How To Enjoy The Shack And Still Be A Good Christian

Honest Confession here: I read The Shack back in 2009, the year after it came out.

It had just enough time to spread by word of mouth and become such a viral sensation that a copy wound up in my aunt and uncle’s living room.

This is the uncle and aunt who’re active and involved in their local church, with the heart for missions and ministry, and a tremendous generosity and love for other people. This uncle and aunt really love Jesus–they aren’t unique in the family in that way, but their commitment to Christ and the Gospel is unquestioned, which I feel needs to be underscored because of all the negative things being said about The Shack and the people who read and enjoy it.

The book was just lying there on an end table or a hassock, waiting for someone to read it…

So I picked it up and started reading.

The story drew me in. I connected emotionally with this character who is grieving deeply the heartrending loss of his child, and the loss of the joy at the heart of his marriage and his faith.

I was going through a pretty bad time right then as well, so I really connected.

The story spoke to me. I was deeply moved by the characters and their pain and suffering, and I felt encouraged by the ending.

But here’s the deal: I never thought of taking my theology from this book. Why? Because it’s a work of fiction.

Apparently, though, there are a lot of Christians who want to read theological implications into works of fiction instead of understanding a very fundamental truth:

A work of fiction is a story that isn’t true. It’s FICTION.

That means that everything in the story can be made up: the characters, their history, the setting, what happens to them in the story, what they say, what they do, WHAT THEY BELIEVE, everything. Fiction doesn’t accurately reflect real life.

You can’t take your theology from a work of fiction.

You may want the only fiction that you read to reflect and embody your preferred brand of theological purity, but here’s another truth for you:

Not everyone in Christianity shares your exacting theological beliefs!

And that’s okay: they can disagree with you theologically and still be good Christians! They can even be great writers of fiction.

You can enjoy the stories they tell and appreciate how their writing speaks to you and makes you think, and makes you re-examine why you believe what you believe–without them somehow sucking you over to the dark side and mystically morphing you into a radioactive version of the anti-Christ!

It’s the difference between Jesus Christ telling parables and Paul’s discussion of the theological implications of salvation in the Book of Romans.

A parable is a story that uses fiction as a literary device to illustrate a spiritual truth. At some point, the illustration begins to break down–and that’s okay–because it’s a story. You don’t expect more from it than it has to give you.

Paul’s theological discussion of salvation in Romans, however, is very straightforward. Every statement is exacting, the theology is clearly defined. There are no parallels to be drawn, no poetic language that exaggerates. And it’s the gold standard of what we believe about our salvation and how we are to live as Christians.

People have always enjoyed and connected emotionally with stories. That’s why there are so many recorded in the Bible, and why Jesus told parables.

Sound theology is vitally important to our faith, but people who are just learning about Christianity, who are being drawn to the faith, and new Christians are less likely to understand or truly appreciate theological treatises, and they are more likely to lack the patience or the perseverance to study theology and understand or apply it properly. But everyone loves a good story.

And that’s okay.

If you want a work of sound theology that adheres to your specific set of beliefs, then I encourage you to buy books on theology (properly vetted, of course).

But if you want great fiction from a Christian perspective that speaks to your heart, then… The Shack is definitely that.

In my own writing (you may have noticed that I also write fiction), my characters have an ambivalent relationship with an established church that may look an awful lot like the Catholic (or Orthodox) church to you. Not everyone of faith in my stories belongs to that church. Some people are evangelical. Some people are of other religious persuasions altogether, or even agnostic or atheist.

This makes for great conversations about spiritual matters as well as opportunities for internal and external conflict that help drive my stories forward.

Where there is discussion of spiritual matters, I try to reflect biblical precepts. But I probably won’t be able to satisfy anyone’s need for hearing only their narrow point of view on theological and spiritual matters either–because that isn’t what telling a good story is about.

That doesn’t mean that sound theology doesn’t matter to me as a Christian. It very much does!

