Monday, October 10, 2011

Faith in 1492

by Niki Turner

It's Columbus Day. (In case you forgot, like my hubby did, there will be no mail delivery today, and the bank is closed.) In the U.S., the second Monday in October is set aside to honor the accomplishment of explorer Christopher Columbus more than five centuries ago.

In recent (within my lifetime, anyway) times, Columbus's achievement – the discovery of the new world – has come into question.

Was he really the first European to cross the Atlantic and set foot on the shores of the New World, or did the Vikings beat him to it? After all, Leif Ericson had no Twitter account to document his arrival in the Americas. Why was Columbus the explorer to earn the claim to fame? Perhaps because the Catholic church had a better system for promoting and recording the events of history than the Norsemen.

photo by The Brit_2via PhotoRee
These days, Columbus is as frequently vilified as he is venerated. For many, his Oct. 12, 1492, landing on the shores of one of the Caribbean islands (no one has officially determined which island it was), and his subsequent visits to Cuba and Hispaniola, represent the beginning of the end of the indigenous cultures that existed in North and South America. Were his motives and methods right? Did he act in holy and righteous ways toward the indigenous civilizations he encountered? Before you take a reflexive response on either side, consider the time period and the culture in which Columbus lived. Slavery was considered an acceptable practice by most European Christians, their knowledge of germs and the way diseases were spread was, in light of modern understanding, inept.

Love him or hate him, Columbus proved out something that we can learn from: One individual acting on genuine faith (a conviction of his/her beliefs) is indeed powerful enough to create a turning point in world history. The far-too-early death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs last week ought to serve as a reminder for us all that one person truly can change the world.

Like everyone who changes the world, Columbus was a rebel ... a rogue ... he bucked the system and proved some folks wrong. Call it "coloring outside the lines" or "writing in the margins" or "changing the status quo" or "breaking the sound barrier" – when we effect change by acting on our convictions we can expect the same kind of reactions: parades or protests.

Columbus DayDoes that freak you out? Does it upset your proverbial apple cart? I'm sorry. Prepare to be upset. We like to say "God works in mysterious ways," we just don't like to acknowledge that those ways might be contrary to our traditions or outside of our comfort zones. We like it when "things" stay the same.

For the most part, we like to avoid change, but that's neither rational nor realistic. The world around us is changing at a faster rate than we've ever witnessed. Digging in our heels and dragging our feet and clinging to old ways and means and patterns and habits isn't going to slow the process. In my opinion, we, as children of the Most High God, creator of the heavens and the earth, ought to be right out there on the cutting edge of change and transformation, leading the scientific, the philosophical, the entertainment, the medical, and the technological realms with innovation and creativity and, above all, FAITH: the same kind of faith Columbus demonstrated in his willingness to set out on a journey that disproved popular opinions of his day.

Jesus did. He crossed more invisible boundaries than we ever dreamed of crossing. Talk about upsetting the apple cart. The disciples followed in His footsteps, until the people they encountered said this about them:

"These who have turned the world upside down have come here too."
Acts 17:6-7 NKJV
Can you imagine what would happen if hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of Christians rose up like Columbus and insisted that things are not as they appear, that the limitations and boundaries we are conditioned to accept are mere illusions?

What would you be doing differently today with a Columbus kind of faith?

About the Author: Niki writes fiction, blog posts, articles in the local newspaper, grocery lists, and Facebook status updates. She can be found at her own blog, In Truer Ink, in addition to posting here and at The Pastor's Wife Speaks. She was a 2009 finalist in the Faith, Hope, and Love "Touched by Love" contest and is currently at work on being a grandma, finding her niche, and recovering from the effects of the heat of 13 years of ministry.


  1. Love that scripture from Acts, Niki. I don't think I've ever really taken notice of it before.

    I've been reading an unpublished novel about the Vikings in North America. Very cool stuff.

  2. Hey there, Niki. My hubby loves Columbus Day because he gets a three day weekend. Me, I never really think about it one way or another. But last quarter, in my history class, I had to write an essay on whether Columbus was greedy or whether he had the best interest of the natives at heart. It was interesting research, because what I found was that he had a desire to teach them about Christ. Yes, terrible things happened, and yes, he did profit, but was he this terrible, evil man? My research did not show that he was anything but a brilliant visionary with a heart for God.

    Great post!

  3. Interesting post, Niki. I've been reading a book about life in North America before Columbus, called 1491. It's fascinating, and has shed some light on how complex the issues were.

    Thoughtful post!

  4. Dina,
    I love that verse, too. Especially that they "turned their world upside down" without politics, military force, financial means, or any other worldly method. The Word is powerful all by itself!

  5. Suzie,
    LOL. Having working in the newspaper business in some aspect for so many years I forget that normal people get to take Columbus Day off!
    Our viewpoints of history are so easily influenced by the culture in which we live. I agree, Columbus might not have done everything right, but he was obviously a man willing to step out in faith!

  6. Susie,
    It's interesting how much "new" information is coming to light about that era. You're right, the issues were extremely complex, and very difficult for us to judge from our modern perspective.

  7. Niki, I forgot to say I love that scripture, too!

    Some of the students (most) disagreed with me, and preferred to think of Columbus as vile and greedy.

  8. I'm not surprised. It seems that our perception of Columbus has changed dramatically since I was a kid in school. Amazing how fluid our perceptions of history are.

  9. I posted a disappearing comment Niki. Really.

    nothing noteworthy actually but I do know that more than a few Italian families make Columbus Day a real holiday.
    Whether old Chris 'discovered' first or not, I have to give him credit for sailing toward the edge of the earth. I might have stayed closer to shore myself...


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