Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Shack

Recently I posted the following apparently innocuous statement as my facebook status: "OddBabble wants to talk about The Shack." The following documents the surprising response:

Susanna Adlem at 18:20 on 27 March
I didn't love it, still reading it though.

Kevin Hargaden at 20:03 on 27 March
I'm in London in a few weeks. Fancy a chat then?

Louiz Kirkebjerg Nielsen at 20:43 on 27 March
I love it love it. Talk to me about it when you have time. x Louiz

Tanya Marlow at 21:49 on 27 March
i half loved it

Rachel Anne Burns at 00:46 on 28 March
haven't read it, though initially wanted to. This and other reviews pretty much some it up for me and I'm happy to leave it alone, wondering why so many Christians pursue a desire to read what is heresy when the bible gives a much more complete picture of who God is and of the nature of and answer to suffering.

Rosalie Lewis Garwood at 02:02 on 28 March
It's a shame that you haven't read this yourself, Rachel. Why would you form an opinion on something you don't know anything about. What about those who mock the Bible and say it isn't God's Word? Do you go along with that too? I have two copies of this book oh my desk and am in the process of reading it. Here is another website you can check out. Maybe it will give you a more balanced view of it.

Rachel Anne Burns at 08:55 on 28 March
I've read the review, but I found nothing in it that would cause me to change my opinion. Should I read pornography in order to form a balanced opinion on it if it's something I know nothing about?

Kevin Hargaden at 09:47 on 28 March
So the Shack is like porn? This is a new kind of argument right here. Your ideas intrigue me Rachel. Can I subscribe to your newsletter?

Badger Burns at 22:24 on 29 March
lol Kev, there was a link pasted of a fair review but did you visit it?The point merely is why put your head under a steam roller just to see what happens

Badger Burns at 22:34 on 29 March
and taking my own medicine now :pI have just read the site suggested by Rosalie. The title of the blogspot kinda put me off kilter immediately. My growing frustration about the book is that whenever any criticism is levelled at it the counter argument that is offered is that it is a work of fiction.My huge criticism of the author and /or publishers is that they are saying that the book is being used massively by God.I dont understand why God would endorse a book saying that Jesus does not want people to become Christians and that we limit God to the pages of the Bible.A book that He Himself chose to 'limit' himself by in describing himself.

My response to all of this is as follows:
I am someone who holds the Bible in the very highest regard: I consider it to be the words breathed of the God who made the universe. I consider it to be infallible. I consider it to be the only and true epistemological, ontological, philosophical, theological, stuffofeverydaylifeological authority.

Yet I see no contradiction between holding this view and believing that as His created creatures create and interact, God provides echoes, glimpses, shadows, pictures, parables and whispers that point to Himself and His character. In this way I can glimpse God in lots of places which are not the Bible.

For example, I was reading about how ants (the most amazing creatures on earth) exist as a superorganism. They interact like one huge insect whose different limbs perform different roles, each for the benefit, growth and nurturing of that wider body. What a helpful analogy for the way Christ longs for the church to function, I thought to myself.

Or there is the Ani DiFranco song which has the line: "What kind of paradise am I looking for? I've got everything I want, but still I want more." Wow, that really reminds me of how much I strive and drive myself in all kinds of ways, but never find myself satisfied by it. She's got it right that I'm looking for a paradise, except that it really exists in heaven, I thought to myself.

Or there is the Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables, and the musical of the same name, in which Jean Valjean, having stolen the silverware of the benevolent bishop who had offered him shelter when no-one else would, finds himself rescued by that same bishop when JV is caught, by claiming to the cops that the silverware was a gift, offering his two silver candlesticks as well, chastising him to the police for leaving in such a rush that he forgot these most valuable pieces. What a clear and creative picture of God's grace in not giving us the punishment we deserve, and heaping blessings on us instead, I thought to myself.

