May it Never Be "Me, Myself, and I"

[It's been almost 6 weeks since I last wrote, and it may be another few weeks before I write again as we're preparing to go on vacation next week... but I felt compelled to share this, so here it is. ~Jess]

Since watching "Into the Wild" (a film I will not hasten to watch again, for many reasons) in July, I have been pondering many things about "Alexander Supertramp" and his fateful existence:
  • Selfishness is a severe, life-impacting character deficiency. -- Again and again, Chris (aka "Alexander") turned away from people who cared about him to "prove himself" and "live for himself". He did so recklessly-- not even taking a compass or having really educated himself in the ways of wilderness survival. But in his intense desire to live life "honestly" as he called it, he did so quite selfishly. The people he presumed to instruct and teach about "love" and really living sadly knew more about love and life than he would ever know.
  • Life is not meant to be lived alone.-- Extreme individualism flies in the face of not only most of the world's cultures (which usually place much higher value on community than American culture does), but also in the face of biblical culture. More on this in a minute.
  • A troubled childhood can really screw up a person. --Young men who grow up without learning how to be a man nearly always struggle mightily as they reach manhood; the same is true for young women, although with the cultural god of feminism, I'd bet that more young women than men think they know what the goal is-- whether they're accurate in the ultimate goal of life is less likely.
There are problems in every church, every family, every home, every culture, every life. But one thing I really like and value about God's designs of both church & family is that they are intended to combat the very problems that play out in this film. Families are designed to work out kinks of selfishness, extreme individualism, pride, and arrogance ... and in the family, young girls watch and learn how to be ladies, and young boys watch and learn how to be men. Churches of believers support and challenge other Christians and families to learn the ways of love, kindness, encouragement, one-anothering. NOT that we always do a good job of it. But community is God's design... and for good reason.

I loved seeing my son opt to use his 25 piece coin to let his sister do a ride rather than buy gum for himself the other day. Not that he always makes such choices, but I am thankful that, over time, he will have many opportunities because he is a part of our family to display kindness and selflessness. I pray that he'll learn to value the joy of another and learn how to translate into his own joy, rather than primarily seeking his own way.

And I am thankful to have the opportunity to learn from people who are very different from me, because we are part of the body of Christ. Amy left the busy life in Florida to move out to a farm in Amish country. MaryGrace has foster-to-adopted children and always makes me think. Barbara is Catholic and has twelve children. Sara has dreds and a young family and likes (occasionally) living in an RV. All different without a doubt, yet we all love and follow Jesus. And these are just my online friends! :) In my real-life family and in our real-life church, there are introverts and extroverts, servers and exhorters, teachers and pastors. There are females and males, young and old. All of us different. All of us wanting our own ways. And yet we all are better for learning to love and serve one another rather than having been off on our own, independent and unattached.

God did not mean for us to walk away into a wilderness by ourselves. The entire world was perfectly created and called good. And yet, even as perfect as it was, it was incomplete -- the one thing wrong was that there was no community. No relationship. So God made woman. He told the man and the woman to multiply-- to make more people to learn to love and to reflect God's glory. Men and women, in our biology and desires, need one another. He designed a woman's body (both through carrying the child and nursing the child) so that human contact is necessary. He designed the family for children to learn relationships from the very beginning, and for adults to grow in their abilities to love and sacrifice for others.

Then He sent His Son, Jesus. Aside from a few times of rest or fasting, Christ lived 30 years in family and community, and 3 years in daily, moment-by-moment contact with friends. He lived in love, died in love, sacrificed Himself in love, and then commanded His followers to continue on as the church in love. Unity within His church is what's to be most shocking to outsiders. The church is a place for refinement, sanctification, spiritual growth-- learning to love (1 Corinthians 13 defines the characteristics of "love" in ways that are, basically, the complete opposite of "selfish").

In His Word, we often find that the most beautiful stories are those with deep relationships-- Ruth & Naomi, David & Jonathan, Esther & Mordechai, Hagar & Ishmael, Jacob & Rachel (& Leah), Elizabeth & Mary, Solomon & his Shulammite bride, Paul & Silas, Joseph with his brothers, Bathsheba and Solomon. All had pain. All included heartbreak, let-downs, near-misses, close escapes, tragic sin, misunderstanding, and/or grief. And yet, through these beautiful stories, we see God's beautiful design for human life to be lived IN RELATIONSHIP.

Though "Into the Wild" is not a movie I would recommend for others or want to see again anytime soon, I am thankful that it presented the opportunity to think deeper about the real meaning of life... not getting away by one's self and shoving off the world, but being IN the world, LOVING others, EMPTYING me of myself and EMBRACING the life of sacrifice and true love that Christ modeled.


Serena said...

Can we ever hear this enough? Can we ever be reminded enough that it's not about us, that our selfishness is debilitating? I really needed to have this refreshed in my mind in these words from someone else ('cause I've been telling myself similar things, but hearing it from someone else is a whole other story).

Well said, Jess. I'm so glad to see a post from you again, and I hope to see more again after your vacation! You've been sorely missed.

Catie said...

Thanks for this post!! It's greatly appreciated! I always love hearing from you! ~Catie

Elizabeth said...

I always thought Into the Wild has been one of the worst movies I had ever seen, and I could never pin down exactly said it perfectly!

Catherine R. said...

Well, anything that has Sean Penn connected to it...ahem.

I haven't seen it and probably won't but these are good words. It is sad that on top of the insane individualism, we are pushed into isolation even if we don't want it. Modern life has become hostile to togetherness, it's hard.

Jess said...

