God lives outside. I know the ancient Israelites thought God was locked away in their fancy temple, but they didn’t. And when Jesus came on the scene, he showed a strong affinity for the seaside, the lakeside, the plains, the desert and the mountains. In short, for the big road.
When I picture Jesus in my mind, I see a tanned, rugged outdoor man. A carpenter turned traveling preacher who went from town to town healing people inside and out, freeing them from their demons, forgiving their sins and announcing the coming of the upside down kingdom of God where mercy l outweighs justice and ridiculously extravagant love is the everyday “flavor of the day”.
Sorry, but I can’t imagine a fat Jesus drinking wine while stuffing his face with those leftover loaves and fishes. He fasted for forty days, remember? Additionally, gluttony is one of the “seven deadly sins” according to the Hebrew Bible. Spiritual form requires a certain level of physical fitness.
This is where my friends Bruce and Wendy Guillaume come into play. Bruce is the founder of Mountain Challenge – a for-profit organization housed at Maryville College with a focus on using the great outdoors to teach teamwork and leadership skills. Fit, Green and Happy is more than a mantra. It is the non-profit twin of Mountain Challenge whose very purpose is healthy living both for our planetary home and for the human beings who inhabit it.
Now the Guillaumes have a new idea. The Church of the Open Road.
Please don’t take this too literally. They don’t really start a church. We already have enough. Nearly a hundred Baptist churches in this county alone the last time I counted.
Bruce and Wendy are trying to teach us something. That if we want to be spiritually healthy, we must go where God is. Outside.
I’ve always thought one of the best ways to connect with God is through nature. Go out tonight, turn off your porch lights and come inside. Billions of stars in this galaxy and billions of other galaxies beyond. The nearest star – the NEAREST – is so far away that it would take you nearly three years of traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) to get there. And noodles about it. There seem to be as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world combined.
Seeing just a few hundred of these stars in your garden – and really soaking it up – should help you rethink your priorities. Stop sweating the small stuff. Remember these are just small things.
Does it really matter whether it’s a BMW or a Ford? Granite or Formica? Gucci or Wrangler? Any former astronomer will tell you no.
This weekend, load up the car and head to Cades Cove. Put on your hiking boots and head to Tremont, Elkmont or Newfound Gap. Get on your bike and ride the Greenbelt to Alcoa Duckpond or further to Clayton Homes. Go camping. Walk through College Woods. Canoe, kayak or tube on the small river. Arrive at Louisville Park or Ft. Loudon Park or Chilhowee Lake and have a swim. Go picnicking!
Or just start driving. With the windows down. Damn your fancy hairstyle. Descend the Foothills Parkway or cross the Cherohala Skyway. Drive to Abrams Creek Campground or drive across the mountain to Cherokee.
The Open Road Church is anywhere and everywhere. And everyone is welcome! All denominations or no denomination. It is an open communion.
So get out. Today. If all you do is walk down your street or around the neighborhood. Open your eyes. Listen to the birds. Breathe in that fresh air. Relax.
You might just run into God.
Buzz Thomas is a retired American Baptist Church minister, lawyer, school superintendent, and longtime resident of Blount County and frequent columnist for the Daily Times.