Friday, June 18, 2010

The Story Behind the Story

Let me thank you for your emails and phone calls. Many of you have expressed your concern for me since I have not posted a blog in a while. The tornado did not hit my part of Mississippi, but just north of us was a disaster. I drove through that area two weeks ago. The damage was shocking and incredibly widespread. Hundreds and hundreds of huge trees were snapped in half like match sticks and flung on houses and cars. My heart broke as I thought of all the shattered dreams. And now it looks like the oil spill in the gulf will grow into the greatest disaster of all. I grew up not far from the coast, and I grieve daily as I watch the slow death of a part of the world that I dearly love. The implications of this spill are unimaginable. We need a miracle, cascading miracles.

On another level, since January Perichoresis has been financially strapped. Times are tough for us all. I think we will make it through this month, but after that it does not look good at all. So I have disappeared into my study and been working around the clock to finish my book on The Shack, and to finish my novel. I am two-thirds done with both. If you can help financially, please do so. You can send a tax-deductible gift to Perichoresis • P. O. Box 98157 • Jackson, MS 29298.

Here is an excerpt from one of the first chapters.

Never intended for publication, The Shack was written by William P. Young (known to his friends as Paul) as a story for his children. He had two aims: first, to give a gift that would express his love for his kids, and second, “to help them understand what had been going on in his inside world,” as his friend Willie put it. Paul’s goal was to get the story to Office Depot before Christmas to make fifteen copies for his children, his wife, and a few others. But even while working three jobs, there wasn’t enough money. Eventually copies were made, and the story circulated through his family and friends. He was encouraged to have it published as a proper book, but found that it was rejected by every publisher that was contacted, as being ‘too out of the box’ or ‘having too much Jesus.’ For Paul, its actual publication as a real book, now one of the best selling books in history, is lagniappe, as the Cajuns say—a little something extra. His dream was fulfilled when the first copies were made and his children had a story that would explain something of their father’s journey into the real world.

I heard Paul say that he reached the point in his life when he cried out, “Papa, I am never again going to ask you to bless something that I do, but if you have something that you are blessing that I could share in, I would love that. And I don’t care if it’s cleaning toilets or holding the door open or shinning shoes.” And Papa replied, “Paul, I’ll tell you what, how about I bless this little story you are writing for your kids. You give it to yours, and I will give it to mine.” The rest, as they say, is history.

But is it? There is far more going on in an average person’s life than anyone would dare to dream. And that is certainly true of Paul Young. The Shack is not a novel written by an academic who finally learned to communicate with regular people. There is a story behind the story, several in fact, but I will stick to Willie’s statement. ‘‘To help them understand what had been going on in his inside world.” (p. 12) The inside world, the world of the invisibles, of pain and turmoil, of shame, broken hearts and broken dreams, is the world that drives us all, and especially the larger-than-life tale in The Shack. The story behind the story is the gut-wrenching hell that Paul Young suffered in his own life. I have seen a picture of Paul when he was six years old. He looked like an old man—weary, miserable and spent, and terribly sad. His eyes screamed despair. The picture made me cry. But that is the beginning of this story we have all come to love, at least most of us.

By the time Paul was six years old, he had been emotionally abandoned, physically and verbally beaten and sexually abused—repeatedly. To say the least, he was crippled inside from his early days in life. No child—no person—can withstand such trauma. It creates a lethal roux of shame, fear, insecurity, anxiety, and guilt. These invisibles coalesce into a damning, debilitating, and unshakeable whisper: “I am not alright. I am not good, not worthy, not important, not loveable,” which haunts every single moment of life. How does a child, or anyone, cope with an inner world of such anguish? No one can.

As a fish was not made to live on the moon, we were never designed to live in shame. But what do you do? Where do you go? Most of us bury it all in a garbage can in the backroom of our souls, and move on. Or try to. But what we bury rules us. What we don’t know that we don’t know will destroy us. ‘I am not’ becomes ‘I will be,’ and we dream a dream of becoming. ‘If I can just get married and have children.’ ‘If I can just get that job or promotion, that money, that car, that house, that power, that position, that new relationship.’ And off we go. But such ‘things’ are incompetent to address spiritual pain. They never work, though we will defend them ‘til they kill us. So we medicate, go on autopilot, check out, or we stay busy, we get involved in a great cause, manage other people’s inner worlds, live through our children, or just stay drunk in one musical way or another. It’s too much.

Paul Young turned to religion, partly because it was the environment he grew up in and therefore readily available, and partly because it presented a possible way to perform his way into becoming valuable. He was born in Alberta, Canada, but before his second birthday found himself on the mission field in the highlands of Netherlands New Guinea (West Papua). Around six, as was required by the particular mission board, he was shipped off to boarding school. Before the age of ten, the family unexpectedly returned to Canada and by the time he graduated from high school, Paul had attended thirteen different schools. His dad had made the change from missionary to pastor.

