DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Have We All Become Cartographers?

Written by: on February 22, 2015

Several years ago I attended a conference in Seattle, Washington that focused on Christian conversations with “the lost.” One segment of the conference included interviewing people who Christians consider “lost.” When it was time to interview one of the “lost” guests the organizer asked her, “How do you feel when you are referred to as lost?” She responded, “This is a very interesting concept to me because I don’t consider myself being lost.” Then she asked the interviewer, “Do you know what I do for a living?” He responded, “No, I don’t.” She replied, “I am a cartographer—a mapmaker. I make maps for a living, so you see, I’m never lost!” Needless to say, her comment created a loud roar of laughter in the audience. After all, she was right!

As I was reading “A Secular Age,” by Charles Taylor I was reminded of this young woman’s response. This book is written by a cartographer! Taylor has provided us with a map in our secular age that attempts to help us locate ourselves and give some kind of sense of where we are. So where exactly are we?

How did we move from a condition where in Christendom, people lived naively within a theistic construal, to one in which we all shunt between two stances, in which everyone’s construal shows up as such; and in which moreover, unbelief has become for many the major default option?[1] And “why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many find this not only easy, but even inescapable?”[2]

So what does this mean? Does our society no longer believe in God? Are we becoming more or less religious? Although these are questions that perhaps make us scratch our heads and wonder, Taylor is not necessarily focusing on these questions. Taylor is more concerned with the condition of belief.  It is not about what people believe but about how people believe.

Taylor states that what was seen as an unfailing mark of Godliness, something that was worth pursuing, somehow comes to infiltrate the very essence of Godliness, which gradually becomes indistinguishable from it.[3]  For some, being Christian is reduced to being good, following the Ten Commandments, and doing the “right thing.” It becomes more about “human flourishing” as Taylor states, which can easily take God out of the picture. As God becomes less of a reality, the “belief or unbelief” options to choose from increase. The secular age has offered many more alternatives as a result, and Christianity is no longer the default option.  Secularism is not about disproving the existence of God, but it is about putting God into a “transcendent” realm, that society would consider as supernatural and therefore not believable. Secularism is about putting God into a realm outside the objective knowable scientific world, making it tough for belief in God to have the total claim on our lives.

“The mark of a secular society is that believers can no longer enjoy a “simple” or “naïve” faith. The “conditions of belief” have changed such that Western Christians are now unable to believe without reservations, without uneasily looking over their shoulders. The honest believer must concede, “I am never, or only rarely, really sure, free of all doubt, untroubled by some objection—by some experience which won’t fit.” In sum: Secularism means that our Christian experience is now shaped by a lurking uncertainty.” [4]

It seems to me that in a secular age we have all become “cartographers.” We have created our own directions, routes and roadways.  What map have you created? What map do you use to direct your life?  Is your map leading you to a dead end?

[1] Charles Taylor, “A Secular Age,” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press, 2007), 14.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Ibid., 244.

[4] http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/12/tayloring-christianity (accessed 2/19/15)

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

15 responses to “Have We All Become Cartographers?”

  1. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Miriam
    I love your analogy of the cartographer. Indeed, instead of looking to God to guide us through the paths and trails of life, we often take the map into our own hands and determine our own destinations.
    Personally, I’d rather leave the map in God’s hands. I certainly don’t have enough confidence that I’d make good choices! God is far wiser. Surely He’s the greatest cartographer.

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Hi Liz, Your comment reminded me of when I use my GPS – I’m supposed to let it guide me but somehow I get creative and go my own way—that’s when it starts recalculating. I wonder how many times we “recalculate” when God is trying to lead us and we go our own way. Thanks, Liz.

  2. mm John Woodward says:

    Miriam, your illustration of map-making is perfect. It caught my eye when I read the title! I think that is also a great question to ask (about being lost) because we assume people believe they are lost when in fact, many know right where they are at. As you suggest, we as Christians can no longer rest on our simple or naive faith (as we once did in the enchanted world), but is this necessity a bad thing? Will our faith be stronger and more robust in light of the multiplicity of choices available and the pressures of exclusive humanism? Curious what you think! Thanks Miriam!

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      John, good question! I think that our faith can be stronger and robust in light of all the choices and pressures. I think of our own DMin journey–we have been exposed to many “options” and that has, at least for me, strengthen my faith by exploring and discovering these new ideas in the books we are reading and even in the posts we read from each other. Not a bad thing to be exposed to options! Thanks, John.

