on 29 November 2012
Only the second book by Wm Paul Young, author of surprise bestseller The Shack, Cross Roads is an incredibly complex and ambitious book which needs to be read slowly, carefully and thoughtfully, and ideally with a notepad to hand.
Tony Spencer is a character I had problems getting to grips with. At the start of the book he's ambitious, sociopathic and paranoid. A brain tumour leaves his body in a coma and his soul, or maybe his spirit (the book did explain the difference but not in a way I could understand) wandering in a wilderness which represents his mind and interacting with Irish Jack, Jesus, and a Native American Grandmother who turned out to be the Holy Spirit. He responds by breaking down in remorse, and later he shows depths of compassion which seem at odds with the character built up in the first chapter. He also seems to take all the strange things that happen to him entirely in his stride, and knows a vast amount about Christianity for someone whose only religious teaching is from his late mother. In short, I wasn't convinced by Tony. But somehow that's okay, because actually I'm not sure the book was about him.
Part narrative, part metaphor but primarily sermon (maybe even treatise), as with The Shack the story and the character of Tony are largely the vehicle used to carry the religious message. And it is a book which has a lot to say on the subject of religion. I'm a deeply and devoutly religious person, but it got a bit much even for me at times and I enjoyed the moments of respite when there was actual narrative action. Even so, there was a great deal of profound truth, from "There are many ways to be alone" on page 2, to the poem on page 268 and Tony's ultimate understanding and triumph. It would be a hard-hearted reader indeed who was not, somewhere within the book, enlightened and enriched by new understandings and concepts, whatever their personal religious belief.
That's not the only similarity with The Shack, however. Despite the apparently very different subject matter I felt at times that I was reading a sequel. There were some wry nods to The Shack, but also some similar themes. One of the reasons I didn't like The Shack was because the violent murder of a child was a central theme and I find it difficult to read such things-I don't read misery memoirs, for example. Well, there's a dead child in Cross Roads too, and a shack, and three very familiar spiritual characters interacting with the father of that child, conveying creative concepts by means of very complex and lengthy sermons. (Like Young, I love a drop of alliteration.)
Young has been keen to address some of the criticism levelled at his theology in The Shack, with a lengthy defence of the Trinity doctrine to reassure readers who once again have qualms at his depiction of the Godhead, and several other reassurances which occasionally stood out uncomfortably against the story, especially for a non-Trinitarian such as myself with some views at odds with his. But the upshot is that he is unlikely to get the establishment backlash he suffered following his first book.
A great many people have reported that The Shack changed their lives. They won't be disappointed by the similarly powerful Cross Roads. Even those, like me, who find it rather heavy going will still draw from it profound and poignant ideas which will permeate their lives on every level. (And there I go with that alliteration again.)
on 17 December 2012
I wasn't the biggest fan of The Shack when I first read it, but two things changed my opinion, and drew me to the writing of Wm Paul Young. The first was that I saw the evident impact this book was having on its readers: people were discovering, in Young's writing, a new confidence in the truth that God is love and only love. Especially for those raised in a narrowly-defined faith, the Shack was a breakthrough. 18 million sales later - with perhaps 100 million readers - it continues to be so. The second factor was that I read more of Wm Paul Young's own background and particularly his experiences, as the child of Christian missionaries, suffering sexual abuse. You can read his own reflections in an article written just this year, The Shattered Soul. Understanding his background made me deeply sympathetic to his writing, and deeply appreciative of his achievement.
So what of Cross Roads, a second novel written this time not by an unknown writer who had to print-off the first few copies at a local Copy Shop, but by a global phenomenon and best-selling author? The novel explores the `in-between' spaces at life's end, through the experience of a Tony - rich, successful, selfish, arrogant: and in a coma. The narrative moves between an invisible world, in which Tony meets with God in various forms and learns deep truths about himself, and the visible world, in which he is miraculously enabled to interact with others whose tragedies have brought them into the hospital in which he lies. Two aspects of the story are particularly compelling. The first is the portrayal of Tony's own inner world as a kind of country estate: a run-down Downton Abbey in place of the original Shack. This is the landscape he has evidently failed to care for. In exploring the in-between world, he is exploring himself, and he doesn't like what he finds. The influence of C S Lewis on these passages is clear, and is acknowledged. The second aspect that really grips is the portrayal of Cabby, a Downs-Syndrome boy whose game of hospital hide-and-seek accidentally launches a miraculous and ultimately redemptive adventure. Young takes us inside this boy's imaginative world, and challenges us to change our perceptions of his value.
In essence Cross roads is about three sets of questions. It is about the question of values: what matters most and have some of us got it wrong? It is about life and death: if our dying was not a single moment, but a drawn-out process, how might we approach it? What might we try to change, given the chance? And it is about the Christian faith: Young is relentlessly orthodox is his efforts to understand life's ultimate questions. None of these subjects are easy to handle in literature. It is easier by far to write thrillers about serial murderers and the detectives who hunt them down. Darkness lends itself to stronger colours than light in the writing of the contemporary novel. But it is nonetheless worth trying, and Young is something of a trail-blazer in this field. I applaud his efforts, and dare to hope that others will take to the same trail.
This review is from my blog lovethewords.com
on 22 November 2012
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Best Selling Author WM Paul Young
Here it is guys! The Blogging with Tom exclusive interview with bestselling author WM Paul Young. Some fascinating answers to read through - thanks to those who sent the questions in. Hopefully they have been answered below;
1. The shack has been a best seller with over 18 million copies sold. That's incredible and I know that there has been some amazing responses. Do share some stories of how God has impacted people through `The Shack?'
