Dead Reckoning: Navigating the Sea of Philosophy and Theology

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Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Virginia

You have heard of dead in the water. Well dead reckoning is what sailors used to do before the days of computer assisted navigation if they needed to figure out where exactly they were and had no other means (such as celestial navigation) to determine their longitude and latitude — also known as a ‘fix.’ The process is quite simple: start with your last known fix, and then plot all course changes and velocities that you made since that fix. If you take into account other factors such as ocean drift, then you’ll be able to reconstruct your journey with a greater degree of accuracy.

You can try this process out the next time you go on a road trip if you have someone riding shotgun who can be your ‘navigator.’ All they need to do is keep a timer handy, perhaps a hourglass or stopwatch, and pay attention to changes in your car speed. So long as you know what road or highway you are driving on, you should be able to point out where you are on a map. Or you know — you could use GPS on your phone.

My point in bringing up dead reckoning is that I believe it is a really useful analogy when it comes to doing philosophy and theology. We have to consider where we are it figuratively speaking, before we start exploring topics like God or the meaning of life. We have to take stock in where we have been, and how our ‘home port’ and ‘course changes’ along the way may have influenced our journey somehow. We also have to think about where we want to go in life, not just where we want to live, but how financially secure we want to be, how emotionally developed we want our relationships to be, and so forth. Taking a moment to think about these things is to do some dead reckoning.

As for myself, I have been doing a lot of philosophical and theological thinking over the last decade or so, ever since I left the Navy in 2009 to pursue a calling into ministry. Living into that calling now as a Presbyterian pastor, my hope with joining Medium.com is to do some ‘critical thinking-out-loud’ about issues that pertain to theology and philosophy that will not necessarily be used as ‘sermon material’ on Sunday mornings. Be that as it may, I am planning on writing book-chapter length essays for a popular-level audience that cares about theology and philosophy as much as I do. So if you like to read, you will get some good reading in with the type of stuff I am planning on writing about, I hope.

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Clear and critical thinking-out-loud about philosophical and theological topics from the perspective of a Christian pastor.

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