Friday, March 31, 2017

The Movie THE SHACK: Guest Blogger Rev. Karen Heyburn: "Shacking Up With God!"

Christal Cooper

Guest Blogger 
Rev. Karen Heyburn
Shacking up with God

“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is this god’s name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.” Exodus 3.13-14

       The film, “The Shack” ( been released. It is based on the book by the same name written by Wm. Paul Young.  There was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth about the book in some Christian circles.

Now there is more of the same about the film. Pastors are telling parishioners not to see it and admonishing staff and volunteers not to arrange movie nights for their various small groups. Although the film had not even been released for public viewing, the bells of all Christendom began a cacophony of clangs and bangs. This should really come as no surprise. Do we Christians agree on much of anything these days, except that each of us is right and the rest of us are wrong?

This book, and the film that follows it, is an allegory. Allegory is a story that contains a moral or political virtue that must be revealed through the thinking of the reader.

It is also analogy. Analogy is an example comparing some event or situation with another in some significant respects. It is a way to understand something that is otherwise a challenge to understand.

The best example of an Analogy is the understanding of God. Who or what is God? How do we understand the Eternal, the Divine? I don’t want to get into the philosophical exercise. Christians believe that God is One. There is one God. We believe that God is evident as Three in One, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit”. We call this the “Trinity”.

At any time, we may encounter God in any of these three ways, and in those encounters we meet all three. Are you still with me? Good, because theologians throughout the history of the Church have wrestled with this idea and even they don’t all agree. Entire forests have surrendered their lives for the books written specifically about the “Trinity”.

       Imagine explaining this complex concept to children! Many have tried. Years ago, someone came up with the idea of an apple. The apple has three parts: the skin, the meat, and the seed. All three of these are still the apple, even though they are different, they are the same. Except they aren’t. The skin of the apple is just that. The skin of an apple. Bite into it and all you will experience is the skin. The seed is an unrealized apple, yet no matter how hard you may try you can’t eat it and taste an apple nor does it impact you as an apple does. The meat of the apple? Well, an apple with parts missing! No matter what analogy, allegory, metaphor, or example we use to explain “Trinity”, they all fall short eventually. “Trinity” is a mystery of faith.

Some theologians and Bible scholars root this mystery in Scripture, citing as example Matthew 28.18-20, the “Great Commission”.

Others cite Mark 16.15-16 as evidence that the Three in One concept is not Biblical at all. Truthfully, every aspect you might want to embrace may well be supported by proof-texting Scripture, finding verses that seem to say you are right!

Young explores several moral dilemmas in the book, chief of them may well be why bad things happen to God’s people. He takes us into a world that might help to explain how we hold onto faith when the world is falling apart around us. These are powerful issues, and Christians struggle with them each day.

Young isn’t trying to write a theological treatise here. He is exploring creation and our place in it. He is asking us how we might faithfully endure and comprehend grief, guilt, loss, pain, joy, suffering. How do we make sense of the patterns and anomalies within creation?  He is attempting to simplify a complex concept and perhaps make it more accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike.

It is a story. It is an engaging way to explore the issues of faith. Reading the book presents the reader with questions and invites that reader to think about the possibilities for answers. The best books do provoke thought and conversation for those who read them. I suspect the film will do the same.

Does Young present God as three separate “persons”? Yes. And, no. Young invites us to move away from a male-focused concept of God and into a mystery the Church is reluctant to explore. Does God have a gender? The introduction God gives to Moses for the Israelites would seem to say “no”. God decides who or what God is. We can have images, we can have metaphors, yet the fact remains that God is greater than any term or concept we can produce.

In the John gospel, Chapter 14, Jesus prays that we might all be one. He claimed to be returning to his “Father” and that the “Father” would send the Holy Spirit as a “replacement” for Jesus among humanity. That seems to indicate separate yet equal expressions of God.

Although Young presents us with God in three different ways, as a means for exploring what and who God is in relationship with us, it is clear that God is present and interacting with the lead character through each of those different ways. Keep in mind that we have already suspended reality in accepting that the character has received a letter from God and has entered a place wherein God can be encountered without Mack needing to turn his face away as Moses was warned to do.

This is a story. A narrative that intends to evoke conversation and thoughtfulness. I know that there are pastors and Christian educators who will not want to discuss this story, and discourage their flocks from seeing the film. That is regrettable.

It is a perfect vehicle for a roundtable small group discussion. Allowing folks to share what they have experienced in reading or watching, and then listening to their stories of encountering God, is perfect food for discipleship. Theologians and Bible scholars argue and debate doctrine and dogma. The rest of us find ways to support folks on their faith and life journeys. Those debates and arguments help to inform our approach but should never be the goal of our approach. Many of us truly love the debates.

