Gonzo theology: adventure motorcycling and the spirituality of pilgrimage

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Gonzo Journalism, a style of journalism developed, championed, and made popular by Louisville, Kentucky native, Hunter S. Thompson, involves the process where the journalist lives and experiences first-hand the story upon which is being reported. But not only does the journalist live and experience the story, the journalist also becomes a central character in the plot development. Objectivity is unabashedly replaced by subjectivity, wit, sarcasm, emotion, and often, profanity. Probably, the quintessential example of gonzo journalism is Thompson’s account of living, riding, drinking, and fighting with the notorious Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club in Northern, CA.1 Thompson experienced what the Hell’s Angels experienced, rode where they rode, drank where they drank, and fought where they fought. He became a Hell’s Angel almost as fully as one could become one. 1Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (New York, NY: The Random House Publishing Group, 1966). I do theology and religion, like Hunter S. Thompson does journalism in his book about the infamous Hell’s Angels. Religious experience and faith requires us to be open, dynamic, and vulnerable to change. Like Thompson assumed the role of a Hell’s Angel, authentic religious life requires us to be open to various religious experiences and to new relationships and to new beliefs. We must be willing to sacrifice who we are, to become someone new. And like Thompson’s time with the Hell’s change his life’s trajectory, so will ours be changed with these experiences. We must do Gonzo Theology, live with and among members from diverse backgrounds and diverse beliefs, and we must write ourselves into God’s story and become a main character in its unfolding. Gonzo Theology is subjective, experiential, and relational. Gonzo Theology urges us to wander in search of spiritual transformation, not with a biased outcome or schedule or destination in mind, but to truly welcome the experience and embrace how we are changed by it. This gonzo-esque masterpiece recounts three motorcycle pilgrimages over several years where I travel to various holy sites and religious communities, searching and wandering, open to change, growth, and transformation. The first pilgrimage, Embarking on Adventure, occurring after my acceptance to the doctoral program at New York Theological Seminary but prior to its first on-site class session, recounts a test-run for this pilgrimage project. I had just gotten married and left a great job to follow my wife to Michigan, so there definitely was some transition and resentment, but mostly it was a vacation, a cause. I wanted to see what I could see, enjoy myself and maybe learn something along the way. At that time, I aimed to visit a religious community in each state and record my experiences. I tentatively called it “The 50 Faiths 50 States Project.” This original idea focused more on advocacy and spreading awareness for the cause religious diversity and interfaith cooperation. Thankfully holding much more promise and authenticity, the project later evolved into a wandering, spiritual pilgrimage with minimal scheduling or planning. It was open and free, post-modern, without the bias of achieving a certain outcome and following a certain schedule. 
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