Today is what Advent is all about. We groan at the gentleness of Jesus's coming. On days like this, I don't want him to exercise his rule in the manner of yeast cells and mustard seeds. I want him to be violent and thirsty for the blood of evildoers, but he will never fulfill that desire. Advent is about hurting as we wait for yeast and seeds.
Ten Interview Questions for “The Next Big Thing”:
What is the working title of your book?
The Shack Bible
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I actually had the idea a couple years before I’d ever heard of “The Shack.” I’ve spent the last decade being spiritually revolutionized by some of the ancient theologians (Athanasius, Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa) plus some newer ones (Barth, Torrance, Kruger, Moltmann). My studies were giving me a new (non-Augustinian) lens through which to hear Scripture, and I loved what I heard! I started writing down what I was hearing the Bible say, and friends kept asking me to write more, so I did.
Then the day came when a friend bullied me into reading this silly pop-spirituality novel called The Shack. I was blown-away to discover that this guy, who was just novelizing his personal thoughts about God, was expressing the ancient vision of God I had spent so long studying! Not only that, but he was doing it in a way that was twanging the spiritual nerves of the whole world. As I got to know other fans of the book, I discovered a whole new world of spiritual-but-not-religious people who had little interest in God, Christianity, or the Bible, but resonated deeply with Papa, Jesus & Sarayu. And they all seemed quite certain that, if they wanted to deepen their relationship with that wonderful Trinity, the Bible would be useless for that task. The God of the Bible, it seemed, had little if anything to do with the God of The Shack. Many evangelicals would agree with that, but I did not. So I started modifying my own little paraphrase with the God-language of The Shack. I changed “God” and “Father” to “Papa,” changed “Holy Spirit” to “Sarayu,” and the pronouns for both became feminine.
What genre does your book fall under?
Is “Highly Idiosyncratic Bible Paraphrase” a genre? A proper paraphrase would be something more like The Message, the gold standard of Bible paraphrases, IMO. The Shack Bible is more like an “Interpretive Reading.” It might fit best in the traditional Jewish genre of “Targum.”
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
From my first reading of the book, Papa has always been Gloria Foster—The Oracle from The Matrix. She is no longer technically alive, but my image of Papa is now unchangeable. Jesus has to be noticeably Middle Eastern, and my images there always turn to Naveen Andrews—Sayiid from Lost. Sarayu is harder. My best idea so for is Michelle Yeoh; she has such great emotional depth.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Papa, Jesus & Sarayu have included the whole world in their wondrous dynamic life-together; evil and death have no future.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
If it ever gets mass-printed on paper, it will be through a publisher. I don’t want a pile of these things in my garage.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Still working on that; I’ll let you know.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Um… The Message is the closest, I guess, but it’s a comparison that stretches the genre a LOT.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Something that’s piqued MY interest is the way the Bible addresses various topics that don’t come up in The Shack—like Eschatology, for example, which is a big deal because Jesus talks about it so much in the gospels. It’s illuminating to approach such topics through a lens that tries to be consistent with The Shack without being limited by it.
I tag 5 other bloggers who have meant a lot to me, and have books published or in the works:
This has been a fun exercise; my thanks to Michael Bobo for inviting me!
Humans are created as social creatures who pool their resources (time, energy, wealth) to accomplish things, and to this I believe Papa, Jesus & Sarayu say: “It is good.” This leads me to my belief that politics are part of God’s good creation. If we say “God doesn’t care about politics,” I think we are succumbing to a kind of dualism in which politics (people’s ways of working together) are too earthly for God to touch with his delicate spiritual hands. The human condition is home to the glorified incarnate Jesus, and the human condition involves people who think their own thoughts and have their own unique perspective on things. I suspect this diversity is part of how we are beautiful, a beauty that may not fade as Jesus increasingly becomes “all in all” in his New Creation.
I think all this has something to say to how we go about politicking. In the fullness of Papa’s kingdom when the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea, how will people deal with the diversity of human thought and action? And how can I join with Sarayu in stepping into this good future that Papa has already created in Jesus? How can my 2012 political life become an hors d’oevure of that heavenly feast?
The first answer I’ve come to has nothing to do with “The Issues.” It has to do with “Love thy neighbor.” What I think Sarayu is showing me is that, in the past, I have used political seasons as an excuse to take a break from loving my friends who are politically different from me. Most of my friends are people I know to be basically intelligent, sane, and good. But then a super-PAC comes along. It massages my ego by agreeing with my political views, and then proceeds to tell me that my friends (the ones who disagree with me) are either evil, crazy, or stupid. In the past, I have pretty readily believed the PAC. After all, they have more money to spend on ads than my friends do. And that’s why every Autumn, I feel the stress of interacting with friends who seem sane but intend to vote in ways that obviously mean they are crazy.
So in the past year, I have tried a simple experiment: I have tried to resist every impulse to believe that my good/intelligent/sane friends are evil/stupid/crazy, regardless of their political ideas. This experiment has borne some surprisingly great fruit. I have been more able to listen and learn. I have learned to refrain from using political “zingers” because zingers are all about exposing the evil/stupidity/insanity of political “others,” and some of those others are my friends whom I respect and admire.
Most of all, here it is November 1, and I’m feeling quite at peace. My body is not vibrating in fear or anger about which Caesar gets elected emperor. It’s nice!
Some people will tell me I *should* be afraid and angry because of this or that crucial issue and the national darkness that awaits us if [ Insert name ] gets elected. I do agree that there really are issues that are extremely important –– Life-and-Death important. We do have real problems that will take our best humanity and intelligence to solve. But none of that trumps the fact that I know and trust my friends. And that my knowing/trusting lives within the embrace of the perfect knowing/trusting shared between Papa, Jesus & Sarayu. I am happy you and I are citizens together of that Place.
