The Color of Our Glasses – Part 5

I took a short break from this series due to a vision issue, no pun intended.  On Good Friday I began to lose my vision because of detached and tearing retinas.  In these days of  recuperation following successful surgeries, I have been pondering what this means for me as I try to make sense out of Biblical hermeneutics for others by writing a series with a focus upon our individual perceptions of scripture.    Initially I can say my perspective on the many Bible stories about blind people and restoration of sight have changed and will likely continue to change.  I will no longer assume the role of one helping the blind and instead take on the role of the blind and helpless one calling for help.  No longer will I only think on what I can or might do, but rather on what God has done and will do. 

A few years ago I preached for the third time on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  As I prepared the sermon I found myself tired and struggling with this story… yet again, until, it dawned on me that maybe instead of trying on the roles of the Priest, Levite, or the good Samaritan, I could try the role of the beaten and left for dead person in the ditch.  Soon I began to see the meaning of this story in an entirely new light.  Instead of thinking I or someone else “should” tend to the needs of another “in the ditch” of life, that maybe we are all in the “ditch” of life and have incredible need of a loving savior.  Considering the desperate needs of others, even when they don’t appear desperate (because we may be over on the other side of the road and can’t see their lives in full view) is a wonderful avenue away from the judgementalism that so easily invades our lives.  So the next time you feel the need to measure-up someone because of what you think to be true or right, think first that they might just happen to have been beaten and left for dead in the ditch of life.  

It was an amazing moment when the eye surgeon told me I would see again (I did not know they could do such a thing).  I felt like a badly beaten and left-for-blind person laying in a ditch until being rescued by being told I would see again.   Thanks to our merciful and loving God.  Steadfast, isn’t He?

The Color of our Glasses – Part 4

So why did those seminary students from the U.S., Russia, and Tanzania all interpret the meaning of Luke 15 (The Prodigal Son Parable) so differently? 

It is believed that in our culture (that of the United States) that we carry with us an intrinsic life focus on wealth.  This should not surprise us because of our place in a capitalistic society.  We live within an ethic of wealth accumulation, thus when we read this parable our glasses cause us to focus on the part about “squandering one’s wealth or inheritance.”  The meaning we often first pull from this teaching is about living more responsibly with regard to wealth and inheritances.  U.S. Americans are less likely to think about this young man’s fate or his father’s graciousness until after pondering what is seen as the young man’s wasteful nature and dissolute living.   

The effect of culture or “social location” on interpretation becomes  very significant, but often remains an unknown presence in our own interpretive efforts.   In part 5, I will share some understandings of the factors present in “social location” for the other two groups of seminary students studied by Dr. Powell.

The Color of our Glasses – Part Three

How we see, understand, and interpret scripture for our lives is influenced by the color of our glasses.  Our glasses are colored by the many factors that make our lives and selves uniquely different.  Some of these things we are born with, others we live into throughout our lives.   Examples include: gender, race, ethnic background, economic class, and political affiliation.  Dr. Mark Allan Powell, Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio, has researched, taught, and written about these as influences of Biblical Hermeneutics.  In his book “What Do They Hear?” Dr. Powell writes about Social Location, the effect of our geopolitical location in the world and its’ effect on Biblical interpretation.    

Last Sunday many of us heard from the Gospel of Luke chapter 15, the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Dr. Powell has worked extensively with this parable in an interpretive study with seminary students in the United States, Russia, and Tanzania.  The outcomes of his research on how we interpret scripture is amazing because of the effect of Social Location.  When surveyed and asked what is the point of this one of Jesus’ parables, one group overwhelmingly determined it was that  the younger son squandered his inheritance.  Another group overwhelmingly said the point was that the famine came and made him destitute, while the third group of seminary students said the message was about why others did not come to the aid of this and other starving people in the midst of this famine.  Same parable from Jesus, three very different (and faithful) scriptural interpretations. 

The color of our glasses (for reasons often beyond our understanding)  can limit or enhance what we faithfully hear and learn from the Holy Scriptures.  I pray for a deeper sense and sensitivity to scripture for my life and the lives of others – in Christ Jesus.

The Color of Our Glasses – Part Two

The Color of Our Glasses – Part II

Photo of Tilikum from flickr: flickr.com/photos/10296168@N02/2602839357

News of the tragic death of the female whale trainer at Sea World in Orlando Florida has likely entered every home in America by now but the officials are still trying to sort out exactly what happened.  From a radio broadcast yesterday, I heard the Sheriff of Orange County Florida (Orlando area) ask first hand observers for any video footage they may have captured of the tragedy.  Officials are needing video evidence to piece together the details of the event.   Even though many people watched this tragedy unfold in front of them, the Sheriff says all of the first hand witnesses he interviewed have differing stories for what exactly happened.    I’ve heard of this phenomenon to exist in other instances where officials needing to put together the facts surrounding an event discover all of the witnesses’ stories to be different. 

One must wonder how who we are affects how we observe and interpret what we see and hear.  Did feelings about how beautiful and loving Shamu was during her show or during their “lunch with Shamu” affect how spectators saw the attack of Tilikum the killer whale?  Or did flashbacks from the movie “Jaws” influence how they saw the event unfold in front of them?  We probably will never know, but what we do know is that the Sheriff of Orange County Florida can’t seem to get the facts from those who saw it first hand.  What the Sheriff is doing now is sorting through a variety of hermeneutics, until he finds an actual video of the entire tragedy.  Who we are affects how we observe and what we understand.

The Color of our Glasses-Part One

Many of us do not recognize nor understand the term Hermeneutic, it is a strange sounding word, do you know what it means?  For me it was a relatively new term when I entered seminary.  Even though I had heard the term before, I had no reason to ever use it. Webster defines it as, “Interpretive; Explanatory; The science and methodology of interpretation, especially of Scriptural text.”

Over the next few weeks I plan to share a few of my thoughts on the meaning behind this term and concept behind understanding Scripture.  This term comes to the forefront for me as I walk with people who all have differing (and very faithful) interpretations of Biblical Scripture relative to the current day issue of homosexuality.  I invite any of you to walk with me as I discover again the significance of hermeneutics for our time. 

Once in a while, I forget my glasses before heading out the door (I only need them for reading).  When this  happens, I catch myself in a panic as soon as I realize I cannot read fine print without them.  If you are like me you simply cannot borrow someone else’s glasses, their glasses don’t allow me to see the way I believe I need to see.  But those same glasses do allow that person to see the way they need to see.  Our eye glasses, which we peer through, tend to be a specific prescription for each of us.  Another way to look at glasses is how differently tinted sun glasses will change how the landscape appears.  These references to glasses are part of how we will begin to understand the concept of hermeneutics, what does scripture look like to the next person, through their glasses, that may be different from my view?