Ex­plo­ration of ex­plo­ration: A cau­tion­ary tale

The Expositor (Brantford) - - WEEKEND - RICK GAM­BLE CROSS CUR­RENT

Through­out his­tory, ex­plo­ration was the one field re­ally go­ing places. Ad­ven­tur­ers, schol­ars and trea­sure-seek­ers opened the world, and their story car­ries a pow­er­ful les­son: be care­ful what you go look­ing for, and what you’re will­ing to do to find it.

Though it’s not widely known, much of the world was “dis­cov­ered” be­cause rich and pow­er­ful peo­ple be­lieved in a lost Chris­tian king­dom that amounted to heaven on Earth. The ru­mours started in 1145.

Ac­cord­ing to the pre­vail­ing story, the par­adise was ruled by Prester John, a Chris­tian king de­scended from the Three Wise­men. His realm was some­where in the east, and filled with gold, jew­els, spices and ex­otic crea­tures, all un­der con­stant threat by sur­round­ing en­e­mies.

There was no crime or vice in the king­dom, which was also home to the Foun­tain of Youth.

So, begin­ning with Pope Alexan­der III, the wealthy and in­flu­en­tial sent out mas­sive ex­pe­di­tions to find Prester John and his peo­ple and, in the process, huge swathes of In­dia and other Asian coun­tries were mapped. When the no­bil­ity de­cided the elu­sive king­dom wasn’t there, they turned to Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, open­ing the door to slav­ery and the colo­nial ex­ploita­tion of the whole con­ti­nent.

Al­most 400 years later, it was a sim­i­lar story when word spread of El Do­rado, an en­tire city made of gold, lost in the deep jun­gles of South Amer­ica. The myth set in mo­tion a mad search by the likes of English­man Sir Wal­ter Raleigh and Span­ish con­quis­ta­dor Her­nan Cortes, who rav­aged Mex­ico and mas­sa­cred most of the Aztecs.

In places like Colom­bia and Venezuela, trea­sure-seek­ers look­ing for leads tor­tured and en­slaved in­dige­nous peo­ple and plun­dered what­ever was worth tak­ing.

Even the North Pole was caught up in a sim­i­lar hys­te­ria. In the 16th cen­tury, ex­plor­ers be­lieved the roof of the world was cov­ered by a warm open sea. They thought the area’s six months of con­tin­ual day­light would melt any ice that might oth­er­wise sur­face, mean­ing there must be an easy short­cut atop Canada to the riches of Asia.

It set off a fu­ri­ous race to be first across.

Dozens of lives were lost. The dream of a clear North­west Pas­sage just be­yond the ini­tial ice per­sisted un­til 1881 when Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton De Long and 19 oth­ers per­ished in a re­lent­less pur­suit of what we now know was pure fan­tasy.

Be care­ful what you go look­ing for, and what you’re will­ing to do to find it.

It’s not that there’s any­thing wrong with want­ing to ex­plore un­charted ter­ri­tory in our lives. Growth and op­por­tu­nity arise when we open our­selves to new op­tions and take a chance on new chal­lenges. We all need to put aside fear and com­pla­cency to step out­side our com­fort zone and embrace a mea­sure of risk, ad­ven­ture and un­cer­tainty.

It keeps us mo­ti­vated and in­ter­est­ing. Ex­plo­ration stretches, broad­ens, and ma­tures us. It stops us from get­ting stale, staid and stag­nant.

But only if we’re look­ing for the right things, for the right rea­sons. So let’s be clear. There’s no heaven on Earth; no place of per­fec­tion.

You won’t find it in a new re­la­tion­ship, a new job, a new tax bracket or a new church. Even if those things were per­fect, your own hu­man­ity would soon mess things up.

Yet we of­ten dis­miss or sac­ri­fice rich bless­ings right in front of us to go in search of myth or fan­tasy, per­haps be­cause we think we’re miss­ing out, or we’re afraid of get­ting older (many are still look­ing for that Foun­tain of Youth), or we’re bored and de­luded into think­ing happiness will be found in the new and novel.

To­day re­minds me of an­cient Athens where the peo­ple “seemed to spend all their time dis­cussing the lat­est ideas” (Acts 17:21), and pur­su­ing the lat­est things, no doubt. Let’s re­mem­ber there will al­ways be The Next Big Thing, whether it’s a de­vice, a diet or a delu­sion about what will bring us last­ing happiness.

As peo­ple of faith, we’re to hon­our God and serve oth­ers. But end­less com­par­i­son with ev­ery­body else leads to deep dis­con­tent­ment with what we have and how we live, es­pe­cially when fu­elled by pop­u­lar cul­ture and so­cial me­dia.

So check your mo­tives. Don’t slip sub­con­sciously into envy, cov­etous­ness, com­pe­ti­tion, or the need for pop­u­lar­ity and ap­proval. All of that makes it eas­ier to ex­ploit oth­ers to serve our own greed or am­bi­tion.

And, keep in mind, there is no quick and easy pas­sage to pros­per­ity or pro­fi­ciency. To para­phrase Proverbs 21:15, “Good plan­ning and hard work lead to suc­cess, but hasty short­cuts lead to disas­ter.”

The shift­ing ice of envy is still deadly, es­pe­cially when it traps us in a place where we’re not will­ing to put in the time and ef­fort that brought suc­cess to those we re­sent. “I’d give my life to play like you,” a woman once said to mas­ter vi­o­lin­ist Fritz Kreisler (18751962). “I did,” he replied.

Ex­pand your hori­zons. Ex­plore your pos­si­bil­i­ties. Ex­pend your en­ergy. But only in the pur­suit of what’s real and truly valu­able. Or the only thing you’ll dis­cover is your own stu­pid­ity.

Share your thoughts with Rick Gam­ble at info@fol­low­ers.ca. He pas­tors an in­de­pen­dent, non-de­nom­i­na­tional church in Brant­ford called Fol­low­ers of Christ (www.fol­low­ers.ca) and teaches Me­dia at Lau­rier Brant­ford.

JONATHAN HAY­WARD/CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

The dream of a clear North­west Pas­sage through the Cana­dian Arc­tic per­sisted un­til 1881 when Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton De Long and 19 oth­ers per­ished in a re­lent­less pur­suit of what we now know was pure fan­tasy. writes colum­nist Rick Gam­ble.

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