Meine Ohrwurm

"Earworm" is the English translation of the German "ohrwurm", a term used to describe the phenomenon of having a song stuck in your head. "Meine Ohrwurm", then, is "My Earworm". Perhaps not the most appealing of monikers, but descriptive nonetheless.

Why the linguistics primer?

I've had a song stuck in my head for the past, oh, 72 hours (at least) and, in addition to wanting to share the lyrics with you, I thought I'd let you know that yes, there is a word for that.

The song? It's an oldie but goodie from the late 1700's, redone by Indelible Grace in 2001. The words, well, speak for themselves. Read through them a couple of times and see if you don't find yourself utterly smitten by the awesome height, depth, and breadth of God's great mercy upon His chosen ones. The verse in italics is the one that pierces my heart each and every time I've listened to it (so, approximately 128 times in the past few days).

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Thy Mercy, My God

Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affections and bound my soul fast.

Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here;
Sin would reduce me to utter despair!
But, through Thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And He that first made me still keeps me alive.

Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart!
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground,
And weep to the praise of the mercy I've found!


Great Father of mercy, Thy goodness I own,
And the covenant love of Thy crucified Son;
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine!

["Thy Mercy, My God"; Words: John Stocker ca. 1776]

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Have you ever felt so deeply convicted of your sin, and yet so completely unable to flee from its grasp? Have you ever prayed for the Lord to pull you from the mud and mire, and to set your feet upon a firm place? Have you ever experienced the wonder of feeling your heart soften toward the Lord, when without His presence you know you would have remained hard and defiant?

I am the chief of sinners, and my strong will has been broken so many times by His gentle breath upon me. Only the Holy Spirit could change my heart, so deeply depraved is it, and determined to rebel.

My friends, I pray this for you: That your heart would wonder to feel its hardness depart, that you would dissolve before God's great goodness and weep in sweet praise of His mercy!

Hallelujah, and amen.

One More Thing

I feel like Colombo here. Except that he carefully calculates his moves so that as he turns to leave, he has some amazing whopper of a question designed to lay bare someone's true guilt. With me, it's more of "so I thought of this after I had already published my last post."

Here it is:
The Shack is not allegorical. Allegory is defined thus: Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy.
Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

Does The Shack have two meanings? Let's not give yet more undue credit to its author for thinking about his content on multiple levels. He writes in a straightforward manner, portraying God in human form. Papa (God the Father, according to Young) makes comments about himself/herself/itself (?); words from the mouth of God carry a certain amount of weight, no? How many allegories have you read that involve dialogue issuing straight from God? That's not symbolic, folks, that's just fiction.

The only thing I can see in The Shack as being somewhat allegorical was the personification of wisdom. No comment on the quality or accuracy of her discourse. What do you think? If you've read The Shack, how would you defend the claim of many Christians that it is an allegory? Or, like me, do you place The Shack at the opposite end of the allegorical spectrum from classic works like The Pilgrim's Progress?

[*ht: http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/lit_terms/allegory.html for allegory definition. It was consistent with the other definitions I found in my search, and seemed more thorough than others. My apologies for not citing it at first.]

The Sha-ZZzzzz

I have to be honest: I'm losing interest in The Shack. I am tired of beating up on this book, regardless of how much it deserves the beating. I knew going into this that I wasn't going to necessarily win friends and influence people by undertaking an ongoing critique, and that my little posts weren't going to make a bit of difference in the overall popularity and acclaim of the book.

To sum it up, there's lots I have to say, but I'm not sure that it matters. At all.

I'm not as discouraged as this might sound. It's more of a matter-of-fact acknowledgment.

It just saddens me that when I talk with people about The Shack, they tend to either brush it off as a mediocre book (perhaps not even bothering to finish it, because they found it to be so ludicrous in the first few chapters) or cling to it as a marvelous illumination of the life and character of the Triune God. Few people seem to care about how damaging such a book could be to the average reader, Christian or non. So that's where I think I'll spend my time today.

Ok, so perhaps the discerning reader can make it through The Shack without seriously buying into the theological fluff that it propagates. This is probably the camp that tosses the book aside, unconcerned about its implications. But what about the quasi-discerning reader who can tell that there are some problems with the book, but nonetheless believes that the story of transformation is so powerful that all their negative-God-image friends should read it? That is, the book can be so helpful to people who have a negative view of God, so I think I'll recommend it to everyone I know, even though I'm aware of some shady issues going on in the background.

