Rain

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I love to listen to the sound of the rain. the soft pattering reminds me of the smell of a up of hot chai or the feeling of an old book in my hands. I like to think while listening to the raindrops fall like thousands of quiet philosophers somersaulting through the air and dancing off the roof. I wish I was writing this while listening to precipitations to help my predications and participations in the proliferations of thought. Is rain not magical? Traditionally fantastic?

Sitting in the rain clears away the muck of the mind like mud off a car The quiet deluge washes off the noisy routine that clouds so much of my skies. What is the magic of the rain?

I like to think that it goes back to a woman, a quiet woman who would go through the forests, mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, oceans, and skies in search of a waterfall. I like to think her name was Rayne. She was a somber, contemplative beauty. She spoke little, talked less, but said more than a generation of philosophers and skeptics. The waterfall, she thought, would understand her. She had heard of a waterfall from her grandmother, a woman who talked slightly more and said slightly less than our quiet friend.

I like to think that Rayne felt the waterfall would understand her. The waterfall would talk constantly, say nothing, but still mean more than generations of theologians and professors. Her grandmother had told her that the waterfall was a river of cascading thought, a dynamo of running intellect, a flow of unspeakably simple beauty.

So Rayne sought for the waterfall. She looked in verdant pastures and forests, but only found babbling books and chortling streams. She looked in the stoic mountains and canyons, but only found raging and roaring rivers. She looked in the oceans, but only found the obstinately silent sea. In her melancholy of the loss of a thing she never had, she crawled into a cavern, committing herself to lonely commiseration. But as she cried, she heard a new sound. A dignified drip, a conversational and contemplative call from deep within the cave. So she breathed in her sadness and crawled deeper.

She felt the drip before she saw it. A spray of soft mist caressed her face as she stood, her eyes adjusting to the heartwarming gloom. There was a soft muttering in the chamber. Then she saw it, tumbling, rolling, and falling The cascade. The beauty, power, thought and wisdom of the towering fall overwhelmed her. She knew it was too awe-inspiring to be kept to herself.

So she brought word of it to those who spoke but said little. But, because they spoke so much, they couldn’t hear other people saying things.

Everywhere she went, Rayne’s discovery was talked over. Eventually, Rayne moved on, but she was determined for the world to hear the music of the saying, rather than the talking. So it rained. The rain flooded the minds of the talkers, many of whom hated the rain. Its quiet proclamation made them uncomfortable, and still does to this day. But there are still a few who live like Rayne, and these few live for the conversation brought by the rain.

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The Sound and the Echo

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Do you hear it?

Let me tell you about a Sound. It’s a simple sound, a quiet thump, echoing through time and space. Isn’t it the simplest sounds that echo the clearest?

It’s a dull throaty thump. A deep Sound, one that you feel more in your soul than a sound that bounces off your eardrums. A Sound similar to a heavy book being dropped in a carpeted library Or a tree, felled into a bed of thick-layered pine needles. The first beat of the bass at a rock concert—but only that first beat. Or the dull thud of your heart in your chest.

Can you hear the Sound?

Is it reverberating through your bones and echoing off your soul? Is it bouncing round in your head with the thud-thud of your heart-beat? Is it sitting, heavy, in your chest like a passion left too-long unsaid?

Can you feel the Sound?

This Sound is simple, but ancient. It’s the Sound of a soul cracking. It’s the Sound of a heart healing. It’s the Sound of a rhythm starting, the sound of a song ending.

I know you’ve heard the Sound.

We’ve all heard the Sound. We’ve all felt it echoing through the very fiber of our being. Billions have run from this Sound. It’s the Sound that breaks patterns and destroys comfort and heals the lost.

It is the Sound of Purpose.

And not a simple purpose like a job or task, or the purpose of a thing or place. No. It is the Sound of the Purpose of your soul.

Every time the Sound echoes off another spirit it changes in timbre, texture, and tone. Many people hide from the Sound, afraid that it will make them lose the quiet rhythm they’ve grown so accustomed to. Many have been given a playlist to mask the Sound, to lead them away from the reverb of their spirit. Many get lost in the echoes of the Sound bouncing off the souls of the billions of people around them, forgetting to hear the dull thud that hits their heart. Others play loudly on cymbals and gongs, trying desperately to drown out the vibration that would speak to them and lead them on.

