Category Archives: Current Affairs

Deciding What’s Best When You’re Faced with Endless Rabbit Holes

To my incredible, observant, kind-hearted, sensitive daughter, on your 15th birthday:

“I believe in you my soul…the other I am must not abase itself to you, And you must not be abased to the other.”

– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Being a parent means every day I get to think about not just what I’m doing, but what you’re going to do today. Will you face challenging decisions? And how will you decide what to do? This crazy-making love inside my soul says any super challenging decisions you face are probably just plain evil, so I want to tell you to forget school and stay here safe with me forever, never leave, and don’t grow up ever. Because I said so, that’s why.

But yes, I know there’s a reason “evil” is just “live” spelled backward. And you don’t need to remind me again.

The heater broke this weekend so it’s a bit nippy in the home office today. That’s not “evil” either, it’s just life. But the fact that the heater repairman can’t come until tomorrow and this little space heater can’t contend with old man winter slipping through these old walls certainly feels evil.

I could go down the rabbit hole of trying to diagnose and fix it myself. Or I could preserve my time for other matters. If I didn’t have a clear idea of where I’m needed today and why that’s a rabbit hole for me, I might try to level up in my handyman game. But on a Monday morning, that would be a clear violation of my saner self and my knowledge of my core operating instructions.

Ask anyone who studies or writes about these things and they’ll tell you these rabbit holes are proliferating. Like rabbits. And with cell phones, video games, Youtube, and the myriad entertainments, our new national pastime is quickly becoming a global pandemic.

Why are we so desperate for diversions? We seem to crave being distracted. It begs the question of whether there’s anything more intriguing than a rabbit hole. I mean, we know Lewis Carroll didn’t think so.

When you were little, you had a mobile. I had one when I was a baby too. I think it was rabbits chasing carrots or something, but it was a long time ago. The genius behind mobiles lies in distracting a baby and occupying their mind just enough to get them to fall asleep, sleep being the Holy Grail of all new parents. Simple, repetitive movement combined with a calming lullaby helped the fatigue from all that growing catch up with you.

Seems like everything these days is a potential rabbit hole. And maybe that’s always been true. But the attraction is greater–both the need and the distractions are stronger. I think there are good reasons for this, but maybe chiefly, our existential anxiety has never been stronger.

Believe what you like about the course of human progress, but as much as things continually get better, they also get worse. Much of the trade-off it seems happens between the exterior and the interior worlds. Maybe it’s our wiring, but our experience is dictated by this relationship between the physical and the conceptual. And the balancing of the two occupies a huge portion of life, whether we ever recognize it or not.

Every time you find a rabbit hole, there’s the experience of it, and there’s your thinking about and feeling your experience of it. Your experience of the world gets paused every night, but your thoughts and feelings never sleep. Clearly, one is more important than the other, given the amount of time we spend experiencing reality versus thinking, feeling, and processing experiences.

This, too, could be a rabbit hole. Nothing’s technically “wrong,” but it could be, potentially. Impulses and cravings themselves aren’t evil. They arise from the depths, like baby rabbits blinking in the sunlight. And what you do with them, how you decide to direct them is what you have to figure out–both before they arise, and then rabbit by rabbit.

Sorry, it’s sort of a thematic metaphor, I guess.

Last night as I was chopping kindling and feeling manly, I took a too-long piece to snap against my thigh and this morning it took me a few seconds to realize why my leg’s sore. At the time, I barely noticed. It felt like living. But today it feels evil. I don’t know, maybe it’s both.

What you do will come from what you decide is best, and like Whitman says, you can’t “abase” your life or your experience of it. Both simply are, and naming them something else like “evil” does no good. What you decide to do about them, that’s where moral codes come in. And that’s where you have to realize everything but everything is a rabbit hole, and all your thoughts and feelings are baby rabbits.

And if you want to do what’s right for them, you’ve first got to decide to love them and want what’s best for all of them. They’re worth it and they’ll guide you. You’re their parent, like I’m yours and God is ours, so their safety and purpose are secure.

And all you’ve got to do is decide what’s helpful. But no one, even a parent who loves you, can decide for you. So don’t let anything distract you from doing what you must.

