Platitudes in Christian Fiction?
Sometimes when reading Scripture, I come across words that make me curious about their origin, and then, once I find their initial meaning, I try to understand how I can relate it to life and writing. Take “platitude,” for example. A platitude is some kind of statement that usually has a moral or religious intent, but it’s been used so often it’s become boring or trite.
I didn’t dig too deep this time (wrapping up soccer!), but Google’s dictionary told me it originated in France, from the word plat, meaning flat, and it’s usage peaked somewhere around the mid 1920’s. In today’s society where people get paid to babble about whatever they choose on blogs and national TV, maybe it should make a comeback.
I came across the word in Job 13, where Job is talking to his critics. After questioning them and asking them if it will be well for them when God searches them out, he says this:
Your proverbs are platitudes of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.
Trite, flat, boring, and overused. Hollow, empty words.
To the modern world, many Biblical themes might be considered platitudes. Though we, as Christians, all know that God’s message is timeless and those moral statements are treasures, those outside of the faith might consider them old-fashioned and trite.
Still, I believe wholeheartedly that God’s moral wisdom belongs in our stories, and his themes should be resounded over and over. At the same time, there are certain themes that become our pet issues and we often beat them into the ground to the point that they become rote. How can we continue relaying the same simple truths time and time again without making them seem like platitudes to the secular world?
I think the answer, both in writing and in life, lies within relationships and attitudes. All the time, I hear people complain that they try to talk to someone about their faith and “they just won’t listen.” This just makes me wonder how the message is being given.
I’m not saying I think we need to sugar coat God’s truth, but I do think the delivery needs to come from compelling characters that people want to read or be around. In life, are we that person, serving others and forging friendships to open doors for conversations about faith? Or, are we that pushy, “my way or the highway” person, who forces the conversation whenever possible, as if it’s the only reason we have to talk to a particular person. In writing, do we interject our message to the point that it feels contrived, rather than the natural flow of the story? Do we throw a Christian message into the plot just to call it inspirational fiction?
I’ve learned this from teaching–the same general fact can be delivered to a class of students. From one perspective/attitude, they dismiss it. From another, they embrace it. And the perspective they embrace ends up being the one that requires the most effort, the one that makes it the most meaningful to them.
So, there you have it. We’ve come back to grit, which seems to be my favorite theme these days. It takes a little more effort to be that person who cultivates relationships so Biblical truths will be more palatable, as they are coming from a friend. It takes more effort to write characters who show their faith rather than just dropping it into a dialogue.
And for an extra bang for your buck, especially if you are interested in melodic trances, meet “Platitude,” mixed by Onova (otherwise known as Christian Lejon), released back in 2007.
Be the Rainbow
Atrocity. Despair. Devastation.
It’s easy to be overcome by the evil in the world. News of tragedy often assaults us from every angle these days, since many of us have multiple devices to bring it to our attention.
I was sitting in Bible class this past Sunday morning and we were discussing contentment, specifically the true context and meaning of the word in Scripture. One thing we considered was how Biblical contentment doesn’t mean just pushing the sin others under the rug and being happy to ignore their lost status as long as their actions do not directly affect us. It also doesn’t mean ignoring atrocities and pretending they don’t happen.
At the same time, contentment is a clear expectation for Christians. How can we balance contentment with our need to stand against the injustices in this world?
I’ve thought about this long and hard over the past few hours, and I keep going back to I Timothy 6:7:
For godliness with contentment is great gain
The preceding verses amaze me:
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself
Are we not sometimes obsessed with disputes and arguments over words? Check your newsfeed, people. Envy, strife, evil suspiscions, evil wranglings? It’s all there. And the Bible doesn’t say follow it and read it every single day to keep up with the mayhem. It says “From such withdraw yourself.”
Like some of the other verses I’ve posted about lately, this particular passage is related to being a bondservant. The charge prior to these verses is given that slaves should honor their believing masters for the benefit of both the believer and the slave. This most definitely would require a humble, serving heart, and contentment with the position the slave has been put in.
I don’t think this passage is telling us we should be content being a slave, but rather that if we find ourselves in a position where we are slave to something or someone, we should still seek contentment. It goes along with Philippians 2:14, that we should do all things without disputing or complaining. It is possible to work to change your position without coming across like a malcontent.
More and more, I am coming to see James 2:20 in a different light. Instead of thinking of it as faith without works being dead, I’m thinking in terms of calling ourselves Christians without being active servants is meaningless. Christ was a servant. If we aren’t servants, we are not like Christ, and how can we say we have true faith Christians if that is the case?