Have you heard your Echo?

Have you caught its music on a tuning fork and turned the pegs of your violin to match? Have you felt its throb on your chest and breathed to its beat? Have you listened to its dull thud and marched to its beat? Have you felt the all-consuming ache of that unresolved note, then put the Sound into your song to settle the disquiet in your spirit?
This is the story of that sound. that drumbeat, that simple omnipresent echo, that overwhelmingly omnipotent reverb.

What song will you play now that you’re listening for it?

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Buckets and Flames


In my travels, one of the saddest things I’ve seen is nearly universal disdain for learning in general, and reading in particular.

That’s not to say I think everyone’s built to be a bibliophile, many people whose wisdom I deeply respect rarely read (though most of them would express a desire to read more, even though they’re self-aware enough to know that that’s not the best way for them to learn).

My sadness is that there’s a general cultural lack of appreciation for deep things. Whether that’s learning through reading, thought provoking art, or deeply though-through and wonderfully executed movies, people just tend to not care.

For example, I went to an awesome library the other day (21c in Colorado Springs). the nonfiction section was the smallest in the library. the entire second floor was computer labs, one of the largest was a gaming room. don’t get me wrong, they had some fantastic labs, and their selection was very well curated, and it’s a great library, the lack of desire reflected in the selection just stood out to me.

The facebook post that inspired these thoughts featured an article from the Atlantic which said that reading lists kills the love of reading for young readers. I think that’s the foundational problem. Learning is no longer about bettering yourself, a passion for something, or anything of that nature. Learning is just a box to check in the to do list of life. You go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, retire, pass on. Which is a fine enough framework. But that’s all it is. It’s a list. There’s no inherent meaning in it.

Quite a few of our talks touch on that subject. The meaning of life… The epistemology of existence, if you will. Purpose. It saddens me that hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of people will never experience the deeply satisfying pleasure of doing what you were made to do. Accomplishing Your Thing. Changing the world in a way that only you can.

Every. Single. One of us. Has a thing. A bent. A gift. A passion. That thing that makes you forget time is a thing, that makes your eyes light up and that fire burn in your belly. That thing that makes the worst procrastinator excited for a task and the most OCD among us able to focus on the big picture.

That’s been stolen from entire generations. Those who do what they were meant to do are few and far between.

So. For the four dozen or so people who will read this. Find your passion. Break out of that Box of lies that tells you that you have to check off these things to accomplish anything meaningful. Obviously don’t be irresponsible, But do change your robotic steps into something deeper. And if any of you are influencers—parents, teachers, mentors—I beg you, find how to light a fire.

My favorite analogy (and the title of this post) is that of a bucket and a candle. Far, far too many people think of education as a bucket. Teachers fill a student’s bucket with math, science, literature, and history, and then the student is done. Their bucket is full and they carry it around for the rest of their lives with little application. But those few that see learning as a candle. A spark of curiousity fanned into a flame of a passionate desire to learn and grow. Those are the influencers who beget more influencers, who build a generation of world changers.

That’s what learning is to me. That’s why I get excited when I get a new library card. That’s why my younger brother, who is not built to learn by reading, looks for opportunities to learn by doing. That’s why my friend is subscribed to a variety of sites like Lynda. To build and grow and achieve.

The world will not be changed by buckets. It will only be changed by flames.

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Musing on Mercy

This post was written at one in the morning in the middle of staffing Summit. The ideas here are what I have learned and been shown over the summer.


Starting a post at one in the morning after a full day of Ultimate, counseling students, and organizing waivers, all of which on a less than full stomach and after getting up at 5:30 to take my guys to coffee, may not have been the best of ideas (hence this seemingly never ending run on sentence), but I’ve got several things that I’m processing that I need to get out of me.

Anyway.

People are hard.

Don’t get me wrong, people are fantastic. I love people. The ideas, depth, love, grace, joy, and encouragement we have the capability to pour into each other is fantastic.

