Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thoughts on Once Hanging Out with Leonard Knight

One summer while I was still in Southern California my buddy Scott came to live with Nate, TJ and I. I am guessing this had to be between Steve and Erik, but definitely before Adam as roommates. I honestly lose track of the order of those three, but I think it was definitely Steve-Erik-Adam. But now I am curious if I am missing a roommate in there. Okay, rewind. One summer Scott came to visit me. It was the summer we had that earthquake and the Greens lived directly above us in the big house. I namely remember the earthquake story because poor Scott was caught showering during the earthquake and had to run out into the yard in his towel and hung out with Jeremy and the boys until it was safe to go back inside.

Which also means it was the summer that this happened:

I decided to surprise Scott with a brief roadtrip. I told him to pack an overnight bag. In Southern California there is a lot of diversity so I had to tell him to prepare a desert overnight bag, not a beach overnight or mountains overnight. We took off late Friday (you know, after 7:30 to avoid L.A. traffic) and hit The 10 going east. As we passed through Palm Springs Scott started asking a few questions, so I told him, "We're headed to the Salton Sea." We spent the night in a little $19.95 a night hotel/flea market. I kid you not. Instead of a lobby...they had a flea market.

The next day I told Scott the reason we came out here was to see Salvation Mountain and hopefully meet Leonard Knight. Most of you probably have no idea who Knight is. If you do know him, it is quite likely your introduction came through Into the Wild. That is how I heard about him anyway. So Scott and I bought breakfast at a convenience store and headed out to Salvation Mountain. We didn't really know what to do, so we walked around a little bit, and if memory serves me correctly, as we were about to leave Leonard drove up.

This dude is one of the nicest, most congenial guys you will ever meet. I felt loved from the very first smile. I think we spent maybe two hours with him. He took us on a tour and we prayed together. He told us his story, much of which you can find on the Salvation Mountain website.

Leonard Knight and Salvation Mountain
But there were a couple of things I noticed about Leonard. First, he was a bit strange. Second, he loved Jesus, but was a bit disenfranchised with the Church. Both are things I have encountered quite a bit in life, but it got me thinking about the correlation between the two.

Now, before you think this is going to turn into bagging on Leonard, it’s not. I think he has done an amazing job living out his faith and loving people, probably better than a lot of people sitting in pews every Sunday. And I sincerely mean that. The people surrounding Leonard love him. People living around the Salton Sea and The Slabs love Leonard. They get him paint and other things for Salvation Mountain all the time. They hired a lawyer that defended him when they were going to destroy Salvation Mountain for ecological reasons. Turns out the “dirt samples” used against him were illegitimate. And it was people surrounding him who defended him. And that is probably because he loves them so well.

But what it got me to thinking about was a Scripture we quote a lot and I think that can be misunderstood. Hebrews 10:24-15: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The reason I say that we don’t understand this Scripture is because today’s experience of church is so far removed from what the author of Hebrews refers to. Remember in Acts, where it says, “And daily they met…”? The author of Hebrews is referring to this same kind of meeting. He (or possibly she with the book of Hebrews) writes about daily life. For believers, to give up meeting together references withdrawing from community. It is not about who shows up in sits in the pews on a given Sunday.

Yet, attendance and a gold star on the chart is how I interpreted this passage for much of life. But what the writer confronts the recipients of this letter with is being a part of community, not attending a service. So, in one sense the writer would probably care less who made it to synagogue on a given Saturday. What matters is that daily life. But, at the same time, and this is where this post is headed, are we cut off from teaching that keeps us balanced? That is important.

Scott and I playing Desi and Cody's wedding.
The thing that worries me about the Leonards of the world is getting weird, getting off, because they have cut themselves off from Christian community, and therefore both correction and encouragement. And that can be a huge problem. We see this expressed in today’s society. There are people that you just don’t know if they are mentally ill or fervent in faith. There are little “Christian” groups that espouse hate or promote violence. And these things occur because A) we’re human and B) because we cut off the voices of those that could correct misguided belief.

In Leonard’s case, I just think he doesn’t value the Church as much as he should…but the rest of his fundamental beliefs are fine. But I will point to a group that I have a huge problem with: Westboro Baptist Church. Now, first, as I have written before, I do not believe these people are in any way shape or form “church.” They just aren’t. There are extremists that use the name Christian to espouse a form of hatred that is repulsive. They do not follow the ways of Jesus. And they are the types that I think the writer of Hebrews would chasten. (If you think I am being judgmental myself, let’s talk about this sometime. I typically don’t challenge any groups as church…just Westboro.)

They have forsaken the assembly. They have left us and will not listen to us. But lest we think we are above them, if we corral ourselves away from the rest of the Church we do the same, but probably in a more tempered, acceptable way. I have said this before, I will say it again…as a member of the Church I need Rob Bell and John Piper. I need Thomas Merton and Benny Hinn. They all bring things to the table. I need them to sharpen me, challenge me and keep me from getting weird. I need to be in “fellowship” with them.

So, in that regard, though I hope and pray that Leonard rekindles his love for the Church, I also thank him, because he reminds me that love for the Church isn’t enough…I need to love the people in the Church as well…just like he does. But at the same time I reach out the hand of fellowship that he needs. And that mutuality is where we choose not to forsake one another, not just in the pews of our congregation.

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