My car now has 95,000 miles on it. As anyone who has older cars knows, as cars age they begin to speak in nearly indiscernible languages. Squeaks, rattles, groans, and wheezes become all too commonplace, especially for those of us without the knowledge or skill to interpret what the vehicle says to us.
On a recent trip to Virginia, one particular whine began to grow louder and more constant, so much so that I was afraid the car would not make it all the way back home to South Carolina. Fortunately, all seems relatively stable, though the quasi-vocal alert still comes from the body. I don't know what the sound means, but surely it means something. And in my ignorance, anxiety arises.
When people hear the word interpretation, they often think about translating meaning from one language to another. Yet, rightly understood, interpretation is involved in every interaction we have. We must interpret body language, spatial formation, location, tone, timbre, melody, rhythm, rhyme, shade, color, light, texture, shape, and a myriad of other phenomena that contribute to the meaning in the world around us and those with whom we communicate. Interpretation, then, is ultimately about comprehension and application.
For my car, we need people like the good Lutherans at Professional Tire and Radiator on North Main Street in Columbia, SC (check out their website at http://ptrsc.com/) who know how to put together the make of the car, the kind of driving I do, the particular noise, and the previous work done in order to diagnose the problem - to interpret all of the data - and then to treat the issue at hand.
The second part, the response to the communication, is perhaps the most difficult problem. While "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" is an adage all too true, but sometime squeaky wheels need something other than lubricant. If the wheel squeaks because of a flat tire or a bent frame, then no amount of salve will solve the actual problem. Interpretation means finding and addressing the truth at hand.
This must be a constant focus of the life in Christ. Scripture is not the only aspect of faith that requires interpretation. Our communities, our relationships, our sisters and brothers, our culture, our country, indeed everything requires interpretation, and for Christians, this requires an interpretation through the lens of Jesus. God in Christ shapes all meaning in the world, and our interpretations must always take that reality into account.
Sometimes this means that we must enlist the help of those who know more than we do, whether do to the gift of faith or of deep experience or of training and learning. We need others to ensure our best interpretations.
But unlike car problems, we cannot drop off our problems of faith at the shop and pay for their repairs by a third party. We need to be intricately involved in the study, the comprehension, and the application of meaning in our lives. When the wheel of faith squeaks, we must help to discern the nature of the problem and provide interpretations that are truthful of and faithful to Christ's work in the world. We must do this alongside of others, rather than ask others to do it for us. We need our communities to discover the fullness of meaning in Christ, and so we give thanks for the church, for those who sometimes know more than we do and help show us the way
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.