If you read this page in last month’s TIDINGS, then you know that I’m just back from a week long bicycle trip in Missouri. The best part of the trip for me was that I got to play ragtime piano in Sedalia, Missouri, the birthplace of “Ragtime.” Meanwhile, however, I learned a whole lot about Lewis & Clark, Daniel Boone and the effect of German immigration on Missouri’s role in the American Civil War. I saw buds and blossoms, glimpsed more than a few species of birds and learned to recognize a cardinal’s song. To top it all off, I got to pedal alongside and converse with 27 fascinating persons from all over North America (from San Francisco, California to Albuquerque, New Mexico; to Denver, Colorado; to Omaha, Nebraska; to Chicago, Illinois; to St. Louis. Missouri; to Cleveland, Ohio; to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; to Boston, Massachusetts; to Portland, Maine; to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada).

I came away from the trip convinced that it’s impossible to be bored on such an adventure. Whenever I tired of talking with other cyclists – which for me was rare – I could focus instead on the scenery. When I tired of the scenery, there was always another story of each place’s past to listen to. When I tired of listening to history – once again, a point not easy for me to reach – I could go back to conversation. And, best of all, traveling by bicycle made it impossible for me to get sleepy – even right after lunch!

Now that I’m home, I’m making connections between the stories I heard about Missouri 200 years ago and what they can tell me about our congregation in the year of its birth. Back then, Missouri was not yet a state (not until 1821), Daniel Boone was alive and kicking down there (he was a vigorous 77 year old and would continue in good health until his death in 1820, 32 days shy of his 86th birthday), paddle boats had yet to make their appearance on either the Mississippi or the Missouri, and owning slaves was common (especially south of the Missouri River). It had been 7 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had returned from their trip to the Pacific. By 1813, Lewis had been dead for 4 years (probably a suicide) and Sacagawea, the native woman guide without whom the Lewis and Clark expedition would never have been successful, had been dead for a year.
My reason for observing these deaths is to note that, 200 years ago, people didn’t last long – not in Missouri, not in New York, not anywhere! Life expectancy was 40 years. Death and emotional loss were daily companions that influenced greatly how people then experienced and looked at life. For example, I learned on my trip that Daniel Boone, for the last decade of his life, kept a cherry-wood coffin in his bedroom and would sleep in it regularly, just to make sure it still fit. People then considered him a realist, not maudlin in the least!

My point, finally, is that it’s not just fascinating but also wise to learn to look at life as other people did. It can help us gain perspective. It can help us be more aware of our own assumptions and prejudices. It can remind us that we have more freedom and choices than we often imagine. So I hope that, during this year of celebrating our congregation’s 200th anniversary, you’ll not only share in the fun, reaffirm relationships and recommit to the future. I hope you’ll take time and find opportunity to look at life and the world we share as did the folks who lived here 200 years ago.