A blog post (not a logically-composed essay) on map-making, orthodoxy, heresy, and LIFE

I was driving with the boys to school not long ago and saw the bumper sticker that read “Reality doesn't care what you believe”. I love that, and it meshes well with my understanding of what is real and what we project onto our view of reality.

As we were driving, I had my GPS navigation system on, and it told me I was going the wrong way because we were taking an on-ramp to our right onto the little highway we take to school, rather than turning left over railroad tracks onto a road that existed 6 months ago but doesn’t exist now. It was a good thing that I was willing to follow my own knowledge of reality even though the electronic map I was using reflected an old reality and had the authority of being the map.

My mind drifted to the doctrine of “limbo”, and the way that it arose from the theological discussions and arguments over the last 2000 years, and the way it was affirmed by the councils of the middle ages, and the way it was rejected finally in this last decade. Sometimes perspective cannot be clear until analyzed by those who come next – and sometimes our map of reality is more a tool to comfort us than a tool to base real choices on.

But, indeed, our beliefs do matter . . . because they are our map of reality, and most of our choices do come directly from our beliefs.

This morning I read this quote from Albert Einstein: “A successful man is he who receives a great deal from his fellow men, usually incomparably more than corresponds to his service to them. The value of a man, however, should be seen in what he gives, and not in what he is able to receive.”

And that gets to the heart of any of our maps: where are we trying to go, and how do we know when we’re there? And if we don’t like it when we get there, are we supposed to stay there?

I love map-makers and map-sellers. I have profound gratitude to the writers and thinkers and speakers and teachers and pastors and parents who have formed me and formed my maps. It is a high calling.

But I am dismayed with the idea that we need to blindly stay with “orthodoxy” and avoid “heresy”. If our loyalty is to anything but reality, we are deluded . . . and if we are selling or teaching others that they should ignore reality in favor of some set of cognitive beliefs that we were taught and we are teaching, we are evil personified. The only thing to be gained from a blind loyalty to “orthodoxy” is a membership card to the current power class as they strive to retain power and authority.

None of that is to say that “orthodoxy” and the struggle to define it is not a worthy pursuit, or that denominations and individuals should not make judgments about what is true and what is not. We should and we must, because we must have working maps. (Am I a Presbyterian or what? Constant reformation, but decently and in order!)

It IS to say that individuals have a higher calling than map-making or map-buying, and so do denominations and churches. Our calling is to LIVE and LOVE and experience the reality we have mapped!

Whether one believes that there is a new heaven and new earth awaiting us on the other side of the grave and the resurrection of the dead (which I do still literally believe) or whether one believes that it is unnecessary delusion (a view which I respect and hear), one only has THIS MOMENT to live now, and will only have the current THIS MOMENT to live throughout that eternity. We can’t afford to neglect the parts of our map that cover the ground we can look around and observe personally to argue about the parts that are out of our current vision. If we do, we lose it all, moment by moment, as the important stuff leaks away because we were focused on stuff that comes later.

So this is my last post in my promised little set of posts, that I have taken forever to post: speaking hard realities as I see them.

  1. Each individual has the ability and responsibility to choose their map, adjust their map, and move or sit. We each have 1 life, moment by moment. Don’t discount your own ability and responsibility because you aren’t clergy or even because “others know more about that than me.” This is your life, and it will be over before you know it, and no one but God can give you time after it’s done and you’re buried – and as I said before, even that time will only be able to be experienced moment-by-moment!
  2. I have had the privilege of hearing the Christian scriptures and studying the Christian scriptures since I was a tiny child, and still find them full of truth and a wonderful guide to reality itself. Through them I have fallen in love with the Triune God, and through them I have learned to hear God speak to me in each moment. I have encountered the living Jesus, and so my own map is drawn with His help as I walk the land we walk together . . . with the Bible as the map handed to me before I set out, and any drawing taking the form of filling in details that I couldn’t see before or of reconciling interpretations of the symbols on the page to what I see around me. I highly recommend this life!
  3. The primary “reconciliation” I’ve had to do between the way the Bible was interpreted to me by others and my own walk and observation of reality has much more to do with restoring focus to the roads and to the spot on the road on which I find myself, and much less to do with trying to fill in details that pertain to someone else’s journey 5 miles away and their description to me of how the map they were handed doesn’t match what they see. I see no reason to disbelieve them and judge them. Rather, I see on my map the clear command to extend love to not only my close companions but also to the enemy and the stranger . . . and what is less loving than claiming they are blind when they are looking at something that is out of my range of sight?
  4. Because not only of my last point, but even more so because of my love for scripture and my high regard for it, I believe that I cannot show more loyalty to an old map than to my Christian brothers and sisters who don’t fit the Evangelical culture I grew up in – whether because of their sexual orientation, or because of their theological and philosophical orientations. My Lord’s primary directive to me is to love . . . and although that can include confronting that which I know to be wrong, I find much more often it means admitting that I haven’t seen the part of reality that they are talking about, and that I’d be arrogant and deluded to pretend I knew what was right.

So here I stand, a member of a conservative pcusa church that I love, and heading off to meet in person on Monday many friends that I love but have never seen face to face. I’ve never written a post on this blog about Twitter, but I recommend the ones by Adam Walker Cleaveland over the past few years. The ability to give love and extend real presence to me is not based on whether someone is part of my face-to-face world or part of my electronic communication. My mother and my adult sons are central figures in my life, and most of my communication with all three of them has been electronic and not face to face for more than a decade. My entire work life has been based on electronic communication and on technology. Physical presence is a wonderful gift when it comes from one that gives me their real presence regularly, but I also have a lifetime of experience with those who never really show up with real attention and presence but who denigrate the value of electronic communication. They have done as much to shape my love for Twitter as have my dear friends on Twitter.

So much of our generation can be summed up by telling again the story of Peter as God was preparing him to go to Cornelius. We see the sheet come down with all kinds of unclean things on it, and we are hungry! But we are pure, we need to be pure, we cannot defile ourselves! It is part of our self-image and part of our map to NOT partake of those unclean things! But the Holy Spirit says that our loyalty must be to GOD and to God’s reality, and not to an old map . . . not to our own orthodoxy. And eventually the true church will wake up and greet the messengers from Cornelius and go to him, and receive the blessing of having our own eyes opened as the flames of fire are poured out on those who were so unclean that we were not even supposed to cross their threshold.

This is the story that has been repeated over and over in every generation, and we can see it as we look back on Christian theological history. The Holy Spirit has never stopped.

So remember that reality doesn’t care about your beliefs . . .

But remember that we have a God Who not only cares about your beliefs, but Who also cares about every moment of your life and the life of every other “believer” and “heretic” . . .

And don’t miss out on knowing all you can know of God and of the life God is giving, moment by moment! This is not about being safe or pure or right! This is about avoiding the things that rob me and others of JOY and LOVE, and embracing not just a set of beliefs, but embracing a real God, real people and real life!