In written messages to his infant son, a pastor dispenses spiritual advice and hard-won personal wisdom.
When his Julian was born, Ehlke did what many other parents wish they had: he started writing. In a series of entries, he mapped out the first year of his child’s life in prose, recording his joy at the miracle growing before him and articulating spiritual and personal insights. The result is this collection of letters to Julian that condenses a young father’s wisdom. Ehlke is a Lutheran pastor, so it is no surprise that many of these missives dwell on religious matters. Though he claims that they are not “letters in the forms of sermons,” many have a distinctly homiletic feel. In them, Ehlke meditates on biblical verses, explains the intricacies of Lutheran dogma and reflects on moments of spiritual revelation from his life. But the work is not only a religious guidebook; it is also an honest reflection on life’s vexing challenges. In moments of startling candor, Ehlke writes of the troubles he has endured—among them sexual abuse, traumatic injury, deadly illness and addiction—in the hope that Julian might be spared similar pain. Whether he is taking on theology or autobiography, Ehlke writes fluidly, and his speculative flights are astute but unpretentious. He dispenses wisdom humbly, as good fathers should. However, the organization of his volume can feel random. Though the order of his letters sometimes takes cues from the Christian liturgical calendar—an entry on Ash Wednesday, for instance, is written in mid-February—the connections that link one entry to the next are somewhat arbitrary. But the book is more diary than theological treatise, so such flexibility is understandable.
A minister’s open and honest love letter to his son.