Monday, March 23, 2009

If anything matters, everything matters.

The heading is a quote from The Shack that I've been thinking about since I finished reading. I was interested in this book for several reasons. And I'm only telling you what I know about it. I'm sure Google could turn up a whole lot more.

1. It's been amazingly, hugely, crazily successful. And it was self-published. Here's what Wiki says:

Young, former office manager and night clerk, originally wrote The Shack as a Christmas gift for his 6 children with no intention of publishing. After letting several friends read the book he was urged to publish The Shack for the general public. Young and his two partners (former pastors from Los Angeles) had no success with either religious or secular publishers, so they formed Wind Blown Media for the sole purpose of publishing this one book.

The Shack went largely unnoticed for over a year after its initial publication, but suddenly became a very popular seller in the summer of 2008, when it debuted at number 1 on the New York Times paperback fiction best sellers list on June 8. Its success was the result of word of mouth promotion in churches and Christian-themed radio, websites, and blogs. As of January 2009, The Shack had over 5 million copies in print, and had been at number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for 35 weeks

The book was endorsed by several high-profile American Christians. Biblical scholar Eugene Peterson (author of The Message) said that the book would be as influential as The Pilgrim's Progress. The book is also the object of ongoing—and sometimes high-profile—criticism, typically from theologically conservative evangelicals.

2. Here's part of the description from the back cover:
In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant "The Shack" wrestles with the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?" The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You'll want everyone you know to read this book!

I believe I've learned my lesson with reviews, but it's harder to argue with success. So I checked it out and I read it, expecting to be...unmoved or unimpressed or unengaged or something. While I was neither astounded (OK, maybe a little pleasantly surprised as to laugh out loud a little) nor transformed, I did enjoy it.

I can't say this book changed my life or even that it answered the question that it says it wrestles with. And that's really the problem with The Shack. This is a book that is at the same time both shallow and deep and at the center of Mack's story isn't so much "why bad things happen to good people" but more basically "what is the nature of God?" And some Christians are going to say that we already have that. It's called the Bible. And that's true. But this is fiction, and in fiction, you can take some liberties and tell old stories in new ways.

What does God look like? Mack thought old, bearded white guy. And in my world, he'd be addressed at least as well as a judge, something like "your honor" maybe. In this book, he's a black woman named Papa. And this is where it got interesting.

Ever think about how Jesus spends his days? He's probably out in the shop. He's a carpenter and all. And he makes Mack feel so comfortable. And it makes sense that he's the one we're most comfortable with. He is human after all.

And then there's Sarayu, who is building a beautiful garden out of the mess, the fractal, that is the human heart.

I like fiction. I enjoy the storytelling of The Shack. Unfortunately, when you deal with such weighty issues, deep-thought issues, there's a lot of talk. And this story could use a little more story and a little less lecture from the characters. But still, it is a good story.

Mack is a character fighting a heavy battle, a challenge to his faith. In his time in The Shack, he learns more about the love of God and human freedom of choice and interconnection and why relationship is more important than ritual. And I can't argue with those ideas. I also can't say that I agree with everything in it. It's easy to read, funny and scary and sad, a little more difficult to understand, ambitious in scope, but easy to grasp in sections, simple and complex all at the same time.

Next up: Dean Koontz and "The Darkest Evening of the Year" (I already read the ending because there's a dog on the cover and as I have firmly established, I am firmly against stories where the animals die. This is fiction. Only happy endings please, so if anyone knows of something I don't want to read in the middle of this one, give me a heads up. Seriously.)

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