Speaking plain

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by Kelly Pontsler, Major –

Window treatments. Do you remember when we just called them curtains? What is it about human nature that causes us to drift constantly towards loftier descriptions of ordinary things?

I was watching one of those cake-making competitions on television last night. Apparently it is no longer enough to be a cake decorator. We are in the age of culinary artists!

Now, please, don’t start flinging the frosting! Decorating a cake is no easy feat. It requires enormous skill, an eye for design and color, knowledge of textures and materials, and abundant patience!

A decorated cake is the centerpiece of so many major events in our culture, and my appreciation for those who can produce them well is huge! But let’s be honest. It is still about frosting and cake.

Title drift is a puzzling thing to me. So are acronyms, you know, creating titles out of the first letters of words (e.g. divisional headquarters is now DHQ). The abundance of these little shortcuts is not limited to The Salvation Army. When did we stop using whole words?

In and of themselves, acronyms are neither good nor bad. They expedite conversations and written communication. But like title drift, if we’re not careful, we can exclude people from conversations by a simple lack of understanding. If you know the code—you’re in. If you can’t catch on—you’re out. And in my experience and observation, few of us take the time often enough to be sure that everyone understands.

As I rolled over in bed this morning, I caught a few minutes of a news report about radio communications within the emergency services (fire, police, etc.) in one community. They have given up using code numbers and special call signs to describe situations and issue instructions. They’ve gone to speaking plain, ordinary, everyday English. And it has improved their service.

Perhaps that is what Jesus was suggesting when he said, “Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no’” (Matthew 5:37, MSG). For us as Christians, there is a temptation to use lofty language and “church words” to make our point. Perhaps it’s ego. Perhaps we’re just always in a hurry. But if the people who need to hear the gospel message can’t understand it…what’s the point?

Maybe it’s time for a new campaign for speaking plain? Who knows, it just might improve our service. In the meantime, I’m still going to call them curtains!

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