By Tom Ehrich

After driving 4,100 miles through 14 states, four time zones, and terrain from desert to farmland to plains to snow-covered mountains, I pulled into our property in Upstate New York.

I discovered three feet of snow, a well-plowed drive and a warm house. Welcome home!

I am grateful. Grateful for safe passage through so much time on the road. Grateful for a good car (thank you, Enterprise), adequate resources (thank you, readers), a supportive family, friends, and a nation that provides decent highways and free movement from place to place.

It will take me weeks, maybe months, to process all that I experienced. I come home with a more complete, and nuanced, picture of God, as well as insights into my world, my life, and the people I care about.

I came into daily contact with the so-called "echo chambers" of the right-wing: angry radio preachers claiming to be "Christian" and "family" centered, local politicians determined to make life miserable for people of color, and "news" outlets pandering to fears and bigotry. It is worse out there than I had realized.

And yet the people I met and the public places I entered seemed different from that intolerance. I saw a multi-racial world getting along at ground level, on the apparent assumption that being female, non-white, gay, Spanish-speaking and/or unarmed was just fine.

The most difficult miles were the last 300. I was returning to what the forecasters call a "wintry mix." I expected that. I was stunned, however, at how poor the communities seemed, how terrible the roads, and how angry the radio preachers.

But here, too, I found ordinary folks getting along. They know spring will come. They know that every one of us matters. Money isn't everything. Religion doesn't control people's thoughts.

These are initial impressions. Much more to discern. I hardly know where to begin. I do know that processing a pilgrimage isn't a matter of making lists and categories. So I think I will just dive in and see what lies beneath the surface.

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