practice what you preach

ominous smoke in the distance

As the sun started to drop, we walked out of the city limits of Elwood, Indiana, heading west toward Tipton. The houses were getting further apart, and we started knocking on doors to find a yard to camp in for the night. The first house looked friendly enough, and when I knocked I heard a dog bark and someone speak – but nobody came to the door. We shrugged and moved on.

We walked on, past empty houses with no lights on and no cars in the drive. Finally, we came to the end of a long cobblestone driveway, leading to a large brick house with a sprawling front yard. The flower beds were immaculate. A full-sized Recreational Vehicle sat parked in front of the house. A pair of carved stone lions flanked the end of the drive, staring at one another across the expanse of red cobblestone. I took off my hat and sunglasses, and started toward the door. Kait raised an eyebrow and asked, “Are you sure?”

The man who answered the door was older, and greeted me stiffly. I told him who I was, what we were doing, and that all we needed was a safe place to camp for the night. I pointed to a corner of trees near the road, and asked if we could pitch our tent there. Although he was excited when I told him about our walk and volunteer service, he immediately said that we couldn’t stay there, and gave me some explanation that didn’t make much sense. He went inside to ask his wife, and came back shortly saying, “She agrees with me, you shouldn’t stay here. But can I ask, are you “Born Again?”

Caught off-guard by the question, I went with my first response which was an honest “No.” The gentleman proceeded to give me a solid 15-minute lecture about how I was destined for the lake of fire, all while refusing to help me in the simplest of ways. I found myself unable to rudely cut him off so that I could leave, nor did I feel comfortable getting into a theological or moral debate with the man on his front porch. I didn’t think that would be very respectful, and considering that Kait and I had been walking all day, frankly I just wanted to sit down somewhere. I tried to find common ground with statements about the positive influences of all religions, and the fact that we were currently building our lives around the practice of serving our fellow man, but the answer was the same every time:

“I’m not being judgmental, I’m not throwing stones, I’m not trying to tell you what to do. But, if you don’t get Baptized and accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior, then one day you’ll face God, and he’ll look at his list-” (he made a motion in the air, pointing his way down down an imaginary ledger) “and he’ll say ‘I’m sorry, John, but I don’t see your name here. I have no choice but to send you to Hell.'” He told me of a place where creatures “many times stronger than us” would tear me apart for “eternity – that’s forever” and that he wasn’t talking about no “voodoo” when he told me to accept the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to enter me. At one point, his wife poked her head out the door and without so much as looking at me, pointedly told her husband that dinner was ready. In parting, he told us that there was an open field where a house had burned downed years ago. The owner no longer lived on the property, and he didn’t think it would be any trouble if we camped there. Hoping aloud that we would find the same salvation that he had found, he closed his door and left us to our task of finding a place to sleep.

As I walked away from his house without a place to stay, my mind reeled with all of the things wrong with what had just happened. He had refused to help a stranger in the simplest way possible, but had insisted on threatening me with damnation without knowing anything about me as a person. He talked of Christ’s love and example, while turning away a pilgrim. It was fine that he didn’t want to let us camp there – it was, after all, his hard-earned property – but it was truly insulting to be judged harshly by a man who seemed to disregard the very heart of the teachings that he preached about.

I was reminded of the Fellowship back in West Virginia, and how they followed the teachings of Christ as truthfully and closely as any group I have ever met – but they wouldn’t even call themselves Christians. Timothy told me that Jesus didn’t come to build churches and convert people – he came to set an example, and show us how to live a good life. In our time with them, they never once made us feel pressured or obligated to accept their faith. We were welcomed as brothers and sisters, and relished the opportunity to see faith working its magic. The Fellowship redefined my concept of what religion can be, and how we should be using the teachings of all religions to help one another. “Do Unto Others” is universal. Islam, a religion currently stigmatized by a handful of violent radicals, at its core emphasizes the importance of service to one’s community. Buddhism emphasizes the concept of karma, through which your good and bad deeds reflect upon you. Reincarnation, Heaven, Hell – these are all concepts that are meant to motivate us to live our lives well. But a lot of people seem to miss the message.

making camp before the sheriff showed up

We moved on, camping in the aforementioned empty field about 8 miles from Tipton. There was no property owner around to ask permission, but we were confident that we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. As the sun went down and we settled into our sleeping bags, the Tipton Sheriff’s cruiser came rolling into the field, lights on. I got out of the tent, provided identification, and explained what we were up to. While one officer ran our ID’s, the other talked details with us. We knew that we did not have permission to be where we were, and explained that we were willing to pack up and start walking, but our odds of finding a place to stay after dark were very slim. Since we have no warrants or criminal records, the officers went out of their way to call the property owner and tell him that we weren’t causing any trouble. With that, he gave us permission to stay and the officers gave back our ID’s and wished us good luck.

We slept well on the soft grass, and in the morning we walked the rest of the way to Tipton where we stopped at the grocery store, and then made our way North through the city to bypass the heavily traveled routes toward Lafayette. We stopped at a real local haunt, Faye’s Northside Cafe. The food was awesome, and when I went to pay the check our waitress, Theresa, decided that it should be a donation to our cause. She even gave us a couple slices of pie for the road, and advised us on our route.

