations. This time it was about pure consciousness,the “luminous” quality of the mind, how it’s like a mirror that merely reflects thoughts but is not those thoughts, about how attitudes of gratitude and lovingkindness can crowd out negative emotions. The usual Harley talk.
When we got to the dealer the bike was ready and it had been awarded the prize of an astoundingly high repair bill. Even though the mechanic explained everything he had done to that bike I still didn’t understand. If he had explained it in terms of pure consciousness I might have had a chance. Instead he talked about the cams, the cam chain and a whole lot about the shifter. I recall a bit of the conversation.
“So,” I said, “Let me get this straight: You had to replace the shifter shaft seal, fix the stripped shifter shaft lever and the stripped shifter shaft?”
“You got it.”
I laughed. “I don’t even know what in the hell I’m talking about!”
Essentially, in terms that even I could understand, Jeff explained that everything below the engine had been repaired or upgraded. The bill easily reflected that. But Big Red does have 56,000 miles on her. She has safely ferried me across the country twice. She deserves a bit of pampering. And it made a difference. On the 30 minute ride back to Rome I noticed she had more torque, idled lower, gears shifted with less clunking, she rode more smoothly and there weren’t any rattles. Certainly ran more smoothly then I walk!
So I took her out again today. The temperature has soared and right now is knocking on 65 degrees. I had fun on the back roads, a few twisties, slaloming in the curves. I stopped at K Mart to buy a new hula girl to put on my bike. (I’ve written in a previous blog about how a Harley mechanic broke her off at the legs. The poor thing.) I rode out to the Oostanaula river and parked the bike and attached the new hula girl. That completed my trinity of tokens. I have a Yin Yang medal on the bike to remind me to stay balanced and in the here and now. I have a St Columbanus medal, the patron saint of motorcyclists, to remind me to be reverent and I’ve got hula girl to remind me to be silly and not take myself too seriously. I’m ready for anything now!
I found a spot by the river to sit and think about things like shifter shafts and pure consciousness. (Realizing ironically of course that if I’m thinking about pure consciousness then I’m not dwelling in it. But that’s okay.)
I mainly felt gratitude. Thankfulness for this moment. I dwelled in that zone for a spell.
I hopped on the bike again and went for another ride and stopped at a spot near the river. There I ran into a friend that for some reason I keep running into. A few minutes ago she took off for a walk and we’re going for coffee when she gets back. So right now I’m sitting by the river, writing, listening to the geese honking, watching the river flow.

Day 1: Hula girl, Yin Yang, St Columbanus and Motel 6

Day 1: Hula girl, Yin Yang, St Columbanus and Motel 6
Just got in to Memphis and I’m hunkered down at an old Motel 6. And yes, they kept the light on for me. Stopped at a Comfort Inn but they wanted over $120 for a room. Found this place just two miles away for just $53. And it even comes with a bottle opener attached to the wall. I’m trying my best to keep expenses down to $100 a day. Today I had the Over 55 breakfast at Krystal for $3.25. Gas/petrol was $36 and with the room that made $92.25. Other expenses put me up to around $104. Not bad.
Crazy ride today. Left Rome when it was about 75 degrees and now it’s 55. Went through sunny weather, rain and a thunderstorm. Still it was fun. So good to clear my mind and let go of things.
325 miles today without any real difficulties. Not surprising because I had good mojo working. I have hula girl on the bike again, in good shape. She had lost her grass skirt and I had to take one from a spare broken hula girl (I know, I know) and tidy her up. I also have a medal to protect me. St Columbanus, the patron saint of motorcyclists. Finally, I have a Yin Yang medal hooked on my right handlebar. So what could go wrong?
What I remember of today was the beautiful azure, cloudy sky when I left Rome. The magnolia trees and their white blossoms. Purple wildflowers, daisies, Mexican primroses by the road side as I flew past. Regal Live oaks. Then a violent thunderstorm, the sky gunmetal grey and thumping. I hightail it through the rain to the cover of a gas station.
Good trip so far. Grateful, thankful, prayerful.

Taoheading and Zenheading – Winding up Anywhere, Tao and Zen

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
Laozi (Chinese: 老子; pinyin: Lǎozǐ; Wade–Giles: Lao Tzu)

This trip will be like no other trip I’ve taken. To start with, I don’t know where I’m going. Normally, not a good idea as the old saying warns: If you don’t have a destination in mind you can wind up anywhere. And I guess that is my goal-to wind up anywhere.

All my life I’ve had goals and destinations, plotted things: college, jobs, cars, motorcycles, trips, kids’ education, holidays. Other times, I’ve been resident in some place, hunkered down and on the annual treadmill calendar of events there. New Years, St Patrick’s day, Easter, 4th of July, Labor day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Work, parties, meals, football, baseball and baseball coaching, soccer, basketball and hockey. Taking care of myself, my relatives, my children. One can live one’s life out on this treadmill, not altogether unpleasantly. Along with the death and separations that inevitably come along there are the births and the new beginnings. The revivals of hope.
My buddy Jeff can’t be on this trip with me because he has a new beginning, as of yesterday. He’s a grandfather now for the first time. It’s a girl and dad gum is he proud.
But every now and then I ask myself: What if I did something different? And I don’t mean just taking a class in watercolors or tai chi at the local community college ( both of which I’ve done!). What if I put myself in new places, different places, where I had no plan, where I didn’t have the security of routine, the family and work responsibilities, the usual contours of escapes, distractions and pleasures?
So that’s what I’m going to do. I know I need to be out in LA (not lower Alabama!) by the 12th of June (and today is Monday the 12th of May) but I can ramble any which a way, as long as it’s generally west, to get there. So I’m not going to plan the trip, book the motels. I’m going to get out on the road and see what happens. Have to admit it’s a bit scary. But all true adventures have an element of peril in them.
So what’s going to guide me?
I plan to mix a bit of Taoism and Zen with whatever jams I get myself thrown into.

The Tao (Chinese: 道; pinyin: dào) is a Chinese philosophy and literally means “way” or “path”, but it also signifies a cosmic order of things; that in life there is an underlying flow, rhythm and balance. To follow the Tao means to tune into the rhythms we find in nature, ourselves and those we meet on our road.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Laozi

Zen is a very popular word that’s thrown around rather loosely. (I have been known to do that!) For the record it refers to a type of Buddhism which relies on meditation as a way to enlightenment.

Derek Lin describes some of the qualities of Zen
(http://www.taoism.net/articles/what_zen.htm)

“…the closest we can come to describing Zen in words may be as follows:
• Zen is more of an attitude than a belief.

• Zen is the peace that comes from being one with an entity other than yourself.

• Zen means being aware of your oneness with the world and everything in it.

• Zen means living in the present and experiencing reality fully.

• Zen means being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world.

• Zen means being in the flow of the universe.

• Zen means experiencing fully the present, and delighting in the basic miracle of life itself.”

So I’m getting ready to hit the road. One more day of gathering things, packing and saying goodbye should do it.
I’ll be Taoheading and Zenheading come this Wednesday morning.
Follow me on my journey! I’ll keep blogging now and then, Tao and Zen.