But we also have an infinite capacity to fight the unfamiliar, hate what we don’t understand or don’t like, respond with aggression or defensiveness. We want blow holes in the foundations of our fellows without offering to help rebuild from the damage.

Fear and Pride (which is frequently rooted in the fear of inadequacy, or the fear of man much of the time) are the two biggest detriments to living as we are called to live.

The ignorant can be taught, but when we aren’t humble enough to learn, we destroy much of our claims to accuracy. Dogmatism is neither a virtue, nor a sin, but it can be either, depending on the attitude behind it. Non-negotiables have their place, but it’s not on the front end of a relationship.

I’m rambling, and now it’s 1:10.

I guess I do have a point to this.

It’s not as simple as saying ‘be open minded’ because that’s part of the problem. A blind acceptance of any viewpoint, under the guise of ‘that works for you’ is a major problem.
Which is not to say we should be close-minded by any stretch of the imagination either. A foolish pig-headedness is the ruling stereotype and preconception that follows Christendom like an emaciated mountain lion.

Grace is key.

Grace.

Grace is the key to any and all human interaction. Without grace, we either heap judgement or drop critical thinking.

Grace is the counterpoint to fear and pride. Grace is where love meets humility.

Grace and Mercy have been the key character traits that I find exemplified in Christ. Grace is an outpouring of His Mercy-His choice not to give use the just consequence for our actions.

We, unless in a position of authority, don’t deal much in the commodity of Mercy. Mercy is the withholding of a negative, but just, consequence. Grace is the doling out of an opposite and positive consequence.

Fireworks.

It was the fourth of July recently, and we shot off some fireworks, threw some snaps, and played with some sparklers.

The fun isn’t just in the bottle rockets shooting off, roman candles bursting in air, it’s in lighting the things and stepping back as you watch your destructive power unfold in the sky above.

Unfortunately, we frequently act like either a firework, or a person with a match. (I’m intentionally using first person plural pronouns here, as I’m preaching at myself as much as at anyone else).

I’m a bit of both. I’m sure you felt that twinge of sadistic pleasure as you cautiously light the fuse, then step back to watch the show. I’m also sure you’ve been on the receiving end of that lighter and made a truly spectacular explosion in the night sky.

While there is much to say about the person who lights the fuse, we aren’t actually fireworks.  We’re people. We have fingers and can cut that fuse off and respond with grace.

Yes, it’s difficult, yes it’s uncomfortable, and yes, it feels much more fulfilling when the person with the match forgets to stick the bottle rocket in the ground before lighting it. But that’s not how relationships are built.

That’s not the pattern of behavior we see in the scriptures.

Christ didn’t make a fantastic show of angels appear in the sky to pull him down off the cross. He didn’t make the men who spat on him and whipped him blind or lame. Jesus Christ, off whom we are to model our lives after, exemplified grace on a level that we simply can’t even comprehend.

Can you imagine being the omnipotent, omniscient, creator of the universe, and willingly submit yourself to the horrors of a Roman crucifixion?
We as human beings can’t even begin to comprehend the former, and, as Americans especially, the latter is nearly as difficult to understand.

Christ set the bar high when He said ‘come follow me,’ Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 11:1.

Grace is at the core of what gives us our Christianity, Grace is what makes this relationship possible to begin with.

I guess what I’m realizing over the last 24 hours and four weeks in general is that Grace is more than an ideal. Grace is ‘Christ in Skin.’ Grace is more than ‘doing to others as you would have them do to you.’ Grace is about extending a minute fraction of the inexplicably large helpings of Mercy that has been poured on us from heaven to those around us.

If only that they may taste the same Mercy we’ve been given.

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The Decay of Manners

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce said he had two great aims: the abolition of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners.

We aren’t talking table manners here, Wilberforce sought to change the core system people used to interact with each other.

Wilberforce sought to train the British people to treat each other with the respect one was due, simply because he or she was created in the image of God.

Because that’s what we’ve lost.

We’ve lost this ideal that mankind is inherently valuable, not because we’re the most highly evolved animal in the food chain. Not because we mutually benefit from the social contract that is human existence.

A person doesn’t have value because of what she wears, what he looks like, what she says, what he believes, or what we do.

