Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom
THE ENTERTAINMENT CRITIC BOOK REVIEW, BY JAMES MYERS
HAVE A LITTLE FAITH: A TRUE STORY
By Mitch Albom
Published by: Hyperion
Publication Date: September, 2009
Four Star Rating ****
“Will you do my eulogy?”
I don’t understand, I said.
“My eulogy?” The old man asked again. “When I’m gone.” His eyes blinked from behind his glasses. His neatly trimmed beard was grey, and he stood slightly stooped.
“Are you dying?” I asked.
“Not yet.” He said, grinning.
“Because I think you would be a good choice. And I think when the time comes, you will know what to say.”
Picture the most pious man you know. Your priest. Your pastor. You rabbi. Your imam. Now picture him tapping you on the shoulder and asking you to say good-bye to the world on his behalf.
Picture the man who sends people off to heaven, asking you for his send-off to heaven.
“So?” he said. Would you be comfortable with that?”
“In the beginning, there was another question.
“Will you save me Jesus?”
The man was holding a shotgun. He hid behind trash cans in front of a Brooklyn row house. It was late at night. His wife and baby daughter were crying. He watched for cars coming down his block, certain the next set of headlights would be his killers.
“Will you save me, Jesus? He asked, trembling. “If I promise to give myself to you, will you save me tonight?”
Picture the most pious man you know. Your priest. Your pastor. You rabbi. Your imam. Now picture him in dirty clothes, a shotgun in his hand, begging for salvation from behind a set of trash cans.
Picture the man who sends people off to heaven, begging not to be sent to hell.
“Please, Lord, “he whispered. “If I promise. . .”’ Have a Little Faith, pp. 1-2.
Mitch Albom writes emotionally powerful little books that always leave you wanting to read more. A sportswriter from Detroit, Michigan, his heart tugging books are a surprise to those of us who have read his cold, calculating sports articles or seen his razor sharp analysis of sporting events on ESPN. The author of For One More Day, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Fab Five and Bo, he is best known for his masterpiece in human studies and the philosophy of death with his book, Tuesdays With Morrie. Tuesdays is thought to be his best work; well it was until this recent best selling true story was published, Have a Little Faith. By far and away this is the most fascinating prose that Albom has penned; a pure page turning joy from the first page to the last page. He covers the stories of two uniquely religious men; Albert Lewis, his old Jewish Rabbi and Henry Covington, a Detroit Evangelist, who is a convict gone good. The two story lines are separate but as Albom points out there are parallels in the nature of belief and the sacrifices these men make in serving their flocks.
Lewis is a Rabbi that is a master performer on Sundays; a man who can deliver a message with gusto; a happy, well-adjusted man who while Albom was a child, was the dominant figure in his synagogue. He has requested that Mitch write his eulogy and in return the two agree that meetings and discussions will be necessary. Albom’s meetings turn into masterful insights into the psyche of a deeply spiritual, singing, well-adjusted man who has moved seamlessly into the background of his group without loosing his kind and gentle nature. Beyond a writing assignment, a friendship develops, and fortunately for us as readers a deep vision into the soul of a man who at one time was asked to leave the seminary, but became a visionary due to his ability to communicate and make a difference. This affectionate tale of his unique ability to communicate, accept, and by his father like faith, overcome obstacles, and ultimately reinforce the faith of his congregation is a moving, inspirational tale. Albom’s book is a true tribute to man who as Albom says makes you feel like you are “in love with hope.” Albom’s ability to probe the human condition and find answers like with Morrie are razor-sharp here: “I laughed and he laughed, and he bounced his palms on his thighs and our noise filled the house. And I think, at that moment, we could have been anywhere, anybody, any culture, any faith- a teacher and a student exploring what life is all about and delighting in the discovery.”
A book about Lewis alone would have cemented Albom’s reputation as a great psychological writer; a book that contrasts religious leaders and emphasizes the tremendous faith they have in their interactions with others makes Little Faith a truly remarkable book. Covington, on the other hand took a radically different path to becoming a religious leader. A drug dealer and substance abuser, his initial conversion came while he was in prison. His prayers to be ‘saved’ are answered on several occasions in this book before it finally takes. His conversion is a sufficiently interesting saga in itself; his ministry is the stuff that Albom turns into magic. He runs a church in downtown Detroit, called the I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministry. His flock is a group of homeless people and his church is an old dilapidated building, with no heat or lights and a huge whole in the roof. Nonetheless, Henry continues to minister to his group of converts. Albom does what any good investigative reporter does; he checks this guy and his group out. Persuaded that they are legit, he begins to write about Henry and his group, the old church and the hole in the roof, the blue tarp covering the hole. Albom’s writing leads to donations and the book makes a point of telling us the effect that this has on this group of people. This seems to be an outgrowth of Albom’s experience with his beloved Reb, the gift of teaching and motivating people to act and do the right thing.
This is a great book and a natural Christmas gift. Albom’s continual exploration into the human condition and the positive results he gets are a testament to his first rate skills as a writer. If this book does not move you, check your pulse; you may be dead. I love Mitch’s books. Better pick up two at the store: one to give as a gift, and one for you. Whoever you buy this book for is not going to lend it back to you to read.