Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang

by John Shore on June 28, 2007 · 12 comments

One year after his sudden and utterly out-of-the-blue conversion to Christianity (which he describes in the riveting afterword of this book), John Shore reportedly found himself overwhelmed by the desire to write something that Christians could give to non-Christians by way of proving that just because one is Christian doesn’t automatically mean that one is irrational. The result is the delightfully profound “Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do the Things I Do,” by God (as told to John Shore), in which God (who, it turns out, is excruciatingly funny: who knew?) directly answers the dozen objections to Christianity most typically raised by non-Christians. The book’s opening dialogue between God and the archangel Michael on the eve before God introduces Adam onto planet earth is worth the price alone.

There is no finer, accessible, or creative Christian apologetic. This is the book for which Mr. Shore is most likely to be remembered.

Winner, 2006 San Diego Book Award for Best Religion/Spirituality

Foreign-language editions: German, Korean.

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Praise for “Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang”:

John Shore is a remarkably gifted writer who knows exactly what he is doing. — Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean, the inaugural novel of Oprah’s Book Club.

Excellent! This is one funny book, in an era when religion isn’t funny–but should be, if it’s serious. — Richard Louv, author of international bestsellers Last Child in the Woods, Fly Fishing for Sharks, and  The Nature Principle.

I know that for both chronological and biological reasons it’s not possible, but if St. Augustine and Soupy Sales had a son, I think he would write almost exactly like John Shore. Shore is a madman and a genius, and this book is so happily wrought I don’t know what to say about it–except that this is the book many, many folks have been waiting for. It’s a genuine triumph, a killer combo of astronomical wit and wisdom. I, for one, would like twenty-five copies immediately— Eric Metaxas, author of bestsellers Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this very funny book: its style, its tone, its construction — everything about it. Penguins is a winner. Richard Lederer, author of more than thirty books on the English language, including the bestselling Anguished English series and The Miracle of Language.

This wonderful work has God taking over Shore’s computer and dictating His thoughts throughout this short (only 128 pages) but deeply profound work. I use the word “profound” only after some deliberation. Shore, a.k.a. God, here deals with everything from sex to atheism after an opening chapter that purports to be a transcript of a conversation between God and the Archangel, Michael, in which they deal with man’s uniqueness and frailties. But of all the really great stuff in the book, it’s Shore’s (or God’s) treatment of atheism that jumped off the pages and grabbed me. It is without a doubt one of the best treatments of a very difficult subject I¹ve ever read. It¹s also one of the most hilarious. Several times I found myself laughing out loud. This is not just an easy read; this is a must read. It proves once and for all that God has a sense of humor.” — Good News, Etc. (Good News is a 20+-year-old monthly Christian newspaper [circulation 42,000] published in and distributed throughout San Diego County.)

As an middle-aged ordained person in a mainline denomination, I am always in search of fresh ways to present the Good News of God’s abundant and abiding love, especially to generations younger than I. John Shore’s book gives me a wondrous tool to do just that. I am grateful the Holy Spirit grabbed–and is still grabbing — John, a modern prophet and a gifted author. — Rev. Rhonda McIntire, rector, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Pacific Beach, CA.

The book is simply stated, a riot. I found myself laughing out loud at several points throughout. I will not spoil a readers’ joy by offering too many details, but; the premise of the book is that God took control of John’s body so that He could present his side of the story; largely in response to those atheists and agnostics who (with often compelling arguments) do not believe that God exists. As such; the book seems largely intended as a sort of apologetic for God’s existence. The surprise is that God has a wicked sense of humor (penguin, anyone?)

What I was not expecting though was just how substantial the book is. Many times while reading, I found myself highlighting, dog-earing pages saying ”ouch” in response the strong criticism of some of the church’s more exclusionary and less gracious actions. There is strong polemic here, have no doubt. And the prophetic tone does not stop at the institutional church, either; but often finds purchase within the individual heart as well.

The genius of this work is that it is filled with such moments; and yet that prophetic voice is soon followed by humor. But rather than it seeming to present God as having some serious bipolar mood swings; the work as a whole presents an image of God as love. In “Penguins…” God can and does rebuke, but then immediately seeks to bring us back with laughter; often at God’s own expense. That is the type of love we can all aspire to; where anger burns quickly and grace abounds. That is the type of God, that we can identify with and love rather than tremble in fear at the thought of.