These facts don’t tell you about the pain of trying to adjust to different cultures, of life losses that were almost too staggering to bear, of walking down railroad tracks at night in the middle of winter screaming into the windstorm, of living with an underlying volume of shame so deep and loud that it constantly threatened any sense of sanity, of dreams not only destroyed but obliterated by personal failure, of hope so tenuous that only the trigger seemed to offer a solution.

Religion was the only world Paul knew, the cards he was dealt. So he played them. He believed in the ‘religious’ version of Christianity. He had too. With ‘I am not good’ whispering in every breeze, he set out to prove that he was good. He graduated at the top of his class in college, became a shining star, a people-pleasing, religious performer on his way to the top. But every moment involved the exhausting task of hypervigilance, constantly scanning each group, each discussion, each meeting and moment to manage people’s impression of himself. For how could Paul, or any of us, let folks know of the dying inside. With one hand on the lid of his garbage can, he smiled, taught the Bible, became ‘the nice guy,’ the counselor, while keeping everyone at a safe distance. But he found no relief from the raging turmoil in his inner world. He cried out to God for healing, re-dedicating himself and his life a hundred times, until his re-dedicator finally burned out. His life became a form of hiding, while desperately searching for relief and help anywhere he could find it. But there is no healing in religion. Healing happens when you meet Jesus in your shack, a place Paul tried hard to deny even existed.

He performed himself into ministry, into business, into marriage, into fatherhood, trying to exhaustion to become an authentic human being while hiding the underlying shame and personal failures. A single phone call rocked his world forever. Two words in fact. ‘I know.’ Kim, Paul’s wife, had found out about the affair he was having with one of her friends. That is one way that shame works its poison in our lives. There are millions of others, of course, but one is that we turn to another person, a “magical other” who will be our all, our life, our salvation. I suspect Paul found out what Shakespeare meant when he said, ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ But that’s not the whole truth. ‘Heaven has no ally like a woman who knows how to love.’ The book’s dedication reads, ‘to Kim, my Beloved, thank you for saving my life.’ While Mackenzie’s weekend at the shack represents eleven years of Paul’s actual life—eleven years of pain and emotional torture, depression and mere flashes of hope—it was Kim’s heroic love wrapped in fury that held it all together. From a human perspective, without Kim and her heart Paul Young would probably be dead, or tucked away in some cold asylum, or an empty man still performing. There would have been no story to tell, at least not one about meeting the blessed Trinity in the garbage can.

On the other side of hell, as real freedom and life began to dawn, it was Kim’s insistence that Paul write something for the children to explain his journey and new-found liberation. She didn’t mean a book, and neither did Paul, but most folks are thrilled that it all turned out this way. On more than one occasion, I have heard him speak of Kim and their children with tears streaming down his face. The book was born in the crucible of life, of trauma and abuse, of empty religion, misery and betrayal, of mercy, love and reconciliation. Luther said somewhere that God makes theologians by sending them to hell. In hell, of course, no one is interested in theology. What we learn in the emptiness of grief, in the pain, the trauma of suffering is that we are not interested in pseudo-promises, intellectual masturbation, or “Skippy, the wonder Christ,’ as my friend Ken Blue puts it. What we learn in hell is that we want out. We learn desperation for life, for healing, for real salvation, for a Savior who saves here and now, who reconciles, who heals our brokenness, and delivers us from our shame. We need something that works.

This is the story behind the story. The Shack could have easily been titled ‘From Hell to Heaven,’ or ‘From Overwhelming Shame to Being Loved into Life,’ or ‘How Jesus Healed a Screwed Up Man,’ or even ‘With Gods Like Ours No Wonder We Are So Sad and Broken.’ For the story is about hell and heaven, trauma, shame and finding love, the real Jesus accepting a broken man, and it is about the Father, Son and Spirit finding us in the far country of our terrible and powerless mythology—to share their life with us. For the truth behind the universe is that God is Father, Son and Spirit, and the one unflinching purpose of the blessed Trinity is that we would come to taste and feel, know and experience the very Trinitarian life itself.

What Paul and Kim have lived through and what they have discovered in the love of Papa, Jesus and Sarayu is the joy unspeakable, full of glory that Peter talked about, and the abounding life that Jesus promised. They cannot go back to the same old, do more, try harder religion with its properly attested Bible verses. Like C. S. Lewis, in the midst of misery they were surprised by joy.