But as a teller of stories where life gets messy and nobody’s all that perfect, theology becomes secondary to faith lived out through the highs and lows, and the rough spots my characters find themselves in.

I like that it’s so, and I make no apology for it.

And I’m sure that the author of Shack wouldn’t either.

Which Kind Of Reader Are You?

Which reader are you?

Do you enjoy reading books? If so, which kind of reader are you?

On my journey as an author, I have encountered five distinct kinds of readers: devoted friends, book fans, frenemies, critical readers, and encouraging editors.

A Devoted Friend: you might be a devoted friend if you love everything an author friend as written because they’re your friend! That friendship is more important than whether the book is any good, so you may never give any constructive feedback on it, but only enthusiasm and praise.

A Book Fan: You might be a book fan if you love a particular genre of story and any book that scratches your desire for that kind of story. You might latch on to specific authors’ work because you enjoy their writing style and voice. You don’t care about any typos or grammar issues because you’ve connected emotionally with the plot or the characters, and only want to know when your favorite author’s next book might come out!

A Frenemy: You might be a frenemy if you’re jealous of or dislike a certain author’s writing. Maybe that author’s level of accomplishment makes you feel inferior, or maybe your personalities clash. You may even be friendly to an author’s face, but tend to lurk in the shadows and be spiteful behind an author’s back. Or you may disparage their work quite openly.

What you need to know: we authors tend to take it rather hard when we encounter a frenemy. We want to be liked. We want our stories to be liked and enjoyed as well. We want you to realize how hard every author works to establish any amount of success. We’d far rather applaud you for your own successes and hard work too than have you feeling bad about us for any reason.

A Critical Reader: You might be a critical reader if you read a story with your inner editor going full-bore. You have difficulty enjoying certain stories because your inner editor won’t let you ignore all the mistakes, but you enjoy a well-edited book that demonstrates a superior level of writing skills! You also tend to give honest feedback and reviews, but because you’re harder to please, your feedback tends to be more negative.

A Encouraging Editor: You might be an encouraging editor if you see errors and make a note of them so you can let the author know what needs improvement while also praising the passages you thought were particularly enjoyable and/or clever. Authors who receive your feedback and listen to it benefit greatly. You make a great critique partner and might be sought after as a writing mentor.

Most readers fall into one of these categories more than another, although some may fall somewhere in between. Readers sometimes move between categories, or fall into one category in relation to one author and into a different category in relation to other authors.

What kinds of readers do authors appreciate the most?

Oh, that’s a hard question!

As an author, it is important to find ways to attract Book Fans while acknowledging our Devoted Friends and listening to our Encouraging Editors. While we all need our friends, especially when there’s been a rejection letter or a particularly scathing critique of our work, most friends do not make great critique buddies nor are they particularly good at writing reviews, although your author friends may want you to critique their work or write reviews in order to support them.

It’s okay to say no, especially since Amazon’s algorithm filters and deletes reviews by friends and family.

A devoted friend’s contributions of loyalty, moral support, and enthusiasm are far more valuable for an author than any amount of editing or reviews that you might be willing to offer. If this is what you have to offer, then your author friends will be very blessed indeed!

Book Fans buy the most books and write the most reviews, and sometimes reach out and get to know us personally, and move into the category of Devoted Friends. Book fans are very valuable to every author, and we spend a lot of our time trying to figure out how to find you and connect with you! You make this easier when you let us know who you are. You can do this by buying our books and writing reviews! Even if it’s only a few lines to let us know what you appreciated most, your feedback is welcome!

Encouraging Editors make great critique partners and mentors for authors, and they write the most valuable reviews, but here’s a secret: so can Critical Readers! If an author is motivated to raise their quality of writing to meet your high standards and earn your praise, then their work will achieve a whole new level of quality!

Authors really do need your honest feedback, although some of us do better with the blunt truth than others. Please proceed with discretion and tact in determining where your input will be most welcome.

