My review of The Shack with apologies to those who loved it…

I finished reading The Shack last night.

I got home late and read the final few chapters pretty quickly to get it over and done with. Sadly it wasn’t a book that resonated with me at all. I know it has been valuable to some, but I found the cringe factor was rather high as I listened in on the conversations and relationships between Mack, Papa, Jesus and Saraya.

I have been trying to reflect on what it was particularly that left me cold and I think it has something to do with the embodiment of all 3 persons of the trinity and the ‘pally’ way they got they on. The intimacy that the author was trying to depict just felt a tad too touchy feely for me.

I think it demystified the triune God and pretty much removed his transcendence, replacing it with complete immanence. I think the transcendent otherness of God is a vital aspect of who he is and in The Shack God became too much like an ideal version of humanity. I can handle Jesus as human because he is, but the other 2 just felt all weird…

Maybe I just have a particular view that actually needs rattling, but I wasn’t on the same page at all as the author.

The story of Mack and his daughter’s killing was pretty gut wrenching, but I think that’s just because I am a dad of a similar aged little girl. But it really wasn’t about the story… It was

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a work of theology and an attempt to portray God to us in a different way. For that it is commendable, but I just don’t think it worked. It was pretty ordinary prose and the theological explanations that were present throughout seemed laboured and forced, as if the author wanted to tell us stuff and this was his mechanism. Better just to write a piece of non-fiction I would say.

Was it heretical?…

I guess it does open itself to charges of modalism, but I am content to accept that any depictions of the trinity are going to be flawed, because the concept is beyond human understanding and expression. So I’m not beating up on the author for getting his trinintarian analogies wrong – heck we’ve been doing that all thru history!

I must admit I did do a double take when Mack spoke of how he ‘flies’ in his dreams and the description was as close to the concept of astral travel as I have come across. Perhaps it was just a ‘flying’ dream, or maybe this was a veiled reference to a practice we would question. Wayne Jacobsen who was involved with the writing of the book denies this has any basis in fact.

To be honest I don’t even have a lot of energy for this review… I would neither slam this book or praise it. I imagine it will simply get relegated to the guest room and take its place on the shelves along with all the other books I am unlikely to ever read again.

Finishing With Forge

As of November 14th I will no longer be the Forge WA director and my role will be taken over by the very capable and brilliant Scott Vawser. Ironically I will be down south all that following weekend on Forge business because we couldn’t arrange an earlier time – so I will ‘finish work’ and then ‘go to work’…

I have been sensing that change is in the wind and with our impending travel it seemed like a good time to hand the reins to someone else. Its been 6 years of establishing Forge here in WA, often against some pretty virulent opposition, but I think we can look now and say that it is up and running and has been a valuable part of many people’s journeys.

Having said that, we are also in the process of review and asking how do we continue to shape western missionaries and how do we keep helping churches on the missional incarantional journey but perhaps in some different ways.

Recently, I heard it said that ‘Hamo is coming to back to the fold’ in his stepping down from Forge. I can only guess what that means…

While I am no longer the WA director I am still the National Director and still absolutely passionately convinced that we need to be continually training missionaries and continuing to provoke churches to orient themselves around their mission and their local context – to get their attention off the ‘whizz bang’ and onto the acts of service and goodness and relationships that will bless the local community.

At this stage I am taking a year’s leave without pay so that I have the option of coming back to the role, but my gut feel is that its time for me to move on. Danelle and I will still be on the Forge WA team and we will still be deeply involved in all that goes on, but someone else will pull it all together and keep us focused.

So while we are stepping down, we are by no means stepping out.

Nor do we have any desire to step out.

There have been few groups I could connect with that would align more perfectly with my own sense of vocation so my hope and expectation is that come next year after our trip we will be well and truly ready to put our hand to the plough in whatever way we can again.

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Daylight Saving

Today was the second day of daylight saving for Perth and the first ‘work day’. I was actually surprised at how difficult it was to get out bed even though I am normally an early riser.

I am swinging voter on this one.

As a bloke who does physical work I like that I get to do more work in the cool of the day and knock off as it gets hot – today I started at 8 and finished at 3. Our street gatherings have also become more regular recently – daily almost – and daylight saving allows for more time sitting, talking and having a few drinks. We’re enjoying that side of things.

Of course dinner time seems stupidly early and kids bedtimes feel like mid afternoon, so that is the downside. I also remember how hot it feels at 6 oclock in the evening and how dark it is first thing in the morning at the tail end…

Right now I’m a ‘NO’ vote, but I’m not gonna lose sleep over it…

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Current Reading

At the moment I am almost finished The Shack

download legionnaire online and while I haven’t been blown away by it neither have i been overly disturbed by it. It will go into the back room probably never to be seen again… Unlike the bookshelf right by my chair where all my hot faves are kept!

