Lodestar and Lodestone


Today I heard a sermon of an older man who spent his early years as a Catholic priest and his middle years as a Marxist organizer, before becoming a Baptist pastor. He noted that no step along his path was a waste because he gained from each step and helped him in his life and ministry today.

I went formally into ministry when I was 38. Before that I was a mechanical engineer, and before that I was in the US Navy. As a conning officer, my watchstation on my ship, I worked with CIC and the quartermasters to determine where we are and how to get to where we want to go. On the ocean, that can be a bit of a trick… especially in the past.  In this day of GPS, it is a lot easier, and even before that, Loran-C and Omega provided help in determining where one was. But before that, things were much more tricky.

A. Looking Down. 

  • A fathometer and sounding line can tell the depth of the water below a ship or boat. It is not very good at determining one’s position, although it is okay to support or contradict one’s predicted position. By comparing it with one’s presumed position and the associated sounding line on the chart, one can confirm whether or not the EP (esitmated position) makes sense.

B.  Looking Across.

  • Landmarks. Landmarks work great when one is close to shore. One can do line of bearings to multiple landmarks, and triangulate one’s position. Doing this multiple times over time gives a heading. To do this, one must have an approximate idea of one’s location. (not likely to be that helpful if one is totally lost). Otherwise it is unlikely one can match up landmarks to places on a chart.
  • Radio frequency.  When one is too far out to sea for visual landmarks, radio beacons can be used for triangulation. Loran-C, and Omega could also be used. Further, radar can be used to pick up certain types of landmarks regardless of visibility.
  • Magnetic.  Magnetic compasses point to the magnetic north that can, if you know about where you are, give a pretty good approximation of true north.

C.  Looking Up

  • Celestial navigation.  The sun, the moon, and various stars can be used to determine position, as long as one has a good timepiece. Certain stars are classically used because they are brighter, more identifiable, easier to locate, and provide better triangulation. Of these, polaris (north star) is prominent among the stars because moves less than others, staying within about 1 degree of true north.
  • GPS. Satellites provide very reliable triangulation. It is nice because the sensing and calculations are internal. Additionally, it is accurate enough to give location, direction, and speed over water.

D.  Inertia. 

  • Inertial Navigation. With an inertial navigation system, as long as you know where you started, the system can tell from changes of inertia where one is now.
  • Gyrocompass. A gyrocompass develops angular inertia to establish a bearing to guide off of. Similar to Inertial Navigation. as long as it is set properly initially, it can continue to give heading guidance after.

I suppose there are more. It has been awhile. But why does this matter? For me, there are some ways this corresponds to life:

  1.  Life has a chaotic feel to it that the ocean gives. It can be amazingly difficult to know where one is and what direction one needs to go. Without effective navigational skills and tools, one is likely to go in circles. Our social and physical context is very much in flux, and we need something to provide stability.
  2. One needs a good unchanging reference.  In navigation, the unchanging (or slowly changing) north star, earth’s magnetic field, inertial reference, geosynchronous satellites, and so forth, are needed. We need something stable to base our lives on. For Christians, God in His transcendence, and Christ in His imminence, provide our ground of being… the standard that we can get our bearings from.
  3. One needs some idea where one is. Points of reference don’t help much unless you can interpret to the appropriate chart. In Christian thought, we need to gain some sense of who we are and what we need with respect to God and how to know more. One might call this a conversion experience… recognizing our shame and hope in Christ.
  4. One needs a good chart/map. Even if one knows where one is based on a reference, that does not necessarily tell us where we are with respect to others and give info on where we are to go. For Christians, the Bible helps us understand where we are to go based on where God/Christ is with respect to us.

<Unrelated thought.  I thought I would look up stars and celestial navigation as it relates to Christianity. Found some stuff on Prophecy (or pseudo-Christian end-times industry). Found some “Christian” astrology. Kind of a shame that “Christians” with the least useful to say in this area have the biggest presence on the Web.>

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