If memory serves — after all, it has been 32 years — I was somewhere between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Waycross, Georgia. It was late winter, but the southern air was mild and the sun brightened the sky.
Hitchhiker’s weather, to be sure.
I was waiting at a rest stop with my thumb stuck out when a pickup towing a large camper lumbered to a halt in front of me. I climbed in and uttered my heartfelt thanks.
The driver, wearing a red flannel coat in hunter’s plaid, surprised me by identifying himself as a pastor on vacation. He asked the usual questions — where was I headed, where was I from, why was I traveling this way — then launched into his story.
There are two ways hitchhikers pay for their rides. One is by talking, by entertaining a driver lonely from the road and weary of recorded music or talk radio. The other is by listening, by letting drivers unburden themselves without the cost of therapy, secure in the knowledge that their disclosures will vanish into the air the moment the passenger exits the vehicle … comfort of strangers and all that.
Clergy have gotten a bad rap in recent years — much of it their own doing. Corruption is bad enough from politicians and business executives, but we have every right to expect more from our religious leaders. The entire edifice of theology suffers from every single act of spiritual infidelity.
But there are still many sincere men of the cloth, and my benefactor appeared faithful to the integrity of his office. He saw his mission not only to minister but to shepherd his flock toward pastures sown thick with the morality and ethics of scripture, to challenge them to challenge themselves and prod them to pay closer attention to the calling of their conscience.
And sadly, like spiritual leaders from Moses until today, he had found ample cause for disappointment.