Also waiting to be read are:

Becoming a True Spiritual Community by Larry Crabb. I guess you could call this ‘diversifying my reading’… I have never been a big Crab fan, but this one grabbed my attention and I thought it would be interesting to delve into how we function more authentically as the church. We’ll see how I go…

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– by Jean Hatton. I’m interested to learn something of this group and how they came about and I’m a big fan of biograhpies so hopefully it will be a good one.

Reimagining Church by Frank Viola – I was sent this book a while ago to do a blog review on, but I am a bit behind… Part of it is that I just don’t find myself reading these kinds of books much any more. I find they seek to convince me that church needs ‘re-imagining’ but I am already convinced of that! Seven or eight years ago I was reading them by the bucket load, but each time I do these days I don’t feel refreshed and invigorated – more just ho hum… Now that’s not to say ‘Re-imagining Church’ is a ho hum book, but it probably explains why its still sitting there. Not enjoying Pagan Christianity didn’t help either I imagine… I will try and get thru it and write a review.

You Gotta Have Balls by Lily Brett. This is another of the books for our brighton Book Club, but I fearI may not get into this one either. It might be a good book even, but I have too many others that I want to read to even pick it up. I’m not a very good book club member I’m afraid!

Anyway that’s the menu at the moment!

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I’ve Started Reading The Shack

If ever you needed convincing that bad press sells books then this is it!

I have read plenty of negative stuff about this book from the very conservative critics and I have also heard some very positive reviews from friends who have read the book, so I decided it was time to spend the $$ and make my own judgment.

I will confess to being something of a snob when it comes to literature and anything less than quality prose does tend to leave me cold. So we weren’t off to a brilliant start here… The Shack is a fair piece of writing, but not compelling.

I found it hard getting thru the first 60 pages mainly because the subject matter was so gut wrenching – a dad losing his daughter while camping and then discovering she has been murdered by a serial killer. I guess its every parent’s nightmare to see one of their kids die or suffer and I couldn’t help sitting in his place.

I am past that bit now and at ‘the shack’ where Mack meets God. God (the father) turns out to be a big black woman, Jesus is an average looking middle eastern man and th Holy Spirit is of Asian extraction. The author has been setting the scene for the conversations that will develop between Mack & ‘God’ and so far it is somewhat interesting, but probably not my cup of tea.

While it masquerades as a novel it is unquestionably a theological work because it does present God in a specific light and (I am led to believe) will go on to look at church, salvation and other theological themes.

I didn’t struggle with God as a black woman – in fact I found it quite a helpful way of getting past the ‘gandalphian grandfather’ that many of us have in our heads. I don’t think that is heretical in any way – just a clever device for making us reconsider how we have imagined God.

I have found the descriptions of relationships and conversations between the 3 (F, S & HS) a bit cheesy, however I accept that my own grasp of these relationships has been heavily shaped by an evangelical heritage that doesn’t involve a lot of laughter and frivolity.

As with ‘Sweet’, I will offer my reflections as we go and I’d be interested in yours back.


Tonight at dinner I shared some of the journey Phil & family

are on.

Phil is a gutsy courageous missionary and someone for whom I have great respect. He & his family are faced with an incredibly difficult choice as life in Afghanistan becomes increasingly fragile and dangerous.

To stay or go?…

We discussed it tonight as a family. Sam was outa there in a shot because family were at risk. Ellie wanted to stay and help people. I guess the kids perfectly depicted the two sides of the equation.

We just prayed for wisdom and courage for these brave and inspirational people.

Quiet Time

Its been a quiet time here on the blog.

Some days I feel like I absolutely have nothing left to say.

Its a funny feeling… Then in the space of a few days I have a frantic series of bewildering thoughts that I am processing and blogging about.

I think its the whole deal of needing to have experience to reflect upon. I reckon it would be impossible to be perpetually writing – at least stuff that is worth reading. Eventually you would run out of stuff. I have been going thru one of those stages at the moment, but I am sure that in a few weeks / months time I will have had enough new experiences in life to give me things to discuss.

Its also been a busy period with retic work as summer approaches and I have had a lot of jobs on the go concurrently. Its almost at the place where I need to hire a co-worker, however finding people who are prepared to actually work hard is difficult and I would probably rather just go it alone unless a real gem pops up.

At the moment I have been really struggling with either carpal tunnel or arthritis. My hands are sore each day and my finger joints ache. Its a worry because the heaviest months are still to come and I am not sure how the old body will stand up to it. For now, the plan is simply to keep going until my hands drop off – although tomorrow’s Doctors visit may see some other advice given. To be honest I don’t know why I bother going to see the doc. I already know he will suggest rest and I will ignore him…

We are complex people aren’t we?…

A ‘Sweet’ Gem

I have been reading ‘Sweet’, the novel by Tracy Ryan watcher the dvdrip watch bowfinger in divx

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about the relationships between a WA Baptist pastor in the 80’s and 3 female members of his congregation. Essentially it explores the rather subtle issue of codependence and how this develops between a pastor and congregation. I don’t know how wide an appeal this book will have, but for those of us in leadership roles it ought to be read and reflected on.

