Mirage Meanderings

According to Merriam-Webster a “mirage” is “an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea, in the desert, or over hot pavement.” It may have the appearance of a pool of water, but it is an illusory or unattainable reality. It also happens to be the name Mitsubishi gave its compact hatchback – an economy car if ever one was made – which I recently drove on vacation over 1500 miles in the great American West.

Our trip took us from Denver, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona along a circuitous route that passed through Alamosa, CO; Moab, UT; Williams, Flagstaff and Sedona AZ. Along the way we hiked, explored and photographed five national parks, a national monument, a couple of tourist traps, two of America’s metropolitan centers, and some state and local municipal parks. We spent time with family & friends and had plenty of windshield time to reflect.

As I coaxed the aforementioned Mirage up and over mountain passes, through valleys, forests and deserts, even managing once or twice to pass slower traffic; I kept coming back to the irony of its name in connection with it’s performance. While it had the “illusory” appearance of a car, you had to make an appointment with the accelerator to get up to speed. Long term comfort was “unattainable” given they way it hugged the pavement, revealing each and every crack, crevasse, seal, bump, alteration and pothole. Loading luggage was equivalent to working a jigsaw puzzle, as it only fit in one particular configuration. There was plenty of time for thinking with road noise making conversation challenging. And more than once we had a hard time locating where we had parked the thing, given it’s knack for disappearing between larger vehicles.

Please do not get me wrong. This first world problem of transportation did not inhibit our trip or in any lasting way make us suffer. We made all our planned connections, saw the destinations we had counted on, and rediscovered the beauty and wonder of our nation. It was a wonderful vacation on which the Mirage became something we laughed about. Sometimes it even surprised us, proving advantageous when it came to parking in crowded lots and prompting a smile at the gas pump.

In today’s hectic and turbulent world, a vacation can be as illusory or unattainable for some as a mirage. Our ten plus days in the West and Southwest afforded a disengagement from the news as well as the responsibilities of daily life. I disciplined myself not to check work email, to mostly stay away from news sources, and shun social media. Still, the harsh and horrid scenes of the war in Ukraine, and mass shooting in Uvalde came forth. When, if ever, might those individuals find days of extended leisure, travel, or disengagement from life’s hard truths? Such dreams must seem a mirage.

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Life in 3D

For several years I received an in office visit from a traveling salesman inviting me to try some curriculum and services provided by the publishing house he represented. Although I never did make a purchase, he continued to stop by, and we often had interesting conversations. This man had been a local church pastor in a previous chapter of life and carried his understanding of that experience with him. He would say things like, “How are things going Pastor Dan? Are you busy with the 3 D’s?” “The 3 D’s?”, I would ask. “Yes, you know the 3 D’s of pastoral ministry: death, disease, and dysfunction. That’s what pastors always have to deal with.”

I try not to carry such a pessimistic view of the pastoral vocation, but I can appreciate where he was coming from, having had a fair amount of exposure to those 3 D’s over the years. And it’s telling that his reference has stayed with me through time.

This week the United States surpassed the one million mark for lives lost to Covid-19. As I have with each 100,000 milestone, I wanted to acknowledge this one. I choose to do so by assigning the coronavirus those 3 D’s my friend introduced me to. Death, disease and dysfunction have certainly been companions of the virus. One million (and counting) is now the number associated with deaths, in this country, due to Covid-19. World wide the number is much higher. The disease is still circulating. Thankfully not with as much potency locally as the devastating outcomes of before. This is thanks to mitigation efforts including new treatments and vaccinations, along with a higher communal immunity level, due to the prior widespread contagion of the virus. Many of us have had it. More continue to yet today. Dysfunction? Well, surely I don’t need to relitigate the multiple ways dysfunction has companioned the pandemic! Yes, that D is well represented.

My salesman friend has offered an apt description of the past couple of years, and those of us less impacted would do well to remember the many who continue to grieve as they attempt to put their lives back together. But, just as I didn’t want to yield to his description of pastoral ministry, I would rather add a few of more “D’s” to our vocabulary when it comes to our future with Covid than leave it with just those three. Determination is word that comes to mind, as in let’s be determined to move forward doing better by one another and public health in general. We can add discernment, as we learn to listen, watch and promote patient engagement with one another in a mid or post-Covid world. How about discovery as an option? We can discover new opportunities, new expressions of community and compassion in these emerging days. Development may lead us to better cooperation and building better responses. Decency is due all in our common humanity. Being diligent in our hygiene, health protocols and consideration of our neighbor can’t hurt. Maybe this can all contribute toward dynamic changes in how we treat the next crisis of life?

Finally, I look to the Divine One – whom I know as God and Creator, our Savior Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – with humility and intercession, asking God’s grace for our nation and world. What other “D’s” would you add to the conversation?

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Boomerang

His AKC registered name was “Hogan’s High Dollar Boomerang” but we knew him as “Boomer”. His sire was an award winning Welsh Pembroke Corgi, so he came from good stock. Sadly, he succumbed to lymphoma at the age of 9.

When we adopted Boomer at the tender age of 8 weeks we were not looking for a show dog, just a family dog from a breed we had enjoyed before. He was our second Corgi, little short-legged dogs with big dog attitudes, best known as the preferred dog of the Queen of England. High energy, herding instincts, loyalty, curiosity (some would say “nosey”) are all characteristics of this breed. Boomer had them all.

