I’ve always liked going to the mountains. Who doesn’t, really? From the Kansas City area there’s that whole ‘drive across the state of Kansas’ deal, but even then, there are places along the way that can pique an interest.
Take Topeka for instance, our capitol city. Have you ever taken the tour of the State Capitol? The art work alone is rather awe-inspiring. It gives you a sense that we’ve been a state much longer than any of us have been alive (no matter how old some of us feel most days), a state with a history built around an understanding of hard work, a strong focus on public school education and common sense, and a love for a land that has rich soil and deep aquifers that help feed and water the world. The responsibility for its care remains ours as God’s stewards.
Then, of course, down the road is Abilene. Notice I’m bypassing both the Lawrence exit and exit 313 which might just lead to Manhappiness, Kansas. Both are worthy places to visit, both with beautiful campuses that produce marvelously educated graduates… and I think they have athletic teams for both men and women.
But on we go to Abilene. Abilene is the home of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and is worthy of at least a few hours’ visit. Eisenhower was both the Commanding General who led the U.S. forces during World War II and a President who obtained a truce with Korea during his two terms in office. A Kansan who came with a broad perspective on what it was to lead in a complex time, he both sponsored and signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1957, and while it didn’t spark deep change, it was the first Civil Rights bill since the Reconstruction. One of his quotes I was forced – I mean, encouraged – to learn in high school says this: “I believe that the United States as a government, if it is going to be true to its own founding documents, does have the job of working toward that time when there is no discrimination made on such inconsequential reason as race, color, or religion.” Pretty forward thinking for his time and life experience!
But we’re not to the mountains yet! When you head west and see Salina, make certain you wave at my high school friends, Loren and Sara and their United Methodist church, Trinity on 9th and Neal – “Not your ordinary church” as they like to say. Pastor Barry Dundas has relatives in our congregation – hey Lisa and Mark – and the Goertzens and Tom Hedges of Grace both worked in the magnificent school system there and were both members of Trinity. Trinity UMC has chosen, as a church on the boundary we might mark as western Kansas, to be an open, accepting, and inclusive congregation in relation to race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, and any of the other things we might use to separate ourselves, one from another. A rather unique church, I would say.
But we have miles to go before we ski, er sleep, er camp and hike. Pause at Hays, America! The Sternberg Museum of Natural History is not far off I-70 and is way worth an hour or two. It’s reminder that the heartland contains fossils from eras long past when water covered what we now consider a Midwestern desert, and relics from the native Americans who populated our nation long before we ocean-crossers arrived on the scene. Fort Hays State University is a beautiful campus and if you happen to have an accident, you might just meet my nephew, one of the paramedics in that fine unit that serves Ellis County. PLUS our former Associate Pastor Shelly Petz came of age in Hays, AND Earl and RoAnn Blauer of Grace were educators there as well. I know, right?
But foot on the accelerator – we’re a little less than halfway there! Rumble past Wakeeny and Quinter, where my parents grew up AND there is still in existence what’s called “Castle Rock” (see video below) which is a limestone pillar formation that juts out of the ground toward the sky. It’s a bit off the beaten track, about ten miles south of I-70, but it is rather a unique and unexpected monument out in lands that if we only shoot by without looking to the right or left, we might mistakenly assume are all flat. Winds and water and time have eroded Castle Rock’s height, but it’s still breathtaking.
We head on west past Colby and Goodland and give a nod at Bird City, Pastor Tom and Debbie Bailey, former associate, finished their ministry in this vibrant small town, AND Pastor Dustin, former associate grew up there. Are we beginning to think maybe God connects us in ways we’re not always aware? Maybe 6 degrees of separation isn’t only about Kevin Bacon – do any of you remember that game from the mid-90’s?
Now we’re back on the road toward the Colorado line and Burlington and Limon and the questions that are only allowed to begin leaving the west edge of that fine community – Can we see the mountains yet, well can we, can we see the mountains yet?!?
Mountains are a big deal, literally *snort* and spiritually as well. For Christian people of faith, when mountains are mentioned in the Bible, important things tend to happen there. God gives Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai; in Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives his first sermon on a mountain, prays before his crucifixion on the Mount of Olives, and on his final walk on earth, follows what we know as the Via Dolorosa, or “way of sorrows,” a street within the Old City of Jerusalem on his way to Mount Calvary and the crucifixion. So yes, both literally and spiritually we do well to pay attention to mountains.
But the interesting thing that we sometimes overlook is the journey toward those mountains where “big deals” happen. What are the signs along the way that we sometimes miss, the interesting exit ramps off the main road, the color commentary that gives significance to the “final destinations” of road trips and life journeys? Maybe it’s both/and. Maybe how we get to our destination holds equal significance with the destination itself. Maybe the people Jesus meets along the way toward the mountains, the people he instructs on the mountains, and those who line the road on his final journey up the mountain were, in fact, the reason he chose to complete his life on earth the way he did.
So the State Capitol, and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s library, and the Sternberg Museum, and Castle Rock, and Bird City, and Limon, and… the MOUNTAINS! The journey and the destination – much to see, much to learn, and much to remember in defining who we are as hearty people of faith on journeys, sometimes through Kansas to the mountains, and sometimes simply through life.