We are kinda in a holding pattern with the birth of baby Thomas, so I thought I'd take some time and blog. His due date was Monday Nov. 16....so if you'll take a quick look at a calendar you'll notice that we are about 3 days over due date with no real signs that he'll come today, though I suppose anything can happen.
In any case, all the waiting around and trying to be patient has allowed me some time to think back over the past nine months. Karen announced the other day that there are 52 weeks in a year, and she has now been pregnant 41 weeks, so she's NOT been pregnant for only 11 weeks this year. Needless to say, it seems like she's been pregnant forever.
I remember finding out. I was actually not so surprised. We had decided last December that we would....eh em...remove the goaly so-to-speak, and just see what would happen. We never said we were "ready" to have a child. I don't know what it means to be ready. I still don't feel like I am ready, nor do I think I could ever be ready. It seems to just be something you do without any frame of reference. So we decided to just see what happens. So Karen mentioned in late February that she wasn't feeling so good, so immediatly I said "your pregnant!" I didn't really know, but I sorta had a feeling. Turns out I was right, and after 5 pregnancy tests we decided we better get an appointment with the OB/GYN.
It was only a week or so after that we were going home. I was playing a retreat in Macon, so we decided to go ahead and tell our folks. We went to my parents house on Thursday night, just to hang out with them. We bought them a card that on the front said "Your having a grandchild". So we had Mom and Dad to sit on the couch together and open the card. I remember distinctly the look on my moms face. She read it, and then after a second it sunk in, and she threw the card on the floor and ran over and hugged us. It was a moment that will forever be etched in my mind. I have a feeling they were ready for grandchildren before we were ready for children, so they were pretty excited!!
On Friday we went to Karen's parents and told them in a similar manner. It was Mr. Bruce's birthday, so we got him a card that said "Happy Birthday Grandpa!" It took him a minute to figure out, and his reaction was rather subtle. However, Karen's sister Becky Sue was there, and she let out a scream of joy! I remember that night clearly as well. They all seemed really excited!
The next couple of months after that were pretty rough. Karen was quite sick most of the first tri-mester. We made two trips to the hospital to try to help with the nausea, vomitting, and splitting headaches. It was awful. I felt so sorry for her, and felt helpless because there was nothing I could do to help. She was a trooper though!
After about July things started to settle down. She was getting sick less, and was starting to develop a little "baby bump". We found out 20 weeks in that we were having a boy, and just knowing what we were having made the planning for fun....and more real. I of course was ecstatic about having a boy. I always wanted the boy first for several reasons. The first is so I would never be outnumbered. I mean sure, we could potentially have 2 more girls when we decide to have another child, but at least I'll have my boy to play with. Karen only has the one sister, and I always felt like my father-in-law was just outnumbered. He handles it well of course, and for that I commend him. I'm just not sure I would be that patient. The second reason I wanted a boy first is so that we would at least have a big brother. In the case that we have a girl next she can have a big brother to her...you know...protect her at school, beat up her boyfriends, etc. And if we have another boy, well that would be cool too!
So from July until now things have been really good. We spent lots of time getting the room ready, registering for showers, and buying clothes and things for this little fella we've never met! It's been quite surreal. Karen is a beautiful pregnant lady! That whole pregnant glow thing they talk about, well I'm not sure I've seen the glow, but there has been something unmistakeable about how she looks.....just amazing!! And I've never been so proud of her. She has handled her pregnancy with such grace and patience. I can't imagine what she is going through, not only having her body change, but also having another life growing inside of you. It blows my mind. She has done so great, and the whole process has just reminded me of what a great mother she is going to be!
There are a couple of lessons I have learned through these past nine months. The first is that I have very little control over most of my life. Realizing that there is a little life being formed in Karen's womb has reminded me of God's sovereingty. He is the one who is forming that life, the one who sustains his health, the one that will protect and keep him healthy through the labor, the one who has allowed Karen's body to nousish and hold him, and the one who will keep Karen safe through labor. There is literally nothing I can do to ensure either's health or well-being. I have no control over whether or not he will have 10 fingers and 10 toes. I am just trusting God that he will be as God intends, that the labor will go as God plans, and that throughout Thomas's life, God will be in control from beginning to end. It is a hard thing to grasp for me, as I like to think I am in control most of the time. I pray for dependence on God for the entirety of this parenting journey, for I have no idea what I am getting myself into.
