The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Best this month

What Jesus Meant: The Beatitudes and a Meaningful Life
by Erik Kobell starts off with the following fireworks and keeps us on our toes through to the end: "The burning of houses of worship, the bombing of clinics, the shooting of children by children, the baiting of races, the vilification of immigrants, the gating of neighborhoods, all lead me to wonder if it is in our nature to always divide ourselves against ourselves. But if I sit awhile with the Beatitudes, I am taking a tonic for what ails my soul: their restorative powers remind me that not only does God speak a universal language of unconditional love, he expects us to do no less."

This soul-stirring volume examines eight pillars of "a life of faith in a world of doubt." Jesus shows us that the path of discipleship consists of meekness, empathy, righteousness, peace, persecution, purity, poverty and simplicity. Take a moment and let those codes of conduct sink into your consciousness. What do they all have in common? They go against the grain of contemporary culture. Jesus does not take the path of ease, and neither can those who follow him.

Kobell spruces up these meditations with quotations that hit the mark over and over again. His exploration of the Beatitudes is exceptional because it is infused with a deep respect for justice (Westminster John Knox Press, available from your local bookseller or www.amazon.com).

Bruce Almighty
is a comedy about God, human nature, power, love, miracles and opening the heart. Another comedy with religious themes? What is going on here? Long ago Christopher Fry wrote: "Comedy is an escape — not from truth but from despair: a narrow escape into faith. It believes in a universal cause for delight, even though knowledge of the cause is always twitched away from under us, which leaves us to rest in our own buoyancy."

Remember Oh, God!, the 1977 comedy about the assistant supermarket manager who is chosen to tell the world that the Creator cares and believes in human beings, and that everything will be fine if people do right by each other. Dear God from 1996 is about a cad who is turned into a caregiver while sorting letters to God at the post office. He inspires his co-workers to become "the God squad," dispensing joy to the hopeless and down-and-out. And Dogma from 1999 is a zany and unorthodox exploration of a woman's odyssey of faith. Here God as a woman has the last laugh.

Comedy is a wonderful vehicle for dealing with the messes made by human pride and selfishness. That certainly is the case in Bruce Almighty. Jim Carrey plays a TV reporter who blames God when his career doesn't go well. So God (Morgan Freeman) challenges him to take over for a week. At first, Bruce uses his divine powers for his own ends, but eventually he gets God's message: "Be a miracle." Director Tom Shadyac is a Christian, and he has made a funny film that touches on the mysteries of grace and spiritual transformation (Universal, PG-13 language, sexual content, some crude humor).


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