Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Review: Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom, the best-selling author of Tuesdays With Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and a slew of other books, has a new non-fiction book coming out September 29: Have a Little Faith: A True Story. When one of his publicists emailed and asked me if I would be willing to read an advance copy and write reviews for my blog and Presbyterian Bloggers, I was flattered and agreed.

I haven’t read any of Albom’s books except Tuesdays With Morrie. There are a lot of parallels between Tuesdays With Morrie and Have A Little Faith. Albom wrote a memorable character study of his beloved professor in Morrie and he writes another excellent character study of his beloved Rabbi Albert Lewis. Albom develops a very close relationship with the “Reb” over several years after he agrees to the Reb’s request that he deliver the eulogy at his funeral and so visits with Lewis frequently in order to gather material for that purpose.

Albom’s first chapter “The Great Tradition of Running Away” will resonate with every religious leader or layperson who has ever said to God “Why me? Choose somebody else.” Although he professes to be mystified about the motive behind the rabbi’s request, it isn’t hard to conclude that the Reb wanted to have a well-known writer with a gift for characterization represent him at his service and to re-engage Albom in his Jewish faith.

Albom says that he was brought up in an observant Jewish home and studied his religion extensively, even leading youth groups while in college, until he graduated and, in his words, “pretty much walked off from it.” Lewis succeeds in both of his objectives--Albom includes the eulogy he delivered for the Reb in the book and it is truly memorable.

The story of the developing relationship between the author and the Reb is interwoven with the story of Henry Covington, an African American pastor in Detroit struggling with a poor minority congregation in the inner city and his own criminal past. Gradually the author comes to trust and respect the authenticity of Henry Covington’s faith and life and his need for atonement.

By far the stronger parts of the book are those that deal with Henry Lewis, the Reb. Albom shares a personal history, cultural, educational and religious affinity with him, so that is not surprising. I did not find the arrangement of the two different narratives helpful, but distracting, since almost every other chapter switched the focus. Sometimes two disparate narratives like these cannot be forced into one coherent whole.

Evangelism is a much-used and abused word in Christian circles these days. Have A Little Faith reinforces the proposition that true evangelism comes from developing relationships with others. As Albom said about Rabbi Lewis, “he had stirred up something in me that had been dormant for a long time. He was always celebrating what he called ‘our beautiful faith’...Maybe the faith didn’t mean that much to me, but it did to him, you could see how it put him at peace. I didn’t know many people at peace. So I kept coming...”

Or as the old saying goes, “preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.”

I’m sure the book will be well publicized. I’m told Mitch Albom is already booked on Dr. Phil, Good Morning America, Fox and Friends and other venues to talk about it. It will probably be a best-seller and many people will find the two men described in the book inspirational figures. When I finished the book, though, I was left wondering whether the author ultimately reclaimed his faith in the God of his fathers, or just found faith in the idea of faith.

UPDATE: I edited the post to reflect the shows Albom has confirmed bookings on. I'm told there is not yet a confirmation on the Oprah Show.

(Cross posted at Presbyterian Bloggers).


Presbyterian Gal said...

I loved "Tuesdays with Morrie" though I find his fiction writing to be overly sentimental and thin. I agree he's better writing about himself with others. This one looks worth a read. Thanks QG

James Davis said...

I enjoyed your review, especially your sharp question on whether Mitch has found faith in God, or just faith in faith. As you'll no doubt agree, faith is only as valid as its object.

One correction: You said, "By far the stronger parts of the book are those that deal with Henry Lewis, the Reb." I think you meant Albert Lewis. Henry was the first name of Pastor Covington.