I have also learned the blessing of a child....even though we've not offically had him yet. There are so many couples who long to have children but can't. Just knowing that we were able to concieve is a blessing. My heart goes out to those who struggle to concieve. So even when we have long, sleepless nights, I pray that I'll remember what a blessing it is to have this child, and that there are tons of people who would give anything to experience this. As I say that, I pray that peace will be given to those who are struggling to have children. One of my favorite scriptures through this time is from Psalm 127:3-5 "Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!"
Finally, the lesson that Karen and I are learning presently is patience. We are so ready for Thomas to come and we desperatly desire to meet the little guy. But we are still just waiting. So we are trying to be patient, realizing that things will happen in God's time. The scripture that encourages me is from Psalm 40 "I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined to me and heard my cry." The rest of that entire chapter is great, you should read it. You can also google Psalm 40 and U2....they did a song based on the scripture!
The past nine months have been amazing. At times I wasn't sure I was going to make it through. There are other points where it has already been the most exciting times of my life. I am thankful for God granting us this child. I pray that he grants us wisdom, patience, understanding, and a heart more like his as we enter into this chapter of our lives. I pray that Thomas will grow up to love Jesus, that he will be spared from major mistakes that could lead him to a life of pain, that he would have wisdom beyond his years, and that he'll experience joy and peace through life. And I pray that I won't pass out during the labor!
We'll let you know when Thomas arrives. I have a feeling that there will be many blogs to come about our little boy!!!
Well, there was a stranger in my house! That's right, Karen and I had a perpetrator enter our home sometime between 11 pm Thursday evening and 7:22 am Friday morning. The trespasser rummaged through our pantry, went into our refrigerator, terrorized our cat Howard and led to a wild chase that involved tearing at least part of our house apart! But, finally, as of 8:20 this morning, the perpetrator has been caught, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death.
So since Karen is pregnant she finds it hard to get comfortable in our bed. We have a Temperpedic mattress that is awesome, but apparently when you are pregnant it is really hard to move, shift positions, or otherwise find an appropriate position for sleeping. So Karen has slept one of two place for the last several weeks; either in the guest room bed or on the couch. Such was the case on Thursday night. I am usually off on Fridays, so Karen and I had big plans to go and do some shopping for Thomas. First, however, Charter was scheduled to come between 8 and 10 to repair our Internet (stupid Charter....that's another blog post in-and-of itself!). I set my alarm to go off around 7:45 so I'd be ready for the Charter folks. Well, an alarm went off at about 7:15 Friday morning, but it was not my clock radio. It was a shrill voice screaming "Matt! Matt!! Wake up! Howard is chasing a mouse!" That's right, the perpetrator who breached the threshold of our comfortable safe little home was a fury, beady eyed, nasty little mouse.
Well, half asleep, I stumbled out of bed to see what all the racket was about. I was greeted at the bedroom door with an old broom and a greeting of "Here, kill it!" Well good morning to you too honey. Immediately I saw Howard running in the living room. She had the mouse running back and forth from underneath the couch to underneath the couch-side table. It was the ultimate game of cat and mouse! Well, a couple of times, the stinking cat caught the mouse, held it in her mouth, then let it go so she could....I don't know...play with it I guess. Stupid cat. Over the summer she would go outside and bring us mice all the time....she'd drop the dead carcasses on the doorstep as though they were a gift. But get one in our house and all she wants to do is play with it. So I grabbed the broom and got in on the little "game".
Of course, to appreciate this, you have to know that while I like to think of myself as a true man (who am I kidding) mice and rats really give me the creeps. Makes my skin crawl. Ick! So while I am altogether interested in putting an end to the aforementioned game, I am also altogether interested in killing the mouse without ever actually having to touch it. So, I jump into the game already in progress and get a couple of failed swats at the mouse. Seeing me now involved, Howard is now completely uninterested in the mouse, so she goes and finds a comfortable seat and just watches. Stupid cat! Honestly...what good are you?!?!
Well I swat once more at the mouse and he (or she...I didn't take the time to find out) takes off from the living room into the kitchen and scurries underneath our pantry door. "Great!" says I! Our pantry floor has all manner of supplies, storage bins, platters, saucers, plates, and other nonsense. So, guess what I do next. I clean out the pantry. Karen jumps in on the fun and helps me get everything out except for one lone little serving platters. Well, I know the mouse has to still be in the pantry and there is only one place he can hide. So I take the broom and gently lift up the platter.
