June 16, 2008
The Shack, Part 1 w/William P. Young
People cry when they read it. People who’ve never read it attack it. He’s been called a heretic and if you haven’t heard of it or been offered a copy of “The Shack” by William P. Young don’t worry, you will. Self-published at Kinko’s as a Christmas gift to his children, this book called “The Shack” was never intended to be sold outside his family and with no thought of selling more than a million copies. I’m Charles Morris and welcome to Haven Today. In the next few minutes you will meet Paul Young and you will also meet theologian and Christian apologist Dr. John Stackhouse who will offer both pros and cons on the book. Here at Haven Today I will neither endorse the book nor bash the book. I’ll leave that to people who haven’t read something they want to debate. Instead, over the next couple of days we will engage this book and talk about how this work of fiction, a novel, can lead us to better understand the One True Living God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s open now with a song that glorifies and brings praise and honor to God in Heaven above, “Be Glorified” from Haven’s “Acts of Worship” album.
Song: Be Glorified
Performed by: Haven
This is Haven Today. I’m Charles Morris and with me in Victoria, British Columbia is William Paul Young, and Paul I seem to have known you now for about a year but I never knew I would get to meet you. Welcome to the program.
PY: thanks Charles, it’s great to be a part of it.
CM: When I first was handed a copy of the book “The Shack” of which you are William Paul Young, I started reading it. I had to put it down because we lost a son due to a drug overdose and there’s a very tragic story in your novel, and then I picked it up again and I got to another point in the book and I said, “No way I could ever talk about this on the air”. Well, you’re now the number one fiction book on the New York Times bestseller list, you’re high on Amazon. You were number 7 when I looked, and I figured I’d better have you on, so thanks for being on.
PY: I’m grateful to be here.
CM: You are a Christian, let’s get that out front.
PY: Well, let me ask you a question.
CM: Yeah, OK, what is a Christian?
PY: When anybody asks me that, “Are you a Christian?” I always say, “Would you please tell me what one is, what you understand that one is and I’ll tell you if I’m one of those or not.” Because frankly, the word Christian anymore means who knows what.
CM: It’s so misapplied, isn’t it?
PY: Yeah, and you can’t just assume that because you have an understanding of what it means –
CM: that somebody else does
Cm: Well, I’ll tell you what, as we go on with our conversation, I’ll let you tell us more about what being a Christ-follower means to you.
CM: And I’ll tell everybody up front that I believe you’re a follower of Jesus like I am
PY: I am a Christ follower. I am a Jesus follower absolutely. I think the road that is narrow narrows to one person and that is Jesus.
CM: Well, let me tell everyone what we’re going to do. In these next few minutes I’m going to have you talk about this book, how you came to write it – and let me just say up front, if you haven’t been offered a copy of the book by somebody you will. If you haven’t heard about it you will from other sources besides just this radio program. Tell me though, how did you come to write the book in the first place?
PY: The book is really a story I wrote for my 6 children. I have six kids. They now range from 27 to 15 years of age, 4 boys and 2 girls and we live down in the Portland, Oregon area. And Kim, my wife had been pestering me for about, I don’t know, 5 years or so to, as she put it, “Do a gift for the children. Put how you think in one place so that we can just give it to the kids.” Not that the kids don’t understand how I think, of course they do, but just sort of as a legacy, whatever. And I didn’t know what that meant and she didn’t really know what that meant. I’m not an author, like a “for real” one. I’m an accidental one at best and I’d never published anything in my whole life
Cm: Nor did you intend to.
CM: You didn’t set out as you’re saying, to be a bestselling author, did you?
PY: Oh, no, no, no, no. I’ve always written as gifts, you know, whether it was poetry or songs or short stories or cards or whatever, it was always and only just a gift, never a thought to publishing. And this was no different. A few weeks ago Kim says, she says, “You know, you might find this funny but I was thinking maybe 4-6 pages.”
CM: Instead of a 250 page book or whatever length–
CM: “The Shack” is.
PY: Exactly. So I didn’t have any idea other than, OK, I’m now ready – in 2005 – I’m now ready to write this story. And I wanted a story because story and art and music and those things have a way of penetrating to the heart.
CM: They do, yes
PY: They also are, they keep your interest in a way that is not just some of the didactic, kinds of debate oriented sort of things.
CM: Well, Jesus, Jesus told stories
PY: Oh, he loved stories
CM: He used stories as a teaching tool, but you didn’t really write your book as a teaching tool either, did you?
