The new stealth religious best-seller, "the Shack" has made it to the pages of the New York Times.
Stealth no more.
The Shack is the sort of book that makes conservative Catholics and evangelicals crazy. An enormously popular blockbuster that is regarded as "Christian" but plays around with many of the basics of the faith. The plot? A grieving father who meets God in the form of a jolly African-American woman.
"Early in the novel the young daughter of the protagonist, Mack, is abducted. Four years later he visits the shack where evidence of the girl’s murder was discovered. He spends a weekend there in a kind of spiritual therapy session with God, who calls herself “Papa”; Jesus, who appears as a Jewish workman; and Sarayu, an indeterminately Asian woman who incarnates the Holy Spirit.
The Times refers to "The Shack" as a 'Christian' novel.
Sales have been fueled partly by a whiff of controversy. Some conservative Christian leaders and bloggers have attacked “The Shack” as heresy. The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, devoted most of a radio show to the book, calling it “deeply troubling” and asserting that it undermined orthodox Christianity. Others have said the book’s approach to theology is too breezy to be taken seriously.
But it has obviously hit a chord:
Brad Cummings, a former pastor and the president of Windblown, said the company, which first shipped books out of his garage, spent about $300 in marketing. Word of the book ripped through the Christian blogosphere, talk radio and pulpits across the country.
Love the $300 marketing effort. .
“Everybody that I know has bought at least 10 copies,” Mr. Nowak said. “There’s definitely something about the book that makes people want to share it.”
Thousands of readers like Mr. Nowak, a regular churchgoer, have helped propel “The Shack,” written by William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk in Gresham, Ore., and privately published by a pair of former pastors near Los Angeles, into a surprise best seller. It is the most compelling recent example of how a word-of-mouth phenomenon can explode into a blockbuster when the momentum hits chain bookstores, and the marketing and distribution power of a major commercial publisher is thrown behind it.
Just over a year after it was originally published as a paperback, “The Shack” had its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on June 8 and has stayed there ever since. It is No. 1 on Borders Group’s trade paperback fiction list, and at Barnes & Noble it has been No. 1 on the trade paperback list since the end of May, outselling even Mr. Tolle’s spiritual guide “A New Earth,” selected by Ms. Winfrey’s book club in January.
Have you read the book? What did you think? What is so compelling about "The Shack" that Christians are buying in in huge quantities despite its obvious flaws?
Nana Dominic Adu Gyamfi dances to the collection basket at the front of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and drops in a few dollars. Following him are the rest of the Sunday born, followed by the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday-born dancing to Twi hymns sung by the choir.
“It reinforces in ourselves and in our children our traditional values that we grew up with,” said Gyamfi. Gyamfi, dressed in a traditional Ghanaian tunic shirt and black dress pants, is the president of the Washington D.C. area Ghanaian Catholic Community.
Child naming ceremonies accompany weddings and funerals here, said Gyamfi, an Akan chief and African cloth dealer. The preaching also draws on examples from Ghanaian values, he said.“Respect for elders is so strongly enforced in our system,” said Gyamfi.
The pastor of the Ghanaian Catholic Community, Father Henry Kwaku Dua, knows how easy it can be to lose part of his culture. After returning to Ghana after being in Chile for nine years he could not speak his language very well or find his old friends, who had moved to different parts of the country.
Father Henry, Order of the Divine Word, has been the pastor of the community for the last four years. He said he has seen the community grow from less than 30 people to over 200.
Back in the Episcopal Church, many women and men sway to the sounds of the choir.
Most women and men wear traditional Ghanaian clothing to Mass. On a recent Sunday, multiple women were swathed in bright patterned dresses and head wraps, while men sported tunics. The men and women also stick to different sides of the church, an African tradition and not uncommon in other societies.
The community takes the Vatican II edict to participate more fully in the Mass very seriously. The Mass takes at least two hours to complete, a recent Sunday threatened three hours, a stark contrast to a typical American Mass that races to finish in an hour.
“When you have twenty-four hours of sunshine, you don't have to be in rush for anything” said Gyamfi, stating the pace of life in the United States is one of the most difficult adjustments for Ghanaians.
The liturgy alternates between Twi and English.
Here's a glimpse of a Sunday liturgy from Holy Family Catholic Church in Accra, Ghana via You tube. You can glimpse a deacon on the right side preparing the altar but there is no explanation for the dancing of the women in front of the altar - whether this was for a special occasion or is a standard part of the Mass in Ghana.
Stephen Sparrow of New Zealand, who is a regular ID reader and commenter underwent surgery on Monday and is currently in the "High Dependency" Unit (intensive care? Recovery?) and would appreciate our prayers for him and his family.
