Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Review: The Shack by William Paul Young

God Reaches Out in Unique Ways
By Lauren Yarger
It’s a self publishing sensation, a best seller and one of the most controversial books of our time, as Christians either love or hate “The Shack” by William Paul Young (2007 Windblown Media in association with Hachette Book Group) and its unusual depiction of God. I have to admit that I resisted reading it for a long time, mostly because I’m not a big fan of most “Christian fiction,” and also, because people kept telling me it would change my view of God.

My view of God is pretty big already: he’s the creator of the universe, all knowing, all powerful and my savior. I am nothing without him. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. I suspected that the book’s following was a result of a “humans are smarter than God” message, à la The DaVinci Code (a terrific read, but hardly the canon for alternate faith many adopted from it), so I kept avoiding Young’s novel. Finally, I gave in and decided to read “The Shack” and find out what all the fuss was about.

I found it immediately compelling and well written. When I’d finished, which was almost immediately as it’s hard to put down, I thought Young had succeeded in depicting the true nature of God, his love for us and the hope we have in Jesus in the most clear, concise and inspired words I’d read in a long time. It didn’t change my knowledge of who God is, but it helped me understand him better.

The story involves a “great sadness” that engulfs Mack Phillips and his family following the kidnapping and apparent murder of his youngest daughter, Missy on a Labor Day camping trip with Mack and two of his other children, Katie and Josh. Missy is abducted while Mack is rescuing Katie from a canoeing accident. Police discover the calling card of a serial killer at the scene and Missy’s torn and bloody dress in a shack.

Mack’s wife, Nan, who has so close relationship with God she calls him “Papa” lets Mack know that she doesn’t blame him, but Mack, plagued by “what ifs” is taken over by the “great sadness” that causes a rift in his relationship with God.

One day, he receives a note: “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. – Papa.”

Could the invitation really be from God or is it a trap set by the killer himself? Mack needs to find out and travels alone to the shack where the “great sadness” began. There, he finds God, revealed in a Father-Spirit-Son Trinity as three separate but equal persons: Papa, a large African-American woman, Sarayu, a small wind-like Asian woman and a Middle-Eastern looking Jesus.

The three share meals, day-to-day chores and conversation with Mack, who tries to come to grips with what is happening (like getting to walk on water with Jesus) and with discovering a God who is different from what he expected. The three God persons are able to help him walk through the sadness, find understanding and even embrace forgiveness.

The controversy surrounding the book comes from two main components: the depiction of God the father as a woman and from some references to non-Christians going to heaven. I think readers who are hung up on these issues may have missed some of the point.

None of Mack’s experience is depicted as gospel. In fact, there are several plot devices which make it possible for Mack‘s experience to have taken place while he was unconscious or even while he was dead. Does the bible say God is a black woman and Asian woman and Jesus? No. But do I believe God might reveal himself as a woman to a hurting child who had difficulty relating to an uncaring earthly father if doing so would allow Jesus to reach through the sadness and bring Mack to a place of healing. Without doubt.

The other comments are about how God finds followers from all different faiths, but again, the point isn’t that all faiths are equal, or that any faith provides the road to salvation, but rather that God is willing to receive anyone from any background who follows him.

Throughout Mack’s experience, Young eloquently offers terrific explanations to many question-inducing topics like the Fall of Man, free will, rules and the 10 commandments, the presence of evil and other theological perplexities, all answered with biblically sound and thoughtfully considered explanations. Actually, I suspect that most of the book, which reads like a biographical account, rather than a novel, comes from Young’s personal experiences learning from God over the years.

It’s truly a moving book and I would recommend it without hesitation to a non-Christian as a starting point for some answers and insight into who God is

. “…Religion is about having the right answers…, God says. “But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer and once you get to him, he will change you from the inside…”

If it doesn’t change you, “The Shack” will grow you. It’s a great choice for your summer reading list.

You can purchase "The Shack" here.

Book Review: Finding God in the Shack by Roger E. Olson

An In-Depth Look at a Publishing Phenomenon

At first glance, “Finding God in the Shack” by Roger E. Olson (2009 Intervarsity Press) appeared to be an over reaction to William Paul Young’s controversial novel “The Shack.” The book has drawn criticism from some Christians because of its depiction of God as a woman (well, two women and Jesus, actually) and because of some references that some have taken to mean that the God in the book suggests you don’t have to be a Christian to be saved.

Upon closer examination, however, I found this study a helpful guide as Olson looks for “truth in a story of evil and redemption.”

