Yesterday I received in the mail a copy of DRAN, a thick, glossy German magazine for young, hip, twenty-something Christians. It was sent to me because right smack in its middle is a three-page excerpt from my book, “Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do The Things I Do,” by God (as told to John Shore). A German-language edition of the book is coming out this month from the giant German publisher Brockhaus-Verlag; I guess someone from DRAN read the book, liked it–and voila: young Christians across Germany are right now reading a deluxe chunk of it.
It’s so … weird, basically. Because, I mean, Penguins isn’t just coming out in Germany; it’s coming out large in Germany. In their current, slick, 54-page catalog, Brockhaus-Verlag’s two lead titles are Philip Yancey’s Beten (or “Prayer”), and Gott und die Welt und das ganze andere Zeug. (Which, of course, is German for “God and the World and the Ganze Andere Zeug.”)
I wrote Penguins a couple of years ago. I was doing dishes with my wife one night, when suddenly, and certainly unmistakably, I felt God on and in me. “John,” he intoned internally, “This is God.” (I was, like, “No kidding.”) He continued: “Finish drying the plate you’re on, return it to the cupboard, and then go sit at your computer. There’s something I want you to write.”
So, still drying the plate, I said as casually as possible to my wife Catherine, “Um. After I finish with this plate, I’m going to go sit at my computer and write something.” And whatever expression was on my face put a really intense expression on hers. “Of course,” she said gently. “Yes. Go.”
Three months later, I had Penguins. Or God had Penguins. We had Penguins. The whole thing was just … well, like being in a trance for three months, basically. And then … well, check this out:
A girl is raised in the faith. When she’s 17 her mom gets hit and killed by a bus. The girls leaves the faith. Seven year later she reads Penguins, and returns to Christ.
A woman and her three daughters leave the church. Six years later they read Penguins, and write to tell me that because of it they’re now looking for a church to join.
I get a letter from a pastor telling me that for a long time her teenage daughter has been cutting herself, but that after reading Penguins she got happy, came back to church, broke up with her bad-news boyfriend, and quit cutting herself.
A woman at my wife’s job whom my wife barely knew at all read the book. Right after she came running up to Catherine, crying, hugged her, and told her that even though she’d been a Catholic for 30 years, it wasn’t until she read Penguins that she ever really understood what the Holy Spirit is.
Early one morning a woman with whom I’d worked for about two months three years earlier called me from across the country, to say that she’d just finished reading the book. She was crying and laughing so hard it took her quite a while to tell me that this was the first time she’d ever understood the reality of God.
A guy I had just met who was raised as a communist in the former Yugoslavia–a guy who deeply believed that God really is the opium of the masses–read Penguins, and because of it went to church, and took his first communion ever.
I’ve got a lot of stories like these. It’s just … something.
And–get this!–just last week the San Diego Repertory Theater (big, long-established theater company in heart of downtown San Diego) decided, as a sort of one-off sideshow production done in conjunction with one of the primary traveling shows they’re hosting–to perform the opening of Penguins. They’re going to do the same part of the book that was excerpted in DRAN. (It’s a dialogue, done in play script form, between God and the archangel Michael [whom God, we learn, “is sometimes pleased to call Mickey”]. It’s set in God’s workshop, where, on the evening before he means to introduce him onto earth, the Master Craftsman is putting the finishing touches on the first man ever. Mickey, naturally, is excited, and full of questions.)
Anyway. For a very short book that came out with a deafening lack of fanfare from a small publisher (Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing, Inc.), Penguins sure does seem to be … well, marching right along. It’s really a trip to watch. If there’s one thing I know about this book, it’s that God wanted it done. So it’s … interesting, to watch it out there, in the world.