(The original version of this essay was posted at the blog Trinity and Humanity)
You know Proverbs 31? That chapter of the Bible that depresses every woman you know? Jewish people have a much better way of thinking about this, and they probably understand it better than us anyway… Proverbs 31 is not a list that defines how a “biblical woman” behaves. It is a song of praise from a husband to a wife, praise and honor for all that she does. For real. Go to an orthodox Jewish household for dinner and listen to what the husband sings to his wife at the beginning of dinner. It is praise for the “woman of valor” to whom I am married, glorious in all the everyday things she does.
If I were the writer of Proverbs 31, it would go something like:
A woman of valor who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
She buys clothes for the kids,
they are always growing yet never naked.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar,
like that takeout Chinese we had.
She gets up while it is still night;
and makes sure the kids get to school eventually.
She buys everything at Goodwill,
but only on Half-Off Day.
Every Saturday she leaves us at home,
to make money as a massage therapist
so we can afford piano lessons for the kids
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
Her children arise and call her “MOM!!!!!!”
her husband adores and praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Today, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is just pissing me off. I’m in the chapter where the #BiblicalWomanhood virtue of the month is BEAUTY, and I’m being subjected to the vile shit that gets spewed at women and labeled as “biblical teaching”:
You should be so beautiful and sexually available to your husband such that he “will be so satisfied that even if another woman entices him, he won’t be tempted.”
“Wife, it is your God-ordained ministry to your husband to be his totally enthusiastic sex partner, ready to enjoy him at all times… If you don’t score high points here, you are providing an opening for your husband to be tempted by other women.”
Rachel Held Evans summarizes (and effectively debunks) this toxic message that is getting sent to women: “Stay beautiful, or your husband might leave you…and if he does, it’s partially your fault.” Her book does a good job at sharing the devastating effect this idea has on women, and I want to add my perspective. I am a married guy. I have never had an affair, but I have looked at porn, which is close enough to infidelity to qualify me to talk about this.
In the times when I looked at porn or got “tempted” by another woman, it was because I felt bad and I chose an unhealthy way to make myself feel better. It was because I felt powerless in life, and it felt good to imagine myself to be the sort of man that women don’t say No to. It was because it felt good to have the illusion of intimacy without the complication of relationship. It was because I lacked the courage to be fully present with the real woman who knew me inside and out and wanted to embrace me anyway. It was because the risk of real relationship (which includes both Yes’s and No’s) was too much for my brittle manhood to handle.
It comes down to this: My problems were not my wife’s fault. Not even a little bit. And those who say my problems were the result of her not acting sufficiently like a will-less porn object — not only are they twisting the Bible, but they are monumentally stupid.
I have been reading my friend Rachel Held Evans‘ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (and I’m enjoying the heck out of it, I might add), and I’m thinking about the origin of all the Bible has to say about “womanhood.” Regardless of how many (or how few) cultural barnacles have been attached, the Bible’s concerns for womanhood ultimately spring from the inner nature of the Triune God, that feisty group of misfits many of us have come to know as Papa, Jesus & Sarayu. Whatever it means to be Homo Sapiens with more ovaries than testicles, it springs from who God is, how the persons of the Trinity relate to one another. We are, after all, created male and female in their image, after their likeness (Genesis 1.26-27). So as I read through this book, I can’t help thinking about how God is doing at living up to the Bible’s standard of how to be a good woman. And also wondering if a “standard” is really what the Bible is trying to give us….
Rachel boiled down her study of Biblical Womanhood into 12 virtues, and then practiced each one in some specific biblical practices for one month of the year. So I’m going to look at her monthly “To Do List” to see how God stacks up [And just in case you don’t already know me enough to understand this, I am doing this somewhat (though not entirely) tongue-in-cheek]:
Year of Biblical Womanhood, Month #1: GENTLENESS. To do this month:
- Cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, even during football games. I think God does fine here, except for the “during football games” part. I mean, come on. And except for when God is speaking through like Jeremiah or something. And whenever there’s livestock in the Temple.
- Kick the gossip habit. I don’t want to call God a gossip, but how much of the Bible is God telling us about crap other people have done? Granted, but I think gossip is at least partly defined by a malicious intent, so I think God is doing pretty good there.
- Take an etiquette lesson (Prov 11.22). Has God ever been polite? Gracious, certainly, but etiquette conscious? I like Rachel’s quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “It’s not about doing everything right. It’s about putting other people ahead of yourself.” If that’s etiquette, then God is surely at the head of her class.
- Practice contemplative prayer (Ps 131). If anybody knows how to practice the presence of God, it’s Papa, Jesus & Sarayu.
- Make a ‘swearing jar’ for behaviors that mimic the ‘contentious woman’ of Proverbs. OK, so this is the Bible’s [polite?] way of calling a woman a “psycho bitch.” Surely God is not bitchy, but never shies away from telling you what’s what. If being “contentious” means being assertive and brutally honest, then yeah, God is a total bitch (biblically speaking). But I suspect “being contentious” means something bad, so I’m pretty sure God doesn’t do whatever that is.
- Doing penance on the rooftop for acts of contention (Prov 21.9). God is omnipresent, so yes, God’s on the roof.
Stay tuned for Month #2: DOMESTICITY!
I am ShackBibleGuy, and I approved this message. I did get a nifty pre-release copy of this book for free, but I am not being compensated in any way for talking about Rachel’s book. Apparently, biblical womanhood does not include the virtue of “Giving money to obscure bloggers.”