“In the end, everyone can understand themselves only. You are the only one to which you never have to explain what you mean. Everything else is misunderstanding.” ~ Renate Dorrestein
An unfortunate New World reality is one that forces modern-day pilgrims to consider a disquieting proposition early on.
You must consider whether you will “plug” or “unplug,” that is whether you will remove yourself from the world of technology during the sacred time of pilgrimage, or whether you will bring it along for the ride. As previously described, it was an evolutionary process for me as I ultimately decided I’d chronicle my journey electronically across Spain for family and friends, and to go so far as to convey what I “felt” as it all transpired.
By and large, it was a good decision. In fact, it was the absolute right decision for me. At certain moments, however, it made things much more difficult than they had to be.
When you make the decision I made to remain connected to people across the world, and to share thoughts, feelings, even philosophies and beliefs in a transparent way, you must also accept that you’ve invited people to disagree with you, call your convictions into question, and even, at times, act a fool. That’s the deal you make, and it’s precisely why I advise just about everyone who goes on pilgrimage to take a serious electronic break. Unplug, for God’s sake. Seriously, and literally.
But if you don’t, it’s even more important to realize how your environment and circumstances can affect your state of mind to make you more vulnerable than normal. It happened to me more than once, and it’s the price you pay.
“My byline’s been pooped on more than once. I’m sure of it.”
My mission as a journalist has broadened across 25 years, in part, because of the way the media, itself, has evolved, and, in part, because how I’ve evolved as a person. As a cub newspaper reporter in 1988, I’d write a story one day, and the medium was delivered to the reader’s doorstep the next. Subscribers might read what I’d written over their morning coffee, or they might use it as a fresh liner for the kitty litter box. My byline’s been pooped on more than once. I’m sure of it.
Today, it’s radically different. I can communicate in an instant with thousands of people across the world. It’s a mass communication guy’s dream, but the speed and volume of electronic media make getting noticed and building an audience more difficult than ever.
I still produce the occasional “hard” or “critical” news piece, and really enjoy an interesting personality profile. During the last several years, however, the most significant evolution in my approach to journalism has been in its tone. Today, I write less for money, and more for the pursuit of what I believe is my life’s mission. It’s not an in-your-face message, but those familiar with my style know there’s generally a message about how the good news of the Gospel has changed my life. With that change comes a natural desire to share it, and anything short of that probably wasn’t real change. I like that I can intermingle journalism with ministry for a higher purpose, and not be preachy about it. I can just be myself. Alas, that’s enough.
It’s also a New World reality that my journalistic message, the very thing that’s at the heart of what’s most important to me, creates a greater divide than it once did no matter how subtle it may be. Our “progressivism” takes us in a direction opposite the narrow Way.
On Day 14 en route to San Juan de Ortega, I experienced two things that made me more vulnerable than normal to what otherwise wouldn’t bother me much. The last six miles of that long day were cold, wet and windy, I was really tired, and hadn’t had English-speaking company in a while. And while it normally wouldn’t bother me in the least, all my albergue companions for the night were German and South Korean. As we all enjoyed down time in the common area, they segregated into groups early on, and I felt a little left out.
(Above: A lesson I learned about minority status.)
I’ve experienced minority status abroad more than most U.S., middle-class, middle-aged, white guys, and normally it doesn’t bother me a bit. In fact, I know without a doubt that pushing that comfort zone is good. That night, though, it made me feel pretty lonely, and subsequently, downright irritable. The other pilgrims weren’t being intentionally rude. They were just surrounding themselves with others who were like them – it’s what comes most natural to us all.
So I made social media my company for the night, and it made a bad situation even worse. When you’ve been cold and tired for a long time, and even feeling a bit sorry for yourself, it’s best to keep your emotions in check. I guess I failed that night.
Scrolling though my “news feed” I came across a post by an older gentleman from my hometown who’d shared a video I posted several days earlier after an evening’s stay at a nice hotel in Santo Domingo. The man, who was well familiar with my journalistic style, apparently found some hypocrisy in the idea I’d used a credit card to rejuvenate with nice accommodations while on an ancient Christian pilgrimage. He shared the video and decided he’d describe me to the world as a “pseudo-Christian asshole.” I read it three times thinking I was surely seeing it wrong. Nope. That’s what it said. Pseudo-Christian asshole. Nice. It hurt my feelings more than anything.
I deleted the video from his post, blocked him forevermore from my “friends” list, as well as a few others who found innocent humor in what he’d said. It kept me awake all night, and my reaction to it all was unusually excessive. I realized the following day just how much the peripheral circumstances of the day had affected my good judgment. In retrospect, it was a great Camino lesson.
Pseudo Christian Asshole. I’ve been called worse. I just can’t remember when. Thank goodness that didn’t become my trail name.