I stood next to a couple of coworkers in the ER. We were waiting for a patient to arrive. I was hearing their conversation. (When you are standing two feet apart, it’s hard to call it “eavesdropping.”)
“OTF is off the floor” was the first sentence I heard. I immediately assumed that they were saying that a piece of technology wasn’t available for their use because it was on another floor. As the conversation went on, I discovered that I was sort of right, but mostly wrong.
Some piece of equipment wasn’t available. But it wasn’t the OTF. The sentence meant, “O.T.F is an abbreviation for the phrase ‘Off The Floor’.”
I laughed, though quietly. Remember, we were crowded around the door of a room. When chaplains just start laughing, it’s a little unsettling to everyone else.
I realized how often I fill in the other side of the conversation, the meaning of the text. I ignore the possibility that there is a conversation going on, that what came before may provide the context for what comes after. I can insert myself in a conversation that is neither about me, nor intended for me. I can interrupt teaching that is happening for others. I can jump to implications and applications before I start with understanding.
I talked yesterday about reading scripture as communication. What’s true for my ER misunderstanding is true for how we approach the Bible, I fear. We hear a phrase and think we know what it means. We apply it to others. We apply it to ourselves. And we didn’t take a moment to see whether we should be involved in the conversation.
If it were just a text, just a piece of literature, we might be okay with that approach. But if someone is talking with us, it’s worth asking them what they mean before deciding. And if they weren’t talking to us, it might be nice to know.
And the option of asking is always available. Dangerous, but available.