Wednesday, April 23, 2008

True north -- a metaphor from my strange brain

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.

True North

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 application

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.

14 comments:

Don R said...

I think "your" compass is working just fine. You and I think a lot alike when it comes to compasses. Oh, and you don't have a strange brain. I like to call it "outta the box" thinking. We need more of it.

Hal Johnson said...

I agree. We need more "strange thinkers."

"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 remember going to my grandmother's church. It was one of those denominations that didn't believe in musical accompaniment. Ouch. When that congregation sang, I couldn't believe that God could really have had a hand in that "no musical accompaniment" decision. Makes me shudder to this day.

Redlefty said...

My family legacy is in a denomination that does not use musical instruments in worship, but most of my experiences with it have been very positive.

Perhaps my churches just had better singers as members? :)

I've also attended fairly large churches over the past decade, which helps the strength of the singing. When you get a very small group together it can admittedly make you shudder.

My family sings together every summer at vacation, and you might be surprised how great the 15 of us can sound. Great vocalists in my family! It's one of our traditions I highly value, even if I don't believe that the universe (God) pays heed to those kinds of standards.

Roland said...

I don't know if this is off the subject or on...

I went to church, this morning. A new one. It was huge. I wanted to find the "Main Worship Center," but the signs in the parking lot said "Central Campus" or "First Wing." Something like that, anyway. A crap shoot. I split the difference and parked in a handicap spot somewhere up front... ;)

I find a map. Like a mall directory? There's a "you are here," even. Sweet deal. But, the map is not oriented in any way that discernible to man. There's a "north" on the map, but somehow one's brain can't figure out North when the N's arrow is pointed toward about the 5:30 position on the map!

I took what I thought was the direct path, but rather than walking through the baptismal gardens, I strolled past the loading dock, where I saw donuts being delivered!

I finally made it -- via the long way -- to the Main Worship Center. I'd planned to tell my friend, who'd invited me, that his church needed better signs and maps, that finding my way was almost a miracle in and of itself, but then I thought that maybe that's the point...

Like those bumper stickers from the 70s proclaimed; I found it. I found my way! I'd had to pee for 30 minutes. 30! So, I'm totally with that 40 days in the desert thing, now! Only my tribulation ended with an apple fritter, a cup of coffee and a name tag that said "Hi, my name is Rollen."

MamaRose said...

Well, I like your 'compass' idea & it DOES ONLY work for US on Earth--not for the WHOLE OF 'circular' SPACE, as you said.

I KNOW GOD EXISTS & "HE" IS A "HE"--because THAT'S HOW HE describes HIMSELF in HIS WORD!!! Yes, there is SOME amount of FAITH involved--but, there is MUCH LESS Faith involved in BELIEVING IN HIM--with ALL OF NATURE & MANKIND & SPACE as
'PROOF' of a HIGHER BEING--than to believe it's all just an 'accident'--even our body parts & how they ALL WORK TOGETHER proves HIS EXISTENCE TO ME!!!!!!!!

And, in the churches of Christ that we have been members--we ALWAYS have said: 'WE ARE NOT A DENOMINATION'--we are a Bible-Based church/group of believers meeting in one place with a group of Elders/men members 'over' us, making our specific decisions--trying to be JUST LIKE the churches Paul & the other disciples FIRST 'set up' in the NT.

All denominations that I know of have a 'CENTRAL OFFICE'/place where ALL their 'rules' come from--like the Baptists & Methodists, etc. & Yes, even the Catholics--having 'their' Pope, is a whole other religion, I believe.

One thing I read recently in Shalee's blog about Easter applies here: 'Whether you BELIEVE in 'it' or not, doesN'T mean it's NOT TRUE'!!!!!

In other words, whether WE believe that Jesus came to Earth, as a man, and lived perfectly & died for ALL our sins & is living in Heaven right now WITH GOD--or not--doesn't make it NOT TRUE--In other words, IT IS TRUE, whether we ALL believe it or not. YES, that IS MY FAITH, but it makes MORE SENSE than ANYTHING ELSE, TOO!!!!!!

That's WHAT I BELIEVE!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, YES, our family has been blessed with REALLY GOOD VOICES which we have trained & practiced & gotten EVEN BETTER in our WORSHIP TO GOD IN SONG--PRAISE HIS NAME!!!!

BUT, GOD NEVER SAID it HAD to 'SOUND GOOD'--He just said--'WORSHIP ME IN SONG'!!!!!!!!! But, I also believe he wants us to TRY OUR BEST & make it SOUND AS GOOD TO/FOR HIM as we can, too!!!!!

As we TRY to LIVE OUR BEST FOR HIM, TOO, IN ALL THINGS!!!!!!!!!

WE LOVE YOU BUNCHES!!!!!!!!! Mom

Redlefty said...

Thanks, Mom!

Roland, I don't know whether your comment was on-topic either, but it sure was fun to read.

Reminds me of the scene from Funny Farm:

"Lost!?! How could you get lost!? I drew you a map!"

