Voice is a word that pops up a lot in the writing world. Having a strong and identifiable voice is important for writers. When someone tells me that my writing sounds just like me, I take it as a compliment. I want to come across as authentically “me”.
Even so, this whole voice thing gets interesting when you start writing for other people. If I’m writing for a publication or organization, it’s my responsibility to research their audience and write something that reaches their readers. In some sense, I die to myself. My voice hops in the back seat and their voice gets to be the driver.
Does that still make my writing authentic? I have found (in my very limited experience) that as long as I resonate with the voice of who I’m writing for, whatever part of me that connects with their message rises to the top and I let the other layers of myself fall away. It’s one part of me amplified. And I’m okay with that.
BUT. Recently, I worked on an article for a website whose target audience is Christian women. I have written a few reflection pieces for similar websites and felt good about them. Something about this piece though was nagging at me. The message was biblical; that wasn’t the problem. I reread it and reread it. It annoyed me. Why? Then it hit. It was riddled with Christianese.
Every subculture has their own language and jargon, and of course, followers of Jesus are no exception. We have our words and phrases unique to the Christian experience. While there are surely variations of this special lingo depending on Protestant, Catholic, denomination, etc., largely we could lump it all together as Christianese.
Writing, though, should be fresh and imaginative, not falling back on cliches (an entire post of its own) or any kind of “ese.” When I wrote that article, I allowed myself to fall into a trap. After all, I am a Christian and live much of my life in Christian circles. This stuff just pours out of me. It’s easy. Lazy. Writing for a Christian audience in Christianese is the sluggard approach. And I had written a sluggardly piece. When I realized the issue, I read it again shaking my head and because teenage “ese” is currently part of the household culture, my first thought was, Bruh. This is cringe.
So, what does this have to do with Jesus people who aren’t writers? I think much. While it’s understandable that subcultures have their own vernacular, it’s problematic for Christians. Problematic because our group isn’t exclusionary. Or it shouldn’t be. And Christianese can be a barrier. I, of all people, should know.
Allow me an anecdote, circa 2000, pre-Jesus:
I was 28, living in New York City and pursuing an acting career. Independent and feisty, I was full of ambition with a strong vision for what I wanted in life. I had grown up in a liberal home and I had liberal ideas. Marriage was out of the question, and I was never going to have kids. Plus, I was decidedly not into organized religion. I was working at a vegetarian café in the East Village where all the employees had their hands in various New Age…ish teachings; we were all “spiritual”, none “religious”. I was a seeker, but I wasn’t seeking Jesus.
Nevertheless, it was into this very space that God came crashing into my world, bringing me to an understanding of Christ. Radical is a paltry word for how seismic the shifts were.
Three weeks later, I found myself back in my hometown of Boise. A friend who had become a Christian a few years prior had, unbeknownst to me, signed me up for this shindig with her church up in the mountains. Something called a women’s retreat. I had just started going to church with her and had attended a few Sundays, and though I was fully and completely a fish in the sea of God’s Ocean now, I felt completely fresh water to these ocean breed. A women’s retreat sounded scary.
Reluctantly, I made my way up the mountain of culture shock. There was singing and Bible toting and stopping mid conversation to pray for one another. And there was the language. Words and phrases, completely foreign to me, came tumbling out of their mouths as easily as my expletives had only a few weeks earlier. Was there a guidebook to this new culture, or perhaps a glossary? Translator, please?
In God’s grand sense of humor, we were split into discussion groups for the weekend and because I was with my friend who had a nursing infant, I went with her to the nursing mom’s group. Here sat the girl that was never having kids, probably draped in black, surrounded by moms with squirmy babies, some shrouded under homemade cover ups, little toes poking out. A few women had quilted Bible covers. If you’ve just moved from the big city, quilted anything is jarring.
One woman, sensing my shellshock, took me aside and spoke to me as a layman. She shared with me her own Jesus story and her struggle with connecting with women in her early days as a Christian. God bless her. She was the only one who got it. Or at least the only one who took the time to meet me there.
Obviously, after two decades of following Jesus, I have adjusted to the ocean. But I wonder if I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be among the lakes and rivers. Would the girl who headed up the mountain 23 years ago get the article I wrote?
Maybe some of my readers were immersed in the Church from childhood, and it’s hard to understand what it’s like for those coming from the outside; the Christian culture is all you’ve ever known. That’s fair. But still, I think we should try. When I’m writing for a readership not of my own making, I must tell my voice to get in the back. Maybe in order to reach an audience outside of Christ or when visitors walk through our church doors, we need to send Christianese back there, too.
I can be a lazy writer and I can be a lazy Christian.
But I’d like to do better with both.
"Bruh. This is cringe." I hear you, I hear those teenage boys. I appreciate the authenticity and self realization here both for the writer and the Christian. We all need to try and meet our audience where they're at in speech or writing. Looking forward to reading more from you.
Authentic. Inspiring. Convicting. ❤️