Monday, March 29, 2010

P4E.134 A Defense of The Shack

As I said in an earlier post, I recently finished reading William P. Young's The Shack. I know it's not a new book, but I had only peripherally heard about it when it first came out. After reading it, I knew there had to be controversy so I was interested to hear what other people of note had to say about it. I found some reviews, but the one that sticks in my mind is a video of the erstwhile emergent Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, which I've embedded above. I believe that Driscoll highlights many of the criticisms that fundamentalists have voiced. And, I think the spirit in which he critiques the book and the author is also common among them.

I don't want to fall into my own trap here.

I know that what I say from here on could be construed as critical and judgemental. I think both sides of the discussion could claim righteous anger over the misrepresentation of God and Christ. I hope to make some constructive comments here.

In my post, P4E.132 Angry Jesus, I pointed out that Jesus reserved His ire for the Pharisees and Sadducees. I used words like "arrogant," "haughty," "smug," and "mean" to describe the religious leaders of then and now and conjectured that if Jesus were here today, some of today's religious leaders would suffer His anger. Mark Driscoll's scathing review of The Shack is to me a prime example of what I was referring to.

Please understand, The Shack is by no means a classic. It is poorly edited and when you realize that it is Young's first effort it is at the same time unsurprising and inspiring. The Shack was very popular and very controversial for its portrayal of God.

On one hand, Driscoll's church is aptly named Mars Hill, because he seems to put Young and The Shack on trial here. On the other hand, the Greeks at Mars Hill were much more open-minded than Driscoll because they invited Paul to come to explain and discuss his God. I think Driscoll's first directive to his congregation of "if you haven't read it, don't!" is at once, arrogant, haughty, smug and mean. Now, I know some will think me harsh for labelling Driscoll this way. My reply is that "It takes one to know one." In other words, I have also been arrogant, haughty, smug and mean about my "Christianity." This personal experience gives me some insight into how and why people end up this way (and what can be done to stop). Back to the "don't read it" comment, since when does the Church oppose the exploration of spiritual matters? I, for one, am not afraid to let Christianity defend itself in the free marketplace of ideas. Driscoll is condescending to think that the rest of the world can't figure out for themselves what to make of a novel.

Driscoll outlines his criticisms of The Shack in terms of idolatry, goddess worship and modalism (I've also heard the charge of pantheism). The very first and most obvious response is, "It's a novel, not a systematic theology!" But beyond that, would Driscoll and his lot condemn C.S. Lewis as an idolater and animal worshiper because he created Aslan the Lion as a type of Christ for the Chronicles of Narnia? What part of an art form would be admissible? Driscoll acknowledges that God is Spirit and neither male nor female and then mocks Young for daring to portray God as a black woman, a middle-eastern man and an Asian woman. He acknowledges that God is One God in three co-equal persons, a Trinity, and then takes offense that Young would actually write about God as such. If God created the Universe and His glory is revealed by it, how is it wrong to say that He is "in" it? "In" does not mean "is." If I pour my heart and soul into the design of a building, can one say that I am "in" the building? Does that mean the same thing as I "am" the building and the building "is" me? Frankly, God and the Trinity are mysteries. Anyone who claims to understand them is simply lying or deluded.

The amazingly ironic thing is that Driscoll makes Young's point(s) for him. Through his characters, Young lets us know that God is less concerned about rules and expectations and more concerned about relationships. He tells us in no uncertain terms that we should refrain from judging each other and that we are to forgive, unconditionally, just as God does. He warns us about judging God. In essence, I think the thing that appeals to Believers about The Shack is that it gives us an inkling that the God we have wrung out of Scripture is too small. That God, the real God, is a much grander, more robust, more cosmic, more universal, more forgiving, more mysterious, greater God than we have imagined. Certainly much different than the narrow picture of God that Driscoll paints.

Now to Driscoll himself. The amazing thing is that he is not alone. There are thousands of pastors out there like him. I wonder, truly wonder, what happened to him (and those like him) that made him what he has become. I pity him for the tiny corner he has painted himself into. My son described him as having a "cage-fighter" vibe. My wife rightly points out that if you watch and listen, Driscoll sounds and uses gestures like he is mowing people down with a machine gun. I wonder how those in his congregation who raised their hands when he asked who had read The Shack felt when he lambasted them and Young? This man cares nothing for those poor souls who found a loving, caring, careful, gentle-yet-firm, tangible God who cared individually about poor Mack and his missing-presumed-dead little daughter in a book like The Shack. He would rather berate them for being wrong in their thinking and understanding of the Trinity. Is that what we want in our spiritual leadership? I noticed a momentary pause when Driscoll said "Christians are not less than pastors, but Christians are to listen to spiritual leadership..." and that "...we are to honor good leadership." I wondered if at that very moment he had a doubt about how he was presenting the material and whether he was being an example of good spiritual leadership.

