On the looting--and finding--of national treasures.

Posted by rjagilbert on June 6, 2020 at 10:55 AM

I don’t need to gaze into a crystal ball to see that the current period of unrest is going to result in looted museums and lost pieces of artwork, jewelry, and other historical relics. History itself gives enough clues to predict that it would happen. In fact, it seems, a running theme in much of my writing is the loss of national treasures during times of political unrest and instability. Oh, if only mankind were not so foolish as to repeat history again—but then…what would I write about?


To be honest, though, when I started writing Dungeon of Illusion back in 2014 I did not know how the story was going to end. In fact, the story originally was not planned for the TOV series. But somewhere along the way, after hearing from that small voice within me that I have learned to listen to, I began to direct the plot toward that non-traditional ending that so uncannily parallels the first half of the year 2020. Was this a warning from God? Was I supposed to have been more aggressive in passing it on? Maybe it was just my own fascination with lost treasures.


That same fascination inspired much of the character depth for The Binding, which follows the overworld and underworld aftermath of several historical cases of stolen national treasures. A good portion of the plot deals with recent events in Germany’s long, sad history of lost and looted relics. While it makes for great backstory for a romance featuring an art thief and a law-abiding historian, the tragic truth is that most of the treasures that were lost have never been recovered. The German crown jewels, for instance, were absorbed into the criminal underworld and broken down into untraceable amounts of gems and gold. Much of the art and heritage stolen during World War II by the Nazis is also still missing—as are the millions of Jews and Germans who lost their lives during that period of “political unrest”.


But there is still a value in lost treasures—especially the ones that stay lost. Not just for me to write romanticized stories about, but for all of us to learn from. If you’ve read Men of Renown, you’ll be familiar with the legend of a city that became so prosperous that it was destroyed by the bandits and thieves who were attracted to its gold. This fictional city was based on at least one “legendary” gold-rush town near where I grew up that was choked out of existence by a prevalence of thieves (and an absence of law-enforcement). Of course, it’s too late to save that town, but what if—and (insert sarcastic emoji here) I may be going off the deep end here, but—what if there was a way to learn from these stories and maybe never let them happen again? What if there was a way for our current society to avoid the same tragedies that past societies, like their national treasures, never recovered from? What if, somewhere in the past, somebody wrote out a set of instructions that we could follow so that these kinds of losses could be avoided?


I often use the illustration of a “treasure map” to describe how we read and interpret the Bible. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” But what did he mean by that? Consider how a map also has a “way” (the path you are to take to get to your goal), a truth (the degree of accuracy to which the map represents the actual terrain of the area), and a “life” (the goal, or treasure, that you hope to find by reading the map). What if the “truth” you are considering is not as accurate as you think it is? What if there is a mountain where you want a valley? What if the path leads you across a steep, boulder-strewn slope? And what if, at the end of the journey, when you finally get to the place on the map where the author drew a giant, red “X”, you find a ship full of beeswax instead of that chest of Spanish gold you were expecting?


Maybe—just maybe—the reason why our society keeps losing its way (and its treasures) is because the problem is not with the map. The problem is with its readers.


Categories: Communion Meditations, Politics, Religion, and Physics