Reflections on ‘The Shack’

Recently, we had an opportunity to view the movie, The Shack.   And if you didn’t see the movie, I hope you had a chance to read the book.   There were so many powerful moments, so many nuggets of truth, so many emotional tugs at my heart, so many ideas to contemplate.   But the overwhelming thought I walked away with is the nature of God as portrayed by Papa, Jesus, and Spirit.  The phrase that really struck me was when Papa said she was especially fond of ….. .   Put your name in this sentence.  God the father is especially fond of ….. .   The tender, gentle care that God, in the persons of all three, extended to Mac in the movie is only a small physical manifestation of the care that God actually directs toward each one of us.  God is especially fond of you…. and me.

Starting from this deep understanding of the love of God, it becomes easier to want to do the “right” thing.  And for Mac it was letting go of judgment.  And by letting go of judgment, he was also able to forgive.  To forgive in the same way as we pray the Lord’s prayer.  Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  I think perhaps that judgment is a shortfall we all have experienced.

In the movie when Mac met Wisdom in the cave,  he faced judgment square in the face…. that by judging we are assuming the role of God…. and when he realized that judging was not a role he really wanted to play,  he let it go.  It was then that he saw Missy in heaven, romping in the field with other children and playing with Jesus.  And then the water fall drenched him…. the spirit of the living God poured over him in unending waves.  It was as if he was experiencing baptism in his whole being.  He was freed.  He was able to love.  In loving we experience joy.  That is what God wants for us.

It is amazing to me to see how easily judgment begets anger and unforgiveness.   And this anger and unforgiveness becomes a “beam in our eye”.  And sometimes that beam becomes two beams and then three until we have walled ourselves in and shut out the world and all creation. Only when the beam is removed are we freed to love, to experience joy, to commune with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Near the end of the movie, Mac was sitting in the living room with all three.  It was very comfortable for him.  It was a moment when he was in unity with them.  Who wouldn’t want to tarry a bit more?  But he had to choose at that moment, to stay or to go back to his earthly life and his family.  He saw that Kate especially needed him and he said yes to going back.  But now he knew that God would be at his side, just as he always had been.  The wall had been torn down.

Mac was transformed.  And now the love he experienced was welling up inside him.  It wells up inside of us too, and the joy overflows…. and so we put our light on the stand so that it shines forth to all the world.  It becomes a beacon of hope to all who see.  And with the beam removed from our eyes, we can see the hurt in others… the guilt, the pain.   And tenderly we can wipe their tears, hug them and love them.  And thus the healing power that Jesus displayed during his time on earth continues to go forth to all nations.  Mac desired to be healed from judging both himself and others.   And with that release, the letting go, he was free to live in the joy and love and peace of the moment.  He was free to spread the healing power of Jesus to Kate and others.  And so along with the knowledge that God is especially fond of ….., you, me, we too are free to spread the love of God to heal the world.

~ Johanna Durrett

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An Invitation to ‘The Shack’

Over the next four weeks, we will be exploring themes and theology in the best-selling novel and recently-released film, ‘The Shack’ in a message series. 

This fictional story invites many things – exploration, question, personal reflection, Scriptural research, critical thinking, scorn and polarized opinions!  We enter the message series for ‘The Shack’ in a place of neither broad endorsement nor wholesale condemnation… but of curiosity and questions.

  • How does God see us?
  • How do we imagine God?
  • Where is God in our pain?
  • How do we find healing and forgiveness?

We hope that you will join us in worship on April 23 and 30, May 7 and 14                    as we take this journey to The Shack together!

The following is a little background on both the writing of the book and the arc of the novel, in case you don’t know the story:

Over a decade ago, an office manager and hotel night clerk, William Paul Young, wrote a story to give to his six adult children as a Christmas gift.  He made 15 copies at his local copy shop, gave them to family and close friends and soon began receiving dozens, then hundreds, of email requests for more copies. With two friends, he formed a small publishing company, ordered 10,000 copies of a printed book and created a website for orders. Within six months, with no marketing or national distribution, this self-published story had sold over 350,000 copies out of a friend’s garage.