PY: Oh, no, no. It was more of an exposing my own heart to my kids and saying, “You know, this, this is the God that I’m in love with. This is the person that I want you to be in love with and here’s why.” And I chose a really difficult scenario because, in part because of my own pain which they all know. And so there’s a scripture about I think, the deepest point that a human being touches the character and nature of God – even though they’re apart from him – there is a scripture that says, “If you being evil, or wicked. If you being wicked (twisted up) know how to ‘agape’ your children,” and if I’m not mistaken that’s the only place where an obvious person who is not in that union relationship with God is still able to at least touch ‘agape’ which is the very nature of God, “if you know how to love your children,” it says, “if you being wicked still know how to ‘agape’ your children,” and it goes on from there. And so to me, that’s the deepest and profound loss because it is as close as we ever get to the nature and heart of God. And that’s why I picked this scenario. I didn’t want my kids to say, you know, say I passed away for whatever reason and then they encountered this kind of loss and I had written this story for them about cancer or about something else, it wouldn’t ask as fundamental a set of questions as this does.
CM: Well, and this, this was a way for your own children not just to know you but to know your faith too.
CM: And finding your faith.
CM: Now, you have a main character in this book. His name is Mac or Mackenzie and I’m thinking that’s really you, isn’t it?
PY: It is. Well, it really is and it’s not totally me. I wrapped certain events in history and things like that and that’s why it’s a fiction. But like a parable, a parable draws from things that you know are real. And so this is more a parable and a metaphor than anything. And yeah, Mackenzie is me and it reveals my pain and my process and my conversations as best I could. I wrote the character of God and I know he’s way better than I was able to write him.
CM: he certainly is and we’re still learning as he shows himself to us every day. If you just joined us, you’re listening to William Paul Young here on Haven Today and he is the author of “The Shack” which is now the number 1 book on the New York Times bestseller fiction list and that’s a remarkable feat in itself but let’s go back to your story. You had double trouble. You were a missionary kid and a preacher’s kid both!
PY: and a preacher’s kid!
CM: PK and MK
PY: got them both, about as messed up as you can get.
CM: Yes, that’s right. Tell us about your background. You’re living in Portland right now but you’re originally Canadian by birth I think.
PY: And I still am. I’ve never changed my citizenship. All my children were born in the US. I was less than a year old when we went into the highlands of what was then “Netherlands New Guinea” actually my sister was born as a Dutch person. My brother, one of my brothers was actually born under United Nations auspices and my youngest brother under Indonesian auspices. So –
CM: And you’re the oldest.
PY: I’m the oldest.
CM: OK. So you’re family packed off to the mission field when you were quite young.
PY: Very much, and you know, my parents are in their 20s and you know, it’s a different time. It’s a different generation. A lot of folks didn’t know they had baggage
PY: they were dragging along with them.
CM: No one ever told dads they were supposed to tell their kids they loved them
PY: Yeah, I mean there was just all kinds of things that were, were unhealthy in that sense.
CM: But there was pain too that started very early for you wasn’t there?
PY: Yeah, there was. And not just the disassociation with my parents, which happened right away, I mean, they were focused on what they believed God had set up for them to do.
PY: so they were putting all their energy into God’s work and there was this sense that if you did that God would take care of the details and children were details at that point. And then, you know, that’s the old school mission kind of thing where you have no choice but to send your children away to mission –
CM: Pack them off to boarding school. Mission boarding school.
Cm: But the pain really ramped up there because you suffered abuse too, didn’t you?
PY: Yeah, well and see inside the tribe – and my parents had no awareness of this – but sexual abuse started inside the tribe. And they were raising me. I mean I considered myself Adonni, a tribal person. And it started somewhere around the age of 4. And then when I went to boarding school at the age of 6 sexual abuse happened there. It was inside of a Christian missionary boarding school which, you know, all of that, for a 6, 7 year old child, you know, I understand it a lot better now but most of my life I lived with the idea that it was all my fault anyway.
CM: Well, and we’ve had people on this program including a Christian counselor who suffered abuse from a relative as well and that has become her point of ministry. And it’s more rampant, of course than many of us like to think for men as well as women.
CM: Well, that’s a lot to carry with you but then that, when someone has been sexually abused, spills over into your life as well. And even though, on one level you had a perfect life with your own children, you’re married happily to Kim, you don’t get over that immediately, do you?