I pity Driscoll for it all. I honestly pray for a softening of Driscoll's heart. A yielding to the idea that, if you honestly admit it, the more you search God, the more you realize that you don't know much about Him. I know that some who read this may be fans of Driscoll. I hope you don't take too much offense and I ask you to pray for him as well that he will develop some humility, gentleness, kindness, and open his eyes to a whole other world that lies beyond his horizon.

Peace, Kim

"And I don't know anything about God. I don't mean that in a good way, like when people say that someone is wise because he admits that he doesn't know something. No. Seriously. I just don't know shit about God. Period." Gordon Atkinson- author, former pastor

Friday, March 19, 2010

P4E.133 Men and Their Sons: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... "

Once upon a time, there was a man who had a son. Certainly, the man must have loved the son when he was a child. But, his expectations were high for the boy. And the son tried hard to be loved by the man and gain his approval. Years passed, and as time went by, the man found more and more fault with his son. And the son, sensing the disapproval, moved his heart further and further away from the man. In time, they became so estranged that the man fell out of love with him and no longer considered him a son at all.

Like most men, the son's heart yearned for a father's approval and for a father's praise. But, he would not get it from the man. Perhaps the man's own father did not know how to give or receive praise. Perhaps the man had no role model or perhaps the man simply didn't care about checking his fault finding nature.

Even though the man had rejected his son, he still tried to influence him, to impress his opinions, requirements, and values on the son and to criticize his son's decision making.

For his part, the son put his desire for a father's approval on the back burner and moved forward with his own life. The son made it clear in his actions and words that he would depart from the man's sphere of influence, from his people, his ways and from his values.

The story has two possible endings:

In the first, the man grows old and softens. He loses his arrogance and pride. He knows he will never have the relationship he might have had with his son, but he is glad for what he had and has. He decides to accept the son he has and not insist on the son he always wanted. He stops trying to exert his will on his son. He apologizes to his son, makes peace with himself, and becomes a softer hearted, kinder, gentler, more loving person. Those still left around him benefit from the lessons he learned by the mistakes he made with his son. He is content with what he has.

In the second ending, the man grows old and hardens. He becomes bitter and spiteful. His pride will not allow him to admit his mistakes, let alone sincerely apologize for them. He continues to try to tell the son what to do and expresses his disdain when the son resists his will. The man becomes obsessed with trying to make his son into something he is not. It galls the man that he has no control. He continues to be an angry man and those left around him are worse off for it. He continually strives for what he does not have. Of course, all of this is lost on the man because he is not self-aware enough to realize any of it about himself.

Which ending will the man choose? Will the circle be unbroken?

I confess that this tale is somewhat autobiographical. But, am I the man or the son? Or, am I both? It seems a never ending story, which has the potential to repeat itself many times over if no intervention occurs.

Men and their sons. I do know a few grown men who have good or great relationships with their fathers. But, in general, most men I meet don't have much good to say about the men who brought them into this world. This manifests itself in the holidays that are established to honor mothers and fathers. The freeways are impassable on Mother's Day. On Father's Day you can go just about anywhere you want, unhindered. To quote Bill Cosby, “on Mother’s Day you break your back working to buy some presents… come Father’s Day you say, ‘Dad give me some money, I want to buy you a pack of cigarettes.’ then you smoke half the pack coming home… and it’s not even his brand.”

It is very unusual for a grown son to pursue a relationship with his father. The reality is that the son sets the terms of the relationship, whether he will stay or leave it. If a father wants a relationship with his grown son the he must pursue him. Who knows how or why these relationships break down with such consistency? Maybe it's simply that we are fallen men. Once again, we acknowledge that Christ is the the true panacea for all men's shortcomings. The way that we allow Him to work through our lives is crucial, though. If we use Him as a mallet we will struggle. If we use Him as a salve, as a healing ointment, we will do well.

"There'll be good times again for me and you
But we just can't stay together
Don't you feel it too
Still I'm glad for what we had
And how I once loved you

But, it's too late baby, now it's too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I just can't hide
and I just can't fake it."
Carole King, It's Too Late

Peace, Kim

Friday, March 12, 2010

P4E.132 Angry Jesus

For whom did Christ reserve His ire? Whom did He judge/criticize? The prostitute? The tax collector? The thief? The adulteress? The Muslim? No. Seriously think about it. Who did He direct His disdain towards? The Pharisees and Sadducees seemed to top the list. Why?

In reading Scripture, I believe the main shortcoming of the Pharisees and Sadducees was arrogance. The Sadducees' arrogance was born of wealth and power-by-wealth. At the time of Christ, they held a majority of the seats of Israel's ruling council, called the Sanhedrin. Because of their wealth and power, they were very self-sufficient. They were more political than religious, caring more for man's concerns than God's. The Pharisees' arrogance was born of populism and in promoting and enforcing the oral traditions of Judaism even over the written Law.

