Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thoughts on "The Shack"

After many weeks of procrastination, I finally accomplished a great feat: I finished reading the book “The Shack.” I must say, I did NOT want to read the book, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s an inner subconscious rebellion that I have; because it was so popular and everyone was reading it, I refused to. Nevertheless, thanks to my new friend Danielle (an amazing “Aussie,” pronounced "aw-zee" I've been corrected, who lived with me for six weeks), I was finally convinced and coerced into reading it. I thought I might as well read it and see what all the fuss was about. Since I have a horrible habit of starting four or five books at one time, it sometimes takes me awhile to finish a book, but I did it. I must say, the first few chapters were quite intriguing, and sad. I found myself wanting to know what happened next (though I didn’t want to admit it). And then of course you get into the actual “shack” part which kind of turns your perspectives upside down.

SO… what are my conclusions:

1. First I want to say that I realize there is much controversy about this book. Believe me, I’ve read articles for and against the book and it’s quite intriguing to me. My opinion? I don’t agree with everything in the book. But I do think there are some good spiritual truths we can take away and learn from. God certainly spoke to me through the book. It’s a story, NOT the word of God. As long as we remember that and compare everything WITH the word of God, I think we’ll be okay.

B.      2.  The whole “God as a big black woman” thing. Well honestly, I STILL don’t know what to think about that. I’ve been wrestling with it over and over in my head. I don’t know if I’ll ever come to a conclusion about it. Maybe I don’t have to. On the one hand, I have always “seen” God as a father. In scripture he is always referred to as God the Father… as a “he.” Jesus refers to him as God the Father. I didn’t have a true father growing up; therefore, God is my father and that is the most precious and comforting thing to me about God. But on the other hand, God is the “I AM.” Who am I to say what he is and what he isn’t? Yes, it was difficult for me to read the book with God’s character being a woman. Is it a wrong characterization? I don’t know. My final conclusion is that I’m okay with not knowing. Despite the characterization, I did glean some spiritual lessons from the character of “papa.” Maybe that’s all that matters.

       3. This book really helped me get a firmer grasp on the concept of the trinity. The trinity is and probably always will be something that man will never fully comprehend. But having characters for all three really helped. The author did a fantastic job of showing them as three yet one. Jesus was shown as a “real” person, someone who has experienced the human hurt and pain that we experience. Also someone who just wants to be with us; who just wants to know us and be known by us. Who wants to lie in the grass and gaze at the stars with us. Who wants to walk on the water with us. And then there’s Sarayu, the Holy Spirit. What a comforting mystery. The ever present spirit of God, who leads and guides us. It still makes my head spin, but I kind of like that. I like that I cannot understand some of the mysteries of God, but just have to trust him.

D.      4This book challenged my legalistic, judgmental self. And I am the queen of it; it’s my downfall, my weakness. It challenged the way I look at other people. When Mack was asked to be the judge, I knew that was me. I often judge people for the sheer reason of making me feel better about myself, not because I sincerely care about their eternal destiny. And by judging other people, by giving my own opinions about how I think God should deal with them, I’m in turn judging God. I’m telling God what punishments their sins deserve, as if my sin is any less.

E.      5. Amazing quote:
“Rights are where survivors go, so that they won’t have to work out relationships.”
Man is that me sometimes.

F.       6. Despite my efforts not to get emotional in this book, I did. I thought I had made it all the way through without crying, and then came the chapter towards the end about Mack and his earthly father.  There is a scene of forgiveness and to some extent, reconciliation. I don’t have to expound except to say that I related to Mack. I know the feeling of freedom that comes when a burden like that is lifted from you. Or better yet, a burden that you finally let go of.

G.     7.  I really do have a religious spirit! (no, that’s not a good thing). Yes, I claim not to be, I claim that I have a “relationship” not a “religion,” but there is so much residue of legalism in me. Things that are different than what I’M used to, I don’t like. Deep down I like institutions, I like certainty, I like predictability. God is big, he can work in ways I can never imagine; if only I’d take him out of my “this is how it should be” box.
WARNING: I realize this argument can be taken to an extreme in which I do not intend. I too often see people stretching or twisting the word of God because they are trying so hard not to be legalistic. We can sometimes justify things, saying that others are being too legalistic. But it’s simple: I love God, I’m saved by grace, and as a result, I live in freedom by obeying him.