Over 18 million sold, so the estimate is that 100 million have read the book. I have received over 100,000 emails, letters and messages from all over the world, people telling me their stories of heart's healing, relational reconciliation and how this little book has impacted the faith journeys of so many. The first fifteen copies I printed at the local print store for my family and friends did everything I ever wanted this story to do. If you would like to see a few, you can visit [...] or [...].
2. The shack takes an unusual perspective of the trinity - How do you respond to those who disagree or struggle with this?
The beautiful reality of imagery is that it employs word pictures and as we all know, a good picture is worth... Even in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, imagery is rampant and provocative. God is father, but also wind and breath, but also a mother hen who covers and protects her own, is an eagle who rescues, a rock that is solid, a fortress that shields, a woman who loses a coin, a man who finds an abandoned baby girl and falls in love with her (Ezekiel, in case you were wondering). Idolatry is when one fastens upon a single image as a definition of God, and begins to assemble one's life around that single facet. Imagery was never intended to define God, but like facets of a precious stone, each reflects the light of God's character and the wonder of God's nature in a way that we can perceive and sense and know. As a word-painter then, I am given freedom to express this magnificence in creative ways. God is not male or female, but all maleness and all femaleness is derived from the Beautiful One, who is a community of other-centered, self-giving love. So part of the art is to craft metaphors and imagery that satisfies the heart, incompletely but partially, and bends the framework of our paradigms to allow for more space, more light, more love, more anger at all that damages and hurts, more beauty, more grace. The incarnation means that God fully joined our humanity. Jesus is the ultimate bridge birthed in bone and blood. I can touch and understand this man. God has found a son-language that I can comprehend. Can the Holy Spirit not come to me in a way that I can grasp, inside the wonder of a child or the honor of an elder. I think the landscape is open as we participate with the One who is the source and ground of all that is creative.
3. In the shack where did you get the idea for Sophia (the judge) from? What is the meaning behind this encounter?
Proverbs 8, in the Hebrew Scriptures, where Wisdom (in Greek = sophia), is personified as a woman who is trying to get our attention in the streets of our lives and relationships. So many of our negative attributions for the character and nature of God are inside of caricatures of judgment and condemnation, so I wanted to turn the tables on us as human beings. I wanted to place us in the position of judgment, one that we readily and regularly assume. Our ability to justify ourselves astounds me. I wanted Mackenzie to face the wisdom of God, which is beautiful when encountered, but has a way of unmasking our best attempts at self centered independence.
4. Someone asked me whether it's possible to know Jesus like Mack did? Your thoughts...
You might think that you want to know Jesus in the same way, but it is not true. What you want is for you to know God, not through Mack's persona or experience or anyone else. You matter. Your journey, personality, heart and soul and mind are unique and magnificent and the knowing of God is going to be an adventure unique to you. There will always be some commonalities (we believe many of the same lies, for example) and the character and person of God, especially in the face of Jesus, will always be a constant (whether we know it or not), but just as you cannot compare your pain with anyone else, neither can you compare your process of transformation or relationship with God with anyone else. If God had wanted you to be someone else, God would have made you someone else.
5. You have a new book coming out titled `Cross Roads` - Tell us a bit about the book and what to expect?
I have lived long enough to be around and near the events of death and dying. I have been intrigued by NDE (near death experiences), and stories of people who have exited comatose states to report awareness and experiences that suggest significant events can occur inside that `thin place'. How does one explain the continuation of mindful activity even when the biological brain has ceased activity? How does one comprehend a conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration? In The Shack, we struggle with Mackenzie who is stuck in the midst of his life. What would happen if we catch a man in-between, in this place between this earthly existence and the other? What if this man is not a likable person, fraught with the frailties so common to many of us, selfish, egotistical, willing to sacrifice relationship for control and success? How do we reach this man? Those sorts of questions along with the metaphor of a cross roads, a place of intersection where one has to stop and choose a direction, face others and witness the consequence of actions, combined to give me an imagination for the storyline. When I began working on it, I wasn't sure it was possible, that it could work. I am thrilled with the results and I think readers will be also.
6. What inspires these fascinating, deep and inspiring stories? Where do they come from?
The Shack is deeply autobiographical. I tell people it is a true story, but not real. Parables would fit into this category, being true but not real. Creative fiction has the inherent kindness that allows us to rephrase our experience so that it can be entered into easily by others. Cross Roads is not as deeply personal, but it is much more communal. This means that the process of transformation happens inside of relationships and the tensions and delights, and loss of control, that relationships offer. Where do any stories come from? Part our own damage, wonder, questions, joys, pains, brokenness, redemptions, adventure and process. But it happens inside of relationship, with God and with each other.
7. What do you hope people will get out of reading this new novel?
I am not an agenda driven writer. I am more an exploratory writer who is investigating questions that matter to me and hopefully to those I care about, my family and friend predominantly. I would rather create space, or push out the walls of existing space and make room for others to hear within that landscape whatever it is that God might want to communicate to them personally and communally. Having said that, there are certainly themes in what I write, such as the value of each individual person, of a God who is good all the time regardless of our perception of the character and nature of that God, and that God is involved inside the details of our lives with great respect and affection independent of our ability to perform to religious creed or requirement. Selfishly, I suppose, I would love a reader to put down the book when finished and with a sense of the glee of a child exclaim, `Wow, let's do that again!"
8. If there is a key message that you want to communicate through all of your writing and if so what is it?
I think this is answered above in the last question...at least, I think it is. I could be wrong, which would not surprise me, or my wife and kids. :-)
`CROSS ROADS' is released TODAY (22nd November) and is available from Amazon.
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