Value is an abstract, it’s unmeasurable, unquantifiable, and intangible. Things only have value if another thing that has control over it assigns it value.

Watches have value based on what the owner of the watch declares. Let’s talk about a specific watch, it’s not much to look at, it certainly isn’t a rolex. It works, but time has worn it down.

How valuable is this watch?

A pawnbroker would pay a couple dollars if you’re lucky. A watch collector might shell out a little more.

But in reality, this watch is priceless. The owner of the watch crafted it with the utmost care, in order to give it as a gift to his son. Not only will the owner of the watch protect the watch, but his son will treasure it forever.

You can’t judge a thing’s value based on its appearance.

Manners, the way you treat a thing, is dependent on how valuable you believe that thing to be worth.

This is why mere politeness misses the point. Why ma’am and sir are just words.

We say ma’am and sir, not out of an obligation to those in power over us, but rather simple respect for each other as human beings.

We refrain from foul language, not out of fear of offending someone, or to pretend that we’re any better from those who don’t, but because we find value in uplifting conversation, benefiting those who listen.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m assuming that you and I agree on what things, and people, are valuable.

Let’s look at that watch again. Who dictates its worth?

Society can create an economic system that evaluates the utilitarian value of a watch (how useful is it?) and put a price on it.

But is that its true value?

The owner of the watch will not sell it for anything less than what it is worth to him. He will not part with it until he has entrusted it to his son. And his son will treasure it, far above any economic evaluation.

If the owner and creator determines the value of a watch, how valuable are people?

There are two options; we were either created, or we arose from chance. If we arose from chance, then we have no more inherent value than empty space. But if we were created, we have as much value as our creator endowed us with.

Society cannot exist based on the presumption that human life has no inherent value. Life as we know it would cease to exist. Once value becomes relative, the only thing that can save us from our fellow man is ourselves. No government has a right to enforce laws concerning murder, for example. Why? Because governments would necessarily be a human invention. The watch cannot tell the watchmaker how valuable he is.

This is the core reason why the decay of manners is so dangerous for humanity. It’s not as simple as covering your children’s ears when you go to a theme park. It’s not as simple as tipping your waitresses. It’s just an archaic idea of holding doors open. These are all based on the fundamental assumption that humanity is valuable, and we should treat them as such.

One final note; since we have been created, how do we know how valuable we are? Luke 12, Genesis 2, Psalm 139, and Matthew 6, among other scriptures, tell us that we were created in the image of God. Other passages tell us we are his heirs and adoptive children.

This applies to every human being on the planet. We were created by the most loving of watchmakers. It’s time to start treating each other like it.

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Where to?

  

There comes a time in every man’s (and woman’s) life where he (or she) must choose what to do with the rest of his (or her) life.

It’s right now.

And now.

And possibly right now as well.

I’m at this point in life where every decision has the potential to make drastic changes in my future. Who do I look to for advice? Which opportunities do I seize? What am I doing in a year? Six months? A week? (well, I know the last one, I’ll be on my way to my brother’s wedding! 😀 )

I guess my point with this post is to encourage those stumbling blindly through their hallways trying to hit a light switch that will illuminate the path through the distractions to the door of the next season of life.

One of my biggest struggles is the tendency to look at life as though my future is a flashlight. I point it at what I think is a door, and then I plow straight to it, only to find out that it was actually a painting. Or a closet. Or a window.

Tunnel vision never helps, and I’m preaching at myself more than anyone else. Each step needs to be wide, rather than long. Focusing on taking advantage of every opportunity to serve, rather than just the ones we think will move us to where we think we need to be.

Life is more than just one task to complete after another. It isn’t a staircase with walls on each side and a door at the bottom where you’re born and a door at the top where you die.

The most prevalent analogy in scripture to the life of a believer is a race.

The race of a slave. A servant who has been given 5, 10, 20 talents and told to invest them, work with them, grow them.

Our Master has wonderful plans in store for us, yes. Beautiful pictures of excellent works He has prepared for us to do. But He also has given us our nets and told us to go fishing. He hasn’t given us a map of the lake, or coordinates to steer by.

We’re navigating by the stars without a sextant. We’re exploring the rainforest with a map and no compass.