Because “The Shack” may appeal to people seeking answers, but who don’t have a foundation in the Word, Olson’s study is at once a guide for the seekers and a reference manual for Christians who might be helping them in their search.

Olson highlights each theological point raised in “The Shack” and expands on it from a biblical perspective. His emphasis is on finding the positive aspects of God as depicted in the novel and helping people “develop a relational view of God as defined by Jesus Christ – loving, forgiving, compassionate and merciful.” A handy study guide with questions is included at the end of the book.

“Finding God in the Shack” would be a great companion to a book discussion group in your neighborhood or church.

Tp purchase this book, click here.

--Lauren Yarger

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Outer Critics Awards; Book Reviews

Check out my writeup about the fun I had at The Outer Critics Circle awards last week here.

Check back Friday for a review of the the book "The Shack" by William Paul Young and a companion to it "Finding God in the Shack" by Roger E. Olson.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Christian Dance Company Auditions Set

Ad Deum Dance Company in Houston, TX is contemporary dance and physical theatre, a visual fusion of moving image and dramatic presentation. Passion, flowing grace and fierce athleticism abound as these artists explore the mysteries of faith, grace and redemption through the freedom created by God for the expressions of the human body, soul, and spirit.
Works are both relevant and redemptive - creating dance that is excellent and has something important to offer to everyone.

Ad Deum has toured across the USA, Canada, and in Poland, Austria, China, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, and Malaysia an its work has received outstanding reviews of performances worldwide and has been featured in Dance Spirit magazine. Ad Deum has performed the works of many choreographers including Steve Rooks (Martha Graham), Caleb Mitchell (Houston Ballet), Hope Boykin (Alvin Ailey), Bill Wade (Inlet Dance Theatre), Stephen Wynne (Talk Dance Co.), and Director Randall Flinn, offering uniqueness and diversity to its repertoire. Ad Deum's mission is to create and perform quality dance works that maintain a standard of integrity and artistic excellence honoring God's gifts.

AUDITIONS for Ad Deum Dance Company, Apprentice Positions and Trainee Program will be held during the summer intensive Aug. 2-7 in Houston. The group also is seeking two male dancers (ballet & modern trained) for the 2009-2010 touring season. E-mail for information at or visit

Redeemer Arts News

Christian Art Events
The Arts Ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York will be hosting two summer conferences for artists: a "Professional Development Workshop" (June 26-27), and "The Healthy Artist" (July 17-18). Click here for info.

Sing with the Voices of Redeemer Choir, this Sunday morning at the East Side morning service. No audition necessary. One rehearsal, Saturday, May 16, 10 am to 12:30 pm. Celebrate spring with fellow musicians at the Annual Musicians Spring Party. Monday, May 18 from 6:30 to 10 pm. Email for more info and to sign up.

The Culture Club has a few tickets left for its Thursday, May 28, trip to the Tony-nominated production of the classic play, Waiting for Godot, on Broadway. The Culture Club is a Redeemer Arts Ministry that helps Christians become renewers of culture by learning about and engaging in it.

Upcoming vocation group gatherings:Writers, May 20; Actors, May 26; Filmmakers, June 6;
Dancers Group is taking May off.

On Friday, June 12, InterArts Fellowship will look at "Why Jesus Wants You to Make Art." Arts Ministry staff member and seminarian Maria Fee will discuss how Jesus' three-fold ministry of priest, prophet, and king gives artists a paradigm for art making.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top Ten 'Worst Audience Members' Awards

It's awards time in theater. The Outer Critics Circle Awards were announced yesterday. Drama Desk is this Sunday followed by the Tonys on June 7. In the midst of honoring the best of the best on Broadway and Off-Broadway, I thought this would be an appropriate time to mention the "worst of the worst" I have experienced dealing with audience members this season.

We seemed to have heard more stories this year than ever about actors stopping in the middle of shows until rude audience members could be ejected from the theater. It seems as manners and general courtesy decline in society, evidence of it appears in theater seats. Those announcements at the beginning of the show about turning off phones, not taking pictures and unwrapping candies — they are for you. Yes, you. You are not exempt because you want to make a comment, snap a photo of your favorite star or eat something.

Here are my Top Ten Worst audience members from the 2008-2009 with prayers for all of us to be kinder and more considerate of each other and thanks for the thousands of people with whom I attended theater this year who DO know how to behave.

