Monday, June 29, 2009

The Scoop on The Shack

Heads up all you Christian readers. It’s time to talk about The Shack. Who’s read it? Who hasn’t?

An Unusual Assignment
I am the girl at the party wearing last season’s cute shoes because I finally got around to buying them after everyone else bought and ditched them and moved on to the next fashion wave two months ago. What that means for today’s post is that I’ve chosen The Shack to round out this month’s "Here's a Christian title you should be aware of because . . . " topic. It’s the book everybody’s talking about—granted for over a year now. Why is this an unusual assignment? Well, I haven’t read it (yet). Hard to discuss a book you’ve not read, right? Probably, but here goes.

So Why Then…?
First I got a very convincing recommendation months ago from a good friend whose recommendations I trust. Of course, I never got around to it. But last week I was in a class where a well-respected pastor brought it up and suggested we read it (with a disclaimer to read it carefully).

I chose The Shack because true to the topic, we as Christians should be aware of it, whether fan or foe.

The Disclaimer
The Shack may not be for everyone. This blog post is not meant to be an endorsement of the book; I’m simply following this month’s theme in the strictest sense and suggesting that we all should be aware of The Shack and prepared to dialogue about it. I despise controversy for controversy’s sake, but without blindly jumping on any bandwagons, I do believe we need to be aware of the world around us. The Shack is not a new book, and many of our ninetyandnine readers have already brought up both praise and concern about the book.

Since I have not yet read it, I can’t add my opinion here. What I’ve been told is that personification is used that could be interpreted as disrespectful. I have been warned to take the personification in its simplest terms as a device to help us better understand the intricacies of something more complex. In addition, the book is written by a Trinitarian author. Go into the book knowing that but look beyond that to gain value from other aspects.

The Scoop
So what’s the big deal about this book? As of today, the paperback tops the NYT bestseller list. According to an article from Friday in a local Ohio paper, The Shack has reigned on the list for 49 straight weeks and has sold 7 million copies in 14 languages. That can’t be ignored.

People keep describing it as “life-changing.” The book’s home page has a quote from the father of a Columbine victim endorsing it for just that reason. The scoop is that the author employs a third-person narrative to bring a fictional presentation of God to readers that is praised as being amazingly intimate. Many people have claimed the intensely personal writing has brought them peace with unresolved issues and life questions.

In Summary
Well, I just ordered it to find out for myself. By the way, if you order through Amazon by way of ninetyandnine, we get a portion of the sale. So for all your summer reading needs, remember to help out your friendly Apostolic ezine.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Surprising Revelation

At some point last year, my devotions ground into dust. I felt like I tried everything (different translations, complementary books, etc). Nothing worked. First time in my life it'd happened like that.

Then, for a freelance project, I started doing research using William Hendriksen's amazingly even-handed New Testament Commentary series (Baker) on Matthew. Upon my dad's recommendation, I'd used them in the past, but suddenly the depth and breadth (he's unafraid to offer competing theories/insights that he might not agree with before he clearly states his preference) spoke to me.

I immediately began using that as my daily reading, highlighting the historical and spiritual insights throughout. My devotions blazed alive. My Sunday school lesson got stronger. Sharing Christ got easier.

Yes, Hendriksen comes from a Dutch Reformed background, but there are only the usual differences we always face (and understand). There's no spiritual subterfuge here to confuse. (He died before completing the New Testament, so Simon J. Kistemaker finished the series for him. There doesn't appear to be many differences in their approach.)

Yes, commentaries are expensive, but used copies abound on the internet. Besides, if you like new hardbacks, ask for 1-2 every birthday and Christmas for your library. It doesn't take long.

For you non-Bible Scholars, this series (I've dabbled in difference gospels and pastorals, danced through every chapter of Romans) is accessible, clear, and teachable. He created it for pastors and teachers (and people whose devotions pancaked against the proverbial wall).

For you Bible Scholars, I'm sure you have your preferences, but don't overlook this series. It compiles a lot of information from knowledgeable sources in clean English. I'm guessing that's still the exception to the rule.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Appendix A: Toibin, Munro, Flannery

  • If you’re writing fiction today, you’re likely to find Colm Toibin’s first few answers (especially) very helpful.
  • A fascinating review of the first full-length bio of Flannery O’Conner (by Joseph O’Neill, the highly regarded author of Netherland, the winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Best Books Are the Ones You Give Away

Our Word theme of the month is "Here's a Christian title you should be aware of because . . . "

I shall end that sentence with this: Because the best books are the ones you give away.

