Tag Archives: The Shack

Sex In the Trinity: Wm. Paul Young's The Shack p5/6

Before reading each article of the series, please take the time to read the (2) disclaimers:

DISCLAIMER #1: The following blog post is NOT theological criticism or a heresy-head hunting game by any stretch of Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack. I am more sympathetic with open & process theisms, so there is no need for this author to scan The Shack for doctrinal errors.

DISCLAIMER #2: Be aware that what I share are from a 2010 joint-presentation I and my friend Adam DJ Brett, a PhD entering his first year of work at Syracuse this fall. Post 5 of this 6 part series will be mostly his research, and his intellectual property. If you wish to use this information, please cite him as the source. Also, given that this setting is a blog, I do not assume that everyone is familiar with the concepts I shall place forth, so, unlike the paper and hopefully forthcoming journal article, I will be making available definitions and sources if need be.

Ain’t That A Drag?

Today’s piece is primarily the work of Adam DJ Brett, a PhD student a Syracuse, who focuses on continental philosophy, theology, and interfaith dialogue. If you would like to contact Adam about his work, do so at this link.

Growing up, I often heard the words, “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” The hell it is! In today’s world, parody can go both ways, either as a tribute, as in a sign of respect (such as tv knockoffs of hit movies like The Hangover) or as insults, even when they star Jesus himself with Tim Tebow. In the history of the United States, white people doing black face has always been a national past time. The Black is the symbol of evil and everything not American, not white, and not male.

The latest version of black face comedy comes to us from Canada (I know, right?) with a Chuck Knipp who has as an act, a black woman named Shirley Q. Liquor. You can find a number of Shirley’s videos on Youtube, but the gist is to basically have a white male version of Madea (don’t get me started on Tyler Perry). What ends up happening is that Mr. Knipp is still abusing his white male body privilege to promote racist stereotypes by capitalizing off of racist histories in the U.S. and Europe. You don’t think blackface is an issue anymore? Go ask the Dutch about Zwarte Peter at Christmas time?

Wait, Rod, you say, what does this have to do with William P. Young’s The Shack? I now bring to the floor, Adam Brett’s case:

Papa as Parody
Papa is not the feminine personification of God, but instead is a parody. God ‘the Father’ imitates the feminine as Papa. Parody is imitation, like wearing a mask, or painting one’s face. Parody is linguistic mimicry using satirical language. Parody is comedic performance for the sake of performance and therefore is not subversive.
Judith Butler deconstructs parody, using drag as a way of explaining and dealing with the socially constructed nature of gender. Drag has two main components: the first is linguistics and the second is theatrical performance. Within the linguistic theatrical nature of drag there are three elements at play: 1) anatomical sex 2) gender identity and 3) gender performativity. Drag points out that something we believe to be fixed and natural, such as gender, is not indeed fixed, but instead it is a performance. Drag is a double inversion that points out “appearance is an illusion.” The linguistic theatrical nature of drag destabilizes the rigidity of gender perceived as “gender reality.” In order for Young’s character Papa to be a form of drag, the whole parody needs to be seamless, exhibiting no rupture between the linguistic and theatrical performance of gender. [Parody as lacking a linguistic dimension and drag as seamless performance}
Young establishes God as a white male. From the beginning of The Shack, the essence of Papa is white and male. The masculine name Papa subsumes the Feminine nature of God. Young uses The masculine pronoun “he,” whenever referring to the divine notions of Papa. Papa only becomes “she” sparingly, when performing human tasks –stereotypically those performed by women. At the end of the book Papa’s true form is revealed. Papa is, in fact, a white male who conforms to Mack’s expectations for the divine. Young does not linguistically destabilize God as male, but instead ‘Father’ God performs as a woman. Papa only retains a partial female identity until the character Mack is ready to experience God as male –not just linguistically but also physically. The Shack defines masculine as “normal” and feminine as “abnormal” through Butler’s “linguistic hegemony.” The presentation of the divine feminine with a masculine name and a female body only reinforces the notion that language is phallogocentric. Linguistic absence characterizes the feminine once again in contradistinction to masculinity. Papa is caricature: a white male God in black face wearing a dress and parroting black southern dialect. Linguistically, God is paternalistic. Every single masculine pronoun and noun Young uses affirms the phallogocentric notion of God.
Drag is an art form that requires and demands a seamless performance between linguistic and theatrical representation. Drag critiques gender identity and performance in such a way that the actor’s biology fades into the background. Butler’s notion of parody and of drag reveals Papa as white male pastiche in the form of a black woman’s minstrel show.

Sources cited: Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, 2nd ed. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993). and Judith Butler, Gender Trouble : Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge Classics (New York: Routledge, 2006) and

Young’s Papa, by book’s end, represents a racist queering of the godhead.

