Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: December 1, 1999
Well, it's that Christmas month again, so it's about time we had a look at the Christians again. The last time we mused over them was Christmas of '97, in a Hitch-hiker's Christmas after all. But this time let's have a look at two very special Christians on the world of hitch-hikers, both of whom published a book of their experiences I had the pleasure of reading this year. He a hitch-hikee, and her a hitch-hiker ... both of them Americans.
They've never met one another I'm sure a world apart in spite of the common faith, so let me introduce to you first the hitch-hikee, Edwin T. Dahlberg. Dahlberg was an 85 year old Baptist minister in the United States in 1978, who after 8 years of picking up hitch-hikers on the road, published his short book I Pick Up Hitchhikers.
One of the most interesting things to note is that he's very defensive about it. People all around him question his sanity, much as they do mine today for doing the same. As early as 1978 this blanket of fear has manifested itself in American culture, when as late as 1976 I have other sources demonstrating just how popular and easy it still was (Jacob Holdt among them). Clearly a time of transition from the happy go lucky 60's to the angst burdened 80's.
Dahlberg starts off on the right track in any case. Inspired by Job who said "I searched out the cause of him whom I do not know." Dahlberg writes:
Bravo! What an insight. Haven't I been preaching the beauty of strangers for a good decade myself?
But then he goes off the track a little. He confesses up front he won't pick up women as the risk of blackmail and scandal is too great. But on the subject of violent crime he simple shrugs it off figuring "that as a fairly ancient senior citizen it wouldn't make too much difference to the world if [he] did get "bumped off"". Twisted priorities or what? Or does it just go to show how much more some of us value our reputation than we do our very lives! Intriguingly hypocritical all the same given the pages he devotes to justifying his giving of rides to strangers citing Jesus and his motley crew of apostles and saints.
He then has the audacity to ascribe a list of "legitimate" reasons to be on the road: 1. The search for work, 2. Going back to or coming home from college, 3. Emergencies such as breakdowns, 4. Soldiers and the aged. The rest of us are pitiful scum it seems with not legitimate reason to be on the road. But even upon us he has mercy, as we are lost souls, many of us lovable, and he beseeches drivers to love us. Whew! Lucky us. I'll take option 1 or 3 myself - I'm either looking for material for articles, or have a social crisis to attend to - the fear of strangers - for the rest of you, mercy be.
Frankly if you're a hitch-hiker Dahlberg's little book will come across as Evangelistic preaching. The whole last chapter is dedicated to reforming the world by spreading the Word. If however you're a Christian, it might look like a book about hitch-hiking. All a matter of perspective.
If you should want to read this gem, here's the lowdown:
Back to our hitch-hiker! And she's a stunner too. Not just a pretty face, but a heart of gold too. What a contrast to old Edwin!
Laurel Lee was hitching with her friend Ted in 1966, when Richard picked them up. One thing led to another, she dumped old Ted and married Richard. They had a dream, to settle in Alaska, where the land was free, built a cabin, put it on a truck and headed north. On the way, a chance reading of one page of the Bible (the Sermon on the Mount) has them both converting, born again so to speak ... as Christians.
Impulsive Richard sells the truck and cabin to thrust their fortunes in the hands of God, and the hitch south to Mexico. So quickly plans can change.
When all is said and done they do hitch back to Alaska and pursue their dream, but I won't spoil the story by spilling the beans ... but I will tell you, for a book by a Christian on the discovery of Christianity, and the joy of God, in harsh contrast to Edwin T. Dahlberg's efforts, it is subtle to the point of finesse. Such an elegant tale it's a pleasure to read, penned in a style so uniquely Laurel, personal, dreamy, pensive ... it's so intimately about what's running through her head, heart and life, much more than it is about the things and deeds they're couched in and yet never overbearingly preachy or evangelistic.
She doesn't mention the stuff (Christianity) until page 69 of 252, a full quarter of the way into the tale, and what references remain are so nonchalantly personal without dragging you the reader into it, as to make reading not in the least bit uncomfortable for all but your most fervent atheist. She's compiled the whole book from the diary she kept at the time, and it reads like one.
Frankly Laurel was a pleasure to read, a wonderful reflection on the late 60's when it all takes place, and an entertaining and revealing style, elegantly illustrated in her own hand, with a smattering of photos included.
If you'd like to read this one, here's the trace:
Frankly, I'd steer clear of old Edwin and take a peek at Laurel. You might find both at http://www.bookfinder.com.
So that was it. He, Edwin T. Dahlberg, the hitch-hikee, and her, Laurel Lee, the hitch-hiker. Almost overlapping in time, but in little else ... bar the simple fact of Christ.