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Meeting God in Broken Places: A Review of The Shack

God the Father

When the novel The Shack was published in 2007, everyone was talking about it, particularly its unusual portrayal of the Trinity. Jesus as a Middle Eastern carpenter was hard to dispute, but the Holy Spirit in the personified form of an Asian woman? God the Father represented as a black woman seemed to raise the most objections. None of these struck me as quite the dangerous heresy they were being declared by more conservative folk, and religious fiction isn’t usually the section I target in Barnes and Noble. But the book was gaining popularity and my congregation was reading it. They wanted to know what their pastor thought of the ideas in the book, many of which were new to them, and so I read the book out of obligation.

With the recent movie release, clergy are in a similar position of being asked what we think about The Shack. Frankly, I didn’t expect to like it much. I found the book alternately pedantic and vague, and too blithe in its treatment of grief and guilt. The latter statement might also be made of the film, which moves at Hollywood pace through tragedy, fallout, and recovery. Still, I was moved by its portrayal of a man trapped in loss and shame who meets God and finds the ability to forgive himself.

The characters of the Trinity are compelling and provocative, if we can set aside the need for absolute theological accuracy at every moment – and after all, who has ever represented the Trinity with absolute theological accuracy in any single statement or metaphor? This version of the triune God is personified separately, in a way that brings out their vitality and relationship. That each person of the Godhead appears as a person of color was to me a relief and delight. And although it’s not explored in detail, “Papa” is played by the same woman, Octavia Spencer, who offers the young Mack pie and empathy in his abused childhood. Plenty of commentators have had difficulty with God being portrayed as a black woman. Some of our people may well have questions about the gender and skin color of God, or about God being visually represented at all. But it seems to me to be downright biblical that God appears to Mack in the one form that he might accept as benevolent. Isn’t the whole story of Scripture rife with examples of God appearing to humankind as we are best able to perceive and receive God? Isn’t this the story of Jesus, God made one of us so that we might see divine love personified? Read more

People meeting up

Sometimes You Just Need to See the Love

People meeting upMany of our members have excitedly jumped on board for our very first Meet-Up Week, scheduled for February 16-21, 2014.  (If you’re still looking for one to attend, the link to the map is here.)

But maybe you’re hanging back, waiting to see how it goes first before jumping in.  Or maybe you’re thinking “I am way too busy to add anything else to my schedule,” or “there is nobody anywhere close to me.”  Maybe gathering with other clergy women of any age is considered suspect, or at least odd, in your denomination.  If you’re not currently a member of the project but fit within our audience, maybe you’re still testing the waters of The Young Clergy Women Project.

Meet-Up Week is a way to dip your toes in before deciding whether to take the plunge and get involved in the Project.  But more importantly, it’s a way to carry out the Project’s mission: to remind young clergy women everywhere that they are not the only ones.  What better way to do that than by actually gathering together in person?

Several metropolitan areas have standing YCW gatherings that meet on a regular basis.  They are already reaping the benefits of gathering in person.  And not all of them are in large cities, as you might assume.  (Portland, Oregon?  Oklahoma City?  Albany, New York?  All have their own regularly meeting young clergy women group.)

What happens at these gatherings?  Here’s a sampling:

  • Close friendships, beyond mere acquaintance
  • Colleague relationships that are actually supportive
  • Accountability—but also a safe place to vent and brainstorm how to deal with tough situations
  • Resource and idea sharing (Can you all help me with our wedding policy and fees?  What commentary/curriculum did you use again?  What did you say when you negotiated your maternity leave?  How am I supposed to deal with my senior pastor/council president/deacon/elder/clerk of session/trustees/rector/secretary?  You get the idea.)
  • People who just “get it”–no explanation required
  • Common ground that transcends denominations
  • Shopping buddies for buying clericals and vestments
  • A safe place to discern and ponder transitions and moves (many groups are ecumenical…so don’t worry, these women aren’t from your presbytery/conference/synod/classis/cluster/etc.)
  • Connections made for the sake of young clergy women everywhere, not to mention future young clergy women

Chalk it up to the Incarnation—technology is great, but there’s just nothing like being together in the same room.  As one YCW put it, “Sometimes you just need to see the love and support you have.  Gathering once or twice a month is a life-giving thing for me.  We’ve been meeting for 1.5 years now and I eagerly look forward to it each and every month.”  Another YCW in the same group shared, “It [this group] is one of the few places I can be wholly me—clergy, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend.  These women know all about my life, all the parts, and we support one another fully.”

Our annual Young Clergy Women conferences are another place to find this support, but even if everyone had access to the time, money, and childcare needed to attend, let’s get real: the conference only happens once a year!  It takes time to develop the trust and safety necessary.  Meet-ups have the ability to provide the deeper support we need, when we need it, where we need it.

So if you’ve been on the side of the pool, wondering if this is the party for you, kick off your flip-flops and dip your toes in.  You never know, you might just find the very thing that will keep you afloat for years to come.