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Sex In the Trinity: Wm. Paul Young's The Shack p4/6

Before reading each article of the series, please take the time to read the (2) disclaimers:

DISCLAIMER #1: The following blog post is NOT theological criticism or a heresy-head hunting game by any stretch of Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack. I am more sympathetic with open & process theisms, so there is no need for this author to scan The Shack for doctrinal errors.

DISCLAIMER #2: Be aware that what I share are from a 2010 joint-presentation I and my friend Adam DJ Brett, a PhD entering his first year of work at Syracuse this fall. Post 5 of this 6 part series will be mostly his research, and his intellectual property. If you wish to use this information, please cite him as the source. Also, given that this setting is a blog, I do not assume that everyone is familiar with the concepts I shall place forth, so, unlike the paper and hopefully forthcoming journal article, I will be making available definitions and sources if need be.

The Godhead Livin’ La Vida Loca

The first 3 posts of this series focused on three characters from William P. Young’s The Shack: Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu. In each instance, we looked at the oppressive racial histories behind the ugly stereotypes that Young depends upon. For my second post today on this novel, I offer a brief reflection on Sophia in chapter 11, “Here Come Da Judge.”

Anyone old enough to remember Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Lou Vega, Enrique Iglesias, and Christina Aguilera, et.al, and their rise to fame? In the late 1990s/early 2000s, there was a rise in the Latin American presence in U.S. American pop culture. Believe it or not, there was life before Lady Gaga, and it was J-Lo who flooded the newspaper headlines. Sigh. I remember receiving for my 18th birthday Carlos Santana’s comeback album, Supernatural, which took over the Grammy’s that year.

The more sinister side to this seemingly good news (apart from the immigration debate which I have pontificated over earlier this week) is the white media’s sexual objectification of the rising Latina/o stars. It would not be unheard of for some random Mexican food product to be associated with the hotness with an actor or musician of Hispanic descent. Of course, like the Orientalism that I discussed in the previous post on Sarayu, this sexualization has a long history. Ethicist Miguel De La Torre, in his A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality, in chapter 2 “Liberating the Body of Color,” points to Christopher Columbus in his genealogy. As early as 1492, Columbus wrote of the naked First Nations women he encountered, “they were very well built, with very handsome bodies and very good faces” (MDLT, 42). The very first thing that Columbus observed in the new world was not any buried treasure or politics or king or religious rite, but the bodies of women of color asking to be conquered. On Columbus’s second journey to the Americas, a cohort of his, Miguel De Cuneo whipped and raped a Native American woman who had rejected his advances–the image of land as woman (like when we call Americuh a her or she) is an image that relies on a particular vision of conquest.

Like the Oriental, the Native, the hot Latina/o, is considered to be both sexual deviant and desirable. Whether it is the Ricardo Montalban and Antonio Banderas Latin male lover or the Selma Hayek/Carmen Miranda who portray hip-swinging hussies, the bodies of people of color are seen as things to be consumed (MDLT, 41). Even the most “progressive” Christians are not exempt from this at all: in his book, a generous orthodoxy, Brian McLaren “beholding” the glory of the Lord in creation at a restaurant in New Mexico, being blessed by God, considers the people around him as his neighbors, including a young employee, “in her pretty apron and humming a Latin tune” (McLaren, 332-333).

What would happen if emergent folk such as McLaren adopted an aesthetics of the cross, finding beauty and truth in the suffering of the oppressed rather than the aforementioned theology of glory, where persons are considered objects for entertainment. It also changes our definition of “neighborliness” dramatically. Returning to Young’s The Shack, Sophia (God’s Wisdom personified) is a woman with “chiseled Hispanic features,” olive-colored skin, with “stunning” looks, so much so that Mack says to himself, “She IS beauty” (Young, 154-155). Every time she spoke, it sent “delicious tingles everywhere” for Mack, for Sophia is “everything that sensuality strives to be but falls painfully short”(Young, 155). I am just curious to what exactly “chiseled Hispanic features” are and for what purpose. Again, we have the body of a person of color, assessed by anatomy for the purpose of colonial consumption (Young’s colonialism through the gaze of Mack).

Eerily, Sophia offers Mack (and therefore the audience) these words, “You have judged the color of skin and body language and body odor. You have even judged the value of a person’s life by the quality of your concept of beauty” (Young, 160).

No set of words ever rang so true.

Next up, Adam and I take a second look at Papa.

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Sex In the Trinity: Wm. Paul Young's The Shack p 3/6

Before reading each article of the series, please take the time to read the (2) disclaimers:

DISCLAIMER #1: The following blog post is NOT theological criticism or a heresy-head hunting game by any stretch of Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack. I am more sympathetic with open & process theisms, so there is no need for this author to scan The Shack for doctrinal errors.

