Why I Thank William P. Young For Helping Me Become A Writer

A couple of years ago, people began talking about this incredible new book The Shack that had been sweeping the world, and which had only just started to circulate in Australia. “Have you read it?” “It’s incredible.” “It’s changed my whole view of God.” My curiosity – and my percieved-threat-to-established-theology senses – began to tingle. I had to get me a copy of this book and see why everyone was changing their ideas about who and what God was. What kind of a book had such power to change peoples whole view of God?splash-shack

So I borrowed a copy (I would have never risked paying out my hard-earned money for a book which might turn out to be heresy) and in reading it, promptly threw it across the room…several times. As far as I was concerned, it was heresy. I thought it was trite, tokenistic, racist and just as theologically inaccurate as I feared it would be. I was incensed. People who read this book would be deceived. It was an insult, and thank God I’d found out in time to stop it from harming any of my friends or family.

Along with several others, I went on a campaign. I wanted to stop anyone from changing their existing view of God because of this book, even if it meant they felt much better with their new idea of God than they ever did with their last one. I found out a pastor in our area had read the book and was teaching it from the pulpit, so I rang his denominational supervisor on the phone to warn him about it. “The book is dangerous.” I declared. “You must speak to this pastor and demand he stop infecting his congregation with this apostasy.” I was genuinely afraid that the ideas in this book were making people worship the wrong god, a god of the authors imagination.

So certain was I that my fears and objections were founded in a genuine concern for the immortal souls of The Shack’s readers, I even found the authors website and left a comment for him, telling him that his book was dangerous and heretical. I also told him I considered the book to be poorly written and thinly plotted, and expressed my sadness and surprise anyone had found the thing readable in the first place. And I left this comment in a place he would be unlikely to miss it.

Because someone has to defend the church and the scriptures and our church from these loose interpretations and dangerous theologies, and stop them from being used like plasticine in the hands of some dewy eyed artist to further their emotive, spiritual agenda. Humph humph humph.

****

Several years later, the fuss about The Shack had pretty much blown over and I’d forgotten all about it. In the meantime, I’d had a few challenges of my own in life, and my rock-solid precepts about the church and scripture and God had been dragged protesting from their lofty dais and demoted to things I used to think which didn’t turn out to be very useful in a pinch. What did prove useful was me giving up my tendency to crash every idea and inspired thought anyone else had up against my firm beliefs hard enough to break the former into little pieces and give the latter a false sense of its own importance.

And I stopped telling everyone what not to write, and started writing myself.

And the first thing I realised was that it was much, much harder than I thought.

Criticising was one thing. Telling people what I thought about what someone else did was a breeze, especially if I didn’t like or took offence to what they did. It just rolled off the pen, or the tongue. But when I sat down to write about what I’d learned, what I thought, how I’d changed my ideas about God and what He’d actually revealed to me, in the first person, I struggled.

I could critize, all right. But I could not write.

And suddenly I remembered the comment I had left on that website to that author who had found the courage, the creativity and the energy to write a whole book.

I couldn’t even write 500 words on what was in my heart, and he’d written about 50,000. And he also had to put up with people like me who wanted to crucify him for doing it.

I stopped crying, opened my browser, found the authors website and where I’d left the comment, (still there for all the world to see) and wrote a heartfelt retraction.

I then went away, and with my conscience and creativity clear again, started writing my own damn book.

I still sometimes find cause to criticise others ideas and teachings, but I try never to leave piece-meal comments picking out the eyes on others blogs or websites any more. I figure if I have the time and energy to oppose what they espouse, or to criticise, I have enough of both to go to the trouble to think through and work and write my own piece, and then publish it under my own name in public, in a forum where others can criticise me right back if they want to.

Most critics have never tried to create anything, as was the case with me and The Shack. It was only when I tried to create something significant myself I realised that creativity has a great cost many armchair critics will never agree to pay. Exposure to criticism. Disclosure of intimate personal details. Time. Privacy. Old-fashioned hard work. It costs a lot to make something worth anything.

*****

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13 Replies

  • Hmmm… Thank you…. I think. I don’t criticize people or their creations, but I do stand still with my own. My biggest fear about writing, or creation of any sort, stems from my Miranda Rights… “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” I’ve always known that words have power, and I’m just terrified of the criticism that comes with that power.

    I suppose I am not the only one with that fear, and that helps… somehow.

    I haven’t read The Shack–I don’t like the overall premise– but maybe I’ll give it a go.

  • You make me laugh Jo. At least your honest with your opinions. I also read the shack, out of pure stubbornness to be honest. I didn’t throw it across the room but rolled my eyes a lot. And yeah, it takes courage to put yourself out there. And it takes possibly some kind of maturing to stop being overbearingly self assured and condemning of other christians faults and ‘heretical’ ideas (not pointing a finger at anyone else but myself).

  • Anytime there’s a huge buzz about a book (or whatever) in Christian circles, I avoid it like the plague. The Shack was one of these.

    Then somebody submitted an article for Footprints warning Christians against it. To give it proper consideration, I had to read The Shack for myself.

    I ended up not accepting the submission, guided by our mission of focusing on the 90% that unites us as Christians, not the 10% that divides. When we DO have articles on controversial issues, it is in report style – that is, we let the reader see various angles and let THEM make the decision for themselves. The submission didn’t do that.

    For myself: yes, I enjoyed reading The Shack. It didn’t change my world or my faith or my perspective of God, except to remind me of His love for me.

    But I have known others, who have been through the loss of a child or similar (to the main character in The Shack) who have been hugely comforted or blessed by it. Who am I to say they can’t have that?!

  • I don’t have the words to tell you how much I love this. Having been on the other side of that armchair for more backlash than I care to recount, I know the truth of which you speak. And I know Paul. I’m going to send this to him right now.

    • Dear *Dolly*,
      Thank you for your kind words, for coming by, and for passing this on. It means so much. You are so awesome.
      Love, *Norah*. 🙂

  • Hey Jo,
    Good on ya! Karen Zacharias pointed me in your direction and I am grateful, to and for her and for you as well. Loved your little commentary. One of the beautiful things that The Shack has done, besides giving people a language so they can have a conversation about God that is not a ‘religious’ one, is that their responses to it often tell you much more about them then it does about the book. The angriest people usually haven’t read it. I find, in myself as much as anyone, that it has always been easier to be right than love.
    Totally appreciated your comments about the writing process. If we write for expression and not for identity it is an easier road. May you find in your creativity a sense of participation with the true, the real, the good, the beautiful, the mystery.
    Grace singing in all the in-betweens,
    Paul
    -author, The Shack

    • William,
      I can’t express how surprised, honoured and delighted I am you read this post! Thanks so much for coming by and for responding.

      God is as much in the actual process of writing as He is in what is written. And he used your writing to show me that. THANK YOU 🙂
      Gratefully,
      JO 🙂

  • Hi Jo I loved The Shack.
    I was told by lots of people NOT to read it but then a lovely friend asked had I read it & if not I definietly should.
    I didnt know what the story was about & as I got into it I was very upset as it was about this man losing his daughter & for me that was to hard to read.
    I struggled on & just loved it.
    At the WORST time of my entire life I felt the comfort of my Amazing Father & I could so relate to aspects of the book.
    In losing my own amazingly wonderful daughter I’ve grown in my relationship with God. The Shack is a book I’d recommend
    Gab

  • Hey Jo,

    I’ve never heard of this book, but I totally agree with the premise of your post. It is much harder to actually create something than just consume and criticise someone else for putting their own thoughts out there in a a way you aren’t game enough to do!
    Well said.
    Fi

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