The title of our blog post today comes from a great quote from Joseph Epstein (the essayist, short-story writer and editor, not the bagel brother) who said: “I believe it was Gayelord Hauser, the nutritionist, who said that ‘you are what you eat’; but if you happen to be an intellectual, you are what you quote.” Amen to that, brother, and pass the bagel! As you all know, I love a good quote. And for three very good reasons. First as David H. Comins said: “People will accept your idea more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.” Second, I also believe that Winston Churchill was right. I wish I was an original thinker and had numerous Ph.D.’s that would enable me to produce incredible insights and tremendous thoughts week after week, but that is definitely not me (as Popeye said, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am”). Hence, I need to listen to Churchill who said: “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.” (I could also have quoted Kipling here: “He wrapped himself in quotations—as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of emperors.” What can I say, I look good in purple!). But third and most importantly, I love a good quote because a good quote has incredible power to communicate vast truth in small amount of space. In short, good quotes irrigate the mind (and hopefully the heart and the will); and, as CS Lewis wisely said, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” Here’s what I think: by unleashing a good quote, you unleash truth so that it can be quickly grasped and held on to for years!
For the next three or so weeks, I would like to give you the gift of quotes. No story, no context, no commentary or sermon, I just want to allow the bare words of the author to speak directly to you. It is not only my hope that these words will be both interesting and insightful, but that a few of them will stimulate some profound thought and, even more than that, that one or two of them will really grip your heart and move you into a whole new direction in life. I am sure not every quote will appeal to you, after all, “Some lines are born quotations, some are made quotations, and some have ‘quotation’ thrust upon them” (Gary Saul Morson); but I hope that some will touch you deeply.
One more word by way of introduction. Instead of quoting from all the people you know I love (for instance, CS Lewis, Scot McKnight, NT Wright, Martin Luther and Bobby Dylan) or from movies that I regularly go to (movies like JoJo Rabbit, The Avengers, The Magnificent Seven and Jaws because you all know, “we’re going to need a bigger boat!”), I want to go outside the box and use quotes from people we don’t often think about or from whom we seldom hear, but people I enjoy and find interesting and perceptive. For instance, today, quotes come from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a Jewish scholar, theologian and philosopher. He was a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York for many, many years and has authored numerous books. I have personally benefited greatly from his two-volume work entitled, The Prophets: An Introduction. In fact, reading the first chapter in that series (“What manner of man is the prophet?”) was an unexpected turning point in my understanding of the role and calling of the prophets in ancient Israel (I know, I don’t get out much). And you have benefited from Heschel, as well, because whenever we do a series on one of the prophets, I feel compelled to quote from Heschel. His words changed me for the good. What more can you say about someone?
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, allow me to introduce to you Rabbi Abraham Heschel through these 14 quotes (I’ve added an asterisk next to quotes from The Prophets):
- “Prayer begins where our power ends.”
- “How embarrassing for man to be the greatest miracle on earth and not to understand it!”
- “Short is the way from need to greed.”
- “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
- “Man is a messenger who forgot the message.”
- “When I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.”
- “Much of what the Bible demands can be comprised in one imperative: Remember!”
- “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”
- “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.”
- “Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”*
- “The prophet is a man who feels fiercely. God has thrust a burden upon his soul, and he is bowed and stunned at man’s fierce greed.”*
- “In speaking, the prophet reveals God. This is the marvel of a prophet’s work: in his words, the invisible God becomes audible. He does not prove or argue. The thought he has to convey is more than language can contain. Divine power bursts in his words. The authority of the prophet is in the Presence his words reveal.”*
- “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.”*
- “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”*
Thanks for reading. Now, go and quote likewise.