Baseline Weekly - What I Learned from a Hike in the Dark

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

Photo taken by Ana Liza Zell from the summit of Mount Cowles.

This past weekend our family was blessed to enjoy a wonderful getaway weekend in San Diego. Three days of beach trips and bike rides, spike ball and board games, all contributed to a weekend of family bonding and fun. Even an unexpected trip to the ER (a story for another time) didn’t take away from the richness of our time together. It was the best time we’ve had as a family since the pandemic began and I found myself going to bed on Sunday night feeling grateful to God for such a gift.

I woke up Monday morning to the news (with accompanying video footage) of Jacob Blake being shot multiple times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. All the joy of a weekend adventure dissolved and was replaced by a jumbled mix of feelings that as an aggregate can best be described as heaviness. It’s a heaviness that comes from knowing that Christian leadership is critical in this crisis and yet particularly as a white male Christian leader I feel paralyzed by uncertainty, not knowing the direction to lead and the best steps to take.

To be completely honest, this blog almost didn’t get written. I knew that to ignore the tragedies unfolding in our midst (including more shootings last night at the protests in Kenosha) would be an abdication of leadership and yet I wrestled with having anything meaningful or authentic to say. I was ready to throw in the towel and have Baseline go "blogless" this week. But then the Holy Spirit brought to mind our night hike in San Diego.

Mount Cowles is the tallest peak in San Diego county and you can hike right to the top of it. As a family, we decided to do the hike at night using headlamps. The promise of a 360 view of a sea of lights twinkling across the San Diego landscape was too good to pass up. But climbing a mountain at night proved more difficult than I imagined. It's only 1.5 miles to the summit but the trail was quite rugged with jutting rocks posing as uneven makeshift steps that ascended the side of the mountain.

Though the headlamps cast a strong light forward so that we could see where we were headed, the light was far dimmer at our feet. This made depth perception difficult and so each step felt uncertain and insecure. Wanting to avoid a second trip to the ER on the same day, my pace slowed dramatically as I struggled to find solid footing. Until that is, I realized that I simply needed to remove the headlamp and shine it’s light directly in front of me.

Suddenly, the bright light illuminated with great clarity the contours and texture of the ground ahead, and I could see where to place my next step. From that point on the pace of my progress increased significantly. Being able to see the next step was the key to taking the next step.

Is it possible that this is Jesus’ invitation to those of us who feel uncertain about how to proceed down the path towards racial justice? The lamp of God’s word certainly illuminates our ultimate destination. Racial justice and unity are on full display in Revelation 7:9-11. But all too often I’ve found that taking the next step on the journey feels wrought with uncertainty and insecurity.

  • I want to say something but what if it comes out wrong or I say the wrong thing?

  • I want to take a step of love but what if it is misinterpreted or unintentionally causes hurt instead?

  • I want to lead into racial justice but I’m confused about which direction to move.

And when I am uncertain of where to step, I am more likely to stay put and not move at all. I believe that Jesus is inviting our church to let him draw even closer to us and to allow the light of the world to illuminate the way forward one step at a time.

As I’ve been leaning into Jesus this week I have felt drawn to engage in a 5-part bible study video series led by pastors Bryan Lorrits and Matt Chandler titled Race and the Gospel. I recognize my need to do a deeper dive into the scriptures on this topic so that I can lead God’s people with greater clarity and confidence in this arena. I know this won’t answer all my questions or do much to solve our nation’s woes. But I do believe that as a leader in the church my responsibility is to help us deepen our discipleship so that we can all become the kind of people who accurately discern and faithfully align with God’s purposes in this world.

So that’s my next step. Many more to follow and it’s ok that I don’t yet know what those are and where they will take me. How about you? Will you ask Jesus to reveal your next step? Psalm 119:105 reminds us that our God knows better than we do that being able to see the next step is the key to taking the next step. Show us the way, Lord.