Without the sextant, we know the points of the compass, Polaris and her sisters tell us that. But we don’t know the location of our vessel. Without a compass we use our map to determine our location, thanks to the rivers and mountains God has planted on the earth, but we don’t have a compass to point us in the direction we need to go.

But we don’t need a sextant or a compass. We have the stars and map of Scripture.

Scratch that, we have a sextant and a compass. Romans 8:26 and John 14:26 tell us we have a comforter, a guide, and an intercessor. Isaiah 11:2 says that our comforter is of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, and of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

We have been given a compass and a sextant, we just have to remember to look at them. We have to learn to understand them.

You don’t just point a sextant at the sky and you get your GPS coordinates and a heading. The sextant isn’t a simple tool. It’s complex and requires equations and concentration to understand it. A compass isn’t that straightforward either. It’s an instrument that requires understanding and focus to read it correctly.

Life isn’t meant to be simple. At least in the sense that we’re talking right now.

Life is meant to be built on a foundation of trust, shored up by faith, with the plumb line of service, and the level of understanding, with is dependent on the fear of the Lord.

I know this has been rambly, and a bit out of character for this blog. But I am working through this, and ultimately that’s the goal of this blog; to think in a place that may benefit others. 

Not that I’ve got it figured out. Life is full of so many twists and turns that opportunities once thought lost are now the center of your plans for the next year.

What I want you to come away with is the thing that I’ve been told multiple times over the past several months:

The secret of understanding where you’re supposed to go next in life is dependent on the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). This fear is contingent on a deep, consistent, and meaningful fellowship with the Lord, through His Spirit, in His Word. Which will bear fruit in a genuine desire to love and serve those around you.

Basically, read the scriptures, pray, and focus on serving and everything will eventually turn out for the best.

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.

Ephesians 4:12 

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Caveat – Reconstruction Pt. 3

So, after three posts on how tightly our interpretation needs to mold itself to intent, I’m going to throw a huge caveat on top of it all.

My dad has a favorite analogy when it comes to Christian life, and just moral living in general. He calls it “ditch jumping.”

Life is a path, the straight and narrow if you will, that we are supposed to walk along. On each side of the path, there’s a ditch. On one side, in this case, is deconstruction – relative interpretation.
But there are two ditches. I’ve focused a lot on the right side ditch, because that’s easier, for me, to nail down and address. But the left side ditch is an entirely different matter.
The left side ditch is limiting a work to its context. This is equally dangerous and disingenuous.

Take Dickens for example. Say we take his intended audience, his social context and such, and limit Oliver Twist to that environment. Suddenly, one of the best novels on human rights has been stripped of its power and stuck in the library of congress with all the cultural impact of a Qin Dynasty vase.

Literature is not simply a historical document that one uses to study a far off culture, literature is alive and breathing. The best works transcend the contexts that they were written in and for, and impact society for generations, even centuries.

The Odyssey isn’t still read today simply because it’s a good tool to study the ancient Greeks. It’s still read because of the insights into the human condition that transcend time and place.
Paradise Lost isn’t read simply because it reflects the religious fervor of Renaissance Italy, it’s still read because Milton understood the gravity of the loss of paradise, and was able to use words that strike a chord in every heart that reads them.
The Old Man and the Sea isn’t some boring book about a poor South American fisherman, it’s about Everyman’s fight for survival.
The Bible isn’t read because it’s a good history of the Jewish people, or Jesus ministry, the Bible is still read because it’s timeless truths go beyond its immediate context, and reach into every culture and society, not leaving a single one of touches the same.

Great literature comes from great authors. As bad as it is to ignore or relativize the context of a work, it is equally bad to limit a work to its context. Words have power. When you turn the words into events, they lose much of their power and most of their relevance.

My point with these last three posts has been simply this:
Read everything as you would like your work to be read. Try and discover the author’s meaning, and use that to define your applications.

Because if you relativize literature, it no longer has any value.

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Application is Open – Reconstruction Pt. 2

Last post, Context is Key, we talked about Context. This post, Application is Open, we’re going to talk about Application. Shocking, I know.

