Human beings process experiences and information through layers of unconscious assumptions and judgments, motivations and interpretations, prejudices and stereotypes, all acquired and formed over a lifetime of conditioning, for good and for ill. These internal filters create a so-called “mental map” that serves as our operating system. We need mental maps; they help us organize, interpret and make sense of the avalanche of impressions and sensory data that roll into and over us on a daily basis.
Dissimilar mental maps, however, can hinder mutual understanding, generative learning and constructive dialogue. This can create significant conflict and misunderstanding, even leading to mutual condemnation, as our Christian history attests to rather bluntly. Some even claim that unacknowledged, and therefore unconsciously operating, mental maps lie at the root of most of the world’s problems (David Bohm in The Discipline of Team Learning, Peter Senge).
So it seems urgent and necessary to become aware of our mental maps instead of letting them control us at an unconscious level. This involves recognizing hidden assumptions and motives, attitudes and judgments, and to free ourselves from their destructive effects both in ourselves and in relationships — the task of every spiritual quest. Such awareness can then alert us when our mental map needs to change, expand or be corrected. It is thus that we can grow greater internal and external harmony and understanding, moving us all to a deeper and richer level of relationships.
Curiosity over mental maps was sparked when reading in an article last year, “In the end it was classic Anglican fudge” (The Tablet, Jan. 16, 2016). One of the crazy contradictions in the English language is that word, “fudge.” As a noun it refers to rich, delicious chocolate that many consider an irresistible taste of heaven. As a verb or in figurative speech, however, it carries such a pejorative meaning that none of us would appreciate our words or actions to be judged as “fudged.” Sure enough, I discovered that the term Anglican fudge gets used sometimes to ridicule the Anglican tradition.
Perspective shifts when the vantage point of vision changes, creating a different mental map. Rev. Ron Smith, an Anglican priest from New Zealand, attempted to point this out when he critiqued the use of the term Anglican fudge in the said article:
“If the word ‘fudge’ means that the different Provinces of the Communion can actually agree to co-exist — without formal interference in the affairs of individual provinces — then perhaps this sort of fudging response might be thought to be better than outright schism. What may not be clearly understood by the Roman Catholic commentator is that there is no ‘Magisterium’ in the Anglican Communion that can enforce the sort of disciplines available (. . .) in the Church of Rome” (Letters, The Tablet, date unknown).
The Anglican Communion is held together by mutual bonds of affection, and by a horizontal model of governance and authority that strives to balance moral autonomy with moral assent, instead of imposing juridical obedience to law. That model, as every model, comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Not surprising, it also risks being misinterpreted and misunderstood by those who do not taste the inside dynamics of its operations.
Anglican Bishop Linda Nicholls has pointed out that the Anglican Communion’s internal struggles have resulted in unexpected yet immensely valuable lessons: “One of the things we’ve certainly learned is how to have better conversations when we’re in conflict on deeply painful issues. We’ve learned how to sit down together and listen in ways we didn’t seem to know how to do before. And that’s not a bad thing” (The Catholic Register, April 29, 2016). Can the Anglican mental map therefore offer some precious and much-needed gifts to the rest of the Christian family?
Put another way: is the Anglican instinct toward bonds of affection, voluntary moral autonomy and moral assent borne of costly discipleship in response to Christ’s demanding call to love, reconciliation and communion? Or is it, as critics assert, lacking backbone? Which type of fudge is it: the wishy-washy twisting of truth, or the taste of heavenly food?
Ternier is an Anglican priest who serves the Anglican and Lutheran parishes in Watrous, Sask. This column is co-published with the Saskatchewan Anglican. Marie-Louise blogs at http://graceatsixty.wordpress.com