You know to be so small, mice are deceivingly fast. I mean they can really move! Speedy Gonzales on Loony Tunes was not really that far fetched! So I lift up the platter, using the broom.....this means that the broom is occupied, and I have only one free hand to use as a weapon, and well this disease carrying, nasty little rodent shouldn't be touched (more for Karen's sake than mine....what!?!?? She's pregnant!!!). As I lift up the platter, Speedy takes off, toward the refrigerator. But he's not just running out in the open. Nope! Not only is he fast, but he's also smart. He runs right along side of the cabinets, just under the lip of the cabinets actually....meaning that by the time I realize what has happened, transfer the broom from platter lifting unit to weapon once again, it's almost too late. Almost! I did get one swipe at him. Kinda like those swipes that the jockeys give their race horses...you know, makes them go faster. Little pat on the hiney type thing. So I basically just help the mouse make it faster to his next point of hiding. That point? Underneath our refrigerator! So now, not only is the mouse fast and smart, but he is obviously able to change from a solid state to a liquid so he can just slide under the fridge. I mean really...this mouse was multi-talented!
So here we go again! I unplug the fridge and pull it out as far as I can go. No mouse. This is the part where I learn the inner-workings of a refrigerator. And you know the best way to do that right? Take it apart! Well, actually I just took off the back panel, but with my propensity towards handiness, you realize what a chore this actually was. Well, by this time it has been about 30 minutes of chasing Speedy The Amazing Morphing Genius mouse! I can't seem to find him, and all I can think is that if he dies underneath my refrigerator, that is going to be one awful smell. The chase takes a halt, and Karen and I decide we'll go ahead to town and do our shopping and along the way grab some mouse traps. So we get ourselves ready and we are in our bedroom and Karen tells me to be quiet. She hears something. It's a scratching noise....like the kind a mouse or raccoon makes. For our purposes we'll assume it was a mouse. Sure enough, after much searching with only our ears, we discover that the scratching is coming from.......OUR AIR VENTS!!! Holy Houdini! This mouse is good! Either he can throw his voice...eh em... his scratches, or he has somehow worked his way into our vent system. So I did the only thing I could think to do. The only thing any of us inventive types would do. I cut off a hunk of cheese, pulled an old shoe string out my an old pair of shoes, tied the cheese on the string, and dangled it in the vent. What mouse doesn't like Cheese? Speedy the Magician Mouse apparently.
So we gave up, took off for town, and shopped all day. We did pick up some mouse traps, and put them out. But when we arrived Friday night, we didn't hear another peep out of Magic Mouse. Nor did we on Saturday. Nor on Sunday.
HOWEVER, this morning, I wake up to the same alarm I did on Friday. Karen screaming "Matt! Matt! The mouse is back!! Howard is chasing the Mouse!" My first thought....."oh great". My second "worthless cat!". My third "Oh its on little mousy, it is SOOOOO ON!" (Actually it may have been more like "uhhh uhhh huuh huuhhh"...I don't do mornings!). Well Karen has my weapon ready, and Howard has once again engaged in her little game of catch-the-mouse-let-him-go-then-chase-him-back-and-to-from-the-couch-to-the-table. At least that's what she called it.
To make a long story even longer, I got in on the action, Howard decided to watch instead of help, I took a few futile swats at Magic and he scurried underneath my recliner. Apparently Howard's playing may have done a little damage because Speedy look like he may dropped a cylinder or two. He was limping. But limped underneath my recliner nonetheless.
This is the part where I learn the inner-workings of a Lazy Boy recliner! Turns out, Lazy Boys have this cool design, I think specifically for mice, where they have drilled a quarter size hole in the sides that allows something to go in between that actual side of the recliner and the upholstery. So, there is the wood side of the recliner, covered by fabric, and there is just a little space in between. So guess where the mouse went. Well, I beat, kicked, turned, pounded and shook the recliner to no end. Finally, all of the abuse must have taken its toll on Genius, and he started to ease his way out of the hole. He looked a little worse for the wear, so I grabbed my new trusty weapon, a wooden spoon from the kitchen, and knocked him out of the hole. I'll give the mouse credit, he was a resilient little critter...cause he hit the ground running...well limping....but even at a limp he was fast! But alas, he hit some open ground with nothing to protect him, and I wielding my trusty broom took one last fatal wallop (or two or three).
Killed that sucker! Threw him out of the house! Case closed!
Speedy the Genius Magician Mouse is no more!
My one question though is from Friday morning to Monday morning, where did that mouse go? Or I guess I should ask where did he stay? I mean, was he in the house the whole time? Was he just watching us walk by, while he laughed and planned his next move? And even worse, what good is it to have a cat if she can't sniff out the little varmint and take care of him? Really?!?!