Some have taken offense at the theology of The Shack. Paul’s response is not one of theological argument or biblical proof-texting, though he is very adept at both. His response is his own life and relationships. He would say, ‘I have a tee shirt from hell, several of them, in fact. Religion doesn’t work anywhere, and especially there, but the Father, Son and Spirit came to find me in my hell. They accepted me, loved me, embraced me, and are healing me with their love.’ And, I think Paul would ask a simple question, ‘How’s your theology working for you?’ And knowing Paul, he would follow that with, ‘how does your wife or husband or friends think your theology is working for you?’ So, while The Shack is a story for his children, it is a bit more complicated than that. This story is matter of life or death. Paul Young is serious. He wants his own children to see the disastrous incompetence of religion to heal our broken souls, and he wants them to know the astonishing liberation of Papa’s embrace.

The Father, Son and Spirit, whom he calls Papa, Jesus and Sarayu, are not myths like Santa Claus, the white, blue-eyed Jesus, and the tooth fairy. They are real. They meet us in our pain, in our anger, bitterness and resentment, in our shame and guilt and powerlessness, in our miserable, broken relationships—and in our deadly religion—and there they love us into life and freedom. Hence, the second dedication, ‘…all us stumblers who believe Love rules, stand up and let it shine.’


bill winn said...

Thank you Jesus that you are not afraid of my "stuff" and can heal me right in the thick of it. And thank you too for sharing such insights with Paul and Baxter and then through them with me and my family! Thank you Holy Spirit, we'll have more please.

Anonymous said...

It's true.

Wendy Norman said...

So, so good, so very good to be reminded of the Best News ever - that our Creator/Redeemer, Father/Son/Spirit, meets us right in the midst of our failure and pain, to heal and restore us. No matter how deep the tragedy He's there with us in the brokenness, willing and able to comfort, heal and to start building us anew into all that it means to be fully human.
We're so blessed to hear and experience the Spirit's transforming words through his people like Baxter and Paul.
Immense gratitude.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing that. It is powerful. I sit in tears

Anonymous said...

How do you get there?????

Anonymous said...

... if you know, email it to

Pastor Paul said...

Thanks, Baxter, for sharing the story most people are not familiar with.

What you see in Paul Young is Jesus Christ transforming one from the darkness, lostness, guiltridden, shameladeness of our inheritance from father first Adam into the life of the Second Adam through the power of the Holy Spirit. Being resurrected into life from death by His Love. Knowing the unconditional love of God which loves us and accepts us while we are yet sinners and living corruption. The Good News is that we will continue in this dual role until "our change comes" and "this corruption puts on incorruption". But, we will always be loved NOW and FOREVER by our Father who has placed us ALL inside of His life through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Thank you Jesus, How GOOD can it get? As Bill Winn says, " We will have more please."

Anonymous said...

This was like fresh water for my sould. Thank you for sharing this!

The message that we are included in the Life and Love of Papa and Jesus in the Spirit has certainly changed my life - and continues to do so.

Thank you to you Baxter, and Paul, for taking a stand by telling us what we've always known deep down in our hearts...

In Papa's Arms,

Florian (Germany)

Unknown said...

Brother, I love the Christ in you and can't wait to read the complete book!

Rich said...


Thank you so much for being my brother, I am deeply indebted to His costly but free and lavishly given love!

I ordered some of your books back a while ago and I must tell you I have in all my years Never ever been so awakened to what Father is doing in showing me the reality of having been and in the now, 4-ever loved...thank you so much for being You!!!

chrisfailla said...

WOW. Can't wait for the rest of the story!

Sarah said...


Anonymous said...

This book will be the real book meant for God's children. Paul had to write the first book so the second book could be written. This will be a great blessing to all of us who live the human half life.It only has the physical answers. Your ministry will be blessed. God will provide. This is His work!

Lee Schwartzrock said...

I want to thank you, Baxter, for your mind-blowing vision of who God really is; or better, what they are really like. You are not afraid to point to a compassionate, involved, feeling Family, who, in spite of the wall of lies which blanket most of us, have already adopted us, and will succeed in convincing us of that fact.
I’ve been downloading your lectures, and have found them to be a wonderful antidote to the depressing fare found at my local Evangelical Church. I have to admit that in spite of my grace-based understanding of Christianity, I still would have found your concept of God’s nature to be too good to be true, had it not been for your connections with Grace Communion International. I came out of Old Covenant legalism with them, and was first exposed to Trinitarian theology in their publications.
Your most striking image, for me, was the Father who buys a bike for his boy, simply because he wants to see the lad enjoy himself. How can it be, that a 48-year old Christian, who has read tons of material on how to find, experience, and enjoy God, had never heard that our Maker really isn’t self-centered, until I heard it from you? THIS IS WHAT I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD! This fact alone, makes the universe worth living in.
This morning, I sat in on another Sunday school based on the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. The gist of his message seems to be that something is terribly wrong with the Christian Church in the developed world. We are lukewarm, and not really in love with God. We don’t give our lives sacrificially to Jesus, and will be spit out of his mouth unless something changes. Much of what Francis says is true, and I believe him to be quite sincere. He offers good advice, when he warns that just trying harder won’t work. However, what he offers to fix our lack of zeal, seems mainly to be fear, with plenty of chiding for our lack of genuine response to God’s abundant love for us.
Francis asks if we would be satisfied with a heaven that had all the good stuff of this life, such as mansions, food, golf, fishing, etc., but no Jesus? I believe that the reason most wouldn’t really have a problem with it, is that we’ve been told about a God who doesn’t inspire love. In heaven, people throw crowns at his feet, because they cannot express their gratitude deeply enough. The real God makes clothing of skins for Adam and Eve, who have just chosen to distrust and disobey him, because they are in shame, and afraid, and he feels for them. How different from a deity which is quite capable of allowing billions of ignorant wretches to suffer forever because time ran out on them.
We love because he first loved us…