These days, though, it gets harder and harder to serve. People are unappreciative, or your service is unwanted. They are sometimes curt and hateful when they refuse what we’ve intended as an expression of our compassion. And then we lose sight of our contentment because we get so caught up in how the world’s treating us. And let’s face it. Sometimes we’re just pushy and ugly when we can’t convince people to see things our way.
Maya Angelou gave this simple advice.
Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
A rainbow can be distant, out of reach. Many want to hold Christians at arm’s length–God forbid we share our faith and cause them to reflect on changes that need to be made in their own lives.
But distant doesn’t mean we can’t still share our faith.
A rainbow is a beacon of hope, something people pause to admire. What if we try to make our outpouring of faith beautiful, something to be desired? Selfless–it’s not about how people respond to our service, but rather the joy we get in doing it. If one person doesn’t respond to it well, we move on to the next one.
What if this joy became something the world could look upon and perhaps someday try to understand how they can find the peace we carry in our hearts? What if we determine to be positive and prayerful, no matter our circumstance?
Can we be that one person in the office who doesn’t laugh at someone while they’re down? The one person who prays over our food at the lunch table? Perhaps we can be the one person who sends a forgiving smile to the driver who cuts us off accidentally on the interstate.
Can we be a beacon of positivity that points the way to Christ?
The Anxious Writer
Weather forecasts like the one for today always make me nervous. I want to just cuddle up with my family in a cave somewhere and hide until it’s over. Twice in my life, I’ve driven in tornadic storms, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that fear. Fear is something I carry with me a lot in my life, and something I need to let go of.
Fear has two meanings–anxiety and respect. It’s healthy to want to take cover in impending weather. But the anxiety… that’s something I really struggle with, both as a person and as a writer.
Joshua 1:9 is constantly on my mind:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong, and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Part of my struggle with this verse is that fear is such a physical response for me. If I have to speak in front of a crowd, butterflies fill my stomach regardless of how much I pray. If I have to drive home in a bad thunderstorm, I tremble. If I think my children are in danger, my heart pounds. Looking over a high point, my knees knock. But I think perhaps those fears come from the respect for the possibility of a dangerous or unpleasant outcome.
With writing, though, it’s another ball game. Complete and utter anxiety. What if I spend months writing and polishing this book and no one wants to read it? What if it’s not good enough? What if I finish and sell the first book of my trilogy and stall out on book two? What if teens don’t relate to my characters or plot? What if people do read it and they hate it? What if people think I’m weird for writing Christian fiction? What if my characters come across too weak? What if I inadvertently misrepresent God’s truth?
Charles Spurgeon says this of anxiety:
Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.
So true, and such hard advice to follow. And from a writer’s standpoint, our anxiety does not put words on a page, but only distracts us from writing brilliance.
Right now, my proposal is out there, in the hands of a couple of people who may hand me my dream or tell me now is not the time, and I’m anxious. But my brilliant editor gave me a fantastic pep talk this weekend, reminding me that I’m writing for Him, and He’s read the whole thing. Which makes me wonder–why do I not have anxiety over that?
I saw a Facebook meme earlier this week that asked why we worry so much about what others think and not enough what God thinks.
My prayer for today is that my words will please Him and further His truth.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and redeemer.
A Soul’s Journey–Frozen Fractals All Around
I can’t get this line out of my head:
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.
Not only is it adorable to hear little girls everywhere singing their hearts out about fractals, but I thought it might be a great concept to describe the character arc of a Christian fiction progatonist through a fractal.
Factoring in this thought was something I’d just read in Krista McGee’s Anomaly, which is one of the better books I’ve read lately. In it, the main character is a musician, and she plays out her emotions and thoughts in her songs. If it works for a song, why wouldn’t it work for a mathematical pattern?
This idea isn’t completely original. I’ve tried several different methods to organize plot, including Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I really like his method, although sometimes it’s a little too linear for me. So today, as I was trying to reorganize the plot of Cocooned, the second book in my trilogy, I did a web search and found the picture at the top of my post. I imagined my four characters, each moving on their own fractal path, with the protagonist and antagonist facing off at the end of the story, just like the two bigger fractals in the picture seem to be facing off. I can see my whole plot in that picture.
I tried to imagine the white and blue spaces as safe moments for the character, that build as the color intensifies. They walk through these situations, in and out of the paths of other characters, spiraling into the climax of their own. There would be some things to draw them away from their main, spiraling path. I loved the symmetry of it, and the pacing/timing seems perfect for the twists and turns I’d like to place in the story. It fit so perfeclty. How cool is that?
If I ever end up publishing Cocooned, I’ll share it someday 🙂
Anyone else have any cool fractal pics?
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