He spent countless hours looking out the front window of our home, watching over the neighborhood, alerting us if something was slightly different. He had his nemesis’ – the squirrels that ran the fence tops of the back lawn, chucking at him with derision as he stood sentry, barking from below; and (for some reason) a certain greyhound who’s owner walked him past daily (never figured out what he took offense to there – maybe it was the long legs?). He faithfully chased rabbits away, nearly catching one or two young ones in the past, but uncertain what to do with them when he had them cornered.

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An Easter Foot Race

Each of the Gospels has its own unique emphasis as it shares the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. In John chapter 20 we are told how Peter and John ran to the tomb after Mary reported it was empty. Verse four says, “The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” Why was this detail of having arrived first, important to John? Did it give him bragging rights? “I beat Peter to the tomb!” I have often puzzled over this aside within the Easter story. On Easter there was a race and John outran Peter. It seems like the kind of detail one commits to memory around a life changing event. It’s the event that is important, but it’s importance is mirrored in the details that are remembered around it. For John, outrunning Peter was one of those details.

But they were not the first to run that morning. Backing up to verse two we see that Mary Magdalene was the first to run. She ran from the tomb to tell Peter and John what had been discovered: the tomb was empty. They ran to the tomb to verify her claim and see for themselves. Lot’s of running.

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When Things Are More Than You Knew

I love to learn new things. It’s part of my personality. Just about the only thing I enjoy more than learning something new is finding a way to practically share it with someone. I guess that is part of what drives my writing and speaking.

Recently I learned something new while on a day trip with my wife to the Falls of the Ohio State Park. This is a lovely little part located on the Ohio River in Clarksville, Indiana. It had long been a destination on a bucket list of places I wanted to visit but had not yet been to. I know, you may be questioning how exciting my bucket list is, but as one who had often driven past the signage for this park, I usually thought, “Someday I’m going to stop there.” So we did. In fact we went there on purpose.

My attraction to the Falls of the Ohio was from having read about this place of geography and its alignment with the story of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, and prior to them it’s association with George Rogers Clark, the Revolutionary War hero and frontiersman for whom the city of Clarksville is named. You see the Falls of the Ohio is the place George Rogers Clark called home, and where Merriweather Lewis met up with William Clark (George’s younger brother) to begin their excursion to the great Northwest, a commissioned expedition of the United States government to explore the land of the Louisiana Purchase.

Had I been alive around the year 1800 I would’ve loved to have been part of the Corps of Discovery. Just imagine setting out from the Falls of the Ohio on a 3 year round trip journey, looking for a water passage to the Pacific, and discovering instead a formidable land/water route across the Rockies! I am sure the expedition itself would have proven vigorous and challenging beyond belief, but what I have read of it (see Stephen Ambrose’ book Undaunted Courage) is exciting. So, any chance I’ve had to see the sites visited by Lewis and Clark and their crew, in person I have embraced. This has included listening to Ambrose’s book while we moved from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, passing many of the landmarks along the way. I’ve imagined what it was like to set sail up the Mississippi to the Missouri River. I’ve envisioned the winter camp among the Mandan Indians, burying the cache of goods as they pared down their supplies to make an overland route. I’ve surmised what it was to discover and explore the Colorado River, to face the perils of the Northern Rockies in modern day Idaho, and to canoe the rapids of the majestic Columbia all the way to Fort Clatsop on the Oregon coast.

I’ve also thought about the mosquitos, the bitter cold and summer heat, the illnesses and injuries, the adventure and challenge each new turn in the journey brought. I’ve considered the human factors of traveling with people for that long, the different personalities, squabbles over authority and influence, and decisions that had to be made and followed. It’s a remarkable story, this story of the Corps of Discovery, with Lewis and Clark front and center – two friends and colleagues of very different skills and interests. And it all began at the Falls of the Ohio, which despite my proximity to – living just an hour north – I had never visited, until last week.

I knew there was an interpretive center at the State Park, the expected water views, and an obligatory statue of the sojourners (see picture). But I thought I was going to primarily visit the starting point of the Lewis and Clark story. Imagine my surprise to learn that the Falls of the Ohio is so much more. The interpretive center does a fabulous job of taking you through the history, geology and geography of this landmark – a roughly 26 foot drop in elevation over a series of rapids. It’s a unique place of geological preservation where fossils and artifacts of history can be found detailing a much longer story of the earth’s creation and evolution to present day.

We learned about ancient historic periods, including the ice age and it’s impact on the formation of the Ohio and its Falls. We learned of the natural human gathering place this landmark created, it’s influence on history, discovery and settlement of communities yesterday to today. Can I say I was both surprised and impressed? I was. It was the unpacking of a treasure trove of information that far exceeded the primary purpose of my visit. But it included information and imagination about that event in history as well. So there we were, at the very point of departure of Lewis and Clark, but also at a point of land where much, much more has been documented and studied and learned about.

Sometimes the best discoveries are those that are closest to home, or more than one hopes for. If you’ve not been, the next time you are about to cross over the Ohio river on I-65, take exit one on the Indiana side and give yourself permission to learn something new. I think you will be glad you did.

Lewis, Clark and Cash arriving roughly 220 years too late.

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