Orientation Matters

I have always enjoyed maps. When I was young we had a subscription to National Geographic and many of the map supplements found themselves affixed to my walls with thumb tacks. I remember putting up maps of the world, the United States, and Europe. I came to enjoy USGS topographic maps as a teenager planning backpacking trips and I was introduced to FAA sectional aeronautical charts in high school. At some point, I discovered nautical charts as well. I even entertained myself by drawing maps of imaginary places.

I don’t often use paper maps anymore because we live in a world of GPS. Granted, I have lived in this world a bit longer than most. I had a Garmin GPS-12 in the late 1990s and used it to navigate from Indiana to Florida at least once. I’ll spare you the technical details, but it wasn’t like turning on my TomTom and entering an address. I learned a lot about cartography thanks to my first GPS—coordinate systems, survey markers, and map datums. It was fun and occasionally useful. I used it for years.

As fun as Google Maps can be, there are times I still prefer paper maps. Having recently moved, I found a paper map of our new locale and spent some time examining it. My main goal was to fix in my mind the lay of the land. If I can get the general arrangement of things in my mind, I get around much better, and for some reason, that tends to work a lot better and faster with a paper map.

We lived in our last town for over a year and the downtown continued to disorient me. It didn’t help that it was not laid out on any sort of grid system, but was largely composed of curvy and squiggly lines. Now, living along the southern edge of the Puget Sound, I again have curvy lines to deal with, imposed by the coastline.

I’m getting there. The general route of I5 is pretty well in my mind and I can find our house on a map showing just the outline of the Sound. These handles are helpful. Yesterday, though, we drove up near Seattle to go shopping and I’m not really sure where we were. It was a “get in and tell TomTom where to go” trip. The GPS could take me a circuitous route and I would never know.

It’s also good to have hooks and handles in other areas besides geography. We need a way to know how various pieces of information relate to each other. It may be spatial, chronological, or some other means. Waterloo happened after the American Revolution. Fuel injectors and carburetors serve the same function in engines. Warrant officers fall between enlisted and commissioned officers in rank.

Sometimes we are given the maps we need; sometimes we have to make them. Occasionally, we need to realize that something can be a map for us. The creeds of Christendom can serve as maps as well as waypoints. They are landmarks of certain times and are useful for sorting through Scripture and church teaching. Getting our bearings can keep us from becoming disoriented.


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