Folks in our care just need to know that they are loved. They are loved by God and that love is manifested through the rest of us. They want to know that their struggles for answers are not theirs alone. They need to know that we are one in the body of Christ and that they are free to explore and debate historic doctrines and Church dogma. They are also free to shrug their shoulders and go on loving God and one another.

That’s what matters. Loving God and loving one another. The book, and no doubt the film, focus on that love.  Surely, we can agree to that, can’t we?         


Karen is a retired pastor, Christian Educator, and church musician. She has a BA in Humanities from the University of Akron, and an Mdiv from Methodist Theological School in Ohio.
She loves her children, their spouses, her grandchildren, family pets, and her spouse, who keeps her slightly crazy.
     Karen loves to learn, to cook, and be an encourager for others. She takes delight in helping people reach their goals. She struggles with a need to be perfect, even while not expecting perfection in others. She's an incurable dreamer, who sees "the big picture" and often gets lost in the details. Her obituary will say of her, "She had an idea."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Poetry Anthology RED SKY - dedicated to CAROLINE MINJARES 12/11/1978 - 05/21/2015

Christal Cooper

Red Sky:  poetry on the global epidemic of violence against women
edited by Melissa Hassard, Gabrielle Langley, & Stacy Nigliazzo
Published by Sable Books

On May 21, 2015, friends Stacy Nigliazzo and Gabrielle Langley attended a poetry workshop at the Houston, Texas’s coffeehouse Café Brasil where they heard from poets such as Kenan Ince, Nancy Pearson, and Brooke Lightfoot.  

When Stacy returned home later that evening she received a phone call from a mutual friend informing her that their friend Caroline Minjares had been murdered by her estranged boyfriend, who then committed suicide.

                            Caroline Minjares

“I was shocked and angry, and profoundly sad.  I’d never personally known anyone who’d been murdered before.”  Stacy said in a Facebook interview.

       Caroline and Stacy worked together at the Neighbors Emergency Center in Houston, Texas as ER nurses.  Stacy described Caroline as a dedicated professional and loving mother to her two daughters.  

                     Caroline Minjares, middle, with her two daughters

       “The last time I saw her was just after a fall sunrise, a shift-change.  She had a beautiful smile, even after twelve hours overnight on the unit.

                               Caroline Minjares

       The next day Stacy read an article about Caroline’s murder and was shocked and petrified to find that the article headline listed the perpetrator’s name but not Caroline’s name. The article even went as far as to wish the perpetrator’s family and professional community  (Caroline’s perpetrator was a firefighter) peace during this time; but no mention of Caroline or her community of nurses.

Caroline Minjares

       “And it wasn’t just one article,” Stacy stated. “To this day, not a single headline bears her name.”

                                      Caroline Minjares

Stacy sent an email to KHOU a Houston News outlet condemning the news outlet for not mentioning her name: “The very least you could do is mention her name in the heading, or even perhaps lead with Houston nurse instead of Houston firefighter.  Let’s be clear about who the victim is, here.  I seriously doubt she slit her own throat.”

Stacy used the news reports to craft the erasure poem “Triptych” in honor of Caroline’s memory, and sent the final draft to Gabrielle Langley to review.   The poem “Triptych” was published in Lumen on July 6, 2015.  (

       Melissa Hassard, poet, partner and manager editor of Sable Books ( read the poem and contacted Stacy with the idea of an anthology of poetry addressing violence against women. 

Melissa Hassard 

       “I’d been working on this issue, from dealing with revelations in my own life about my father, then offering writing workshops to survivors of domestic violence, and am always looking for ways to address violence against women — to talk about it, to bear witness, to ask why. I read Stacy's poem online, and reached out to her immediately — and it turned out that she and Gabrielle were already talking about this kind of project as well, as it  was so important to them, too — and so we gathered our ideas, found a time to talk, and put this together.” Melissa stated in an email interview.

                                      Melissa Hassard

       Melissa, Stacy, and Gabrielle sent out a call for submissions to the anthology and received close to 1000 poems.
We had a long reading phase, largely due to the difficult nature of some of the poems; I was personally triggered by some of the material. But Stacy, Gabrielle, and I would often take notes on the poems and we had several conversations about the individual poems and we were really open to defending or listening to one another’s thoughts on the work.”
They narrowed down the selection of poems from 1000 to 350, still too many for the anthology. 
“We realized if we wanted as broad a body of work as possible, we were going to have to limit our choices to one poem per poet. Personally, I had to sit down with some of the poems for a long time, just listening.  One poem would call out for the next.  It felt like a divine hand was at work more than once.”
       Stacy, Gabrielle, and Melissa all decided that this anthology Red Sky was to be more than just a book of poetry.

