Monday, July 14, 2008
One of the unpleasant realities of the onset of aging is that truckload of errors and omissions that you think were properly buried and forgotten long ago. They’re not, really. They come back and haunt us old guys; sometimes unexpectedly. Usually with some degree of pain.
Robert Boyd Munger wrote a little book way back in 1956 and called it “My Heart Christ’s Home.” It suggested that we take Paul’s letter to the Ephesians seriously, and let Christ “dwell in our hearts.” The original language suggests “making his home” right there in our innermost being. Munger took the metaphor and worked it, as we writers do. The book is a little house tour, taking us through the entry-way into the living room, and the dining room and the bedroom and the kitchen and the den and the library. He helped us imagine Jesus there with us in each room. We listened to what he might say in the context of those very personal living spaces; where we find rest and nourishment and conversation and renewal.
When Munger wrote back in the fifties, there were no computer rooms connected to the world wide web, and most television sets were black and white flickering screens, rarely larger than twelve or fourteen inches. The music was high fidelity; two-track stereo would come later. But there were closets – those dark, foreboding, cluttered, hidden corners in the very back of the house. One of Munger’s most penetrating and haunting questions – would we let Jesus open the door of those hidden enclosures at the back of the house? Up there in the attic? Down there in the metaphorical basement? Or would we ask him to stay there on the sofa in the living room where everything is in place? Where it’s safe.
A close, long time friend invited me to hear William Paul Young talk about his new book, The Shack. Apparently, I’ve been living in some sort of isolation. I’d not heard of the book. It has taken off as a hit best seller – no marketing, no publisher. The only explanation I could conjure up is that word-of-mouth buzz is carrying the book across the continent like a tsunami; between Facebook friends and bloggers and texting and conversations over a latté at Starbucks, the guys in the mail room are having a hard time keeping up with the orders. I understand the latest count is two million in print. That’s two million. Whoa. It got me curious. (Maybe my book will do the same!)
When Craig and Carole invited Carolyn and me to hear the author speak to a crowd of well over a thousand folks, I thought I should do a little Google homework. It didn’t take long. A few keystrokes, and voilà. More than I could absorb. I learned that the book is a fictional, metaphorical account about a guy close to my age who is working through his stuff. It’s somewhat auto-biographical, but that’s not the point. I figured (from what I found online) that the shack must be the imaginary place he goes to do battle with his demons. Now that I’ve heard him speak, and read the book, I know that I was close. But it’s much more than that.
Young’s personal story is painful. But it is also powerful. It’s a story of healing and reconciliation and family and marriage and love and hope. Healing doesn’t really happen unless there is some sort of malady that needs curing. Reconciliation is only real against the backdrop of damaging alienation or betrayal or injury. Family and marriage become rich and full and satisfying where there is adversity to overcome. Love emerges strong in the presence of honesty and forgiveness and repentance and restoration. Hope shines brightest when you’ve known the darkness of despair.
To hear Young speak is to hear a man who knows these things from experience. So I was ready to read the book.
The other day, half way through, I sat reading in the shade by the pool. A young mom walked by with her noisy little brood and said, “Hey, that’s the same book I’m reading!” It’s everywhere.
When I finally put it down, having just read the very last page, this time in the privacy of my home office, I wept. Deeply. That moment took me by surprise, really. I’m glad you weren’t there. I would have been embarrassed. But I think my journey to The Shack, along with Mac, enabled me in a new and striking way, to open up some of those old doors I prefer to keep closed. And the fresh air was, well, an oasis.
Now, if you know how to Google search, you’ll find that the good author has stirred up the pot. We Christians are ever on the crusade for Truth; quick to spot Error. We think we’ve done God a favor when we Expose It. I’ve gone through some of the screechy complaints about The Shack… and now that I’ve finished the book I believe that much of the criticism comes from people who haven’t read the novel or just plain don’t understand the nuances of metaphor or worse, just don’t like the idea of opening up those closet doors. It’s not easy.
Munger’s book took off back in the fifties because people found out that Jesus wants the whole house. Not to condemn, but to heal. Not to judge, but to bring forgiveness and wholeness. If Jesus has a problem with us, it’s because we keep him on the couch. “Cream and sugar?” That’s as far as we get.
When Mac overcomes his fear and his pride and even his common sense, and against all odds returns to The Shack, he’s given a surprise gift. It’s the gift the Prodigal got.
My good friend, my colleague, on this Monday morning, you are a leader.
That same gift is there for you.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008