He Called Me a WHAT?


“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


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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.


16 thoughts on “He Called Me a WHAT?

  1. You bring up a lot of good points and many things I have pondered myself
    Unfortunately the Camino has its experts that are sure their routine or way of thinking is the only valid way to do a pilgrimage.
    In regards to electronics, I prefer a modified approach. Phone off during the day. Blog, email or face book updates at night, but not to the point of missing out on conversations with others.
    Personally, although all my training miles I wear ear buds and listen to music, I never listen to music during my daily Camino walking as I believe you are isolating yourself from the daily experience and miss out on the ‘sound track’ of the Camino. My opinion only.
    I do take lots of pictures, but also take the time to really experience everything first hand and not fall into taking a quick snap and then just moving on.
    As in all things, no absolutes.
    No wrong approach, everyone should do what works best for them, but avoid preaching that their way is the only way.

  2. I’ve said it in various forums and echo Mark Stead’s comments: I too use Mark’s “modified approach” to tech. Using it only at a minimum and always in silent mode. When training I listen to audio books. On Camino, never.
    The advice I give others that want to disconnect is, just be aware that tech will be all around. Try not to judge that or be upset by it. Smart devices are as much a part of our social fabric as any other communications device has ever been. People want to communicate, to stay in touch–whatever the form.

  3. I absolutely agree with Mark Stead. I take my gadgets on Camino, blog every day, receive occasional calls from my family and keep in touch with my partner so that he feels connects to my time away. I do listen to music occasionally, normally to revive a flagging spirit whilst climbing an exceptionally long and steep hill, or to distract me from the harsh reality of walking alongside a busy road with lorries buzzing by at close quarters. I also take many photos and consider that by capturing those intensely special moments I am brought closer to my Camino, not disconnected from it.

    I know that many others believe the only way to walk a Camino is the ‘unconnected’ way. I can understand that. But it does make me rather annoyed when they prescribe this to be the only true way to make a pilgrimage. It seems only the purists insist their way is absolute. Those of us who are rather less pure are happy that others wish to do things differently.

    I have blogged live from three caminos, Frances, Portuguese from Lisbon, and Mozarabe from Malaga. I will shortly be blogging live from the Camino del Norte. From the comments I receive I know that I have given a great deal of useful information, pleasure and inspiration and occasionally a good laugh. If anyone wishes to take a look at my blog they are most welcome http:/www/magwood.me.

    Oh, and by the way, an ass is a mule, he should have called you an ‘arsehole’!

  4. Maybe you don’t want to re-visit it, but I’m curious as to what your prior relationship was with the guy. And, what did he find so offensive in your video. I mean seriously, lots of pilgrims ‘treat’ themselves along the way. So, what was really behind his nasty comment?

    • As to what he found so offensive, you’ll have to ask him. My relationship? I grew up in a very small town. This man is the father of a high school classmate of mine. Decorated Air Force veteran, unwavering valor. Today, I believe he’s a paraplegic, not from the war, but from other circumstances. He also professes as an atheist. I probably haven’t seen him in more than 30 years. Your guess is as good as mine.

  5. Steve: I am a big fan of you and your posts while walking he Camino, and “Truth Along The Way”. I’m not particularly fond of this post. I think it still has too much personal hurt in the story. Maybe that is your intent, if so it comes through. Question: What universal lesson can be taught by this episode?

    • Well, that’s an interesting comment, John. I’ll respond with three points: (1.) What bar are you using to measure your assertion of “too much personal hurt?” It’s a biographical narrative. It is what it is. It’s an account of what actually happened. How can that be “too much?” (2.) This is an excerpt (one chapter) from a book manuscript draft, so there’s a lot more to the story. Judging its merits on a stand-alone basis really doesn’t work. (3.) Universal lessons? The book will be available around Thanksgiving. You can read about the universal lessons somewhere around Chapter 34. I’m not inclined to give the whole story away, otherwise there’s nothing to sell. Maybe you’d like to offer some suggested lessons.

  6. Steve, I enjoyed this post and your honesty. When we put ourselves out there we are bound to have a few judgmental critics. Words can hurt but I think it only makes us stronger.
    I will be staying connected on my Camino by blogging when possible. I’m tempted to unplug for a day to see how that feels. I love my audiobooks for my daily hikes and long flights, but I won’t want to miss the sounds of the Camino.
    Thank you. I look forward to your book an Magwood’s posts. 😊

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