Monday, February 23, 2009

Lessons Learned in the Wild.

I'm a subscriber to Netflix. It's an on-line service that delivers DVD's to your door.

For the last two weeks I've had Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" sitting beneath my tv, waiting to be seen. Sometimes I hesitate to watch "tough" movies, and this story about a troubled young college graduate who runs away from his difficult family, into the wilderness of Alaska, was supposed to be pretty "heavy."

Last night, though, I took a deep breath and put the DVD in and watched the film. It's a good film. Well-directed, well-written, and well-acted.

It's the story of a boy born into a family where the marriage of the parents is troubled. Christopher has everything, graduates from Emory, and then heads west. He gives what he has away, burns every piece of personal ID, and refuses to have any contact with his parents. The young man works with a harvesting crew in the midwest, goes down the Colorado River, ends up traveling up the West Coast with some middle-aged hippies, and ends up deep in the Alaskan wilderness. All by himself. Living in an abandoned bus.

All along the way, he runs away from people who offer him love. There is an older man, an Army veteran played by Hal Holbrooke, who offers to adopt Christopher. The young man keeps moving. Because his own family has had turmoil and conflict, the young man keeps moving.

Finally, as he dies alone in the wilderness, Christopher writes something like this on the page of a paperback: Happiness was meant to be shared with others.

Running is a pretty common way of responding to disappointment, sadness and heartache. I see that all the time in people's lives, as a pastor. We don't usually end up living in an abandoned bus outside Fairbanks, but we run away. It's like if we can get far enough away from other human beings, we'll be of the sadness.

But running rarely works as we had hoped it would.

The apostle Paul, in the New Testament, spends a lot of energy telling early followers of Jesus that we were created to be a part of a body. We were meant to share life with others. We were not meant to do life on our own.

That is the lesson he learns in the splendid isolation of the wilderness: Happiness was meant to be shared with others.

If you're running, I think it would be a good idea to stop. I wouldn't pretend to know what your next step should be, if you stop running, but I think you should stop running.

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