Best selling Canadian novelist, William Paul Young, author of the religious novel, The Shack, will be in Morro Bay to give two free lectures on his work, on God and faith.
The events are from 7-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct 13-14, at Del Mar Elementary School and sponsored by Coastlands Vineyard Church (see: www.coastlandsvineyard.org).
Young’s lectures are described by the Church as a “talk about an upside-down, colorful and compelling, paradigm-shifting view of God; encounter provocative and healing stories/ideas about Jesus; hear the heartbreaking and inspiring story behind The Shack; plus get to know the author and ask questions.”
Canadian-born, Young, 67, set out to teach his six children about his faith, producing just a handful of copies of the book for family and friends. He and some friends self-published the book in 2007 and the interest was lukewarm at first. But through mainly word of mouth, interest in The Shack grew.
The Shack debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times paperback fiction Best Seller List on June 8, 2008. By May 2010, he had more than 10 million copies in print and earlier this year, The Shack was made into a feature film starring Sam Worthington, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Graham Greene, Radha Mitchell, Alice Braga, Sumire Matsubara, Aviv Alush and Tim McGraw. That film has grossed more than $100 million worldwide.
He’s published two more novels, Cross Roads in 2012, and Eve in 2015, and his most recent book is non-fiction, Lies we believe about God. He also writes a blog, see: http://wmpaulyoung.com.
Young now lives in Oregon, he and his wife have six children and eight grandkids. Simply Clear Marketing & Media sent some questions to Young in advance of his visit.
Simply Clear Marketing & Media: The Shack was originally intended to be a way to explain your faith to your children, and yet it’s touched so many people’s lives. Was a universal message that everyone could relate to, what you set out to do, and are you surprised that it’s been so well received?
Paul Young: I am surprised by almost everything that has happened around The Shack. The first 15 copies I printed at Office Depot did everything I ever wanted that book to do, so surprise is the operative word. The book, and movie, is deeply human; exploring real question and struggles, and it gave people a language to have a conversation about loss, and about God, that wasn’t religious but relational. I had no agenda writing it, but to be a gift for our children. It seems to have become a gift for all of God’s children, and I am completely grateful to participate.
SCMM: I’ve read your book but it was some time ago. My sister, who is much more spiritual than myself, gave me the book for Christmas not long after it came out. I recall enjoying the story but being a little lost with its message. (My fault not the book’s). Did you struggle at all with the message you wanted to convey or perhaps the way you wanted to convey it?
P.Y.: Keep in mind that I am writing for our children and they know me and my story, so they immediately recognized both the metaphor and meaning. I think that what you are asking about has to do more with timing than anything. If you read it today, you would hear more than you did in the past. That is because you have moved, have changed, not because you lacked anything. Everything that has a significant impact in our lives is about timing. You aren’t alone in your response. Some simply find it a story, while others are literally rescued by it. For me, this says more about the activity of God in our lives that is respectful for each’s journey.
SCMM: Portraying God (initially) as an African-American woman would seem to be pure genius, how did that come about? And why change the person to a Native American in the midst of the story?
P.Y.: I grew up in a brown culture, the highlands of New Guinea (West Papua). I am a missionary kid and then a preacher’s kid, so I grew up with a very white, male presentation of God. Meanwhile, significant healing in my life came from women while the damage came largely from men. The Christianity in which I was raised also taught that God was not more ‘he’ than ‘she’ but we didn’t live as though that were true. For my children, I wanted to ‘play’ against that paradigm. So there is a fluidity in terms of the character and nature of God, as a female African-American and as a male First Nations person. I am not trying to define God but breakdown the walls of the boxes where we have placed God. Imagery does not define God, but gives us a window through which to apprehend facets of the incredible spectrum of God’s nature, and because we are created in the image and likeness of God, grants a view into the spectacular nature of what it means to be human.
