Several months ago, a clergy friend asked me if I'd yet read a best-selling novel (Christian fiction) by William Paul Young, The Shack. I told him I'd heard of it but hadn't had a chance to give it a read yet.
Well, my bride picked up a copy of the book recently and -- as we do when we travel together long distances by car -- she read it aloud to me. Well, almost all. I finished it when we got home the other day.
My clergy friend's question about the book was how I thought it would be received by people who considered themselves conservative or fundamentalist in their theology.
Well, I'm not at all sure I can answer that question any better having read the book than I could before I read it, though I suspect some people in that category might have objections to some of the theology woven through the book and to the way the Trinity is portrayed.
And yet the book is a fascinating read, most of the time. And it raises profound questions about faith that in one way or another engage all of us, Christian or not.
Clearly, however, the book is written from a Christian faith stance.
The plot has to do with a man named Mack. He and his wife Nan have several children, but one of them gets kidnapped and murdered in an old shack in the woods. Some time later Mack finds a written invitation in his mailbox to return to the shack and talk to "Papa," which is Nan's favorite word for God. Reluctantly, Mack goes -- and encounters the Trinity in mostly human form. God the creator is an African-American woman, Jesus is a carpenter of Middle Eastern origin and the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman named Sarayu.
They work to heal him, not only of his grief over the death of his daughter Missy but also his sense of estrangement from God.
Portraying God in human terms is always risky, and no doubt the author has taken some odd leaps in this book that readers will struggle to grasp or will dismiss as silliness. But there is, running through the book, a strong call to a faith commitment despite the inevitably unanswered questions one has. Indeed, that's what it means to have faith -- not having all the answers but being willing to live with the questions.
And in reaffirming that, I think the book succeeds, despite an ending I wish had been tackled in a different way.
If you've read it, tell us what you think.
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CATHOLICS URGED TO READ THE BIBLE. REALLY.
It's no big secret that historically many Catholics have had little personal exposure to Bible reading. Indeed, before Vatican II, about the only words from the Bible many Catholics ever heard were the weekly lectionary readings at Mass. But that has been changing, and a synod of bishops that just finished meeting in Rome wants it to change more. Every Catholic family, the synod just announced, should have a Bible and read it. Because Protestants placed the Bible more at the center of their theology than Catholics, many Protestants have been much more biblically literate than most Catholics. But even in Protestant churches, in my experience, the level of biblical and theological illiteracy is alarming. I hope this new Catholic synod push helps improve things in that branch of Christianity.
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MUSLIMS AS POLITICAL FODDER
Fear and suspicion of Muslims is being used in this presidential race for political purposes, this columnist says -- correctly. Some of what is being said and done is, in fact, shameful and on a level with the worst racist attitudes still around.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My Saturday column this weekend is about gospel music and the way it can speak to us.)