While “Penguins…” would seem to have been written to a non-believing audience; the wonderful insights into God’s nature found therein have tremendous value to those of faith as well.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. You will be both entertained and inspired. — Roger McClellan, The Progressive Christian Alliance

Like the interminable pharmaceutical ads monopolized by the drone of the announcer regaling his television audience with all potential side effects, this book ought to come with such an advisory. This book is not for the faint of heart, the curmudgeonly, the holier-than-thou, the traditionalist, the weaker brother, etc. Then again, maybe these types should read this book and come face to face with a God who sounds suspiciously like a standup comic: “Thank you, thank you very much. I’ll be here throughout eternity.” It might do them good. Shore’s writing does of course require the willing suspension of belief. Provided you are willing, and can stomach a book rife with anthropopathism, reading it will be an unpredictable and thought-provoking ride.

The curtain rises on a heavenly laboratory of sorts, circa Creation. Our first taste of God (as told to John Shore) reminded me of Christopher Lloyd’s professor character in Back to the Future. God is putting the finishing touches on the first human prototype and is explaining to the archangel Michael (“Mickey”) the ins and outs of what will soon be human existence. In the course of this interchange, Shore shows himself to be a wordsmith of range possessing a knack for rendering the actually impossible literarily plausible.

Following the human creation vignette is a series of entries written from God’s perspective (as told to John Shore) to atheists and agnostics and anyone else who has a hard time believing in Him. In these, Shore retains the flavor of his humor but sensitively modifies his tone and delivery when necessary. Although he often skirts the edges of propriety in treating delicate issues, he never falls over the edge into bad taste – unless you are one of the faint of heart, the curmudgeonly, the holier-than-thou, the traditionalist, the weaker brother, etc.

Shore does not sugarcoat human sin, and shows a profound understand of the doctrine of the atonement. The book ends with another vignette; that of John Shore’s actual, true-to-life conversion experience. Shore narrates his own life experience with as much verve and panache as the fictional portions, and again presents the gospel reality of the chasm that exists between a holy God and sinful man apart from God’s gracious intervention in our lives. My favorite bits of the book were the two episodes when ‘God’ allowed John the divine stenographer (Shore, not son of Zebedee) to insert his two cents. What emerged was nonsense, and had me laughing like I used to laugh at John Arbuckle’s antics in Garfield comics.

A final word about audience and purpose: this book has a specific raison d’être. It is designed to present unbelievers with the existence of God in a way that differs from virtually every other traditional approach. Instead of lambasting this book for its irreverence (it rides the fence between PG-13 and R), I believe we ought to say with the apostle Paul that we are happy for the good news of God to go out into the world, in whatever form.” — The Discerning Reader

Why is Penguins such a hit with Lutherans? Well, I think it’s because an awful lot of Lutherans (though not all, by any means!) are still taken with Luther’s own ‘in your face’ attitude toward the basics of both faith and no faith. (And he was in his own face about that, too.) Shore’s style resonates with those Lutheran pastors who deal with huge numbers of people with minds just like his. That’s why they’re making classes and discussion groups out of Penguins. Good job, John! God bless you, and keep it coming. We need both the C.S. Lewises and the John Shores.— Rev. Jack E. Lindquist, Canon for Biblical Studies, St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego; Instructor in Religious Studies, University of San Diego

Brilliant, quirky, perverse, exciting, and quintessentially Californian: John Shore’s unique style is a delight to read–a literary feast! —Michael Flachmann, 1995 Carnegie Foundation United States Professor of the Year; author of Beware the Cat: The First English Novel (Huntington Library Press); company dramaturge, Utah Shakespearean Festival.

I loved Penguins. I thought it was truly profound. John’s insights and sensitivity to things spiritual reflect a maturity in faith beyond his time spent in the faith. Penguins focuses on critical questions, and answers them with wisdom, gentleness and totally engaging humor. I think Mr. Shore’s going to take over the world. — Dr. Rick Hornor, chair of Theatre Arts and Diretor of Faculty Service-Learning, Whitworth College, Spokane; recipient, $25,000 grant from the Character Education partnership.

