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Friday, March 20, 2009

Where's Your Shack?

I'm baaaaaaaack! I just needed a little hiatus there for a bit and now I'm back wanting to hear from you on all sorts of things.

I recently read (on my iPod) the popular fiction entitled, The Shack, by William Paul Young. The reason I read it was because I saw all these people in the airport and on airplanes reading it and I thought I might have an interesting conversation about it if I had actually read it. I didn't expect to like it...

But I did! I was also reading the book of Job at the same time and so I like to say that the story line is really "Job meets the Triune God"! A man suffers a terrible tragedy and then finds himself going to the place where the tragedy occurred: a shack. In many respects the season of Lent is about going to our shack, wherever that is that is hardest for us to believe in the living God.

At the shack, he has an encounter with God that doesn't meet his expectations about just who God is and how God relates to humanity. Finally God says to him, "This weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes!" There couldn't be better advice about what will help us relate to God differently than to let go of our "religious stereotypes" at time. Isn't that the story of Easter morning? There's nothing in John 20 with Mary Magdalene encountering the living Christ that was reinforcing her religious stereotypes!

However, I know that the way in which God is revealed to the man at the shack is disturbing to some. I found it rather refreshing! I have always believed that our images of God are what draw us closer or farther away. How can we know God's love if the image of God that we have is less than loving to us?

I also find myself adopting a few phrases from the book. I like the way God is forever saying, "I'm especially fond of you" or whoever God is talking about at the time. Remniscent of "you are my beloved child," this phrase reminds us that God is especially fond of us...and everyone else for that matter! (Honestly, it becomes a catchy phrase!)

The images of life after death or heaven--whatever that was with rainbow like auras--didn't do so much for me but I think we're all challenged to think about what life beyond this life is...for the purpose of living this life. The man in the story had to confront his relationships with others who had already died so that he could truly live. It's a story of transformation.

Not bad theology overall but like "Jesus movies" that pop up every now and again, when we read or see our images of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit a little differently, it makes us think...and rethink just who God is in our lives. Not a bad thing...

So, have you read the book? WDYT?


Pastor Justin said...

I haven't read it yet, but my mother is sending a copy with my wife when she gets back from working up north on Tuesday. So I will be reading it soon.

My mother and grandmother both read it and have had great conversations over it. Which also should point to something since they are two people I thought might react negatively to the way God is portrayed differently in the book in terms of images.

Pastor Justin Halbersma
Chatfield UMC

Robin @ Heart of Wisdom said...

I love the Shack. It pains me to read the negative reviews -- some are actually outright lying about the contents. I wrote a review on my blog

There is a new book out "Finding God in The Shack" in response to the negative reviews. You can read 1st chap free

Roger Parks said...

Bev and I have read the book and are leading a two part review of the book at Alex UMC--first session was last night with 23 people coming--some from community to review this book.
I believe it does lead to some good discussion about images of God, about how we handle moments of great sadness.
One person observed that in the scene where the main character goes to the Shack and meets God there--God is serving him. Maybe it is about God serving us--serving us with unconditional love and not about our serving God with rules.
While there are those that take issue with the book, I think there are some great images of grace and acceptance -- I think the idea of going back to the places of deepest sorry to meet the sadness and confront it are worth the whole book.

Roger Parks

Pastor Justin said...


I think that is a great observation about "God Serving Us" and I think it is important to ask the question why? By my estimation that is an important step in transformation because it models to us how to be like God. In receiving we learn to then give like God has given to us.

It is exciting to see how some churches are using The Shack as a discussion starter.

Pastor Justin Halbersma
Chatfield UMC

Pastor Holly said...

The Shack is the only book I've read once then immediately read again because I was so taken with it. I wanted to savor it and frankly, I didn't want it to end because the act of reading it helped me connect with God--a compassionate yet challenging God.

I've had discussions with people who don't like the universal salvation concept in the book. I've also had some people be taken aback by the depiction of the Triune God, but for the most part the people in my church who have read it enjoyed it a lot.

We read it in our Women's Book Club at church.

David said...

