Since Christmas there has been a new voice in our car as we travel, guiding us through the city streets. We have learnt a new language from this voice: “at the roundabout, take the second exit,” and “exit onto highway 82” – not our usual terms for giving directions. The in-car navigation is certainly a step up from a paper map in many ways. After keying in the address, we set off, the silence (or conversation) occasionally punctuated by a friendly robotic voice offering directions. The only problem with this device is its lack of intimate knowledge about directions, often pushing down side streets with speed humps, or directing us toward situations which are known traffic snarls. There are times I’d like it to exhibit a little sass in its personality: “Are you deaf? You were supposed to turn left back there!” where instead it takes a few moments to recalibrate and offer fresh directions.
Having spent many years driving Melbourne’s suburban sprawl, I can find my way to many places without needing to refer to a map. When it comes to finding a specific location within an area, our affable talking screen comes to the fore. While we might disagree on the best way to get to the area, when it comes to the final location, we are in agreement.
The experience of driving with a Navman reminds me in many ways of the faith journey. Many people wince when considering God might have a plan or purpose for life, but I tend to think of it a little like my relationship with the navigator: we agree on the destination, but there is considerable flexibility and numerous opportunities and alternatives available to get there. Some might not necessarily be quicker, but they offer different experiences along the journey. In the same way, the goal of “doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God” can diverge down many pathways, with the ultimate outcome still in agreement with the vision of God’s reign on earth.
Norman (yes, it has a name!) has a vast knowledge of streets and highways, which enables me to avoid certain pitfalls and to find my way through uncharted territories. But my own intellect and instinct comes into play in the challenges of negotiating traffic snarls, using local knowledge and a read on the current situation. My own choices can sometimes lead me astray, but Norman is able to bring me back to the right path and keep me moving in the right direction. In the journey of faith, we are ever partners – exploring together. Our task is not necessarily to reach the destination by the quickest or most efficient route, but to enjoy the journey – shaping and being shaped by it.
The apostle Paul spoke of faith as a journey pressing on toward a goal. Norman helps me remain pointed towards the goal, in the same way that the vision of God’s ideal world keeps me on track as a Christian.
But I’d still like a Navman with a little more sass from time to time!
July 10, 2009
NB: this reflection was published in the Sunday Age on June 7, 2009
Rev Gary Heard is pastor of The Eighth Day, a Baptist Community in West Melbourne.