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Live It Out!

July 25, 2013 | Tobyn Bower

I am in the midst of celebrating; my summer semester of school is finished!

Ever since I arrived at Lake Powell, my days have been filled with venturing around the park, working at the front desk of the hotel, and schoolwork. During the final weeks of my studies, I was completing a year-long seminary project for a Special Studies course. The objective of the course was to spend a year studying a topic of interest that would benefit our work in the future, then present it upon the completion of the year. Being out in wilderness areas as much as I am, learning outdoor photography, and hoping to become a writer, I decided to present my research in the form of a photobook filled with devotionals drawn from the wilderness. On July 12th, my 75-page book arrived. A full year of work is now sitting on my bookshelf!

Jamie enjoying Monument Valley.
This book, entitled "Encountering God on the Trail", walks through several different wilderness landscapes, including coastlands, mountains, and deserts. The photos are from the past two years as I have explored the national parks of the West, including Glacier, Olympic, Crater Lake, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Arches, and many others. Of everyone who has ever written or photographed the national parks, they can tell you how different it is to only read about such places and seeing the pictures as compared to actually being there visiting the park. As a writer having to write with an outdoor theme, one of the driving questions for me was, "how do I get my reader to actually get outside and start doing the things I'm writing about?" The book includes messages about the need for exploring the wilderness to broaden our encounters with God, the need for joining in God's natural economy by not only receiving His blessings, but also sharing them with others, the need for spiritual disciplines to help deepen our relationship with God, and joining God's rhythm and cycles of life. But in the midst of reading these things and seeing inspirational pictures, there has to be something that takes the reader beyond what is on a page and into an experience that actualizes these lessons. In order to do that, I concluded each chapter with a hands-on section called "Live It Out!" Each of these included actions or activities someone could do, particularly when living in an urban situation. 

In a culture filled with philosophies, pluralisms, and digital networks, it is easy for people, whether Christian or not, to proclaim their values in words plastered across posters, speeches, movies, billboards...and even books, but it is such a different experience to demonstrate one's beliefs in action. We can culturally become so enveloped with theory and ideas that we are actually crippled from implementing our beliefs. So after a year of reading, researching, and writing about encountering God in the wilderness, I finished my semester anticipating my opportunity to "Live It Out!"

Kayaking on Lake Powell.
How have I done so far? Not very well. At first, I was overjoyed at the freedom my schedule offered as I no longer spent hours reading while cooped-up in my room. I was able to go kayaking with my teammates, Jamie and KelLee, and a few others. Later, a group of us got to explore Monument Valley during our day off. But despite these adventures, instead of finishing work by sitting outside watching the stars, marveling in the beauty of Lake Powell's sunsets, getting out on the water or hiking the nearby trails, most of the time I have been sitting in my room reading, researching, or bored at not having anything more to study! As a person who filled a book with ideals, I have been seeing firsthand how my habits have become engrained into a stifling pattern. My body has learned to sit in front of my laptop for multiple hours each day, and now breaking away from that is difficult. My ideal has been to spend my time with people in the Rec Hall now that I don't have deadlines looming over me, but I have hardly set foot in there to meet and talk with people. For the four months I have been here I have sought silence and solitude. Now I find it difficult to break free from that. 

...So as I am breaking free from my indoor commitments, I'm now re-reading my book, and it's helping me to seek God in the wilderness also! I have been working to put into practice everything I have been learning in seminary about engaging with people and ministering to them. Studying these topics helps me engage a lot more easily, but it still becomes a matter of putting these things into practice, not just about retaining my ideals without actualizing them. 

Don't live in a world of unrealized ideals and intentions. Live It Out!

"The most important thing that I learned this summer was to project the imago dei and to recognize it in others and embrace them for who they are."
– Brett, Princeton Theology Seminary 2011

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