Is this appalling to anyone else?

It's a sign to me that we take the character of God too lightly. When professing Christians can love a book that reads like a fun-room-mirror reflection of the God of the universe, we ought to be given great pause. And buy up as many copies of R.C.'s "The Holiness of God" to distribute right alongside our brothers and sisters who are giving out The Shack by the case.

I'll grant you that discerning believers who actually know truth about God and are familiar with Scripture will not be shaken nor moved by this book. It's not likely to throw up red flags for people who view the novel as rather silly or half-baked. But I encourage you to take up the cause and talk to your friends about The Shack, to find out where they stand. The book has been so popular, and I've seen it in the hands of so many people from my own congregation (anecdotally, I know of at least one church that is conducting small groups on the book, and probably not from a critical point of view), that I think we ought to go on the offensive in affirming truth about God.

We have the potential to make the book's popularity into a huge opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. Exhort your friends to compare the book against Scripture, to dig in for themselves and see whether Young's portrayal of the Trinity and Papa's comments about hierarchy and suffering measure up to the richness of the wisdom of God. I submit that they will not.

Thank God that there is nothing new under the sun - no new heresy or distortion of God that man can fabricate. It has all been said before, and it is of great encouragement to me that heresy has not only come, but it has come to pass. Only the Word of God will remain. Much like the steady onward march of Calvinism, we know that the Truth is everlasting.

"But when we see Thee as thou art, we'll praise Thee as we ought." [John Newton, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds]

The Brand New Marriage Resource!

Like I said to my sister-in-law this morning, it's amazing what any idiot with an internet connection can do!

I'd like to present a new website for your viewing and marriage-enhancing pleasure:
www.themarriageresource.synthasite.com

I hope to have it up and running with its own domain within the next few days at www.themarriageresource.com - but I'll keep you posted on that!

What are my goals for the site? I hope to build a collection of tools and resources both for people in marriages, and for people who like to help marriages. Spouses and clinicians can peruse helpful marriage tools and current research. Knowledge is power, and I hope to equip my little corner of the interweb with lots of marriage muscle!

Watch for content, and tell your friends. I hope to gain a respectable following and perhaps one day contribute to my own client base (when I'm licensed and settled in a practice, of course).

Oh, and there's an option on the website to email me with questions and feedback. If you have thoughts about what would be helpful to include, or issues to address, I welcome your suggestions!

The Shack, Part the Third

This is the third in my series of blog critiques of William P. Young's The Shack. I previously discussed general arguments about theological fiction and Young's portrayal of God the Father in human form. We now arrive at a discussion of God's character, as described in the Bible and in the novel. Again, to be fair, Young's purpose is to convey what he knows of God, in reaction against an overly harsh or punitive view of Yahweh. But he emphasizes God's love at the expense of His holiness.

Problems with Papa (II)
2. The character of God
I'd like to present you with a juxtaposition of quotes from The Shack and from the Bible. You decide for yourself how Young's portrayal of God the Father holds up to comparison with the holy Scripture. I realize the weaknesses of this method, pulling quotes out of context and all that. But I've tried to select passages that are as unambiguous as possible, and in keeping with what I know of the author's intent behind the book. No tricks here. The general theme upon which I'd like to focus is God's holiness and attitude toward sin. There are many others I could mention, but these are perhaps the aspects of God's character which are most overlooked and have the most implication for the rest of the book's (and the reader's) theology.

Is God tolerant of sin, or does His holy nature require justice for disobedience?

Shack: "'Honestly, don't you enjoy punishing those who disappoint you?' At that, Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack. He could see a deep sadness in her eyes. 'I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it.'" (p.120)

Shack: "For now I just want you to be with me and discover that our relationship is not about performance or you having to please me. I'm not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love. And I do love you." (Papa, p. 126)

Scripture: "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil....for all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law." [Romans 2:6-12]

Scripture: "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man." [Psalm 5:4-6]

Do you pick up on a slightly different flavor of God's view toward sin in these passages? Young's Papa is grieved by sin, but doesn't abhor it. Papa rejoices in "curing" sin (though exactly what this means we're not told), but her purpose isn't to punish it. But in Scripture we see a God before whom no evil can dwell, who hates all evildoers. It sounds to me as though God's purpose is indeed to punish sin; in fact, He is holy, holy, holy. This is the only attribute of God which is elevated to the third degree in Scripture - He is never described as love, love, love, or as mercy, mercy, mercy. But He is holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3, Rev. 4:8). As such, all of His actions and other attributes are defined by holiness - His love is holy love, His justice is holy justice, etc. His holiness and righteousness must be satisfied because they are absolutely integral to His existence.

