It can be easy to either romanticize or dismiss a person like Chris McCandless. People have done both. In this post, I’m going to focus on why his choices are not as easy to dismiss as we might think.
As a Christian, I could talk about Hebrews 10:25 and the need for community. Christianity is meant to be lived in a context of community. I believe that, but even then, it’s not so easy, because evangelicalism stresses individualism so much, our personal relationship with God, and such. How much do we really deal with conflict, commit to each other, seek the best for others? We could chastise McCandless’ parents for a lack of transparency, yet how often do we fail to be transparent? How often do Christian leaders not admit mistakes or fail to be authentic? Does our Christian culture provide a context where people can be real, and work out their issues?
In studying the spiritual disciplines, there disciplines of simplicity and solitude. We have the example of the desert fathers, for example, who spent time alone in the desert, to be with God, to be away from people. Some of them returned to civilation at times and served. Some of their writings were influencial long after their lives ended.
We are often so caught up in other people’s expectations, and a variety of addictions and idols relating to people and culture. God commanded us to rest once a week from our normal routine. And in the life of Jesus, there was solitude, as he spent time alone at times, to pray, to be refreshed. Those who desired to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, like St. Francis of Assisi, lived very simple lives, and his Canticle of the Sun is a wonderful poem shows his love of nature and the God who created the world. People dismissed St. Francis in his time. Sometimes the way to be the greatest influence is to be the servant of all.
Rich Mullins is a more modern example of someone who loved to spend time in nature, live simply, and walk his own path. Rich didn’t do the things a Christian musician is supposed to do to be successful. He didn’t take advise to lose weight and learn dance moves. He moved away from Nashville, went back to college, and moved to an Indian reservation. Many loved him. Some, no doubt, questioned the way he did things, and the wisdom behind them.
My point is not to endorse monasticism, ascetism, or any other -ism. It’s too say that we sometimes too easily dismiss those who walk a different path and fail to see the truth in parts of their lives, if not he whole. We, as Christians, sometimes get too caught up in the common sense of our culture. Sometimes we create our own equally false frameworks of what a Christian is supposed to look like in contrast to the culture.
McCandless had a disdain for the facades and materialism of our culture. By his actions, he showed a desire to among the poor. There are examples of him serving the poor on the streets, and he gave his money to the poor. Now, maybe, by being a lawyer, he could have served them in a greater capacity, possibly, or maybe he, like many people, would get caught up in the business and lose sight of his vision once he arrived. McCandless, though, pulled away from community and commitment to people. St. Francis and Rich Mullins not only identified with the poor and hurting, they were committed to friends, and they were rooted themselves in community. It’s one thing to be among the poor, another to be committed to the poor as one of them in an ongoing basis. Therein lies the challenge…to not only serve…but to commit to those we serve, so that is is no longer US/THEM, but WE.