The Shack Chapter 6 Part 2

As Mackenzie goes back into the cabin, he notes that it doesn’t look like the same place.  Not only is it not falling apart, there’s “tasteful decorations,” a roaring fire, and, most importantly, no bloodstain on the floor by where Missy’s dress was found. Mack finds God in the kitchen, where she is listening to some music. She takes out her headphones when Mack comes in. Mack is curious as to what God listens to, and so am I.

“West Coast Juice. Group called Diatribe and an album that isn’t even out yet called Heart Trips. Actually, these kids haven’t even been born yet…Oh trust me, it’s not [religious]. More like Eurasian funk and blues with a message, and a great beat.

I love this. I love that God listens to music that a lot of Christians would condemn as evil and wicked. I didn’t mention it, but God even does a little dance move to it.

I think the thing I love most about this book is that it really does break some stereotypes. Notice that not a single member of the Godhead trinity is presenting as white? That alone is enough to blow people’s minds. Including mine.

When Mack says he thought God would be listening to something more religious, God tells him that she listens not just to the music, but to the hearts behind it, whatever that means. I…kinda like this concept.

Then the author goes and ruins a good thing. Sigh. It was nice while it lasted:

These kids ain’t saying anything I haven’t heard before

I love this. I love love love love the idea of God listening to music that some would describe as vulgar and sexual and saying, “it’s not like I haven’t heard this before.” Then we get this:

They’re just full of vinegar and fizz. Lots of anger and, I must say, with some good reason too. They’re just some of my kids, showin’ and spoutin’ off. I am especially fond of these boys, you know. Yup, I’ll be keeping my eye on ’em.”

Because of course God can’t be listening to them simply because they are musicians who have actual talent and she happens to like their style of music. No, these “kids” make the music they do because they are angry inside and God is listening because God loves them. And here I thought the writer was trying to break down stereotypes.

“You must know,” said Mack, “Calling you ‘Papa’ is a bit of a stretch.

God asks if that’s because she’s presenting as a woman, or because he is simply not used to calling her “Papa?” Mack indicates that neither one of these is an issue.

“Or maybe it’s because of the failures of your own papa?”

Mack gasped involuntarily. He wasn’t use to having deep secrets surface so quickly and openly.

Um, Mack? You remember those people you met on the camping trip, who you knew for like, a day? You may not have given all the details, but you told them your dad was pretty awful. You seem to be rather open about this sort of thing, so why are you surprised here?

And God, at this point, is being super vague. I could walk up to anyone, right now, and say, “your father had failures,” and that would be true. Every single person’s father has made mistakes because every single father is human.

Now, some failures are worse than others. But still, just mentioning that someone’s father made mistakes and had failures is not something that would cause me to have a particularly strong reaction. I would probably say something like, “well no shit.”

Mack says he never felt he had a real father, and when God promises to be the father he never had, Mack gets angry.

“If you couldn’t take care of Missy, how can I trust you to take care of me?”

That’s…. a damn good question.

I wish God would give an answer, but she doesn’t. She just says she loves Missy and Mack, and that she has brought Mack here to heal the gap that came between him and her when she allowed Missy to be killed.

So, basically, she gives Mack a non answer that doesn’t even pretend to answer the question, and Mack is just ok with this because he somehow knows God means it.

He wanted to believe her, and slowly some of his rage began to subside.

So, God has magical powers to clam down angry people who ask her pesky questions. Fantastic.

God tells Mack that there are no easy answers for what happened to Missy. If there were, she’d give them to him.

“Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship.”

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the question at hand, but set that aside. God is basically saying the same thing that any pastor anywhere would say to Mack. And I’m sorry, but in a novel where God is right fucking there, that’s not acceptable.

Then there’s this, and I want to throat punch Mackenzie:

“I think it’d be easier to have this conversation if you weren’t wearing a dress,” he suggested and attempted a smile, as weak as it was.

I think this is a reference to God presenting himself/herself as female instead of male, but this still rubs me the wrong way. Most men wouldn’t actually say it out loud, but a lot of sexist pricks really do have a hard time accepting a woman as his equal. Especially if she is presenting as more feminine, such as wearing a dress. Anecdotally, I notice I get taken a lot more seriously when I wear pants.

Instead of setting Mack straight on this, God just tells Mack that if it really would make things easier, she would present herself to Mack as a man.

“Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.

I love this. This is what Christian!Abby had been saying for years. It says, in the Bible, that God made male and female in God’s own image. Therefore, God was both male and female, but also probably identified as more than just bi-gender. He was probably some other gender that no one at the time knew about.

Christian!Abby’s Christian friends thought she was weird as fuck.

“If I choose to appear to you as a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me “Papa” is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”

So, if you had appeared as a man, would you insist Mack call you, “Mama?”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will God actually be shown as having a feminine side or will it just look like the author stuffed a male God into a female body?

As for not wanting Mack to fall back into “his religious conditioning” (aka brainwashing), I agree, but then, why has God done pretty much nothing except spout off stuff that any youth pastor could’ve told him? I mean, really, if you’re going to go through the trouble of meeting Mack in person, why not give him some real answers?