So, to conclude this story, Karen and I survived the break-in, and we now have a Free Kitty to Good Home add in the paper! Any takers?
I love how life is so unpredictable. There are some days that I feel like I am in my regular routine, but most days there is no routine. Work involves different things everyday. Home is the same, Karen works some nights, some nights I'm there by myself, some nights we go off and do stuff, some nights we don't, some nights friends just randomly drive 2 hours south to come see us. It's a good thing for me. Too much routine has the potential to make life pretty boring.
However, Monday threw a curve that I never would have expected. It seems that our Pastor at the church has an uncle who is in charge of a Beauty...eh-hum....I mean Scholarship Pageant in Cullman AL. Apparently this uncle was in a bind and needed judges for this past Tuesday night. Our Pastor couldn't do it, so he asked if Karen and I would be interested. Of course at first I just laughed and said no, but then he said it was a paying gig and I had a change of heart. It turned out that Karen couldn't do it, so I called in my good buddy Heath and we headed to Cullman to be the two rookie pageant judges for the Miss Cullman Fair or something like that.
Now, you know I live in North Alabama and there are just certain stereotypes that go along with anything Alabama, especially being that I am from Georgia. Sometimes this stereotypes are blown out of proportion. Tuesday night they were not!!! Oh my goodness! This Pageant was at what I suppose is called a County Fair. I have only experienced one true fair, that being the Georgia National Fair in Perry. All other fairs are viewed through the lens of that fair. Well you could have fit the Culman county fair inside of the Perry Fair about 100 times. Small fair! However, at least there were some exhibits. For instance, one exhibit consisted of hay bales that had been judge for what I can only assume would have been their hay bale-y-ness??? Of course they were right beside the Muscadine display. How do you in fact judge a muscadine? And what in fact is a muscadine? There were all sorts of vegetables and fruits that had been entered in competition. The best question of the night as we viewed those fine organic specimens was "what is the difference between purple hull peas and black eyed peas" I could only think to say that purple hull peas came from a purple hull while black eyed peas came from black eyed hulls.
There were also some nice displays, the best one going to Ross Funeral Home. Nothing says a fair like a funeral home booth!!
Anyway, you get the idea about this fair right? Not a national fair. They did have a midway complete with about 6 rides! And of course the obligatory cotton candy and funnel cake of which I surprisingly did not partake!
So the pageant was at this fair, but I assumed surely it would be in an exhibit hall, theater or auditorium. I now know why they say what they do about assuming! This particular event was held in an open-air "theater" that had a stage of sorts, and looked like it was typically used to show cattle of some description. That would be outdoor, as in heat and all. And we were in suits. Sweated like a horse!
The judging portion was unique to say the least. We judged the high school senior girls on 5 categories including 1)Pre-Competition Interview 2)Poise and Posture 3)Evening Gown 4)Talent and 5)Speech. The winner would walk away with something like a $1500 scholarship to the school of their choice. A couple of others, like the talent winner and Miss Congeniality (no, not Sandra Bullock) would win smaller scholarship.
The Pre-Competition was perhaps the highlight of the night. This consisted of the 5 judges sitting in a room (which consequently was the dressing room that the girls were using to get ready in.....talk about awkward...of course the girls weren't in there at the time...but still!!!) asking one girl at a time random questions for 7 minutes. Thankfully 2 of the 5 judges had some experience in questioning the girls about all sorts of things from current events, to why they entered the pageant, what the other girls would say about them, and what their future plans after graduation would be. I could only think of 2 questions for most of the night. 1) If you were a superhero, what would your super power be (which I did ask) and 2) If you had to choose, which would be worse eating poo or drinking urine (which I did not ask).
One of the best moments was when a girl mentioned that to prepare for the competition she had gone to a speech coach. When asked why, she said that she was "real country" and needed to work on her vocabulary and her proNOUNciation. As in Pro-Nown-See-A-Shun. Classic! It was all I could do to keep from laughing.
Another notable moment was when a girl mentioned that she wanted to be an event planner when she grew up. One of the judges who happened to be an event planner asked the girl if she was good at handling stress. The girl promptly responded "To be honest, NO." The next follow up question to that was "Do you think quickly on your feet." Her response.................................long pause.........."well apparently not!"
The final highlight of the interview portion I will mention was the one girl who said that she wanted to go to school to be a pharmacist. When asked what school she replied "Alabama. I know they don't have a pharmacy program, but I will do that after I graduate." Hmmm...ok.
