HARNISH: Traveling light … or lighter anyway


Guest Columnist

Rinker Buck’s recent book “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey” is a fascinating road book.

He and his brother Nick decided to travel the original route of the Oregon Trail in an authentic 19th century covered wagon pulled by a team of mules. The 2,100 mile journey would follow the trail which thousands of travelers took during the 1800s, heading for the California gold rush or simply following their dream of a new life in the west.

Since all their belongings would have to fit in a 12 by 3 foot wagon box, he knew they would be making the journey without all the trappings and baggage of the typical 21st Century traveler. Rinker admits he is “too acquisitive and fussy,” so when his more practical brother showed up he immediately dove into the pile of stuff Rinker intended to take with them:

“Rink, what is this?”

“It’s a shoe shine kit. C’mon, Nick. Somebody might invite us for dinner. We might want to look neat.”

“Nick tossed my shoe shine kit on the lawn and proceeded from there. The rejects on my lawn quickly grew into a large pyramid-shaped pile, a vertical yard sale depicting the vanities of life. Nick didn’t want to take my CD player, salad spinner and mixing bowls or my bocce ball set. He pitched my extra pillows, garment bag for wet-weather gear, pasta colander and L.L Bean bags loaded with books. By the time he was done, my rejected gear would have filled the bed of a pick-up truck.”

As I read it, his experience brought to mind the bi-annual rummage sale at my former church in Birmingham. Twice a year we collected enough stuff to take in about $100,000 which all went to mission projects. Every spring and every fall, I was amazed at the piles of cloths and clutter, furnishings and books, electronics and toys that came in and I was reminded once again that the truth is we all have too much stuff.

Rinker and Nick learned that if you want to travel the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon, you have to travel light — or at least lighter than we usually do. In fact, that’s pretty good advice for life in general. Can we learn to travel light? Instead of clutching all of our things so tightly, can we hold our possessions more lightly, so that they no longer hold us? Can we free ourselves from some of the baggage that weighs us down like long-held grudges and deep-rooted prejudices, remembered wrongs and unforgiven guilt? Can we find a way to treat life itself with a gentle touch and to hold it more lightly in our hands?

Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, but your Heavenly Parent cares for them. Consider the lilies of the field. Even Solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these. If God so cloths the grass of the fields, will God not care for you?”

It’s springtime in Northern Michigan. Even though I am not likely to ship a truckload of stuff to the Birmingham rummage sale, and I am certainly not planning to cross the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon, maybe it’s a good time to clean out, sort out and throw out the extra baggage I’ve been carrying around for much too long. Maybe it’s a good time to get rid of some of that stuff so I can travel light … or at least lighter than I have in the past. If I pause to gaze at a hillside full of trillium or listen to the first songs of the returning robins and mourning doves, maybe I can learn a lesson from the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. It’s a good time for that, regardless of the trail we are traveling.

Still traveling, Dr. John E. Harnish is a retired United Methodist pastor living in Benzie County and the Interim Pastor at the Church of the Dunes in Grand Haven. His blog can be followed at www.wordpress.jackharnish.com.

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