A man named Bruce stopped to talk to us earlier in the day, and told us how he was able to sell his truck and live car-free by riding his bicycle everywhere. After we parted ways and finished our lunch, he tracked us down just to hand us a donation toward the walk. While we were talking, Theresa brought some of her family down the road to meet us as well. On a quiet corner on the gruff side of town, we had a little family get-together before we finally left Tipton. The community there really welcomed us, and cleared away the unpleasantries of the previous night.

Bruce on the right, Theresa, and her three little angels

A few days on and further down the road, we met back up with Chris – the guy who invited us to his family’s cookout on Memorial Day. He brought us lunch on the road, and right as the skies started to open up with much-needed rain, we piled into his truck to eat and chat. We talked at great length about faith and religion, and the importance of actions over words. So many people get hung up on the minutia of their holy texts, and forget that the act of living is where the true value lies. “The Bible is a game of Telephone that’s been going on for over 2000 years,” said Chris. “Don’t tell me you’re a good christian – show me.” Talk is cheap. If there is a God that is going to judge us one day, I doubt he will care how many times we told others that we are good. We have been blessed to meet so many people on the road who are living with love in their hearts, and reach out to help one another. These people have rekindled my faith in faith. What matters most is how we live, and how we treat our fellow man – everything else is just talk.

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14 Responses to practice what you preach

  1. Shawna says:

    While I’m sorry for the pain of your experience, I rejoice in the beauty you found. I’m glad you are able to write this so that others may see it and think hard about how they approach their faith and their fellow humans. You guys are on a truly amazing journey and I LOVE hearing about the awesome experiences you’re having! I love you both and hope that your travels are blessed!

  2. Sally says:

    I have always held out hope that the good in the world outweighs the bad, and though lately I have wondered again and again about if I am correct on that thought, your experiences are inspiring me, too. I hope that unhelpful is the worst that you come across on your journey, and that the good people continue to inspire. I am glad that the police officers were willing to go the extra mile and give you a break. Love you all!

  3. Mamafrog says:

    I enjoy your postings very much. My kindest thought on the man you met is that perhaps he was suffering some sort of dementia. I find as people’s worlds get smaller their willingness to harangue others increases.

  4. John says:

    In his memoirs, Francis of Assisi tells the story of walking through a snow storm with a companion looking for lodging. The wind blew harder and the snow pelted their clothing making them appear to be beggars. At each stop they were rejected, often very rudely. Francis companion kept asking him about love and accceptance and why they couldnt find a place to stay. Francis went on to tell him that perfect love is not ever received until it is given without condition. We do not find what we look for until we begin the process of accepting others where they are at and loving without condition.

    All that being said I am glad the Universe found a place for you to sleep

  5. Hi Kait and John,
    I was very excited to hear about your walk through Nate Damm’s Facebook post. I’m also walking across the US, from Boston to Oregon along US Rt. 20. I’ve gotten to Buffalo NY. I’m on a break right now and will be back on the road again in July. My walk is very different than yours…I’m doing this to honor my 65th birthday and to have an extended period to reflect. My husband is supporting me with a car. I can’t wait to have a few hours to read about your journey. I was flabbergasted to read about your encounter with the pious man who wouldn’t let you camp on his property. Best, Nancy

    • Sally says:

      Nancy, good luck with your walk! I admire your courage. I am stressed to walk one mile let alone across the country and I’m not quite to 60!

  6. Walter Ruegner says:

    I am truely sorry that a fellow Christian and Hoosier would treat you like he did. It is sad that some Christians have forgotten WWJD ( What Would Jesus Do). I am glad to hear about the warm reception you received the next day and were able to enjoy true Hoosier hospitality. I do enjoy follow your journey across this fine nation and wish you safe travel. As a fellow hiker just keep this thought in mind – “The Journey is the Destination”

  7. stephanie says:

    I so appreciated your perspective on the psudo christians – then in the next moment meeting the more authentic ones. We get to learn our best lessons through the most profound contrasts. Everytime i read your postings, I AM thinkin’,… this is a book that we would ALL enjoy.

  8. leanna says:

    i guess the man did not think about how he looked to others…who would want to be like him? he seemed to be very unhappy with himself. it would NOT inspire anyone, to accept anything he had to offer as a christian.
    i believe it is people like him, that turn others “away” from Christianity and that would sure shock him, wouldn’t it??!!

    i love reading about your journey. it makes me feel like i am there with you (just a little).
    be safe!!

    • Sally says:

      Part of the reason I left organized religion many, many years ago was because of people like that. Full of talk and short on deeds and love. I will take my chances that God wants us to love and give and live good lives more than he cares about what we preach. God speed!

  9. Barbara Stewart says:

    How anyone could look at the four of you and refuse you anything is beyond me. Just relived that you finally found a place to lie down and sleep. Sheesh! As my husband is fond of saying, “No shortage of assholes in the world.” And I find that religious belief is sort of beside the point when it comes to this sort of thing. Some people live their religion, some don’t. You’ve got ‘heathens’ who are assholes and some who are the most generous people ever. It’s just more annoying when you find out a Christian is an asshole because you assume the Golden Rule will be followed when you’re dealing with them.

  10. Trail Dame says:

    Through it all your words still come out positive. Your Pack is a true insperation to us all. Happy Trails! ~L

  11. meciacrutcher@gmail.com says:

    Watch each day for your postings! Enjoy hearing about your latest encounters with all
    Types of people. Just glad there are more loving than a little “off”!! It will make for a great book! Be safe and know you are in our prayers! Love to the 4 of you! Mecia

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