God is good, but this is not defined by His wanting what is best for us. God is good because He is good, and His commands flow from His goodness for our benefit and for His glory. Young presents a very man-centric view of God and spirituality, and this is revealed in his low view of sin and almost nonexistent view of God's holiness. It is all about relationship, joining the divine circle of being and allowing God to be present with us. Young presents no discernible gospel message, at least not one that orthodox Christianity would endorse. But that's for another post.

In reading back over this post, I realize how very limited I am in my ability to develop this critique. A more worthy scholar would have provided more appropriate quotes, better examples and would have put my argument to shame. But I hope you can see at least that Young's portrayal of God the Father is at best a pale shadow of one side of our true God's countenance. There is nothing wrong with emphasizing God's love and desire for reconciliation with fallen man; however, one cannot present God accurately without simultaneously highlighting His hatred of sin and the impossibility of reconciling while our sin separates us from Him.

Up next: Problems with the Spirit: Certainty vs. Uncertainty

Quotables

The following is an excerpt from the Ligonier Ministries blog post titled "Are You Intrigued by God's Holiness, or Are You Terrified?". Please go there immediately and read the entire post, even if it means you don't finish reading mine. I'm thankful for this reminder of the absolute centrality of knowing who God is, and of the danger of theology turning into mere religion. The Reformers and other church fathers are sometimes scorned as stern, or having a harsh view of God, but as R.C. Sproul reminds us here they simply have a right view of the holiness of God.

"I had a consultant come to our ministry many, many years ago and say, 'What's the most important thing you can teach non-Christians that they don't know?' And I said, 'That's easy. They don't know who God is. They know that God is, but they don't know who He is. His nature and character have been completely obscured and eclipsed in our day.' Next he said, 'Ok. Let's get back to the church. What's the most important thing Christians don't know that they need to know?' And I said, 'That's easy too. They don't know who God is.' // In my own background studies, there was a big difference between Augustine and Aquinas, Aquinas and Luther, Luther and Calvin, and Calvin and Edwards. But like C.S. Lewis, there's a certain sameness there. When you read those guys, every one of them has been wiped out by their sense of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God. I think as soon as we lose that, theology becomes religion. I think the single most important thing we need to have is an awakening to the character of God." - R.C. Sproul

"Wiped out by their sense of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God."

That's exactly where I want to be.

The Shack, Part the Second

Given my promise to review the Shack and share my thoughts and critiques with you, I feel it is time for the second installment of my thoughtfully spaced-out Shack posts. It's only been two months since the first, but I just can't wait any longer. [Is joke! In actuality, I've been holding off on this post out of respect for some friends, with whom I intended to discuss the book. However, that discussion has not materialized, and I think enough time has passed to allow me to publish my thoughts here.]

The organization of my review has been a bit challenging for me. I'm not sure how much detail to include for my arguments, and whether to attempt it all here or whether to present one point at a time for your reading and commenting pleasure. Since I tend to be a tad verbose, let's try Plan B and see how it goes. Shall we?

As I read through The Shack, book in one hand, Bible in the other, and brand new gel pen poised at the ready, I came to understand why the novel is a source of such incredible controversy. Young presents a wonderfully moving story that captures the reader's emotions and tugs his heartstrings almost nonstop. The main character, Mack, stumbles upon a unique opportunity to spend a weekend with the Trinity in a rundown Shack and experience both transformation in his view of God and healing from the Great Sadness. While the book is not exactly classic literatary material in its composition, the story is nonetheless compelling, and one is tempted to turn the final page with the conclusion that one has come to a deeper, more intimate understanding of the Trinity and of God's role in the context of pain and suffering.

But does one, really?

As I mentioned in my first The Shack post, the discerning Christian must consider the implications of the book's teachings on God, salvation, and Christianity in general. That the book is "just fiction" is no excuse to turn a blind eye to the theological propositions that pervade the narrative material. I hope in my review to fairly acknowledge Young's purposes behind the way he treats the Trinity, Scripture, sin, and other essential Christian doctrines. He is often reacting against negative stereotypes, but he does so by swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. I'll cover this more when I talk about his treatment of God's character and other issues, but for now let's begin more broadly with the mere existence of Papa.