H.     8. Overall, I think this book made me want to know God more, want to know Jesus more, want to listen to the holy spirit every moment of every day. I wand to KNOW my God. Not just confess that he is my Lord. Not just live by the law, by the rules. Not just do what he tells us to do, like a robot. But continue to have a living, thriving relationship, and the rest will follow. This book certainly challenged the mental paradigm that I had God in.

I.        9. Criticism: My overall main concern of this book would be that as I kept reading, page by page, chapter by chapter, I found myself clinging to every word that the characters said. I was so engrossed in the story that I easily found myself taking every word that “papa” spoke, every word that Jesus spoke, every word that Sarayu spoke, as truth. Because in my head, if Jesus is saying it, it must be true, right? I had to constantly remind myself to make sure I thought about and challenged everything that I was reading. And like I said earlier, to line it up with God’s word. Though there were many spiritual truths in this book, just because a man’s made up portrayal of God is speaking it, does not mean its true. That would be my warning to readers. Like with anything we absorb and take in, let’s make sure we’re looking at it with a bibilical worldview.

      So there it is. I could probably go on and on about thoughts, ideas, criticisms about the book, but I won’t. I didn’t even touch on some of the many great quotes I came across; which I could analyze and think about and discuss for hours probably. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. Bottom line, God can speak to us any way he wants, including a book called “The Shack.” Let’s take the truths we can glean, and let the rest fall to the ground.

      Remember: He is “especially fond of us.”


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Is This My Life?

Thought I'd post my most recent "newsletter"...

It has recently become a common occurrence for me to find myself often sitting back and thinking, “Is this really my life?” As I walk to work in the morning, past the massive piles of garbage and human excrement with rickshaws and taxis whirling past me, I cannot help but wonder what the day holds. Some moments are still surreal to me as I remind myself how privileged I am to be on the front lines of fighting injustice.

Work begins promptly every day at 9:00 AM with communal devotion and prayer. “Any updates from yesterday or prayer requests?” our director will always ask. Usually the list grows as several staff members present their news and requests. Bail was denied yesterday to four perpetrators and therefore they will remain in jail throughout their trial. Today one of our victims will be testifying in court. Tonight some of our operatives will be investigating a brothel. This week we are working on some structural changes in one of the aftercare homes. The list could go on and on. We fervently present our requests to God and move on into a half hour of personal stillness time. I clear my mind and gain spiritual strength as I get ready to begin the day’s work.

As the communications intern my tasks are various, with much focus on writing stories. The stories remind us of why we do what we do. When discouragement comes, and it usually comes daily, we can look at the victories we have won. That is what pushes us forward. Before I arrived here, I had heard stories of girls who were victims of sex trafficking. But after I arrived and began to sort through files and files of documents, I never could have imagined the details I read about. From home inquiry and police reports to victim statements and photos, the details began to come together and form in my head. Oftentimes, the stories are not complete. Maybe the perpetrator still has not received just punishment. Maybe the victim now has to live with HIV/AIDS, or she is still facing severe emotional problems from the trauma. There is never a fairy tale ending. But there is one thing the stories never lack: hope. No matter where the stories begin or end, love, justice and hope are always interwoven throughout them. The victim no longer has to suffer brutal abuse in a brothel. She will no longer be raped by strange men countless times a day. Futures begin to change as opportunities for an education and vocation are now available to our girls. There are always victories, large or small, that must be celebrated.

The day usually wraps up around 6:00 PM, oftentimes later. Our work must be continued in the morning. I take a back way home, as it is quieter. I walk past the neighborhood boys playing a game of soccer or cricket and the women in their saris and tennis shoes doing their daily power walk. There is never a lack of things to observe as I reflect on the past day. Correspondence with home or a run at the neighborhood gym are often nightly things that keep me going. “Auntie,” a Hindu woman in our neighborhood, cooks us traditional food for dinner most weeknights. My American taste buds are getting used to the delicious spices abounding in all the food, with some that occasionally make ones eyes water.

Sleep is usually much anticipated after long days. As I doze off, I can still hear the plethora of sounds in the neighborhood through my open window. “Is this really my life God? This crazy, amazing life in a foreign land?” I can hear the faint sound of chanting and prayer music coming from the Muslim mosques in the early hours of the morning. Worship to gods that do not exist. I reflect on the majesty of my own God, my living God. My life and work seem somewhat insignificant in comparison.

The classic question arises in my head: “What difference am I really making God? How can such small daily tasks make any difference in the brutal world of sex trafficking?” Then I can hear his gentle answer:

“Because I go before you. Trust me, and obey.”