I love you, I’m with you, and you’ve got this because of who’s got you.

All things are lawfulbut not all things are helpful.” 

– The Apostle Paul (1 Cor 10:23)

For the higher purpose,

Dad

Interview with The Shack original publisher and collaborator, Wayne Jacobsen

For over a year now, people have been asking me what I think of The Shack. Mostly, I’m fascinated by how it’s gotten people talking—believers and regular folks, liberals and conservatives, long-time Christians and the disenfranchised. And it hasn’t even gone to mass market paperback yet (update: it now has). As a result of it all, The Shack is the little, unassuming book that continues to sit atop the bestseller lists and create controversy.

No denying it’s a fairly unusual book. Even with all its visibility, it’s difficult to call it a sensation. At first glance, most everything about it—from the book’s style, to its author, to the way in which it was published—looks fairly commonplace. Yet its unusual success story belies the unusualness beneath the pages.

I admit I was predisposed to give the book my usual surface treatment and be done with it. But as I started reading, I realized I couldn’t dismiss it so easily. In fact, I had to finish it, not just to see what all the fuss was about, but to experience something I rarely get to—a transporting experience. I read with increasing excitement and emotion. Something momentous seemed to be hidden between the pages.

So once I finished, I decided I needed to know the truth about all the rumors and accusations I’d heard. So I contacted Wayne Jacobsen, the man William P. Young claims largely inspired him to pursue publishing the book. Wayne is a writer whose own work has taken on what passes for Christianity in mainstream culture, targeting what Jacobsen calls the “missing middle” that exists between the mainstream Christian book houses and the general market.

That’s significant background because I’m convinced this is one of the biggest and most under-served readerships worldwide: the group some call the “post-religious,” spiritually-curious, but tired of the typical packaging of church programs and Christian culture. How to reach this elusive audience has been a subject I’ve studied and debated for years, but I believe the larger story around The Shack provides the best case study to date.

Coming from outside both Christian and general markets, it has succeeded in transcending the categories to define a hunger for God the typical Christian fare so often fails to fill.

—–In June 2008, I caught up with Wayne—–

Me: I understand The Shack went through some fairly extensive revisions and rewriting. Can you talk about that?

Wayne: Yeah. Paul (Young, writer), Brad (Cummings, Windblown Media), and I worked for about 16 months bringing out the more dramatic elements, the essence of the story, and cutting back on some of the more theologically loaded or simply curious elements. Through the restructuring, we wanted to be as faithful to Paul’s original idea as possible. The natural result of putting the story first was that the book catches the interest of a spiritually hungry reading public. By allowing the books’ statements about God to be experienced organically as story rather than as propositional truths or systematic theology, The Shack has resonated with a diverse audience, building bridges between all sorts of people.

Me: What did you see in the original manuscript of The Shack that made you feel you should commit to 16 months of work to it?

Wayne: We actually did a podcast with Paul on this where I talked about that very thing.

Me: I’ll include the link (“A Visit to The Shack“). Was it ever difficult to remain committed to it during that time, especially given your many involvements?

Wayne: It wasn’t a commitment at the outset, but I felt he had a great book here and Paul wasn’t motivated to do the rewrites we thought needed to be done. At one point the three of us and Bobby Downes of Downes Brothers Entertainment sat down to storyboard the movie and suggest changes in the book. Even with that, Paul wanted me to help. Eventually, I felt a nudge from the Spirit to do so and rewrote a chapter to show him what I was talking about. Then I did another, and then Brad got involved and it started to grab him, so we kept going. At one point each of us had written a version of the chapter with Sophie in the cave, and we just put them all together and kept the stuff we agreed on. A lot of it was like that. Paul was so generous with his gift, and I was using Paul’s words and working to keep it his vision. I’d never done that as an editor—I’d always just been a writer—so the commitment was more something that evolved relationally.

Me: How many people in Christian publishing—authors, agents, and editors—have contacted you about working with Windblown?