PY: See “The Shack” is a metaphor. It’s a metaphor for the house of the soul. It’s a metaphor for what you build on the inside and what people help you build. So it’s, it’s the pain inflicted on you, it’s the pain of your own choices, it’s where you hide your lies, it’s where you store your secrets. And you know what I did with that pain is to become a performer which fit inside the paradigm of religious spirituality that I grew up with which was shame based performance and I became a super performer. That’s what I did with it and I held it together without – the thing about performance is that it’s all on the outside and I had a thin veneer of perfectionist performance that covered over this huge ocean of shame.
CM: Oh and you wanted to please. Early on you went to Bible College. You went to seminary yourself.
CM: You were active working in a church and then that kind of, you started having a family and went into the work world…
PY: I did. And it was the grace of God frankly because when it all blew up, and that was at the end of 1993 and my shack, going back to my shack, which a lot of us, I mean I don’t know anyone who goes there hopping and skipping and leaping for joy, you know
PY: it’s, for me it was a life and death decision. Do I deal with this or do I just kill myself?
CM: And for the sake of our listeners, you had an affair and your wife Kim stood by you.
PY: Well, stood by me in a sense. I mean she beat the living daylights out of me is what she did, in a metaphorical sense. I mean she, and let me say this very clearly, in much the way that I understand the wrath of God, Kim came at me with every bit of fury she had and it was the intensity of that fury and the intensity of that fire that actually saved my life. Because it pushed me to deal with every single thing that was messed up in the way that I looked at the world, looked at life and looked at God.
CM: So God used that not only to save your marriage but to save your life
CM: because you had thought about taking your life.
PY: Oh, many times because see, shame does this. What’s shame? Shame’s the way you hate yourself. And it comes out in many different ways and one of the things that shame does is that you lose the ability to hear an observation. You only hear value statements. So for example, even early in our marriage when Kim would say, “You know Paul you don’t mix the colors with the whites when you do laundry.” Well you see, my persona that I presented to the world was a perfectionist persona and for anybody to do that was to punch a hole right through this thin veneer right down into the shame and up came the shame. So when she said that what was she doing? She was just saying, “Paul I’m trying to help you out here.”
CM: But it sucked the air right out of you.
PY: Well, because what I hear was, “You’re a worthless human being. Why did I ever marry you? You, you’re just, you’re nothing.” And that’s where I went with it. And frankly, if we’d had a gun in our house the first 6 months of our marriage I wouldn’t have made it.
CM: Part of your healing process then was to write this book as a gift for your children and Kim too, I suppose.
PY: Actually, I want to correct that.
PY: It’s really not part of the healing process, not that it hasn’t had an effect on me still
PY: But it was really written after I came back out of the shack. By the end of 2004, before I write this story I come out. And the reason that I knew that I’d come out was, couple things, one is Kim and I were the best we’d ever been. And the second thing was I was integrated. That is, I’m the same person whether I’m with my kids or whether I’m with my friends or at work or whatever. I’m a whole person in that sense. And at that point, by the grace of God I was honestly the freest person, one of the freest people that I knew. I didn’t have any addictions left – and I mean I’m not just talking just the really crappy addictions
PY: I’m talking the addiction to please people, the addiction to significance
Cm: The real deep seated things that we never talk about or like to admit.
PY: Yeah, exactly. Exactly and I don’t have any skeletons because I don’t have any secrets. And that’s one of the most beautiful things that was a part of that 11 years in the shack is that I divested – thanks to Kim – every single secret that I had. So I don’t have any secrets in my life. And you know –
CM: And so you wrote the book and now I know, and we’re going to talk about this on the program tomorrow, you’ve come under a lot of criticism. People are trying to put the microscope down and say, “Where’s he really coming from? This is a systematic tome that he’s producing.” But that’s not how the book started out, was it?
PY: Well, it’s never been how the book started out or is. It’s always been a gift for my kids. And you know, there was no intent or agenda or systematic theo- it’s not systematic theology. It’s not scripture. It’s a fiction. And it’s a work of fiction that is a gift for my children.
CM: And I’ve heard you say this. You were just trying to get the book done, by Kinko’s –
PY: Kinko’s by Christmas! That was, that was the big vision. The big vision was to get it to Kinko’s by Christmas, which I did. And the first run of the original manuscript was a total of 15 copies.
CM: And then I love the conversation with Barnes and Nobel, skip forward 6 months or something, the book is actually selling -
PY: Oh yeah, Barnes and Nobel shows up and says, “So, would you guys please send us a copy of your marketing and promotional plan so that we can be on board?” And Brad says, “Well, you know, if we knew what one was and we had one we’d sure send it to you.” And that started a great conversation.
