I hiked in the beautiful spring weather today with my younger brother, Joe. We went a gentle ways up a small and relatively unknown local canyon with spring-melt runoff rushing downstream, as if it might be on its way to the ocean. Cottonwood trees and junipers and ponderosa pines line the banks of the little stream.
It is a very sweet canyon in the southern Rockies that, as Joe says, lets you hike back into time. The hike begins its wander among blocks of tilted sandstone with occasional fossils in it. Soon enough one crosses into a geologically older layer of limestone — made of the countless shells from creatures living millions of years ago; the structure of their stems is still visible in places if one knows how to see them.
And then within a short distance further we were at the little cascading waterfall which, I in particular, had come to see. We don’t have a lot of free running water around here so such gurgling and splashing is highly valued.
Now however, this little side drainage, as well as the main canyon, are all sidewalls and bedrock of yet geologically older granite. We have indeed walked back through time, though our fundamentalist and evangelist father would prefer to consider it as all created but some 6,000 thousand years or so ago.
That is as dated by the Biblical literalist Bishop Ussher, of course. The lesson for all Biblical fundamentalists, is that if you are going to interpret the Bible literally, be sure to pick and choose your Truth carefully! Otherwise you increase the likelihood your children will depart from your Truth.
It is interesting to see how each of my siblings (5 of us in all) have adjusted and adapted to inherited Truth, and to the ‘world-as-it-is’, given the strength of our Fundamentalist Christian upbringing. Joe, for example, ended up with a BS degree in Geology. He subsequently makes a great hiking partner, given his personality and knowledge about time; but he no longer makes a good Fundamentalist.
No. Joe is now a self-described Mutt-Theist.
That is, he is not proud about where he finds his inspiration and guidance in life. He embraces beauty and truth and joy… wherever he encounters them, from whatever the source. His argument is that mutts are more hardy and resilient than pure breeds. And so he says he has founded the Church of the Mutt-Theists.
Now I know others argue for the discipline and practice of a tradition. “A time honored container will help you plumb the depths of spiritual practice,” they say. “Otherwise it is too easy to be a spiritual dilettante…” the argument goes.
They are correct in this fundamentalist attitude, of course, so long as it works for them. Their warnings against dilly-dallying in this and that is rightly taken as a caution against using one’s search to avoid… one’s Self; Any religious or even political structure however, it seems to me, can be used to help us avoid whatever it is we find uncomfortable to encounter, even if it be truth. Or the divine.
Form and structure have their gifts and their place; our mental models give us the familiarity of the world as we know it. Their danger is that we confuse their structure for the territory, our worldview maps… for the world-as-it-is.
Their gift is the creation of containers and boundaries within which we can explore freedom and expression… as ever artist knows. This gift is however only received within the context of a reciprocal relationship, one in which the worldview shapes us even as we embrace it; the canyon we hike in contains the stream which shapes it.
Learning to respect this power of our worldviews, as attractors of hearts and minds and shapers of what even is perceivable by ourselves and by others, surely this is one of the primary challenges of our time. This challenge is, elementally, the invitation to honor the Other. Yes, this means Life invites me to honor all the faces of Fundamentalism, including my father’s. And my own, too!
But today I saw the one-man-church of the Mutt-Theists in action. I saw eyes and a heart filled with beauty and awe and gratitude. His very Being radiated with the joy of wandering through time on this sunny spring day. (I saw my first butterfly of the season!)
Even if our father does say, “You are not the sons I’d want you to be,” even if he now fears for his own soul… believing his sons are bound for Hell, and that he might be at cause… even so…
I am proud of my brother Joe, the Mutt-Theist. I am proud of his wild resilience, his capacity and willingness to let his mind shape-shift to a more accurate perception of the world-as-it-is, as it presents itself to us, rather than submitting to the unquestioning acceptance of inherited dogma.
Don’t get me wrong here. I love to hike over and through layers of sandstone or of limestone or of granite. And I’m not prejudice against conglomerates or metamorphosed rocks either. I love rocks, whatever their theological origins. I love their solidity and colors and textures and shapes and variety…. I just don’t carry as many home in my pockets as my brother Joe does.
And I also do not wish to construct my own sense of self with the solidity of the graven image of Truth. Like rock, like a rigid or too narrow a worldview, Truth is mighty subject to fracturing and erosion.
Water does cut rock after all. So I figure it’s good to re-member that liquid gurgling playful part of a Self too. Yep. I’d like to go resiliently dancing through Life, always flowing back to the source, of which we each already… are One with.
At least, in my worldview. My brother the Mutt-Theist, I think he would agree.