Thank you for the first chapter of your book. I could hardly wait to read it. I have read THE SHACK but I know I need to read it again in the light of what you had described as Paul's life and journey.

Your words flowed so powerfully as I was reading them and really felt the love of the Trinue God.

Thank you for revealing Him in such depth of wisdom and love.

Mike Lawrence said...

I live in Oregon but my family lives in Choctaw County MS near Weir where much of the damage from the tornado happened. I know you are probably referring to the damage in Yazoo City, but thanks for encouraging people to pray for our beloved Mississippi.
I just finished reading The Shack for the 4th time in two years. It is amazing to me how much my story parallels Paul's. I grew up in Choctaw County in a Baptist church. From the time I was preschool age until I was 15 I sexually abused men; by a man from the church -- and by my uncle -- and by another close male relative. My mom had multiple affairs. I truly understand about growing up with the "I am not" syndrome -- I am not worth anything. So I hid in church, in religion, in Bible college, in the ministry. Then I began to hide in secret addictions, and I still find that the natural default for me is to hide in something or medicate somehow rather than run to Jesus. I greatly look forward to your book about Paul Young. I was privileged to hear him when he spoke at the Foursquare Church in Albany Oregon.
Concerning your finances -- there is a check in the mail. Blessings to you,
Mike Lawrence

Mike Lawrence said...

Correction to my post from July 31. The sentence in the middle of the comment I left yesterday SHOULD READ: "From the time I was preschool age until I was 15 I WAS sexually abused BY men;" That kinda makes a huge difference in the meaning of the sentence. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Followed a link here from the shack' website discussion forum. Just want to say that it's dangerous to base a theology on a work of fiction, especially when that fiction finds its base in one person's experience.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous, Baxter is not basing a theology on The Shack. He bases his theology on the Bible. He has found that The Shack expresses theological perspectives in a manner that resonates with his understanding of scripture and is seeking to explain Paul Young's life story which shapes the story of The Shack. In terms of the role of experience, it is to demonstrate that God is real and active in the lives of ordinary people, not just 'the force' or an absent fatherly figure.
Agree or disagree with the theology if you like, but don't make such unfounded and insulting allegations, especially behind the cloke of anonymity.
Warren of Sydney

Anonymous said...

How is it that Paul isn't just a pharisee for wanting to use religion to hide the fact that he is bad. Even when evil is done to us; does it excuse our sin to medicate the pain. Why does it always sound like Jesus is made to sound like a psychologist and not the holy Son of God who does in fact hate sin. Brokenness is real but so is the guilt of our sin and march into rebellion.

We know we have passed from death to life how?
When we obey Him and love the brethren.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the evidence that we have passed from death to life is in the fruit we bear, but the basis for us passing from death to life is Christ. He has transferred us from darkness to light, and that is why we can start seeing life-like behaviour.
Paul wouldnt' be called a Pharisee for his views, because Pharisees try to pretend they aren't bad, because they hide behind the keeping of rules and other external behaviours, while ignoring matters of the heart and transforming relationship with God. Paul teaches the exact opposite of what the Pharisees teach!
There isn't a dichotomy between brokenness and sin/guilt. They are two sides of the same coin - the fact that we see God as our enemy, not as our Creator and Saviour. I'm not sure what eyeseefrankie is getting at in his/her comment on this.
Warren of Sydney

Uwe Dahlke said...

Has ever somebody beeing warned: No to breath too much?
Because there is only limited Oxygen at hand in the Air for all the people around te world?

This is allways when you talk about "Papas" great and unconditional love . . . Guys & Girlz raise up and warn, that there is a danger in it . . . and constantly they have to balance out Love with Fear . . . but if you do your (balance)math properly,
youl find find that "zero" remains! And this is where many christians NOTHING but an cold and empty room!

Praise Paul for his idea in Romans 5.20: but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly!

Uwe S.Dahlke, Pastor from Germany