Friday, October 23, 2009
Have a Little Faith? Mitch Albom's Latest Book Packs Some For Everyone
I’ve been excited since I finished reading last night at midnight to share with you today. Sorry about not getting Wisdom Wednesday up, but with my baby girl having a fever and needing her daddy’s love, holding and support, the best thing I had the opportunity to do was to read. I’d promised my friend Corby Pons that I would be reading a book he sent me in early October, but it took me a little longer.
However, once I started reading Mitch Albom’s book, Have a Little Faith, I found myself being unable to put it down. I finished reading the book in three days. I have to say a lot about this book and what it taught me about people.
First, I will tell you that for those of you that don’t know who Mitch Albom is, he is very familiar in my sports fan world. He appears quite often on The Sports Reporters on ESPN and is a guy whose writing I have great respect for in the sports world.
The truth is that with Have a Little Faith, he interwove three stories so well that I kept wanting to know more. The three main characters of the book are of great intrigue.
The book begins because of a request from Mitch’s Jewish priest, Albert “Reb” Lewis. The priest asked Mitch to do his eulogy at his funeral. I thought the same thing as Mitch originally. How would I tell my pastor “No” to such a request. I found it compelling that a man of God would ask someone outside his immediate family to talk at his funeral.
Mitch agreed to do the eulogy with one condition. He wanted to know the man beyond the pulpit. If you’ve ever wondered what men of the cloth do outside church, the book may be worth buying just for that. The inside on what Reb wore alone made me laugh. I used to think that it was once you got to a certain age that you wouldn’t care if your clothes matched or not, but I am finding that it is more about comfort. Even at 40, I am finding myself dressing mix-and- not matching.
Reb was not a hollow character. Mitch brought out the beauty of a man that didn’t always have success. Mitch was told about how Reb failed at what I would call “divinity school” once. He was convinced to go back and he thrived. One of my own pastors shared with me recently how he didn’t get accepted the first time to the school that he eventually graduated from. The common bond between the two made this section easier to read and also gave me what I saw as the first theme in the book.
Bob Carlisle once did a song, later done with a little variety by Donnie McClurkin (above), called We Fall Down. The song talks about how all of us have our moments of failing, but to remember not to give up. Reb tells us to try again. We need to follow that advice. Hebrews 11 talks about how even the great men of The Old Testament struggled, but were faithful. We will all fall down. It’s the courage to get back up that makes the mettle of a man.
Mitch waited until halfway through the book to talk about Reb’s wife, Sarah. Even though she is not one of the three main characters of the book., the second theme of the book came out during this section. While we may see Reb, and later Henry Covington, be successful, it was partially because the support system was so strong. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” you understand that the support of a loving and devoted are essential to that success.
We see Reb go through many different health trials in the eight years of the book. He fights off death several times and continues to offer insight to Mitch about his life. You get to see the interaction, several sermon notes and finally, the eulogy of a parishoner that loved his rabbi.
The second major character of Have a Little Faith is Henry Covington. After I moved to Florida in 2000, I began going to a men’s group and met one of my best friends while living in the Sunshine State, Tim Schmidt. He and I were talking one night and he said something strange to me at the time, but something I’d never forget. “Frank, you and I are different. I was lucky to grow up in a home that taught Christ to me from the beginning. I’ve never known what it’s like to be without my faith, but you lived a different life before coming to Christ. Sometimes I wish I had so that I could be more understanding to some of the things you go through.” This is also the difference between Reb and Henry.
Henry did not come to the Lord until he was nearing thirty years old and he had lived quite a different life from Reb. Henry had suffered through alcohol and drug addictions. He even went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Henry ran from God until a night that he thought that he would be killed hiding behind garbage cans. He committed to Christ and we get briefed on how Henry arrived in Detroit and then how Henry and Mitch came together at the I Am My Brothers Keeper Ministry.
The great part of Henry’s story for me was the condition of the church that Henry gave his life to in service. A lot of us would like to believe that churches could never have ten foot holes in the roofs and the heat could be turned off because a church could no longer pay its bill. We can’t think of a suffering church here in America. The visions of perfect pews, awesome altars and a sound system that can carry a man of God’s voice to the rafters sometimes put us in an unreal world. We stop having church to be entertained and comfortable.
