I've been told over and over again that I am a strange thinker. From schoolteachers to colleagues to friends and family, people say that I just don't think like "everybody else".
Here's something I've been thinking about lately.
Whether we're navigating an ocean liner or driving to the grocery store, any type of travel requires some sense of direction. If you want to actually reach your destination, at least.
We've built our maps based on the idea that north is "up". It's a standard across every map we have. It's a useful standard, one that can give everybody the same information to work from. And north always points to the north pole of our planet (true north, with a latitude of zero). There's also a "magnetic north" that's not actually at the north pole, but that's not important right now. Back to the metaphor.
We've arranged our maps with north as a standard direction. This also provides us with a reference point to figure out south, west, east, etc...
Yet I don't think there's any great debate over whether our planet's north is also north for the universe. Heck, we don't even talk about directional standards for our solar system or galaxy, let alone the whole universe. It's too big, it's expanding rapidly and rotating on itself... the very fabric of space is curved! How do you pick a single point and call it "north" in a curved space? We don't bother. And even if we picked a directional standard, we can't really prove it's the "right" one anyway. We haven't seen the whole universe yet.
The concept of North is for our own planet, and with that standard we can drive to the library or use a satellite in orbit to take a picture of a house. It's amazing what we can accomplish once we all agree on a standard. Yet we know that the universe doesn't answer to our little human standard. North is useful here, and that's enough for planet-bound people like us.
The vast, vast majority of religious debate is about concepts that we cannot prove in any way whatsoever. Debates about life after death or biblical inerrancy -- impossible to resolve. Ever.
Those are big-picture, universal issues that are far beyond us. If it was possible to get some sort of agreement and resolution on those things, we'd at least be headed in that direction, right? And where is Christianity? Fragmented into thousands of denominations due to disagreements over unsolvable mysteries.
I've given that up. I have no idea where "true north" is on a universal level when it comes to God. I don't know if Christians, Buddhists, Hindus or Mormons are closer to the universal truth. I can't even prove God exists at all, much less if it's a He or She or how it feels about using musical instruments in a church building. I've let all that stuff go.
Instead, I'm focused on what's useful. Here. In this life. Even if we can't agree on the universal truths, can the religious community still make progress toward a common direction for our little planet? Some principles or concepts that transcend culture and denomination? That's what I seek.
My True North is compassion and unconditional grace. My West is the realization that we are all connected to each other. My East is the desire to make the world a better place in my own tiny way while having fun. My South is the unflinching assertion that I'm no better, and no more valuable, than any other human being alive or dead.
I can live with these. I can navigate this life with principles like that. They're useful, and I know that they're useful because I've seen how those principles are changing me.
Doctrines and creeds never changed me like that, so I've quit trying them on. They don't fit.