With the Bishop, I initially read the book thinking I would not like it. After two clergy friends, people whose theological perspective differs considerably, recommended it, I decided I needed to read it. I also got an interfaith book group I lead to read it with me (that was interesting - and it received mixed reviews there, a Jewish participant did not like it much and other opinions varied). I enjoyed the book. While it is not great literature stylistically (as my book group noted), I appreciate the way it invites us to think creatively about God, especially about a God who cares in the midst of our deepest suffering. I was invited to be part of another book group that meets at my church when they discussed the book, and appreciated their discussion. In the middle of that something about the book struck me - many people carry around with them a pretty negative image of God - harsh, judgmental, ready to pounce on our every misstep - and this book allows people to think about God very differently, even playfully. For that we can be grateful.

Arthur said...

The Shack is now newly translated in Swedish. I attended a winter conference for 400+ clergy during which time a publishing house hyped the book as an essential read and resource for people to talk about their faith. I secured a copy in English and read it.
At the same time I was reading another book by Dr. John Lerma titled, Into the Light, with the subtitle, real life stories about angelic visits. Very interesting.
Both books were fascinating in their own way, and both books gave witness to forgiveness as an essential and unchanging attribute of God's love. They further shared the conviction that to forgive oneself and others is an essential precondition for fully receiving what God is offering. Both books gave me some things that I struggled to accept. However, my sense was that both books communicated a hope that God was present and active in our lives far beyond what we might expect or imagine.
While people may react to the Shack for any number of reasons including that of a God who is much more playful and tender than what many might think, it may well be that the thing that is making the deepest impact on people is the sense of God being fully present with us in even our darkest moments. Who doesn't need to believe that he or she is never alone?
In some ways I wish that both books were a more restrained in their theological conclusions, bordering on being preachy, but I felt warmed by them just the same. My rational mind might like to connect the dots theologically and sort things out accurately, but maybe it is enough to invite the mystery to fill me because the most essential part of faith, for me anyway, is to know God's presence with me.

Art Keith
International Church of Lund

Jan said...

A diverse group of 8 women met at my home to discuss The Shack. Their comments fairly spilled out with reaction, new awarenesses, laughter, tears, quotes written in notebooks . . . it was a wonderful evening with some 'out of the box' thinking, some stretching of images of God, and some "ahs" of realization of the liberation of forgiveness and the dearness of God's being especially fond of each of us. Powerful personal stories were shared, testimonies shared in which God's grace and forgiveness have changed lives.

Jan Redman
First UMC, Redwood Falls

Laura Seleen said...

I read the book around Christmas time, and I did enjoy it very much. At Richville Methodist Church, we had a "shack" discussion every Sunday for 4 weeks, which is being repeated now. Almost everyone I know that has read the book, has shared it with someone else.
Personally it helped me understand the trinity, which has always been "goggy" to me. It also reinforced the need to have a relationship with Christ, and not focus so much on the "religion".
Laura Seleen

Gretchen Fogo said...

I read this book quite by "accident" and found it very engaging. I thought the aspects of the Trinity would be great spring boards for deepening insight into this often-difficult concept is a study-group setting. One friend from church commented on how the book made her feel like a friend of Jesus. I also appreciated the part where God is challenging the man about how many of his comments and observations are really a reflection of his judgmentalism.
I recognized myself and others as that conversation continued - well, that's my judgmentalism right there!

revhipchick said...

We are currently reading The Shack as a book study in our church. We meet down at the coffee shop in our small town. It's been great because the conversation usually involves others who are not in the group but who have read the book; they just jump right into our conversation.

I have been pleasantly suprised. I did not expect to like it but I am thoroughly enjoying it.

mary said...

I have read The Shack three times; the second and third times were to lead discussion groups. For the second reading, I wrote all the questions (and answers) addressed in the book. This last time, the group found scripture references that aligned with what was being explained to Mack. (What was supposed to be a 4-week discussion took 7 weeks!)

I am delighted that so many pastors have read The Shack. The plain-talking (even simplistic) syle could be appealing to someone who is "non-churchy" and this book, I feel, could be especially enlightening/meaningful for anyone who has been hurt by the church.

I have purchased at least 12 copies over the past couple of years. One I sent to a friend who is serving a life sentence in prison. It made a profound impact on him. The strong message of the importance of forgiveness really hit home with him, and I think it helped him make a successful attempt to reconcile with his father.

Needless to say, I was delighted to hear about your endorsement, Bishop Dick.

A Parishioner
Hope UMC, Duluth

Pastor Nancy said...

I enjoyed the Shack. I loved the blending of personalities of the Trinity. The sense of humor and the hope and peace in one's soul that comes from forgiving.

The other book "Finding God in the Shack" I felt was not very helpful, since I would have preferred more of a Study book.

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