I think I have been looking for a book like this since before I was ordained. Shore has managed to articulate a healthy systematic theology without droning on like an academic pompous pious poopyhead. This book will separate the sheep from the goats. If they can get beyond the concept of God saying “pissed off” and “cheeky monkey,” they might just realize that Christianity is not a dried-up lacey doily sentimental thing in an old biddy’s dusty armoire, but a living dynamic force at work in the world. So, John Shore, enough of my pontificating– this is my way of saying thanks– you just made my job as a pastor more inspiring and a lot easier. I look forward to gifting your book to my happy Lutherans, and inflicting it upon the holier-than-thou ones. — Pastor Martin Zimmann, St. John Lutheran Church, ELCA, Dundee, Michigan

What would happen if you crossed Anne Lamott with Philip Yancey—and threw in a bit of Leo Rosten, just for good measure? You’re probably thinking, ‘I don’t know—and who would I sell it to?’ A good question, perhaps—until you think about this: What are you gonna do if you don’t publish John Shore’s book? More to the point, what are you gonna tell your boss when Penguins simultaneously hits #1 on The New York Times, USA Today, and Christian Marketplace bestseller lists? Listen, I haven’t laughed so loud since reading The Sirens of Titan in college. The bottom line here is that John Shore is an exceptional writer. — Jan P. Dennis, discoverer/publisher/agent to Frank Peretti, Stephen R. Lawhead, Ted Dekker, Robert Liparulo, and others.

Mere Christianity meets Mad Magazine! — The Very Rev. Scott Richardson, Dean, St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego, CA.

This wonderful little book gives you God’s perspective on all those questions that believers, non-believers, and pre-believers ask. This is the book you want to give that non-believing friend, not so much in an effort to convert them, but to at least help them understand why it is you believe. Not for the easily offended, but written with just the right amount of humor and tact. If you can only read one book this summer, this is it. — Chris Enstad, Pastor of Youth and Young Adults, Normandale Lutheran Church, Edina, MN.

I truly believe that one day very soon John Shore is going to be hailed as the most important and original writer of our times. — Larry Duthie, president and publisher, Placer Community Newspapers, Inc. (Mr. Duthie’s papers have won over 240 NNA awards.)

I bought Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang as a fluke: I needed to get one more book to get free-shipping from Amazon. I realize there are no flukes with God; John’s book delighted me, bringing me both laughter and tears. After reading it carefully (and not disturbing its pages), I gave it to my wife for Christmas. Though one who seldom marks in books, she immediately began underlining and marking special pages that brought her to laughter and tears. I began telling everyone about the book, quoting passages to them, and using one particular in a sermon. It was so well received that people began asking about the book. Has he published any others? We gave it to all of our graduates; one grandmother brought a copy for each of her eight grandchildren. No book in recent days has touched our congregation as has John’s. His style, with his humor, drives home the point where others have missed. We look forward to reading him as often as he is published. — Dennis Plourde, pastor, First Baptist Church of Los Angeles

Penguins, Pain & the Whole Shebang is fantastic. I found it stimulating, fun, informative, provocative, earth-shaking—in a word: Revolutionary. I love it. John Shore is a terrific writer. Even God should be proud of him.” — Kim Flachman, Writing Program Coordinator, California State University, Bakersfield; editor of such college English textbooks as The Prose Reader; Focus: A College English Handbook; and the Mosaics compositional series.

What a funny, bright writer this man is! — Judy Reeves, author of The Writer’s Retreat Kit, A Writer’s Book of Days; Writing Alone, Writing Together, and A Creative Writer’s Kit

John Shore writes like a refreshing coastal breeze: strong but gentle, true but not destructive, and with just enough salt to make one thirsty for more. — Wes Yoder, president, Ambassador Speakers Bureau (the oldest and most established Christian-based talent agency in America).

“Angels laugh because they take themselves lightly.” With that Chesterton thought in mind, read this book! John Shore has managed to meld faith and humor together so that it looks like God made them that way (which I believe He did). It’s a fun read, but also makes one think. For those who are unsure about faith, this book may even encourage them to take a closer look at God.” — Karen Holmberg-Smith, pastor, Zion Lutheran Church, Warroad, MN.

With Penguins, John Shore has knocked the walls down between here and There. A soliloquy by, ahem, GOD? It’s crazy, it’s totally pretentious, it’s dangerous. It’s wonderful! With his quirky humor and an uncommon sensitivity to both human need and theological sacred cows, Shore has bent the rules of spiritual writing until they . . . no, they don’t break, they vibrate-like a tuning fork. In the hands of the One Who made the rules. Get a copy, and prepare to enjoy a rollicking good time-and, almost without realizing it, a Feast. — Judith D. Dupree, co-founder and president, San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild (the largest countywide Christian writers group in the United States).