The second claim of Deconstruction is “the correct interpretation of a work is not fixed, but rather based on our personal cultural experiences.”

I’d reply that “the correct interpretation of a work is fixed, but its application may vary based on our cultural environment”

Let’s dig in.

Correct Interpretation

There really isn’t any reason to believe that the correct interpretation (the explanation of the meaning of a work) would have much room to vary. Different people will pick up on different things in the work, pulling on threads that others might have glossed over, but overall, there is a relatively limited number of interpretations for any given work.

Take The Old Man and the Sea, the Hemingway classic, for example. One can draw many correct interpretations from the work, such as the struggle of man with nature – a clear depiction of survival of the fittest, the impact of pride or determination, or the importance of camaraderie and loyalty in Manolin.

It would be equally inappropriate to infer some interpretations on the work, such as man’s supremacy over nature, as there isn’t anything to support these claims.

In a nutshell, take what the author meant to say, not what you wanted him to say, and then apply it as is appropriate.

Relativistic Applications

Applications (the way the work is applied, the way that we allow something to influence how we live or think) can be as varied as interpretations are narrow. Anytime a virtue is lauded, a vice disdained, or a goal discussed, we need to pull out the author’s intended interpretation, and then turn it around and figure out what the proper application in our own lives would be.

Your application might be the opposite of the author’s intention, it might have a different motive from the author’s intention, it might even be the same.

While correct interpretation is fixed, application can be as varied as the kinds of people who read the work.

I’m planning to wrap up this series with a giant, sweeping caveat next post. So stay tuned.

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Context is Key – Reconstruction Pt. 1

Scripture says what it says, not what you want it to say

Tying into my previous post Interpretation is a Science, Not an Art, I wanted to really dig in on the mechanics of objective literary interpretation, rather than just saying “Don’t do this.”

A couple key points about Deconstruction that I want to rehash before we really dig in;

1) We must interpret a work based on our cultural experiences (both prescriptive – meaning we should – and descriptive – meaning we do).
2) The correct interpretation is not fixed, but rather based on our personal cultural experiences.
3) Words and meanings are arbitrary.

We’re going to dig into the first point in this post.

We must interpret a work based on the context (historical and literary) that it is both set in, and written from.

Context is key. Any given passage of literature will have three contexts: the geo/historical context of the author, the literary context (genre) of the work, and the context of the surround passages.

This holds true for all literature, not just scripture, however it is extremely important that we understand all three before trying to interpret any passage.

Geography and History

The Geographical and Historical context of the work is the jumping off point. Without a proper understanding of the original audience, their circumstances, and the author’s circumstance, it will be much more difficult to come to an understanding of what a passage is saying.

Two examples;
If I read an ancient Beowulf, but have no understanding of the treaty systems, language, or mythos of the ancient Anglo-Saxons, I’ll have a much more difficult time understanding what exactly a “whale road” is and how two, apparently warring, kings can just chill in each others’ living rooms.
If I read Jeremiah, but have no understanding of the state of the Israelites (in captivity), the structure of Jewish literature, or the subsequent fulfillment of these promises, much of the weight of the passage is lost, and can be misapplied in multiple contexts.

Genre

Genre, or literary context is also key. A genre is a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. Basically a genre is what ‘family’ a piece of artwork belongs to. Acts and Team of Rivals belong to the Historical Genre, the works of e.e. cummings and the Psalms belong to the Poetic Genre, The Hunt for Red October belongs to the Military Thriller Genre, Animal Farm and Gulliver’s Travels belong to the Satiric Genre.

If you improperly apply a genre, a work will not make sense or it will be improperly interpreted. If you read Team of Rivals (an excellent book on the leadership of Abraham Lincoln) as a satire, you won’t glean any of the potential applications from the life of Abraham Lincoln. If you read Animal Farm as a simple piece of fiction, you’ll lose almost all of the depth that Orwell wove into the work.

Applied to Scripture, we need to remember that Revelation is not a ‘future history,’ it is a Prophetic book. We need to remember that Proverbs is not a book of promises, but rather a book of examples of wise choices. We need to remember that Psalms is not primarily prophecy or doctrine, but poetry praising God.

