Beatitudes and Woes: On the Power of Simple Ideas

I'm going to talk about a story anthology I've had the good fortune to work on, but I'll get to that in a bit. First I'm going to talk about some bigger ideas (which is what this blog focuses on, after all) and work my way to the new book after a bit.

So let me start out by noting that sometimes innovative ideas are complex and mind-blowing. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are like that--it takes mental work to wrap your head around the way these principles of physics really work...and you can never be fully confident, especially with Quantum Mechanics, that you really do get what's going on.

But there are other ideas that immediately strike everybody--well, almost everybody--as great ideas. Such notions hit people with the feeling, "Why didn't anyone think of that before?"

Such putting meat or cheese between two slices of bread and eating it that way--believe it or not, there was a time nobody did that. In Ancient Rome, for example, you might take a hunk of bread and bite it when you still had a bite of meat in your mouth--but slicing the bread and meat and slapping them together as one product was something people simply did not do.

And think just how much the idea of a sandwich, as simple as it is, has transformed modern life. How many businesses it has built. How many meals it has changed. (To include its stepchild the hamburger. And the cheeseburger.)

A more personal example of this kind of simple idea making a huge difference in life comes from Afghanistan, where I was part of a US Army Civil Affairs Team that funded development projects in Afghan-land. One of the things we brought to rural, unelectrified villages were solar-powered street lamps. During the day sunlight powered up the lamps to provide 3 or 4 hours of light after dark--and such light was hugely popular in rural Afghanistan. The lights were so much superior to the kinds of lamps they had before and therefore transformed the way people lived, allowing them to stay out after dark in a way they'd never been able to do ever before.

Ditto cell phones in the same country and also in rural zones of East Africa where I served. A solar-powered charger and a cell phone allowed unelectrified, unconnected villages to suddenly transform into having immediate communication with the wider world.

I'm not trying to downplay the complex technology involved in building solar panels, mobile phone displays and computer chips, or the radio technology behind the towers cell phones use. But when presented to the user, the idea is simple enough--want to be able to contact people untold distances away for a relatively cheap price? Yeah, everybody could see that was a better way to do things. And everyone who could afford to do so got a cell phone and put it to use.

Likewise, this story collection I've had the good fortune to edit and now publish has that kind of idea contained with it. Or one that certainly strikes me that way.

On nine occasions in a row in Matthew chapter 5 (yes, of the Bible, of the Christian New Testament :) ), Jesus said "blessed are" and then told who the blessed are and why. The merciful. The peacemakers. Etc.

And four times in Luke 6 Jesus said something similar, but opposite. These statements started with "woe to," such as "them who laugh now." Or are rich now. Etc.

The "blessed be" statements are commonly called "beatitudes" by English-speaking Christians (mentioning that in case you didn't know, which might apply especially if your first language isn't English, since I have at least a few readers from all around the world). And the other statements, the negative ones, are of course, "woes."

So here's the idea--what if a group Christian authors wrote a speculative fiction short story that illustrated or was inspired by each of the nine beatitudes and each of the four woes? Wait a minute, wait a minute--Christian authors can use verses of the Bible in Biblical order specifically to inspire a set of short stories? Short stories linked to each verse? Why didn't anyone ever think of that before!

Note I've found out after talking about this book on another site that some other people in fact did think of this idea before--or something very similar. But this notion still isn't too common. And I think it should be.

Jesus illustrated many spiritual principles with stories, a.k.a. parables. Why shouldn't Christian writers of fiction also use stories inspired by Scripture, not as parables per se, but as original, interesting stories, which still work their way around to being about the verse(s) the stories were drawn from?

And why not speculative fiction? Science fiction and fantasy look at the world as it isn't but as we can imagine that it could be. And many parts of the Bible, including especially the beatitudes and woes, talk about the world not as it is now, but as it will be in the future, a time we don't and can't completely know--but which we can speculate about. And we can also use our power of speculation to make points that more down-to-earth fiction would struggle to express. Yeah, speculative fiction is perfect for this.

The lovely cover of the Beatitudes and Woes
Which led me to think: Wow--this should be a regular thing, a common thing. This is such a great idea that Christian writers should be doing it all the time!

Oh, by the way, it wasn't me that came up with this idea. It was a friend and fellow author, C.W. Briar who suggested it. And on a Facebook group a bunch of Christian authors piled in, volunteered, and wrote stories which I edited with the help of my friend Cindy Koepp. And I directed this work into getting a really good cover and all that vital stuff and voila! (After almost 6 months of work, here we are, a new short story anthology is born.)

This post likely (God willing) will be active long after the release of this book, but today, the day of my writing this post, there's going to be a "release party" online on Saturday, July 13th (in honor of the 13 authors), in which we announce the book is ready for the world and give out prizes and such. Search for it on Facebook (Beatitudes and Woes release party) if you're interested. (And I think you should be interested--it will be worth your time for the prizes alone.)

Also of course if you are interested, buy the book--as of this moment the Kindle version is available for pre-order (and as of tomorrow the same link will bring you to the page to buy the book immediately).

But even more than grabbing up for yourself what is (I think) an expression of a powerful and simple idea that is going to amaze and amuse you in so many ways, consider the idea behind the book. Using Bible verses in a row as focal points for a series of stories. That's brilliant, even though it's simple--if you're a Christian writer of fiction, maybe you should consider using the same method yourself!



  1. Sounds awesome, Travis. I bought my copy. :)

    1. Thank you, Tracy! I think you'll be glad you did.


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