Chaplain Josh Lindamood serves mobile community
By Buzz Trexler | (email@example.com)
Josh Lindamood has never heard of the phrase “new monasticism.” Yet as the 27-year-old chaplain journeys with other hikers along The Appalachian Trail, Lindamood is engaged in something similar to a movement that involves “incarnational” mission.
There was a time when the church would send Christians into the “mission field,” seeking to inject Western Christianity’s values and customs into a people they believed were in need of transformation through “the Good News.” Over time — some would say too long a time — it was determined that Christian mission should reflect God’s actions toward humankind: God put on skin and lived, and breathed, and experienced Creation as Jesus Christ.
In religious speak, it was the incarnation.
To say it another way, God became one of us.
Likewise, many in the church today believe if you are to be in mission with a particular people or community, you should become one with those people or community.
An example of modern monasticism as it plays out in the missional context would be Maryville native Shane Claiborne’s community in Philadelphia known as The Simple Way. Since 1998, Claiborne and others have shared, lived and cared in an intentional community formed in the Kensington Avenue neighborhood -- an impoverished area where, as one writer puts it, “drugs and sex are sold in plain view, sometimes right in front of the battered shop windows advertising Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or the handful of storefront churches offering salvation instead.”
It was a community that needed to be served, and Claiborne and five other graduates of Eastern College believed the best way to serve the poor, and Jesus, was by becoming a part of the community.
Walking the talk
When United Methodist pastors and lay people from the Holston Conference were thinking about sending a chaplain to serve hikers along The Appalachian Trail, they did so knowing there is a unique community that journeys along a 2,183-mile footpath from Georgia to Maine.
It’s a community that has spiritual needs that are common to all humankind. As the 20th century French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
The Appalachian Trail community also has basic physical needs, some of which are not unique to the hiking community — food, shelter, clothing, medical care — but the environment in which those needs are met is somewhat unique.
“I see new people every day,” the 27-year-old chaplain said recently when he passed through the Smokies. “Of course, I’ve only been out now, I guess, going on three weeks. So, I really haven’t stuck with the same crowd. I haven’t really had a chance yet to develop the deep relationships that I think’s gonna come.”
The word has been spreading along the trail that there is a bearded young man serving as a chaplain and who can be identified by a patch that reads, “A.T. Chaplaincy.”
“The word’s getting out,” he said. “A lot of people have been interested in the patches and have seen that, and have talked to me. I’ve been able to describe the ministry through that.”
Lindamood also shares informational tracts.
“I have had somebody say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re the guy that left the gospel tract in my shelter,’” Lindamood said. “I’ve been signing each one individually, and writing a little message in there, and then leaving them at the shelters. I leave like three or four in a Zip-loc bag. I don’t want to come across as the guy not being green. I don’t want to be accused of that.”
The tracts have a dual purpose.
“I’ve been kind of using them as a business card,” Lindamood said. “You know, signing my name and putting the Facebook information in there, occasionally putting my blog information in there, just kind of what I’m doing out there. Because there’s been a couple of people that have asked specifically for that information and I didn’t really have a card to give them. Just write it all down in a gospel tract and hand it out.”
When I met up with Josh as he journeyed along the section of The A.T. that runs through Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently, he shared that thus far being in community has meant sharing food with another hiker who ran out of provisions before his next “food drop,” and hearing the story of a fellow sojourner whose wife had died of cancer. The widower sold his belongings and began the nearly 2,200-mile journey to Maine.
The chaplain hopes to meet up with him again along the way.
But there is another type of communal experience, such as when he and another hiker crossed Rocky Top.
“That’s definitely something I think I’ll remember along on the trail as being one of the first ‘Holy cow!’ moments,” Lindamood said.
“I was walking through the woods for what seemed like forever and eventually I just came to this open field. It’s almost like a bald. I just kept walking,” he said. “Well, the view never really opened up in front of me. Even though I was in a field I really didn’t look around. I stopped and looked behind me and it was absolutely incredible, it was gorgeous. There was this huge view that just opened up.
“And there was another hiker about 30 or 40 yards ahead of me and I yelled at him to turn around and he was so awe-struck too. He said, ‘Holy cow! How did I miss that?’ I said, ‘Well, I just about did, too, you know. I just happened to turn around.’”
A lesson for the hiking community: Many times we get so focused on what’s in front of us we don’t see the beauty of what we just came through together.
Step at a time
Lindamood keeps putting one foot in front of the other as this is a community on the move, not one that is stationary.
“You think about all of these people not knowing each other,” he said. “The only thing we all really have in common is walking. But even with just that in common, and even if it’s just that, it just seems to draw us all together.
“That’s been kind of surprising, because I didn’t think it would be such a strong community already, just from what I’ve encountered in three weeks of being on the trail,” Lindamood said, pointing out that everyone seems willing to “help out another hiker” when there’s a need.
“It’s been surprising just how tight knit and how willing to help out, for the most part, everybody is to help out another hiker.”
Buzz Trexler is pastor at Green Meadow United Methodist Church and the unofficial A.T. Chaplaincy scribe. You can email him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)