A pastor took up a new position in a small country town, dependent for its income of timber milling. Walking by the river one day he noticed some of the men from his congregation standing atop logs floating down the river. This was the way the logs were transported from the forest to the mill. He admired the skill of the men in standing upon the moving logs and sawing a meter or two off the end of each as they floated downstream. But his admiration turned to horror when he saw the branding on the logs. They came from an opposition sawmill. The men were stealing the ends of the logs and rebranding them as their own.
The following Sunday the newly arrived pastor stood up to preach. He chose as the title for his sermon, “Thou shalt not steal”. Afterward he was congratulated by the loggers on a fine sermon. Pleased that they had got the point he took another walk by the river the following day. But to his utter astonishment there were the men cutting off the end of the opposition’s logs once more. Clearly they had not appreciated the point.
The following Sunday the pastor stood up to preach once more. This week’s sermon title: “Thou shalt not cut off the end of thy neighbour’s logs.” The next week the minister was sacked.
The American writer Marianne Wiggins wrote the novel Almost Heaven. One of its central characters is a middle aged woman called Melanie John. We meet her in the psychiatric unit of the Medical College of Virginia suffering from hysterical amnesia. Five weeks earlier she was a happily married mother of four living in the Richmond suburbs.
One day five weeks earlier she and her family are in their car heading down the highway. Her husband Jason, the love of her life, is driving. The four kids are in the back. Melanie has been writing in her journal when a gust of wind catches a sheet of paper and rips it out the window.
Jason pulls the car over to the side of the road, Melanie gets out and heads into the field at the side of the road to recover her writing. That’s when she hears the awful screech of tires skidding, smells the burning of rubber, and turns around to see another vehicle slam into the rear of her family’s car. The vehicle explodes. Jason and the children are killed instantly.
Melanie’s system copes by shutting down, by blocking out all memories of this day and of her family. The last 20 years, the family years, are erased from her conscious memory. She remembers the day 20 years earlier she graduated law school and went to work in the law office on Broad street. But meeting Jason and falling in love, the day of her wedding, the birth of her children, the building of their house, the times they all spent at the beach, the fights and the love – she can’t remember any of it.
The amnesia acts as an emotional anaesthetic, but it also robs her of herself. She has no sense of who she is. Inside that shell of a body who is Melanie John? What is her life about? Where does she fit? What’s her place, her purpose? Without the stories of the last 20 years she has no way of knowing. Without the stories of her past there is no meaningful present and there can be no meaningful future.
The novel recounts Melanie’s journey to recovering her memories, the pain of her loss and the regaining of her sense of self. One of the things the story reminds us about is that we are made up of our stories. Our sense of self, of who we are, of why where here, of where we fit and where we’re headed are the map by which we make sense of life.
When you reflect on this you discover that it’s true at both the individual level and the cultural level. As well as our individual stories we are shaped by our cultural stories, stories which tell us who we are, what life’s about, what we should and shouldn’t value. For Christians, the Christian faith provides us with an alternate story to that of our culture, and calls us to its sense of place, of value, of direction and meaning.
Map making goes by the name of cartography. It may not sound terribly interesting, but in 1815 a cartographer by the name of William Smith produced a map that changed the world. William Smith was an English orphan who grew up in poverty. He became a surveyor and during his time surveying the countryside he came to realise something very important about the earth beneath his feet. First he discovered that rocks could be dated by the fossils found in them. Find the same type of fossils in two rocks separated by distance and it’s probably they come from the same era. Second, he learned that the rock layers tend to be arranged in a consistent pattern. Armed with that knowledge Smith produced a geological map of England, Scotland and Wales. And that map changed the world.
How you might ask? Well for the first time Smith’s map allowed people to predict what lay beneath the ground. Prior to Smith’s map if you wanted to find gold or coal or gas or any other natural resource you had to scout the surface for some sign of them – a glint of gold or an outcropping of coal. But with Smith’s map you could look for particular rock types and know what likely lay beneath them and within them. His map allowed us to see below the surface and to uncover the depths. And so the electricity we gain from coal, the gas that fires our stoves, the gold we wear on chains around our necks, and much much more are possible because William Smith mad a map in 1815.
Smith’s story reminds us of the need to be cartographers of life. Before Smith we barely scratched the surface of the earth, but after Smith we could plumb the depths. Similarly, we could all do with a life map, a mental map that enables us to do more than scratch the surface of life, but to experience the depths of human possibility. For Christians Jesus is the Cartographer of Life, the one who provides us with a map of realities that we can barely see – of God, truth and love.
Alternate Application: The Scriptures are a life-map God has provided for us. They point us to realities about God and life that we would otherwise not be able to see, and enable us to live life to its fullest.
Source: William Smith’s story is reported in Simon Wichester, The Map That Changed the World (HarperCollins, 2001)
CS Lewis is one of the most loved of Christian writers, famous for books such as his Narnia Chronicles and Mere Christianity. Yet an American academic Kathryn Lindskoog recently made the controversial claim that some of the books published in Lewis’ name were not actually written by him. After Lewis died a number of manuscripts were found among his effects and published under his name. These include The Dark Tower, Forms of Things Unknown, A Man Born Blind and Christian Reunion. Lindskoog ran a computer analysis of The Dark Tower which, she says, shows that the style of writing and some themes are out of character for Lewis. She also argues that the handwriting of the manuscript is not Lewis’, and that the books were not written by Lewis but one of his associates.
Lindskoog is no kook. She is a scholar who has written many books on Lewis, worked for Lewis as a researcher in the 1950’s, and remained in contact with him until his death in 1963. Her claims are also supported by some others within the literary community.
Others however are not convinced. Many scholars who have also studied the original manuscripts believe the works are consistent with other writings of Lewis. They suggest that all Lindskoog’s analysis demonstrates is that no one, not even a great writer like Lewis, can produce the highest quality literature all the time.
The debate over Lewis is similar to a debate over some of the writings of Paul. One one side are a group of scholars who believe many of the books attributed to Paul were written not by the apostle, but by some of his associates or followers after his death. They were then published in his name to buttress the claim that they were an accurate representation of the apostle’s thought. The scholars who argue this way appeal to similar criteria as Lindskoog – writing style, themes, language. They point out that the style, themes and language of some books attributed to Paul are so far removed from the letters indisputably attributed to Paul that they must have come from another hand.
Yet more conservative scholars take a line similar to those defending the challenged Lewis works – differences in style, language and theme do not indicate a different author, but different circumstances at the time of writing.
Source: Information on Lindskoog and Lewis found in Sydney Morning Herald July 24, 2001. Lindskoog’s claims are published in Sleuthing CS Lewis.