Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

My Trip to “The Shack”

William P. Young has sold more than a million copies of his novel “The Shack”. It is about a tragedy that strikes a family in Oregon and how the father—a man named Mack—copes with his great loss.

If you want to read the book, do not read this blog.

But then again—I have read many books a second and third and fourth time: children especially like to hear the same stories over and over again. The pleasure of good literature is not diminished simply because we already know the plot.

The Shack is not good literature and it is not good theology and it is not good psychology. Few people will read it more than once and many people—like me—will struggle to read it the first time. I put aside The Thirteen Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian in order to read this book, but I am eager to get back to a good book.

Mack takes his children on a camping trip and while there his daughter is abducted and murdered. It all happens near an old shack up in the woods by a lake. Mack is a Christian, in a manner of speaking, and he has trouble dealing with this tragedy.

Mack returns to the shack and meets God, who is a black woman. Jesus is there also and the Spirit, who has the name Sarayu. I am sure the narrative explained the meaning of this name but I must have missed that part. It is easy to miss an explanation because most of the text is nothing but God, or Jesus, or Sarayu explaining to Mack the meaning of, well, just about everything. The plot is thin, the characters shallow; it is chapter after chapter of either Jesus, God, or Spirit explaining to Mack what he does not know.

Oddly enough, it is pages and pages of theological “explanation” before Mack ever wonders about his daughter and where she is and how she is. Seems that would be the first thing on my mind.

God, however, is concerned about Mack’s human tendency toward independence. This is the root of all earthly problems, including loneliness, selfishness, hostility, and greed. Surrendering it for a relationship of love and trust is the cure for all human ills.

At the very end, Mack finds the body of his slain daughter, returns to civilization, leads authorities to that site, which leads (we learn in the final two sentences) to the arrest of the criminal and the discovery of many other bodies. And all live happily every after, it seems.

You can read more about it at their web site: http://www.theshackbook.com.

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The First Billion is the Hardest

I was a pastor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when T. Boone Pickens rode into town. He was even then a corporate gunslinger headed for a showdown with the largest corporation in the Steel City: Gulf Oil.
Pickens talks about this confrontation in his new book The First Billion is the Hardest. I for the stockholder, he said then (and again in his book), ignoring the many other stakeholders in any large and expensive venture (employees, retirees, taxpayers, vendors, customers—to name a few). He failed to take over the company but did force them into a sale to Chevron, by which he had a most handsome profit.
Much of that money he lost by speculating in the natural gas business; and now he is speculating in the future of water and wind. You may have seen his commercials on television promoting his solution to the energy crisis. They have the appearance of public service announcements, of disinterested advocacy in the midst of a national dilemma. I thought so until I read the book and discovered he stands to make billions of dollars if the country follows his lead.
“It’s all about leadership,” he writes repeatedly in his soon-to-be best-selling book; he claims the country has had no leadership on this issue—ever.
It will sell a bazillion copies because it is the quintessential American story: rags to riches. He tells of growing up in Oklahoma with poor but proud parents, stern but steady, cautious but kind.
Pickens doesn’t explain where he developed his unbounded ego. The book is basically 235 pages of self-promotion.
God is invoked, fleetingly, to explain his urge to give. He has donated mostly to athletics at Oklahoma State University. “I want victories,” he explained. I am sure he is a church member in good standing somewhere; it is hard for churches to stare down such well-heeled patrons.
But the book is not about religion or charity or even economics; it is about T. Boone Pickens. He sprinkles little “Booneisms” throughout the text, but most lack any compelling reason to remember.
I read the book as background for my sermon on Acts 4:32-37 which describes the attitude of those early disciples on issues like ownership, community, and generosity. Pickens might not have been comfortable with such people but then neither would most of us.
By Tuesday I will have that sermon posted but I am ready now to give the book to anyone who wants it.

Rating: ** (out of five)
Coming soon: a review of The Shack

Jesus for President

I like the book, Jesus for President.

            It is not easy to read because it is written, I surmise, for a young, hip crowd—it looks somewhat like a scrapbook, with cutout pictures and pasted quotations, and it uses dark paper and light print—more than once I had to take off my bi-focal glasses and squint just to read the text.  

            But I like what I read. In fact, I liked it so much I am using the title and some of the text as reading material for a new class I am convening this Sunday at the church where I serve as interim pastor.

            The book uses much of the recent scholarship about empire and kingdom. By “empire” is meant the political and social structures that are established and sustained by violence (especially the state-sanctioned violence of the military) and that give preferential treatment to the strong and the rich over against the weak and the poor. The “kingdom” is the opposite: political and social structures that are established and sustained by the will and way of God, that reject violence and that give special attention to the weak and the poor.

            The thesis is this: God, and the Bible, and Jesus have been dead set against the empire from the very beginning; but first Israel and then the Church grew enamored of empire and when it was within their grasp, they seized it and used it for their own purposes. Mostly the empire corrupted first Israel and then the Church.

            Jesus is a kingdom person; it was the empire that killed him. God raised him from the dead. The movement that event inaugurated is a serious and sustained threat to empires everywhere, except when the movement itself becomes an empire.

            Too many Christians in America are addicted to empire—the American empire, the Christian empire, and/or the American-Christian empire. The invasion of Iraq was an initiative of the American Christian empire: at least that is how most of the world sees it, especially the Muslim world.

            Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals offers page after page of stories of Christian people launching initiatives that embody the kingdom of God and undermine the dominance of empire. The book is both spiritual and political—and that makes for stimulating reading.  

            It is published by Zondervan. Get your copy. Ponder what it says. Think for yourself. Find a radical way to enter the kingdom of Jesus.