Using a garage as a warehouse, William P. Young, left, author of The Shack, helps publishers Brad Cummings, center, and Wayne Jacobsen pack books for shipping. CREDIT: Rachelle Hanshaw

Wayne: Oh, more than I can count now. Christian publishing people want to do it. The Shack is hitting the middle ground, but transcending it—church people, Jewish people, the spiritually curious, etc.—all having the conversations as it relates to their spiritual interests. It doesn’t necessarily identify that middle ground because it’s more diverse than that. It’s the reality of Paul’s pain and how he deals with it. It’s more an experience not a theology thing. Jesus says, “My sheep know my voice and they won’t follow a stranger.” We don’t have to take on the mentality of gatekeepers. The push-back from the religious Taliban is that they’re making it about “them and us”–like there’s those who are in and those who are out. But that isn’t what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to serve, not to be served

Me: One of the most exciting things about The Shack to me is that it provides hope to so many people who haven’t been served in the Christian mainstream for whatever reason. This “spiritually interested”  audience is not only receptive, but seems to be responding to the idea that God is even more loving and boldly relational than we tend to think, that He’s forceful in breaking down the very walls the religious establishment wants to build in their preference for safe, non-confrontational literature. Do you see a parallel here to how Jesus used parables that were offensive to the religious establishment he was denouncing?

Wayne: People are definitely trying to defame and marginalize the message. This argument about feminizing God, for instance. The book explains very clearly that God shows up as a black woman because that’s the image that puts Mack at ease. God could have shown up as whatever he wanted, but the people who say he can’t be a black woman don’t seem to accept that. There are also some people saying it’s promoting universalism, that all paths lead to God. Even though Jesus says very clearly and repeatedly that he’s the only way, the detractors want to insist that Paul really meant something else.

For too long there’s been a fear of offending the establishment. Publishing people don’t love the books they’re publishing. Our publishing The Shack was never about being commercial or pleasing people. It was meant to be honest and truthful, to find passionate readers who were looking for this. We want to do books that resonate with people’s hearts. It was never intended to be the full orthodoxy of the gospel, whatever we may have believed that to mean.

Me: That’s a really important point. When people talk about “biblical orthodoxy” what they’re really talking about is a bunch of different historical traditions of interpretation of a bunch of theological concepts that really have very little to do with the uninterpreted Bible. The concept is deceptive and notoriously divisive in the ways it’s applied. And I guess when you put words in God’s mouth and have him saying things that sound a little too out of the box…

Wayne: You get whacked! Yeah. People say they believe in things all the time, but they really don’t. Some Christians don’t believe in the Incarnation—the in-dwelling spirit of God in everyone who believes. And it isn’t that they don’t want to believe, they’ve just never experienced it. And I think it’s sad that so many can’t allow themselves to have that experience. But those who want to explore that and experience it shouldn’t be judged for it.

Me: Well said. It seems to me a big difference between those who embrace The Shack and those who denounce it are divided between understanding faith as an intellectual construct based in the interpretation of theological concepts, and faith as an experience of these things–one is mental, the other physical. And certainly we need a balance there, but how can faith be experienced if the familiar barriers of judgment and condemnation are always there? Do you think this is why there are so many disillusioned Christians and “spiritually interested” folks not finding much in mainstream Christian publishing?

Wayne: I’m sure that’s part of it. There are many reasons. Publishing is slow, expensive, and risky. But it’s pretty difficult to keep true to the edge–of actually living out these theological concepts–while you’re worried about offending the mainstream.

Me: Thanks, Wayne. And thanks for inviting so much challenging discussion through this book. I know I’m not the only one who’s grateful for the opportunity to explore these ideas more.

Wayne: My pleasure, Mick. Thank you.

Note: Since first published in 2007, The Shack has garnered much acclaim and controversy and has gone on to become one of the bestselling books of all time. And despite being denounced as heresy, the movie releases March 3rd, 2017. 

[Please feel free to leave a kind, intelligent comment–all others will be denied, like CNN at a Trump press conference.]

A Word for Writers on Healthy Integration (or More Accurately, the First Word of Likely Many More).

“It’s always the vulnerable heart that breaks broken hearts free.”

