Simple, not Simplistic

‘Tis the gift to be simple

My doctoral adviser once told me that it was common practice among theology scholars to have their spouses read whatever book or article they were writing; if the spouse understood it, the scholar complicated sentences and added technical vocabulary until it was adequately incomprehensible to even very intelligent readers outside the field. The rationale behind this rather curious practice: no one in the field would take seriously a scholar whose writing made sense to an outsider. I thought this was a curiously contradictory and self-defeating action in our given field: Christian education. If the whole point of learning and handing that learning on was to foster understanding, it made no sense to confound and confuse readers of any background. My adviser’s response: “Ah, but was that the point for most academics?”

I wonder if those academics back then (and many today) made the grave error of mistaking simple for simplistic. Simple is the revelation of what is essential in a way others can understand. Simplistic is mistaking the incidental for the essential in a way that causes others to misunderstand. Scholarship is about offering the world the gifts of mind and heart, not about avoiding self-revelation while withholding knowledge and understanding. At its best, it should be simple.

It is the gift to be simple, to shine a light on what is essential.

It is the gift to be simple, to foster self-revelation.

It is the gift to be simple, to make of words and actions a world that is all the more mysterious because it is seen clearly.

‘Tis a gift, because no one can be simple without the gift of God’s love and guidance.

May I lead a simple life. May I be a simple soul.

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