Top Ten Worst Audience Members

1. The guy who squeezed and released his plastic water bottle, creating a clicking sound throughout a show.

2. The guy who arrived late, causing his row to get up during the show, (which blocks the view of those behind them), only to get up five minutes later and cause the same disruption so he could go to the rest room. Then you guessed it, he returned and we were interrupted again.

3. The guy who sat down front and spoke on his phone throughout the first act – while we heard the person with whom he was speaking on speaker phone. An irate audience member (no, not me) accosted him at intermission explaining that most of the first act had been ruined for her because of his rude behavior. He reported her to the House Manager, complaining that she was harassing him. The House Manager reprimanded the woman (we won’t go into lessons in House Management 101 here…) until another audience member backed up her story. The man and his speaker phone were ejected.

4. This one technically wasn’t in a theater, but was in a seminar where about 25 of us were seated in lecture style for a talk from a speaker. In the middle of the session, a woman’s cell phone rang. She answered it, then proceeded to continue the conversation (it was not urgent in any way) talking as though none of us was there or as though the speaker weren’t still speaking. Finally someone asked her to leave and continue her call outside. Can people really be so self centered? It boggles the mind.

5. The woman behind me at West Side Story who talked all the way through and sang with all the songs.

6. The very large man seated next to me who continually encroached on my seat space while making loud “snoring noises” because, I assume, his weight made it difficult to breathe. I ended sitting sideways to try to avoid the pressing flesh until I couldn’t stand it any more and would muster all my strength to administer a full body check at which he moved over a little, only to begin the process of encroachment again. Every so often he had even more breathing difficulty and would make some really alarming noises, at which I asked once if he needed medical assistance. He seemed surprised. I guess if you sound like that all the time, you get used to it. I finally gave up, extricated myself and stood in the aisle for the second half. (PS: This is not a statement about people of size. I have several friends who are as large or larger than this man but who always manage to sit in their own seat space because they are considerate people.)

7. The woman who snored very loudly through a really terrific play. She started about five minutes in and continued with what sounded like several elephants during allergy season for the entire first act. Annoyed glances from all of us in the area apparently failed to clue in those with her to give her a nice shove and wake her up. Someone finally had to say, “Wake her up.” The pattern was repeated multiple times. She mercifully left at intermission. Note to all attending theater with me: If you start snoring, rest assured you will be walking around with rib pain the next day, a result of my elbow firmly nudging you awake.

8. The couple who ate chips throughout the first act of a play, happily crunching and crackling their bags to the frustration of all around them (I was a section and a half away and it was aggravating – why those nearby didn’t complain is beyond me. I don’t think food and drink were allowed in the house for that show.) At intermission, they went out and purchased two more bags of chips, held them politely until the second act, then opened them and began crunching again when the curtain went up.

9. The woman next to me who text messaged during the first act of a show. I finally asked her to turn it off. “It’s not even on,” she complained. What part of text scrolling and a lighted display that kept distracting me indicates the device is off? I explained the distraction and asked her to at least cover it up if she couldn’t turn “off.” She did, and then switched seats at intermission with her companion. I assumed at first this was so she could text without further objection from me, but to her credit, she did not. I guess she just didn’t want to sit next to someone so offensive and rude as to suggest that she be considerate.

10. And last, but not least, to the kid who kicked my seat continually through Slava’s Snow Show. Despite repeated requests (and I do assure you I was polite and kind) the child, about 8 years of age, kicked with such force that there probably is a permanent dent in the back of the seat. When I asked again, explaining that it was very annoying, the child’s father told me that I shouldn’t attend a kid’s show if I didn’t want my seat kicked. Ah, and there’s the rub. It wasn’t this kid’s fault. In fact, I have attended several “kid-specific” shows this year, all with lots of squealing, giggling children delighted by the shows, all of whom were able to enjoy themselves without being rude or annoying to anyone. The difference is that they have parents who know how to be considerate and who value teaching some manners to their children, whereas "kicker boy" apparently did not have that advantage.
Copyright 2009 Lauren Yarger, all rights reserved.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Personality Games Gets Staged Reading by Episcopal Actors' Guild

The Episcopal Actors Guild and Neil Cole Present a staged reading of Personality Games by Gordon Parker & Neil Cole 7pm Thursday, May 14 at Guild Hall, 1 E. 29th St., NYC.

Personality Games is a play about being a psychiatrist and being a patient...about borderline personality and about testing the borders.

