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One man's blessing is another man's curse; theology reinvented

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Mitch Albom's book "The First Phone Call From Heaven"

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Mitch Albom's genius lies in his ability to tell the stories of ordinary people extraordinarily.

Beyond the technical mastery of language and narrative organization, Mitch's characters live their lives before our eyes: being, becoming, doing, making, behaving, liking, loving, listening, praying and talking as most of us do. The more they resemble us, the more exactly will their reflections mirror our lives, the more plausible the comparison seems between the astronomer's telescopic use of mirrors and the mirrored imagery author Mitch Albom crafts in The First Phone Call From Heaven.

There remains but one difference: the astronomer sees beyond, Mitch Albom within.

If belief is the result of Man's realization that there is a higher power than he, faith is the enduring tenacity by which Man clings to his G-d belief in the face of life's many frightful and often dangerous challenges.Those capable of summoning selfless courage can do so because they have vanquished fear from within themselves-they are the only ones among all men who are truly free. The same freedom enables them to defend an unpopular idea against the ever-growing intolerance of the mob pushed to violence by the shrieking rhetoric of its leadership because somehow, somewhere in their hearts they know it to be true. From such intrepid individuals are born our heroes.

Yet, the depth of depravity to which ordinary men and women can sink leaves one speechless; higher education offers no guarantee against the actualization of every man's potential for doing evil.

Despite the clamoring of those who haven't the courage of their convictions, parishioner Katherine Yellin-Albom's archetypal heroine of faith-stands up in the middle of her pastor's Sunday morning sermon and alone announces she received a phone call from her beloved older sister Diane who had died two years before.

Afraid of the controversy that quickly envelopes Katherine, even as good and well-meaning a man as Pastor Warren of Harvest of Hope Baptist Church, cannot rise above the level of his own limitations. He squanders a precious opportunity much later in the story to become a true man of G-d by turning down Katherine's simple and, I think, sincere request to be of service by helping the church serve Thanksgiving supper to the hungry and hopeless.

Jealous guardians of the old faith struggle to keep a tightly fitted lid atop any theological pot threatening to boil over. In matters of doctrine, small men have always carried big sticks to defend their barren ideas.

Jealous and feeling threatened that today’s heavenly phone calls might become the “better news” of tomorrow’s Gospel, Catholic Church officials dispatch a local bishop and Father Carroll of Coldwater’s only Catholic parish to the home of Tess Rafferty, the only Roman Catholic among the town's "heavenly seven”, to investigate the authenticity of her claim that she, like Katherine, has received a "heavenly phone call" but from her dearly departed mother Ruth in whose blessed memory Tess invites the many folks encamped on her front lawn into her home for a hot and plentiful pancake breakfast. Recalling the practice of her mother to open their home to the hungry on Thanksgiving Day, Tess’ act of kindness contrasts sadly with Pastor Warren’s decision to turn down Katherine's offer of assistance.

Readers from backgrounds as diverse as those looking for a good “feel good read" to those more technical readers searching for language and stylistic hints to those students of the sociology of religious revelation, all these and the millions of "snuggle up with a warm blanket, a cup of tea and a kitten" readers will find an invaluable treasure in author Mitch Albom's The First Phone Call From Heaven.

Oh, before I forget, makes a great "stocking stuffer" too.

Alan D. Busch

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