My Brother’s Keeper–Film Review

Travis Fox, a soldier, returns to his home town after the death of his best friend, who was killed in an IED attack. Travis also lost his parents several years earlier in a tragic car accident. He suffers from PTSD and has lost his faith in God. Through the help of Tiffany, who runs a veteran’s ministry, and her pastor, his belief is restored, and he finds both love and a reason to continue living.

The film deals with some difficult issues, such as suicide, grief and gang involvement. Unfortunately, they are addressed in a way that is superficial and sugarcoated. Every problem is quickly resolved, and struggles are minimized. The characters are not well developed.

There are some theological issues for Lutherans as well. Travis is rebaptized by immersion, despite having been baptized as a child. During the church services portrayed, the congregation applauds at the end of the sermon! I don’t know if this is normal for some denominations, but I certainly haven’t observed it happening in a Lutheran setting.

VERDICT: 2 STARS. Predictable and unrealistic. It’s a feel-good Christian film, if that’s what you like.

For more Christian movies see:

Fatima — Movie Review

Overcomer–Movie Review

Unplanned — Movie Review

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger–Book Review

This is a book about loss and healing; forgiveness and acceptance; faith and pain. It’s the story of one summer in the life of a young teenage boy named Frank– a summer when several people die violent deaths, one of them his older sister, Ariel. This death shatters the family and the community in which they live. The mystery of who is responsible slowly unravels until Frank and his younger brother Jake discover the truth. Secrets are revealed and painful growth results.

Ordinary Grace: A Novel

Central to the story is Frank’s father, a Methodist minister, whose calm faith holds his family together as they navigate the process of grief. Even in the worst moments of despair, Frank and his family encounter small, “ordinary” miracles that lead them to God’s grace. Through the love of family and friends, God’s truth expressed in a sermon, the simple act of giving thanks, they begin to release their hurt and anger and continue living.

Well written and realistic, this book will likely become a favorite. It’s an easy read, but one that will make you grapple with important issues of the faith.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I recommend it.

For more book reviews of fiction see:

Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane–Book Review

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton–Book Review

Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane–Book Review

I ordered this book through Bookbub (www.bookbub.com) simply because it was free, and I wasn’t at all sure I would like it. On the surface it’s a formula romance with a predictable plot. *** SPOILER ALERT*** Young man and young woman get off to a rocky start but end up finding true love in one another. The frightening experience of surviving a tornado together quickly deepens their feelings and through the tragic loss of a friend, they learn valuable life lessons and grow in their Christian faith.

Beyond the Storm (Quilts of Love Series Book 1)

Beyond the Storm is part of the Quilts of Love Series, and in my mind, the quilting theme helped to raise it a bit above the usual Christian romance novel. The main character, Abigail, has an aunt who owns a quilting shop. After the tornado, and the tragic death of Danny, a dear, Christian friend, Aunt Selma encourages the survivors to create a quilt in his memory. The center piece contains a piece of his Bible cover, and each person whose life he touched made a square to represent what he meant to them. The quilt was bordered with scraps found during cleanup of the wreckage. I thought this was a lovely idea, although I’m not a gifted crafter and could never do it myself. Here’s a quote that explains the metaphor:

I love to see the ways the Lord finds to use us. Each of us, like Danny ….is the center of our own quilt. Our lives are made up of bits and pieces, some good, some bad. And isn’t it amazing how God, in His infinite wisdom can use our mistakes and what we might consider chaos, to His glory.”

There are also discussion questions at the end, so this wouldn’t be a bad book club pick.

VERDICT: 3 STARS. Not deep, but better than the average Christian romance..

