I don’t really like maps. I learned how to read them in elementary school, but even today I stare at maps, eyes crossing, my brain finding it difficult to transfer what I see on paper to the world I see when I look up.
But as I try to do the work of community building, I’m beginning to realize that my understanding of maps may be all wrong. I don’t think I fully realized what maps were or what the cartographers were trying to show me.
See, cartography is a combination of artistic expression, aesthetic appreciation, creativity, science, research and technique. Cartographers must model reality as they see it in ways that communicate meaning. Maps tell stories about place, animals, people, histories and the what we observe in the moment. Cartographers have power. They convince us that what we see is what they have written. Their lines and curves convince us that the paths they have drawn exist and can be followed.
Many of us are cartographers for our communities – faith leaders, spiritually motivated activists and organizers, concerned parents in the local schools, and engaged neighbors. We are creating a world of people, places, plants, animals, streets and gardens. There is no magic pen, creating the world we wish for, but the world we hope to see when we look up from our maps is related to how we map what we think we see.
Are we making meaningful maps?
As a community cartographer, mapping possible pathways to shalom, I want to be able to see not only what I wish to see, but also capture an accurate understanding of what there is to see in the world already. Sometimes we are so anxious to map out ways to change injustice and pain that we do not stop to develop robust cartographies of struggle*. This is of particular importance for those of us who have had the struggles, colonization, and courageous resistance of our people groups left off of most maps. A valley or street name may remain, but for the most part, we exist as a footnote to maps of finished imperial conquest and neatly presented places.
For too long the maps of those claiming the name of Christ have been imperialist, colonialist, power-wielding maps that survey the land from the outside. Cartographers of the Church have for too long been working with empire approved maps with unquestioned overlays of power and prejudice and arbitrary boundaries that have no meaning.
It’s time to use different tools for our maps. If we keep going to the same mapmakers, same schools of cartography and working from the same dysfunctional maps, we will never make it to the land of shalom. We must make new paper towns on our maps – beloved communities of hope that don’t exist yet – but just might, if enough people are willing to go there. These promised lands of equality and justice that we put on the map, prove are maps are our own. They are the places on our maps that we can’t see when we look up, but still somehow believe are there.
Want to see maps that look a little more like abundant lands, equal fields, and kin-doms of justice? Listen to community and spiritual cartographers who are different from you.They may even use different tools or methods. Try their maps anyway. Twist your head, spin the map – see if you can see what they see. Draw your maps. Overlay them. Compare. Learn. Adjust. Observe. Collaborate. It might just end up that when you look up from the map and look around, you see you’ve got a treasure map on your hands.
One very unique gathering where you can listen to and collaborate with the types of social and spiritual “cartographers” I am referring to in this piece is the Transform Network Gathering happening April 23-25, 2015 at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. This year’s gathering focuses on urban ministry and transformation. Join me, Shane & Katie Claiborne, Lisa Sharon Harper and other Red Letter Christians by registering here using this $50 off code DC2015.