Outpost on the Wild Frontier


On the frontierWe moved 45-60 minutes away from many of our long-time friends when we bought our house six years ago. Almost all of them have wondered why we moved “so far away.” An hour seems like a long drive to them, but we drive that almost every day, so we don’t understand how it becomes an issue impossible to overcome.

Our neighbors tell us their friends say the same thing.

We’re rural, but not so far away that we’re an outpost on the edge of civilization. A big Kroger grocery store hunkers seven minutes away from us. Besides a half-dozen homegrown eateries, we have about nine chain fast-food restaurants. Heck, we have a Chinese restaurant in town, so how rural can we be?

Last week, I posted an A.W. Tozer piece (in the post “Imagination and the Christian“) that talked about the Church on the frontier. I’ve been thinking about that post since then and have a few more thoughts.

When I think of the frontier, it’s hard for me not to envision Little House on the Prairie. The Laura Ingalls Wilder book series told of numerous challenges her family faced as they eked out an existence in the middle of nowhere. Adventurous stories for sure.

In the 1960s, the TV show “Green Acres” spoofed Little House on the Prairie by dropping a couple of cultured urbanites into a rural environment. Hijinks ensued, in particular those revolving around socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor’s failed attempts to adapt to the uncouth nature of the hick culture enveloping her. What worked in a New York penthouse apartment failed miserably in the country.

Our neighbor in front of us, an old farmer, maintains a perpetual grin around me because I think he sees me as the Eddie Albert character from that show. I have not one farming bone in my body, and I’m sure my failed attempts to do the most simple farm-related work must leave him in hysterics. Nearly six years ago, I brought home my Kubota tractor and he commented that “it wasn’t green.” Translation: You went and bought one of them Japanese tractors instead of a John Deere? How could you?

He forgives me, I think, since he’s always prepared to help us city slickers and never asks for anything himself. I’m not sure how we could help him anyway, at least with anything farm related.

The point of all this is that things are different out on the frontier.

When I look at the Church in America, I see Zsa Zsa clad in a Vera Wang on her penthouse balcony sipping a Manhattan, her Bichon Frise in a diamond-studded dog collar at her side. What does she know of the frontier? Lack? What lack? She dials her iPhone and chats up a friend, planning to meet her at Nieman Marcus for a little shopping distraction.

But it’s not like that on the frontier. Wild animals! Savage weather! No AT&T, no iPhone! No electricity at all! Items and services considered essential in Beverly Hills become a lead-weighted albatross on the frontier. The frontier’s meaner and requires a heartier soul.

Imagine the socialite peering through some long-range telescope to observe the rubes on the frontier. How primitive they are. They get by with nothing! How can anyone live like that?

I think, though, that God dwells on the frontier. As the Kingdom continues to expand, its vistas constantly run along the frontier. And not just in primitive places, but frontiers in our own backyards.

How can Zsa Zsa understand this? She thinks she can transplant her urban world into that frontier. But how does she cope when she finds herself without electricity, since no powerline runs to her outpost?

She’s got to look to solar power or wind if she’s to have anything electrical, like a refrigerator. What a worldview test! And that fridge won’t be like the AC one back home, but DC. She’ll have to get it from some place other than Neiman Marcus, too, unfamiliar outfitters run by ex-hippies and survivalists. Not the optimum company for tea time.

Books may help her adapt, but in the end she’s got to find a deeper resource she can trust. Her solutions may not be pretty, but she’s learning to trust the wisdom of the frontier. What gets her through looks quite jury-rigged compared with the off-the-shelf solutions of the big city.

Decisions aren’t made by committee, but by tough-minded leaders who take charge, leaders forged in the the crucible of the wild frontier. She learns to trust them and make their wisdom her own. Eventually, the people she left behind in the city won’t recognize her, and may not even consider her one of their own anymore, simply because she’s been tried by a different kind of fire. Jeans and boots replace pearls and Prada. Compassion reigns in her heart because she now understands that people on the frontier need each other more than the self-directed individuals of the city.

And most of all, she understands that the frontier kicked out all her supports. Who was there to catch her? Jesus Christ. He understands the frontier because He created it. He says this about the city folk:

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
—Revelation 3:17

Most city-dwellers don’t understand that Jesus embodies the frontier. His Spirit blows over the plains in unpredicaable ways, but always according to His pleasure. To know the Spirit is to capture the essence of the frontier, of dependence on the goodness of God, and not on means of control. The city-dweller has money to fall back on, so he or she doesn’t need anyone else, especially not some free Spirit.

And so it is in our churches. We’re still in our penthouses, but the reality of Christ’s will perpetually dwells on the frontier. We may look down on the messy frontiersmen, may consider them rubes for living life by the frontier Spirit. We’ll judge those country folk by our city-slicker standards and find them all wanting.

Judgment Day will reveal the truth, though.

It’s time for us to ask the Lord to make us frontiersmen and frontierswomen, tough people who rely on the Spirit more than we now do. We need to put down luxury and take up gritty work. Our baby-soft hands need some toughening. Real life is difficult, and it’s time we got acquainted with it.

We’ll find it out on the frontier. And we’ll find Him there, too.

12 thoughts on “Outpost on the Wild Frontier

  1. Hmmm. This is the first time ever I’ve been irked at you.

    Where you having a John Wayne/John Eldridge moment?

    You are a far better writer/researcher than I – look up the word frontier and see how the rest of the world perceives the American frontier mythology and attitude. Not that it matters, just saying is all.

    By 2020 90 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas – places like Sao Paulo or Mexico City or Bejiing. Most of them will never have electricity or jobs or tractors or clean water and enough food to eat.