For more Christian novels see:

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

The Purple Nightgown by A. D. Lawrence–Book Review

pearl in the sand by Tessa Afshar–Book Review

Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren–Book Review

Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who work, or watch, or weep this night;
and give Your Angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, give rest to the weary.
Sustain the dying, calm the suffering,
and pity the distressed;
all for Your love’s sake, O Christ our Redeemer.
Amen.
– Book of Common Prayer

Author Tish Warren uses the nighttime prayer from the Service of Compline to walk through the dark times we all experience. Her own dark year included two miscarriages, a move to a new city, and the unexpected death of her father. In a time of grief and vulnerability, repeating this prayer was a comfort and a source of strength. Although some people scoff at liturgical prayers (other peoples’ prayers) and consider them less authentic, Ms. Warren makes a case for using them. She says:

“During that difficult year, I didn’t know how to hold to both God and the awful reality of human vulnerability. What I found was the prayers and practices of the church that allowed me to hold to –or rather to be held by–God when little else seemed sturdy, to hold to the Christian story even when I found no satisfying answers.”

Sponsored Ad - Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep

Each chapter is centered around one section of the prayer– for example, “Keep Watch, ” “Those Who Weep,” “Bless the Dying.” This leads to an examination of the theological struggle we often face, how can God be all-powerful even as horrible things happen to us and to the world?” This “problem of pain” is called theodicy, and it often leads to a true crisis of faith.

There is no pat answer. God does not always rescue us. In the end, Tish Warren quotes this statement from Tim Keller:

“If you ask …. Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?… and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us.”

There are discussion questions and some suggested practices at the end. This could easily be used for journaling, or as a small group resource.

You can read more about Tish Harrison Warren and find a number of versions of the Compline service at tishharrisonwarren.com.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I’m a liturgical person, so it really resonated with me.

For more about grief see these posts:

The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell–Book Review

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

For more about the liturgy see:

Liturgy as Prayer

Learning from the Liturgy

Precious Lord Take My Hand

For some reason this gospel song has been running through my mind lately, so I thought I would share. It was born out of the grief by Tommy Dorsey(not the band leader, but a jazz pianist) in 1932, following the tragic death of his wife and infant son. Here is his own account of how he wrote it:

Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. . . .

“. . . In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. . . .

“When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. . .

“But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.”

For more gospel music, see these posts:

Because He Lives

In the Garden

Words of Life

The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell–Book Review

Angela Williams Gorrell was hired by Yale University to work on the Theology of Joy and the God Life project.  Shortly thereafter, she experienced three traumatic deaths of people close to her:  her cousin’s husband committed suicide;  her young adult nephew died suddenly due to a cardiac arrest;  her father died after years of opioid addiction.  Research and teaching about joy became difficult.  This was certainly an opportunity to grow through challenging circumstances!

Through volunteering to lead Bible studies in a women’s prison, Angela begins to see that joy and sorrow, grief and rejoicing can coexist. Working with these women who are imprisoned, who often have suicidal thoughts, who struggle with addiction, she still notices their moments of real joy.

“Because joy is God, because it is what you feel while being ministered to, it can always find you.”

It is possible to be in the midst of grief, and at the same time experience the joy of looking forward in hope.  Joy seemed to flow from loving relationships, and despair from loneliness and isolation.

“Joy is a counteragent to despair because it can be sustained and sustain us, even when standing right next to suffering.”

She compares times of mourning to the Saturday before Easter.  It is a time of in between. 

“The majority of the time in our lives is spent living on Saturday, in the space between death on Friday and the indescribably joy of Sunday morning.”

This memoir-like book will appeal to anyone dealing with the challenges of grief, especially grief related to a tragic or unexpected death.  It is an open and honest exploration of one person’s journey out of deep sorrow.  At the end there is an epilogue that includes resources for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, or addiction.  There is also some current information about work that is being done to  educate people about these issues and prevent untimely deaths.

The author ends by saying:

“I hope you will join in the important work of reducing suicide, healing addiction, and changing the prison system. I hope you will create and nurture a community that focuses on understanding, recalling, and being open to joy.”

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  I read it in one day.

For more on the topic of grief see:

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

I Still Believe–Movie Review

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop–Book Review

New Month/New Theme

It took me a while to come up with a new theme for this month — a lot has been covered in the past four years!  However, we’ve started a new study in our adult Sunday School class, and the topic is:  Growing Through Life’s Challenges.  Here are some of the things we’ll be talking about.  They’re experiences we all face:

  • Rejection
  • Overwhelming responsibilities
  • Loss and Grief
  • Being in the middle
  • Sin
  • Depression and Anger
  • Pressure to compromise
  • Perplexing situations
  • Failure
  • Weakness

This month I’ll be reading, discussing and praying about these kinds of difficulties.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride, and maybe add some of your own insights!

