Monday, August 27, 2012

The curse of Miss Minnie Applegate: or how to escape jargon-ising our faith.


Gerald occasionally helps me
when I do children's talks at church. 
I've been thinking a lot about jargon lately; Christian jargon, Godly jargon. It’s very useful stuff – when you understand it. The problem is when jargon becomes the base language by which we explain our relationship with God, and our hearer (or reader) cannot understand a thing we say.
I have a facebook page on which I like to explore the topics of children, faith and stories. Every second Monday or so I put up a mini-review of a children’s book that I believe has something to offer these themes. A recent review featured The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson (more famously known for her Bridge to Terabithia) and I subsequently posted a quote from her novel:

"The children's Sunday-school class... was presided over by an ancient Miss Minnie Applegate, who reminded her seven charges every Sunday that she had been 'saved' by Billy Sunday. Who in the hell was Billy Sunday? He sounded like a character from the comics. Billy Sunday meet Brenda Starr. Also, Miss Applegate neglected to say what Billy Sunday had saved her from. A burning building? The path of a speeding locomotive? Or indeed, having been so luckily preserved, what good had her pickling accomplished for either herself or the world?" 


The thing that caught me out about this particular quote was the fact that Miss Minne Applegate was probably very well meaning. She probably loved her Lord (and quite possibly Billy Sunday) but the language she was using distanced, rather than drew, her listeners. As a result the passion she attempted to share was completely obscured. I found myself shaking my head at her, as if I knew better. But do I?

My current writing project has been a series of Bible studies for the niche age group of 10-12 year olds. I’ve been studying, writing and experimenting with ways to best explore the amazing concepts of Psalm 23 and Philippians 2:5-11. So often, with my deadline approaching, I’ve had to catch myself from slipping into jargon and leaning on well used, little explained verses. The curse of Miss Minnie Applegate is out to get me.
Learning to pray and trust God
in difficult times are some of the
themes in my newest novel. 

And the same problem sneaks up on me when I'm crafting a novel, or studying the Bible with first time readers, or preparing children’s talks for my roles at church, or taking my books out to a playgroup and chatting with the mothers I meet. Jargon has become part of my DNA – but I want to shake it off! I want my words to be fresh, relevant and in the language of my hearer. I want the mystery of the gospel to be found in Christ – not in the baffled waffle spouting from my lips or keyboard.
So how can I attempt to keep Miss Minnie in her place?
I think the key lies in my remembering the undeserved gift of salvation.

The fact that Jesus died to save me from my rebellion against God is incredible. The fact that I (yes, little midgetly me) can approach the God Most High with my requests, as his child (child!) is amazing. I need to remember this daily, hourly even, so that when I dig into the Scriptures and seek the clearest way to explain what God has done to those around me (or who will read my words) my excitement and passion for Jesus will be evident. I’ll be driven to use words that transmit meaning, instead of alienation, because more than anything I want my reader to grasp how great and wide and deep the Love of God is (see Ephesians 3:17-19)! 
And if I do need to use one of the large and wonderful words Christian history has given me, may I wrap it up in tender explanation that retains relationship and allows truth to be understood.  

(The material in this post was originally shared as part of a staff devotion for Toongabbie Christian School, August 2012)

Penny Reeve is a children’s author currently living with her family in Western Sydney. This week she hopes to sew another pair of big-boys-undies for her toddler, plant a veggie garden in the old BBQ and share with a group of preschoolers just how far God's love can reach. 

16 comments:

  1. Great post Penny! I know I definitely have to think carefully how I word things in my novel, so as not to sound like I'm spouting forth Christian-ese. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  2. Loved this post, Penny--a great reminder to us all. The older I get, the more and more allergic I seem to become to 'Christian-ese'! Whenever I speak at Probus clubs or such like, it's always a challenge to explain things such as why I write in terms everyone will understand. But it keeps me on my toes!

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    1. I think living on our toes is probably good for us. :)

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  3. So true... I am always trying to be aware of this when writing tracts or talking with non-"inducted" adults. I loved your first series of books and passed them on to a teacher. We need more children's books that are effective. Thanks, Penny.

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    1. Thanks Margaret, both for your comment and your encouragement. :) I'm always on the look-out for children's books I can recommend or purchase for my own children so if you find a good one please share the details!

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  4. I was brought up in a non-Christian family but always interested, I took it upon myself to educate myself about my own faith in my teens. I remember surreptitiously taking all these terms that seemed like jargon on board, nodding my head and putting them on the back-burner to look up later. Then I'd slip them into conversations with my Christian friends, wanting to fit in.
    At one time, my older sister tuned into our Christian radio station in time to hear the hosts talking about reaching out to our 'unsaved' family and friends, and she felt affronted. It's a concern and I'm glad you brought it up.
    Remembering my own experience clearly, I always try to write in terms that the average Joe or Jane would understand.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this Paula. It's interesting that you felt the need to slip jargon into your conversation. :(
      Thanks for your diligent pursuit of grace in your novel writing today.

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  5. Good points and worth all of us remembering when talking to others or writing.

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    1. Thanks Dale. I enjoyed your post from today too. :)

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  6. How very very true, Penny. I feel this way when relating to my neighbours.

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    1. It's so important to be grounded in the wonder of the gospel, isn't it. I think if we remain in that place of thankfulness and praise then our words to anyone will make sense because our enthusiasm is based in the genuine.

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  7. Great post, Penny. Jargon can really alienate people. And who would want that. It is easy to slip into though.

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  8. Oh you speak my mind!! I get so frustrated with Jargon! It's even worse when I catch myself speaking it, too! Aahh!

    Thanks for the humor and good reminder!

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    1. Sometimes it's good to find ourselves in the mirror and realise what we are really doing/saying. It can be humbling - but sometimes that's what we need too. :)
      Thanks for dropping by.

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