Quips, Quotes and ... Some OTHER "Q" Word

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People who know me have become aware that I have love of quotes. Not insurance quotes, but “Quotable Quotes”, to borrow a phrase from Reader’s Digest. I love the pithy little sayings that make me laugh, or cry or—if I can’t avoid it—think.

For instance, Mother Theresa once said, “When I pray, coincidences happen; when I stop, they don’t.” Great line! Most people read it and nod knowingly, seeing the irony therein.

Or, what about Mark Twain saying, “The only reason Christianity doesn’t work is because it’s never been tried.” I’ve gotten more than one laugh—and more than my share of scowls—from using that line. Especially considering that most of the times I’ve used it I was probably preaching at the time!

Then, there are other lines that make me think. “A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep in humility, thankfulness and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride.” So wrote C.S. Lewis.

Or, “I look upon the world as my parish.” —John Wesley

And I could go on and on. I can quote many quotes, and I have notes all over my office of quotes I have written down that I found in something I was reading. And, of course, I have a copy of Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations.

If you aren’t familiar with Bartlett’s, it’s a large volume of quotes from throughout the centuries, organized by author, with a topical index. Want a touching quote about sorrow? Check Bartlett’s. Joy? Humor? Overthrown-governments? Bartlett’s. Want to find something good from Shakespeare or Tolstoy to make you look smart? Bartlett’s.

Sometimes, as I’m preparing a sermon or a lesson and I can’t remember a quote I’ve found on my own, I’ll pull out my handy book of Familiar Quotations. Usually, I’ll find something that fits—including the fact that about the first third of the book is comprised of short bits of Scripture, I will often find a Scripture that goes well with my sermon but I hadn’t thought of it before.

Then, I usually end up reading some of the other quotes around the one I chose. And I find some gems like this, “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent,” Abraham Lincoln, 1854.

Or, “Living? We’ll leave that to the servants,” which was written by Philippe Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (who was most famous for having a name that wouldn’t fit on his football jersey) in 1890.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so flippant. Whatever Philippe Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-Adam wrote there might make a lot more sense if I could read the whole thing (which was, apparently, a work titled “Axe”). But I don’t have access to that work and, therefore, would be foolish to try and expound more on what he said.

I bring all this up because we are a “sound-bite nation” and have become very used to hearing our politicians speak to us in short bites, which are often fed to us in even shorter bites. How can we know what is being said with so little to go on?

The same is, sadly, too true in the church these days. A few years ago I was going to lead an adult class in a study of the book of Galatians so, for the first session, I had us read all the way through the book. I read verse 1, the person to my left read verse 2, and so on until we had read all six chapters. Afterwards, I had people who had been Christians for many, many years come up to me and tell me that was the first time they had ever read all the way through a book of the Bible.

How many of us can quote John 3:16 but don’t know who Jesus was speaking to when he said it? How many of us can list the fruits of spirit the Apostle Paul mentions, but couldn’t tell why he listed them?

This article (which I originally wrote on behalf of the Dumas Ministerial Association), you may have noticed, contains no Scripture. That’s on purpose. We are graciously afforded a finite amount of space in the Moore County News and, as I sat here thinking of various witty things to say, I realized I was reducing Scripture to a quip. Not this time.