God loves you and so do I!

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

Liz Tichenor, a young Episcopal priest, lost her infant son to an undetected congenital abnormality when he was only forty days old.  Less than a year before this tragic event, her alcoholic mother committed suicide.  This is the story of her navigation through grief, pain, guilt, and surrender to God, and it is ruthlessly honest.

Your grief may not be the same, and your way of coping may not be the same, but anyone who has lived through the death of loved ones will be able to identify with Liz in her struggle to understand and accept.  She managed through physical activity, the support of friends, meaningful rituals and walking through the church year.  The book ends during Lent and Easter, and Liz is able to connect her suffering with the suffering of Christ and His mother, Mary, who lost her son, too.

You’ll learn a lot about what not to say when talking to grieving friends.  Many well-intentoned responses  — “your child is now an angel in heaven” or “lucky you are young, you can have more children” simply caused Liz more pain and even anger.  There is no pat answer that comforts when a dearly loved family member dies.  The best we can say is, “this is terrible, and I’m here for you.”

One thing that bothered me about the book was the language of Liz and some of her friends.  Yes, I’m a pastor’s wife so I know we are people, too, and sometimes in the heat of the moment we say things that we shouldn’t.  However, to hear a priest use words that are crude and in some cases take God’s name in vain is unacceptable to me, particularly in a book.  This could have been easily edited out.  Am I hopelessly old-fashioned?  Maybe so.

VERDICT:  4 STARS.  Other than the occasional bad language, it was a read that captured and kept my attention, and those who are grieving will find it both realistic and hopeful.

Remember Me by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review

Remember Me is the sequel to Sharon Garlough Brown’s novel, Shades of Light (Shades of Light}.  It continues the story of Wren as she struggles to deal with anxiety, depression and grieves over the death of her closest friend, Casey.  Wren is helped in her journey by her Aunt Kit, a spiritual director, who has experienced similar issues in the her own past.  Together, thorough art, letters, and scripture, they walk in the steps of Jesus in the passion story and come to a better understanding of their own grief and mourning.

At the back of this novella, there are eight meditations along with artwork, so that you can move through the journey to the cross on your own.  They are perfect for meditation, prayer, and journaling, and could even be used with a small group. This would be an excellent Lenten discipline to undertake, alone or with a friend!

One idea I especially liked was the idea of writing an obituary to mark a loss in your life.  This might involve death, but there are many other ways we experience loss– a friend moves away, our children grow up and leave home, we lose a job.  It’s important to name and grieve these changes before we move on.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  This is a great little book which will help and comfort anyone experiencing grief.  Highly recommended.

For other books by Sharon Garlough Brown see:

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

A Book about Surrender

An Extra Mile by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

A Book about Surrender

Barefoot, by Sharon Garlough Brown is the third in her Sensible Shoes series.  The subtitle is:  A Story of Surrendering to God.  In this book,  readers follow the same four women already introduced as they navigate a variety of losses.

It’s a story about death, but not only physical death.  Relationships also die, jobs end, children grow up.  Even wonderful new experiences such as getting married or having a baby, involve loss.  We may lose some privacy or independence.  We may have to revise the image we have of ourselves.  We need to make compromises.  We find we must die to the person we were before.  It’s important for each of us to name and grieve our losses as we practice discerning and surrendering to God’s will for our life.

Every reader will find some situation with which they can identify, if not right now, then in the past.  The characters illustrate the struggle involved in spiritual growth, as they face and deal with the same sinful tendencies again and again in different ways.  Progress is often slow, but easier with friends who understand, pray and share the journey.

Sprinkled throughout the book are spiritual exercises which include a bible reading, questions for personal reflection and for group reflection.  I have been using them for journaling, but the book would also be well-suited to read and study with a book club or study group.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  This series just gets better and better!  Try to read them in order if you can — here are the first two:

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review