 

I read a new book recently and it changed me. It helped me realize something I hadn’t before.

dsc_0037Books often do that, of course, but not in a quite so fundamentally altering way. You know how when new information comes, there’s always that period of instability before you can even recognize what’s happened? And then comes an undetermined time of processing it before you can assimilate and actually use that new fact or element of knowledge from your newly expanded and solidified position?

Yeah, that happened recently. And I realized I don’t think about that enough. I’m guessing you probably don’t either, or at least not consciously, with intention to do something about it. I assume you already know we all face the requirement to assimilate new info, whether or not we always do it. After all, that’s sort of the whole point of this walking-around-upright-and-aspiring-to-social-respectability-for-doing-something-useful-with-these-opposable-thumbs gift of consciousness, isn’t it?

dsc_0066So, because integration is a hidden process, it’s underappreciated. But I think it’s one of the more important processes to explore for how vitally essential it is to our lives, our minds, our hearts, our strength and our souls.

Because my postulate is that to love God well in all those areas absolutely requires good integration (vs. bad or simply lacking).

So one of the takeaways of this book is that integration is really all about consistency. That is, you can’t be well integrated in life and able to use your newly gained knowledge, abilities and wisdom without consistently doing the work to integrate new knowledge, abilities and wisdom.

Right? I know–it’s neuron-stretching. But when you realize this, you see why with all this new information continually coming at you, and faster today than ever before, the sheer effort to synthesize it with your existing life is overwhelming. We resent, resist and actively fight against the onslaught every day. But how many of us realize this invisible duty to take it in and deal with the anxiety that causes? And isn’t it even fewer people who actually think of ways to pursue better integration of their expanding understanding, and then follow through on what that new awareness dictates?

dsc_0027Is this important? Do you agree? For years I’ve believed that what we need most are strong examples of people doing this and making the effort, so we can see the positive change and the new intentions and how they play out in someone’s life. If we could watch a “good integrator” working to apply his or her learning in their life and see what the results are, wouldn’t that be of priceless value in our info-choked lives?

I wonder what could be more needed–of course, such a personal story would be one of the hardest things to write, to say nothing of ensuring the picture was vulnerable and honest enough to appeal in today’s culture. Clearly, an exemplary integrator would have to struggle to be authentic and laid bare. She’d need to care little about the judgment that would follow when her experiment in allowing change by an invisible hand to grow her awareness was misunderstood, maligned and even denounced.

But that’d be the cost, and it’s ultimately why I’ve grown to love inspirational memoir. Because it’s instructive in the ways I need it to be most–to see it, feel it and experience it for myself. Who can’t identify with this deep need to live more “wholistically?” You don’t have to be a writer to know this training is among our primary needs for survival now, since we’ve become largely safe and comfortable in our modern world. The great danger we face as humans isn’t physical or even ultimately intellectual–it’s spiritual. It has always been thus; we just haven’t been so capable of focusing so much attention on it before. dsc_0018

Which is why we’ll rip apart at the seams if we don’t get clear on how to do this mental work real quick.

Anyone coming to this work of demonstrating healthy integration, i.e. spiritual growth, will pay a price. Family and friends will oppose your efforts, see them as variously selfish, self-immolating, demanding, unreasonable, or even unhinged. There’s no easy response to why you’d choose to pursue this. Many won’t see it as growing our ability to identify with Christ’s wounds, yet isn’t it ultimately just that? To see more of the real world and experience the only real way to break our prejudices and privileges, and finally feel what another feels?

The connections there aren’t immediately obvious, but that’s why I’m compelled to commend this book to you. What I aspire to with Higher Purpose Writers is exemplified in Ann Voskamp’s new memoir, The Broken Way. Her example has shown me we need more Christ-followers willing to follow, to leave comfort and seek to know what we tend to miss as disintegrated, disembodied members of the body. So many members of the body are being dismembered and must be reminded, that is, re-membered. So many are being distracted and so many haven’t been given “the easy setting” like us. And what we need is more people willing to show the struggle to suffer in solidarity with them, without judging or arguing with their politics, or believing falsehoods to sidestep our mandate from God.

Simply, we are to love our neighbors and enemies as ourselves. And we need to integrate this knowledge to get involved in saving lives.