This morning’s witness talk was given by Mr. Jose H. Prado Flores, Director/Founder of the San Andres School of Evangelization. He spoke in spanish of his own faith journey, comparing it to a can of Diet Coke – light, with zero calories. While he studied theology and was a student of the church, everything was in his head but hadn’t been transferred to his heart.
Filled with great energy and a knack for humour, Mr. Flores used several props throughout his presentation to illustrate his points. A frozen steak was presented to illustrate that his faith was frozen, a remote control touched on our desire to change the channel when life is not going as we would like. A road map was produced to speak of the fact that while God has ultimate control we still want to control the direction of our life and where we are headed.
Finally a balloon was inflated to show that we can all be filled with the word of God – our tendency is to tie up the balloon as opposed to letting the Holy Spirit move where it needs to be. The visual of bishops and the congregation joyfully blowing up their balloons and just “letting go” was a powerful message that led to a standing ovation and plenty of food for thought.
Mr. Flores has helped found over 2,000 schools in 61 countries, providing evangelization to communities around the world. Today, another 11,000 were schooled in what it means to live one’s faith, to let go and let God be God…
I hope to blog on the Pope's homily from yesterday's Statio Orbis Mass when the full English text becomes available on the Vatican website.
When I was an undergraduate at Furman University I had the opportunity to help establish an intentional and ecumenical Christian community and house of hospitality as part of the Mere Christianity Forum. We called the house and community "Vista House." This mission statement is on the Vista House website:
Vista House attempts to accomplish the overall mission of Mere Christianity Forum by creating a location where authentic, intentional Christian community is fostered, the good, true and beautiful is pursued, and the growth of the entire person is encouraged.
Our off-campus facility, Vista House, is a living, relational community of Christians who model and share the vision and love of Christ. By serving both the Furman University and greater Greenville community with the preparing and serving of meals, the creation of a warm and inviting atmosphere suitable for discussion and retreat, and the forging of genuine relationships with others through community, Vista House fellows and regular attendees of the Mere Christianity Forum attempt to model the holistic Christian life. The goal of Vista House is to paint a vista, a landscape, of the beauty and truth of the Christian life in a comfortable environment by persons living in an intentional Christian community.
Sherry and I were speaking earlier today about how to evangelize post-moderns and one thing we considered essential was the witness of intentional communities willing to witness faithfully to Christ and the Gospel through their community life, hospitality, right Christian practice (as a necessary complement to right Christian belief or orthodoxy), and the encounter with beauty. Monastic life did much of what we seek to do at Vista House (indeed monastic authors played a huge role forming us in preparation for establishing Vista House) in the evangelization of Europe and a renewal along those lines was called for by Alasdair MacIntyre at the end of After Virtue. We must remember that in a post-modern and post-Christian age propositional apologetics will not be effectively used in the same ways they used to be. However, as the emergent church is teaching us, the witness of truth, goodness, and beauty lived, particularly in communities and transcendent worship rooted in Christian tradition, will be a more effective means of evangelization than the apologetics of the past. We recognized this five years ago in the establishment of Vista House and I offer it as a witness to the possibilities for effectively evangelizing post-moderns.
Today I came across a unique project out of Louisiana called Catholic Underground (not the NYC Franciscan Friars of the Renewal initiative), which is a regular podcast hosted by two priests, a layman, and some other regular guest panelists. It seems that they are really serious about proclaiming the Gospel using new media.
"While it may be difficult to imagine mass conversions in the Emerald City of sun and surf, Fisher says there's no reason why the spirit can't come on Sydney as it has on its predecessors. So confident is the Sydney archdiocese in the power of World Youth Day that it has commissioned, for the first time, research that will chart the progress of pilgrims who attend this year's celebrations — a sort of spiritual Seven Up! The first batch of research, which looks at who is coming to World Youth Day and why, will be released soon."
It would be incredible to have something more than anecdotes to grasp the impact of an event like World Youth Day, While the work of grace never reveals itself fully to such measurements, some sense of some of the impact could be measured.
And the phenomenal diversity of this Particular Church! I heard so many tongues! The roar when the Hispanics were first acknowledged! And even the Vietnamese!
And the entire place was steeped in personal, intentional, awakened faith as well, as well as the apostolate of the laity."
"The first main talk was by Fr. Tim Hepburn, a priest of the Archdiocese, who's recently finished a degree in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. What an Spirit-filled priest! He said that one cannot assume that just by being Catholic one has faith. Faith is an intentional response. It doesn't just happened. So many Catholics have an unawakened faith. "You shouldn't even presume that just because I am a priest, I have faith!" "If a mouse were to jump up on the altar during Mass and eat the consecrated Species, would it receive the Real Body and Blood of Christ?" (Yes) "But would it receive the Eucharistic Lord?" (No!) "The Sacraments are Sacraments of faith. The power of the Eucharist only works if we are properly disposed. "So many Catholics have the faith of mice!"