What Christ faulted both the Pharisees and Sadducees for was their holding onto the letter of the Law, without caring for the spirit of the Law. These religious leaders were arrogant in that they believed that they, and only they, held the keys to The Truth. They did not care for people, only how their rules were to be applied to the people. Jesus was scathing in his criticism of these religious leaders. If I were to guess, I believe that He would be just as harsh with most of today's religious leaders. There's a haughty arrogance that goes hand in hand with believing that only you (and those who think like you) hold the keys to heavenly eternity. A smugness that goes with knowing that yours is the correct interpretation of Scripture and that there is no other. A meanness that naturally condenses towards those who espouse different views. There seems to be power associated and accumulated with aligning with particular political views and causes (conservative and liberal). I was like them until I got help in realizing what I was doing.

I'm at an age where I am questioning everything, even my own life's paradigm. What do I know, for sure? Do I know anything? I have to say that there is a certain release in letting God be God. Letting Him be the judge of men's hearts. Letting Him have mercy on whom He will have mercy. Letting Him rain and shine on the good and the evil. Getting out of His way and being willing to simply live in the moment. To cherish His ways and to have the goal of being just like His son, Jesus. That is, loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, good, kind, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. This physical existence has its own responsibilities and its own rewards, but it will end. The spiritual existence does as well, but it will never end. I've come to the conclusion that the physical existence is also practice and preparation for the spiritual one. And I'm content.

"God is Spirit, and those that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth."

Your ally in the pursuit of Christlikeness, Kim

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

P4E.131 Into the Wild

"In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter..."
Jon Krakauer, Into The Wild
(Pictured is the very bus in which McCandless' body was found)

I've been on a reading binge lately, partly because I have the time while commuting on the train. Since Christmas, I've read Cormac McCarthy's The Road , Peter Scazzero's The Emotionally Healthy Church, William Young's The Shack, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild and I'm currently reading Lawrence Solomon's The Deniers .

All of these books have moved me. After reading, I really try to evaluate how and why a book affects me the way it does. Having just finished Into the Wild, I'm still processing how deeply and in what ways it moved me. One of the things I take away from Krakauer's thought-provoking piece is the value of non-judgement.

Krakauer spends a good part of the book writing about how people criticized Chris McCandless for what he did and what happened to him. Krakauer reports that people characterized McCandless as "mentally disturbed," "foolish," "a nut," "purposefully ill-prepared," "a kook," and "simply one more dreamy half-cocked greenhorn who went into the country expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found only mosquitos and a lonely death." After reading the book, I don't think that is how Krakauer ultimately judged McCandless, and it isn't how I do either.

One point that Krakauer makes, that is not lost on me, is that as adults we forget what it was like to be an invincible 24 year old youth. By extension, I have either forgotten or have never known what it is like to be a little boy, unemployed, a woman, a union worker, divorced, a politician, a wife, 24 yrs old, pregnant, poor, Caucasian, a socialist, rich, black, illiterate, an anti-capitalist, uneducated, influential, powerless, etc., etc.

I have let on as though I have empathy for others, but in reality I have given it little thought. Certainly, I've heard the encouragement not to judge another until I've walked a mile in his moccasins, but what does this really mean? I have friends whose son has undergone transgender surgeries. I have little idea how the gravity of that would affect me.

It embarrasses me to say it, but in the past I have many times commented on other people's physical appearance. I may still do it without thinking. To me, this is the worst sort of arrogance and prejudice. Really, what right have I (of all people) to comment on anyone else's physical appearance?

It is, frankly, not easy to withhold judgement. If it were, I don't think it would be a so highly regarded character trait. I'm really a bigot at heart. I hold my own values, judgements, motives, ideas, and ideals very dear. If you have others, I'm suspect. I'm ready to argue, question, interrogate, examine, hold under a microscope, vet, inspect, parse and otherwise tear you and your strange ways apart.

As a Believer, I know that Christ was the ultimate empath. He gave up His position as deity to become like us. He did walk in mile in our moccasins. He said that He did not come to judge, but to save.

I still come back to the idea of "what's in it for me?" What motive would I have to give up my own values to allow someone else to exert theirs over me? What motive did Christ have for giving up His deity to become like us? Why did He exclaim on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?" No judgement. No condemnation. Just taking the sins of the world onto Himself. Only mercy and forgiveness. What was in it for Him? Certainly I am not God or even "a god." I have no power to save and yet I am asked in my Belief system to follow Him. To become like Him. Then again, am I to show The Way by not judging or condemning? By extending mercy and forgiveness? What would be the good of dying to myself? What if there is no physical reward for non-judgement or non-condemnation? What if the rebirth is spiritual and has no return in the physical world? Does the lingering "what's in it for me" question defeat the whole purpose of dying to oneself? Is the physical world simply a practice/testing ground for the spiritual world? Is that why CS Lewis referred to this world as a Shadow-Land?

Finally, if this present physical life is all preparation for eternity, what part does my marriage play in the practice/testing? If there is one person, as a husband , that I should withhold judgement and condemnation from, that I should extend mercy and forgiveness towards, that I should die to myself for, that I should love like Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for, who would that person be? Questions...

Peace, Kim