VIEW VIDEO Mike Goss and I rode our motorcycles up north to Quaker Haven Camp last week, nestled on the shores of Dewart Lake in Kosciusko County, which is itself named for the Polish general Tadeusz Kościuszko, who came to the aid of our nation during the Revolutionary War. After naming the county for him, the good citizens of the county named their county seat for his nation’s capital city, Warsaw. When he died in 1817, Kościuszko’s will specified that his U.S. assets were to be used to educate and free the enslaved peoples of America. One never knows the full glory behind the naming of counties.
It had been a dozen years since I’d been to Quaker Haven, the battery on my iPhone was down to nothing, so I had to dead reckon the last ten miles or so. Fortunately, I had watched the Daniel Boone show growing up so knew that moss grew on the north side of telephone poles, found my bearings that way and eventually delivered us to Quaker Haven. The next day, heading over into Ohio, we passed by Amish homesteads with their tidy gardens and pastures of spring colts and crowds of children. It was so picturesque I wished I were Amish until I remembered they couldn’t have motorcycles.
I have an Amish friend named Andy who lives down near our farm who, whenever I see him, asks me to come by after dark to take him for a motorcycle ride.
“It will have to be dark,” he says. “I don’t want the bishop to see me.”
Some folks have bishops, and some have Bibles, and others of us just try to find our way by the moss on telephone poles. We’re all just trying to find our way, aren’t we?
Do you remember when you were a kid, and the gas stations gave out free road maps? I would pore over them, spending hours at our dining room table studying our state, tracing the rivers and roads with my finger, reading the strange names of towns, cities, and counties, like Pumpkin Center and Kokomo and Kosciusko. On Sunday mornings, I would go to St. Mary’s Queen of Peace Catholic Church and be taught that the chief purpose of religion was to satisfy our innate need to worship someone or something beyond ourselves. I believed that for a long time, but I don’t think that any longer. I’m all in favor of awe and amazement, of walking through the world with a sense of wonderment and gratitude, but our deepest need is to know how to read a map, how to find our way, how to navigate the maze of our lives wisely, charitably, joyfully. Our deepest need is to know how to live, how to discern and do the right thing instead of the wrong thing, and how to tell the difference between the two.
When we think about it, I mean carefully and deeply think about it, it occurs to us that most of the Bible, and not just the Bible, but every sacred text, are maps meant to show us the way.
What we often forget is how wedded those maps are to a specific culture at a specific time, and how time has rendered a good many of those maps inaccurate. New roads have been built. Some towns have died off, while others have sprung up. Time has altered those maps. Today, there are people navigating life in the 21st Century using maps created in the 1st Century. Of course, some parts of those old maps are still useful and accurate. The Sermon on the Mount is as good and fresh a map today as it was 2,000 years ago. But if you’ve read the book of Leviticus or Paul’s letters to the early church, you’ll notice some parts of the map are faded by age and torn by time.
When we were at Quaker Haven I overheard a counselor tell a young camper that everything she needed to know was in the Bible, and I so wanted to intervene and say it wasn’t so, but I hadn’t been asked to be a counselor and no one had asked my opinion, so I went and got a Coke instead and watched the sun set, a far more pleasant endeavor. But back to maps. Maybe 15 years ago, JB Symons was telling me how when he was being recorded as a Quaker pastor in Indiana Yearly Meeting, the recording committee asked him if Jesus was the only way to God. He drew a map of Indiana showing the road from Richmond to Indianapolis. “Here’s how I get from Richmond to Indianapolis,” he told them, drawing an image of Interstate 70. “But if I lived in Lafayette, I’d get to Indianapolis this way,” then drew a picture of I-65. They didn’t like JB’s inference, that there were other roads to God besides their own, and JB never did get recorded. I suspect JB grew up reading maps, too.
What map do you read? What guides you in life? Science? Reason? Tradition? Compassion? They all have their place. In 1978, the book Chesapeake by James Michener was published. I was 17 years-old and Lee and Mary Lee Comer were the youth group leaders at Danville Friends Meeting. It was a perfect storm. I was reading a powerful novel about the moral clarity and courage of Quakers 300 years ago and meeting with contemporary Quakers on Sunday evenings at the Comer’s house, and though I didn’t know how to express it at the time, I eventually realized I had been handed a new map, a new guide, unlike any map or guide I had ever used.
Sometimes we discover the maps in our lives aren’t written on paper, but in people. I can’t count the times I’ve been uncertain about the path I should take and one of you came to mind and the proper course became clear. When Cindy Strietelmeier brought the message last week, wasn’t it abundantly clear that she is a bright and trustworthy light by which we can find our own way. All these years we’ve been admiring Mark’s intelligence and it never occurred to us he got that way by spending so much time with Cindy. Thank God for people whose lives are a light unto our path.
I want to ask something a little different from you today as we enter open worship, perhaps offer a little more guidance than is my habit. I invite you to think about the maps in your life, written on paper or in people, and if you feel led, to share with the rest of us the faithful guides you have found.