It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Southern Arizona and I’m sitting out on my leathers, tinkering on the Beast. I’ve been running Clearwater Lights on the bike for a few months now and they have some new mounting hardware they want road tested, so I’m checking to see if I have the right tools to change out what I have. I’m pretty engrossed in sorting through stuff when I see a pair of polished cowboy boots standing at the front of the bike. He taps his cane on my front wheel and, in a scolding voice demands, “Why aren’t you in church, young lady?” I don’t look up.
“What makes you think I’m not in church?” comes my reply. “Well, for one thing, you ain’t in a church! How do you think you can get God’s attention to ask forgiveness if you ain’t even in the house of the Lord on a Sabbath?” he asks in a mocking tone.
That was all I took to set me off. I was raised to believe that it’s bad manners to discuss religion and politics in public. Some of the biggest family brawls I ever saw as a kid were over those very topics, so I save my opinions about both to share with only those closest to me. In this case, however, I felt judged, and suddenly I had a point to make and I feel myself dragging out my soapbox. I launch into a prelude about being raised in the South in a Baptist faith and all the different churches I’ve attended in the process of finding a religion that works. I tell him about time on the reservation where faith and worship is a part of daily life, with sweat lodges, prayer circles and medicine wheels. I talk about the churches in Europe, the opulent cathedrals I’ve seen built in the midst of ghetto neighborhoods and the power and greed of religions and their roles in politics. I explain that I think faith and spirituality have exactly zero to do with a church or passing a plate and that believing in a higher power is more about living a righteous life every day than it is about showing up in your Sunday best to listen to a man preach about a life hereafter.
I talk about being grateful and appreciating Mother Nature, and back my opinion with tales about Cathedral Rock in Arizona, a place where the beauty of the sun setting on the red rocks can absolutely take your breath away, or Church Rock on the Navajo reservation where you will literally stop and stare at the majestic outcropping in the middle of the desert, and Grand Falls, Antelope Canyon, Utah’s Delicate Arch, and the Grand Canyon. I mention the sun glistening off the oceans as the tides rise and fall and tell about the experience of being moved to tears by the sight of a mother bear tending her cubs, a bald eagle feeding her fledglings and elk guiding their calves across a river. I tell him about incredible sunsets, sunrises and back road adventures that provide an opportunity for gratitude every day, not just one day a week. I inform him that it doesn’t take a congregation or pews or bible verses for me to worship. “I have never felt closer to a higher power than I do riding a back road all by myself.”
He puts both hands on his cane and leans in closer as he shakes his head and chuckles. “O lord… don’t tell me you’re one of those ‘New Age’ girls now, are ya? You believe in rocks and rainbows and colors and stuff, right?” I tell him I’m not sure what the definition of “New Age” is. “I’m pretty sure my religion and yours are two very different things,” I sniff at him. “I think we could all use a lot more loving kindness towards one another, though. And I think we create our own hell right here on earth. I believe in karma, and I think all religions teach a version of that. I mean, ‘an eye for an eye;’ there’s a correlation only karma is a passive way of teaching a lesson, don’t you think? I could go on and on with this. Bikers have a moral code, a respect for nature and it is, in part, a religion. I guess you wouldn’t really get all that, though, not being a rider. Besides, why aren’t you in church?” I ask. The dapper man taps at my front wheel again and chuckles. “Well, my dear, actually I’m on my way right now,” he grins as he turns to leave. “I’ve got a friend down here who’s gonna take me to the bar. That’s where I feel closest to my higher power!”