Harvard sociologist and scolar Piturim Sorokin concluded in his WWII era study of culture, that our current mode of society would come to an end in the 20th century. Though the shift is not coming as quickly as anticipated, there is no doubt that a cultural change is evident. What will define this transition as either a Renaissance or Dark Age relies on the upcoming creative awakenings in religion and arts, as well as the development of more idealistic social institutions.
The phoenix, the mythological bird that burns itself up every evening to rise from its ashes in the morn, stands as the penultimate symbol of our becoming a new creature through our rites of passage and growing into a new day. The rebirth consists of three stages: the burning up of what we once were, the dying to ourselves or separation from our old way of being; the rising, the resurrection of becoming a new creature; and the in between of being as of ash not what we once were but not yet what we are capable of being. I define the middle stage last because it is where I see my society and where I see myself.
One of the strengths we have in our social movements today is that we are growing out of the adolescent angst of protesting against things and entering into the adult responsibilities of working toward our common goals. We are learning that wherever we place our attention, we give our energy, and regardless of our personal convictions, the absorption of our energy makes the subject of our attention grow stronger. We are entering an age where technology gives us the opportunity to direct our attention to anything in the world at any moment, and hopefully wisdom is directing it toward avenues of creation over destruction.
The United States of America boasts 738 prisoners per 100,000 people, the highest prison population rate in the world, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. Are we really a more criminal nation than Iran (with 214 per 100,000)? Or are we more just than China (with ony 118 per 100,000)? Or are we just more drawn to punishment?
When I finished college in 1993 with a degree in Psychology, I quickly got a job as the Helpline Administrator for Sarasota Youth for Christ. I was still struggling with some aspects of the church, but I also felt a great inclination to help people. The organization was starting a new ministry called White Stone, a teen helpline that worked in conjunction with a nationwide television show geared toward teens. My job was to train volunteers on how to counsel with troubled teens and share the Gospel over the phone.
Around the same time, I also started to feel a compulsion to write and dreamed of one day becoming a great novelist. I was devouring books by John Grisham, Michael Crichton, and Frank Peretti, and knew that I had it in me to peck out a real page turner of a book.
I read an interview with John Grisham where he said that the best place to start writing is by writing about what you know. I had just finished working as a Youth Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in North Carolina, moved back to Florida, and was getting loads of stories from wayward teens. So I started there.
Two years and a few drafts later, I finished my first novel, Descent. I sent query letters to dozens of publishers and agents and started keeping a folder of rejection letters as inspiration to keep on trying. The folder turned into a notebook, and I kept sending letters. Getting a first novel published isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Eventually, my parents introduced me to a guy from their church who told me about the up and coming market for eBooks. You might say this book was ahead of its time… about fourteen years ahead of its time. But now that the Kindle has made the eBook a much more valued commodity, I figured that it was time to let my first book see the light of day again. (Actually, my first book Johnny Jumper and Bumper Machine, was written when I was thirteen, but is has been lost to the ravages of time.)
Obviously, this book was written by a completely different person than the person writing this Introduction. Actually, the world of 1993 was a completely different world. Hopefully, some of you will remember that Chevy Chase had a talk show. I still think it’s a pretty fun read and I’m proud that it capped off the first twenty-five years of my life.
That was how the first several installments of this work initially began, much to the confusion of the emailed recipients. I was inspired to write the following tale and to take the journey that birthed it by the writings and legacy of Jack Kerouac, and in many ways I started writing these letters as an unauthorized sequel to his body of work. Not that I felt that my writing was all that similar to his other than the fact that I tend to ramble on and use a lot of hyphens, nor did I feel that his body of work really necessitated a sequel. But I did feel his beaten spirit generations after it left his body and hoped to address some of the sentiments that were still reverberating through my generation.
Jack was known as the ‘King of the Beats’, leading the Beat Movement heralded by such auteurs and poets as Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Gregory Corso. Though in many respects the term ‘beat’ described how tired and ‘down and out’ these souls felt amid the rise out of Depression, there was also a sense of being upbeat that transcended the gloom they saw washing over society.
In his book The Dharma Bums where these sullen men find meaning in a life of wandering and searching for Truth, the characters Ray Smith and Japhy Ryder discuss the Rucksack Revolution.
“…see the whole thing is a world of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ‘em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures…”
When I first read this, I had just been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and felt that the traits inherent in my ‘disease’ lent greatly to the attributes which would be needed for such an endeavor. Though many have assumed that this passage was prophetic of the hippie movement, I still sensed a need for it to happen decades after the hippies hit their strongest stride. For especially after the ‘me generation’ of the eighties, I saw my generation mired in a glut of materialism that was distracting us from the greater enjoyment and appreciation of life. Now faced with the catastrophic possibilities inherent in global warming and the need for less consumption of waste, I feel that this passage might be just the prophecy this generation has been looking for.
Coinciding with my newfound diagnosis and appreciation of my literary forbearers, I was also at a crossroads in my spirituality. Having long since turned my back on the Fundamentalist Evangelical Movement that proposed to have exclusive rights to Truth, I noticed a rising tide of a less self-centered form of spirituality and a growing consciousness that proclaimed the idea that ‘We Are All One.” It was with that knowledge that I set off on my own ‘rucksack revolution’, realizing that on some level that though thousands or millions may not actually take the physical journey, they could be able to take it through me. If I could only step out in faith and answer the call I seemed to be given, the rest of the world would be doing it with me.
Hence I planned my adventure. Contacting several assorted intentional communities across the country to solicit an invitation to visit, and setting up an email list of friends and family which would grow as I met new people along the way, I set forth to see the country, examine my soul, and to write the world.
I equate this journey of mine in large part to the Fool’s Journey of the Tarot’s Major Arcana. This is not just because I’m self-deprecating or because I claim to be a fortune teller or mystic, but because of the mythological journey the Fool makes through the series of portraits in his quest to gain the world. The first card, The Fool, is numbered zero and pictures a hapless, young man stepping off of a cliff with nothing but a bindle stick to carry his provisions. The second card of The Magician would seem to display the contents of his bindle to reveal the four suits of Swords, Cups, Coins, and Wands, symbolizing the four elements of Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. The message that is given as the young man begins his journey is that everything he will need, he already has, as evidenced on the twenty-first and final card of The World, where the four elements are again symbolized in the corners of the portrait.
As I traveled through twenty-six states from Florida to California, I took part in my own Fool’s Journey, or Hero’s Journey depending on your degree of optimism. And the impending growth of consciousness continued to reveal itself to me through people that I met and books that opened themselves up to me. Moreover, I have seen this consciousness grow in the world around me.
From the allegorical prophecy of the Celestines to filmmakers questioning what the Bleep we really know, our society is opening up the Secret that there is something greater at work here than the material forms which surround us, and it is by our opening ourselves up to letting our Purpose drive our lives that we will truly see a Revolution.
Though ending this particular journey in Los Angeles opened up my apparent ADD to a bevy of directions as my mind clamored for journeys in music, filmmaking, writing, and art, it is my hope that my true purpose shines through the following letters to let you know that we truly are all one and that you have everything you need within you to complete the journey that you’re on.
In my travels, I came across several communities that are living ‘off the grid’, meaning that they are not tied into the telecommunication and utilities infrastructure that so many of us take for granted. Instead, they take advantage of the renewable resources of wind and sun that many would have us believe are far off delusions. My question is why these communities of renegades can fashion these mechanisms together in the middle if the woods, but we’re so slow to figure out how to do it within the city limits?