Have a Little Faith (Albom)

Have a Little Faith: A True Story
Mitch Albom, 2009
Hyperion Books
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780786868728

What if our beliefs were not what divided us, but what pulled us together?

In Have a Little Faith, Mitch Albom offers a beautifully written story of a remarkable eight year journey between two worlds — two men, two faiths, two communities — that will inspire readers everywhere.

Albom’s first nonfiction book since Tuesdays with Morrie was published twelve years ago, Have A Little Faith begins with an unusual request: an 82-year-old rabbi from Albom’s old hometown asks him to deliver his eulogy.

Feeling unworthy, Albom insists on understanding the man better, which throws him back into a world of faith he’d left years ago. Meanwhile, closer to his current home, Albom becomes involved with a Detroit pastor — a reformed drug dealer and convict — who preaches to the poor and homeless in a decaying church with a hole in its roof.

Moving between their worlds, Christian and Jewish, African-American and white, impoverished and well-to-do, Mitch observes how these very different men employ faith similarly in fighting for survival: the older, suburban rabbi, embracing it as death approaches; the younger, inner-city pastor relying on it to keep himself and his church afloat.

As America struggles with hard times and people turn more to their beliefs, Mitch and the two men of God explore issues that perplex modern man: how to endure when difficult things happen; what heaven is; intermarriage; forgiveness; doubting God; and the importance of faith in trying times. Although the texts, prayers and histories are different, Albom begins to realize a striking unity between the two worlds — and indeed, between beliefs everywhere.

In the end, as the rabbi nears death and a harsh winter threatens the pastor’s wobbly church, Albom sadly fulfills the last request and writes the eulogy. And he finally understands what both men had been teaching all along: the profound comfort of believing in something bigger than yourself.

Have a Little Faith is a book about a life’s purpose; about losing belief and finding it again; about the divine spark inside us all. It is one man’s journey, but it is everyone’s story. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio 
Birth—May 23, 1958
Raised—Oaklyn, New Jersey
Education—B.A., Brandeis University; M.J., Columbia
  University; M.B.A., Columbia University
Currently—lives in Detroit, Michigan

Mitchell David "Mitch" Albom is an American best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, dramatist, radio, television broadcaster and musician. His books have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Having achieved national recognition for sports writing in the earlier part of his career, he is perhaps best known for the inspirational stories and themes that weave through his books, plays and films.

Early life
Mitch Albom was born May 23, 1958 in Passaic, New Jersey. He lived in Buffalo for a little bit but then settled in Oaklyn, New Jersey which is close to Philadelphia. He grew up in a small, middle-class neighborhood from which most people never left. Mitch was once quoted as saying that his parents were very supportive and always used to say, “Don’t expect your life to finish here. There’s a big world out there. Go out and see it.”

His older sister, younger brother and he himself, all took that message to heart and traveled extensively, His siblings are currently settled in Europe. Albom once mentioned that how his parents presently say, “Great. All our kids went and saw the world and now no one comes home to have dinner on Sundays.”

Sports journalism
While living in New York, Albom developed an interest in journalism. Supporting himself by working nights in the music industry, he began to write during the day for the Queens Tribune, a weekly newspaper in Flushing, New York. His work there helped earn him entry into the Graduate School of Journalism. During his time there, to help pay his tuition he took work as a babysitter. In addition to nighttime piano playing, Albom took a part-time job with SPORT magazine.

Upon graduation, he freelanced in that field for publications such as Sports Illustrated, GEO, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and covered several Olympic sports events in Europe, paying his own way for travel and selling articles once he was there. In 1983, he was hired as a full-time feature writer for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel, and eventually promoted to columnist. In 1985, having won that year’s Associated Press Sports Editors award for best Sports News Story, Albom was hired as lead sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

During his years in Detroit he became one of the most award-winning sports writers of his era; he was named best sports columnist in the nation a record 13 times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, and won best feature writing honors from that same organization a record seven times. No other writer has received the award more than once.

He has won more than 200 other writing honors from organizations including the National Headliner Awards, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, and National Association of Black Journalists. In 2010, Albom was awarded the APSE's Red Smith Award for lifetime achievement, presented at the annual APSE convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of his columns have been collected into a series of four anthologies—the Live Albom books—published from 1988-1995.

Sports books
Albom's first non-anthology book was Bo: Life, Laughs, and the Lessons of a College Football Legend (1998), an autobiography of football coach Bo Schembechler co-written with the coach. The book became Albom's first New York Times bestseller.

Albom's next book was Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, The American Dream (1993), a look into the starters on the University of Michigan men's basketball team who, as freshman, reached the NCAA championship game in 1992 and again as sophomores in 1993. The book also became a New York Times bestseller.

Tuesdays with Morrie
Albom's breakthrough book came about after a friend of his viewed Morrie Schwartz's interview with Ted Koppel on ABC News Nightline in 1995, in which Schwartz, a sociology professor, spoke about living and dying with a terminal disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease).

