Interpretation, part II

Interpretation is governed by beliefs, experiences and narratives that inform our ways of seeing. Therefore, when I encounter a text I open myself to each of these governing principles that, in turn, competes and/or coalesces to provide an interpretive outcome. In a sense, I react to a text through these filters which provide the grounds upon which I begin to interpret a particular passage. Personally, I am informed by stories and experiences of inclusion and exclusion. I have found inclusive stories to be more supportive of the overall belief structure that is indicative of Christianity. As a result, when I read particular texts through my constructed lenses of interpretation I am more likely than not to emphasize and look for their inclusive aspects rather than those parts that might express exclusivity. This is my bias, and I acknowledge this freely based on my beliefs about the relationship between God and humanity as revealed in the overall ethos of the Biblical text.

Having discussed how I interpret the things I encounter in my life I want to turn to a couple of passages that, generally speaking, underlie my positions regarding the PUP report. Before doing so, I want to acknowledge that my original post was an attempt to examine the PUP report through a postmodern philosophical lens. This post is not meant to replace or supplement those ideas. Instead, it is an examination of a few biblical sources that serve to inform the theological milieu from which I interpret most everything. These texts are not meant to be a comprehensive examination of the canon and its application to the PUP report. Instead, these texts inform my interpretive ethos and nothing more.

The first passage is Paul's discussion of the body of Christ and its diversity and unity. For me, the basic premise of this passage is that each member of the body performs a different function with regard to the body's interactions with its environment. I interpret this passage two ways. The first interpretation pays attention to the internal functioning of the body as a system. That is, how the body functions with regard to its unity and its diversity. Paul description of diversity makes mention of the various parts of the body (i.e. - eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, hands, and so on). Furthermore, he goes on to unify these seemingly disparate pieces into one body that only functions in a healthy manner if all of these parts are working and doing their respective functions. This unification despite disparity reveals how we are to work together in the face of seemingly diverse functions and points of view. Moreover, internal systemic functioning is a necessary component of life so that full engagement with the world can occur.

The second interpretation concerns external systemic functioning. This is the way in which the body of Christ sees, hears, feels, etc. the movements and actions that occur in the world outside itself. When diverse body parts engage the world there is the possibility that multiple interpretations of a particular experience will occur. Without multiple interpretations the experience becomes myopic and stagnant, requiring little engagement or thought. If the only way we could experience the world was through sound, how would that change what we believe about what is occurring before us?

For me, the multiplicity of interpretive possibilities provides the greatest access to God’s relationship with the world. If all we had was my interpretations of texts, I am not sure we could ever fully understand (not that full understanding is achievable) what was said or meant by a particular narrative. Therefore, a diversity of interpretive perspectives is necessary (even those that are harmful, for how will we know a "good" interpretation without a really "bad" one) in order to ensure that the body functions as it can. The PUP report allows for the possibility of voices to be heard that have been silenced out of fear or threat from the rest of the body.

The passage is more a group of passages. These deal directly with Jesus' encounters with ostracized or oppressed peoples. These are the women at the well, the demonized, the poor, widowed or orphaned, the Samaritans and the gentiles. There are more stories than space in this essay. Therefore, I am being rather reductionistic when I refer to them. However, Jesus' dealings with the people in the majority of these stories revolve around recognition, acceptance, and integration.

These stories often begin with a description of the "offensive" person and their relative status in the society and culture. There is a recognition both by the storyteller and Jesus of the outsider status that is often given to the person in question. Jesus' response is generally one of recognition of this status and questioning its appropriateness. There is a movement from recognition of ostracization that provides the necessary contrast to the acceptance that Jesus provides. Sometimes this acceptance comes through a questioning of the status of the individual or even the individual questioning the status of Jesus' thoughts about the situation (think about the woman who responds to Jesus' inquiry about sharing grace with those outside the Jewish faith). Acceptance is often seen in an act that embraces the ostracized or oppressed individual, thus legitimating them before the pubic. Finally, this legitimation is consecrated through an act that integrates the offensive individual back into the societal framework as a new being. Often, at least through my lenses, the integration of the individual takes place through an act on the part of Jesus rather than on the part of the individual. That is, the insider makes the move to accept the outsider back into the fold, often without significant change on the part of the individual in question. The change is often an insider movement that allows more room for the outsider's perspective to be included.

Granted my examples are short and limited in their scope and nature. I am not a biblical scholar and I do not profess to have THE interpretation of these texts and stories. My only hope was to provide a biblical reference or two that informs my overarching theological perspective. I hope it helps, any thoughts and questions are welcome and may help me further understand what I think and believe.

grace and peace



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