A Christian devotional offers a Southerner’s ruminations.
The latest book from Cunningham (River Ruckus, Bloody Bay, 2014, etc.) is an old-fashioned faith devotional buttressed by the author’s stories about living in the American South. He grew up in metropolitan Mobile, sometimes visited his grandparents in rural Alabama, and eventually graduated from the University of Alabama. As a result, he has a broad swath of colorful life experiences on which to draw in this slim work of Scripture lessons clothed in various personal reflections. In each of the 27 quick chapters (generally two or three pages), Cunningham opens with a Bible quotation, proceeds to a personal anecdote of some kind, links that vignette to a biblical story, offers a prayer specifically keyed to the lesson conveyed, provides a Bible reflection, includes relevant Scriptural passages, and leaves a space for readers to make notes. For instance, he opens one chapter with memories of the years he waited to receive an upright piano that had been a legacy from a beloved grandmother, connects them to the far greater number of years Abraham waited for God to fulfill his promises, and supplies a straightforward homily: “We have no reason to doubt God. He promises us that if we, like Abraham, wait patiently and continue in faith, we’ll obtain our inheritance.” When Cunningham remembers visiting the Greater Gulf State Fair House of Mirrors as a child, he elaborates: Mirrors “cannot show our spiritual condition. God’s perfect spiritual mirror, His Word, does that. Every time we read it, we observe our spiritual reflection.”
There’s a very inviting, back-to-basics, personal aspect to the author’s approach here, and he works this element with careful but unobtrusive skill. This is effectively balanced with some standard lessons from Scriptures, delivered to his readers in intimate terms, almost always with a distinctly Southern flair. “Lot’s experience teaches us an important lesson: don’t flirt with sin, nor even go near it,” he writes about the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Sure, it may appear attractive on the outside, all shiny and full of fun, like a brand new pickup truck or a freshly painted barn where folks inside are having a lively hoedown.” But some of these traditional readings lead to familiar problems found in this genre, as with the lesson Cunningham learned from his diabetes diagnosis: “The Lord took my diabetes curse and turned it into a blessing. Look for His blessing in every situation. Our God is good.” (A natural question is of course why would a benevolent God allow such a diagnosis—or create diabetes in the first place.) But the simple and direct faith outlined in these pungent meditations smooths out such doctrinal qualms and molds the guide’s narrative into a generally heartwarming portrait of religious devotion.
A forthright and affecting series of autobiographical sketches of Christian life.