Hermeneutics of Delight: Mutual, Interconnected, Curious

Hermeneutics. It’s an intimidating word. Many of us have never heard of it, let alone understand what it means. Which is interesting, considering we all have a hermeneutic we employ on a daily basis. Or, perhaps another way of saying it: a hermeneutic has us all and is manifested through us on a daily basis.

Basically, hermeneutics is the method or manner by which we interpret the world we inhabit. Texts, verbal communication, body language and all other forms of communicative interchanges are in need of interpretation as they flow between people, both the individual and community. The collection of explanations we come to – again, both on the individual and communal levels – expose our hermeneutical framework.

Moreover, hermeneutics is not a mere theory or an art, but encompasses the essence of our existence. The manner by which we interpret followed by the conclusions we espouse give us a trajectory by which we actually live out our day-to-day lives. The stories we tell, the symbols we make, the institutions we form, the communities we partake within all have to do with hermeneutics. Again, we might not always be – indeed, we are more often than not – making conscious decisions due to our hermeneutical orientation, but, nevertheless, we are making conclusions evidenced in our actions. There is not a moment that goes by where we are not interpreting. In many ways, it is the metaphorical water we swim in.

(This is a very diluted, non-specific view of hermeneutics. Please don’t think this is a blanket statement defining it at all. I am very aware of the immense complexity underlying this conversation.)

I have tried to take notice to how many people interpret the world around them. I come from a placed position, which informs, guides, and directs my hermeneutics. And so do you. The question is whether or not we are aware of it.

In today’s world, we have a host of hermeneutical methods vying for our devotion. Many of them are at odds with each other, of which violence – whether physical or not – is often used to help us make a decision as to where to place our allegiance. This has been called the plurality of our age and while certainly being true, is not necessarily an evil in itself as it is often described. Liberal/conservative, theist/atheist, postmodern/modern/post-postmodern, the list goes on describing polarities of interpretation.

However, it seems to me, that regardless of one’s (either individual or communal) interpretation, underneath much of this is a pervasive hermeneutics of suspicion. This isn’t a new thing or an unexamined thing, but again, many of us have fallen into lives bereft of self-reflection and are unaware of how much we have been interpretively persuaded. Lives that aren’t reflected upon tend to be spastic, disconnected, and atomized all the while being highly individualized. Much of this can be given to our tendencies toward suspicion.

Part of the problem is that excessive doubt prevents us from fully entering into the world, as Susan Felch states. Far too often doubt and suspicion go on unchecked flattening the world around us into an experience that is lacking diversity. Constant questioning and interrogating produce “modes of distance and distrust” leaving our vision muddy rather than clear.

I have seen this time and time again at both the individual level and the communal. Our current cultural mode of existence is nothing if it isn’t highly suspicious. We question everything. And I think this is a good thing. A healthy dose of suspicion is very needed. Questions are a staple of life; if you aren’t asking questions, you might need to ask why that is. Yet, when our suspicion transforms into cynicism we have a problem.

“In our desire to be critical we have simply become cynical.” (Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 136.) Contempt, bitterness, and division are the hallmarks of the cynical life. When our hermeneutics of suspicion jump into a hermeneutics of cynicism, nothing is good enough for us. We stay isolated in our own worlds, disparaging of the rest. In the communal form, this takes on the embodiment of autonomous cliques, cults, and factions separated from the world. Finger pointing, verbal violence, and general destruction become the norm for relating to those around and outside of us.

What I am afraid of – if it’s not too late in some cases – is that our need for deconstruction hasn’t allowed us to move into reconstruction.

Perhaps an antidote to this predicament would be to follow Susan Felch’s hermeneutics of delight. As a method of interpreting the world, it encourages us to ‘look up and around’ and to loosen the ‘constricted pathways of precept and rule'”. Delight is thus something that only comes about through the releasing our wanting to dominate and control.

When we practice the hermeneutics of delight, we will put ourselves into a more honest position as learners, not because we have forsaken all critical doubt but because we have opened ourselves to the mystery and grace of God and made ourselves available to share in, be responsible for, and enjoy the embodied love that creation itself is. – Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 137.

So, delight comes when we begin to see, experience, and live into the interconnectedness of life that only comes through mutuality. Yes, doubt can be there, but only in that is balanced by and rounded off by a seeking after mutual delight. It relishes in relationship and seeks the flourishing of all. Curiosity brings us into contact with others as we seek out the otherness of our world. Wirzba reminds us, “Delight follows from an affirmation of another’s God-given goodness” breaking us from our utilitarian quest to benefit ourselves above all through the powerful using of others and/or creation. As such, we are then inclined and allowed to be joyful in participating with the world around us. We enter into it not as skeptics seeking our own good, but as learners perpetuating further connection and relationship.

What I believe is needed is a turning to a hermeneutics of delight that affirms doubt and suspicion all the while being aware of its propensity for fragmentation. In an ecology of delight, we are pushed to recover the interdependence and interconnectedness of God’s creation. In a world plagued by division and rootlessness, a seeking after delight might be exactly what is needed.

Have you seen suspicion turn into hardened cynicism?

What does interconnectedness and interdependence look like in your context?

What is holding you back from delighting in the world?

I’d love to hear from you.



Education: Freedom or Bondage?