    But you weren’t writing to us, you are addressing your neighbourhood.
    I know you’ve been hurting lately and I understand you needed to write this, so please don’t mistake irked for something bad or wrong.

    I’ll get out of the way and give ground to to people who think what you wrote was deep and spiritual and fraught with meaning.
    Y’all can swap stories about your farming/wilderness lifestyles and trade up on who has the biggest story and the biggest spirituality.

    I don’t believe for one second you need to write for any larger audience than you write for, and blogging is not about resonating with or the rest of us at all.

    This time (and a definite first for this reader) it really didn’t.:^)

    • BeneD (and everyone!),

      I note in the post that the frontier is anywhere. (Perhaps I didn’t make that point strongly enough.) It can be in your neighborhood. It can be in the garbage dumps of Mexico City. It can be in the middle of New York City. It can be in the jungles of the Amazon.

      The frontier is any place where the Christian is called to buck the system for the sake of the Gospel and the people to whom he or she is ministering.

      The key point here is that “on the frontier” people have to live a completely different way than they do “in the city.” The frontier is not institutionalized and therefore calls on us to lean on God more, to listen to his Holy Spirit more, because the work requires us to be tuned in to Him to live even the smallest part of life. The frontier is where the tough ministry happens, and because it’s tough, other Christians may not understand.

      The couple who sells their comfortable life in the suburbs to minister to crack addicts in an urban environs is on the “frontier.” People aren’t going to understand why someone chooses to live in some urban pit so as to help the “unredeemable.” The frontier can even be in those suburbs if the frontiersman is blazing a countercultural trail that few suburbanites can understand. Being misunderstood is the mark of the person living on the frontier.

      As for the biographical stuff, it’s all setup for the main point, the point I just tried to clear up here in this comment. People think that my family lives out in the boonies, but we really don’t. If anything, I’m trying to show some contrast with the real frontier, God’s frontier.

      Does this make more sense now?

  2. Jimmy_C

    The metaphor of the USAmerican Church and Green Acres in priceless.
    It is indeed much like Lisa Douglas dragged from the big city to the backside of no where. Hopefully, she will learn and adapt and someday know how to groove with the frontier.

    My family and I understand some of what you speak. We live 60mins outside of The Research Triangle Park in NC. We travel all over the region, while city friends cannot imagine, “driving so far”…

  3. David Riggins

    Spiritual frontiers are always difficult ones to visualize. Having lived on the edge of the frontier in both Africa and Asia, I’ve got something physical to compare with the trackless spiritual desert that confronts me as I leave my front door each day. I can talk to co-workers and imagine the effect of fields made green by rain. I can listen to my fellow church goers gripe about the pastor and his wife and imagine the clouds of disease-filled mosquitos that are more than a nuisance, but a possible death sentence from Dengue, Malaria or Encephelitis.

    The frontier isn’t about western myth, or Australian legend, or tales from colonial Africa. It’s about surviving in territiory that is less than friendly, being aware of what is going on around me, not blithly wandering through life, but running with a definate goal in sight. I must be prepared to face what will come, not hoping that what I have is enough, but knowing. With confidence in the face of uncertainty, sureness on uneven ground, I should be striding with purpose through a broken wilderness, not cowering in my man-made structures.

    But all too often I place my strength in my own deeds, and rest in the comforts this world provides. Like a worker in a shoddy border town or a tourist in a ritzy wilderness camp, that “rest” is something that sucks resources from me, leaving me riddled with disease and impoverished, or too fat and lazy to be of any use. In either case I am an easy mark, a quickly vanquished soldier.

    Those in the towns and cities of civilization mock those who make their dwelling in the frontier, and they fear the wilderness. When confronted with it, they shrink away, jabbering about the lack of convenience, the disease, the wild animals, and most of all, the lack of diversion: “What would I do there? I’d be so bored!”

    And perhaps, that is the whole point of the frontier: Dwelling in the spiritual frontier means deliberately living from moment to moment, not diverted from life, but immersed in it.

  4. I’m with Bene up yonder… the metaphor was expressed a little too literally, because my first impresssion was “Why is the country more spiritual than the city?”

    And I say that as someone already living in Wichita (which already gives some people _Green Acres_ mental images) and about to move out to the outskirts of a small Mennonite town nearby.

  5. mmm…yet another good word.

    The part that resonated most with me was, “…And most of all, she [Zsa Zsa] understands that the frontier kicked out all her supports. Who was there to catch her? Jesus Christ…”

    Our Lord has been kicking out my supports recently. And as annoying as that may be sometimes, it forces me to fall into Christ. I am the most uncertain now of anything ministry-related than I’ve ever been. And yet, I am the most at peace because I know that it is my God who has called into His ministry. I know that He’s got this thing. I know that He loves me and wants the best for me. (His best…not my warped perception of “best”)

    I want what He wants for me.
    I don’t want anything He does not want me to have.

    I want Him.

  6. Cheryl

    I lived and worked in rural Alaska for a time. Attended a christian college, I had a definite culture shock when I returned to NYS. Outhouses,sleddogs yapping in the neighborhood,riding a snowmachine or skiing to school was the norm.

    I remember shopping in malls and cable TV when I returned. All my friends were still drinking and drugging .the same as when I left.

    I remember an evangelist encouraged us to practice ” living like a missionary”. I have never forgotten that. I had no TV for 11 years and don’t have cable now. If I could live in levis,clogs and a chunky sweater ,short hair I would be happy as a lark!
    I think as Christ followers we all could live alot more simply than we do. I never saw a hearse pulling a U -haul. Materilaism is a problem for american christians No doubt about it If riches increase were not to set our heart on them right?

    I liked you article and understood what you are saying.

    You can be poor and have everything. It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom …

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