Problems With Papa (I)
1. God the Father as a human woman
So here we have God the Father portrayed in human flesh. The author claims to have presented God the Father thus as a reaction against our religious stereotypes of God as a white grandfatherly type who sits in the heavens and judges. That's an understandable stereotype against which to rebel, but the answer is not to fight idolatry with idolatry.

Scripture says that God is Spirit (John 4:24). This has several implications regarding His nature - God the Father is alive, animate, and personal. But He is also invisible (Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:16-17). No man has seen God at any time (John 1:18). We are commanded not to exchange the Creator for a creature (Romans 1:9), and the Ten Commandments include a prohibition of worshiping any created likeness of anything under heaven (Exodus 20:4). A woman qualifies as a creature under heaven, does she not?

You might argue for artistic license, but in light of repeated descriptions of God as invisible Spirit and warnings against compromising His true nature, it may be a bit presumptuous for an author to represent God the Father in human form - particularly one that is so far from portraying the complexities of God's character. Writing a book about God, whether a novel or theological treatise, is no small thing and ought to be approached with great fear and trembling, and a sober examination of one's accuracy. Including God the Father as a human character in a novel is indeed thin ice upon which to skate.

While the representation of God the Father as a human being is one form of idolatry, there is another present here which is just as grievous. Could not the Creator be exchanged for the creature of one's own perceptions and stereotypes? We must be careful, whether in our minds or in our literature, not to reduce God the Father to any particular set of attributes that is anything less than the full complexity of His character. Young emphasizes Papa's love, acceptance, joy, and relational nature but does so at the expense of the holiness and righteousness that is more frequently emphasized in Scripture than even God's love. God is holy, holy, holy (Rev. 4:8), and to portray Him as anything but intolerant of sin is patently false!

Both the "grandfatherly old man" and "bubbly black woman" images of God the Father are charicatures, inaccurate representations (as any portrayal of God must be). This is idolatry, and we must turn only to Scripture for our understanding of God's true character.

Because we are dealing with a novel, this is where I have sometimes heard the Aslan/Narnia argument. But folks, Aslan is a fictional lion who rules over the fictional land of Narnia. At no time does C.S. Lewis claim that Aslan is God (in fact, were he a person of the Trinity he would be Christ). We understand many of Aslan's actions and his role in Narnia to be those of a Christ figure, but he does not introduce himself as Jesus or, more importantly, as God the Father. Young's "Papa" character is explicitly stated to be the real God the Father and as such, interacts with a human being to answer his most difficult questions. Important distinction!


The attributes of Young's Papa have many implications for the rest of the book's theology, including its treatment (or conspicuous lack thereof) of sin and repentance. Stay tuned!

Up next: Problems With Papa (II): The Character of God

It's the Magnificent Multi-Phasic Take-Your-Time Machine!

That's right, folks, we're going back in time today - two decades back, to that glorious era when Psalty the Singing Songbook catapulted Christian music from its "corny beginnings" to a "whole new level of sophistication"!

Did you grow up singing along with Psalty, feeling sorry for poor Risky Rat, and wishing you could try Charity Churchmouse's Cherry Chive Chocolate Cheese Chutney?

Well kids, get on board the gospel train!

Psalty: Behind the Music
[created by Saddleback, featuring Rick Warren who claims that Psalty taught him the five purposes of life; the "corny" music lady is Psalty's wife, who later played Charity Churchmouse!]

video

Bonus: Purchase your favorite Psalty gear, DVDs, and CDs (and old cassette tapes, if you still own a device that can play them) at Psalty.com! You can even email Psalty!

Does this make anyone else as completely and utterly happy as it makes me? Despite the inevitable blank stares and barely-suppressed snickers when I mention Psalty to my Christian friends (a grown man dressed as a singing what?), he was not a figment of my imagination! There are others who lived the dream - and indeed, are carrying the torch in a blindingly kaleidoscopic way over at the Psalty Store.

We will be providing our children with all the Psalty material they can cognitively and emotionally digest. Perhaps I should place my order now - you know, just in case. Not at all because I miss singing along to the Salvation Celebration.

Side note: does anyone know what makes the breakout game particularly "Psalty's"? Are we escaping the walls of sin and death? At least the Word Find includes Psalty Vocab like "Psaltina" and "blooper".

