If you’ve checked out any of Hoboken Grace’s events, you’ve most likely seen titles like “Mission Imbocceball” and “Game of Throws” in the Facebook event descriptions, followed by even more wordplay. Why use puns to invite people? And how did this all start? The Writing Team recently sat down with Anna, the creative mind behind the event puns, to ask those questions and more.
How did you start writing the event posts for Hoboken Grace?
Whenever I’ve thrown a big party, the sweetest part is the potpourri of people — school friends, coworkers, family, neighbors and strangers — all having fun together. “The more the merrier” is straight truth! I’d always get excited to send an event invitation, but never imagined that simple pleasure could be useful in the real world, let alone a way to serve God and others.
A few years ago, before I was interested in knowing God, I was going through what I now call my “quarter-life crisis.” Far from where and who I wanted to be, unemployed and feeling utterly worthless, I felt convinced everything in life was meaningless. Desperately seeking to understand the core of who I was and what an authentic life would even look like, I came across The Purpose Driven Life. This soul-changing book guided me to pursue some sort of “creative communications,” despite my finance background. Meanwhile, I didn’t know this search for “myself” was actually leading me to God.
I’ll never forget the bittersweet feeling in my heart when I first became a believer. I was awestruck with the love and joy that comes with understanding God’s amazing grace. But that was coupled with an angst of realizing how rarely Jesus’ message is communicated in a way that inspires people to want to know Him. This juxtaposition of emotion happened almost within the same moment. I was a prodigal daughter ready to celebrate and instantly longed to invite everyone. I had been so lost, but now wanted to share what I found. With an open invitation to the dopest party in town, I wanted to share the good news with friends, even ones I’d yet to meet. People ought to know Jesus isn’t a buzzkill — He’s the host and literal life of the party!
It just so happened the Communications Team needed an assistant right around the same time I stumbled into Hoboken Grace. And the rest is history!
How did all the puns come about? Was it always your intention to incorporate them into the events, or did it just sort of happen?
It was not my original intention, but it evolved quickly from a few things.
First, coming from a traditional, liturgical-style church where I’d be side-kicked for grinning in the pew, I’d never experienced how fun getting to know Christians could be. I think a lot of young people feel the same. While attending my first Hoboken Grace event, I was shocked to see churchgoers at a bar drinking a beer (or what Grandma calls “the devil’s juice”). I never thought my normal could possibly be their normal, too. Finally, these were people who realized life doesn’t always have to be so serious!
I used to wonder if God ever laughed. But back then my humor came in the form of flippancy and riffing on friends. Much later I realized how that only creates distance and hurt. So perhaps when you take a passion for playfulness, without a joke being at the expense of others, you’re left with fun alliteration, metaphors, similes and puns — after all, a pun is always its own reword!
Second, I’m usually more attentive and interested when situations are seasoned with a little lightheartedness. Humor draws people in, creates a shared experience and inspires joyful responses. A mutual smile really is the best medicine; I love how a little laughter can be disarming, contagious and communal. If giggling at a silly phrase on the latest meme can help me feel connected to something and improve my day just a little, maybe Hoboken Grace events can have a similar effect. A small invitation to a “Sunset Social” happy hour that says “Don’t let life kick you where the sun don’t shine” can paint that familiar image and offer up some fun as a “ray of hope” to someone’s week, while hopefully adding a little comic relief to this crazy cocktail called life. And I love animals but killing multiple birds with one pun is fun.
How do you come up with so many puns? Do you have some sort of process, or do they just come to you?
If I told you I’d have to kill you…
Actually, when someone submits an event idea I start with a short, unfiltered brain spew. I type out relevant thoughts or words, pop culture references or concepts associated with the topic as they come to mind. Then I try to string the diverse pieces together into something that makes sense (my approach to most of life). And there you have it, you can now take over.
I might also have a strange advantage. Growing up, I had difficulty focusing and reading. It was discouraging to need a class called Hooked on Phonics because I had trouble sounding out and interpreting words within correct contexts. Mike Myers said it best: I kept putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong Syl-LAH-ble. I blamed it on ADD and the assumption I must be a slow-acclimating Chinese baby adopted by American parents in a British colony. But later I realized, if Philadelphia, New York and Boston can’t even agree on how to pronounce “water,” then language is simply whatever communicates an idea effectively. In writing, as opposed to speech, accenting words is a conscious choice. And so a love for linguistics and affection for wordplay grew. Now I laugh at how God used this to write my story. My past struggles were the perfect setup. And now the irony in how these events turned out is a funny, unexpected punchline — and those are the best kind!
Do you have a favorite pun that you’ve come up with over the years? Or a favorite event post?
Hmm, that’s a tough one…
I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast, but don’t ever forget when someone mentions an event description was enough to make them or a friend want to go — those inevitably are my favorites. But the first one I was proud of was a football event around the time of Deflategate: “We’re pumped up for this event! Hopefully the footballs are too…” On social media, when it’s possible to relate to something trending and relevant to more people, that’s gold. It’s also a fun challenge finding common threads between what’s seemingly different — like combining an HBO show with Ultimate Frisbee in Game of Throws, and bringing new types of people together.
A few fan faves:
Derby Day Soiree – “If you’re in the neeeigh-borhood you mustang out with us! So run an invite pasture friends and rein ’em in to stirrup the fun.” (Fun events like this basically write themselves.) Also, BBQ 101: Who let the dogs out?, Meat & Greet,SciChella, Hair of the Dog, TGIF the 13th, Shake it till you Make it, Movies Under the Star Wars, The Lady Brunch, Bring the Light, MUG LIFE.
This is obviously an unconventional way to serve at church. What has the role taught you about serving and using your gifts?
I’m pretty blown away by how this small niche within the church can have such a huge personal significance and potential for impact. I’m always thankful that a unique need fit a really weird skill set.
Words are a gift and hold incredible power. They can make or break, love or hate, open or harden a heart. During that “quarter-life crisis” when I was most depressed and lonely, my mom would send me Hallmark cards with motivational words that transformed my mind. God spoke creation into life, and in a similar way, our words can create anything we want – belonging, joy, hope, meaning, love. That’s why we’ve all been called to find our voice and use that gift for the encouragement and inclusion of others. You don’t have to be a scholar to share your faith. A few creative words in a friendly invitation is all you need.
I love how Jesus constantly invited everyone He encountered to just check things out and experience something new. Hoboken Grace events are an opportunity to do exactly that. The events are an invitation with the same message over and over — “All are welcome. There’s fun to be had. Come and see!” The puns simply season in a little more flavor and life. Repetition is boring, but there’s joy in discovering countless ways to express that same idea within fresh contexts, helping people to know how welcome they are no matter when or where an event takes place.
I can’t attend every event, but I don’t need to because Hoboken Grace is a community that shares the same vision, and spirit. Our hope is that these events help build an ever-expanding kingdom of friendships, while also adding a little more meaning to life — in more ways than one (fun intended)!
“Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!” 1 John 1:3-4 MSG
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