Ten years later, The Shack has sold over 22 million copies, been translated to 34 different languages and spent over 50 weeks at the top of best seller lists.  The recently-released major motion picture has moved the story from literary imagination to the big screen – and invited an entirely new audience to consider this particular story of brokenness and redemption.

We don’t want to assume that everyone has read the book, viewed the film, or chooses to do either.  We offer this short synopsis of the story to get us on the same page.

The Shack is a fictional tale of a man, Mackenzie Allen Phillips. Mack is a loving father of three, a blue-collar worker, and husband to Nan. As the story weaves in and out of time, we come to learn that Nan and Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy, was abducted and presumably brutally murdered. While Nan’s deep faith has carried her through this tragic event, Mack is caught in a “Great Sadness”, angry at God, and moving through life with an unbearable weight of guilt and grief.

Four years after Missy’s abduction, he receives a note from “Papa”, Nan’s favorite name for God, asking Mack to meet him at the shack where evidence of his daughter’s murder was found. It is here where Mack has an encounter with the God in Trinity, who is initially presented as an African-American woman called Elousia or Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, an ethereal Asian woman who is Spirit. Through a weekend of expressed anger, tears, questions, conversations and developing relationship, he is able to come to peace about his own painful childhood of abuse, Missy’s death and some of the deeper questions that have plagued his life and faith.

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In the River of Love

In response to the news… to the world.. to the last post by Bishop Bard … Chapel Hill writer, Johanna Durrett, offers her journey and challenges with the idea of ‘other’.

In light of current events, as the media focuses on the stories of  immigration and travel visas,  I think it is time to examine this issue in light of our beliefs and values as followers of Jesus.  Let us turn first to the Word of God.  In Leviticus 19: 33-34, God gave a mitzvah, or command to his people:  “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you  in your land.  Treat them like native born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself.”  I was once told by a rabbi that this command is repeated about forty times, more than any other command in the Old Testament.  And Jesus certainly reinforced it.

So first, who are the foreigners (or as some translations read “strangers”) who live among us?  I like to think that this term has a very broad meaning.  It is anyone who different from me in culture, education, race, and life experiences.  Think about that.  When you think of it that way, there are so many.  And many I have come to know and love.  Extending love to the foreigners becomes an ever widening river or lake or ocean.

The love that God has for me is endless. The love that God has for you is endless. His love is freely given.  No matter what we do, how we react, what we say, or don’t say does not change the fact that God loves me, God loves you, God loves all people.

So how do we extend God’s love to others?  Well,  first I think we should examine what holds us back from extending love? I think there are many reasons.  In my own life I have held back on reaching out in love to others because of fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of judgment, fear of being misunderstood, fear of saying the wromg thing,  to name the most obvious.  There are probably, or I should say there are definitely deeper reasons that I have yet to see, that hold me back from fully extending God’s love to others.  More than likely, these fears are tied to basic desire for survival. But I will also say that the more I dare to step out the more I seem to be blessed by His love.  It seems to flow like a gently moving river around me and I am along for the ride.

So if fear of “whatever” stands in my way to fully extend love to all the “strangers/foreigners in my land”, what can I do today to counter that fear and move out in love?  The fear is in me.  Something more moving, more powerful must be awakened in my heart to move me to action.  And consider your own heart.  Is there a fear, a hurt, that blocks you from thinking, acting, talking like a disciple of Jesus?  Is there a fear that by stepping out in faith, that can be washed away by the grace and love of God?

Back to the news surrounding our immigration policy.  What I see on the news disturbs me.  Why?  I see in the eyes of the individuals that are affected  by the enforcement of our laws, the pain, the desire, the desperation that all of us feel, the desire to be accepted, not only in our land, but by our people.  These are the powerful images that touch my heart.  These are the people I want to hug.  These are the people I want to love.

I am not a lawmaker. I am not a politician.  I do not have simple answers to complicated laws that exist in our nation.  But I am human.  I am child of God and as such I want to extend God’s love to all people.  Moving in the river of God’s love, the scenery that we see today, will change.  I do not know what it will look like.  Moving in the river of God’s love affects the shorelines and the lines drawn in the sand, so laws and policy will be affected.  It is the nature of creation and change.  And God is always creating us in His image.

