Friday, May 22, 2009

Learn the Globe

I received a review copy today of a new book from Westminster John Knox called 99 Things to Do between Here and Heaven. I admit I rolled my eyes when I first saw it. The cover is a little cheesy (especially given that “stand in a field with your arms outstretched” is not one of the 99 things) and I was unsure of the concept. Having now leafed through it a good bit, I have to say it looks awesome, and I think I’ll try to use it to prompt some new spiritual endeavors.

Some, I’ve already done, like “observe Ash Wednesday,” “gaze at the night sky,” and “read the Bible from cover to cover,” Some I’ve done but have never assigned spiritual meaning to (like “give blood”) so next time I do, I may read that page of the book and use its reflection prompts to sort of “pray the experience,” reflecting on the healing and life-giving value of the blood and praying for those who might receive my and other people’s donations.

One item that may sound odd as a spiritual exercise is “learn the globe.” I was really happy to see it on there because this is actually something I’ve been doing lately with great spiritual intentionality. Matt introduced me to a website called (tagline: Mentally Stimulating Diversions). It is basically a website full of timed quizzes challenging the user to do things like name all the presidents, all the books of the Bible, all the Kentucky Derby winners, etc., as well as more pop culture type things like name the actors that played certain guest roles on Friends, and name all the historical and cultural items rattled off in the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” (I can actually do that, by the way. My dad walked me through the lyrics to that song once to raise my cultural awareness, and it was actually very helpful in a couple history classes in college and grad school!)

Sporcle also has map quizzes, which I have always enjoyed and been pretty good at. I had U.S. state flash cards as a kid and in high school memorized the placement of the Scandinavian countries with the mnemonic “New Shoes Fit” (Norway, Sweden, and Finland, from west to east). Sporcle’s Europe map quiz is fun for me because I can do it pretty easily. Couple the fact that I’ve traveled over there numerous times with Americans’ natural western orientation and European countries come pretty easily. I still miss things like Andorra and San Marino, but I don’t feel too much shame in that since they’re so tiny they don’t even show up on the map!

Recently, though, I’ve made it a discipline to do the Africa quiz over and over, trying to learn the names of these countries we so easily lump together in our minds. Sure, we know Egypt and South Africa, but can we point to Uganda or Burundi? I want to do this to increase my global awareness. I was starting to feel like if I haven’t even heard of a country or can’t find it on a map, it means the people who live there don’t really matter. I’ve improved a lot in the last couple weeks, going from being able to name 24 out of 53 to 29, then 33, and now 44! Places like Benin, Comoros, and Cape Verde still generally skip my mind, but I’ve now got Lesotho, Seychelles, and Guinea-Bissau (ones I originally didn’t know at all) down pat.

Making myself more aware of at least the countries’ existence—even if not their cultures or languages—helps open my heart and put a little bit more of a face on some of God’s children that are often overlooked.

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