Off the map
written by Rev Gary Heard

The Melways (Melbourne Street Directory) in my car is a trusted friend and advisor – a great help for getting me around this vast suburban sprawl. When I need to find my way to some new or unknown place, it helps me navigate my way.

A “road map” is an important plan of the city – setting out its pathways so that the unwary traveler can go about his or her business. Even those who are now familiar with the environs carry a virtual road map in their minds so that they can find their way around. When one moves to a new area, the physical road map is a constant reference source until the area becomes implanted in the memory.

I sat with a friend whose father left him an original Melways edition 1. We marveled at the roads and intersections which have either disappeared or been transformed. We wondered how one would fare relying on such an outdated source.

I found out a few weeks ago in South Melbourne, as I sat facing a dead-end street which my four-year-old Melways indicated as an open thoroughfare.

The constant change taking place around us requires a regular updating of our road maps, lest we venture down paths no longer open, or miss much more convenient ways of travel.

Inside our heads we carry a different type of road map – a picture of life and culture in our community as we understand it. This road map tells us the etiquette we expect, the values, images and symbols our society considers important. This mental image shapes our own behaviour and expectations in fundamental ways, providing the insights into the language we employ, and rules for social interactions. The map provides important visual, social and economic cues for us. (For example, an Asian youngster will not look an adult in the eye as it is considered socially inappropriate, while we teach our children to look at someone while you are talking to them.)

Christians have generally shaped their road maps according to a range of standards and expectations which were once widely accepted in Western Culture. Loosely described as the Judaeo-Christian ethic, this road map included certain family, social, sexual and political values which were well-understood and widely accepted.

It would be fair to say that this road map is like an outdated Melways – it no longer applies in large parts of the community in which we live. To undertake ministry according to this old road map is to lead us down no-longer used paths, derelict lanes and abandoned alleyways. To minister effectively in this new era, we need fresh insight into the culture in which we live, based on the new and emerging realities.

In many senses ministry today invites us to drive “off the map” – to explore the hitherto unknown, and even find God there! A daunting and exciting journey.

August 18, 2002
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