Context

There’s historical context, there’s literary context, and then there’s just plain context.

I could wax eloquent, but a cartoonist says it more convincingly than I can;

Captain Context – Adam4d

Application

Now, with all that out of the way.

“What does this mean to you?” is the wrong question.

What does this mean, and how can you apply this in your life?” is the correct question

Not just in scripture, but in anything you read, write, or watch.

The next post will be focused on the fixed nature of interpretation and how meaning transcends your experience.

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Interpretation is a Science, Not an Art

The most common critique I get with any movie or book analysis is that I’m misinterpreting the work.

Which is ironic, because most of the time the critiquer ends up saying that there isn’t just one valid interpretation.

But I digress.

While I won’t go as far as to say that there is only one valid interpretation for a given piece, I will say that there are invalid interpretations. And there are many fewer valid interpretations that invalid ones.

I really am at a loss to why people insist that a work can mean whatever you want it to mean. Thousands of years of literature, philosophy, and just general communication tell us that there is a very limited scope of meaning that should be drawn from a piece of literature.

In fact, the ‘what does it mean to you?’ movement didn’t really start until the late 1960s with the publication of French Philosopher Jacques Derrida’s book Of Grammatology. 

In essence, Of Grammatology is the Postmodernist’s crash course on analyzing and interpreting literature, written language, spoken language, and pretty much anything that uses words.

Derrida makes the case that language, and all communication, is socially derived, and therefore non-absolute. Therefore whatever we want to interpret something to mean, we have every right to do so.

Thus meaning, along with the entire basis of communication, is thrown out the window.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that colleges and public schools began emphasizing “What does it mean to you?” and only a few short years later, we started applying this literary deconstruction to our Bible studies “What does this verse mean to you?”

Deconstruction, as Derrida’s ideas about interpreting literature are called, is not a meaningful way to interpret anything. If carried out to its full implications, as Derrida encourages us to do, deconstruction will make it impossible to have a conversation with another human being, simply because – according to Derrida – language is first of all cultural, secondly personal, and least of all communicative.

When I go to watch a movie or read a book, I don’t start with my experiences. That’s a postmodern mindset.

I don’t start with what I know or believe to be true.

I start with what the author is telling me is true.

If the author says that the sky is red, I don’t reinterpret red to mean blue because that fits in with my experience of reality. I also don’t immediately dismiss the author because they postulated something that didn’t line up with my understanding of the world.

This is super important.

You should not reinterpret or dismiss something off hand because of your preconceptions.

People much too frequently jump to one extreme or another. Either it’s “I imagined the sky as blue, even though they said the sky was red because I felt better that way,” or “I think this book is full of it because it said the sky is red and obviously the sky is blue.”

A skilled author has a point to every word they put down on the page. Flippantly dismissing, or postmodernly reinterpreting is both rude and, quite frankly, negligent.

Rude because this author has spent countless hours crafting a story, maybe even a masterpiece, to say something about the world we live in. Maybe it’s only an impression or a moral, but every story says something.

Negligent because behind that story is an idea, and behind that idea is a person. We are not doing the person justice by just cheaping out through laziness in interpretation by ignoring, misconstruing, or dismissing their ideas.

It’s the author’s job as a writer to communicate clearly. It’s our job as a reader to figure out what they were trying to communicate.

As a final point, interpretation is not the same as application.

Semantics you say.

Semantics indeed says I.

Semantics is the study of meaning. If semantics is appropriate at any time it’s when we’re discussing how to arrive at the meaning of a work.

Application is what we do with what the author said. There are infinite numbers of applications to a given work. Even works with flawed undertones can have excellent applications.

Don’t think that because I had a negative interpretation I necessarily had a negative application. If the work was humanist calling us to climb above our selfishness, I can get on that band wagon.

But I will point out who’s driving the wagon and where it’s ultimately heading.


On an unrelated note, I’ve been messing with a few paragraph styles to see which one works best for the blog. If you’ve noticed the changes at all, let me know which you liked the most!

Style 1: No real division – https://solitairefortwo.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/cest-la-vie/
Style 2: Headers – https://solitairefortwo.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/the-giver/
Style 3: Bold new sections – this post

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