I've Been to the Mountaintop

I’ve Been to the Mountaintop

The whole idea of linking The Great Outdoors to politics isn’t something I’d ever come up with myself. I can walk down any street through any city, no matter how vibrant or lively, and be completely lost in my thoughts. Ben Gibbard’s words come to mind: “I live like a hermit in my own head.” But every now and then, I encounter something in nature so arresting and awesome that the hermit within opens the front door.

One such moment came during my first trip abroad – to China. Traveling with fellow college students, we spent most of our time in the Shaanxi province and visited a notable mountain during our final week there – Hua Shan. It was certainly impressive from afar, as all mountains are. I would have been excited to hike the thing, except for the fact that I had to wake up early. Again.

I’ve never been a morning person, and this was one more prescheduled activity for my group to complete, mostly just to “keep the Americans busy.” Truthfully, I shouldn’t have been complaining. Our generous hosts were kindly and patiently showing us the timeless wonders of their culture – the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, the Yangtze River…all of them striking and ancient, putting the youth of our nation to shame.

But I was tired and cranky. Oh, and hungry. Thankfully we cheated and took a tram halfway up the mountain, breaking through clouds of mist or smog…it was often hard to tell the difference.

Hopping off the tram, we started our ascent. I quickly noticed that despite the colder temperature at the higher elevation, I was somehow sweating. This continued throughout the entire climb, making me slightly more ornery than before. But periodically the exotic beauty of the Far East would arrest the hermit within, and I’d snap out of it.

All throughout the climb, we’d encounter rows of rails with nothing but locks and red ribbons. Asking our guide, I discovered that lovers would purchase a lock with their initials carved into it, ascend the mountain together, fasten their lock of love with a red ribbon, and together toss the key into the abyss.

Goodness. Puts our carved initials on a tree to shame, doesn’t it?

The blood red against the gray haze still gets me six years later.

Even so, the sweaty hermit-climber was still a bit grumpy…

…until I got to the summit.

Something remarkable happens when you reach a mountaintop. In the moment you arrive and your eyes fall on the vastness of our earth thousands of feet below you, nothing that happened before matters anymore. All the sweat and toil you spent to arrive pales before the sight of indestructible beauty. You can look back at where you just were, and look ahead to where you can go now. The past and future stretch for miles and miles, and you get to stand above them both in the quiet majesty of the present moment.

Isn’t it interesting how a change in altitude can bring a change in attitude?

In my time with Liberatus thus far, my writing reminds me of the tired, grumpy college student sweating in the cold. But I desire to lay hold of a vision for our generation of rising leaders to write a unifying story for our country. With all my heart, I want to be part of a spiritual awakening and revival that touches every aspect of social life – law and politics included.

But the longer I stay in this city, the more clearly I perceive its brokenness. And, as frustrating as this is, I find it so much easier to articulate our problems than to offer solutions for them.

Even so, I’m starting to see rays of light peek through the cracks of my frustration. One such beam is a man I cannot seem to shake on this journey toward truth and beauty: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And that man knew something about “the mountaintop.”

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King stood in a packed church on a tempestuous Memphis night. “That evening,” recalled one of his lawyers who was present, “tornadoes had been reported in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and it was already stormy and raining in Memphis…It was hot and muggy in the room as people in wet clothes crowded together. Windows at the top of the church were opened to allow air in and this caused a big ceiling fan to slowly move and revolve with a regular click-clacking sound.”

I wonder if those people were complaining like I was during my hike. …who am I kidding. They were with Dr. King – and were probably much more mature than I was.

The clicking of the fan may as well have been the ticking of a clock, as Dr. King’s death was mere hours away. And in those final hours with no prepared remarks, his final words are enough to make me wonder if his soul knew what was coming:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.
And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.
And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.
And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I'm happy, tonight.
I'm not worried about anything.
I'm not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

What amazes me the most about Dr. King, aside from his tenacity and bravery, is the unbridled conviction roaring through every word he spoke. And he offered more than mere diagnosis; he charted a path toward racial equality and peace.

Though Dr. King was too busy marching to spend his life on the mountaintop, I suspect his time there gave him the courage to march. To protest. To speak. To intercede. To sit-in. To tell the truth.

I hear his words – and I want to know how he got there, because I want to go there too. And I think I’ve found a clue in the reverend’s parting words:

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

For Dr. King, it was always about more than racial equality. I read his great speeches – both this one, and the timeless “I Have A Dream” – and see a man awaiting the return of Jesus and the final restoration of our world – the day “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

I read these words from Isaiah, words that Dr. King spoke over our nation on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, and my eyes fill with tears. Can you imagine a life where the distance from the valley to the mountaintop is erased by the justice of God? A world where the glory of the Lord breaks every barrier that separates man from man?

The precious reward of being a Christian serving in politics is the deep assurance that all this will come to pass. And I guess that’s the cure for the grumpy climbers like me – for those too tired, hungry, or crabby to notice the impending beauty awaiting us at the mountaintop. All we get in this life are tiny glimpses of hope fulfilled, but one day all things will be made new.

That’s the view I want to see. That’s the mountaintop I want to climb.

WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:

What's your vision for your work or for the country? If you could see it fulfilled from its proverbial mountaintop, what would it look like? Have you communicated that vision to your team or constituency? Most importantly, what steps are you taking to see it fulfilled?

The vision of LIBERATUS is healing through freedomthrough a deeper knowledge of freedom. But what is freedom? Even Abraham Lincoln said we've never had a good definition for it. In today's culture, we say we fight for freedom but too often we fight each other, forgetting to live free. We define freedom as "the creative pursuit of Truth and Beauty," and under this definition, we believe our work culture, structure, and leadership; communication and debate; and personal well-being including health, fitness, rest, and nutrition would all radically change. Everyone knows intuitively that Truth and Beauty aren't the defining characteristics of American politics, but they could be. That's why we started this journal, and we've outlined what Truth and Beauty could look like through our core values

LIBERATUS is a weekly journal creatively pursuing Truth and Beauty by empowering writers in American politics to tell the story of healing through freedom. You can join the pursuit by applying to writesubscribing to the journal, or by funding the movement through monthly giving or by making a purchase in our store

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ISSUE 012: THE GREAT OUTDOORS, PART 4

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