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Ridin' "The Dog" for Jesus

By Tim Honan

It's a kind of "meet the Lord on the Lido Deck" thing. According to a Worship at Sea brochure for a luxury Christian cruises, you can get intensive leadership training, worship training, apostolic instruction and even prophetic insights while floating about the Caribbean, Mediterranean or Pacific - all "without the normal pressures of daily life and the familiar surroundings of the home church."

Another brochure reads: "attentive cabin stewards provide discreet, unobtrusive service, replenishing ice and arranging fruit, turning down beds and delivering pillow chocolates. Anticipating your every wish, our gracious crew members dedicate themselves to providing you the best." As an out of church guy, the idea of luxury (Luxurious: definition. 1. Lecherous - 2. Marked by or given to self indulgence) and religious training co-existing on a single boat seemed incongruous. But I suppose with no viable alternative even the most ascetic among us would have a hard time turning down those pillow mints and iced Diet Pepsis.

What we need here is another option more in the stream of real spirituality, yet keeping with the theme of getting away from the routine and pressure of daily life and the familiarity of the local church. I want to help people dodge the bullet of self-indulgence, which seems the main focus of luxury liners, and be able to truly have a life-changing experience.

Now of course, to keep us on an even spiritual keel and economically conservative, we would have to forego expensive "face time" with religious celebrities (those who cruise for free on our collective dime). They may still want to join us, but I doubt it. The unobtrusive service and primped buffets might be hard to resist, but such delectable perks wouldn't be part of my alternative solution.

My alternative to the inspirational luxury cruise is "going Greyhound," or as an urban friend of mine calls it, "ridin' the dog."

On the Dog, you'd be riding with the folks that turn down your sheets - those minimum wage people trained in discretion and unobtrusive service. The housekeepers, bus boys, short order cooks and janitors. The invisible people.

And those seafood buffets? When you're ridin' the Dog your options are limited: you could buy one of those hot dogs that roll on a tepid grill for days waiting for the nearly broke and hungry, or you could bring your own lunch (and bring enough to share), or better yet, because you're saving all that dough ridin' the Dog you could buy five buckets of the Colonel's chicken, pass it around and make some friends.

On a bus ride many years ago I was across the aisle from a man on his way to a VA hospital. He was in a foul humor, drinking from a bottle in a brown bag. "You know you lay down your life for your country, and what do you get?" His voice rose. Before I could answer: "I'll tell you what you get, you get this piece of shit." From down around his right side suddenly a long prosthetic arm appeared in the air. The bolts were loose and the cables limp. He turned to me, rattling the plastic arm in front of my face. "Here, give that cable a pull."

I protested weakly, "No I shouldn't."

"No, go ahead," he said, rattling the arm again. So I gently pulled one of the cables. The claw at the end of the arm squeaked open and then squeaked closed. "See what I mean? Goddamn government," he muttered, turning and taking a pull from the bag.

That's what's great about the Dog; I got a lesson in politics, war and the handicapped in a single highly memorable minute. On the bus nothing is contrived. The ride is notoriously and gloriously unpredictable, as are the passengers. You probably won't meet people like that on the cruise because, well, the boat really doesn't go anywhere. And one armed, disappointed vets can't afford it. The purpose of the cruise is to suspend reality. In contrast, the Dog travels low and lean on the highway of reality. A bus trip will wean you from the spectacle, the narcissistic and ritual drama found frequently in contemporary Christianity.

Because kindness and attention are sold by the ounce on luxury liners, they might be in short supply on the 'Dog. But the small kindnesses expressed go a long way. On the bus you are the ear of God, listening to troubles most likely beyond your capacity to help. On the bus everyone is truly going somewhere, except you of course - you would be there because of a desire to get out of the familiar routine and escape the pressures of churchianity.

So forget the mints, bring your own pillow and take the Dog for an inspirational adventure.

Tim Honan is a writer living near Aspen, Colorado. This article is from Reprinted with permission of the author. All Rights Reserved 2006.