One girl said "like" (and by the way that is like with a short I as in liiik-e) at least 11 times in the 7 minutes.
The interview proved that the Alabama public school system is failing students in at least the area of English and Grammar. Our poor language took a beating the likes of which it probably hasn't seen since the last NASCAR race in Talledega!
Once the actual competition started, with the girls parading on stage, giving their 2minute speech, and doing their talent, it wasn't so bad. I discovered how hard it is to be a judge, especially knowing there are about 300 people behind you who are there to support one specific girl. It was harder than I expected to cover my judging sheet so that no one saw what I was writing. I felt at any moment I could have been hit over the head with a brick. Instead I only got hit by one or two spit wads. The evening gown competition was by far the hardest.....as if I know what makes an evening gown good, pretty, or whatever. It felt a little odd.
My specialty was the talent portion of the night, or so I thought. I mean, what I don't know in gowns, I more than make up for in knowledge of talent. Well, not so much when the talent involves tumbling or baton twirling. There were a couple of singers that I knew I could judge. My favorite was the girl who sang and "played" the guitar. And by played I mean held and fake strummed. Can you say deduction?!?!? There was also a girl who twirled the baton, you know the type, the twirl and throw the baton in the air, do splits while throwing the baton, etc. So this one girl was twirling, and bless her heart you know she was nervous and she was just having some trouble catching it. She probably dropped 2 or 3....which was no big deal.....until she walks behind this little wall and comes back out brandishing new batons....ON FIRE!!! Oh deal Lord, this could go bad quickly! All I could think was "please don't throw it, please don't throw it, please don't throw it." Turns out she didn't throw it, which was good in that we didn't all die, but it did make the whole fire experience a bit lackluster! There was one standout performer who, when she talked in the interview was as Alabama country as they come, but when she sang she was like a white Whitney Houston. Mad skillz! She won the talent portion!
The worst part for me was that I couldn't show any reaction to the performances. I asked the two veteran judges any advice for the program. They said "have a concrete face" I said "You mean don't smile?" They said "No facial reactions whatsoever, because someone might see it and say you smiled more for this girl than that,etc." Now, if you know me, I am Mr. Facial expression. Not on purpose. My face just automatically reacts to the thoughts in my head. Happy = Smile, Frustrated = Furrowed Brow, Constipated = well you get the idea. So the whole time while they are up there, I am trying to have a stone face. Which kills because while doing their talent the girls would look right at us judges, and I felt so bad not at least giving them an affirming smile or nod or something. And then afterward we see them in the hall backstage and I couldn't even tell them good job...well I kinda did, but it was to all of them, not just one of them. I felt so mean, so detached!
The ending of the night was interesting as well. All I could think as they got ready to announce the winner was that I wanted to be as close to my truck as possible. How far away from the crowd could I get so they couldn't punish me for being a judge. They announced and we promptly left. All in all, there were some handsome scholarships awarded to at least 3 of the girls. And I gained a new appreciation for those who judge these type competitions. I also have a new respect for these girls who get up there and do what they do. Imagine the nerve it takes to get up there and do even just the talent portion. I was nervous for them.
So I am now officially an experienced pageant judge. Not highly experienced, but experienced nonetheless. It's enough to put on my resume. If nothing else I can take the money I made, put it in a no-load, high yield mutual fund averaging 12 percent per year, keep it in there for, oh say 250 years, and I'll be a millionaire....assuming that I contribute monthly to said mutual fun. It's really a win-win!!!
I just realized that I have not yet posted about my new gear (that would be musical equipment for those unfamiliar with my vernacular or interests). As I mentioned several months ago, I have had the same electric guitar and amp for nearly 10 years. It had been played in many different places, and had been shoved in all manners of cars, trucks, trailers, closets, and rooms. So it was time for an upgrade. What gave even more motivation to upgrade was the impending birth of our first child. I figured I'd better spend the money on some gear before I had to spend it on diapers.
So I got a brand new amp, a new electric guitar, and I finished off my pedal board with a few more effects.
