Note: We don’t do this often, but we had a post from way back in September that really fit this week’s theme perfectly. This seems to be a great opportunity to share these thoughts, especially with the direction of the scriptures in the liturgy. We hope you read it with fresh eyes in light of our readings for this week.
Often, subtitles define what is really important to us. The most simple example I can come up with is your living room furniture. How is it arranged? If you are like most of us, your furniture is facing the television and not the other furniture. What we communicate with this is pretty simple: in the living room, the TV gets most of the attention, and not the other people sitting there.
The readings this week point us to the sinful condition of the heart, entitlement. While this might not seem like a big deal to many of us, that might be the point. Entitlement is a subtle thing that often goes unnoticed by the individual or even the culture in which the individual lives, but is glaringly obvious to an observer.
Entitlement is the ingrained idea that you deserve something or “have rights” to things simple because of where you are born or your social status. Again, this isn’t anything we consciously think, but more an attitude of the heart.
I hadn’t really thought about this until I saw this clip from “The West Wing” about a group of cartographers advocating for a new map of the world.
Their contention was the traditional “Mercator Projection Map” that we all learned about in school has a cultural and ethnic bias because of the relative sizes of the land masses. For instance, Greenland and Africa are roughly the same size while in reality, Africa is 4x as large.
They advocated the “Gall-Peters Projection” map that more accurately (in their estimation) estimates the sizes of various land masses. It is a jarring difference for sure that is intended to not only provide a more accurate map but also point out traditional Western bias to third world nations.
Upon researching this a bit, I found that neither map really accurately shows what the world looks like. The problem is, you can’t accurately draw a flat map based upon spherical land masses. It just doesn’t translate. While the Mercator and Peters maps might show ethnic and cultural bias, or even attempt to correct said biases, they are both technically incorrect.
However, it was the last 20 seconds of the “West Wing” clip that really got my attention. These cartographers advocated for an upside down view of the world map…..and really freaked out the White House spokesperson.
You see, it is ingrained in the privileged to have a “top-down” view of things. If things are higher or on top, they tend to have greater importance. And, things with less importance tend to be lower or out of sight. To illustrate this point – tell me about the last luxury penthouse suite or fancy restaurant you saw in the basement of a skyscraper?
The question posed here is – why does north have to be on top? Why not south? Who decides these things?
So, could a subtle nuance in a map communicate something much deeper about our hearts? I don’t know. But, how does the upside down map strike you? If the US was at the bottom of the map and countries like Argentina, Chile, and South Africa were at the top – how would you deal with that? What would it communicate to you?
Our hearts are funny things. Everyone has some kind of bias or sense of entitlement. Yet, when the bible communicates about who God is, I would think it equates more to the upside-down view of the world. Power, wealth, and entitlement are put down low in God’s kingdom while the foolish and less desirable are given places of honor.
So much of our culture is structured around the idea that we are entitled to certain benefits and luxuries because we are American. What if we decided that none of these things are ours to take, but only things to be held lightly? What would life look like if we decided the things of least significance demand the most attention?
The readings this week challenge us to see the world as God sees it. We are nothing without God breathing life into us, whether we are from the richest family or the poorest country. Nothing we have done gives us the right to feel entitled.
And honestly, this is why I choose to follow Jesus. The world around me doesn’t have much to offer more than a “top-down” paradigm leading to the trampling of the vulnerable and the consolidation of resources to a few. Jesus shows us a different way that brings life and peace where the bottom becomes the top.
The last are first. The least honorable get the throne. The foolish are wise. I can get on board with that.
I’d love to hear your feedback on these thoughts. Please feel free to comment and let us know what you think!