Neil Cole is a former member of the Victorian State Parliament of Australia and in the 1990s was Victorian Shadow Attorney General. He is a lawyer as well as a professor and has had seven plays produced in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane including Alive at Williamstown Pier, Dr Cade and Personality Games. He has won the Griffin Theatre Award for the best new writing for theater in 1999 and was short listed for the Victorian Premiers Literary Award in 2001.

Gordon Parker is an academic psychiatrist at the University of New South Wales, and Executive Director of the Black Dog Institute. In the '60s he wrote for the Mavis Bramston Show and Oz Magazine, had a book of fiction published, was a cartoonist for many magazines (including the Bulletin), a broadcaster for the ABC’s Science Show in Sydney and in London, and was a book reviewer for "The Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Australian" for a decade.

Wine & Refreshments will be served. Donations are Welcome. For Reservations call 212-685-2927 or email

Haven Sets May Events

The Haven, a fellowship group for Christian artists in NY City offers a number of events this month including times of fellowship, a musical performance, an open mic night and a Memorial Day picnic.

For information, visit or email

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Winner of Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Joyelle Bateman of Dunellen, NJ who is the winner of a free copy of the book "Mama's Got a Fake I.D."!
Happy Mother's Day to all.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Review: Take One, Above The Line Series #1 by Karen Kingsbury

New Beginnings in a Comfortable Setting
By Jerry Starks
New Beginnings, or First Times, could be the subtitle of Karen Kingsbury’s novel “Take One, Above The Line Series #1” which follows the efforts of two Christian movie makers to complete their film.

Chase Ryan and his friend Keith Ellison are going to make a movie. Neither is new to the movie industry, but this is their first venture without any studio backing. They’ve got $2 million dollars with which to make their movie, not very much by Hollywood standards. Chase’s wife is very worried about personal financial ruin if the project doesn’t succeed.

Keith Ellison has immense faith that this project will succeed, but he has concerns too, about his only daughter, Andi, a freshman at Indiana University. She was raised in Indonesia where the Ellisons and the Ryans were missionaries and the Ellisons are rightly worried that their daughter’s sheltered upbringing has not prepared her for the American college scene.

Andi’s roommate is Bailey Flanigan, also a drama major and also a Christian. Their relationship of getting to know one another, then dealing with jealousy over roles and boyfriends is one of the best aspects of this book.

The movie is plagued with a reasonable set of road-blocks: equipment failure, a prima donna star, a stigma about working on a “Christian” film, and finally trouble with a union which stops production for three days. Also, the playboy teen idol makes moves on Andi (her first kiss – another First Time), and the prima donna vamps Chase, who is on-site away from wife and family. And, of course, money is running out rapidly.

While any art must condense time and situations to avoid rambling, it was hard to believe that many problems encountered by the movie production are resolved once and then never came back. Most problems in life require more than one gentle answer. The final resolution also seemed very generous, although it certainly makes it easier for Kingsbury to continue the series and focus on other issues.

With only a few rough edges in Kingsbury’s world, it is a very comfortable place to live. On the other hand, it’s commendable that she presents Christian approaches to both relational problems and vocational problems. It has become too common in American culture to be cynical, and I applaud Kingsbury for displaying characters who act out faith in God’s principles.

To purchase this book, visit

Jerry Starks is associate director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and has numerous acting and directing credits in both secular and Christian productions. He resides in Essex Junction, VT where he is active in the arts ministry at his church.

Win a Copy of 'Mama's Got a Fake ID'

In honor of Mother's Day, we are giving way a free copy of "Mama's Got a Fake I.D. by Caryn Dahlstrand Rivedeneira, former managing editor of Marriage Partnership and Christian Parenting Today magazines.

To enter for a chance to win the book, send us an email with your name, address and email with the subject line "Mother's Day Giveaway" BY 5PM SUNDAY, MAY 10 (Deadline extended) to . One entry per person, please. The winning entry will be drawn and announced on this blog on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 10.
Book: Mama’s Got A Fake I.D.
Author: Caryn Dahlstrand Rivedeneira

Summary from the publisher:
Formula for identity loss:
1. Take one multifaceted, intriguing human being.
2. Bless her with a child.
3. Mix with today’s cultural assumptions.
4. Add the demands of motherhood.
5. Presto! All identity except Mom disappears.
For every woman wondering what happened to the unique combination of gifts and abilities she was known for before kids came along, Rivedeneira has good news: in Mama’s Got a Fake I.D., where she helps moms reclaim their full identity as creative beings, gifted professionals and volunteers, loving friends, children of God—and mothers.