For my amp, I knew I wanted a Class A amp. I don't really know a lot about that stuff, all I know is that every Class A amp I had heard sounded amazing. Of course, I also knew that they were typically twice the price of other amps, but I also know that you usually get what you pay for. I also knew that I wanted a combo amp. My old rig was a head and a 2X12 cabinet, which was a bit cumbersome to lug around. So I started my search with 6 or 7 brands and models of amps that I knew were in the ballpark of what I was looking for. Way back in early May, I took a day and drove up to Nashville to do a little test driving. The top picks from that day were a Divided By 13 JRT 9/15, Bad Cat Classic Cat, Orange AD30, Vox AC30, Matchless Cheiftan, and a Reinhardt (the 18). Well I came back empty handed that day, but continued my research, calling around, reading reviews, looking online, etc. After much research, I finally decided that Bad Cat was the amp for me. However, instead of the Classic, I went with a Custom amp straight from the Bad Cat shop in California. It's a Bad Cat Cub II Custom 15/30 watt with Tremelo. It was an artist loaner that they put in a 1X12 cabinet complete with my choice of tolex. So the finished product looks just like this I am extremely pleased with the amp. It sounds amazing and despite its weight is pretty easy to move from place to place. One of the coolest features is that it has a switch on the back that allows me to switch from full to half power (thus the 15/30). It's really versatile and suits my needs perfectly!
For my guitar, I was debating between 3 different guitars. I've always wanted a Gibson Les Paul Standard. It is such a classic and can really rock! However, I already have a guitar similar in style and use with the dual humbuckers, so I thought I might look for something different that fits the context in which I play most often a little http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifbetter. So I started looking at the Gibson ES-335 and a Gretsch Tennessee Rose. All the reviews I read raved about the Gretsch, while most of the reviews I read about the ES-335 were pretty bad. I played both and leaned more toward the Gretsch. It was about $1000 cheaper as well, so the Gretsch was the winner. It looks a lot like this .
As for pedals, I got an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, a Fulltone Fulldrive II overdrive, a Boss RC-20 XL looper pedal, and a VooDoo Lab Pedal Power II which powers those along with my existing Boss Super Overdrive, Boss DD-5 Delay, Jekyll and Hide Distortion, Boss Chorus, Digitech Whammy, Boss Tuner, and Boss Reverb/Delay. Truthfully, my pedal board might be a bit overkill, but I now have all the pedals I would like, and I use all of them at least some!
So there ya have it. That's my new rig that will last me a really long time. If you should like to hear it, you can come to The Church at Lake Guntersville most any Sunday, or you can catch me on a weekend retreat here or there.
I recently read a best-selling book that has been given mixed reviews by people. Personally, I've had a handful of people encourage me to read it. I've also had a handful of people discourage me from reading it. Those who encouraged me to read it said that it would help me in my relationship with God. Those who discouraged me to read it described it as heresy and said it defamed God. Being a skeptic, and knowing only a few details about the book, I had resigned not to read it, thinking honestly that it was trash that was in direct opposition to my beliefs. However, after one final encouragement from a family member, I decided that I would in fact read The Shack and form my own opinion about the contents and its implications. I went in with as much of an open mind as I could (which isn't easy for such an opinionated person such as myself). So below is a short synopsis followed by my reaction. Before I start, if you've not yet read the book, let me encourage you to not read my review, but instead pick up a copy, open your mind and read it (it doesn't take long, only took me a week!).
The Shack is a story about a guy named Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips who takes his kids on a camping trip in the Oregon wilderness. While there, his youngest daughter Missy is kidnapped and suspected to have been killed by a known serial killer. The only evidence of the crime was found in an abandoned shack. Four years after the event, while still in the middle of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a letter in the mail, apparently from God, inviting him to come back to the scene of the crime, The Shack, for a weekend. Mack accepts the invitations, and experiences a weekend that changes his life. The major question the book seems to try to answer is "Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering?"
If you've heard anything about the book, it's probably something along the lines of "This book gives a great description of the Trinity" or "God is depicted as a big black woman". The Shack does in fact tell a fictional story while depicting God as a big black woman. In fact, each member of the trinity was described in detail.
Now it is at this point that I need to confess that I approach this book with two biases. First of all, as most of you who read this know, I just finished my seminary degree. Which means I spent a good bit of time discussing and learning theology. While I'll never claim to have it all figured out, or even be close to understanding everything about God (and further more that my theological degree is worth little more than the paper it is printed on), I will simply say that I have given a lot of thought to theological issues. Secondly, I will say that the Bible is the guide for all of my beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I believe the Bible is completely, 100% true and that it is the complete revelation of God to people (that is to say that all we need to know about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is contained in the Bible. Not that everything about God is recorded, as if one book could contain that, but that God has given us all we need know about him within the pages of the Bible). So any book I read is filtered through the lens of the Bible and through what I have come to believe about how we as people relate to him. This filter is magnified when the book deals with issues directly concerning God.