The book the movie is based on is much better than the movie. Jon Krakauer questions and critiques Chris's motives and behavior--I thought the movie celebrated them. Also, the book does not present Chris's childhood as negatively as in the movie. It seems the movie added the part about the parents to give Chris an easy explanation for his behavior, when in reality it was much more complicated, and much more based in his own issues.

Anonymous said...

I have read you for a while and have missed your writings. I am not as gifted as you in expressing the ideas of the mind and heart. I have truly enjoyed my thoughts voiced here. The Lord has used your writings to convey very important and practical things to me. I have found frustration with the embrace the wild side ... run off... for a while. Thank your for your thoughts. I have been very blessed by them. Enjoy your vacation, Gods Blessing for your safe travel.
For His Glory,

Leah said...

Great to hear from you Jess - we've missed you!

jolie said...

My husband and I watched "Into The Wild" last year and it left us both unsettled and very contemplative. While I would also hesitate to recommend it to many people, this movie was worth the time as it served as a catalyst for thinking through issues like the ones you raised. I do have to admit, though, that I enjoyed the soundtrack. Thanks for your thoughts.

Laura said...

Hi Jess!
I was SO excited when I saw a "1" next to "Making Home" in my reader!!! Yay, I look forward to reading more in the future as I am always challenged by your posts.
I read the book but didn't see the movie. I agree with your comments, the book is obviously different but it still tells a sad tale and you have done a good job of relating that to our culture. Thanks!

darci said...

great post, jess! I hated this movie on so many levels:) I always appreciate reading what you think thru and articulate so well!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to point out that Chris himself comes to this conclusion at the end of the movie. (Minus the God part! Which is certainly a crucial part of what you're saying, but is not the WHOLE part).

I loved the movie, and found it very powerful and poignant... And I think the message of the movie is actually consistent with this post. The very things he strove for (freedom, independence, strength, courage) he in the end acknowledges that he could not have, because he did not have love, community, and a chance to live for and with and because of others. So it wasn't a movie that encourages us to live like Chris did... It encourages quite the opposite! It points out that we NEED each other, and we NEED love and community. We see in his striving for "absolute freedom", that he could NOT be free without others. e.g. In his book at the end he wrote: "Happiness only real when shared". Even though he (and possibly viewers) think the way to be free is to be alone, the movie proves that you can't cope like that, and it ultimately leads to ruin.

I really appreciate this lesson about community/love/relationships/joy, both in the movie and in your post, Jess. But I think your messages are the same, rather than being opposite!

- Sarah.

Jess said...

Perhaps you're right, Sarah. But in our viewing, that message was ambiguous at best. It seemed to me that Sean Penn (the director) chose to make Chris out to be something of a hero, a "bad boy" who challenges wrong and fights for right... but in the end realized he needs people... Penn even makes it seem that it was just fate that had Chris out there dying alone. But facts show us that had Chris done any amount of research on the area he lived in, he'd have known that less than 1/2 a mile away from the very point he looked over the river was a means of crossing so that he could have come back to civilization.

I agree that the movie does potentially show viewers what a hopelessly lonely and unfruitful thing is the life lived alone... but I'm afraid that too many such icons with tragic ends are held up not as a picture of warning, but as a picture of idealistic success... that even though they ____(died, committed suicide, contracted a disease, etc)____, that there's still some admirable bits that we ought to trumpet and emulate. The movie left me unsettled and unsure of what the message was-- there were certainly undertones of what a moral and good man he was... and the opportunities for showing his real life foolishness weren't chosen to be included by the director of the film. Anyway, I'm glad we agree on the issue of community life; I'm just not so high on the movie.

Raisingarrows said...

I happened upon your blog last week and read this post because my dh and I had seen Into the Wild and were quite dismayed by it. (btw, the custom cutter Wayne Westerberg was our custom cutter when I was growing up!)

I told my dh I had read a post about it and he wanted to read it, but I could not find your blog again. I am so glad I happened upon it again tonight and can send him the link!

Your thoughts are right on target. Thank you for sharing.

LLMajer said...

I am so glad to see a post from you! Look forward to more from you when you get back...blessings for safe travel.

Ruth MacC said...

I like your Blog and enjoy readig it. I have to say that what you said about Barbara being a Catholic and that you all love and follow Jesus jumped out at me a bit...
You believe that Catholics are saved?

I am not a crank, just curious:0)


Jess said...

Thanks for your question.

Any Catholic who believes & follows Jesus (and after reading Barbara's blog for years, I see that she--like me-- imperfectly tries to do so) is saved. Any Baptist who believes and follows Jesus is saved. Any Methodist who believes and follows Jesus is saved. It is not the denomination but the believing that makes us "saved".

Will any of us do it perfectly? No. Do I have doctrinal differences with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ? Yes. Even very serious differences sometimes? Yes. Am I a Catholic? No. But I know a number of sincere Catholic Christians, and know that in Catholic ranks, just as in other denominational ranks, there are real Christians and people just going along with their culture. Just like what happens in Presbyterian pews and Assembly of God membership lists and Bible Church summer camp week. The thing that matters is the belief in Jesus Christ as the means of salvation and righteousness.

I think that is the best concise answer I can give. I hope this helps you understand what I am and what I'm not trying to say.

Ruth MacC said...

Thanks for the reply! I appreciate you going to the trouble. How right you are. We have a Presbyterian church here in town that is dead and yet there are a few true Christians in it. There is also a false Christian church here that has some believers in it too. It is a sad thing that when a person gets saved they don't come out from these false/dead churches.

My husband was a Catholic before his slvation as were 90% of the members of the Church I am joined to. I myself was reared a Catholic.

I suppose I am always a bit concerned when I hear someone say that Catholics are saved because I know that a true and devoted Catholic believes not on salvation by faith alone but by works, which is a false Gospel.

Thanks again Jess. God continue to bless you and your family.