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Hi Miriam, It fascinating that people we consider lost don’t necessarily see themselves as lost. They have their own maps to direct their life. I think what make roadmaps important is they get us from one destination to another. Christianity wouldn’t have been different if Jesus isn’t our Way and destination. Personally, I commit myself every day to Jesus to instruct me and guide me in the way I should go. Thank you.

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Telile, the sad thing is that sometimes those who have Jesus to lead them in the right path sometimes create their own “maps” as well.

      “I commit myself every day to Jesus to instruct me and guide me in the way I should go.” I love this! Thanks, Telile.

  4. Miriam,
    BAM! You wrote, “Taylor is more concerned with the condition of belief. It is not about what people believe but about how people believe. Taylor states that what was seen as an unfailing mark of Godliness, something that was worth pursuing, somehow comes to infiltrate the very essence of Godliness, which gradually becomes indistinguishable from it.”

    These words just jumped at me: “It is not about what people believe but about how people believe.” “How” is such an intriguing and eye-opening insight. Then you mentioned that secularism means that belief is marked by lurking uncertainty. The way forward may indeed be that we embrace uncertainty to rediscover belief and faith. Might now be time for us to look back to recover what was lost in the Reformation and apply wisdom to recognize how we might apply the “theology” needed for the future. Ruminating a bit. 🙂

    You asked what map are we using? I am finding that I am using a map, rooted in tradition, scripture and experience my old map was faulty simply because it did not include the needed terrain. 🙂 Blessings my friend!

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Carol, your comment, “I am finding that I am using a map, rooted in tradition, scripture and experience my old map was faulty simply because it did not include the needed terrain.” is great. And it also tells me that options and choices are a good thing to help with the “needed terrain.” BAM! Thanks, Carol!

  5. Richard Volzke says:

    Miriam,
    Great post. Her statement, “This is a very interesting concept to me because I don’t consider myself being lost” is something that many believe about their lives. Often, when I witness to non-Christians, they do not understand the concept of being lost and they equate being saved with being a good person. When I speak with someone about Jesus, I don’t use the word lost. Instead, I talk about being separated from God. I have found that people understand the concept of being apart from God, better than the term lost.
    Richard

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Hi Richard, yes, I agree with you–I don’t necessarily like the word lost either. I like how you phrase it “separated from God” or “apart from God.” Yet, people will still feel that they are not separated from God because God is with them. It is indeed an interesting conversation. Thanks, Richard.

  6. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Excellent post, Miriam! I love the metaphor, and the questions. Do we set our own course or do we set our course before God, or do we let God set our course? And how do we know? I find that I probably do a combination of all three. I would like to say that I first go to God – and often I do – but then there is the listening to Him part. I also find God gracious because in spite of me, He still seems to direct my path. I find myself in places I never imagined and I think that is God. Thanks for making me pause and consider.

  7. Michael Badriaki says:

    Miriam, great job in your post. You had my attention from the beginning and I appreciate the story in the beginning and you did well ending with the application and questions.
    You insight in secularism was a take home from me. You write: “Secularism is not about disproving the existence of God, but it is about putting God into a “transcendent” realm, that society would consider as supernatural and therefore not believable. Secularism is about putting God into a realm outside the objective knowable scientific world, making it tough for belief in God to have the total claim on our lives.”

    My road map is given to me by a supernatural creator and I follow His voice, spirit and word.

    Thank you!

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Michael, love it….”My road map is given to me by a supernatural creator and I follow His voice, spirit and word.” Amen!

  8. Russ Pierson says:

    Miriam, as your colleagues have expressed so well, I, too, found myself immediately drawn to your image of a cartographer plying their trade–and to your lovely opening story.

    It’s funny, as I have reacquainted myself with the details of Taylor’s massive book over the past couple of weeks in anticipation of our “imminent” chat–and while thinking about Taylor’s “immanent” frame (see what I did there? :)), one image that popped into my head is that the Enlightenment buried a stake in the collective minds of humankind with a sign that reads, “You Are Here”, like those massive maps (maps again!) posted at the the entry to American shopping malls. From that point forward, life is understood in reference to the individual and rationality.

    “Taylor has provided us with a map in our secular age that attempts to help us locate ourselves and give some kind of sense of where we are.” In light of his conception of the immanent frame, maybe Taylor’s map is like a sneaky trap door inside this collective human map. It’s like the movie, “The Matrix” – Taylor is inside the Matrix, trying to uncover “the world pulled over our eyes,”

    No wonder it takes him over 800 pages!

    I like where you land: “In sum: Secularism means that our Christian experience is now shaped by a lurking uncertainty.” And I love your final series of questions. For me, I often find myself praying the prayer of the father who came to Jesus seeking healing for his son: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

    Thank you for your thoughtful post,

    Russ

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