That being said, let me say that I did actually enjoy reading The Shack. The story was compelling. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and if the story would be resolved. It had a great little twist at the end that completely surprised me. The author, William P. Young wrote and interesting and entertaining book that I didn't want to put down. As with any good story, the book made me think "How would I react in that situation?" "How am I like Mack?" "What truth does the story convey?" "What do I disagree with?" "What do I agree with?" (Of course I don't readily ask those questions necessarily, but I do answer them in my reading, consciously or not). Even as I read, I thought about God, how I view him, and how I interact with him in my own life.
I also tried to keep in mind that the book is fiction and that even the depiction of God was not meant to be fact, but was meant to be used as a tool to tell the story. The only issue for me is that, fiction or not, anytime you choose to try to describe or convey anything about God, you are treading into dangerous territory. It might be just a fiction book, but the handful of people who recommended I read this book said something along the lines of "This book helped me understand the trinity better" or "it really changed the way I view God". If that is the case, then right or wrong, the book becomes something on which people begin to base their beliefs. Again, let me say that its a dangerous place to put yourself, a book, a piece of art, anything of that nature. And while I wanted to dismiss the theological side of things, I couldn't based on the very first page of the book where there was listed a series of "What Others Are Saying About the Shack". Almost everyone listed said something about the books theological implications, how it would encourage your relationship with God, change the way you think about God, and help you experience God in a new way. If this is the case, and is obviously a goal of the book, then I have to confront some of the theological issues. I'll do a list of the pros and a list of the cons for the sake of time.
- God, through the three persons of the trinity, is depicted as a loving God who cares deeply for people, whose plans are often misunderstood. He is shown as a God who desires for people to experience his love, forgiveness and healing.
- At one point Papa (who is God the Father) speaking of Jesus says "Everything is about Him you know." (p.191)
- At another point, Jesus says "My life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to be like Jesus, it means for your independence to be killed. I came to give you life, real life, my life (p. 149). This coincides with what Jesus says in Luke 9:23.
- In Chapter 11, entitled Here Come Da Judge, the book talks about how we judge God based on who we are as people, not based on who really God is.
- The concept of faith that requires you to do certain things is challenged. Faith is often seen as a to-do list that earns favor, especially in the "bible-belt". Instead, faith does lead to action, but not so that love or salvation is earned, but so that God is glorified and others can know the Gospel. The book says "In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful" (p. 203). This is also discussed in both Romans and Hebrews.
- The religious establishment is questioned. Just as it was in Jesus day, the "religious" people most often cause the most problems for the cause of Jesus.
- God is said to be better understood when experienced than when read from the Bible (p. 65-66). Again, the Bible is our source of revelation, not our experience (though we do have the privilege of interacting with God on a personal level, that interaction must line up with scripture, otherwise the whole "God told me he wants me to be rich" message that is common today would be considered valid.)
- It said that Jesus was fully human and that 'he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything." But instead he was a "dependent, limited human being" who "as a human being had no power within himself to heal anyone." It goes on to say that he was only able to preform miracles because of his relationship with God the Father (p. 99-100).
- God again says that he limits himself so as to see things as if for the first time through the eyes of his children (p.106).
- It is said that there is no since of authority or hierarchy between the three parts of the trinity, but rather that they operate in a "circle of relationship" (122). According to this description, there is no obedience involved (saying that Jesus was not being obedient to God the Father in dying on the cross, but was rather operating out of a mutual relationship.
- It also says that the problem of evil in the world comes strictly from people's desire for independence. God allows this independence as an act of love. To enforce His will on us would be the opposite of love. It even says that God submits himself to our (human) will (p. 145).
- As for the problem of evil, Satan, the Devil, demons, temptation or any other source is completely left out. Independence is the only reason for sin.
- Toward the end, Papa (God) says that Jesus work on the cross reconciled the whole world to Him. Mack responds "You mean those who believe in you right?" Papa responds "The Whole world, Mack. I am telling you that reconciliation is a 2-way street, and I have done my part..."(p. 192). This suggests that we as people have half (50%) of the responsibility for our salvation.
- While it does mention the church being the bride, the book could be construed to say that church involvement is not important, and rather personal faith is all that matters. While I agree that the church has issues, the bible still makes it clear that Christian fellowship and worship is essential. Christianity was designed to be done together (see Acts) It is my intention to try to influence change within the church so that we hopefully get back to the biblical picture of the church.
