Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ally

Come fall with me
Into the messiness
Into the human disease

Pry my hands when I can’t let go
Hold my hands when the going is slow
Remind me when I don’t believe
Listen when I’m full of discrepancy
Push me when I’m paralyzed
Celebrate when dreams are realized
Intercede when I’m in captivity
Receive me when I’m in my poverty
Forgive me when I disappoint
Chastise when I think you’re my source

And let me pry and speak and hold and keep for you
in the messiness
where we become

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Out of the Boat

How eagerly I jump out
Full of faith devout
Yet when my feet hit the sea
Doubt provokes my panicked plea

How quickly confidence fades
Inviting all these waves
So suddenly you shrink
Eclipsed by my uncertainty

How promptly I fall asleep
When the watch I need keep
Prayer vows are so easy to break
When my desires are at stake

How hastily I lop off ears
When to me your plan is not clear
I create a bloody mess
Instead of entering your rest

How swiftly I flee in fear
I deny you when they sneer
Refuse to call you my friend
Though I swore fealty to the end

How exhausted you must be
With this fickle fool that is me
I can’t seem to hit it half the time
But that work is not mine

How patiently you repeat
You invite to feed your sheep
From broken vessels made of clay
You build your Church for your display

So I believe that you’re not done
That the work of the Son
Is alive so I will see
All you’ve made me to be

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thoughts on The Shack

I’ve said before that I don’t like hype. But when it comes to a book with a lot of buzz, I usually can’t help myself. I gotta know why. So, I just read The Shack. And now I know why. More than anything, this book is a book about God. Most of the dialogue is an explanation of the ways of God straight out of the mouth of the characters that represent God. That’s gonna make people uncomfortable—especially when God is represented by a large African-American woman and a small Asian woman. There is no mistaking that William P. Young, the author, wanted readers to reconsider their notions of God and the Church and the Human Soul.

I waited to read the criticism of the book until after I read it so that I could form my own opinions. As I read, I suspected what others might have problems with. But I guess what bothers me about the criticism is the same thing that bothered me about criticism of Harry Potter and criticism of The DaVinci Code, and that is the admonition to stay away lest you be infected. Mark Driscoll said, “If you haven’t read The Shack, don’t!” They treat it as evil and dangerous, and warn that if you go near it, you will be harmed because you are too stupid to think for yourself, so we must tell you what to think. Why don’t we teach Christians to think for themselves, to engage literature and art, to affirm what is good and dismiss what is not? Let’s learn to discern rightly and to trust the Spirit of truth that dwells within, instead of reacting with fear and arrogance.

Personally, I appreciated the ways that this book challenged my thinking. I didn’t agree with everything, but it made me think, to consider whether some of my preconceived notions of God are based on Scriptural truth or based on man-made paradigms. And it did contribute to my understanding of a personal but transcendent God. One review I read lumped the book in with emerging church theology, which challenges modern paradigms. It asks why do we think this, why do we do this, and is this an accurate understanding of Scripture. I like that. But, recognizing that Satan’s first deception was to ask, “Did God really say that…?” I think we have to be careful then to recognize where our ultimate determination of truth is coming from. Moderns put confidence in the rational mind; post-moderns put confidence in subjective experience. Which is right? Here, Young is challenging the rational paradigm that many are stuck in. But I think we all have to submit our understanding of truth to God, trust that the Spirit and the Word work in harmony to reveal truth, recognize that that work can occur through both experience and rational thought, and remember that we are jars of clay. At the end of the book, Young writes in the voice of the narrator, “Do I think that it’s true? I want all of it to be true… I guess you and Sarayu [the Holy Spirit] will have to figure that one out.” So, I guess with that in mind, I would like to see criticisms of the book from a more humble stance, acknowledging what stories and art do, they make us think and ask questions. Should we fear that?

But honestly, I found very little in the way of theology that I had a problem with. Young shows us one man’s journey of healing with God as they tackle the barriers keeping him from relationship with God: his erroneous views of God, his unforgiveness, his setting himself up as judge of God and others, his ideas about God’s role in pain and suffering, his self-condemnation, his position in Christ, his sense of entitlement, his view of rules and expectations. It seemed to me to be an allegory of the way that God works in our hearts to bring about transformation. In fact, as I read, some of the passages seemed to be straight out of my journals as God has been teaching me on my own journey of healing and transformation.

From what I understand, Young himself experienced a similar journey, and I imagine much of the dialogue comes out of his own experiences with God once he decided to face what was in the shack. His own shack was his metaphorical place where he stuffed all his pain, shame, and guilt after suffering sexual abuse by the New Guinea tribe his parents were missionaries to, after grieving the loss of loved ones who died too young, and after cheating on his wife. I imagine that the legalistic, wrathful god of his understanding was not the God who met him there. He must’ve encountered a God of love and healing. That is how he portrays God in The Shack.

But a cursory reading or skimming of the book would certainly upset your theology. As I was reading, red flags went up on several occasions as I glimpsed hints of universalism, but as I read on, I saw that the Scriptural truth I believe was just being presented in a new way. He seemed to be trying to undo the legalistic, religious, condemning, wrath-bent perception of God that pervades today. Instead, he shows a God who loves beyond measure and pursues people as far as necessary to bring them into relationship. Absent is an exhaustive explanation of hell or judgment. Yet there’s enough of the gospel to keep it out of Oprah’s book club. I think this book touches those who haven’t been able to tap God’s love and grace, or haven’t been able to understand God’s desire for a personal relationship because of their focus on rules, systems, self-righteousness, institutions, guilt, or judgment. I was there. I get it. I’ve been to the shack. And for that reason, I loved this book. … oh, and because it was set in Oregon, land that I love.