This book is the reason I began feeling disintegrated and stopped posting several weeks ago. dsc_0034As with One Thousand Gifts, The Broken Way forced me to recognize it and do something about it. After writing about writing for over 20 years, one of my main takeaways is clear: writing can create an eddy to remove you from where the river of creative flow is taking you. Without attention to integrating your spiritual knowledge, it can prevent you from facing your deeper fears and producing more good work of a higher purpose.

The Broken Way revealed to me I hadn’t yet integrated my knowledge about God with my own living of life. And that’s the opposite of being truly helpful to anyone in the real world. Maybe it’s not uncommon and we all experience such disintegration every day. We all know it’s incredibly hard to do the work of waiting and gathering and then considering all the factors of an issue, let alone to integrate the new awareness that arises slowly without being distracted and derailed. We grow too complacent, disinterested and convinced it’s unproductive navel-gazing. Maybe we also grow too afraid of inspiring others to conjure white padded rooms for us as we slip into self-important delusional behavior. But we can’t allow our fears to win. We can’t give in to our doubts that acquiring a fairly complete picture of our true work in this world, and integrating it, is possible.

dsc_0051Our hearts and everyone we’ll ever meet must follow this process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds. And it feels to me today on the cusp of another election (God help us) and the dawning of a dark and dangerous day for the west, it’s time to own my disintegration and get living again.

So for the next few weeks (possibly months), amidst myriad other tasks, factors and worthy and unworthy colluding distractions, I plan to follow what promises to be an epic interior journey, one I’ve never really embarked on before.

It may be only my fellow God-haunted nerds and misfits who see it and feel this excitement, but oh, my fellow Inspired aspirants, it will be epic…

More certainly to come. Will you join me?

For the higher purpose,

Mick

P.S. Please do check out my friend Ann’s book. It’s sure to sell well anyway, but as my favorite of 2016, at the very least it’s helped to make the year far less disappointing on balance.

Is Christian Art Useless?

Fellow Christian writers and artists, do you consider this a challenge?

“Christian art is a knock-off.”

Maybe? Maybe it depends on what we consider Christian art.

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How do we define Christian art? Are the rules different than for regular art? Probably they are, and that’s fair since “Christian” should involve some specific differences about what’s artistic and what’s not.

So what does “Christian art” mean?

Is it art when it portrays some aspect of the glory of God? And are the qualities of the work less important, more important, or as important as the content, the message? Are the specific qualities merely the wrapping paper for the gift inside? Or is the packaging of the message the more important part?

Should “Christian art” mean what pleases God rather than what pleases man? Should it entertain or only be serious? Should it seek to convert its viewers by providing an alternative to unwholesome art? Should it be less interested in depicting the real world and more interested in what is pure, true, good, et cetera? Should it provide specific takeaways?

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And does this really matter? After 4 decades in the Christian subculture, I can finally say I don’t have the faintest clue. I stopped being able to judge Christian art somewhere around age 30. I can probably make a pretty fair argument for both sides, from “everything has to literally spell out the gospel in order to be Christian art” to “only organically Christian art is truly a witness.”

But the recent “film debate” between Fifty Shades of Gray and the Christian alternative “Old Fashioned” revived some of the unanswerable questions.

“This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.”

Is that true? Is Old Fashioned art for Christians? And is it really incapable of reaching beyond that? Why? And who really knows?

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And should we really spend time debating this?

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Every Christian industry–film, music, books and all those giftable products–exists for Christians. The art they sell is for people who want a message and aren’t as interested (though they still are) in the wrapping. Should we debate whether the message of Christian art is getting seen by regular folk?

Or should we be making art?

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My opinion? We should be making art. If the appeal of “50 Shades” proves anything, it’s that the wrapping of the message matters–a lot. Maybe more than the message, in many ways. (As Marshall McLuhan said back in 1964). So if you’re a Christian inclined to making beautiful art, you should probably spend more time working on making the package work, and not worrying so much whether the message is clear.

But my point is, whether Christian art is or isn’t largely miserable, useless and derivative, who cares? What if instead of debating we just got to work and focused more on making art than the distractions of others’ opinions?

