True North: The Need for an External Point of Reference
I grew up watching the Waltons. It was one of the shows that was in our daily diet. I think it was because of John Boy for the most part. The narrative he added to their lives and the morals they lived by from a different time were solid. Of course, you’re probably making fun of my for that admission, nevertheless, it’s was a good show.
I remember an episode of that show where Olivia was out with Elizabeth and Jim Bob (I think). One way or another, in the dense forrest of Virginia, they got lost. They encountered different trials, including one where Jim Bob had to scare away a bear by banging a couple of rocks together. As they navigated their way back to the main road, Olivia (the mom) said that moss grows on the north side of the tree, so that would help them know which way they were going. It was a point of reference. But there’s a problem with it.
Her point of reference isn’t global. That doesn’t work everywhere. For instance is the same true in the southern hemisphere? I know for a fact the same principle does not apply here in the Northwest where moss grows on all sides of the tree. So, what do we do then? Some may say you can use the sun. And while that’s true on a sunny day, we also have a lot of days where the sun isn’t visible. What do we do then? When you don’t know which way you’re going, even a map will do you no good.
The only real answer is to have an external point of reference. Like a compass. You need to have something that is outside of your current circumstance that points you in the direction you need to go. You need to have something outside of you that can lead you to safety. Your rescue is dependent on the external point of reference. You may not see the sun, but as long as you have that needle that is pointing to true north, you can navigate.
The problem we are facing in todays society is that we have removed the external point of reference. It’s not for a lack of tools and things that point to it. Those all exist and have not changed. But for some strange reason we have decided that we no longer need something outside ourselves to guide us. We believe that we are able and competent to lead from within the circumstance.
We don’t use true north anymore. Many don’t even believe that true north exists. Many believe each of us gets to decide what true north is for ourselves. And so, we are all out there in the same woods, using our own true norths to try to navigate this life.
“What’s the big deal with that?” you might be asking. One problem is that we are all sharing the same forrest. We are all on this planet sharing oxygen. Our paths cross. no one lives in true isolation. What happens when my north contradicts your north? What happens when your north gets in the way of my north? Who gets to decide which north is the right north? Who gets to win the battle of the norths?
In this scenario, one might think that everyone would just assume that everyone is right. But that’s not the case. And we can see that being played out all over media on a daily basis. It never happens that everyone is right. In fact, what most commonly happens is that everyone is wrong. What I mean by that, is we don’t hear people commending one another for being right, we hear people condemning one another for being wrong. How idiotic is it of us to claim that what’s right for me may not be right for you and yet, at the same time condemn you for not doing what I think is right?
So, when your north contradicts my north, then you must be punished. And whichever way the justice scales of public opinion are tilting that day is what will be the winning north. The scales may swing widely from contradiction to contradiction, and that doesn’t matter. All that matters is right now and how I feel in this moment.
It does not make any sense. The reason we are such a messed up people is that we have abandoned our True North. The only way for us to find that sense is to abandon the ridiculous notion that I get to decide what north is and turn back to the real source of north – God. For it is God and God alone that sits outside our circumstance, and only he knows which direction we should go.
If you are unfamiliar with Frank Peretti’s illustration called “The Chair” I strongly recommend you make yourself familiar with it. Unfortunately this is an old video and it looks old, but the point is great.