Generous Interpretation

In our Bible Study on Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, you get a window into Paul’s pastoral heart – and it’s filled with joy, generosity, and yearning for the well-being of the people of Philippi.  In fact, it stands in stark contrast to the opinion so many people have of Paul.  Paul gets accused of much, and I’m one of those people who has done it.  Much of our accusations are based on a very small picture of his character: big ego, manipulative, high-level circular rhetoric… confusing as can be.  We are grossly unfair to him.  He didn’t know we would be reading these letters.  He wasn’t writing them to us for sure, and yet we are prepared to judge him based on a view of a few poorly transcribed handwritten letters from 2,000 years ago. 

I am guilty as charged.  And yet… I feel very drawn to Paul.  I am an easily frustrated person who is bad at hiding my frustration.  I spent much of my early years “playing from behind” in sports and academics, it has created in me a natural defensiveness that is often harmful. I easily fall into hyper-critical mode and can be more than a jerk, and more than a little intellectually condescending.  I also make intuitive leaps and regularly must remind myself, “let them tell me their truth – don’t assume it on their behalf or pretend you know better.” And I’m rightly judged on those faults often enough to feel some kinship with quick assessments of Paul’s character. 

However, I’m more than those faults.  I am good at assessing data and making jumps and correlations that others don’t always see – taking disparate building blocks and turning them into something never intended.  I move from slow methodical planning to quick agile responsiveness with some ease.  I have a gift for putting into words another person’s feelings or experience in ways they are grateful for – the place this comes up the most is in memorial services.  Failed humility moment: I’m good at them. Because I am good at hearing the story of a person beneath the stories that get told and giving that larger story voice.  And these traits are all ALSO true… alongside my jerkiness… my quick leaps to critical opinions… and my defensiveness.

We are more than our worst moments, and we are less than our best.  We are a convoluted mess of gifts and challenges.  All of us are – no matter how enlightened one may appear to be.  It is easy to worship a person who you never drew close enough to be annoyed by… it’s also easy to demonize them.  Because unless we get close enough – we will never learn the all. 

We did some work as a staff with Brené Brown’s BRAVING acronym at the end of last year and one insight has stuck with me.  It’s the G which stands for generosity – but maybe not how you think.  “Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”

Those are words I’m writing on my heart… and my doorpost and I commend them to you as well. We are a mess (in so many ways), we deserve to give ourselves and each other the most generous read possible. 

About Andrew Kukla

I am the proud father of four wonderful children, loving husband to Caroline, brother to three mostly wonderful sisters, and son of two parents that gifted me with a foundation of love and freedom. I also am a Presbyterian pastor and former philosophy major with a love of too many words (written with many grammatical errors and parenthetic thoughts), Soren Kierkegaard, and reflections on living a life of discipleship that is open to all the challenges, ups and downs, brokenness and grace, of a chaotic and wonderful life founded upon the love of God for all of creation.

Posted on January 19, 2022, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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