Tear off the nonsense of jackets and cuffs,
color the starched breasts like camouflaged armor,
crank the handle of the table knife,
and we’ll all be, if even for a day, Spaniards.
from “SO THIS IS HOW I TURNED INTO A DOG” by Vladimir Mayakovsky (translated by Alex Cigale)
I have no idea what the context is for these lines.
No idea what kind of work
“So This Is How I Turned Into a Dog” might be.
No idea who Vladimir Mayakovsky is, or how well Alex Cigale translates his words.
And I have a feeling if I did know, it would spoil it.
A happy discovery.
It’s so drilled into our evangelical, analytical mind that context is everything when it comes to biblical studies. You must cross the contextualizing bridge into the setting of whatever biblical text you are examining.
What is the context?
A text without its context becomes a pretext.
Without their context, words can be taken to mean/prove anything.
Context is king!
These are legitmate questions and concerns, to be sure – and the extent to which we can actually answer them with any kind of certainty can be very illuminating.
But when a friend sent me a link to a site called Bibliomancy with an “oracle” to press for random literary quotes to address whatever questions or life issues you hold before you at the moment, I was reminded of how overblown the whole context thing can be – and how at best its our starting point not our destination. (“Bibliomancy” aka Bible roulette meets great literature.)
The first click of the “oracle” elicited the “DOG” quote, and within minutes I was looking at a prayer request for whom that quote, I suspected (and evidently was correct) would be filled with meaning in my response.
No context was necessary.
No word studies were required.
The power is in the words, and they were speaking in their own right directly to a life situation and the heart wrapped up in it.
I was reminded of the way New Testament authors use Scripture, of how Jesus used Scripture. So often we’re scratching our heads because from what we can tell about the original context, that statement in that context has nothing to do with that use of it. But, with a shrug of the shoulders we give them a pass because, after all, they were inspired – as we fail to consider that just maybe their inspired use of that text is trying to teach us something about how to use texts in the first place, and that by chaining text and meaning to literal boxes of our contextual rules we are led instead to the
doldrums of an impotent hermeneutic where words hang like windless, sagging sails.
And while this may sound like throwing caution to the wind, it seems more like allowing living words to breathe life anew, creatively, divinely, into this moment, this time, this place…
As they were meant to all along.