Fox Creek February 2020

A Few Basic Lines in the Dirt

As a man begins to draw his mud map there a few obvious lines to draw in the dirt if he intends to relate his map to the Christian faith.

One is our present experience. We can mark a line for the ridge, or indeed, the swamp, where we now are! If our experience cannot be part of the map, then the map is no good.

Working out a map for living may not be easy. We may need to confront difficult and complicated issues of ethics or philosophy. but if these cannot be translated into a mindscape of our own words and experiences, then the map we try to draw will always be foreign ground, and not serve us well.

A second line is our attitude to scripture. Imagine reading an article critical of the Prime Minister or President. I will labour this point, for it is extremely important for the drawing of mud maps.

As we read about Mr Howard (Australia 1998) we undertake, almost unconsciously, a complicated critique and appraisal of the text. Are we reading a newspaper, or an election pamphlet from an opposition party? Almost without thinking we adjust our appraisal of the text.

If it is a newspaper, are we reading the Adelaide Advertiser (a tabloid), The Australian (national broadsheet - I laugh at this in 2020, because The Australian no longer deserves to be called a national paper), or the paper of Resistance (the socialist youth organisation)? Is the author a prominent member of the Opposition, a hack journalist, a leading political commentator whom we respect, or a rebel government MP? Is the article "damning with faint praise," overall favourable with constructive criticism, or calling for the PM to be sacked immediately? Where does the issue at hand fit in the current political agendas?

Unless we are disinterested, bigoted, or simply naïve, we will consider many of these things, along with our own experiences and attitudes.

When reading an advertisement, or listening to the radio news, receiving instructions from our employer, or even copping a blast from our partner!, we undertake similar complicated critiques and interpretation of the information we are receiving. Then we act and form opinions etc.

I labour this point to contrast what we do in the normal course of events with our lack of interpretative critique of scripture. (Critique does not necessarily mean to decry.) To apply common critical thinking is often seen as "disbelief" or "disrespect", or lack of faith, in many parts of the Christian tradition. For example, because it says in one place in the bible "women should keep silent," the reader may be told to simply apply that to the present situation.

How ridiculous when we think about it! Who said that about women? Why? When? What was the situation? Were they making a general statement, or one which was specific to the situation they were writing to?

Somehow we are afraid of the questions we would almost automatically ask of any other text. Perhaps we are afraid God will disappear if we ask such questions. I contend that God will not be seen if God is not able to handle honest questions.

Not only must we question the text. We must question ourselves. What baggage do I as a white 43 year old middle class Australian bring to the text when I read? Does the text really say what I think, or am I unconsciously overlaying the words with an inheritance from St Augustine, or Martin Luther? What prejudice am I bringing? Would my understanding be recognised by the author? How would my tribal grandmother hear these same words?

I will mostly address these questions throughout these pages, rather than write a specific page on interpretation.

There is one more fairly obvious line we can draw as we start the journey. If we wish to map from a Christian perspective, Jesus is the key line on the map. "Orthodoxy" is not about believing particular theological dogma. If there is such a thing as orthodoxy, it is in interpreting our life experience in the light of the man Jesus, and then ordering the way we live as a result. All kinds of theological insights may help us, but at its roots CHRISTianity is about finding and relating to God as revealed to us by the person Jesus.

Map drawing exercisesBoy drawing in the Sand
1. Re-read a newspaper article which stirred you emotionally. Try and remember your responses, questions criticisms, scepticism, agreements, anger, fear, scorn, laughter.... Become aware of the complexity of your response to, and your interaction with, a text.
2. If you have a bible, read a section and again analyse your responses. Do you find you are self censoring? Why? Where do any different types of response come from?
3. If you follow Christ in some way, think about how you act out and live out your faith. Don't concentrate on what you believe in theory, but upon what moves you. How much is it based around the figure of Jesus? How much do you actually know about him, as opposed to theological ideas and church teachings?

 


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