Johanna Durrett



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Refugees and Aliens

Dear readers of ‘formingtogether’,

As the pastor of Chapel Hill UMC, I work hard at remaining politically neutral in messages and in most settings .  It is my responsibility to speak Biblical truth regardless of politics.  Most often, I remain silent on matters of politics, as I understand my position is one that carries a great deal of implied power and sway.

However, when policy encroaches on Biblical principle, I believe it is our responsibility as Christians to speak out.  As ambassadors for Christ, under his mandate, we are to love our neighbor(s) as ourselves; act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God; and demonstrate the grace and generosity extended us by God through Christ.  We must challenge ourselves to, as Bishop Reuben Job has written, “Do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God”. 

When the policies under which we are asked to live are inconsistent with Biblical principles and we do not say anything, we support the policies in our inaction.  Please pray that our leaders will see clearly to the compassionate treatment of all people regardless of the national flag and circumstances under which they were born.

Pastor Chad Parmalee

 Dear Friends:

In these times of deep political divide, we struggle with the conflict between political views and our beliefs as followers of Jesus Christ.  Our church struggles with how to speak about, and to, our wider world.  Yet, as followers of Jesus, we are invited to speak, to think more deeply and to reflect more broadly about our world.

John Wesley often addressed the significant issues of his day including slavery, alcohol abuse, and the political situation in the colonies. In our reflections, we should not
be limited by binary red and blue thinking.  Instead we are invited as Christians to think with and through our Scriptures which provide us with our primary images and metaphors for engaging the wider world.  We are invited to use the resources in our tradition and to listen to the breadth of human experience. We need to offer theologically rooted moral reflection on the wider world in which we live and to which we minister; in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ.

In recent days as policy changes on immigration and refugees have been announced, I have reflected on them using Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.  As I listen to the Scriptures that encourage us to do justice, that enjoin us to welcome the stranger and alien, that call us to do all in love, I cannot help but think that the recent actions are not in keeping with the best of our faith and the deepest soul of our country.  As I listen to the voices of students in our colleges, professionals with loved ones who live overseas, and families seeking only the safety and opportunity missing from their country of birth, these actions trouble my spirit.  The stories of our faith are in so many cases stories of wandering people: Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his family, the Israelites led by Moses and Aaron and Miriam.  The Law enjoins us to “love the alien as yourself,” and the aliens or immigrants of the time were not only people who were ethnically different, but who were also religiously different.  The life of Jesus was, in part, the life of a refugee as he and his family fled political violence in Roman occupied Palestine.  These stories of our faith provide grounding for moral principles of hospitality, compassion and care for the stranger and foreigner.  I am grateful to live in a country where such theologically grounded moral principles have been an important part of our moral fabric.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

To be sure, security matters.  “All nations have the right to secure their borders” (The Book of Resolutions, “Welcoming the Migrant to the US”).  At the same time, “the primary concern for Christians should be the welfare of immigrants” (“Welcoming the Migrant to the US”).  In securing our borders, we need to make sure that we keep intact the heart and soul of the country we are wanting to protect.  These recent actions threaten our heart, our soul, our character.

I invite you to continue to think with me about how our nation’s policies might more adequately reflect the heart of our faith.  I invite you to pray and work for a world that more adequately embodies justice, kindness, compassion, hospitality and love.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop David Alan Bard

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Leaning into the Future

Greetings in the Name of Jesus the Christ:

As we begin the New Year, we are thinking about direction, momentum, mission and vision.  God continues to move here at Chapel Hill.  New leaders are in place and a renewed sense of purpose is emerging.  This is an exciting time in the life or our congregation.  That said, I have been working with the Nominations and Lay Leadership Ministry Team, and the Administrative Ministry Team to develop and adopt new guiding statements for Chapel Hill.  There are two major contributors to the formation of these statements.  First, we have spent more than two years asking important questions about who we are and who we believe God is calling us to be.  Our work in the Consolidation Exploration process helped us to lean into mission and vision in new ways.  Secondly, as a congregation of the United Methodist Church, our mission is well defined by our denomination.  Additionally, Chapel Hill has a strong connection with the church’s existing mission statement which has emerged as the congregation’s identity.  That said, the new guiding statements for Chapel Hill as presented by the Leadership Development Team and accepted by the Administrative Ministry Team and the broader leadership at the recent visioning session are as follows:

Mission Statement:  Our mission as a faith community of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Vision Statement:  Our vision is to be an authentic, inclusive Christian Community actively connected to neighbor and world.

