My oldest daughter recently started writing an informational essay about George Washington as a fifth grade class project. She takes her studies very seriously, so she diligently researched and then pieced together the information she thought was relevant. Proudly, she said, “Dad, come look at my essay!” and turned the computer screen toward me.
I read the first two paragraphs and then asked, “Hey girl, what does ‘implicitly’ mean?” She gave it her best shot and although she was incredibly close to the correct definition, it was clear that this word had not been generated by her thoughts. This was a product of a cut-and-paste function. Uh-oh, plagiarism… how do I handle this?
Brianna didn’t have any experience with plagiarism in the past and she wasn’t trying to do anything wrong, so now it was up to super-dad to explain what plagiarism was. I said, “Brianna, you can’t cut-and-paste someone else’s words into your essay and claim them as your own. You have to use your own words.” She thought for a minute and said, “But our teacher said we could get our information off of the internet.”
“Yes,” I replied, “you can get your information off of the internet, but you have to write the paper in your own words.” She thought a little longer. “So I have to use their words and their information, but then I have to write it as if it’s my own?”
“Shoot…” I thought. “That doesn’t sound right either!” I needed to clarify. “Well, girl… uh, unless you quote them, then you need to put their words in quotation marks and cite your sources.” She thought some more. This time her eyebrows indicated significantly more mental grinding.
“So I have to put their words and their information into my words unless I used their words exactly, then I have to use quotation marks so that people know that those words are their words?”
Then I reached that point as a father, where the answer in my head did not match the answer I gave her. I said, “Yes.” What I thought was, “Whatever… close enough.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could plagiarize the Gospels? It would be great if we could simply read the Bible and live it as stated. We could take what’s there, cut-and-paste into our lives and “boom” done. That’s not how it works though.
We could read the entire book of John and find that just one small part of it speaks to our hearts. Then we take that small part, apply it to our lives and watch how God writes those words uniquely into our lives. They’re His words, but our story. Time and time again they become a transforming part of our narrative.
The uniqueness of the way this works is inherent to each of us individually. It’s never verbatim. It’s never a word-for-word copy. It’s diverse and beautiful. Sometimes those words write a story of adventure. Other times it’s stories of sacrifice and passion, but the stories are always inspiring.
We have one Gospel, but many new and exciting stories blooming from it. It’s worth stepping back and seeing beauty of the story God is writing in your life and others.
Pastor Travis Montgomery