Sunday, September 06, 2009

Fluff, Flowers and Plain Language

Marcia Laycock is a pastor's wife, the mother of three daughters, care-giver of two Golden Retrievers and a six-toed cat. She learned Tok Pisin while working with the Summer Institute of Linguistics in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Visit her website -

Pidgin languages are fascinating. Usually a combination of languages put together so a wide group of people can communicate, they are spoken in many countries across the world.

Tok Pisin, (literally, Talk Pidgin), spoken in Papua New Guinea, is a good example. In a country of over 800 languages, it was created for trade and basic communication. I found it a quick language to learn because many of its words have roots in English.

Its simplicity was at once inspiring and frustrating. Frustrating when I wanted to communicate at a deeper level, yet profoundly moving at times, in its plain expression of truth. We learned simple songs, for instance, that were sung regularly in the church we attended. They were not deeply theological yet they spoke to a deep place in my heart. “Bipo mi ai pas, nau ai bilong mi op. Jesus opim ai bilong mi.” Before my eyes were closed but now my eyes are open. Jesus opened my eyes.

We’ve all heard about the anagram, K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple stupid. Some great writers have promoted this advice, notably Mark Twain who is quoted as saying: “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.”

Too often we try to be expressive and articulate, when what is needed is simplicity and plain language, language that comes not with the eloquence of man but with the power of God. The Apostle Paul knew the truth of this when he said to the Greeks – “I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God” (1 Corinthians 2:1).

Then he gives his motivation – “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2).

And he gave the reason – “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power” (1Cor 2:5).

Paul knew that he needed to get rid of his own arrogance and pride and tendencies to prove himself. He needed to step out of the way so God could communicate through him.

It is the plain simple truth of the Gospel that is at the root of all story, for all story is, in one way or another, a testimony about God. Trying to wrap it in our own eloquence only blurs the picture. The "fluff, flowers and verbosity" get in the way. Perhaps we should all, like Paul, step aside and let plain words speak, not to our own glory, but to God’s.