As I have just spent the last two days driving across the “fruited plains” I have had time at the wheel to think again about the rich (and sobering) history of this Great Land. And I love to day dream about what life would have been like for myself and my family had we lived in a time when crossing it wouldn’t have been in an air-conditioned mini-van with cruise control and fast food stops or look-a-like rest areas on paved Inter-states – but perhaps along the Oregon or California Trails of 1840? A time when it took months at walking pace to travel hundreds of miles into the unknown leaving all comfort behind and going forward with only hope and courage.
What would “Karl the Pioneer” be like? I have often been called a “Pioneer of the Internet.” In today’s definition of a pioneer I suppose that is true. If being a pioneer is to ‘bravely go where few have gone before,’ then sure. O.K. I was a pioneer. I was building webpages in HTML when most people didn’t have an e-mail address and “blogging” before WordPress or Blogger existed. I survived the “Dot Com Crash” because I built my “Dot Org” on a membership model instead of advertising model before PayPal existed and before AOL even had the World Wide Web. So sure, I guess I “pioneered” the Internet.
But please. The more I learn about the Pioneers of our country, the more insulting it is to them to call anything we do today “pioneering.” We claim to “pioneer” a field of science or sports or entertainment or music. But do we face sickness? Starvation? Or death by some other horrible means if we fall short of our destination?
I’ve been enjoying the AMC series Hell on Wheels on Netflix. Now, I know some of my dear Christian brothers and sisters just choked on their Testimints because I typed the word, “hell,” and if so, they’d better not watch the show. It is a pretty gutsy and probably fairly realistic portrayal of a post-Civil War America that struggles to balance racial tensions, religion, national expansion and good ‘ol American entrepreneurism in the gritty railroad town of “Hell on Wheels” where the railroad is pushing West through Indian territory. It centers around a rough and tough character named Cullen Bohannon, and he ain’t no Roy O’Bannon. (If you know what I’m sayin’ – bonus points in comments if you know who that cowboy is!)
You’ll need to put down your “it has to be Sunday School pure” grid in order to travel back to a time where life was rough and God was hard to see. While certainly not a Christian show, there are glimpses of grace at work in several of the toughest characters and you can see God working if you look carefully. It’s interesting to see that woven in even as the “preacher” isn’t one of the most redeeming characters. It’s a raw show, but then, so was life back then. So it accomplishes it goal of pulling back the curtain on a time that shaped our nation, for better or worse. As the iron tracks made their way across the beautiful pure land, greed and impurity and the worst of fallen human nature came with it. Driving these roads today, it is amazing how much we have “cleaned up” after ourselves, to some extent.
But when I watch things like this (and The Patriot, one of my favorite movies) – I can’t help wondering, “How would I have coped in those times?” Who would I be? How would I have survived and gotten by? What would my occupation be? If I am considered a ‘pioneer’ today, would I have what it took then to be a pioneer?
What you have been? A business owner? A law man? A gun slinger? An outlaw? A farmer? A pioneer? One third of the people heading West were women. So this isn’t just a question for men!
Would have left the security of the East Coast and headed West in search of gold and a promised prosperity? (People expected to pick up gold just lying on the ground in California!)
Would you have what it took to be a Pioneer when the word truly had meaning?