John Shore’s talent is so abundant, so rich, that I feel somewhat hung-over, as though I had imbibed too much verbal bubbly last night, and now can’t remember what I was wearing when I jumped in the fountain. That fountain is the wellspring of faith in John’s Penguins, Pain & The Whole Shebang–and splashing about in it is sheer delight. It’s clear Mr. Shore will have a long career, and quite a following. He’s gone up his personal Sinai and come back down with something attuned to his times. I applaud and admire what he’s done. His voice is fluid and natural and swift; his humor is pitch perfect. I cherish the notion that John found God in a supply closet. That’s the sort of experience which makes a spiritual awakening real, human, tender, true, and utterly credible. — Patricia K. Davis, author of the novel Midnight Carol (St. Martin’s Press)

God could not have chosen a more observant and witty person to bring believers and non-believers together. After reading Shore’s book, I felt better equipped to defend my faith. More importantly, I felt better equipped to celebrate it.— Steve Kissing, author of Running from the Devil: A Memoir of a Boy Possessed (Crossroad Books).

First let me say that I’m a fundamentalist Model Agnostic. After reading this book, I found myself walking around talking like the Big Guy. John’s co-author is truly inspired. The back flap contains a picture of John–but there’s “no picture available” of the co-author. (I’m not sure if that’s to avoid the problems the Danish are dealing with regarding the “cartoons.”) Seriously, you don’t need to be a “believer” to get a lot from this book. The writing style is unbelievably brilliant. The voice is great. The pace is perfect. This is really skillful stuff. I still don’t agree with the substance of a lot of the book but that’s fine. I will say that if most people could sit around and have a brew with the co-author of this book, it would do more for “spreading the Gospel” than all of the stuff coming from those churches and TV preachers. — Brian Shields, Morning Executive Producer, KCPQ-TV (Q13 FOX), Seattle

Mr. Shore is on his way to becoming the C.S. Lewis of the new millennium. This book is sure to help people on their journey toward God. — John Penrose, president, Children To Love (a Christian adoption organization serving Romanian families and orphans).

Shore’s infectious energy and singular style make for an out-of-the-ordinary literary treat, where raucous humor and heart-rending emotion unite to create sheer page-turning pleasure. — Jenna Peterson, National Director of Content, AOL

I’d rather read John Shore’s work than any other author I know (including the great David Sedaris). Shore’s an incredibly moving, incredibly hilarious writer — and, astoundingly, very often within the same sentence. — Kory Lueders, winner of 12 national and regional awards –including a Golden Mike (1997) and a Gabriel Award (1998) — for writing/producing public broadcast radio stories.

John Shore’s musings on Christianity are very funny, thought-provoking and touching. In his book and in person, he shows that one needn’t be ignorant, clueless, superstitious, or friendless to be a Christian in our modern world. — The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas, Director of Spiritual Formation, St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego.

I truly loved this work—it systematically, and in an unpretentious, engaging way, answered ever single question non-Christians have and always ask. I felt as if I was speaking with this book, actually conversing (and laughing) with it, rather than reading words on paper. (It was a strange phenomenon, ‘speaking’ with Penguins, considering that the Bible endeavors to speak to those who live by it.) I read and re-read this book, and continue to think about it every day. — Jessica Kruskamp, editor, UCSD Guardian (student newspaper at the University of California, San Diego).

I’d always wondered why God felt no need for a sequel to his original bestseller. Now, it turns out He was just in no hurry. Penguins reveals the Supreme Being’s sense of humor, and Lord knows (and now says) we Christians could use a little more of that. Best of all, for me, author John Shore’s personal revelations in the afterward struck a chord. This book inspired me to explore going to church again, and my daughters and I are now preparing to join a more open and affirming congregation.— Catt Fields, publisher, Serving Arizona and Serving San Diego magazines.