Authors also need to recognize when we encounter Frenemies, that it’s not our problem and we shouldn’t take it to heart. If you’re a frenemy, I hope you’ll forgive us if we walk warily around you until you learn to respect and value us as we’d prefer to respect and value you.


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What I Want For My Daughter

Mind if I take a moment to brag on my daughter?

Isn’t she a lovely young woman? She’s also talented, highly intelligent, a self-starter, a leader, a good student, a hard worker, a loyal friend, and–a wonderful, loving daughter! Best of all, she loves God and seeks to obey His commandments.

All the coverage of the women’s march on D.C. this past weekend got me to thinking about the kind of person I want my daughter to be, and what I want for her future as a woman.

The footage and images of Madonna and Ashley Judd, and the things they said were an inspiration to me as a mother, but not in the way they intended!

I don’t want my daughter to revel in being a nasty person, like Ashley Judd did! I want my daughter to be kind, sweet, and loving, and to show respect and consideration for the needs and feelings of others.

I don’t want her to rejoice over wickedness or revel in thoughts of treasonous or terroristic acts, such as Madonna did when she mentioned wanting to blow up the White House!

I want my daughter to respect the law and to treat police officers and other government officials with respect and appreciate them for doing their jobs well, especially when their jobs are as dangerous as the jobs policemen do everyday.

I want her to be a godly, thoughtful, considerate, hard working, and reasonable young woman!

I want her to be strong and confident in her abilities, and to rejoice in and take advantage of the freedoms that living in this amazing country affords us while also embracing the responsibilities that come with that freedom.

I want her to remember that freedom isn’t free and that our service men and women are worthy of respect for their hard work and sacrifices on our behalf.

Above all, I want her to remember that just because popular culture believes and embraces certain values, that this doesn’t make them right or good. I want her to remember that God has blessed us with intelligence, and use it to do her research well and thoroughly so that she can’t be manipulated or led astray into wickedness.

And I want her to celebrate, cherish, and protect the lives of those most helpless and innocent among us, particularly the unborn, but also children and the elderly.

A society is known by its choices. I want her to lead the way in choosing life, in making good friends, in setting a godly example for her peers to follow.

This is who I’ve raised her to be, and the foundation I hope she continues to build upon.

And if you’re a parent reading my blog, this what I hope you’re raising your daughters to be as well.


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The Importance of Good Editing

I read a book a night or two ago that I think you might have liked.

I’m not going to tell you the name of it, but I will tell you the genre: it was ‘hard’ science fiction.

There was much to like about it! The science behind the book was solid. The story had great twists and turns, great conflict, great heroes, even a terrible villain and a desperate race against time!

What it didn’t have, unfortunately, was good editing!

Oh, such a shame!

I found myself repeatedly jerked out of the story by awkward, scrambled grammar, run-on sentences, mislaid words, and misappropriated spellings: so many technical writing issues, that, if only the author and the publisher had invested in a professional editor, would have been dealt with well before the book was published! There were whole paragraphs and sections I found myself skipping because I couldn’t make any sense of them!

There are books–a very few books, fortunately– (we’ve all heard of them) that are roaring success in spite of, and possibly because of, their horrible writing! This book doesn’t fall into that category. Alas. The kind of terrible writing that might be excusable or even become an asset in, for instance, a certain kind of romance novel, isn’t going to be excused by readers of science fiction, let alone hard sci-fi.

And yet, the story had the makings of a great sci-fi classic.

If it had only been properly edited…

I could almost see it being turned into a movie. Unfortunately, I doubt this story will ever truly receive its due acclaim, unless and until an editor is paid to thoroughly edit it!

While the writing was just about strong enough to carry the story in spite of the technical difficulties, I wondered if most readers would be willing to continue reading past the snarled meanings to reach the triumphant ending?

Science fiction is held to a very high technical standard of writing!

I hope the authors realize their book needs work. I hope the publisher receives enough solid feedback to realize that an investment must be made, and insists on having the book edited properly.

