Are you a good map reader?

Are you a good map reader?

Thursday, 14 August 2014  | Narelle - MECS Principal
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world…
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
Psalm 19 - NIV

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Elisabeth Browning - Poet

I’ve always been fascinated by maps; not just for their practical usefulness but for the way they reflect cultural and social beliefs and values. Most maps betray the ethnocentricity of their makers. Early Chinese maps showed China as the centre of the world. Contemporary Australian atlases have Australia on the front page. For environmentalists, all maps ought to show forests; for an urban geographer a map should indicate population distributions. Maps indicate what is important to us!

There’s a fascinating story about E.F.Schumacher, the noted Christian economist. He visited St Petersburg when it was still under communist rule and named Leningrad. He was walking along with a map of Leningrad in his hand, but in spite of the map he realised he was lost. What he saw on the paper just didn’t match what was before his eyes. In front of him were several huge Russian Orthodox churches, unmistakable with their golden onion domes. Yet they weren’t on the map. He was certain what street he was on, but the map didn’t make sense.

‘Ah’, said the tourist guide, who was with him, trying to be helpful, ‘that’s simple; we don’t show churches on our maps’.

The paper map reflected the mental map of communist life where faith and religion were not an official part of the ideological landscape. The quality of a map makes all the difference between finding a place and getting lost; the difference between seeing the important sights and missing out on the really interesting places.

Psalm 19 suggests that there are two ‘maps’ that are essential for a fulfilling journey through life – the World and the Word; Creation and the Bible; General Revelation and Special Revelation. The task of the Christian school is to help students explore, study and understand and act on both.

‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ says the Psalmist. ‘Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God’ proclaims the poet. Most of us have stood on some spectacular mountain range, seen the intricate beauty of a flower, observed the funny antics of animals in the zoo and exclaimed how awesome is the God who made it all.

In education, we have a wonderful array of ‘maps’ by which to study God’s world.

Psychology to highlight the landscapes of the mind, learning, perception and human development.
Biology with its insights into plant and animal life.
Sociology to journey through the details of cultural life and social institutions.
Mathematics to understand the space and number of things.

But we need to remember that these are only maps; they may not show the really important things; they often leave out the ‘cathedrals’ of life; they may leave out vital features of the human landscape. They need interpretation. A vital aspect of Christian education is about interpretation and equipping students with the skills to read and critique the ‘maps’ of knowledge that our culture offers them.

The Psalmist and Poet remind us that the maps of General Revelation are not always easy to understand and many people are unimpressed even by burning bushes. Even if dazzled with the most beautiful sunset they fail to recognise the Creator. We also need the ‘map’ of God’s Word and especially Jesus, the ‘Word made flesh’. It is the Word that refreshes, instructs, energises and provides clarity of insight. What we attempt to do in Christian education is to generate a dynamic and creative engagement between God’s world, as explored in the various knowledge disciplines, and the Word of God as we find it in the Bible and in God’s supreme revelation, Jesus Christ.

As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, ‘God has been addressing people in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through His Son. By His Son, God created the world in the beginning and it will all belong to the Son in the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and he’s stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what He says - powerful words!’ (The Message)

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