If This Is Heaven Show Me Hell by James Cates

If This Is Heaven Show Me Hell

Devotions for the Rest of Us
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Cates (The Doorway to Hope, 2015, etc.) offers a book of devotions for practical Christians.

For some people, Christianity can often feel like a belief system that’s suitable only for the sanitized world of Sunday church pews; elsewhere, where life’s problems are messier than those found in homilies, faith can seem less applicable. Cates attempts to remedy that here in a book of devotions for Christians who are already acquainted with the grit of the wider world. These pieces, he says, are “meant to startle the reader from complacency, creating dialogues with aspects of ourselves and those we love that are controversial. In doing so, they are also meant to begin the process of healing.” Divided into sections on “Love,” “Diversity,” “Morality,” “Hope,” and “Holy Days,” the devotions are intended to be read one per week throughout the year. Each contains a “dialogue” or story followed by a passage from Scripture and a concluding discussion section that ties them together. Cates draws the stories generally from his own life, including his work as a therapist for troubled adolescents. Many are anecdotes about various people whom he’s encountered, from domestic terrorists to Amish sewing-circle members to defrocked Catholic priests. Cates is a talented storyteller, and his dialogues often delve into strange and surprising places. It helps that he’s led a life that’s varied enough to include so many engaging scenarios; more impressive, however, is the way that Cates manages to tie his stories in with his thematic material, probing the liminal spaces in which faith, theology, and human flaws sit uneasily beside one another: “I once heard ‘Amazing Grace’ sung at a Klan rally,” he recalls in one devotion, “to accompany the burning of three crosses. It occurred to me that God does love these people, regardless. It also occurred to me that I’m awfully glad I’m not God.” Readers seeking a less dogmatic, more empathetic discussion of Christianity—one truly concerned with the downtrodden, the marginalized, the needy, and the dispossessed—will find much of interest here. He writes about “those who have slashed their own raw edges into the psyches and live with these scars,” and his audience will likely include those who are similarly marked.

A thoughtful, bighearted book of inspirational stories.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5151-5320-7
Page count: 204pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2016


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