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How many of you can find Oklahoma in your mind's eye? What is your perception of my state? I find it very odd that most people do not have a perception of Oklahoma. It is almost as though we are a nonstate!!! What states are our neighbors? What natural resources do we have? What is our culture like? Are we part of the South, Southwest or Midwest? I come from probably the best kept secret in the United States! We only have two large cities and no natural lakes. But would you believe we have more shoreline than any other state in the union? Did you know we have mountains, hills, forests, desert, plains, swamps, extinct volcanoes and almost every other landform. The winds blow constantly. The sun shines in a brilliant blue sky year round but our weather can change from one extreme to another in just a matter of hours, sometimes in just minutes. We lie in tornado alley, the Sun Belt and the Bible Belt and form the zone of transition between the old growth forests of the east and the Great Plains of the West. We move slow, talk slow, drive fast and cover great distances. We never meet a stranger, fry our catfish and okra, and have almost no air pollution. We drive pickups and Mercedes. We wear jeans and designer clothes. We listen to country and classical. The Grand Ole Opry is owned by an Oklahoma City family. Garth Brooks is just one of the many country western stars from Oklahoma. One of my classmates financed and helped produce Dracula on Broadway! We truly have something for everyone. On the dark side we are among the highest in teenage pregnancy, teen suicide and divorce. On the up side our churches are growing rapidly, families are returning to their spiritual homes and education is finally getting some attention. Oklahoma has the history of the Wild West and the Last Frontier. We were founded in giant waves of settlement patterns and land runs. We have oil, black gold, as an economic foundation and gold of another sort, wheat! Our small population is free, unfettered, hard working, both young and old. We have the largest population of Native Americans. We have tornadoes and droughts. In a way, we are the last of the great unknowns. The Murrah Memorial Museum serves as a reminder of terrorism on our land. It rises as a testament to our preserverance, strength, values, willingness and ability to get on with our lives. We are greater than any tragedy and display our resilience for all the world to see. John Steinbeck may have maligned us as Okies but today we proudly claim that heritage. What would you like for me to know about your state? That is the role of geography-to help us understand each other. Behind each question about your state or mine lies a geographic answer. Food for thought from Rev. Paul Borthwick as he quotes Peter Kuzmic of Croatia who gives us this challenge: "Why should we concern ourselves with human tragedies of Bosnia, Somalia and Bangladesh? Why should the holocaust taking place in Rwanda touch our lives when it is obvious that the sovereign Lord has placed us so as to be secure from those dangers and other winds of adversity? Should we worry about restoring democracy to Haiti, ask questions about human rights in China, or be concerned with the plight of human emigrants? Why should we burden ourselves with the burdens of the world and allow ourselves to be disturbed by statistics of war, disease, and poverty? Why should the turmoil of the world disrupt the tranquility of our hearts and surroundings? May I suggest that there is only one compelling reason- for God so loved the world."

-Brenda Runkle