DISCLAIMER #2: Be aware that what I share are from a 2010 joint-presentation I and my friend Adam DJ Brett, a PhD entering his first year of work at Syracuse this fall. Post 5 of this 6 part series will be mostly his research, and his intellectual property. If you wish to use this information, please cite him as the source. Also, given that this setting is a blog, I do not assume that everyone is familiar with the concepts I shall place forth, so, unlike the paper and hopefully forthcoming journal article, I will be making available definitions and sources if need be.

How Much Is That Asian Girl In The Window?–The Western Orientalist Gaze

My first two posts in this series consisted of a glimpse into the white male lens that William P. Young provides in his novel as it pertains to black women (Papa) and Jews (Jesus). The Third Person of Young’s Trinity/the Spirit/Creativity is an Asian lady, Sarayu. She is the subject of today’s first post.

For those familiar with the West’s/Occident’s histories of encounters with the Middle East and Asian-Pacific regions of the world, you would know that it is a history of conquest. However, imperialism is not simply one of force, with guns and gold and a Bible thrown in the colonized population’s faces. Empire begins with word spoken and written, with the imagination of the colonizer spurred on by his own self-interest. Edward Said, in his ground breaking text, Orientalism, notes this about the history of Orientalism (the academic study of THE EAST) that it had a “proclivity to divide, subdivide, and redivide its subject matter without ever changing its mind about the Orient as being always the same, unchanging, uniform, and radically peculiar object” (98). In other words, the Oriental, the Asian, the Muslim, the African, the Middle Easterner, they are always the same, stuck in some idyllic time warp, passively awaiting for the West to rescue them into modernity. Afghanistan, anyone?

The Oriental, no matter how hard they try to escape these borders set forth by the Napoleons of the world, she is “first an Oriental, second a human being, and last again, an Oriental” (102). The Orient is seen as this vast terrain that will mean the regeneration (Said’s terminology) of the West– more opportunities to do business, to give Westerners a purpose in life, to conquer. Today, this form of Orientalism comes more in the form of justification, from a neo-colonial empire context. In other words, empire today is defined more by soft power, monetary influence, and cultural hegemony rather than the bottom of a barrel of a gun. If Asia succeeds at capitalism, the West succeeds because the West freed them from their shackles and introduced them to the notion of the free market. Geographically speaking, the Orient, being that it is frozen in time, stays in our mind as a far far away place, with a very close connection to to the Old World, the Paradise Christians call the Garden of Eden (Said, 58). The people who inhabit this space, therefore, are known for their “tempting suggestiveness, their capacity for entertaining, and confusing the mind” (58).

What has this to do with Sarayu? Well, everything. Sarayu’s character arc fits rather perfectly into Edward Said’s analysis of the Orientalist’s gaze. She is the colonized Other, mediated through the body of an Asian lady “of Northern Chinese or Nepalese or Mongolian ethnicity” (Young, 87). She has dirty knees on her plain jeans from kneeling, and a bright colored blouse of red, yellow and blue. Mackenzie our protagonist could tell that by nature, she was a gardener (Young, 87). Sarayu is described as “nothing to common about her” and she is kinda free-spirited (Young, 112;123). As a being who is “not predictable” Sarayu’s movement is depicted as rather chaotic (Young, 130).

Sarayu is “radically peculiar” in the eyes of Mack, matching what Edward Said argues that the Oriental is presented as “sensuality, promise, terror, sublimity, idyllic pleasure, intense energy” (Said, 118). The “free-spirited Sarayu” is the Oriental woman who is the product of the daydreams of 19th century French Orientalist Gustave Flaubert, who (according to Said) saw women from the Orient as self-sufficient and “emotionally careless” (Said,187). For what purpose does the Orientalist gaze look upon the libertine freedom of Oriental women? To fantasize of guilt-free, uninstitutionalized Victorian-era sex, of course (Said, 190).

Lastly, it is not a coincidence that it is the Asian lady who is naturally a gardener in Young’s The Shack. In fact, as I noted above, it is in the encounter of the timeless Orient that the Occident enters Paradise, a land of long lost discoveries, with hidden treasures and Nimrod’s ladders, and Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens. In Young’s chapter entitled, “A Long Time Ago In A Garden Far Away,” Mack has a dialogue with Sarayu. He tries to keep up, if it were not for her sprite-like personality, being at multiple places at once. It is Sarayu, in her sage-like wisdom that teaches Mack about the nature of good & evil, even though Mack’s mind is confused (Young 135-138, 140). The Occidental Mackenzie found what he had been looking for: the shack had become a paradaisical reality in which he discovered his own human agency.

In the next post, we will be looking at Sophia/Wisdom in The Shack

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