At the end of a hectic semester, I really enjoy getting away from everything and camping in the mountains and getting recharged. I love the river and breeze and pine trees. Snow’s cool too. Although this is a somewhat strange, new feeling for me, it is common for millions of Americans. According to Ken Burns, this is what makes us American.
I love Ken Burns’ documentaries. He has thoroughly documented everything American from baseball to jazz to the civil war and prohibition. His newest series is about the Dust Bowl. I haven’t watched it yet. The last one I watched was about Lewis and Clark. It gave me and many others throughout America’s history a yearning to go on an adventure and rough it like they did. Once the industrial revolution hit and people started going through the grind of long hours in factories and day and night trading on Wall Street, they started getting the itch too. This is what sparked an interest in millions of Americans to ‘go home’ as Burns calls it in his 6 volume series, “National Parks, America’s Best Idea.”
I didn’t get to make it to the mountains this winter but I did watch this documentary that was none the less breathtaking. Not just the images and video that was caught but the stories of those who caught the bug that was spreading rampantly through America’s metropolises.
One amazing explorer and writer was John Muir (1838-1914). His dad was an abusive minister that made him memorize all of the New Testament and most of the Old by age 11. He became a brilliant engineer that increased productivity in many factories on the east coast. An accident in a factory blinded him for months. After regaining his sight, he decided to walk to the Amazon, build a raft and float down it. He got slowed down in Florida after contracting malaria and decided instead to explore America’s rivers and mountains and everything in between.
He was immediately captivated by the beauty of what is now Yosemite. It was love at first sight. He gave his life from that moment to explore more unprotected territory and pass legislation that would protect and preserve America’s parks. He mainly did this by using his vast vocabulary to vividly tell everyone of its beauty and that they should come and see it for themselves. His description “blazes from the page with the authentic force of a conversion experience.” This earned him the title ‘wilderness prophet’.
Many came from all over the world to see “America’s cathedral” and hear Muir “preach”. Why go to Europe to see some fancy building made by men when you can see something whose Architect and Builder is God! Even President Teddy Roosevelt came to hear his message and check out the sights. He was so enthralled that he spent that weekend camping out in the wilderness with Muir only. Muir rapidly won America’s heart and found favor in Congress.
So what’s the problem? According to Muir, anything “dollarable” isn’t safe. Even though legislation was passed to preserve large portions of land, no one was there to protect it. To enforce this legislation known as the American Antiquities act, the government placed buffalo soldiers and eventually, park rangers in each park to protect it from exploiters like farmers, grazers, and especially entrepreneurs building hotels and charging tolls to see the sights. Sadly, big business won when San Francisco flooded the Hetch Hetchy valley to provide water for its citizens.
Ruth Kirk, like Muir was also an explorer and writer. She has climbed mountains, scoped trails, observed the flora and fauna, and then written about all those experiences. Her lifetime was spent paying attention to human history and natural history and interpreting it for readers. Here’s one of her quotes I really liked from the documentary.
“Really experience it, not look at it but experience it.” – Ruth Kirk
Another explorer I admire is Witness Lee. His lifetime was spent experiencing and sharing the spiritual scenery he explored. The Bible talks a lot about the “GoodLand” which is a type of Christ. Christ is vast, immense, scenic, breathtaking and life changing. This was the topic of Lee’s first conference given in America in 1962 that gave many Americans a similar hunger and thirst to explore this vast, uncharted spiritual “land”. You can read about it for free in his book titled The All Inclusive Christ.
This book is based on a number of scriptures. Here are some good passages.
As therefore you have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, WALK IN HIM – Colossians 2:6
For IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND ARE, as even some poets among you have said, For we are also His race – Acts 17:28
Many Americans have been content to stay in the hotel at the outskirts of the park, viewing the scenery from the comfort of their bed. Some make it to the base of the mountain and look up, say “whoa” then leave. They saw more than most but were still short of being up in the clouds, “looking through heavens window” as one true explorer described being atop MountMcKinely.
It takes someone very dedicated to be this kind of explorer. This is what John Muir was. This is what Ruth Kirk was. This is what Witness Lee was. This is what we should be, explorers, not exploiters.
So, how can we explore? The Bible says in Ephesians 3:18 that we can apprehend with ALL THE SAINTS what the BREADTH, LENGTH, HEIGHT and DEPTH of Christ are. This is what we call the “church life”. This is what Christians have been doing since the Bible was written. The church life has increased my hunger and thirst for exploring Christ and my appreciation for the explorers who have gone before, whose shoulders we’re standing on.