I have always wanted to express my thoughts simply, and for them to be simple as well.

For example, I’d like to be able to write like this, from the prophet Micah:

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

I believe this is true. I think whatever the Lord might be, all It or He requires of us is to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. So why can’t I just say it? If I want to — and I look within my heart and I can report back that I do want to.

Part of my bashfulness I think is the worry that if there are simple things to be thought, other people will already have thought them. So it is lacking in humility to say them. It’s like saying ‘remember you will die! Make the most of life!” There is something arrogant in saying that to my neighbor. He or she knows that. And if she wants to think about, she is free to. It’s not my job to tell her what to think.

Justice and mercy are intertwined and hard to get a handle on. These words (what the Lord requires) have a tradition and not a great one. People have used these ideas and the book they are from to conquer Peru and Mexico and put children in Asia and Africa in missionary schools. My simple ideas may be alien and unwanted to other people and it may violate justice to speak them. Mercy is some sort of tenderness towards another person’s vulnerability, an unwillingness to force, or cause pain. Maybe simple words even if they are waking someone up to something she could think about but isn’t ready to, or at least not yet, feel less than merciful.

I feel that bashfulness calls me to express myself in a joke, or a dialogue, or a story that doesn’t lend its meaning on its sleeve. I’m much more likely to tell a story about a puppet who realizes he is a puppet and isn’t sure how to treat his puppeteer, one which let’s the reader co-operate and participate in telling the story, than I am to let the Lord ventriloquize me, and use me or my conception of It or Him, to tell my neighbors what is required of them.

I’d like to express myself simply.

Although sometimes I wonder whether if I’m worried that simple is too simple, if that means that my simplicity will have to be a little complicated. Because there are two sides at least to me, the side that wants to say all the Lord requires, and the part that wants to say — it’s a little more complicated. Is there a Lord? If there is a Lord do I know what He requires? Is He the sort of thing that requires things? Is the Lord of the first sentence the same as the God of the last one? And if there are two sides to me, then the simplest thing is to acknowledge that complexity. Because pretending to be simple is much more devious than just acknowledging my own lack of simplicity.

I always know when I sit down to write these things that the simple dichotomies — in this case simple vs complex — are going to slip through my fingers, and I will be left playing a game where the one morphs into the other.

And I promise I’m not pretending to do that in order to seem more interesting — it’s honestly how it seems.

But who am I promising this to?

Not you!

Me, I guess.


4 thoughts on “Simplicity

  1. Jay David Murphy says:

    There is nothing more simple to understand than the glee in the laughter of a child and more difficult to discern when the laughter is generated by the waves crashing against the hull of a boat casting about in a Typhoon in the ocean.

  2. How we write depends on our goal. If the goal is only to communicate, then as Einstein said, our writing should be “as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    On the other hand, if the goal is to provoke readers to think and reach their own conclusions, a little obscurity can be a good thing: many Biblical stories are that way. A third goal is to make people laugh, and you obviously know how to do that. A fourth goal is to get tenure, which leads to the obscurity of most philosophical writing. I had to read some of Wilfrid Sellars’s work in grad school, and he made Hegel seem lucid by comparison. He’s even got an entry in the Philosophical Lexicon:

    “Wilfrid, adj. Said of a theory one presumes to be true but finds incomprehensible; ‘You physicists all seem to agree, but it’s wilfrid to me.’ ‘I’m sorry, your Holiness, but every time you explain the Trinity to me it goes all wilfrid in my mind.'”


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