Posts filed under 'Faith-Based/Religious Element'

“Mistaken Identity” by Don and Susie Van Ryn and Newell, Colleen and Whitney Cerek with Mark Tabb

I must have been in hiding in 2006 because I don’t remember this story from the news at all. However, it is so bizarre, the fact that it is true boggles the mind. I think you’ll race through this memoir of two families (despite the fact that the writing isn’t great) because your disbelief will keep you turning the pages.

Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryan were students at Taylor University, a small, Christian college with campuses in Michigan and Indiana. Both are victims of an accident that killed five of the six students in a school van. One girl, who lived, was thrown 50 feet from the accident and sustained traumatic brain injuries. She was identified as Laura Van Ryn by someone from the university. For five weeks, the Van Ryn family stayed with their daughter round the clock, helping her to recover. Until she wasn’t their daughter anymore. She was actually Whitney Cerek. Laura had died in the accident. Whitney had lived. Imagine the pain for both families—Whitney’s family had already had a funeral and was grieving, believing she was dead. Laura’s family was posting a regular blog on her progress. Now they needed to understand that she had never made it through the accident.

What sustains both families is their faith. In a world where such a situation just sings LAWSUIT, the families don’t lay blame and look to God to sustain them. The book includes many examples of others who are so moved by the families’ faith, that their own faith is renewed. You’ll enjoy this on many levels—the strangeness of the story, the dedication of both families. And if stories of faith inspire you, these families will renew your belief in the goodness that is possible in the worst of times.

February 12, 2009

“And You Invited Me In” by Cheryl Moss Tyler

I’m writing a blurb on this novel not because it’s got terrific writing, but because the story is one I’ve wanted to read—or at least see available—for a long time. I’ve often thought about the moral dilemma it presents and how various parties would react.

One of the protagonists, Alex Marshall, is a gay man dying of AIDS in 1994. In the 1980s, as a young man, he ran away from home and his community of fundamentalist Christians in Hallton, Wisconsin because he couldn’t face them and the truth about himself. After a period of wildness, he settles down with his partner, Scott, and becomes a lawyer who is active in the gay community. Other than at his father’s funeral, he hasn’t seen his family members since he left for Atlanta.

Annie Whitley, another of the book’s protagonists, is Alex’s sister. She’s shocked when he calls her out of the blue, and asks her to care for him as he is dying of AIDS. Her church and community hold a stance of keeping away from bad influences—and they regard Alex as just that. Yet, Annie had always loved her brother and believes that a Christian should have unconditional love for others. With this in mind, her husband encourages her to go care for Alex.

The novel details Annie’s discomfort in living with a gay couple and the gay couple’s discomfort in living with someone who judges them as sinners bound for hell. Both parties soon recognize how important they are to one another, how much they love one another. With this, Annie decides to bring both Scott and Alex back to Hallton. The community squares off—those who oppose this, believing the devil is taking over Annie’s goodness, and those who are there to support Annie, remembering how they loved Alex when he was young. And, of course, other secrets of the town’s most upstanding members start to come out.

So, this is a good story about opposing values and how people can accept one another without necessarily condoning one another’s behavior. (FYI—there’s nothing in here that’s beyond a PG-13 rating. Very mild stuff, intended for conservative Christians.) The one problem I had with the novel is that, frequently, the characters talked as though they were reading paragraphs from an essay. That is, they were just mouthpieces for the two philosophical points of view, and didn’t sound like real people. Overall, though, it’s worth reading as it deals with the basic Christian tenets of reconciliation and forgiveness.

January 8, 2009

“Same Kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent

Ms. G here at COHS recommended this book to me because it was so moving that she couldn’t put it down. It’s quite a tale—and I think you, too, will be moved to tears.

Author Ron Hall is married to a woman who cares so deeply for others that her story is pure inspiration to the reader. Debra Hall’s willingness to not only feed and clothe but befriend the homeless shows us what true faith can do—it knocks the patronizing ego right off the shelf and helps us see the real person we are connecting with. Debra’s faith is the force that lets her recognize Denver Moore as a man for whom God has big plans.

Denver was a homeless African-American who came to the Union Gospel Mission for meals, but who kept himself apart from others and trusted no one–with good reason. Denver grew up in the American South not only under Jim Crow laws, but as a sharecropper—which translates as a sort of modern slavery. He lived in a place that time left behind, where he works land he doesn’t own and owes money to ‘the man’ for bare essentials. He never went to school; being illiterate, there seems to be no escape for him from desperate poverty. (There’s a story of racism in the book that will chill your bones, but I don’t want to give away the whole book!)

Denver and other homeless people start referring to the Halls as “Mr. and Mrs. Tuesday” because they work at the homeless mission every Tuesday, unlike most folks who are just holiday volunteers. Soon Deborah is spending many days each week helping, organizing outing, and more. Denver’s faith is revived through Deborah’s actions.

When tragedy strikes the Halls, the tables turn and Denver’s friendship helps them keep their faith. As Denver says, using fishing as his metaphor, true friendship isn’t a catch-and-release program. It’s for keeps.

When your teacher asks you to read a biography or memoir, pick this one up and see how ordinary people overcome extraordinary obstacles.

December 4, 2008


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