Hurray for Fr. Tim. He (along with Tim Ferguson of St. Blog's) was the reason I got invited to speak at Sacred Heart Seminary last October. The two Tims (one whom we knew from working in Atlanta, one who we knew from our many trips to San Francisco) spend a long time after class one day talking to Ralph Martin about CSI's work with the charisms (the subject had come up in class that day).
Atlanta is still at the top of my list for healthiest diocese I've ever worked in. Filled with lots of creative, confident intentional disciples at the diocesan level and the parish level. The renewal of the Atlanta archdiocese started with a lay woman who asked the previous Archbishop to sponsor Eucharist Adoration at the cathedral and then, throughout the diocese. It was the collaboration of that woman with her bishop that jump-started much of the good stuff going on there today and Adoration was the spiritual catalyst.
Someday, I hope to get to the Eucharistic Congress there myself.
Interesting event coming up in July at the Museum of the City of New York.
A discussion on the topic: Is Anti-Catholicism Dead?
Paul Baumann, editor of Commonweal, will moderate a discussion about the history of anti-Catholicism and its resonance today. From the virulent nativist movements of the 19th century to contemporary examples of anti-Catholic rhetoric, a distinguished panel will discuss how the Catholic community has confronted discrimination and whether criticism of Catholicism can exist without fueling prejudice. Mr. Baumann will be joined by George Marlin, author, activist, and former Executive Director and CEO of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; James McCartin, Professor of History, Seton Hall University; and Reverend Richard John Neuhaus, founder and editor of First Things.
As the promotional video puts it: Their story is the story of every New Yorker.
The exhibition is organized around three central themes:
How Catholic community life revolved around New York's parishes, starting with the earliest, such as St. Peter's, old St. Patrick's, and St. Brigid's in Manhattan, and the distinctive subculture that arose in their heavily Catholic neighborhoods;
The creation of a vast system of health, education, and social welfare institutions, including parochial schools, the New York Foundling Hospital, and healthcare centers such as St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan and St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn, originally founded by Catholics to provide services that embraced their religion and that would be insulated from anti-Catholic prejudice; and
The rise of Catholics as a force in New York politics, framed by such New York figures as William R. Grace (1832-1904), the Irish-born businessman who in 1880 was elected the first Catholic mayor of New York City; Alfred E. Smith (1873-1944), the governor from the Lower East Side who became the first Catholic to be nominated by a major political party for President of the United States, in 1928; Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954), the Congressman and American Labor Party leader from East Harlem; and many others.
What a compelling witness but what it costs to say "yes" to God in such a place. It reminds me very much of the stories that come out of the recusant Catholics of 16th century England when prisons became houses of formation and experiences of intense Christian community. (Margaret Clitheroe learned to read in prison and was given her most precious possession there: the new English Catholic translation of the Bible. Her Bible survived and is in the possession of the Bar Convernt in York)
And Joe's post raises another fascinating topic which is difficult to talk about clearly.
At Making Disciples last week, we talked of the power of Adoration - of exposing the unbaptized, the uncatechized, the lapsed to Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament - to reach post modern people who are drawn to encounter and mystery. We received a few comments in the evaluations from people who seemed to think that we were thereby minimizing the liturgy and the communal prayer of the baptized.
But they didn't get it. The presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament can be accessible and even experiential to people who have no liturgical background of any kind or even a conscious aversion to liturgy. I know of several people who are Catholic today, including myself, because we wandered across the threshold of a Catholic Church and felt a Presence that transcended al our conscious beliefs and expectations.
And they, oddly, seemed to not grasp that someone returning to the Church or approaching her for the first time, often - even usually - does so by him or herself or perhaps with one or two friends. It *feels* like a very personal, individual journey for most people regardless of whether or not they live in an "individualistic" culture like ours or not. It was a highly personal and individual journey for Margaret Clitheroe, who was raised Anglican in the 16th century, as it was, famously, for St. Augustine.
So often we project our intro-ecclesial debates onto those outside. I always find it odd when I run across Catholics who regard the theological idea of the "the People of God" or the communal worshiping community, understood at its most abstract and apart from any question of living Christian community, as in tacit opposition to the individual spiritual journeys of real people. (Now that I think about it - these concerns have always come from life-long Catholics who are deep ecclesial insiders. I have never heard a convert talk so.)