Identity:  As a community of Christ’s followers, we worship God daily as we witness, grow, teach and serve.

Having a statement of identity is not necessarily standard practice.  However, it is a statement that helps identify the means to our goals.  By our witness, through our personal and collective growth, by teaching and serving those in our midst as a church and in our greater community we will become the kind of community we seek to be.  There is a strong current toward diversity and inclusivity at Chapel Hill, strong enough that the leadership has chosen to clearly articulate our intent.  Making disciples of Jesus Christ requires us to make disciples like Jesus Christ, unconditionally welcoming people and pointing toward Christ and his unconditional love.  If we press our ministries, all the ministries of Chapel Hill, through these statements we will see God’s transforming power in the world.

At the end of the week long intentional prayer experiences we engaged in this month we held a visioning and dreaming session with people currently serving in key leadership positions at Chapel Hill.  At that session, we began to gather the ideas for ministries and initiatives that reflect our collective understanding of God’s direction for Chapel Hill.  But we asked more than the leadership to engage in prayer and to listen to God.  In the coming week, we are asking you to tell us what you have heard by adding your dreams, your vision to the mix.  In the hall outside my office we will post the ideas we have received thus far and provide the materials you need to add the things God is telling you.  We will then combine the ideas into areas of focus and seek to take action on the things God has spoken most clearly.

May God continue to bless our efforts as we seek to become the community we are called to be.

Pastor Chad



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House of Prayer

Friday, January 20 – A House of Prayer

We invite you to be part of the House of Prayer on Friday, January 20, from noon to 8 p.m. The first scripture reference to a house of prayer is found in the Old Testament in Isaiah 56:7, “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

When we gather each week at Chapel Hill for worship, we come together for teaching, learning, singing, socializing, supporting, nurturing, leading, following and perhaps, most importantly, praying.

We pray for one another and ourselves, for our leaders, for our community, state and nation, for the world.  We give thanks and we intercede for others.  We praise God for God’s mercy and grace and we ask God’s blessing on the people and the concerns we care about the most.

The goal of a “House of Prayer” is simple; we want to offer space for all to meet God and connect with God through individual prayer and worship.  For many of us, quiet space is a rarity, and our House of Prayer offers time and space to sit with God, to pray, meditate, read scripture, and seek God’s will for our individual lives and our life as a community of faith.

We invite you to be part of the House of Prayer on    Friday, January 20, from noon to 8 p.m.   God is always speaking to us.  Sometimes we just need a quiet time and space to be able to hear what God is saying.  Stop by Chapel Hill and find your quiet time with God.


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Into the World

Thursday, January 19 – Walking, Driving, Watching Prayer

 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.
For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas
and built it on the ocean depths.  Psalm 24: 1- 2 (NLT)

 Certainly a part of having our listening ears tuned to God’s voice, is fully recognizing that God is looking not just at us and at our church, but at a world full of need, hurt and possibility.

Today, we are very purposefully paying attention to that world – to our neighbors and neighborhood, to the Battle Creek community, the state of Michigan, the United States of America, the world beyond and the planet itself.  Haiti, Guatemala, Zambia, China… where is God needing the ministry we can offer?

  • Take a walk (or a drive) around your neighborhood today. Think about the people who live there and what their needs may be.
  • Walk through Meijer, WalMart, Lakeview Square Mall and notice and listen to the people around you.
  • As you read the paper, watch the news or follow your news feed today, what situations break your heart or call you to action?
  • Consider our amazing planet Earth – it’s complex eco-system, a demands of an ever-increasing population, the food chain and all creatures, great and small. Where can we make a difference?

At the end of the day, reflect on those experiences in the world today.  Offer your prayers to God.  Spend some minutes in quiet and stillness, listening for God’s call and words to you.  Write them down.  Ponder them in your heart.


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