Every time I go backpacking, I find myself in some of the most remote and isolated back country in the world.
On my most recent endeavor to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, I was more distant and separated from civilization than I have ever been in my entire life. The closest town, McCarthy, Alaska (population 45), was 50 miles from where we would be backpacking over the week and was reachable only by bush plane.
I don’t know if you have ever had a similar experience, of finding yourself literally cut off from the world — from communication, from news media, from the current geopolitical climate, from domestic unrest, from political upheaval — but it is one of the most liberating, yet terrifying, experiences of my life.
In one sense, there is a sweet relief in finding solace in the stillness of the wilderness. Yet, in another sense, there is a profound unease upon re-entering the “real world.”
Metaphorically, it is as if this retreat into the wild always provides a necessary cleansing or washing from the accumulated daily muck and mire and mudslinging of our culture, but then is unceremoniously followed by the ugly realization that the mudslinging continues all the while and there is a sad inevitability of having to walk back into it.
And I was told as much upon my first communication the other day when one of my friends said, “After the events of this past week, I suggest heading straight back into the wilderness.”
I seriously thought about it after taking a quick look at the news and social media.
There is a crushing agony to experiencing so much stillness and peace and serenity, but then walking back into so much antipathy, hatred and division generated by what unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia.
These are certainly the times that try men’s and women’s souls, but retreat is for those who have lost hope that life can actually be better.
Retreat is for those who have lost the prophetic ability to help people imagine and begin working toward a different and better future.
Retreat is for those who have submitted to a defeated reality in which the healing, restorative, reconciling and saving power of God through Christ has no victory.
And I want each of you to know that I will absolutely not retreat.
I have not lost hope that every single life can be better. I have not lost the prophetic ability to help others imagine and then begin working toward a different and better future. And I will never submit to a defeated reality, because I believe with every ounce of my soul, every ounce of my being, in the healing, restorative, reconciling, and saving power of God through Christ and the victory that is found there for every single individual, for every single relationship, and for every single community, across every culture, every ethnic group, every race, every orientation and lifestyle, and from every tongue, tribe and nation.
Listen to me: Our future can and will be better.
But it seems, now more than ever, that there is a wide disparity among those who ought to be helping make this future better, a great divide between Christians and the Jesus we profess to follow. In fact, many who profess Jesus with their lips do not actively follow Jesus with their lives and this leaves many wondering who we are, where our allegiance lies and for what purpose we exist.
While this should be obvious, it must be stated that a follower of Jesus is one who has given their full allegiance and fidelity to Jesus and then one who strives moment by moment to follow the way of Jesus, in word, action and deed.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we will:
Love God and every single human being created in the image of God with our hearts, minds and souls. And the way this love of God manifests in our lives is not in guilting, shaming, wounding, hurting, devaluing, standing against or damning another, but by a willingness to sacrifice one’s self in order to demonstrate this radical love of God to another.
Affirm the God-given worth and value of every single person on the planet from the time of their conception to their final breath of life, no matter their gender, gender identity, orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, affiliation, ideology, religion, socio-economic status, citizenship status or the sin in their life.
Stand for and will actively work as peacemakers, not just in our own lives, but on behalf of every single life, every single relationship, every single community and every single situation in which we find ourselves.
Unambiguously and self-sacrificially stand, in solidarity and love with, by and for every individual or group who is being marginalized, victimized, oppressed, harassed, terrorized or threatened, no matter who the aggressor may be, no matter if it is a person or a group with whom we may have previously aligned.
Respond only with love to any verbal or physical antagonism, threat or offense by another. For each person, even the most violent offender has immeasurable worth and value. Even more, a life fully rooted in the radical love of God can only respond in love, therefore we will respond to every verbal and physical aggression only in love.
Work actively toward forgiveness and reconciliation, not just in our own lives, but between individuals and God, between individuals, and between people-groups, even when this means that we will likely lose standing or position from people or groups with whom we may have previously aligned, for there is no other way forward in a hostile and divided world than in forgiveness and reconciliation.
Strive for lives that emanate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control regardless of the changing conditions around us, regardless of how people, social media, the government, politicians or the media may try to turn us against others through propaganda and misinformation. We will choose to give others the benefit of a doubt and to love them despite what is said about them, even if it means standing against those with whom we previously aligned.
Choose a different way in this hostile and divided world.
Brothers and sisters, now more than ever, this worldwide body of Christ must resurrect and come to life, we must unite and lock together arms behind the way of Jesus.
This fractured, broken and beaten Body of Christ must rise to new life today.
Rise, church, rise!
Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader, a current iTunes podcast speaker and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website at brandonandress.com.