I’m considering ways to get in touch with them, myself. I don’t really want to give the book a bad review that it will never shake, particularly if the publisher can be persuaded to put a little effort into improving it. (which is why I won’t tell you the name of it here)

For my friends who are writers, and for myself, I hope we take this lesson to heart!

There’s no substitute for solid editing! A few mistakes are one thing: no book is ever going to achieve absolute perfection of text! But we need to take care to keep the mistakes to the smallest minimum we can achieve.

To that end, if you’d like my help, feel free to contact me!

I charge a reasonable fee for my editing services, and I’m a fast reader and a thorough editor. Please don’t let your book go before it’s ready like the one I’ve used here as an example!

Talk to me before publishing your book.

Celebrating A New Year As A Healthy and Whole Person

Yesterday was the beginning of a brand new, and hopefully for all of us, bright new year!

I hope you’re feeling hopeful. I hope you’re ready to look forward to and embrace the fresh possibilities God has laid out before you!

I’ve been wandering around (like I usually do at this time of year), muttering to myself: New Years resolutions? Why are they necessary? No one keeps ’em. I can’t really think of any… Do I have to? What am I planning to do with my new year? Oh…dear…

Words from the Lord? A word for the new year? …You have GOT to be kidding! (I don’t have one. I’m not even looking for one).

Oh, and then the big one crept up on me and surprised me on December 31st: what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?

And I realized with surprise that I wasn’t planning to DO anything, and then I realized that this made me surprisingly happy!

I stayed home. It was quiet. I ate supper with Mom and Dad and we watched Wheel of Fortune, and I solved the puzzles quicker than the contestants, which made Mom think I should apply to go on the show!

That was fun to think about, at least for a few moments. To believe that I could go there and do that, and maybe even win, even though I know that I would be so ill from chemical exposure if I tried, long before I reached their studios. And then my brain would be toast, and I would look like an idiot standing there with not a useful thought in my head or correct word coming out of my mouth!

I have no problem laughing at myself under the right comic circumstances, but–I think I would hate looking like that much of an idiot.

What if’s are only fun until they run into hard reality.

I realized today because of something someone on Facebook said (that they meant as a major put-down of Bible believing Christians), that I am a happy, healthy, whole person with an emotionally independent identity. And I am only that way because of Christ working in my life!

AND I realized that this is not just a good thing, but this is a tremendously important, exceedingly awesome and wonderful, AMAZING, even INCREDIBLE thing, and that I ought to share it with someone!

And then, I realized, I need to share this revelation with you!

I haven’t always been this way.

…Do you ever really beat up on yourself? I have in the past. I tend to occasionally even now. I’m working on that.

I am not financially independent, and haven’t been since…well, since I was conceived. I had help going through college. I got married before I was done with college. I worked some before my son was born and later when he was a toddler and preschooler, but–I was never, ever, not even once, on my own financially. This has always bugged me some. And it’s been a reason to beat up on myself.

Given what has happened, unless great miracles occur, I may never be financially independent now! But I want to be. I keep trying to work toward that, although most days I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, especially if I’ve gone out of the house and been in public spaces filled with everything that messes me up physically.

This frequent encountering of the things that make me ill leaves me physically dependent on others. And I hate that–and it’s easy to beat up on myself too, for venturing where I can’t really handle the pollutants. Except, I’ve got to live and there are tasks and errands that only I can do. And other things I want desperately enough to do that I am willing to pay the toll.

I have had to accept that there are situations where I’m going to encounter substances in sufficient quantity to make me feel unwell. I have had to accept that sometimes I will be a few days recovering, and not much use to myself or anyone else until I’ve gotten past the worst of it. I have had to learn not to beat myself up over this as doing so won’t make any of it better.

I have had to learn to grant myself grace.

And lately I have been discovering the differences between financial dependence, physical dependence, and emotional dependence.