As of Monday, subsidized student loan interest rates have doubled. You can read about it here and here. I’ve often reflected on my own journey through college and seminary (graduate school) and the cost I have accrued. I’ve said it before, but if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have done community college then a state school and then seminary. Not only for the changing tides from Christendom to post-Christendom and the need for an employable skill set outside of the Church, but also for the cost. Private, religious education doesn’t come cheaply.

But besides the financial restraints that come along with education, we must be aware of what sort of character bondage are we falling prey to. Institutions of education, whether public or private, faith-based or not, high school or college, are places of formation. They do not only make impacts on our wallets, but also on our being. They – along with everything else in this life – hand us stories and practices resulting in identities comprised of both character and skill: being and doing. If we aren’t walking through life with eyes and ears attuned to these stories and practices, we will be formed in ways that we are not cognizant of. And not always for the best.

So, in many ways, I wonder how education has either brought freedom or bondage to our lives.

Norman Wirzba brings this to our attention with the following quote. Notice how he ties together our financial costs to our current primary way of identification, namely as consumers. In a world deeply marked by individualistic consumerism, we would do well to ask in what manners education is forming us to become just that: individual consumers. As we perpetuate and participate in consumeristic stories and practices, our identities are subtly, yet profoundly, shaped to the point where consumerism simply oozes out of us. And, as inwardly bent consumers, we are often blinded by prices, efficiency, and ease; the very things which keep us buried beneath “ignorance and incompetence.”

In the end, we must begin to wrestle with the inextricable tie between all areas of life. We fool ourselves when we think our economic decisions (doing) don’t flow directly from our character (being). In a world striving after the proper credentials, we need to be strident in our simultaneous cultivation of our character.

Freedom or bondage?

Though we may produce remarkable communicators (often communicating little of value) or efficient managers (often managing sites that are exhausted or degraded), the fact of the matter is that current education does precious little to develop in us the basic competencies of life – growing and preparing food, raising a family, judging quality, maintaining a home, practicing hospitality, or making a toy – that are vital and indispensable to a healthy and successful life. Because many of our educational agendas are driven by “the career of money,” most basically in the form of corporate funding and in the promotion of the most lucrative (especially to corporations) fields of study, we should not be surprised that the most essential skill graduates must learn is how to write a check or lay down a credit card. Education, rather than leading us to freedom, fosters various forms of bondage as we move further into economic debt (beginning with our educational costs!) owing to our collective ignorance and incompetence.– Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, 134. 

Sabbath and Salvation

I’m currently in Cleveland, Ohio on vacation with my family. My wife grew up out here and so we periodically make the trek to spend time with her family. I’m always amazed at the extended family’s relationship and the culture it has produced. Cousins, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, and grandparents get together over food, swimming, beach trips, new babies, and more food. We shed some tears, laugh beyond control, and live without demanding schedules for a week.

It is very good for my soul.

While here, I’ve been reading Norman Wirzba’s Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight. My wife and I are taking a bit of a sabbatical this summer, as we’ve been engaged in church planting for the past 4 years or so (on our own) and have been actively planting churches for the past 11 years or so in a variety of roles. (I’ll write more on it later, I’m sure.) Anyways, this week in Ohio has been our first week of resting and delighting.

One quote from Wirzba’s book has really stuck out and challenged my imagination. In it he ties together Sabbath and salvation in a way that pushes us beyond the typical post-mortem view of salvation where an escape to a spiritual heaven is the end goal. The quote struck a chord with me due its inherent embodied, incarnational nature.

I know I have tended to work without rest – to the point of extreme weariness and exhaustion. It manifests itself as competition, irritability, angst, and a complete lack of prayer. In many ways, I have been caught up in the industrial/consumeristic rhythm of life: work, work, work and, if you can, rest here and there. The fallacy at the heart of this mentality is that more and more sweat will bring more and more productive results. It stems from a dominance over the world instead of being a creature intertwined within the ecosystem of the world.

It happens all the time, and I see it in many Christian leaders, but the tendency to run ourselves into the ground is generally a lack of understanding that we are creatures. We are embodied things, existing in time and space. As such, we get tired and worn out, yet when we begin to see the manifestations of our weariness it is often too late. Damage has already been done, not only to ourselves, but our families, co-workers, and the rest of those people learning about Jesus primarily through how we actually live our lives.

In many ways, I have allowed myself to fall prey to non-Sabbath being and doing: I have not taken into account the interdependency and interconnectivity of life. I work myself to death and wonder why my children seem to drive me up a wall. I have to mow the lawn today or else I won’t have time to prep for teaching. I have to be “on mission” at my 50 hour a week job, yet I don’t know why I don’t have time for those whom I’m in a discipling community with. Because of this holistic reality of life, I can’t expect to run myself ragged without it taking a toll on all aspects of my life, not just my “ministry” or “family”, as if they were separate realms. In short, I lose the delight of life when I don’t have the rest of life. 

And so Wirzba draws our attention back to this interconnectedness and interdepedence through an understanding that salvation isn’t an escape, but rather a “deep immersion” in our world. Salvation brings a harmony between us and creation, not an escape from it. This is what the Sabbath is about: resting in the delightful created order and its pleasurable existence. What is lost from the original Sabbath is restored in salvation.

So here is Wirzba.

Christ…does not take us out of creation to save us, but rather saves us precisely by enabling us to enter more fully and more harmoniously into it, and then to find in this deep immersion the reality of God.

In what ways have you separated Sabbath and salvation? Are you weary? Are you tired? I’d love to hear.