Friday, August 8, 2008

Theological diversity

I started another blog a little while ago, to talk about Quaker issues, but I'm finding this discussion and that one are coming together and interweaving in my thinking and my life to a distracting degree. So I'm giving it up and just bringing that discussion over here. There's only a handful of posts over there if you're interested. And if this stuff is utterly uninteresting to you, well, sorry but there it is.

I was reading Joe's excellent comment tonight while gearing up for a session on "theological diversity" at Meeting tomorrow. In our meeting (and among FGC Friends in general) there's been a resurgence over the last decade or so in Jesus-centered worship and ministry. For those of us for whom Jesus is not the central exemplar and teacher, and who may have signed on with the Quakers to get away from dogmatic Christians, it's been a little weird. But that resurgence has in my experience been gentle, not prosletyzing, not hegemonistic. It has all been about individuals being open about the center of their universe.

To me it feels like the shoe is now on our foot (those of us who have held a more universalist point of view), to come clean about our centers, instead of using old hegemonizing, power-grabby, churchy attitudes as straw-men. The Bible doesn't especially speak to you as scripture? OK, then what does speak to you as scripture? Outward religious ritual isn't your thing? What formal, regular recognition of the universe and where we fit in it does, then?

Where this fits into the discussion of maps and architecture, is that I think it presents a model for how to carry that balancing act forward. The argument shouldn't be between objectivists and subjectivists. It shouldn't even really be an argument at all. The work as I'm coming to see it, is to theoretically explore how those two ways of dealing with the universe interact, and build practices that respect each. And that involves (as a cartographer) simultaneously respecting the traditions and knowledge we've built up over the centuries, and recognizing that cartography is (and when used properly only can be) a structure, upon which centers can be constructed. Instead of isolating ourselves from that center-building, we need to really look at how we can be part of the subjective, center-building, all-too-human process of Making the World.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Steig said it all

I was reflecting on the way home last night on the differences between a scientific and a subjective perspective last night, and how a picture of the world from the latter necessarily makes where we are (or where the author/artist/audience is) the center of the universe. And then this morning I was reading the Caldecott Award acceptance speech by William Steig, who was given the award in 1970 for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. The book has been reissued with a fresh set of the illustrations based on the original watercolors, and has a copy of the speech at the back.
Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe; and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life. Art also stimulates the adventurousness and the playfulness that keep us moving in a lively way and that lead to useful discovery.
So there you are.

What I was reflecting last night again is how cartographic maps and other scientific communication intentionally leave out any of the content that is personal, including point of view. As I've discussed earlier, the idea is to create a pidgin point of view that bridges the subjective points of view and personal biases. But in doing so by leaving out the personal and subjective, we also leave out of the discussion the "mystery of things." We depend on that discussion happening elsewhere.

It has been suggested that this lack of the subjective, of the "mystery of things," in cartography
is a fault. But I want to suggest that the problem is the separating of cartography into its own little ontological niche. Cartography is a part of a wider discussion, and it performs a valuable role. But is a role, and not the entirety of the play.