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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Best this month

B O O K S
Wrestling With Grace: A Spirituality for the Rough Edges
of Life by Robert Corin Morris, an Episcopal priest who is the executive director of a community learning center in Summit, N.J., is a helpful volume filled with concrete spiritual practices that can be done amid everyday pressures. The author's familiarity with Buddhist mind training and Jewish ritual makes this a fine resource for Christians who want to expand their set of spiritual resources. He proves that it's possible to remain true to his tradition while learning from others.

Morris emphasizes the importance of being receptive to God's grace that infuses all of our experiences with meaning — even those that are negative and toxic. One of his most enlightening observations comes in the discussion of repentance as "going beyond your [present] state of mind." It requires turning away from self-preoccupation and an ego-driven agenda to bring our mind in alignment with Christ's. We like a motto that Morris coined for pesky moments of spiritual immaturity: "There's no situation so bad that with a little effort we cannot make it a lot worse." This user-friendly volume filled with colorful personal anecdotes succeeds in its goal of helping us cultivate a habitual receptivity to grace (Upper Room Books).

M O V I E S
Levity, written and directed
by Ed Solomon, is a parabolic movie on the difficult theme of forgiveness. Manual Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton) has served 22 years in prison for the murder of a 16-year-old clerk in a convenience store robbery. When a parole board commutes his sentence, there is part of Manual that wants to stay in prison. Back on the streets, he meets a man he knew years ago who wants him to team up in a robbery. Manual has other things on his mind — like making things right with the sister of the boy he killed, Adele Easley (Holly Hunter).

By chance, Manual lands a job as a custodian with Miles Evans (Morgan Freeman), a preacher who runs a community center opposite a popular dance club. He becomes acquainted with Adele and tries to find the right moment to tell her who he is. But the moments slip away. She is a lonely woman who has been depleted by all the loss in her life. Now her son is running around with some violent youth and she fears he is in deep trouble.

Although Manual has little patience for religion, he knows he must seek forgiveness. This man of sorrows moves slowly in his efforts to bring a little light and comfort into Adele's precarious life. From Miles he also gets the assignment of working with neighborhood youth. On his own, he takes up the challenge of reaching Sofia (Kirsten Dunst), a self-destructive clubgoer addicted to booze. The drama depicts Manual as an outsider who moves through this urban milieu in silence and with a reluctance to put himself forward. And yet the path of forgiveness requires that he do so. Solomon has made a quirky film about a man who makes amends for his act of violence by serving others (Sony Pictures Classics, R — language).


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