I love maps, all kinds really. I love knowing that there are places nothing like the place that I live, the often boring, suburban, smallish city where I make my home. I love to imagine these places, a little church in Ndola, a bridge lined with tuberoses in Angers, an ice cream shop in Frutigen. Maps are bright, with lovely colors and borders. They make the world feel smaller to me, an ocean crossed with my palm. Maps though, they have biases and distortions. There are problems with taking a spherical world and flattening it out. The traditional map I know is the Mercator Map (pictured above), originally drawn in the 1500s. The Mercator has some advantages. It shows relatively accurate shapes of the land masses and has lines lovely for sailing. The trouble is, when flattening a sphere, in order to preserve accuracy of shape, we must sacrifice accuracy of size. On this traditional map, size distortion becomes much greater the farther from the Equator that you go. Much of the southern hemisphere is also cropped off the the map (removing most of Antarctica and shifting the Equator down the map). This causes western states (namely North America and Europe) to appear much larger than they actually are, and Africa and much of Asia to appear much smaller. Many refer to this issue as The Greenland Problem.
I suppose this isn’t a problem for a North American with European heritage like me. Who doesn’t want to believe that their culture is of dazzling significance, dominating the map? Obviously my country is quite large, and I must represent the majority, and my culture, my thoughts must be the right ones. The problem I find though especially now that I have traveled farther and farther from home is that we don’t represent the majority at all, not in land mass, not in population. There is so much more out there. This is the Peters Map, a map with certainly distorted shapes which preserves the true size of each land mass.
I adore this illustration, and I hope one day that my children will appreciate it.
My children are African, and I want them to know the rich and profound heritage that they possess. I want them to know their birth culture for its phenomenal beauty and brilliance and not emphasize its overwhelming poverty or lack of development. There is so much opportunity there, so much innovation, so much potential. My experience in Africa has always left me feeling inadequate in so many ways. There is nothing inferior about that place.
I’ve spent my day with Teme at a Children’s Hospital over three hours away from home trying to solve his tummy troubles. I’m not sure I have much more insight than I had before, but I have some hope that he will get well. We also visited a sweet little patient of mine that has been hospitalized there with a very serious diagnosis for the past two weeks and will likely be there for several more. To better diagnose the tummy troubles, our specialist recommended some stool samples, so, to pass the time, we visited a very upscale shopping center across the street until little Teme produced a sample for us. I then had to change his diaper and his diarrhea-soaked clothes and collect 3 jars of poo for the lab in the women’s restroom of this very fine shopping establishment. Anyway, what I mean to say is, I haven’t had a moment to think about all the books I love or adequately consider how to choose one for this post.
I have chosen Richard Stearn’s The Hole in Our Gospel for discussion today. I love books; I am a bit of a literary snob. With the right time and consideration, I could write you a reasonable term paper on some of my favorites. The Hole in Our Gospel happens to be sitting on the shelf near me, and I do love it, so it wins this place of honor today.
This book rattled me. Richard Stearns is the former president of Lenox, maker of fine china and other luxurious but useless items, who became the president of World Vision, one of the leading faith-based humanitarian organizations in the world. He begins by explaining how God called him away from fou-fou collectables to caring for the poorest people on Earth. He has no qualms admitting that he enjoyed his prosperity, living in 10 bedroom home and driving a sports car. Through a series of “too coincidental to be just coincidental” events, he realizes that God desires him to leave his lucrative career for World Vision, and an internal struggle between submission to God and continued prosperity ensues. Ultimately, he chooses World Vision, and he awakens to a depth of poverty and depravity that occurs in more than half of the world’s population that he never knew existed. This book is his analysis of poverty, his solutions to the problems of extreme poverty, and a call to Christ’s followers to join in the effort, no matter the cost to them personally. He calls us to leave prosperity so that others might leave poverty. It is a profound book, one that left me sickened over my own greed and lack of compassion. I am sad to admit that I still live a life of excess, maybe not as much excess, but still excess. I am trying to work this out, how to live in this culture but still be mindful of another. It is sort of romantic to me, the idea of selling everything and moving overseas to live and work in service of others, but the reality is much more difficult. I pray for God to remove my desire for stuff, to enable me to enjoy the blessings he gives but act with good stewardship and give generously. I want to be willing to give him everything, everything he asks. I’m not there yet, but he is working on me.