Theological Hitchhiking: A Creative Advance into Novelty
HITCHHIKING IN IRAN
Image courtesy of Sait Can Kutsal
The Spirit of Hitchhiking
Quotes to Get Started
"You are unceremoniously tossed out of your personal sphere of existence and exposed to what is real and honest and authentic: the incredible variety of human life as it exists on earth. It’s exhilarating."
"The important thing to understand is this: hitchhiking is most rewarding, and makes the most sense, when it’s the purpose of your journey – not just a means of moving from one place to another. The one true reason to hitchhike is simply because it’s really, really fun."
learning from people with theologies different from your own
If we hold on too tightly to our theologies, one of the best practices we can undertake is theological hitchhiking. This is taking a journey, taking a ride, with someone else in the driver's seat; listening to them and trying to understand their point of view; getting a feel for how their theology makes sense to them. It is listening with an open heart.
I am not recommending literal hitchhiking. I know it can be dangerous. But I am recommending theological hitchhiking. It, too, can be risky. You are on the road, having left your prized beliefs behind, at least for the duration of the journey, listening to that person share stories and experiences. You don't need to leave your physical home to catch a ride with a theological stranger, but you do need to leave your theological home. You need a sense of otherness, a respect for people who think differently from you.
You "catch a ride" by reading books, or watching videos, or having a live conversation with someone whose life experience and spiritual orientation are different from your own. Your riding is your listening and you are patient with the ride, not in a hurry to arrive at a clear destination. You need not even know where you are going.
The spirit of your listening is crucial. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine, describes it well:
"Benedictine spirituality is the spirituality of an open heart. A willingness to be touched. A sense of otherness. There is no room for isolated splendor or self-sufficiency. Here all of life becomes a teacher and we its students. The listener can always learn and turn and begin again. The open can always be filled. The real discipline can always be surprised by God."
God is in the stranger to whom you are listening and in the stories and ideas the stranger shares.
Eventually the ride will be over and you can return home of your established theology. But even if you return you will be different, because their story now informs your own life. You have undertaken what Whitehead calls a creative advance into novelty.
Even God is a hitchhiker. Open and relational theologies speak of God as essentially kenotic, meaning that God is an inclusive consciousness, embracing the whole universe, who is always "self-emptying" in relation to the world. This self-emptying is not simply luring the world into goodness and beauty in an active way, it is also listening to living beings in a receptive way. As this Consciousness listens to the creatures of the world, they are in the driver's seat. They fill part of the divine consciousness and God is moved by what God hears. God is, says Whitehead, a "fellow sufferer who understands."
In God's case, however, there's no need to return home. God's home is the universe itself. God's theology is not a personal set of beliefs but rather unbounded love. This means that God is not in a hurry to get anywhere. For God the value of hitchhiking is indeed the journey. God is the best hitchhiker in the universe.
For us mortals, leaving home is frightening and we may yearn to return home.. Our theologies have provided security for us. They are fortresses of a kind, modes of self-protection. We don't have to leave them forever. We can return to them if we wish. We may end up disagreeing with the strangers we met. We may even think they are "wrong" about things that matter to us.
Open and relational theologians believe that people who think God is all-powerful are wrong. Imagine an open and relational theologian who catches a ride with a classical theist. It might be very uncomfortable. Still, it is important to listen again and again with a sympathetic ear. "There is no room for isolated splendor or self-sufficiency. Here all of life becomes a teacher and we its students."
Theological hitchhiking is a form of questing. In the spiritual alphabet of humanity, "q" is for questing. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat write:
Questers venture into the unknown, confront difficulties and dangers, and return home with new understandings of themselves and of the world. A pilgrimage, part trip and part ritual, is prescribed in all the religious traditions for those seeking healing and renewal. The impetus for the journey could be an urge to explore one's spiritual roots, a desire for absolution, a wish to pay homage, or a question that needs answering. To practice questing, you have to leave home, both literally and figuratively. Travel to a sacred place where something has happened before and see what happens to you now. Don't stop, even if you stumble, until you have found a gift or an insight to bring back with you. If you can't go far, make an inner journey. Ask questions. Look for replies in areas where you have never thought to go before.
In theological hitchhiking, you may find replies to questions you've been asking for a long time, and you may also find questions you've not been asking but need to ask. The openness of your heart can be filled with new insights or with new questions. This, too, is part of the exhilaration of theological hitchhiking. You may end up being more confused. You may be taken into a domain of liminality or apophatic wonder. There's nothing wrong with that. Such bewilderment is its own way of being with God. It is a form of humility, of knowing that you don't know. Bewilderment, too, is part of the joy of theological hitchhiking.
- Jay McDaniel
The Rewards of Hitchhiking
"The important thing to understand is this: hitchhiking is most rewarding, and makes the most sense, when it’s the purpose of your journey – not just a means of moving from one place to another. The one true reason to hitchhike is simply because it’s really, really fun.
You will meet people you would never ordinarily meet, and they will tell you stories you’d hear nowhere else. When you get picked up by a local, they’ll tell you more about the place you’re travelling through than you could ever hope to learn simply by staying there; they’ll tell you the best places to eat and to go out and have fun; they’ll tell you the safe places and the dangerous places; they’ll tell you the town gossip for decades past. When you get picked up by a tourist, they’ll take you to viewpoints, beaches, and sideshows that you’d never have been able to reach without owning a car yourself.
Some people will share their philosophy on life with you. Some will tell you their biggest fears and regrets. Some will tell you about the best things that have ever happened to them, and some will tell you the worst things that are happening to them right now. You are unceremoniously tossed out of your personal sphere of existence and exposed to what is real and honest and authentic: the incredible variety of human life as it exists on earth. It’s exhilarating.
Every person you meet has made the decision to help you, to be kind to you, to treat you as a friend – and you do the same to them in return. When you hitchhike, you take nothing. A driver does not lose anything by letting you in their car – in fact, they gain your company. Of course, there are some people who may try to give you money. Some may want to take you to dinner, and some may invite you to meet their families and sleep on the sofa. Sometimes you might even accept these offers – it doesn’t matter. Because if you are a good hitchhiker, everybody wins. Don’t hitchhike because you want to get somewhere. Hitchhike because it will remind you that everywhere there are good people, and because the experiences you will have while hitchhiking are experiences that you could not have any other way."
Travelling in Woody Guthrie's footsteps inspired a new history of hitchhiking written by Jonathan Purkis. He joins Matthew Sweet for a conversation which ranges across hitchhiking in the UK and in Eastern Europe, where Poland operated a kind of voucher system. We look at the influence of film depictions from the Nevada desert depicted in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the hippie vibe of Easy Rider to the horror of The Hitcher and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the female focus of Je Tu Il Elle by Chantal Akerman. Has the idea of hitchhiking now had its day? Joining Matthew to assess the idea of risk and our perception of thumbing a lift is Timandra Harkness, film critic Adam Scovell, plus Sally J Morgan, winner of the Portico prize for her book Toto Among the Murderers, based on her experience of being offered a lift by Fred and Rosemary West