Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Theological Cartography Part 1

Okay here is something a little more boring and perhaps a little less coherent but give it a go if you like.

There is one scene in the video below which offers the best and worst depiction of the theologian's task. Remember how little Danny took his rubber ball, split it in half and then tried to flatten it out on the flat surface of his bookshelf. This reflects the movement of translation. The space between two distinct realities. It is an attempt to communicate this reality apart from its original form. This transference of meaning has proved to be the bane of literary theorists and philosophers alike in the twentieth century (well throughout history of course though we appear to have experienced some type of climax). Seeing that the ball will not flatten philosophers began to see the distortions in the works of little Danny's throughout history. These men and women were not the first to make such observations however earlier thinkers tended not to be marked with such unrelenting skepticism as those of the late modern period. As a result many are left like little Danny staring at his Polar Projection Map noticing that a given interpretation leaves them with "a different idea of the world."

My attempt at theological cartography does not assume that the ball can indeed be flattened. Nor does it assume that there is "kernel of truth" in the ball that can be extracted and transferred onto another plane. This "kernel of truth" approach is embraced by many biblical translators and assumes that there is a static component to truth that will yield to the control and manipulation of the handler. I know most translators are much more humble in how they would describe their task. However, I belief the underlying assumption still supports this view.

I have described my task as theological cartography because I believe there is still something to be said about navigation. No map is final or complete but each map allows us to participate in reality in a certain way. I take the Tabernacle as my guiding image. The Tabernacle was not a flattened depiction of holy reality. It was a space to be lived in that helped us discern the boundaries and movements of God's presence in the world. The Tabernacle was not an abstract theory but a Symbol in fullest and most demanding sense of the word. It showed that actions, words, and postures mattered in how we relate to ourselves, our neighbour, and to God.

With the coming of Jesus I now take as my task the navigation of three “Tabernacles” (read Temple here). The navigation of our Bodies (social and individual), the navigation of the Eucharist (the broken and shared body of the high priest), and the navigation of Creation (the plane on which God’s Kingdom, prefigured as a Temple in Revelation, will come).

I do not assume that this is entirely coherent at this point but I thought it would be helpful at least for myself to try to work some of it out. More to come . . . hopefully.


Dave said...

Interesting, Dave.
I like the example of the tabernacle and the analogy of cartography. There are many kinds of maps for many purposes. All maps are a distortion of reality though they capture something of the essence of the reality which they are depicting. The reason I also like the analogy is that maps are good and helpful but they are no substitute for the real thing. Theological cartography, as you so call it, ought to direct us back to the biblical texts to experience them in a new light and perspective.
I wonder if the tabernacle also functioned like this. It was never meant to be permenant and, perhaps it would have kept the people longing for God's full (permanent?) presence.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the response Dave. I like the addition of noting that the Tabernacle (in this case unlike the Temple, but like the Body) is not static but movable.

Anonymous said...

Here are a couple of thoughts I had after reading this post:

Distortion is a product of the translation from one plane to another. This distortion may not necessarily be a bad thing. It may emphasize something important which might go unnoticed in its original plane.

A cartographer can use a 2-dimensional plane to describe things in a third dimension. For instance on a topographical map, contour lines are used to describe elevation. Some viewers of the map may not notice or understand what these lines are for but they can still find the map useful. Yet, the map provides other viewers, who understand the purpose of these lines, with a deeper understanding (pardon the pun).


Unknown said...

Certainly an upside of the cartographic/translational process is the possibility of actually adding depth to the original expression though still not maintaining its complete integrity. Otherwise I suppose nothing would change.