Unchartered Territory

Posted on September 1, 2013

At four thousand feet the trail just ended. On the side of the tenth highest peak in the Adirondacks, still under the canopy of the forest, the trail just ended. My brother and I realized that we must have taken a wrong turn and followed a herd path instead of the marked trail. We had two choices. One was to turn back and retrace our steps and the other was to keep moving and blaze our own path to the summit of Gothics. It was already late in the afternoon and we figured it would be best to attempt to finish the climb flying by the seat of our pants. Our decision took us onto an open slide, a barren rock face of about five hundred feet that took us a few hundred feet short of the summit. It was a test of courage for both of us as we found ourselves on open rock with thousands of feet of clear space between us and perhaps catastrophic injury. The experience was scary and test of will for the both of us. But as I look back on the experience I am so glad we pushed on into unchartered territory.

As a history teacher, one of my favorite culminating activities for my ninth grade World History course was to involve students in what Steve Allen would call a meeting of the minds experience. Students were to choose figures of history like Joan of Arc, Sir Francis Drake, or Sigmund Freud. They then would research their lives and then role play the characters as they engaged each other in a round table panel situation. Twenty-five percent of the role play was scripted by the group of role players, but the rest was ad lib. The students were to remain true to their characters identity as their characters were put in situations that they were experiencing for the first time. For example, what would Jesus of Nazareth have said to Adolph Hitler as they were asked the question: "If you could, how would each of you rewrite history?" When students would reach the unchartered waters portion of the project some would back track and express their own opinions, but my best memories are of those students who attempted to stay in the roles of their characters even if they did not agree with what their research forced them to say. They were the students who pushed on into unchartered territory.

One of the most famous Methodist preachers, Halford Luccock once preached a sermon entitled, "Marching off the Map". In this sermon he told a story of Alexander the Great and his army marching through Asia Minor and Persia and into Afghanistan winning victory after victory as they went. His generals came to him one day and informed him: "We don't know what to do next. We have marched off the map." This said Luccock, is the critical moment of decision and it doesn't happen only to world conquerors.

All of us have faced and will continue to face situations in our lives where we reach unchartered territory. It is then that we are faced with two choices. One is to turn around and return to the security of what we already know, or forge ahead, marching off the map. From which choice do you think Alexander achieved his full name?


"Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds." George Eliot

"Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others." John F. Kennedy