MamaRose said...

I thought of some more 'stuff'--You THINK a LOT like your Dad AND His Dad!!!!!!!!!!!!! All 3 of you think a LOT differently than most folks, which makes it MORE FUN for those of us who know ALL 3 of YOU!

I was thinking that there SHOULD BE a CLASS/time in School WHEN THEY TEACH YOU HOW TO 'READ MAPS'!!

Because just because you HAVE/GET one, you STILL need to KNOW HOW to READ IT!!!!!!!!!!! And, knowing where 'North' is JUST the BEGINNING--right??!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, with GPS's becoming more popular in our cars, the younger ones, growing up NOW may NEVER end up KNOWING HOW TO READ A MAP!!!!!!
It could really end up being a 'LOST ART'/ABILITY!!!!!

Guess it starts in the HOME, like most GOOD THINGS, huh??!!!!!!!!!!

LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mom

FishrCutB8 said...

A friend of mine told me this story 20 years ago and I still remember and cherish it.

There was a preacher who once declared to his congregation that he had received a revelation, and he had been told the appointed hour of Christ's return. He would, he continued, reveal that hour at his next sermon, so people better and make sure they are there to hear the message.

Sure enough, his next sermon was packed. "My friends," he began, "I received a revelation last week, and I now know the appointed hour for our Savior's return. I was sitting quietly in my study, reading the Word, when I realized I knew when Jesus would come back for us."

The congregation shifted a little, a combination of slight discomfort and anxious anticipation.

"Jesus will return......tomorrow." The pastor went on. "I know He is going to be here tomorrow, so I am going to live my life as a blessing to others today. I will live and love today because it's the last day I'm going to be here."

The congragation watched as he went on.

"But, you know what, if He is not back tomorrow, I'm going to live that day the same way, loving those around me, offering assistance to those who need it, easing the burdens of people troubled, and telling others about the LOVE of God for them. I don't have time to beat people up over theology, I only have time to care for their souls, so I need to make it work. And if he is not back that day, he is going to be back the day after that, and if not then, the day after that..."

hard.rox said...

"My True North is compassion and unconditional grace."
Great bearing, Michael. It has caused pause for thought on more than one occasion since you posted it.

MamaRose said...

Been THINKING SOME MORE: About your 'True' Directions--N/S/E/W--I LOVE your South one, especially, because it IS SO TRUE--NONE OF US is ANY 'BETTER' or of "MORE VALUE" than ANY of the REST of us--we are ALL THE SAME in GOD's EYES--that TOTALLY 'LEVELS THE FIELD', huh??!!

One thing that you have left out, though, is FORGIVENESS--ours & the forgiveness we 'give' to others--BOTH are TOTALLY NECESSARY for the SALVATION OF ALL OUR SOULS!!!!!!!!
And, THANK GOD & JESUS for giving us OUR FORGIVENESS/SALVATION for FREE--all we 'have' to do is CHOOSE it & then GIVE IT to others!

Obviously, one of your best 'posts', in my opinion, since it's 'had me THINKING' for over a week, now & still going!!!!!!!!!!
THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!

LOVE YOU ALL BUNCHES & BUNCHES!!!!
Mom

MamaRose said...

Been THINKING SOME MORE: About your 'True' Directions--N/S/E/W--I LOVE your South one, especially, because it IS SO TRUE--NONE OF US is ANY 'BETTER' or of "MORE VALUE" than ANY of the REST of us--we are ALL THE SAME in GOD's EYES--that TOTALLY 'LEVELS THE FIELD', huh??!!

One thing that you have left out, though, is FORGIVENESS--ours & the forgiveness we 'give' to others--BOTH are TOTALLY NECESSARY for the SALVATION OF ALL OUR SOULS!!!!!!!!
And, THANK GOD & JESUS for giving us OUR FORGIVENESS/SALVATION for FREE--all we 'have' to do is CHOOSE it & then GIVE IT to others!

Obviously, one of your best 'posts', in my opinion, since it's 'had me THINKING' for over a week, now & still going!!!!!!!!!!
THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!

LOVE YOU ALL BUNCHES & BUNCHES!!!!
Mom

RedWifey said...

I am not sure he "left out" forgiviness. To me, "unconditional grace" is rooted in and flourishes in a firm foundation of forgivness. You can't have grace if you can't and don't forgive people. And your ability to forgive others is directly related to your ability to ask (and feel) forgiveness for yourself.

debby said...

All of you: Don't ever lose your bearings!

Roland: Too Funny. Oh, gosh. I laughed so hard. But you got an apple fritter. That's as good of an analogy as any, don't you think? I'm adopting it as my own. People talk about living life so that they can go to see heaven, pearly gates, streets of gold. I'm living life so that one day, I can sit down with God and eat apple fritters while asking the myriad of questions I've been collecting over a lifetime. This picture brings me comfort. I've always hoped that God doesn't mind questions. He surely can't object to apple fritters.

Roland said...

Debby, that's sooooo beautiful!