Or there's the work of fiction, The Shack, which is a made up story, but which explicitly seeks to think creatively about God and offers a view of Him, a shadow, a human thought, about something against the backdrop of the final authority of the Bible.
Sure, there are things that William P. Young (is this just actually Will Young having a laugh at us all?) says that I don't agree with and that I don't think are particularly biblical. So, I ignore those things and read on, remembering that The Shack is not the Bible - the Bible is. I'm happy to disagree with one or two lines of a work of fiction.

I should perhaps come clean here and admit that I have a soppy subjective reason for liking The Shack. There's a scene in it where the protagonist spills out his rage towards God about the suffering he has experienced, screaming passionate, bitter and tear-drenched words to a God who responds, not with wrath or retaliation, but by inviting him in to eat a specially cooked dinner.

There may have been a clue [a few posts ago] that I had one or two issues with God that I was pretty hung up about myself. This little passage in this novel reminded me that God knows those angry thoughts already, that good relationships mean communication, not sulking, and that God is gracious, kind, patient, generous, merciful, gentle and compassionate.

This led to a dramatic and renewed intimacy with God that any friend has when they finally admit what's on their mind, make up, & get back to the business of enjoying the relationship. If it's not God who brought that reconciliation about with His daughter, I don't know who did. God can use flawed books that get things wrong, just as he uses flawed people, like me, who get things wrong.

I could easily have spotted any of those things in the Bible, but that same holy book tells me that Jesus calls his followers [sheep]. That's to help us remember that we're often stupid, slow, myopic and in need of a shepherd. Sometimes this sheep needs a bit of outside help to point me back to the Word that is true and reliable. Sometimes God uses flawed, imperfect means to point us back to His perfect Self.

It strikes me as a shame, a real shame, if we close our eyes to the many and wonderful ways that God shows himself through all kinds of creative endeavours, simply because the person creating it sometimes (always, in some way) gets bits of it wrong. We are throwing the God-glimpse baby out with the wider cultural bath water.

Yes, I do get the fact that Young seems to be setting the book up as some kind of new Christian manifesto, and that this means we might handle it differently to a secular song or book about ants. But I still don't feel it's necessary to go to the extreme of saying that by reading it I am expressing a desire to water down the Bible as my ultimate authority. If we are thinking Christians, surely we can read, listen, view anything through the lens of Scripture, discard the parts that contradict it, and rejoice in the creaturely things that help point us back to our, and their, Creator.

I doubt this post will have changed anyone's minds on this, but the joy of a blog is that I get to rant uninterrupted for a while and bask in the warmth of my own opinion before the comments begin to pile up...

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Peter & Pam: An Update

Peter and Pam were a much more tenatious couple than I gave them credit for, it seems. After letting their twigs blow away in the wind, I think their conversation actually went a bit more like this:

Peter: Ha! She thinks that'll stop us does she? Stupid, stupid human. She doesn't realise the pigeons rule the world. I'll just put some more twigs in this plant pot instead.
Pam: But what if she moves them too?
Peter: Then I'll put them in that bucket, or that watering can, or in her bed.
Pam: Wow Peter, we really do rule the world.
Peter: Yes. Or rather, I rule the world. Now I've got you up the duff I'm going to leave you to bring the kids up in this plant pot while I impregnate some more birds and ruin another human's life by preventing her from going on her own balcony in the lovely spring sunshine. You make sure you do your thing of flying in her face if she tries anything.
Pam: But Peter, I thought you loved me!
Peter: Hahahaha!
Peter: Don't worry, I'll be back. I need to make sure this whole balcony is covered in pigeons. Hahahahahaha!

And so you are up to date. Pam was obedient to Peter's request that she fly into my face if I try to go on the balcony. Well, in reality she just flew in the other direction, but because my balcony is quite small, it had the effect of me screaming and running inside my house. I mean proper, Penelope Pitstop screaming.

Pigeons really do rule the world. Or at least my balcony.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Counselling: Spiritually Irresponsible?

Another post with a link to another blog post .

I would like to continue the discussion there, but I think the comments section of a post that is now a few posts old might mean fewer readers.

