I read The Shack several years ago. And did not watch the movie until just a few days ago. Reactions to the movie, like the book, vary widely. There were those who complained about a God portrayed by an overweight black woman and others that the script was far too confusing to follow.
Among Christians too, the debates about author William Young’s theology (or lack of it) varied: Trite, Icky and manipulative, are a mere sampling of the hundreds of opinions about Young’s book and the recent movie with Octavia Spencer as ‘Papa.’
Ignoring the long list of not only critical but often vicious comments, he writes a post called, “My Favorite Reviews of the Shack Movie!” on his blog. I appreciate his lighthearted and gracious response. This is true for two reasons, the first that I liked the book, appreciated the theology and thought the movie even better than the book. Secondly, Young has taught me a most valuable lesson about opinions- even those of the ‘experts.’
Just like the first pages of the book, the first ten to twenty minutes of the movie are confusing, hard to follow and test our focus. I recall thinking as I read the first forty to fifty pages of the book that it read like a fourth grade primer. And continued reading only because a friend had told me how much she loved the story. The six men who collaborated on the screenplay recreated that same feel. As I watched, I remembered that the book was originally a story written by Young as a Christmas present to his six kids. Ergo the child-like feeling of the story.
Until I saw the movie, I had not considered the significance of the title. Exactly why the wounded father was brought to a shack.
Mack: Why did you bring me back here?
Papa: Because here is where you got stuck.
Nor did I pick up on the beautiful and Catholic imagery of the Trinity. Young’s emphasis on relationship among the three persons of God and with us:
Papa: Birds are created to fly. You, on the other hand, were created to be loved. Living unloved is like clipping a bird’s wings. … This is why you’re here, Mackenzie. This is your flying lesson.
Jesus: Sarayu is creativity, action, the breath of life. She is my spirit and even if you can’t see it, you are in the center of our love and purpose.
Young’s depiction of God the Father as a black woman reminded me of Christian women I know whose abusive history with their own fathers have impeded their relationship with the Father.
Papa (on why he appears as a woman): After what you’ve been through, I didn’t think you could handle a father right now.
His scandalized and morally outraged reaction at the fundamental message of the movie: What? Forgive a murderer? Of a child? As I read his remarks, I thought of Mother Teresa’s comment about her visit to San Quentin. “If you wish to see the face of Christ, look at the faces on Death Row.”
The shack: valuable lessons about opinion were mostly due to timing. Like Young, I write novels and solicit the opinions of others because reviews do matter. Fully aware that when we publish our work, we risk being criticized, even pejorated. Even when you’re a “New York Times Best Selling Author,” bad reviews happen.
If you’ve read recent articles, then you may recall that one of my medical mystery novels is soon to be released as an audio book. Since all reviews of Do You Solemnly Swear? have been glowing, I decided to submit the book to one of the pricey paid review organizations to see if I could generate some hype.
And got hammered. There was nothing the reviewer liked about my novel. Nada.
And I paid for this? Really?
Reading a review like that is somewhat akin to a punch in the mid-section. It takes your breath away.
Critical reviews are a fact of life for writers, including those of us not yet on the best seller list. In fact, it was a mostly negative review of my first novel which revealed the many editing errors of my first publisher. That review provided the impetus to take on the time and expense of a second edition for The Fragrance Shed by a Violet.
But this one? After reading it five (maybe ten) times, I realize that it is just another opinion, no more, no less.