This inspiring and practical guide shows women how to break free from false guilt, learn a new language to express who they really are, and follow God’s lead in sharing their true self with others. After all, motherhood doesn’t have to mean losing one’s identity. Instead, being a mom makes it possible for a woman to discover a more complete identity as the person God made her to be.

Author Bio:
The former managing editor of Marriage Partnership and Christian Parenting Today, Caryn Dahlstrand Rivedeneira has been a trusted voice writing and speaking to women for more than a decade. Today she is the managing editor of, an online community for Christian women in leadership. Rivadeneira works from home in the Chicago suburbs, where she lives with her husband and their three children.

For more information, visit

Christian Arts News

A new faith-based production company in New York, 11th Hour Films & Productions, has a vision to create stage plays, films and television programs that explore the struggles and influences of faith on culture and life. 11th Hour seeks to bring family-friendly programming back to the mainstream & tell stories of triumph, hope and freedom with an emphasis on the youth/young adult generation.
Auditions for actors/actresses, dancers and vocalists have been announced for an upcoming stage play entitled, Surface about a woman who faces truth while her life hangs in the balance. The story is interwoven with a soulful blend of music.

Auditions will be held at the end of the month for committed Christians who have a serious desire to use their talents to glorify God.

For further information contact Eren Moore at or 917-863-3088.

Christian actor Allen Edge is appearing in August Wilson's The Piano Lesson at the Cort Theater, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.Chicago, running May 7-June 7. For more information visit: or call the box office:(773) 753-4472.

The Stoop Concert Series at the Church for All Nations, 417 West 57th St., NY, presents indie artists Jason Harrod and Sarah Lentz co-headlining with folk rock singer/songwriter Caleb Hawley 7:30 pm Saturday, May 16. The event will be hosted by Chris MacIntosh (a.k.a. Grandfather Rock) of WCWP Radio. Doors open at 7:30; showtime is at 8pm. While the concert is free, The Stoop will provide free tote bags to those making the suggested donation of $12.

The Stoop venue and concert series is presented by Music Forum of Church For All Nations, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Music Forum of Church for All Nations is sponsoring the series and providing the venue as a contribution to the cultural and spiritual life of Hell's Kitchen
For more information, visit

The Gideon Media Arts Conference & Film Festival will be held for the
second-consecutive year at the LifeWay Conference Center in Ridgecrest, NC from May 31-June 4.

Christians in the media arts can learn from experts in the industry while networking with other actors, screenwriters, producers, graphic novelists, graphic artists, directors, singers, songwriters, radio hosts, publishers, filmmakers, writers and novelists. The conference offers opportunities for beginner to professional.

The Gideon faculty is comprised of Christian producers, directors, writers, artists, musicians,
actors, DJ's, performers, speakers and teachers and are chosen for the Gideon, not only for
their accomplishments and expertise, but for their servant's heart.

For more information, go to:

Registration Opens for CITA Conference

Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA) presents its 18th annual conference June 18-20 in Downtown Orlando, Fla.

This national networking conference, entitled "Citizen Artist: Theatre Serving Community", features challenging courses, inspiring presenters and live performances, all with the singular goal of fostering artistic excellence. CITA's 18th annual gathering boasts a strong lineup of speakers, including Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Orlando.

Other speakers include Terry Olson, director of Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs, as well as Dr. Todd E. Johnson, a lead professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. In addition, several masterclasses and workshops cater to a broad spectrum of interests, including: acting, writing critique, theatre in theme parks, medieval mystery plays, leadership, technical solutions for staging passion plays and design on a budget. Participants from congregations, academic institutions, and theatre companies as well as individual theatre professionals, will further benefit from relevant panel discussions and valuable networking opportunities.

"In this summer of economic hardship, with arts groups and artists facing unprecedented challenges, CITA is committed to facilitating a gathering of Christians in theatre to encourage them to carry on with their calling," said Dr. Dale Savidge, CITA's founding president and executive director. "Attendance this summer will be a challenge to artists as they conserve their resources and focus on survival. CITA has reorganized the Orlando gathering with an eye to economy: we've shortened the conference, secured sponsorships and cut registration and lodging costs. We hope many theatre artists will join together in June for mutual encouragement and preparation to go forward in the important work of integrating faith with theatre!"

Attendees will enjoy performances by Orlando's own SAK Improv comedy show as well as performances at other local theatres. For registration information, visit

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

Read about the real life mom from "The Blind Side."



Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at

Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light ( and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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