From Our Pastors
If you pick up a map, you will reliably find that the Arctic is at the top of the page and Antarctica is at the bottom. Does it have to be this way? (Stay with me here, there is a point to this question!)
If you ever find yourself at the airport in Sydney, Australia, you might consider purchasing a unique souvenir as you wait for your (long) flight home. “MacArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World” reverses the usual conventions. Start MacArthur, an Australian, decided in 1979 to upend, literally, the usual order, and orient his map with south at the top and north at the bottom. The end result? Tasmania is now on top of the world and Canadians would be the people from “the land down under."
The history of maps is as complex as almost any human endeavor. The Egyptians and Chinese arranged their first maps, as MacArthur would have it, with south at the top of the page. Early European maps were oriented, as the word “orient” suggests, with east at the top. The first navigational maps, when new ships and adventurous explorers were “discovering” the world, had maps with no up or down, the wording often radiated out from the middle.
The point of raising this curious history is to highlight that we sometimes hold as true what is in fact merely a convention. Many people from “Down Under” are keenly aware of the unexamined “hemisphere-ism” of current mapmaking.
Orienting maps with north at the top is a convention dating from the 16th century, thanks to a fascination of cartographers of the day with Ptolemy. The reasoning why Ptolemy had north “up” and south “down” is lost in history. The fact is that the only “up” or “down” in space is responsive to the location of the center of gravity, not to compass points.
Divisions in our country, our world, and even our church, seem to be widening. Characterizations of the opposition are hardening. We seem to be losing the civility by which we can talk to each other. In an era of unprecedented confidence in the rightness of personally held positions, it might be helpful now and then to pause, stop arguing, listen, and consider a different perspective.
In recent weeks we have been making our way through Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel, at the end of which Jesus says: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. That you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun to rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust.”
Jesus’ provocative statements are not arguing that right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice do not exist. They most certainly do, as his own life and death most clearly attest. What Jesus is challenging his disciples to do - what he in fact does repeatedly - is take the initiative to reach out (often though opposition), engage, and get to know “the other.”
Perhaps Jesus’ advice is worth considering anew: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Fr. Mark Lane, C.O. and Fr. Michael Callaghan, C.O.