Most people are moved by individual experience and by the experience of relationship with other individuals or a living community. Only a few will be moved to open their lives to Christ by the idea of the People of God. Even when that happens, as in the case of the Jacques & Raisa Maritain, the resulting journey to faith, discipleship, and communion, is still experienced as very personal. I am responding to an initiative from a personal God, I am saying yes to the claims of the Church.
But many - of any background, intellectual or peasant - like Cardinal Nguyen van Thun's fellow prisoners, will respond to an experience of God: through the witness of disciples, through an experienced of real community, through an encounter, even one without words, with the Blessed Sacrament.
Would an intentional disciple ever talk or think about their journey to Christ in so bloodless and abstract a fashion? I have never met one who did. It always sounds like Cardinal Thun's story. A lived, costly, and highly personal "yes" to a living God.
Yesterday, those tuning into the proceedings of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec heard the testimony of Elizabeth Nguyen Thi Thu Hong, the sister of the late Archbishop of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and President of the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân. Those of you familiar with his writings and the story of his life are well aware of his great witness to Jesus Christ. His sufferings were tremendous: 13 years in a Vietnamese prison, 9 years in solitary confinement, the inability to freely shepherd his flock, and finally the incurable stomach cancer that killed him in 2002. However, throughout it all he had his gaze totally fixed on Jesus, particularly in His Eucharistic Presence. Elizabeth had much to say about her brother and his relationship with our Lord, but for our purposes her meditation on the Eucharist and missionary activity was particularly striking:
The Eucharist is the heart and soul of missionary activity. Indeed it was during those years of silence and solitude, cut off from all pastoral duties, but intimately united to the Eucharist that Francis understood with his whole being that it is only God, and not God's work, that should be the centre of our lives. That understanding opened the door to the Holy Spirit to transform those years of severe restrictions into the most active and fruitful evangelization periods of his life.
ln his book Five Loaves and Two Fish, Francis recounted the special period of his life which he considered as his period of major spiritual growth. Many times I was tempted, tormented by the fact that I was only 48 years old, in the prime of my life. I had acquired a great deal of pastoral experience, and there I was, isolated, inactive, separated from my people. One night I heard a voice encouraging me from the depth of my heart: ‘Why do you torment yourself so? You must distinguish between God and the work of God. You must choose God alone, and not his works.
When the communists threw him into the old of a cargo ship headed to Haiphong, 1700 m north, he suddenly found himself among some 1500 desperate, starving prisoners. He sensed their anger, their despair and desire for revenge, and he started to share in their human suffering; but with the inner voice immediately urging him to choose God, and not the works of God, he quickly realized that, in that captive company, he had just been handed a cathedral full of faithful to minister to. He decided to be an affirmation of God's presence in the midst of that cargo of human misery. He sustained his fellow prisoners during the 10-day trip, and managed to provide comfort for them.
By the time the cargo ship of prisoners reached Haiphong, Thuan realized he was already following Jesus to the roots of evangelization. It was like going with Him to die "extra muros", i.e., outside the walls, outside the sacred walls (Five Loaves and Two Fish).
Van Thuan described how he practised his ministry in the Vinh Quang Prison Camp: At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With His silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith ife, and their quiet display of service and love had an even greater impact on other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians joined in the faith. The strength of Jesus' loving presence was irresistible. The darkness of prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the ground during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptised fellow prisoners and became godparents to their companions.
This weekend is build-a-split-rail-fence-and-plant-2-dozen-shrubs-and-vines weekend. I should have done it earlier but 8 days on the road crimped my gardening style.
The wildflowers planted 4 weeks ago are rapidly covering the bed and I look forward to actually seeing some flowers someday. My catmint is an intense haze of purple.
This getting back into the swing thing is taking longer than I thought. This morning, I removed Office for Mac and reinstalled it - with many grumbles since the program is always asking me to do things that I haven't the faintest idea how to do- and we'll see if that cures it of its ailments. Oh, and I have to get that external hard drive that I picked up in Chicago going and set up my Time Machine for continuous back-ups. (There is nothing like contemplating losing 10 year's work to a failing hard drive to get your attention.)
And had to look seriously at my to do list in light of our heavy fall travel. Got to finish booklet on Stewardship as Stewardship of Mission and Vocation. Two other brochures to write. 4 grants to write, 9 one of kind events to write and plan for. And that's just what I know about at the moment.
But I'm home till August 10, so hope to get back into a pattern of regular blogging soon. Fr. Mike is basking in the brisk 106 degree temps of Tucson until June 30 (and his air conditioner is on the fritz!) but I hope that we will hear from him and Joe Waters as well.