Everything is interpretation.
My sister is an interpreter for the deaf. She helps a sixth grade girl matriculate through a hearing public school. She is also teaches hearing children what it means to be deaf before they learn sign language. An elective class on American Sign Language should first immerse students in a sense of the deaf culture to understand a deaf person.
My luggage was scanned this past weekend leaving Denver. The TSA stopped and opened my bag because they saw something suspicious. I told them the only thing different that I was carrying was fudge. “Oh yes, fudge looks like explosives on our screens.” The man opened the fudge container, smelled it . . . I even offered him a piece. It seems even machines have trouble with interpretation.
I will be teaching a masters course this fall on Old Testament Interpretation. The first five minutes of class I will show a five-minute clip from Seinfeld’s 100th episode. We will watch as Jerry and friends make a spectacle of themselves. Everything from George selling latex to his make-believe architectural career still cause belly laughs.
I will then ask the class “What did you have to know in order for the scenes to be funny?” Latex and architecture for starters. Cultural connections demand knowledge. One must have cultural knowledge in order to interpret what is funny.
The reason why jokes in England do not necessarily transfer to us in American is the difference between cultures; even though we speak the same language. Belly laughs in London may not transfer to Long Island. Likewise, the best way to know if a student has learned something is if she can joke about it. Humor is a marker of deep connections to any culture. “Being funny” is a matter of interpretation.
We interpret everything. Watching Fox News or CNN demands a cultural-political interpretation. Reading Huffington Post or the Drudge Report may mean the person is interpreting life through a certain lens. Depending on belief or situation, homosexual marriage, immigration, Obamacare, or “social justice” will be interpreted one way or another. Learning others’ cultures helps our interpretation of those cultures. Gender, class, and ethnic differences abound.
Knowing that cultures differ should give us interpretive pause. Thinking before speaking includes interpretation of people, places, events, and attitudes. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to cultural interpretation:
1. Learn languages. I finally understood English grammar when I learned Greek grammar. World languages and “love languages” enlarge us.
3. Ask questions. No one can be wrong asking a question. Framed with the right words in the right attitude, questions build bridges not walls.
4. Check biases. Quit pretending, fess up. We are all biased. We all have certain mindsets. Broadmindedness in discussion suggests we may not know it all.
5. Find common ground. Mike and I loved to shoot clay pigeons. Mike is an atheist. Mike and I had great discussions about eternal matters because we played pick up football in our backyards on Sunday afternoon.
1. Be a Pollyanna. “If everyone would just be _______” suggests a naïveté about the world. There may be times, as much as we try to avoid them, that confrontation is inescapable. Know that it is possible while we work to overcome barriers. But be prepared.
2. Elevate one culture over another. “Privilege” depends on context and culture as much as color. Painting one group with the same brush is another form of bias.
4. Only read those with whom you agree. Readers of Huffington Post should read the Drudge Report. Readers of the Drudge Report should read Huffington Post.
5. Create monopolies. If we shut people out of a conversation simply because we do not like their perspective, our arrogance is clear for all to see.
To know you means I take time to interpret who you are through lenses you help me to polish. We ought not interpret ourselves by class, color, or context. We are first and foremost humans. As a Christian I believe God’s
Common Grace allows
Common Truth to establish
Common Law for the
Common Man finding
Common Ground with all
Jesus is the only way cultural interpretation will be possible. About Him it is said
Worthy are you . . . for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth. [Revelation 5:9-10]
Mark loves conversation, not confrontation, avoiding the second as best as is possible (Romans 12:18). Dr. Mark Eckel helps students, churches, and schools toward Christian interpretation.