‘Cody’s’ journey has been of particular interest to me as she is a young Christian in the process of questioning her faith and wondering about its foundation. Her place of certainty is not Jesus or the scriptures, but William her pastor and she is struggling to come to terms with the fact that all is not a cut and dried as he would once have had her believe. Still his power is great…

Here’s an excerpt I found very challenging. After reflecting on Paul, the young man who drew Cody to faith, she goes on to think of William:

But with William it was the other way around, he had not attracted Cody to God. He had simply come to stand in the way of her notion of God. She had got caught up before she knew it, swayed to his way of seeing things somehow, like Patty Hearst, that syndrome where you form a dependence on your captor, your torturer. Was he really her captor? No-one forced her to be there. Doing what she would not do, and not doing what she would do, as it said in the book of Romans.

She thought of Jane Eyre wild wild west dvd download , which she had read at school. The chapter before Jane’s wedding, the wedding that fell apart:

He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not in those days, see God for His creature, of whom I had made an idol.

Is it just me or are those challenging words for those in local church leadership?

It makes me ask where is the line between protecting the sheep and abusing the sheep?

It causes me to wonder how much of my own needs to be needed and admired by those I lead get in the way of doing what’s best for both of us. As I read the novel I think William is (so far) quite oblivious to his controlling ways and personal needs. He doesn’t come across as a tyrant and yet his subtle exertion of control over these women is possibly even more destructive than if it were overt.

As a person who has led a larger church I have experienced the destructive side of the Jane Eyre quote as people have expected me to be someone I simply could never be and as I have used that influence to get things done. It is a strange and sometimes disturbing relationship that takes place between needy pastor and needy congregation member.

If I have learnt anything it is that those of us in leadership must be secure in our own identity if we are to risk leading others. Insecure leaders are the very worst as they make all sorts of demands stemming from their own need to be loved and valued and not from healthy motives.

I am pondering what makes a person secure rather than insecure. I was originally reflecting that it was a function of maturity – that as we get older we need the approval of others less – but that is not universally true…

Perhaps it has something to do with coming to grips with the greyness of the world and our frailty in making sense of it. William continues to see most issues in a strong shade of black or white and it is his undoing. I tend to think that as we get older we should be able to determine what issues are clear cut – and they get fewer as you get older – and which are grey, but maybe not all can do this.

I haven’t finished the book, but I imagine Cody will end up getting disillusioned with this brand of church and will leave. She will be guilt ridden for her ‘betrayal’, but will struggle on for the sake of integrity. She will become one of the ‘churchless faith’ Christians who still want to follow Jesus and who still believe, but who have not found a place to live a more questioning and reflective expression of discipleship.

“Sweet” as…

I am currently reading ‘Sweet’ a novel I discovered on Nathan’s blog download don t look now bedtime stories dvd download

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and finding it very interesting – partly because it is written about a scene I have been so intricately involved with for the last 34 years, but partly because it addresses the ongoing issues of co-dependency that plague both church leader and church member. By that I mean, the people needing a pastor and pastor needing to be needed.

Nathan summarises the story well with these words:

Tracy Ryan’s third novel, Sweet, is the story of three women caught in the thrall of a manipulative pastor of a conservative Baptist church in the outer-suburbs of Perth circa 1986. The Reverend William King is a complex figure, genuinely caring but always controlling.

Cody is seventeen and has just lost her brother in a car accident. In her grief the church offers her a degree of purpose and meaning. Yet she seems to fall into Christianity, rather than converting through conviction. Soon, William is pressuring her to give her testimony in front of the church, the story of her conversion from the darkness of ‘Romanism’. But this story he is trying to impose on her doesn’t ring true; her nominally Roman Catholic background is neutral in her memory.

Kylie is a young mother whose husband Mick is frequently away shearing. Her Baptist neighbours take an interest in her and babysit her children; soon she finds herself sucked into the church. Mick is unimpressed by her heavy involvement and she is torn between the church and him.

Carol has been a Christian much longer and her story is about the disintegration of her externally perfect Baptist family. As problems with her daughter and husband arise, she begins to realise that life isn’t as simple as her faith has taught her.

If you have been part of WA Baptist churches over the last 20 years then the scenery will be very familiar and like me you might even find yourself wondering who the ‘Reverend William King’ is…There is too much insider knowledge for this not to be based somewhat on personal experience.

So far it hasn’t been an overly negative portrayal of either the Baptists of the time or of William King (although there are definite issues with both).

Sometimes our history can look so embarrassing in hindsight, while in the moment it can actually appear to make perfect sense. The ‘separateness’ of the cultures is probably what strikes me most strongly at the moment, possibly because this has been my own significant shift. It was the era when we stayed away from sinners except for purposes of overt evangelism.

If you are easily offended by a few pretty graphic sex scenes then its not the book for you, otherwise you will probably find it a good read.

It is well written, easy to follow and yet at the same time has some substance for those of us in churches and ministry. I think it would be an interesting book for those in the ‘pastoral care’ field to use in their training courses as it would shine the spotlight on the complications of being both pastor and church member.

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