I get that the author probably wouldn’t want to put words in God’s mouth, but if so, he should not have tackled the topic in the first place.

“To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with a flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”

I love this line. This line is great. But is the author going to show God breaking religious stereotypes, or is he just going to have the characters talk about it? Because that doesn’t show anything, that’s just telling.

And Mack. He seems to have forgotten all about the very human reaction he had in the last chapter about his daughter dying, because he doesn’t start screaming at God the minute she starts saying crap like, “there are no easy answers, or I’d give them to you.” I could accept something like that from a youth pastor, because a youth pastor is also a flawed human being just trying to do his job.

This character is God. God, according to Christians, is all powerful, all knowing, and always benevolent. From a God like character, I need something better than empty platitudes like this.

As a side note, this is why there aren’t more books written about people actually meeting God. Part of it is probably that God is to be shrouded in mystery. But another part, and I suspect this is a huge part, is that it isn’t easy to write about a character who is all knowing, all powerful, and always benevolent because when you try, you realize that these 3 things are completely contradictory. If you think the mental gymnastics of trying to find God both all good and all powerful at the same time are hard, try writing it all down. It just makes it even harder.

Mack believed, in his head, at least, that God was Spirit, neither male nor female, but in spite of that, he was embarrassed to admit to himself that all his visuals of God were very white and very male.

I like this part, too. I think it’s something a lot of white people go through, at some point. We believe we’re all inclusive and not at all racist, and then we confront something about ourselves and realize that jee, maybe we are a little bit more racist/sexist than we’d like to think. These kinds of confrontations are necessary for us to grow as a person, and it’s nice to see it happening to Mack.

Because this chapter feels more like a series of disjointed conversations smashed all together into one, it’s not going to be difficult to divide these up. I think we’ll tackle one more “Section” this week before we move on.

God looked at Mack intently. “Hasn’t it always been a problem for you to embrace me as your father? And after what you’ve been through, you couldn’t very well handle a father right now, could you?”

For those that don’t remember, Mack’s father was an abusive fuckwad whom Mack later murdered.

Mack knew she was right, and he realized the kindness and compassion in what she was doing. Somehow, the way she had approached him had skirted his resistance to her love. It was strange and painful and maybe even a little bit wonderful.

This is one of those bits that is unintentionally creepy. Mack, justifiably, has been angry with God. And now his resistance to her is just gone. Just like that. God has some serious mojo, because most humans don’t work that way.

Mack asks God why there is such an emphasis on God being a father rather than a mother, if God is both genders and none. It’s a fair question, and I suspect the answer is actually closer to “God was originally created by a patriarchal society thousands of years ago, and that our concept of God has evolved as we as a species have.”

But that answer wouldn’t do for fundy Christians, and so here is the author’s answer:

“Well…there are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don’t misunderstand me, both are needed–but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence.”

“the creation was broken?” Da fuq does that even mean? Set that aside, it’s irrelevant. Let’s talk about the rest of it. So, there is a belief in conservative Christianity that absent or asshole fathers are more common than absent or asshole mothers. I’m not sure how true this is. Even if there are statistics out there, how would you even measure something like this?

But I can say, from experience, that this belief really does alienate people. There’s a lot of talk about God being a father to the fatherless, but what if your father is a great guy but your mother is emotionally absent, abusive, or maybe even dead? That’s treated like a rarity, but I don’t honestly think it’s that rare. There is nothing in the Bible about God being a mother to the motherless, and pastors don’t really talk about it either. And I know people who felt very very alone.

I wish that, instead of trying to justify the “God as father” thing by saying this, the author had gone for. “People understand me as they are capable. Back when the Bible was written, that’s what they saw me as. But their perspective was different than yours.” Or…something a little less like something I’ve already heard a zillion times.

Mack changes the subject again. He does this so many times, I’ve gotten whiplash. But God doesn’t seem to mind.

“You knew I would come, didn’t you?” Mack said.

“Of course I did.”

“Then was I free not to come? Did I not have a choice in the matter?”

I can see what the author is trying to do, but he’s failing. He’s trying to have a discussion about free will, but he’s doing it in the most softball way possible. If I invite my best friend S to go see Moana again, she still has freewill to reject my invitation even though I know she’d probably say yes. (Speaking of better movies you could be watching, is Moana out on DVD yet?)

Just because God knew Mack would accept her invitation doesn’t mean she’s forcing him to come. Now, other freewill questions, like, “what about Missy’s free will not to be murdered? Why was that less important than the free will of her murderer?” Yeah, that won’t be answered. Fuck, it won’t even be asked.

Because despite what this book says, it is totally about reinforcing religious stereotypes.

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2 thoughts on “The Shack Chapter 6 Part 2

  1. I’ve known for much of my life that many people’s gods are not white. This book helped me understand that the Xn god did not need to be (and probably should not be) white.

  2. Yes, Moana is out on dvd. I bought it already!

    I don’t like the implication that “more” people need a father figure, therefore all the people that need a mother figure can be screwed over. Do those latter people not matter? The majority is more important than the individual? But here I thought God was supposed to love and be there for each and every person. Why couldn’t God have presented itself as a PARENT figure, therefore setting the genders aside?

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