Melissa explained in greater detail:  “Every time you compile a book around an issue you risk exploiting the very people that you are trying to provide voice or haven. Red Sky is no different, and we were and are very mindful at all times that real, flesh and blood women, including non-binary women and trans women — women experiencing very real violence — are at the center of this book.
This book, then, cannot be a product, and as such, all proceeds from sales of Red Sky go to the Global Fund for Women (  

Readings are difficult, because the material is difficult, and I myself have been triggered by more than one poem in the collection. Readings are difficult, and yet these voices of women are powerful and moving. We’d like to continue to do them, and we’d like to reach more women who may need to know they are not alone. This book speaks the truth of women’s lives — and protests that too many lives have been cut off too quickly. Finding ways to do this is what we were and are called to do.

Global Fund For Women web photo logo 

We cannot thank the family of Caroline Minjares enough for blessing this book with their love, and we hope to continue to lift up and honor her memory.” 

Caroline Minjares 

       Red Sky (with a compelling jacket design by Daniel Krawiec (  consists of 100 poems by 100 different poets. (Names, photographs and contacts of poets listed at the end of this piece).

                      Daniel Krawiec, far left, web logo photo.

Chera Hammons’s “How to Write About it” can be interpreted in two ways, one of which is the victim of violence remaining a victim of silence, trying to fit in to her environment which means a denial of her real self, what happened to her, and a denial of truth. As a result the woman is a prisoner not only to her abuser but also to her every day life.  Because of all of this, when she looks in the mirror she cannot recognize herself.

                     copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

       But I prefer to interpret the poem in a different way – a way that gives the abused all the power.
Don’t make it rhyme; be quiet when you tell it.
Give it no rhythm, don’t clothe it in beauty,
just walk into the room of it without knocking.
The speaker of the poem is giving the woman sole power by not limiting her speech by how nice her words should sound or rhyme, how expensive her clothes are, and how expensive her makeup is.  In fact, there are no limitations, the woman, as a testimony to her own abuse, is all powerful – and does not even need to knock in order to enter.

                copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

You could tell it in third person Like this:
a woman stands in front of a mirror like wallpaper
(she carries bouquets of purple and yellow
that bloom in loneliness).

In the first line of the second stanza the woman has the power to tell it in the third person.  This could be interpreted in two ways – she is the victim of abuse or she is a witness of another woman being abused, which can be just as traumatic.  Being a witness to a violent act can leave someone paralyzed just like wallpaper on the wall.  They are frozen in fear.   But even if the witness can not speak out of fear, she can at least relay her message of truth by simply holding bouquets of flowers, which are usually the gift the perpetrator gives his victim as a way of manipulation.  She holds onto the flowers, which sets her apart from the wallpaper.  She is no longer frozen.

                        copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

Talk about why she barely recognizes herself
in that kind of light.  How it’s not just the way the light falls
on her features, her layers of skin and fat and skeleton;
not just the bruises she blossoms into,
but the way she blends into every room,
though this one is all tint and flatness.
Tell that the room has no windows.

       The woman is creating layers around her deepest self where the perpetrator cannot reach.  When she looks in the mirror she does see the bruises but realizes that the perpetrator never touched her soul, the real her, and because of her ability to have this protective layer around her deepest self, she has been able to outsmart her perpetrator. 

                      copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

The place the woman occupies as she looks in the mirror has no windows, no outlet, not to keep her in prison, but to prevent the perpetrator from hiding and from hiding her face – which is a testament to the horrors the perpetrator has done.  As a result, the perpetrator will be made visible and will be held accountable.

copyright by christal ann rice cooper. 

This third person in this room with no windows is now the one in control – revealing in every light of who the perpetrator is, what he has done, and forewarning others that this specific man exists and he is to be held accountable.

copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

       The woman is now able to look in the mirror and see all those layers that are evident of his abuse, which is very painful.  She has to strip those layers not in self-denial or denial of the abuse, but to reveal her true identity – that of a complete all-powerful woman.

copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

You could tell it like it happened to you.
Touch it, but let it be sparse: the tile is so cold it feels wet.
The metal edge of the medicine cabinet is bent and sharp.
The sound of the air conditioner is as empty
as a room when the music ends.
Mention that any other sound now
would be as startling as birds taking wing.
You should try to give it some mystery, too,
at least one line only those invited can enter:
say that she maps her own disaster with silence.

