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Context

Context. Some rights reserved (CC BY-SA-NC) by LMP+Last week I received an advance review copy of a book of quotes. It’s a fun little book, full of fun little snippets about life, love, adventure, &c., and all taken from the author’s previous works.

A number of the quotes, however, left me wondering about the context. They told one tiny piece, a vignette of a larger story; a snapshot without access to the bigger picture. In some cases, it was enough; in others, I found it wanting.

While I’m aware of the premise of some of the author’s works, I have to admit I’ve not read any of them. Perhaps the full reading would be beneficial, then, prior to reading the book of quotes. I envision that course of action going two ways: firstly, it lead me to finding this book of quotes redundant. Secondly, it may enhance the quote, taking my mind back to the context from which it was drawn.

I suggest we need to be aware of this when we quote anything; especially scripture.

I expect many of us have a few passages of scripture that are our favourites – we can recite them at will, as they have taken root in our memories so completely. They have meaning for us; they have touched us at a deep and profound level. I suspect that whatever the reasons, our appreciation for that passage is not just for that passage, but also for its context: both in our individual lives, and in the context of the scriptures that tell the fuller story.

Imagine, if you will, if someone were to take that passage completely out of context. Let’s presume there is no malicious intent, merely unfamiliarity with the passage and its broader story. The meaning can be misunderstood, applied in new (not always correct) ways, overtly changed.

For example, were Jeremiah 29.11 (For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.) to be read as a promise to an individual, they might feel let down when things aren’t always peachy. However, in the broader context, we celebrate that God’s promise is being given to his people Israel in exile, a message of hope throughout difficulty.

Likewise, John 8.32 (and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.) is not merely good advice against dishonesty, but continuing Jesus’ teachings to new believers that he is The Truth who will liberate them from being slaves to sin.

A cheeky example might be the homemade signs at sporting events, bragging “John 3.16” and referring to a preferred player (does this bother anyone else?!); yet they are missing the context of that message of inclusive grace-filled salvation in the sending of the Son.

The context, clearly, matters. Whether it’s for fun quotes or scripture, the context gives more life and depth to the quote itself. As Christians quoting scripture, we wish to share that good news in ways that might be as meaningful and profound to the listener as they are to us. Yet as we cannot presume that the context will be understood and appreciated, the responsibility to understand and share that context lies with us, as we share the quote.

The bible is full of wonderful quotes; the history of our people have provided beautiful prayers and reflections, and these things inspiring and beautiful messages that mean much to us should be shared. We just need to ensure that our method of delivery is such that our hearers will not be left the same way I was reading that little book of quotes: wanting.

 

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I'm a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I'm passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee. http://everydaychristianityblog.blogspot.ca
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