Penguins is one of the best things I’ve ever read. As I was reading it, I kept thinking how badly I wanted to give it to just about everyone I know. Shore (who writes like Streisand can sing) makes me proud to be a Christian. This book finally makes the uncool (being Christian) cool. I think Christians will buy copies of it to tuck into all their Christmas cards. I also think it’ll have a huge following among the Calvary Chapel churches. They talk a lot about how Christianity is ‘not a religion, but a relationship’—but have trouble illustrating what exactly that means. Penguins shows a relationship with God in a way that has never been done before. I’m very excited about this book: I can’t wait to give it to about 100 people.” —Debra Lee Baldwin, bestselling author, award-winning freelance writer for Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens, and others.

Reading Penguins took me back to my days as a raging skeptic/agnostic. Many of the thorny theological questions it tackles—in its unique and humorously penetrating way—are the very questions I wrestled with back then (‘then’ being the 60s). In those days, I rejected all traditional presentations of Christianity—but I would have welcomed the way these issues are handled in Penguins. I think there are many, many people out there who would never read anything having to do with the God of the Bible except in the fantastic form He’s presented here. Yeah, this book goes out on the edge—but it’s bound to get people thinking seriously about, and perhaps even embracing, the most important truths in life. I think this book will serve as a sort of primer for many folks who find traditional God-talk too stilted and dry. In Penguins they’ll get good laughs—and a very firm, very loving spiritual nudge toward God. — Allen Randall, director, Ladle Ministries, First Presbyterian Church of San Diego

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

sdgalloway January 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

I got a hard copy of this book thanks to a crazy contest John hosted last year that had willing people with a touch of insanity come up with our own “end of the world” scenarios. My entry which involved sentient sharks was not a winner, but I got a copy of this most excellent book anyway. It’s even autographed!! (I still have that silly story in my personal archives. Maybe one day I’ll flesh it out more)

I loved the authenticity the book offers as well as the humor. For me it showed how personal faith is, and how God is anything but an unattainable entity only concerned with piety and a very narrow view on life. Instead God has a sense of humor, loves us expansively and really does care about us, even if our lives are a train wreck.

Now I’m gonna do something I rarely do. Reread a book. John’s book, and plan to buy more copies of his work .

Congratulations John. You earned and well deserve the accolades.

in the future.

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Jane Kindlen via Facebook October 22, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Loved reading all these reviews, when I get bk home after a wknd away, I’m going to order myself a copy, can’t wait to read it, thk u!

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Meg December 8, 2010 at 2:28 pm

being from Australia, I tend to buy books either from fishpond.com.au or from thebookdepository.co.uk as these two sites charge in Australian Dollars and also offer me free shipping. Sadly both sites are out of stock on this book. I was wondering if there is another Australian Retailer that carries this title which you’re aware of? I’ve tried Borders, and boomerangbooks.com.au with no success and am at my wits end. Would truly love to get my hands on a copy and not have to pay more than the cost of the book for S&H.

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Anonymous December 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I’m not aware of how to buy the book in Austrailia, Meg. Sorry! It’s small book, though: it can’t cost THAT much to mail. If you want, send your address to me at john @ johnshore . com. Then, next time I go to the post office, I can find out how much it would cost to ship you a copy of Penguins, and let you know.

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Meg December 9, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I managed to find a copy of it in kindle format at amazon.com and have gone ahead and bought that for now, John. I will let you know if I decide to get the paperback at a later time. Thanks for the offer to try and get one to me, though.

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samwrites2 January 30, 2008 at 2:44 am

"Penguins" has God (via John Shore's hands) explaining life and pain in a way that is a lot easier to understand than trying to pick it out of the book of Job. Not to say don't read Job, but the two compliment each other in an odd way.

But then, Shore's writing is delightfully odd, entertaining and engrossing.

Shore's blog entries accessed via Crosswalk.com had already pointed me toward repentance when his book "Penguins" affirmed the action.

In Shore's book, God's voice comes across as original, humorous and pithy. Then the great deity makes compelling arguments both for belief and obedience due to God's love. Jehovah's take on Jesus' life and brutal murder helps bring a better understanding of Christianity when put on paper this way.

By the time one gets to the afterword where Shore takes pen back in hand to write of his "closet" conversion, readers should have a thorough understanding of God's plan for their life and a belly ache from laughing.

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John Shore August 31, 2007 at 9:01 am

Oh, wow. Cool. Let me know if you like it. Unless you don’t. Then lie to me.

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snowhite197 August 31, 2007 at 9:00 am

I got this book in the mail today! YAY!!!!

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