Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Living with a GPS in a world of assumptions

I am directionally challenged. In days of old when I received directions from another human being, it didn't matter whether I received a series of landmarks, turns, or a series of distances and points on a compass. Sooner or later, confusion sets in. Maybe the wiring in my brain resists directions. Pulling over to a gas station to ask for directions was a different kind of ego bruise for me than for many men who are the subject of scorn for resisting directional help.

I do not understand the directions I am given. I'm not sure whether the disconnect involves the person giving the directions or my ability to hear the directions, or a combination thereof. I loathe frustrating others with my incompetence. Occasionally I ask for clarification of directions, but usually I give up, try to remember some of what I was told, and hope for the best.

GPS technology changed my outlook in finding my destination. Granted, a GPS presents its own set of problems. They are not perfect computer devices. But I am completely responsible for my lack of understanding. Shame and frustration need not be transferred to another person. I embrace the concept of interdependence, but with directions, no thank you.

I got lost this morning going to a park off the beaten path. My GPS failed to reveal the destination; it wanted to send me either 90 miles to the east, or in someone's yard. I drove around for about an hour. I laughed about my folly and shared the foolishness with others after I finally found the place. Every person with whom I shared the odyssey proceeded to give me directions to a place I had already been, and I still didn't understand. This is why I do not ask people for directions.

I am reminded of how communities are guided by assumptions. About 8 years ago, I made the rounds to several Confirmation receptions linked to a congregation I was serving. In these days before GPS, I had to rely on directions from people. In the early years of Mapquest, that site failed to help: the houses almost never had numbers, and many times there were no street signs. One could often write down the name of the person (even the nickname) and the town on an envelope, and that person would receive that mailing. While receiving directions to get to the receptions, someone told me to "head north on the oil road and turn east at the house that used to be blue." It took me a few months to figure out what an oil road was, but the prospect of figuring out what house used to be blue was more than I could take.

Much of congregational life is governed by cultural idiosyncrasies and a set of local assumptions. These marks of uniqueness aren't necessarily bad, but they often have no theological underpinnings and can often create separation that is not intended, yet still present. Even in a GPS world and with people like me (are there?) who don't always understand direction, a little direction is needed, along with copious amounts of hospitality. I believe it's almost impossible to give either direction or gracious hospitality unless we are aware of our assumptions. What are your congregational assumptions? Are assumptions confused with theological truth? How can congregational assumptions be addressed in order to connect with our neighbors and people whom we encounter along the way? Jesus alerts his followers to consider the neighbor.


  1. This post made me LOL in self-recognition! Thanks!

  2. Are you directionally challenged? You know you are across a body of water from Seattle...what else is there?