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.
It Takes Grit to Write Novels
For years, I’ve watched a ton of high-ability students underachieve in my science classes. They aspire to go to Ivy League colleges, become six-figure wage earners, and park their fancy cars inside fancy garages attached to fancy homes. And yet they don’t have the wherewithal to sit down and memorize ten facts that would yield an A on a test. Yes, I know education is not about teaching to a test, and yes, I know that rote memorization is a “no-no,” but let’s face it. Without that skill, most of us would have never graduated college.
Memorization is not the easiest thing. You have to work at it, sometimes repeating the same fact over and over a hundred times until you know it. That takes grit–essentially the gumption to not give up, keep working hard, and push until you win the prize.
The same issue strikes would-be authors as they try to muddle their way through a novel. I’ve seen so many people give up on a story after a few bad critiques. Or, they’ve self-published drivel rather than revising tirelessly to make their book great.
I love this TED talk from Angela Duckworth, defining the concept of grit. Every time I et discouraged, I listen again. It inspires me to remember that if I work hard–really hard–at improving my craft, I will be published one day.
She makes the point that:
there is really no domain of expertise where the world class performers have put in fewer than ten years of consistent, deliberate practice to get where they are.
Well, I’ve been writing on and off for about six years, so I guess that means I’ve got four more to go before I’ll reap the benefits of my efforts.
What that tells me is to keep at it. Keep trying, keep working hard, keep pushing past rejection to make myself better.
Aspiring authors, are you with me? Push up your sleeves and get some grit. Read educational books, join critique groups, and keep writing. We’ll get there 🙂
Writing Perspective: Is My Poor Your Rich?
Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is a slave of the lender.
I learned an important lesson today about perspective and poverty from a conversation with a student about random things–wrestlers he wanted to see in person, Halloween, his dreams, the future. Mid-conversation, he glanced down at the table where I was working.
“Teachers always say they’re poor,” he tells me. “But you’re sitting there with a laptop, a cell phone, and an iPad. I’ve never owned any of those things.”
My heart stopped. Tears welled in my eyes, and I could tell that he knew he’d gotten to me. What could I say to that?
I finally explained to him that most teachers consider themselves poor not because of how much money they make or the worth of their belongings, but because of how much debt we have to pay off from our education. How most of us never have that much extra money in the bank because we delve it all out to bills. He seemed to understand, especially when I said that sometimes it’s better to have nothing than to owe more than you have.
Sometimes we Christians love to whine about our deficiencies, and to plead poverty when we misuse what God has given us. Other times, we work as hard as we can to make our way in a debt-driven society, but fail because of circumstance. Regardless of how we find ourselves in financial holes, they bring many of us to despair.
Worrying about money and stressing over how to stay out of financial holes is a great temptation for me.
One reason I try so hard to seek publishing is the chance to pay off my student loans and live debt free so I can spend more of my money serving Him. This would be a game changer, giving me extra income to just write a check when there’s need. And trust me, working in a low-income school system, I could write thousands of checks every week and it still wouldn’t be enough.
The conversation also made me think harder about how I depict poverty and wealth in my writing. Am I in danger of alienating readers because I only consider wealth from my own perspective? Do I describe an “impoverished” home that some would be blessed to dwell in? Do I write about meager meals that would be a feast to some?
Or, for that matter, because I only consider many things from my perspective? Health? Success? Luxury? Definitely food for thought!
I spent a couple of hours tonight on a Facebook party supporting debut author Nadine Brandes with the launch of her new release, A Time to Die, first in a series of three published by the newly-branded Enclave Publishing. It was incredibly cool, and a great time. She had video interviews, giveaways, great discussion, and it was interesting to connect with other writers and fans.
One of the activities we did centered on the premise of the book–what if you knew exactly how much time you had to live? How might you live differently? I would evangelize more. Although, I fear that knowing a date and time would just lead me to do as I sometimes do in other facets of my life–wait until the last minute and make a good run at it.
I’ve heard people, both in the church and out, throw around the “life is a vapor” and “no one knows when He’s coming” verses like candy, but they live their lives as if they don’t believe them. And they don’t share their faith as if they don’t believe anyone else is lost. So I’ve been thinking a lot tonight about evangelism and procrastination.
The Bible makes it really simple.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all.
Matthew 28:19-20 Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We whine all the time about how our churches are losing members and people are losing their faith in God’s existence. But I think it’s time we face a bitter truth–we aren’t doing our jobs!
Think about it. How many employers would be content giving us a task that we ignore day-by-day? God has given us a charge–to go into the world and make disciples. And if we aren’t actively working on talking to people about God each day, we’re ignoring that task. The message is simple. God exists. He loves you. He sent his Son to die for you. Obey him and receive eternal salvation. Why is that so hard to share?
And we ignore this task for what? Sports? Work? Entertainment? Fear?
Have we made these things our all, when the Bible clearly tells us that keeping God’s commandments should be our all?
One reason I want to write Christian fiction is because it gives me a tool to share my faith. Even if someone never reads my work, I can tell them about my books and it opens the door to a conversation about God. But I should do so much more.
How do you fit evangelism into your daily lives?
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