The pendulum swings back?
The introduction to this week’s text is laugh out loud funny. YouTube star and author Jordan Peterson describes his early political experience in the liberal socialist party of Canada. Disillusioned with his homelife, and, in particular, his lack of solid answers from the church, Peterson joined the left and socialist leaning political machine looking for meaning and direction. After rising quickly through their ranks he still was disenchanted with their energy and direction. It wasn’t until he read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier that he first encountered the Orwellian thought that socialists did not necessarily like the poor. On the contrary, their primary motivation was that they “merely hated the rich.” I wonder how that comment would go over if Peterson said this to a Bernie Sanders supporter.
It is from this autobiographical gem that Peterson commences his long, Maps of Meaning, during which he posits that myths have been incredibly valuable to human culture. Myths provide wisdom and ground people in a shared story. “They laid the foundation for large, stable and successful civilizations that lasted thousands of years.” Ultimately while Hicks was discussing how postmodernism breaks so many things down, Peterson was trying to find the things that could in fact keep “the ship aright.”
This power of myth, and the many ways it manifests itself in a community, has struck me as a common theme I have found in my Earth Care Research. One of the most powerful methods for a community to learn and share an experience of creation in a worship setting is through public testimony. Testimony is used often to share someone’s faith journey, a powerful experience with the divine, maybe even a confessional experience. But when reimagined as a tool for sharing a powerful experience with the divine in nature, testimony is one of the most compelling methods of communication. Many Reformed (or at least PCUSA) churches have a Minute for Mission type section of their worship, during which a specific mission of the church is lifted up, described, and celebrated. Often during stewardship season a church may hold a Minute for Stewardship, and distinct voices in the church would share reasons why people should make financial support a part of their plans for the next year. A constant recommendation from the people I have interviewed has been to include Minutes for Creation as frequent elements of worship. These can be as unique and varies as inviting a member of a local community impacted by climate change, to representatives from the local gardening group, to a member of the congregation sharing a time in their life when they felt particularly close to God while in nature.
If the stories that are shared during the public times of testimony are woven into the overall story of the church, these moments have the potential to be incredibly formational to all who experience them. These stories or “myths” are then woven into the greater “myth,” the myth of the life of the church, the myth of the shared human experience, or the myth that keeps a community of faith strong, unified, bound to one another. Peterson describes this best when he writes:
Myth portrays what is known, and performs a function that if limited to that, might be regarded as paramount in importance. But myth also presents information that is far more profound—almost unutterably so, once (I would argue) properly understood. We all produce models of what is and what should be, and how to transform one into the other. We change our behavior when the consequences of that behavior are not what we would like. But sometimes mere alteration in behavior is insufficient. We must change not only what we do, but what we think is important. This means a reconsideration of the nature of the motivational significance of the present, and reconsideration of the ideal nature of the future.”
If the power of myth and the power of testimony can empower a community to reconsider the ideal nature of the future, and then change the way they live their faith for the better, the power and possibility found in their union is resounding and abundant.
 Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, (New York: Routledge, 1999), xiii.
 “Maps of Meaning Summary: 10 Best Lessons from Jordan B Peterson,” www.growth.me, accessed February 12, 2020, https://growth.me/book-summaries/maps-of-meaning/.
 Peterson, Maps, 14.
5 responses to “The pendulum swings back?”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Wow, you took such a positive tact on this book. I really like where you went with it. Thanks.
Hey Jacob. I agree myth is a powerful thing in ordering our lives. I’m curious, after reading Peterson, how would you define myth? Also, what is your understanding of Peterson as he applies his understanding of myth to Scripture? Curious about your thoughts on this.
Jacob, I love what you wrote and the way you used the information to inform or show the benefit of looking at creation. I appreciate all you are doing to bring the environmental issues into focus and importance for the church. May God continue to bless your work.
Yes! I think that testimony and sharing, including our experiences of the natural world, are a beautiful way in which our stories are woven into that tapestry of God’s grand narrative. I also agree that the desired future has to include a vision of healthy creation in order to amend our actions appropriately. What key points in our current narrative do you think have gotten us to this place we are in now? What misunderstandings of scripture or outright lies of the enemy have been woven into our Story that needs to be removed? Bless you my friend!
Despite all the negative comment on Peterson, which is generally from people complaining about society, you are right, he is looking for ways to maintain social stability while, on occasion, rewriting myth. People seem to forget that what western society based on Judeo Christian story has achieved and how attempts at writing a new story based on marxism have been complete abject failure. It’s an odd feature of humanity that it wants to bite the hand that feeds it.