What "End of Platitudes" Means

Platitude: A remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.

- The Oxford English Dictionary

            I chose the title, “End of Platitudes,” for my blog, because it gives me a fair amount of room to maneuver, and I like that. There are a lot of things I want to write about, and I’m not looking for a pigeonhole. But perhaps more importantly, I like the fact that this title does a good job of describing what writing is about in the first place—an attempt to get below the surface, to shed a layer of skin, and find out what is really going on with this confounding species of ours. The Oxford Dictionary describes a platitude as something that is worn out, that is “used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.” Like an old battery, it was useful at one point, but now it’s only function is to leak acid and ruin your clothes. But there’s something else at work in Platitude Land, and I think this definition from Wikipedia gets us there. Here a platitude is, “a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease.” This definition recognizes not only what a platitude is but what it’s used for. It is like a blanket or a band-aide, used as a means for protection against a difficult topic or situation. Don’t want to confront grief, just say, “Time heals all wounds,” give ‘em a pat on the back, and walk away. That’s a platitude. Not only is it useless and meaningless, it’s a defense mechanism.

            The purpose here, on the other hand, is to remove the sticky bandage, often with a quick tug and a rip. This, again, really gets at the very essence of the work. The job of the writer—whether it is fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.—is to reject the conventional wisdom, the platitude. We might get at it in different ways, and we might not have any idea how those in the other genres make anything out of their strange craft. Ultimately, though, we’re all the same sort of people, the ones who are looking at the thing everyone seems to be ignoring and saying, “But I can see it; an entire limb is sticking out from under there. Come on, we all know something’s going on here.” We are like bad dinner guests, who eat raw carrot sticks the whole time with our mouths open and say things like, “It kind of sounds like you hate your job,” or, “Things getting a little rocky in the marriage lately?” It is uncomfortable, of course. But it’s also honest, and deep down I’m sure we’re all getting sick of the platitudes. Sometimes, they make all of us want to puke.

            The other reason I chose this name for my blog is because I want to write about faith, and church, and Jesus and this is a good angle of approach. To be clear, for a long time, I didn’t want to write about those things, or at least I wasn’t ready. Writing about faith and the church, especially with the desire to challenge preconceived ideas and turn over the proverbial tables does not lead to a pleasant place. After all, you don’t have to look very hard on the internet to find blistering criticisms of people like . . . oh, I don’t know . . . Mother Theresa! Yes, Mother Theresa is the subject of intense ridicule by many who claim to follow Jesus. The same is true for C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen. Oh, shoot, just about anyone who has said or done anything even remotely interesting or challenging in regard to their faith finds a hoard of detractors in the American Church.

            But I’m a writer and a Christian, and I can’t seem to escape the fact that this business is probably why I’m here. And the cost is the cost. People will get mad at me. Some people might even hate me. Worse things happen in the world every day, and Jesus promised his disciples as much, so we might as well get on with it. This is my group of people, and we are a people who need to have our platitudes taken away from us. In church, we use platitudes to hold up the roof, but it’s not up to code, and at some point, the whole thing is going to come crashing down. It is. In some places it already has. Wisdom says that it’s time to tear it apart and rebuild before someone gets hurt (of course, lots of people have already been hurt, but let’s not make it worse). It’s not a message people like to hear, but when we see the cracks forming in the drywall, when we see the whole thing starting to lean to one side, what are you going to do? Well, I know what I’m going to do.