Maybe that would be a more productive use of our gifts and time?

I’m reminding myself here. And now leaving to write.

Feeling better already…

Defending the Gays: What I’ve questioned and can’t deny

Yesterday, I posted a thought at Facebook about defending gay people.

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It got some great responses supporting and challenging. But it left me with little doubt this thorny issue is not going away for Christians, many of whom believe we’re supposed to know what we’re talking about when we discuss homosexuality.

Which seems to me like mistake #1….

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I’m still thinking about this and I don’t have many answers. But I’ve seen some things…

I’ve seen the American Psychological Association publish study after study about the complex nature of sexual orientation and Christians repeatedly disregard the research that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation” (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx).

I’ve seen the 2 arcane verses in Leviticus that talk about killing homosexuals. The Bible is brutal, folks. Look it up.

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And I’ve seen the few verses mentioning homosexuality in the New Testament. Yet how do they excuse the widespread prejudice about monogamous homosexuality between two loving adults? Even suggesting there can be such a thing gives some people hives.

That’s called prejudice. It’s assuming there are some people worse than we are. I’ve also seen how prejudice throughout history has led to attempts to eradicate others for being born different.

I’ve seen from experience that whatever turns my stomach about humans, that’s what God, in his perfect love, never feels for me, regardless of my ignorant revulsion.

And if I only understood the “unconditional” part better, I’d be able to share this better even with bullies.

This realization has made me question some things about this topic…

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First, I’ve begun to question our idea of the underdog and the aggressor in this losing battle.

I question how long Christians can ignore brutal domination of the human spirit and represent God so falsely.

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I’ve begun to question why we’re so quick to assume being broken is a sin. Why do we make people feel like their brokenness is because they’re evil? Is there anything more damaging and hateful than to believe someone’s evil?

Yet there are some things I can’t deny:

I can’t deny Jude’s point about pursuing desires that may feel very natural to us (http://www.openbible.info/topics/homosexuality), or that everyone—hetero and homo—is already condemned for pursuing what feels more natural in their fallen state.

Yet I can’t deny that if I condemn anyone, I know in my heart: I’m condemned.

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I also can’t deny that Jesus said the new law abolished the old, and he summed it up—“Do to others what you want done to you” And so I can’t dismiss that what I do, not just what I believe, will condemn or free me. I don’t believe saving faith comes through what I do, but I also don’t believe I have saving faith if I don’t do to others what I’d want done to me.

I can’t deny that everyone I know has feelings that betray them. Everyone is confused to find themselves attracted to what’s wrong. And I can’t deny that brokenness is in me and in all of us by no fault of our own. And whatever it looks like, a lack of shame just does not seem to be the problem.

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I can’t deny the proof in my own life that true change only comes through a realization of unmerited, sacrificial love. It’s the only thing that has made me willing to admit I’m wrong and to leave my “right” place to go with anyone who asks me. And even if it’s my enemy who wants me to go 2 miles, Jesus says I’m to go 4.

Love is the only thing that can make me.

And I can’t deny it’s only a loving defender who has made me less of a condemning dominator.

I can’t deny I was born into sin by no fault of my own, and without help I will automatically perpetuate others’ pain. And it’s an unnatural, i.e. a supernatural, work to stop it.

I can’t deny I’ve seen a change of heart can only come through love.

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So can gayness be changed? It’s looking unlikely, folks. And certainly not by me. That much I know. At least a greater love would be needed.

Judge not lest you be judged. Can anyone say anything about a gay person that wouldn’t only prove his own ignorance of love? I’m trying to understand. But all I can do is acknowledge my prejudices and repent. Like this:

If being broken is a sin, Jesus died for that. Why would I act like it didn’t count for some people?

Brokenness is not a choice. Brokenness is how we are BORN. Can we stop acting like anyone can do anything about the way they are?

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All I can do for someone is what I’d want done for me–to provide endless permission to share all that holds them back from wholeness that only comes from God. And as they find their feet on the narrow path to freedom…to give them all I can.

 

For a more biblical breakdown of this sticky issue, see John Piper’s response to “Why homosexuality is sin” here.