I personally cannot picture having a service under a small tent inside a church building. If you’re my age or older, you’ve probably seen a tent revival or two. But those are outside under blue skies and not because the temperature is below freezing in the sanctuary.
The story of Henry though takes on an interesting theme that I think all of us who did not grow up religious. We are often looked at skeptically by those that have seen our lives before salvation and also by those that have been along for most of the ride for their entire lives. It is like we could not possibly make a mark on the religious world because we were “worse” sinners. However, for those of us that suffer that persecution, we need look no further than the Apostle Paul to see how a sinner redeems that life with a life after salvation.
Mitch makes a great point that these acts after salvation don’t get us into heaven with a story at Henry’s house that shares the fear of doubt that all of us go through wondering if we are good enough to get into heaven. Henry, even with everything he had done at I Am My Brothers Keeper felt that it might not be adequate to get a pass to heaven.
Mitch does a good job of explaining how the people of both ministries in the book are changed. While there is a much deeper look with Henry’s story at people like Cass, Mitch shows something that is vital in the belief in God. Regardless of which division of Christianity/Judaism that we are in, it is a strong belief in God that carries us. It is not because the Jews or the Christians corner the market on heaven entrance. The story of Reb walking hand in hand with the Catholic priest to produce unity of the churches in that New Jersey area helped us understand that God wants us on the same team.
By this, I am not saying that all religions take us to the same place, but if there is a common belief in The One True God, why can’t we manage to get along here on earth. That is what is produced by the stories of Reb and Henry. Seeing I Am My Brothers Keeper celebrating toward the end of the book with the heat restored and the clothes and other donations warmed not just the building, but the hearts of the people walking together in faith.
The third major character might not be thought of as a character, but he is. It is Mitch himself. In the final pages of the book, Mitch shares that he was now comfortable in his faith. It wasn’t always like that. You could see by the questions that Mitch asked Reb and how Mitch reacted to the events at I Am My Brothers Keeper, that God grew him as the book unfolded.
You could see that Mitch was like many of us in the beginning of the book. He was a pew filling observer. He watched the show and was entertained and went back to his life as a sports writer. But as the book progressed, you saw the heart change. He began to see things that God was teaching him walking and talking with these great men. Mitch questioned much like we do as we grow in our faith as disciples of Christ.
My pastor, Van Brooks, related a story to me that as we grow, we never know what point on the scale that we are at. As we open our hearts and take in what a person says to us, we might start at -10 on the scale. The first conversation might only move us to -9. Maybe five or six conversations down the road, a month or years, we might finally get to 0, which is salvation or acceptance of God. As God and others continue to put seeds of growth into our lives, we go into the positive numbers and bloom as people under God. I sincerely believe that is the journey Mitch took in the eight years of writing the book. He was probably closer to 0, but kept adding to his growth as the book formed.
The finish of the book was strong. Mitch came out of the experience with something very great. A file of Reb’s about God. He realized one of the greatest gifts as he opened the file. I’ll quote his words from pages 246-47.
“Because there, inside the file, were hundreds of articles, clippings and notes for sermons, all about God, with arrows and questions and scribbling in the Reb’s handwriting. And it hit me, finally, that this was the whole point of my time with the Reb and Henry: not the conclusion, but the search, the study, the journey to belief. You can’t fit the Lord in a box. But you can gather stories, tradition, wisdom, and in time, you needn’t lower the shelf; God is already nearer to thee.”
The book is about gaining that understanding in the stories that we call life, we grow closer to God, whatever denomination we are. This isn’t just a book for the Jews, for the Baptists, for the Pentecostals, but a book for all of us. It is an intertwining of three men and how their journeys grew them. If we read carefully and think, the journeys might just grow us.
In closing, I want to share a couple other things with you. If you want to know more about Mitch, or Have a Little Faith, head on over to Mitch’s website, at http://mitchalbom.com.
Also, Mitch is coming close to my area next week. I’d personally love to go down to St. Louis and meet him. If you want to as well, Mitch will be sharing at the Congregation Shaare Emeth, Thursday, October 29. The Congregation Shaare Emeth is located at 11645 Ladue Road in Creve Coeur, Missouri. There is no charge, but you can make donations at the door. There is also a request to bring a non-perishable food item, the proceeds going St. John’s Community Food Pantry and the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. The event begins at 7:30 pm.
I love you guys!