Why do you think Mitch was suspicious of Henry at first?
Mitch was initially suspicious of Henry because he seemed to be doing too much good for those around him, and to be content with absolutely no financial reward for it whatsoever. He also had trouble wholly believing in him because he was aware of his criminal past and thought that he must be playing some kind of "angle", possibly keeping donations, or operating a criminal activity behind the facade of the church. He may also have been unaware that he was making snap judgements or assumptions; since Henry did not look or behave exactly like a pastor is generallye expected to, it was hard for Mitch to trust that he was one. It is only after talking to Cass, and spending more time with Henry, that he realizes the pastor is completely genuine, and that he feels the work and kindness he is doing in his life now is what he owes to God for the wrongs that have gone before.
There are many similarities between the Rabbi and the Pastor, What are some of the key ones and how does Mitch come to realize them?
The most obvious and frankly mysterious similarity between Rabbi Albert and Pastor Henry is that they are both nicknamed "the Reb" by their closer "flock". This is a sign for Mitch that he is being guided in his journey to meet both men by a higher powere. Both men are incredibly gifted at giving a sermon, and are well known not just within their own church or community but outside of it as well. Their sermons are powerful and charismatic, and usually the reason that people come to worship with them in the first place. Another key similarity is that both men were raised by both parents in God-fearing, religious families, and both came from very poor backgrounds were there was little money for much at all, yet both of their father's believed in their sons wearing a good suit. Although their lives were spent very differently, both men felt like they should not be praised or rewarded for the incredible work they did, or the example they set, because they believed that the way they were living and leading was what they were supposed to be doing in the first place, and therefore they should not get a surfeit of "brownie points" for it.
Mitch starts his journey happy in his early decision to leave his faith behind him. How does his view change during his journey, and what changes it?
Rabbi Lewis cleverly guides Mitch along his journey without seeming to press or pressure him into reconsidering his decision to leave his faith behind. Mitch thought of his religion and its practise was something that he would leave in his youth, as he went out to become a "citizen of the world", and never really thought much of the decision or weighed up whether it had been a good one or not. In spending time with the Rabbi, and seeing how faith is really something that keeps the community together, he begins to realize that he has left behind something extremely important and traded it for something far less so. The Rabbi has kept up with everyone he ever taught at religious school or got to know as a member of the synagogue. He visits when people need it, he telephones, he keeps the community alive and each service, the community comes out to connect with something bigger than itself. He also reminds Mitch that he has been so busy looking in front of him to the next thing all of the time that he has forgotten how to look up. Mitch realizes that his friendships and communications are never in depth, and mostly consist of a few words in an email or a text message. He has forgotten how to live as part of a community, and forgotten how to rely on the lessons he was taught as a young man. In getting to know the Rabbi he also get to know himself again and realizes that his faith is far more important than he had realized.
I grew up quietly and without thought. My mom was a secretary at the Baptist church, and I led the worship team senior year of high school. My youth pastor was one of my best friends. I believed in God and my parents, my friends, and the four walls of my house. All things were within reach, simple and inspiring. And I told my girlfriend I wanted to be a writer.
She told me I was very smart and of course I’d be a writer. I wrote a rhyming 12-line poem over the course of three days, a maze of abstraction. I read it over and over until I had it memorized. In high school English, I dazed off reciting my poem in my head, the poem that would soon be recited by everyone in 12th-grade English across the country, once I settled on a publisher. Soon after, I began work on my first novel, a period piece about a 17th-century Huguenot family fleeing the Inquisition.
Eager to continue my spiritual journey, I went to a private Christian college in Oregon complete with a lifestyle contract. Freshman year, I met Frank, a lifelong philosopher. He was a couple rooms down from me. He asked me all sorts of wild questions I had never thought about before, like, “Well, why do you believe that?” Everything I said that year, Frank would ask me that question. Then I started asking myself that question about every thought I had. It was a sort of game, which most of the time sounded like this:
Why shouldn’t I have sex before I marry?
Because the Bible says it’s a sin.
Because it keeps you from Him.
Why doesn’t all sex keep you from Him?
Because premarital sex does not require any commitment.
Why do you need commitment?
Because sex is special.
Why do you think that?
Because it says so in the Bible.
Why do you believe the Bible?
Because it’s God’s word.
How do you know that?
Because it says it in there.
Well, I am speaking the words of God right now, do you believe me?
Because. . . .
The game generally started with a question, cycled through my beliefs, and ended with “because. . . .” Soon it was ending in just “. . . .”
I took a class called “The Problem of Religious Diversity” that quickly had me believing that just about any belief system could be true and that no one could prove anything. It never occurred to me until then that people who believed something other than Christianity had the same reason for believing their faith as I did for believing mine.
How about that?
I ran into an old Sunday school teacher sophomore year and told him I’d been thinking that maybe it’s not true that everyone who’s not a Baptist will go to Hell. He looked me straight in the eye with saintly gravity and said: “The Bible is very clear: if you believe that, you aren’t a Christian. In fact, if we were in the 17th century right now, you’d be burned at the stake.” I, of course, knew this from all the research I’d done for my novel. But the way he said it put me in a state of fear at first, then repentance, then confusion, and lastly anger. I rebelled from the religion that contained all the smallness of my childhood. I cursed my Baptist teacher, God and the novel, and fled to Russia for a study-abroad semester sponsored by a coalition of Christian colleges.
The first person I talked to there was Dan, a student at Grace College in Michigan. He immediately asked the last question I wanted to hear: “So what’s your faith look like?” I went cold. I wanted to bleat my usual Jesus-story and be done with it, but the ice on my ribs wouldn’t let me lie. I reluctantly collapsed and told him that honestly, I didn’t know anything anymore and nothing was real. Turns out, Dan was in the same place I was.
Together we raved and doubted and yelled and trembled all semester long. We felt the black blood of Dostoevsky and descended the dark stairs of Derrida and Sartre. Some nights, we would just sit across from each other and stare, estranged by the cold of a new, uncertain world. After one of these nights of existential fog, as I got up to go, I turned to Dan and said, “The only meaningful thing left to do in this world, it seems, is to sit quietly with a friend until dark and then say goodnight.”
Then, on a snow-gray Russian day, riding a packed bus, a song came on my iPod that froze me in time. In a sense, I’m still there on that bus listening to that song with watering eyes. It was a song called “Clouds” by As Cities Burn that said: “Is your god really God? / Is my god really God? / I think our god isn’t God / If he fits inside our heads.”
With the terrifying pull of rubber bands, I expanded beyond the length of the bus, grew from the street to the sky. Then I snapped and everything came undone. I resigned entirely. God won’t fit inside our heads, and if He does, we’re missing something. And I knew all I’d been waiting for was to know that to admit doubt was not to lose faith. A few simple lines of an Indie rock song pushed me to see hope amid uncertainty.
It snowed continually my last two weeks in Russia. I met Dan one morning at a small cafe, Biblioteca, where we drank bottomless black tea and watched the snow pile up on the street. He said he had prayed the night before. I said I was ready to step back into a church.
Our last Sunday in Moscow, we attended Mass, an Orthodox church, then a mosque. Dan said we were a Protestant service away from a monotheistic grand slam. At Mass, I wrote in my journal, “God, see that I’m trying.”
It was the first time I had prayed in more than a year.