SCMM: You originally self-published the book making just a handful of copies for friends and family, so clearly your initial intent wasn’t to create a world-side sensation with more than 20 million copies sold. At what point did you realize that you had a hit on your hands?
P.Y.: About the time we went through 11,000 copies out of a garage in California with no marketing or advertising to speak of…($300, and a website) in the first three and half months. The average book only sells between 3,000 and 5,000 copies its entire existence. I was working three jobs at the time, and was completely naive about the publishing world. Also, when the 26 publishers who had turned down the manuscript began showing up, we knew the game was afoot. The whole adventure is riff with humor.
SCMM: Some have criticized your book as not being true to Scripture, or espousing Universalism — meaning “salvation for all peoples” (which frankly sounds pretty good) — were you surprised to be critiqued this way?
P.Y.: Not too surprised. I grew up modern Evangelical Fundamental, so the folks who tend to get upset about such things are my own people and I love them. Our tradition has an aberrant need for intellectual certainty and relationship, perhaps especially with God, is full of mystery. We would rather be right than trust. Also, I have done my homework; fifty years of exploring the questions about God, attending Bible School and Seminary etc, and I have the support of numbers of brilliant scholars. Universal Salvation (that every single person has been included in the love and affection of work of God in Jesus) is the solid and ancient declaration of the Church. I stand in a long line and am certainly not alone. God has taken both sides of the conversation, human and divine, in Jesus, and has destroyed any imagination of separation. Because you and I are both created ‘in’ Christ, and included in his Passion, salvation is accomplished whether we like it or not, want it or not. Now it truly becomes an issue of relationship nor religion. Jesus obliterates the religious part of our argument. The dignity granted a human being is that your choice will always matter. If your ‘no’ was not real, neither would your ‘yes’ be real. The dignity of God as love, is that love will never stop pursuing you, forever. You will always have the power to say ‘no’. Relationship is always conditional, depending on your participation, but love will never stop loving. This is the declaration of the early church mothers and fathers. Potentially, you will be able to hold on to your ‘no’ and the darkness of your own self-referential incoherence forever. I ‘hope’ every human being will ultimately be won back to face to face relationship, but the tension of your freedom to continue to say ‘no’ is always respected.
SCMM: You’ve published two more novels since The Shack, Crossroads and Eve, with your newest, book, “Lies We Believe About God” a non-fiction book discussing “twenty-eight commonly and sometimes seemingly innocuous things we say about God.” Would you tell us a little about how this book came about?
P.Y.: It started with Tweets, ‘Words you will never hear God say.” It was looking at negative space in order to see the positive space more accurately. Eventually, it morphed into Lies we believe. We all need our paradigms challenged. I know I do. Part of maturing is to begin to learn to love a good question, and this is the exploration of the book. While it is largely a challenge to my own people, Lies has become a book that has opened up a space for very important conversations, especially for the younger generations, whom I especially love btw (that would include my kids and grandkids).
SCMM: The Shack movie grossed about $100 million worldwide, with nearly $40 million in foreign sales. Were you surprised that it’s done so well outside the U.S.?
P.Y.: Lionsgate was surprised but I wasn’t. The book has had a massive impact on the world outside the West. It has sold more outside the US and Canada than inside. It is the number two book in the history of Brazil (No. 1 for a non-Brazilian author). Croatia dubbed the book as their book of the decade etc. The only reason that The Shack movie has not outsold the US/Canada market is because it has not been available It is still being released in some countries.
SCMM: What’s next for you? Are you working now on another book?
P.Y.: I have always been a writer but had no idea that anyone outside friends and family would care about what I wrote. So I have eight or so potential projects sitting on the burners at any given time. We will see what emerges to the surface. Meanwhile, I am content to live inside the grace of only one day at a time. My grandchildren are teaching me how to be present and play. I have hope for the world, for us all to find our way back to each other despite our fear and need for power, but I am already at home inside my own person and inside the relationships that surround me.
– By Neil Farrell