In response to the last comment by Clairebo , I think I need to clarify the question I am asking. I am not saying that everyone needs to have 'Evangelist' as their full job title - of course I am recognising that there are many necessary and noble roles in a society (and a Kingdom). It's also true that most of those still leave room for evangelism among colleagues etc. so a surgeon is not muted from verbal proclaimation of the gospel.

I suppose I am thinking more precisely about the fact that as a counsellor, those verbal opportunities are not there - in fact to take an opportunity in that way would have me listed in the back pages of the BACP journal for professional misconduct. Counselling is also often an isolated role, particularly in private practice where I may not have any other colleagues with whom to verbally proclaim. It's this aspect of the work that I am wrestling with, rather than the nature of the role itself.

If that makes any sense at all, I'd appreciate others' thoughts...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Importance of Stories

Read this (if you like)

This is a link to a post on a blog I discovered recently that seeks to bridge the gap (hence the name) between Christians and gay people, and also does a very good job at showing grace to the spectrum of gay christians, christians with a view on gay people and gay people with a view on christians. It sums up the point I have reached recently on not just this issue, but many others.

I like the fact that it acknowledges that we don't all have to agree with each other, but that we should listen to one another if we claim to love people. It's been a journey for me to get to this point and I'm still on that journey, having started from a postion of being quite defensively scared to hear different views. I hope I'm learning, like the writer of this post, to show more grace to those whose views are different to mine.

I think it's a viewpoint that would serve a lot of us well to keep in mind whoever we are, and whatever issue we are thinking through. It's a messy and not clear-cut route, but it seems to me that's what life is like anyway, so we might as well live in the reality of that.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

I Did a Bad Thing

I hate pigeons.

I hate the way that they refuse to respect me - when I'm walking or driving or cycling, they don't fly out of my way in fear as they should, but saunter in front of me so that I have to avoid them.

I hate the fact that they so adamently refuse to die, wandering around London with gangrenous stumps instead of legs, or bulbous puss-filled sores, as if it didn't hinder them in the least.

I hate the fact that they wake me up in the morning making a sound like someone having bad sex who can't be bothered anymore to try to sound like they enjoy it.

At a previous address I lived next door to an old lady who was obsessed by her hatred of pigeons. She had several nesting in her roof and every day she powerhosed them away before scrubbing at the encrusted faeces on the walls and patio. Whenever I spoke to her (as infrequently as I could manage) the subject was pigeons and how passionately she hated them. I thought she was just a mad old woman, but recently, I think I am turning into her.

I was furious to find that two of the winged vermin had decided to start living on my balcony. I had visions of opening my balcony door to an ocean of pigeon poo and rabid pecking each morning, with an ever increasing chorus of their cheap porn moanings.

I followed my usual morning ritual of opening my balcony door cursing them them and then glaring at them angrily as they perched on the opposite building, clearly ready to return the moment I stepped back inside. I investigated the balcony and discovered that behind a deckchair propped against the wall, they had begun to build a nest. In my rage, I lifted my deckchair away and exposed the nest to the elements. Ha! That'll get rid of them! Hahahaha!

I closed the door and got that sinking feeling you get when you have been very, very bad.

That little nest was made up of a pathetic little collection of twigs that they had been gathering for weeks (there isn't much flora in Peckham). They had begun to fashion it into a little circle.
There were two of them. One must have been the mummy and one must have been the daddy. They were husband and wife pigeons, trying to build a home for themselves because they were ready to have some babies. They were young and in love and this was a very special time for them. Then I, like a big devlish brute, trampled on their world because of my own selfish needs.

They must have flown back this morning to find that their home had been destroyed. "Oh Peter, our home! Our lovely home that we made ourselves! Where will our babies be born? Our beautiful unborn pigeon babies - the fruit of our innocent pigeon love!" Says the mummy pigeon. "We must accept our fate Pam. We are only pigeons. We are the least loved of all the flying animals. Just pigeons Pam, just pigeons. We are lucky we still have 3 stumps between us. We deserve no better." replied the daddy pigeon.

I heard them this morning. Was it just me, or was their cooing more like weeping?