Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Myth, Maps and Meaning

Written by: on February 14, 2020

There is a proliferation of materials and models in the psychological world in recent years regarding meaning making. The heightened need for humanity to make sense of the events of life we are witnessing and personally experiencing no longer seems to fit neatly inside the box of this technologically advanced society. It’s as if the more we know, the less we understand. Our scientific hypotheses, experiments and proof (or lack thereof) leave us asking the questions “why” and “for what purpose?” This semester’s reading has drawn this cohort into deeper conversations regarding historical assumptions, shaping of morality, ethics and values in the West, modern and postmodern mindsets, and this week we find ourselves neck deep in mythology to explain life. Jordan B. Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief takes the reader on a journey through mythological beings mixed with creation stories and even a seeming hint of misogyny, to discover how humans form beliefs and map out meaning for life.

Life happens and we need explanation, reasons, meaning for the events we encounter. I have been with family friends this week who lost their 28-year-old son in a motorcycle accident. The gathering of mourners and memorial service ran rife with speculation as to why this happened. They ranged from comforting to absurdity (people say the dumbest things when they want to help and do not know what to say). Listening and observing I found myself reflecting on Peterson’s tome. Dense and filled with drawings, poems, and graphics to help us decipher his message, the author leads us into a wild world of Mother, Father, and Hero. In Peterson’s introduction he explains his own childhood journey and young adult path which helped this reader understand the twists and turns this book flailed through. All one needs to do is peruse the table of contents to know this is no typical read. Peterson’s own surprise at the notoriety his thought is producing, both positive and negative, is notable. From attending “conservative Protestant services during childhood” to living out the “rules that made up the Christian game,” to using a little of everything in antiquity to explain meaning, the author, psychologist and professor has become an interesting figure.[1]

At the end of my observation and reflection I was left with this thought, “The mechanisms of science are not answering the larger than life questions that seem to loom over us as a species.” Sitting with a dying mother and grieving parents over their son all in one week, continues to simplify all of this for me. It has come through the love experienced in the room while sometimes sitting in silence, sometimes lamenting the deep loss, laughing when recalling stories, anxiousness when mom’s breathing is labored, weeping when childhood photos are on the screen, and acknowledging gratitude for an ever present God to walk us through the valley of the shadow of death for the young and the old.

Meaning making is clarified through new mindsets and openness to possibilities instead of boxed in certainties. In her book, Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley states,

Whatever your personal beliefs and experiences, I invite you to consider that we need a new worldview to navigate this chaotic time. We cannot hope to make sense using our old maps. It won’t help to dust them off or reprint them in bold colors. The more we rely on them, the more disoriented we become. They cause us to focus on the wrong things and blind us to what’s significant. Using them, we will journey only to greater chaos…It was only when scientists were willing to accept their confusion instead of fleeing from it and only when they changed the questions they were asking, only then could they discover the insights and formulations that gave them great new capacity. Once this new worldview came into focus, scientists reengaged with their work with new energy. Wonder, curiosity and the delight of discovery replaced their fatigue and frustration.[2]

Though Peterson uses antiquity and myth, creation and a hint of gospel to draw his map, I prefer Wheatley’s exhortation. A new worldview of possibility comes with letting go of past answers and allowing “wonder, curiosity and the delight of discovery” to become the map. Old maps with brighter colors will not take us into the unknown future or even make sense of the present. It is only through trusting the One who created the worlds we are trying to make sense of and relying on His goodness to carry us through the questions that we find the true map of meaning.

[1] Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York: Routledge, 1999), xi.

[2] Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2006), 209, 223.

About the Author

Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

8 responses to “Myth, Maps and Meaning”

  1. Mary Mims says:

    Great post, Tammy. I appreciate you pointing to an alternate map of meaning. Thank you for pointing to another resource.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Your poignant words surrounding comforting your grieving family friends and your own dealing with your Mom’s passage transition, capture the frame that God has given us for this life. Without a view toward our God and creator framing our life, I am not sure what we can make from any of the maps being propagated today. You are a force of faith in the midst of scholarship. Many blessings on you and your family at this time.

  3. Mario Hood says:

    I love that quote from Wheatley and love this from you, “A new worldview of possibility comes with letting go of past answers and allowing “wonder, curiosity and the delight of discovery” to become the map”. Yes!

  4. Hi Tammy,
    Your post reminded me of some of the current worship songs we sing in our services today. One of them, and you might already recognize it, goes like this: “…way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light of the darkness, my God, that is who you are. “ Adding “map maker” might not be a bad idea. Besides “cartographer” might not sound good in the refrain. 🙂

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Harry – this is a great response. Made me smile.

      Tammy – thank you again for sharing your perspective on Peterson and some of your current reality. Continuing to pray…

  5. Digby Wilkinson says:

    We have a Maori proverb, ” Ka mua, ka muri” literally ”walking into the future backwards” it’s a beautiful saying because it’s not just about reflection on events, but rather our ancestors. In Maoridom meaning and knowledge are connected with what and who went before. They never denigrate their ancestors, they learn from them and give thanks for the learning. Oddly, despite being victims of terrible colonisation, Maori became Christians in huge numbers, finally outnumbering the European Christian population. However their stories found a place in their new found narrative. Death always incorporates their tradition and story. Despite their oppression, in the midst of western confusion, Maori know who they are – in life and death. Why? Because they haven’t forgotten.

  6. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom and your friend’s son. Life can suck sometimes, hey, Tammy? We also lost a family member this week unexpectedly – at the age of 24 due to a snowmobiling accident. Difficult to process! But I love the quote from your blog: ‘A new worldview of possibility comes with letting go of past answers and allowing “wonder, curiosity and the delight of discovery” to become the map.’ Faith means we are not walking this journey alone. Our trust is that God has this…and we can continue to walk in love – even when life hits us hard. Since I know your heart, Tammy, I know that for you….LOVE ALWAYS WINS!

  7. Thank you tummy for sharing your recent experiences. I appreciate your point that our Christian faith and reliance on the goodness of God, gives us a great opportunity to explore a whole new map of meaning.

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