CM: My goodness. Well, if you could tell me, after writing the book in your basement. What is your identity now that you have? What’s your identity? Who’s your identity in?
PY: See, my identity has got nothing to do with the book and this is why, and this is the absolute truth, if the book went away tomorrow, if the speaking went away and all these other things went away I would be absolutely fine because I have everything that matters to me and I had it before I wrote this story for my kids. Because my identity is in Him and only in Him and any more I don’t even begin to try to understand what He’s up to. I don’t understand. I used to. I used to be really good. I could tell anybody what God was up to. But I don’t anymore. And you know at the beginning of 2005 when I wrote the story my prayer was, “You know Papa, I will never ask you again to bless anything that I do but if you’ve got something that you’re blessing and it would be OK for me to hang around, I would be all over that. And I don’t care if I clean the toilet or shine the shoes or hold the door open. I just want to be around you.” And you know, then he would say, “OK, how about I bless your little story for your kids? How about you give it to your kids and I’ll give it to mine?” And I’m going, you know, “It’s not quite cleaning toilets but you know, it’s pretty good. And you know, I love being a part of this but it’s, it’s because of being with him. I don’t care about the book and the movie potential and all that stuff. If I had to exchange my identity in Christ for any of that that’d be just no question.
CM: Paul Young, my brother in Christ Jesus, thank you.
PY: Thanks Charles.
CM: Haven Today and a program called “The Shack” with William P. Young. I interviewed Paul Young last Thursday on Vancouver Island in Victoria, British Columbia and then the next day, Friday, I spoke with Dr. John Stackhouse, professor of theology and culture at Regent College. We’ll hear more from Dr. Stackhouse later but I asked John, what’s good and what’s bad about “The Shack”?
JS: I think if you read “The Shack” to teach yourself or somebody else correct theology you’re using the wrong tool for a good job. If you read “The Shack” to draw closer to God and to have God encourage you then it’s the right tool for the right job. In the history of writing, people whose lives have become openly troubled, people whose lives are undeniably a mess, people who cannot hide behind the veil of respectability, behind which I like to live my life.
CM: All of us do, sure.
JS: These are the people who finally despair of themselves. These are the people who like Paul are thrown to the ground and exposed as a persecutor of the church. Martin Luther exposed, as a guy trying to please a legalistic God and killing himself in the monastery. Over and over again in Christian history people who have finally been exposed by life and under the providence of God, are often the people then who most clearly and strongly grasp the grace of God and help us see more clearly than we would, because that veil of discretion, behind which I hide my sins also sometimes hides me from God.
CM: Dr. John Stackhouse of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Now I said this when we began, we are not endorsing the book but neither are we bashing it here at Haven Today. We are engaging “The Shack”. Two things, if you would like a copy to read and then engage call us in a moment at 1-800-654-2836, that’s 1-800-654-2836. Ask for a copy of “The Shack” and we’ll send it to you as a thank you for your gift to Haven Today. Or you can go online, make your gift and order a copy of “The Shack” at haventoday.org. Let us know the station you’re listening to. Now if you want to hear a full discussion regarding the literary qualities and more importantly, the theology that comes out in “The Shack”, both good and bad, we have a panel discussion recorded a little more than a week ago between Paul Young and faculty members at Regent College. It’s an evangelical, theological graduate school here in Vancouver. It’s 2 CDs and I must say, it’s quite good. We have copies of that as a thank you for your gift to the ministry. So you can just call us at 1-800-65-HAVEN or you can go online. That’s h.a.v.e.n.t.o.d.a.y, haventoday.org. And because this book has captured the interest of so many we’ve also posted a blog where you can share on our homepage, haventoday.org. I haven’t mentioned this in a few days but if you have a computer or an iPod and sometimes you just can’t seem to get us when we’re on your local Christian radio station, we are podcasting and there on our homepage, haventoday.org on the lower left hand side you’ll find details on how you can get set up for a podcast of Haven Today.
I’m Charles Morris, thanks for joining me, Paul Young and John Stackhouse. We’ll be back again tomorrow when again we’ll be telling the great story. It’s all about Jesus and we’re going to do that together, even as we engage this book “The Shack” here on Haven Today.
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Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from...
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The Shack: A Book Discussion (Audio)
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Does The Shack bring up a lot of questions? If so, then this audio recording is for you....
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