To Own a Dragon
I desperately hope none of the Word readers currently suffer from Don Miller fatigue syndrome due to my posts. But as any faithful readers know, I went through a period of devouring anything Don Miller-penned that I could get my hands on post-reading Blue Like Jazz. I happened across a book of his called To Own a Dragon: Reflections of Growing Up Without a Father.

The fact that his foreword warned that it was from a "crude" male perspective didn't deter me. Neither did the fact that I didn't grow up fatherless make me think twice about diving completely into it. It's a memoir of sorts written with his trademark mixture of humor and pathos about exactly what the subtitle of the book says, growing up without a father. He talks about how the lack of a father in his life contributed to difficulties he had with maturing, self-esteem, relating to the opposite sex, authority, and in his relationship with God. He describes his journey and ends with the revelation he had about God being his Father, even though he never had a relationship with his earthly one.

Reading the book not only made me thankful for growing up with a dad and having a great relationship with him, but also gave me a taste of what people who lacked a father figure in their lives experience.

Why I gave it away
A friend of mine was relating some of his experiences to me about the strained relationship he had with his father who was absent for most of his childhood. He then began telling me about a documentary about elephants he had seen which made him reflect on the feelings of aggression and frustration he often felt and he realized it came from his lack of a father figure. The elephant analogy rang familiar, and I realized he was citing the exact same thing Don Miller does in his book. (Click here to read about the elephant documentary and The Mentoring Project his book inspired him to start.) I knew that he had to read it, and I gave it to him the next time I saw him.

In the end, my friend told me that the book brought him to tears and put into words many things he felt as a result of life with an absent father. He said that it explained a lot of things to him and helped him realize that, like Don, the feelings he had towards his father were transferring over into the feelings he had towards God. Reading the book changed his outlook, and he was grateful.

I put my name on all of my books before I lend them out. As a bibliophile, I'm actually sort of protective of them. But what was an interesting, entertaining read for me was an emotional, outlook-changing read for my friend. I gave it away.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Here's a Christian Title You Should Be Aware of Because...

This should be easy, but it it is NOT!!! Still, I have managed to narrow it down to 3 books which should be new to most people, but I think are phenomenal!

The first is...The Lost Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules
by Carolyn Custis James.

This book opens with the question: Is God good for women? It's a question I think any reasonable female has to ask if the Bible is read and considered at all. I first saw this book at a conference. It was a promotional copy they were using to entice buyers into ordering from a catalog. There were no copies for sale. I am not a person who remembers to order from catalogs. Plus, I felt inexorably drawn to the book and I wanted it in hand before I left. Therefore, I took that lone promotional copy up to the checkout place, laid the book so the title was prominent and asked, "So, do you love God enough?" They did. They broke the rules and I left with a real gem. I think men and women should read this book as it not only deals with gender roles and identity, it approaches and handles the biblical text with refreshing honesty. It helped me learn to read Bible stories with a view to discover something more than information.

Second: Claiming God Reclaiming Dignity: African American Pastoral Care
by Edward P. Wimberly

This book gave me the powerful understanding of what it means to "privilege God conversation." The theory is that we are all participating in and internalizing conversations which when retold enough times shape how we understand who we are. Only in privileging God's conversation and putting it at the forefront of all others will we beome holy. It's about allowing God's voice to reign supreme. Funny story about this book is that I photocopied a section for use in a class I taught in India. When I brought it out, I saw that others were embarrassed for me, but I was confused as to why. Later, someone took "the American" (me) aside and politely informed me that India was in Asia. I still didn't totally get it until I realized they thought I thought I was in Africa!!! So, by way of explanation, the subtitle of African American Pastoral Care is only referencing the community that already best exemplifies a practice we all should embrace whether in Africa, Asia or North America!

Lastly, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis
by Ray S. Anderson

If the mark of love is continually re-buying a book because you are afraid you lost it, then you can know for sure I love this book. Another indicator might be on my page 171 where I have written "I" at the top, a big heart encompasses the page and "Ray" is written at the bottom. This book radically transforms the way I believe I need to exist. Some are turned off by the technical components to the words he uses, but I adore those who value precise use of langauage. I can know what he means because he does not keep using the same words to mean different things, even with shades of nuance. I am at a loss to try to write about this book pretty much because Ray says everything better than I could dream of. If you want to live, think and be more like Christ then you should read this book. Here's a random quote:
"Love from God can be worn on the back, put on the table and set down beside you; it is human as well as divine, tangible as well as spiritual. It is Jesus."