In the summer of 2016, my wife and I were on a 70,000-acre lake in Quebec that we had never been to before. On the third or fourth morning we were there, I took the boat out by myself. The sun hadn’t yet risen, but the east was already turning colors and steam was rising everywhere off the lake.
It was so gorgeous that I fumbled around for my camera and was taking pictures as I headed toward a spot we had fished the previous evening. I didn’t stop the boat to take pictures because I was hoping to reach that bay before the sun broke the horizon. So, with the outboard at full throttle, I’d take a picture, look at it in the view screen, delete it if I didn’t like it, then take another.
I had been doing this for five or ten minutes and was passing through a straight that opened up into a much larger arm of the lake. That was when I looked around and realized I didn’t know where I was. The landscape was not at all familiar. I was lost.
When you don’t know where you are, you don’t know how to get where you’re going. I immediately stopped the boat and sat still on the glassy water. I got out the rudimentary map we had been given when we arrived – it was more like a restaurant placemat than a real map – and tried to figure out where I was.
The sun would soon rise behind me, over my right shoulder. I had just passed a rocky point while veering to the right. Could I locate that point on my placemat map? What I needed was one of those maps one sees at highway rest stops, the ones with an arrow and the caption, “You Are Here.”
I think our nation could use one of those maps. Everyone is busy giving directions but does anyone really know where we are? Because when you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going.
The brutal killing of George Floyd has brought this situation into sharp relief. America has long been disoriented on race issues. We are not sure where we are but everyone is telling us where we should go: Defund and disband police departments; increase funding to police departments; heroize Black Lives Matter; demonize Black Lives Matter; “Law and Order”; “No Justice, No Peace.”
Perhaps we should stop giving directions for a moment, try to get our bearings, and find the “You Are Here” arrow. That, however, is no easy feat when society’s surveyors are producing maps that differ on important details and we are not looking at the same map.
At one time in the United States, most of our cultural maps were based on the explorations of men and women in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Most people trusted those maps and, even when they weren’t following them (which was often), they took their accuracy for granted. This is not now the case.
Perhaps the best we can do these days is to agree on the broad outlines of the map. If we no longer have a “You Are Here” arrow, perhaps we can at least draw a “You Are Around Here” circle. To do that, we need to listen to and work with people who are reading different maps.
I will nevertheless continue to trust the map compiled by ancient Jewish and Christian explorers that we know as the Bible. It has proved invaluable. But I have less confidence in the maps derived by later explorers in the tradition, though some have been extremely helpful.
Those later maps have too often been drawn on skewed cultural projections that have led society away from the destination. The mistreatment of indigenous peoples and the legally sanctioned exploitation of African Americans are examples of what happens when the map society is following is distorted.
Such distortions need to be recognized and the lines redrawn, but one will not go wrong by referring to the ancient map of the Bible. Even in today’s world, it can help us find our way to a more just and loving society.
(First published by Gatehouse Media)