Saturday, August 27, 2011

What if you have the wrong map?

I rarely use maps anymore but have become very dependent on a GPS.  When the voice directs me to make a turn on road that isn’t there, I realize that my unit has not been updated recently.  It may be a cutting edge technology, but I should avoid mistaking what is in its software for reality!

Alan Roxburgh introduced me to the idea that we should not mistake the map for reality. Our maps—whether paper or digital—are only representations of reality that lack the richness and vitality of the real world.  When we mistake the representation for the real thing, we miss the real joy of the journey.

We should reexamine periodically the maps we use to help us interpret the world.  Early on in our marriage, I discovered that my wife and I had different ideas about how housekeeping duties should be addressed.  Neither of us were right or wrong, we had just been raised to think that the wife does certain things and that the husband does other things—but those things differed in our homes of origin.  In reality, we still negotiate those understandings today which indicates that we don’t give up our maps easily!

Our mental maps determine our expectations and practices at work, in the community, in the family, and in the church.  Each of us grew up with the idea that “this is the way things are done.”  The problem is that no one had exactly the same mental models.  We adopted the models or maps to which we were exposed.

In a book entitled In Over Our Heads, Robert Kegan writes, “We’ve discovered that adults must grow into and out of several qualitatively different views of the world if they are to master the challenges of their life experiences.”  Our maps may remain the same, but the territory changes.  If we continue to follow the old maps, we will never arrive at our destination.  In fact we may find ourselves wandering around for a long time until we stumble upon the place we seek.

So do our mental maps really match the territory?  In church, are we planning ministries and outreach programs for a population that no longer exists?   For many churches, Wednesday night activities still work, but this is usually in spite of the fact that the night is no longer protected by the society at large.  Many of us grew up in communities where teachers did not assign students homework on Wednesday nights because it was “church night.”  The same can be said for Sundays.  We are no longer surprised when community or children’s activities are scheduled on Sundays during traditional times of worship.  Some churches have embraced this and started offering worship and Christian education at other times such as Saturday evenings.

We should pull out our maps from time to time and evaluate how well they reflect the reality of the culture and times.  This does not mean that our old maps were bad or poorly drawn, but it does mean that they are now only reminders of the way things were and are no longer helpful to negotiate the world in which we live.  Perhaps it is time to throw out some of those maps in our cars that have outlived their usefulness and update our GPS units.

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