[ht: http://stuffchristianslike.blogspot.com, where Psalty himself left an "epistle-length" comment in response to the original post about him. The comment is a copy and paste from Psalty's blog!]

Please let me know if the video takes too long to load. I can link to it externally instead of having it embedded here.

Big Rocks, Little Rocks?

Perhaps you're familiar with the illustration:

Your life is like a mason jar, and you fill it with rocks each day. Some rocks are large, some are medium-sized, and then there are the pebbles and sand that fill in the gaps. If you fill the jar with the smaller things first, then before you know it your large rocks will be crowded out and your priorities will be all out of whack. But if you carefully choose which large rocks to make space for first, and add smaller rocks and pebbles afterward, your days will have space for everything you hope to accomplish and your life will reflect the satisfaction of thoughtfully-ordered priorities.

In a perfect world, that is.

So I've decided that I'd like to be more intentional about my life. There are a few things I try to do each day, like spend time with the Lord and with my husband. But I am far too lax when it comes to where my hours go on a regular basis. Even with the best of intentions, I find my days and weeks slipping away and wonder why I haven't done anything on this vague mental to-do list of life goals?

Incidentally, I blame your blog. Yes, yours. It is a time drain in the great sink of my life.

To be fair, I also blame my blog. If your blog is the time drain, mine is the disposal.

But this is my point: without conscious thought as to my priorities, I am not doing many things that I wish I were doing. Little things, like: I have a cousin who recently told me that she drinks a cup of mint tea every. single. morning. because it helps start her day all refreshed and relaxed. She's 13. I am twenty-[mumble] and my days begin however they happen to begin.

I also recently stumbled across the following question: If your life were perfect, what would it look like?

And that got me thinking.

Aside from the obvious ceasing of sin and perfect unity with God and others, what would my ideal life look like? What are my "big rocks"? What things occupy "big rock" time when they ought to be mere pebbles?

So yesterday I sat down and drafted a core vision for my life. I listed out my daily "big rocks", my weekly goals, and things I don't want to go a month without. It felt a bit "weekend retreat", and a little strange to do it on my own just because, but it was surprisingly fruitful! I'll spare you all the details, but I hope to keep the list in front of me on a regular basis to ensure that I'm pursuing the things I've determined are important. I also hope to pray over the list and refine it, adding and tweaking when appropriate and as needs arise.

It's nothing earth-shattering, but I hope it will keep me accountable to myself, in a sense. It won't replace the daily grind of school and housework, but I pray it will enhance my day-to-day life as I move forward with one eye on the big picture. Many of my goals revolve around ways to strengthen relationships, improve my health, and generally be more intentional about my choices. In this way, I hope to multiply opportunities for the Lord to use me to edify others and glorify Himself.

A few highlights from my list:
Waking up early every morning to make breakfast for Joel and me to enjoy together before we head off into our respective days.
Getting some outdoor exercise at least a few times a week.
Sending "real mail" to important people in my life - a simple card or note - once a week or so.
Setting some kind of personal goal(s) every month, whether it's an idea for a fun date with Joel, a project I'd like to do around the house, or something totally different.

What do you think? Did it take me long enough to catch on to this? What are your "big rocks" and what would you like to make more room for in your jar? Do you want to know whether I adhere to this thing?

Homesick

This morning's post on the Ligonier blog speaks of the homesickness we often feel as Christians, living in a land not our own, aliens in a foreign place, whose citizenship is in heaven. Since these ideas form the basis for my blog's identity as "Everyday Wanderer", I am eager to link to this post and encourage you to read Keith Mathison's thoughts.

Bonus: He includes a video of Dougie MacLean singing and playing an acoustic version of "Caledonia", a traditional Celtic song that I love (a la my fascination with "Celtic Woman"). This song was the inspiration for Mathison's post (double bonus!).

I would love to quote his post in its entirety right here, but that would be unfair. Instead, here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

'Those of us who are believers, therefore, feel something akin to homesickness, and a song like "Caledonia" resonates in our soul. We take joy in and give thanks for the grace and mercy that is now ours because of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we give thanks for the many blessings we have in this life, but we also daily struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. We see the suffering caused by sin around us, and we experience it ourselves. We see friends and family go home before us, leaving us to carry on without them. We cry out, "How long, O Lord?"'


[Several quotables in a row, I know - my creative juice[s?] seem to be a bit backed up at the moment. It's not as uncomfortable as it sounds.]