So before reading the book, and before deciding to read it, I was completely against all things The Shack, mostly because of the way people (mostly professing Christians) were reacting to it, as though it was another Bible. My initial reaction to that kind of stuff is to stay as far away as possible. However, the book wasn't as bad as I expected, and I suspect that those who have been the hardest on the book have probably not read it. The problem with the book is that many people do in fact see it as truth, as though it is a book that can help define and shape their faith in God. This can prove to be extremely dangerous, misleading not only their personal faith, but potentially damaging the way the view and respond to God. However, there is some valuable material, especially for those who have experience pain, loss, or addition. All-in-all, if read for a sheer work of fiction, then the book isn't a bad read. One must be careful to read with a biblical lens (as when viewing any form of art or entertainment) so as to not be mislead.
So in conclusion, as a work of fiction, The Shack is a good read. As a work of theology, it should be completely avoided at all costs. What about you? Have you read it? Why or why not? What are your thoughts about it?
So you may have noticed that I've changed the look of the ol' Shared Ignorance pad. Things were getting a little dusty with the previous layout, so I decided to change it up a bit. In the process I learned that there are more templates available than what blogger offers. A simple "free blog templates" google search rendered more sites than I could sift through. Who knew? In fact, the one site I found this template on had 106 pages of templates, each page with about 15 layouts. I got to page 101 before I found what I was looking for. After all the digging and looking and judging and comparing, I'm pretty pleased with the new look.
Now if I could only figure out what to write about. It's funny cause I go through these spells where I could write a new post everyday. And as is evident by my summer hiatus, I go through periods where I have nothing at all to say. Mostly, when I do decide to post, I feel like I have to write a lot. The pressure of spinning an evocative yarn looms as I seek to give one who would visit this little plot in the world wide web something interesting, entertaining, and perhaps even informative. And I don't want my readers to walk away feeling unfulfilled. But I've now come to an important conclusion. At the end of the day, this blog is just a place for me to write when I feel like it, vent, share, and practice my writing skills. I'm no slave to the reader! So I will no longer write just for you the reader, I will write for me the writer. And while I hope you the reader will in fact read, and that as said reader you will be entertained and informed, that is not my main goal.
My next post I will be reviewing a book I recently finished. It is a book that has been the source of much contention and controversy. It's a little book called "The Shack" of which you may have heard. I'd like to add my voice to the on-going conversation that this book has created.
So tune in again very soon if you want to read that. Or don't. It doesn't really matter because I'll still write my review regardless of whether you come back to read or not. But you should come back. I mean not to stroke my ego, give meaning to my life, or to give me motivation to blog more. NO NO! I don't need you to validate me. But should you desire to read that which I will write, then you should stop back by within a week or so. Or if you don't want to, then don't. Either way is fine with me. I mean, it's not that I don't appreciate you reading, I am thankful for all my minions of readers and blog followers. It's just that I write not to be read, but to write in-and-of-itself. Because...I mean....ok I guess I'll stop there.
See you soon....or not...either way.....
It has recently been said that blogs, as we know them, are dead. With the ability to now constantly update Facebook and Twitter statuses so easily from wireless devices like iPods and cell phones, people have begun to say they see no need to blog. Everything that needs to be said can be done within the 140 character limit that twitter invokes. While I agree that Twitter and Facebook offer a great way to make fast updates about every little detail of one's life about which everyone is just dying to read, I am not yet ready to give up on the good old fashioned web-log we know as the blog! At the end of the day, even with the easy access, no Internet required, at-your-finger-tip medium of twitter, not everything can be said within 140 characters (count 'em up, I've used way more already!)
For instance, suppose I wanted to tell you about the time I allegedly set the woods behind my house on fire. No way within 140 characters would you get the whole picture that was the fire debacle that I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not I was involved in.... or not.
Or suppose I wanted to give you the top 5 reasons why no human being should ever be subjected to the horrible movie that is Knowing. It would take me 140 characters to explain just how bad an actor Nicholas Cage is, and that with the exception of Keanu Reeves (whose acting career is as absurd as his first name and his best movie called Bill and Ted's excellent adventure) and Matthew McConehey (did you see Sahara?) is quite possibly the most heinous actor to ever be allowed on film.
Even more, how could I ever explain why Subway 5 dollar foot long meals are still a rip off because Subway's ham taste like scam and its turkey like jerky?!?! I mean any place that makes Vienna sausages look appealing is not worth eating! That's why there is Firehouse!
So you see, there is still room for blogging! It's not yet dead. It just needs a infusion of life from those who have betrayed such a medium for a more taste-great-less-filling place like Twitter. So this is my call to all you bloggers old and new! Blog on my people! Blog on!!
Thank you Cleveland!