Dear Friends in Christ,
When my grandson Cooper was just two or three years of age (he just celebrated his 10th birthday) he once, while driving with me in the truck, spotted something he had never seen before on the seat next to me. “What’s that, Grampie?” he asked.“ It’s a map, Cooper,” was my reply; “it tells me how to get to where I want to go!” From then on he referred to the map as Grampie’s GPS and he always wanted to hold the map and tell me where to go from his car seat in the back of the truck.
Even at the tender age of three the map was superfluous for Cooper…who needs a map when, at that time, you had an electronic one suction-cupped to the dashboard of your car and now, in the palm of your hand on your phone? I was reminded of this on my trip, yesterday, to James Madison’s home in Orange, Virginia and then, later in the day to Smith Mountain Lake where Mary and I have retreated for the week. It prompts me to speak “in praise of the map” because, as convenient as the GPS is, and I confess that it has been helpful to me from time to time though I don’t know how to work it on my own phone I think there is a downside to its (almost) exclusive use as I observe friends and family members clicking away on their devices.
There is an inherent bias in the use of the GPS – it is a bias toward the future. The GPS speaks (and I confess that I find that lady’s voice quite annoying) exclusively of what’s coming up-“in 2 miles turn right…” It tells one how far one is from one’s destination, how long it will take to get there and what turns to take next. The GPS will, most times but not always, gets you where you want to go but I think it discourages you from enjoying the scenery along the way. Usually you don’t know what direction you are heading…you are simply heading to where you want to go.
And the lady with the annoying voice becomes indignant when she senses the least expression of self-determination on the part of the one who is driving. You can almost hear the irritation in her voice when she says that she is “recalibrating” her directions as if she has been personally offended by my right hand turn into a rest area to recycle the coffee that has kept me on the straight and narrow over the past four hours of driving.
The lady with the annoying voice – and I am sure that she is a perfectly nice woman – may tell me the quickest way to get to where I want to go (though, not always) but she may not always give me the best way to get there. I’m sure it is just me but I’d rather drive 10 minutes longer to get to Point B than to save the 10 minutes but agonize over hills, bumps and switch backs through the mountain roads populated by tractor-trailers loaded with tons of rough oak lumber, fond as I am of the stuff.
Most unfortunately, when one simply follows the directions of a GPS one never knows where one is. Without the map I would have no idea how close James Madison’s home was to Thomas Jefferson’s home and James Monroe’s home and how close they all were to Washington, D.C.
What kind of a trip is it when reduced to one’s self, one’s destination and the lady with the annoying voice? I pine for the days when Mary would sit in the seat next to me, open the map like she was reading the Sunday Times and I could ask her “What’s next?” I never found her voice annoying.
Ah…the map. There is something elegant about the way it is folded; top to bottom in half, then crosswise like an accordion (there’s where MY bias comes from) and, finally, the panel with the picture on it facing out. Even when, like my map of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the map rips along the fold from use, you can still surmise that the road on one side of the tear is the same road on the other side of the tear.
A map is something real to me and reading it is a tactile experience. I can hold a map and read a map and fold a map. The battery on the map never goes dead and whether or I am “in network” or out of range it reliably tells me how to get to where I am going.
And the map likes me, it trusts me, it affirms that I am a sentient being. It never expresses disapproval of my personal decisions; in fact, it offers me a menu of options for how to get to where I am going. The map challenges my thinking, encourages my planning and it identifies the wonderful things I am passing on my journey. The map helps me to look forward, backward and from side to side and it says in a silent voice that never annoys “Look here, and over there…what do you see and what do you think about that?”
Some of you are ready to pounce…you think you’ve caught me on the horns of a theological dilemma. Didn’t the people of Israel who wandered in the wilderness have a GPS-of-sorts in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire? They didn’t know where they were and they didn’t know where they were going, one might suggest. Well, I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment in the first place but I would hasten to add that even though we are being led in life by a sovereign God Whose way for us is always perfect and His destination for us is always in accord with His own glory and our own best He does not call us to be uninvolved, blind followers.
As our pastor mentioned in his sermon this morning, the Lord operates in accord with secondary causes which, in this case, involves us seeking the wise counsel of trusted brothers and sisters in Christ, searching God’s Word, seeking the mind of Christ and exercising our minds that are being transformed by the Holy Spirit. And, I might add, that still, small voice is never annoying to hear but welcomed by all who desire to remain on the path of righteousness.
I’m sure this sounds terribly curmudgeonly of me…as my daughter says “Dad, you’ve got to get with the times” and I am sure that she is right. So, I’ll take time during my vacation to learn how to use my phone’s GPS but I’ll not give up my AAA membership, if for no other reason than the free distribution of “Grampie’s GPS.”
Now, where did I put that map?
Faithfully in Him,