       I find the first two lines of the third stanza the most liberating because it gives the woman permission to NEVER be “thankful” or even “positive” about experiencing the violence.  A victim of violence should never say, “It made me stronger” because the woman is giving power to her perpetrator for making her a stronger person by his act of violence against her, which is absurd.  The violence or the perpetrator never makes the victim more positive or stronger or better.  Rather, the victim’s response to the violence and to her perpetrator is what makes her stronger, positive, free, and uplifted. This takes the power and ability completely away from the perpetrator; and gives all power back to the woman.

                     copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

Now is the time for the third person and the deepest part of the woman to meet face to face and mourn what the perpetrator has done; Do what it takes to make herself healthy again – even if it is the tile of a hospital room or a psychiatric ward, medication in a medicine cabinet, an empty room where only she and music coincide.

copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

The last three lines of the third stanza are particularly liberating to women of violence who do not wish to talk about their experiences.  Some women respond to acts of violence in different ways and some women heal in different ways.  It’s okay for a woman to be mysterious as long as she is able to face the reality of what was done to her, and seeks whatever help is necessary to live a fruitful, meaningful, and happy life.

copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

Or it could be interpreted in this way – the woman is now in her own room, where windows are white and beautiful – where she has control of what creatures fly in.  At first this new sense of freedom is frightening, because she’s been so used to living in this third person – but now that the perpetrator and what he did to her has been exorcised – it is now time to integrate all parts of herself and reveal them to the world – inviting all those to enter – but only those who respect her, even the parts of her that will forever remain a mystery.

copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

Or just walk around her.  She won’t even notice you’re there. 
When you leave, you’ll leave her standing alone in the mirror, as naked as when you came in.

She’ll never be able to deny what happened to her  – but she has to leave that part of her life behind looking at the mirror always reaffirming that she is not imagining things, that it wasn’t just a misunderstanding, or that she didn’t wear too short of a skirt, or that she egged her hubby on which led him to hit her.  No, she will always be there naked – a testament to his guilt.  But the full and complete woman, person she is, has to look at her looking in the mirror and go on with her life. 

You have seen it so many times you know what will happen.
You can say why it happens.
This time, you could save her life if you like.

copyright by christal ann rice cooper 

There are others who have unfortunately been victims of what she has been a victim of.  It is time to join with these others, develop nurturing relationships, and it is in these relationships that healing will be granted upon the woman.  

Or you can just tell it and don’t give any reason.

And always remember.  She doesn’t owe anybody a damn thing!

Leila Allen

E. Kristin Anderson

Shawn Aveningo

Carol Barrett

Tina Barry

Zeina Hashem Beck

Shaindel Beers

Denise Benavides

Shavawn M. Berry

Casandra Faith Broaddus

Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Andrea Blythe

Hélène Cardona

Kathrine Cays

Jane Chance

Emily Rose Cole

Beth Copeland

Heidi Czerwiec

Carolyn Dahl

Cortney Davis

Lori Desrosiers

Chelsea Dingman

Ryler Dustin

Angela Martinez Dy

Rebecca Foust

Joy Gaines-Fiedler

Janice Moore Fuller

Martha K. Grant

Jaki Shelton Green

Chera Hammons

Melissa Hassard

Tony Hoagland

Faith Holsaert

Trish Hopkinson

Kenan Ince

Alice-Catherine Jennings

Edison Jennings

Sonja Johanson

Quincy Scott Jones

Fady Joudah 

Athena Kashyap

Debra Kaufman

Loren Kleinman

Ellen Kombiyil

Richard Krawiec

Gabrielle Langley

Jenna Le

Stephanie Levin

Lisa Lewis

Jessica Lohafer

Ashley Lumpkin

Cecile Lusby

Djelloul Marbrook

David Tomas Martinez

Carmel Mawle

Marty McConnell

Addy McCulloch

Seth Michelson

Denise Miller

Tracy Mishkin

Thylias Moss

Kathleen Nalley

Stacy Nigliazzo

Ashley Nissler

Naomi Shihab Nye

Katherine Durham Oldmixon

Linda Parsons

Rebecca Pierre

Deborah Pope

Kevin Prufer

Molly Pershin Raynor

Maria Rouphall

Carly Sachs

Metta Sáma

Judy Schaefer

Penelope Scambly Schott

Rebecca Seiferle

B.T. Shaw

Shoshauna Shy

Sue William Silverman

Karen Skolfield

Andrea Witzke Slot

Alison Stone

Melissa Studdard

LaWanda Walters

Leslie Waugh

Monica Wendel

Chris Wise

Laura Madeline Wiseman

Andy Young

Katherine E. Young