I have always, for thoroughly human reasons, defined myself in relation to those people I am closest to and depend on the most.

I have clung to those relationships in a way that hasn’t been very healthy, down deep in my psyche where no one else sees. I needed my parents, then I needed my husband (and after I developed my chemical sensitivity issues, boy, how I needed him). And then, I needed my parents again, and–I’ve even at times clung to my kids.

You may not realize that, from hanging out with me. Outwardly, I may appear to be very independent!

But if you’re at all healthy yourself, then you understand why need–even normal, human emotional needs–can be unhealthy and destructive, especially when other factors intrude, like a marriage going hopelessly over the edge, like in a divorce–

Christians aren’t supposed to divorce. We’re supposed to work things out. I needed things to work out. I needed my marriage to be good. If it wasn’t good, if my marriage failed, then…I was not a good wife or a good Christian, Anyway, ‘everyone’ said so, and because I had allowed myself to be defined by these things and they were vital to my identity, I believed that everyone was right who said so.

I most especially needed to be told I was doing the right thing.

The failure of my marriage was therefore inescapably my fault and I owned it. Boy, did I ever–and my faith in God was damaged because I couldn’t keep my marriage together.

I had also, with desperate fervor, fought beyond my ability of endurance to keep my marriage, so I wound up in a state of utter nervous exhaustion and was broken and demoralized–and–by the time I realized I absolutely HAD to walk away and save myself, I was a complete physical wreck!

It has taken me a very long while to realize and accept, not that I didn’t make mistakes, but that there was nothing I could have done that would have been so right and good that it would have fixed my marriage. It was unsalvageable. And–if it had been salvageable, the mistakes I did make wouldn’t have mattered in the least.

Isn’t that wild?

Even if I’d done everything correctly. Even if I’d anticipated every surreal turn and twist of fate–at the end of it, I would have still been divorced.

I needed to be needed, too… and then I found myself in a situation where other people’s needs had emptied me out emotionally and physically, and I was ill and had no more to give. And they were empty and ill, too, and had no more to give either–

And because I was now a “bad” Christian and to all appearances a failure as a wife and maybe even as a mother, the only people who came to my rescue were my immediate family.

And I still had to go on, putting one foot in front of the other. To be brutally honest, for so many years now, all I’ve been doing is marking time until illness or accident finally claims my life and I could with reasonable relief give my last gasp of breath, because then this nightmare of misery and failure would finally have a period put to it. It would at least be over.

I realized today that I’m not really living there any more!

I have reasons–good reasons, too–to hope and to live. And they aren’t bound up in my identity vis-a-vis anyone else.

I don’t need anyone else. Not in that way. Not ever again.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE my family and I want to spend time with them! Financially and physically, I really could not do without their help and support.

I miss my kids when I don’t see them. I look for opportunities to hang out with them.

But they do not define who I am. My ex doesn’t define who I am. My divorce also doesn’t define who I am, and I do not have to live in failure as a “bad” Christian because I’m divorced.

I am happy and at home, and at peace in my own skin. I’m good company to myself. And I think it’s sad and hilarious, and totally ridiculous that it has taken me nearly forty-seven years of life to arrive here!

I’ll tell you a little secret: the whole time I felt like everyone else, even sometimes my own family, was beating up on me, there was God, standing by, ready and willing to comfort me.

And never once did He tell me I was a bad Christian, or that I had to fix it all somehow. Not even once.

He just came close and loved me.

I am a happy, healthy, whole person with an emotionally independent identity. And I am only that way because of Christ working in my life!

And I have this to say to you:

Please don’t believe the lie that you have to let your relationships define who you are.

Let God define who you are! 

You’ll be much happier and healthier, because He loves each of us with an everlasting love. And in Christ there is power to overcome sin, there is hope and healing, there is forgiveness, there is grace and mercy, and there is above all else, life.

And that is what I want for myself more than anything else this new year, and what I hope and pray for, for you, too!