• Roger Cooke

Turning the world upside down

I’m a big fan of maps. I’m partial to a leaf through a decent atlas and I’d far rather follow some pre-printed map sheets than use Sat-nav on a road trip. I like the wider context and the bigger perspective. I enjoy the colours and the sense of shape and place. And I love the deeper meanings of maps.


I guess that’s why one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite TV Shows, The West Wing, involves a presentation given to the White House Press Secretary by the ‘Organization of Cartographers For Social Equality. In the scene, they advocate for the use of the ‘Gall-Peters Projection’ world map to be used in all schools in USA.


West wing clip on YouTube [external link]


I still remember the first time I saw a Peter’s projection world map in my late teens. It seemed so very different from the typical world maps that adorned the walls of our classrooms in school. Africa and South America looked so big, but strangely elongated.

Two-dimensional world maps are always an inaccurate representation of the globe that is planet earth. If you’ve ever tried to peel an orange and flatten out the peel into a rectangle, you’ll realise that it’s impossible. So, on a map, things are distorted. The traditional Mercator projection was good at maintaining the rough shapes of continents and countries – but it significantly altered the size (area). For example, as the cartographers on the West Wing point out, Greenland looks the same size as Africa, even though it’s about 14 times smaller.


If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering why all this warrants a blog on the CMSI website?

In part, because our job as a global mission agency involves helping people pay attention to the world beyond ‘the West’ – to connect with, care about and learn from the Church in those parts of the world that don’t get as much news coverage, but where God’s people are doing so much to share His love in contexts of significant hardship and suffering. If Africa, Asia and South America were a bit more prominent on our maps, then just maybe they’d be a little more prominent in our minds. This change in focus is even more effective when we turn things on their head: when South becomes 'top' and North becomes 'bottom'.

Of course, these maps also have a symbolic significance.


In God’s Kingdom, we are encouraged to embrace a different worldview – to see things in a new way. When Jesus came, he turned the world upside down and introduced a kingdom which looks very different than the world we’re used to. It’s a kingdom whose king is announced in a manger, identifies with outsiders, adopts a life of service and downward mobility and whose crowning achievement is seen in act of sacrifice and suffering. This is the kingdom that has come and is coming. As citizens of heaven, this is our kingdom.


As we enter the season of Advent, may we look for signs of God’s upside-down kingdom in our midst. May we be inspired to resist the seasonal clamour and the call to create ‘the perfect Christmas’ in favour of a life that reflects God’s values of compassion, grace and service.

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