Martin E. Marty will no longer be publishing Context, and I am sad.

Any tribute to Marty I could give has been given more eloquently by others.  Here’s one take on his contributions to religion and society.  Google him and you will find many more.

Now, let me be clear: he’s not going anywhere: Context is.  The publishers of this little anthology of religious insight, news, and observation have taken a hit in these days of troubled print, and Context is but one of the victims.

To that I can only announce:


I can live in denial until the last issue in December, and that is what I fully intend on doing.

Be not surprised, then, if you will be reading much lifted from those pages in these waning days of the publication.

Marty himself made a business of lifting words from pages of journals and books, sometimes with a whiff of commentary, though oftentimes simply alone.

Today I’m lifting something he lifted from Anne Morrow Lindbergh in the October 15, 1983 issue (he’s doing retrospectives for the final issues, culling the best excerpts from each month of its 40 year history; this one was re-published in the October 2010, Part B issue).

It is only framed in space that beauty blooms.  Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant–and therefore beautiful.  A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky.  A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side.  A candle flowers in the space of night.

Isn’t there stunning truth in that?

Appreciation occurs in context (perhaps one reason Marty dubbed his missive by the same name).

I’m a systematic theologian.  I try to help people think about their theology, about the way that they believe in God and what that looks like on the ground.

It’s a fun vocation, because often times, people know that they have beliefs, but when pressed, they aren’t exactly sure what they are….or why they are…or whether the beliefs are consistent one with one another…or what the implications of those beliefs (that on paper are so simple) are.

A frame, so to speak, for one’s thinkings about God is helpful, because then you can appreciate both what is inside the frame and what is outside of it better.

The danger, of course, when one speaks about theology is the temptation to make your frame out of cast iron.

I think adjustable frames are helpful here.

Some might be fearful of my thinking here, worrying that I’m encouraging relativism and a Lack of Commitment to Incontrovertible Truth.

To them, I say, read your history books.

What was going down in Moses’ day was different than in Jesus’ (and note that even he said, “You have heard it said, but now I say to you…”, i.e., times change, and so do messages) which was different than in Augustine’s day which was different than in Luther’s day which was different than in Kant’s day which was different than in our day (I recognize that I’m skipping a lot of days here).

And what was going down in this Western World trajectory was vastly different than what was going down in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Not to mention in women’s lives vs. men’s.

And so on.

So context, the frame, does influence what one sees, and how one sees it.

But if you don’t have a grounded sense of your own belief perspective it’s hard to put into perspective what you’re looking at, or appreciate the significance of it.

Lindbergh is simply inviting us to appreciate the manifold beauty that is there to behold in our relationships to people, place, and things (and, I’m asserting, God), by considering the focus and the context of what we’re cherishing.

Give OMG a call if you want some help framing your theology, or that of yours and your spouse’s, or of yours and a friend’s.

And as always, feel free to leave a comment or submit a question!