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.