Albom, who had been close with Schwartz during his college years at Brandeis, felt guilty about not keeping in touch so he reconnected with his former professor, visiting him in suburban Boston and eventually coming every Tuesday for discussions about life and death. Albom, seeking a way to pay for Schwartz's medical bills, sought out a publisher for a book about their visits. Although rejected by numerous publishing houses, the idea was accepted by Doubleday shortly before Schwartz's death, and Albom was able to fulfill his wish to pay off Schwartz's bills.

The book, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) is a small volume that chronicles Albom's time spent with his professor. The initial printing was 20,000 copies. Word of mouth grew the book sales slowly and a brief appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" nudged the book onto the New York Times bestseller's list in October 1997. It steadily climbed, reaching the No. 1 position six months later. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 205 weeks. One of the top selling memoirs of all time, Tuesdays With Morrie has sold over 14 million copies and been translated into 41 languages.

Oprah Winfrey produced a television movie adaptation by the same name for ABC, starring Hank Azaria as Albom and Jack Lemmon as Morrie. It was the most-watched TV movie of 1999 and won four Emmy Awards. A two-man theater play was later co-authored by Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and opened Off Broadway in the fall of 2001, starring Alvin Epstein as Morrie and Jon Tenney as Albom.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Albom's next foray was in fiction with The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003). The book was a fast success and again launched Albom onto the New York Times bestseller list, selling over 10 million copies in 35 languages. In 2004, it was turned into a television movie for ABC, starring Jon Voight, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Imperioli, and Jeff Daniels. The film was critically acclaimed and the most watched TV movie of the year, with 18.6 million viewers.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is the story of Eddie, a wounded war veteran who lives what he believes is an uninspired and lonely life fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, Eddie is killed while trying to save a little girl from a falling ride. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a location but a place in which your life is explained to you by five people who were in, who affected, or were affected by, your life.

Albom has said the book was inspired by his real life uncle, Eddie Beitchman, who, like the character, served during World War II in the Philippines, and died when he was 83. Eddie told Albom, as a child, about a time he was rushed to surgery and had a near-death experience, his soul floating above the bed. There, Eddie said, he saw all his dead relatives waiting for him at the edge of the bed. Albom has said that image of people waiting when you die inspired the book's concept.

For One More Day
Albom's third novel, For One More Day (2006), spent nine months on the New York Times bestseller list after debuting at the top spot. It also reached No. 1 on USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. It was the first book to be sold by Starbucks in the launch of the Book Break Program in the fall of 2006. It has been translated into 26 languages. On December 9, 2007, the ABC aired the 2-hour television event motion picture Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's For One More Day, which starred Michael Imperioli and Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her role as Posey Benetto.

For One More Day is “Chick” Benetto, a retired baseball player who, facing the pain of unrealized dreams, alcoholism, divorce, and an estrangement from his grown daughter, returns to his childhood home and attempts suicide. There he meets his long dead mother, who welcomes him as if nothing ever happened. The book explores the question, “What would you do if you had one more day with someone you’ve lost?”

Albom has said his relationship with his own mother was largely behind the story of that book, and that several incidents in For One More Day are actual events from his childhood.

Have a Little Faith
His first nonfiction book since Tuesdays was published, Have a Little Faith (2009) recounts Albom's experiences which led to him writing the eulogy for Albert L. Lewis, a Rabbi from his hometown in New Jersey. The book is written in the same vein as Tuesdays With Morrie, in which the main character, Mitch, goes through several heartfelt conversations with the Rabbi in order to better know and understand the man that he would one day eulogize. Through this experience, Albom writes, his own sense of faith was reawakened, leading him to make contact with Henry Covington, the African-American pastor of the I Am My Brother's Keeper church, in Detroit, where Albom was then living. Covington, a past drug addict, dealer, and ex-convict, ministered to a congregation of largely homeless men and women in a church so poor that the roof leaked when it rained. From his relationships with these two very different men of faith, Albom writes about the difference faith can make in the world.

The Time Keeper
Albom's third work of fiction, The Time Keeper (2012) is fablistic tale about the inventor of the world's first clock who is punished for trying to measure God's greatest gift. He is banished to a cave for centuries and forced to listen to the voices of all who come after him seeking more days, more years. Eventually, with his soul nearly broken, Father Time is granted his freedom, along with a magical hourglass and a mission: a chance to redeem himself by teaching two earthly people the true meaning of time.

The First Phone Call from Heaven
Albom's fourth work of fiction, The First Phone Call from Heaven (2013) tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Told from the point of view of the Spirit of Music, Albom's fifth novel (2015) traces the life of the legendary (and fictional) super guitarist Frankie Presto and his extraordinary impact on the music of his time.

Charity work
Albom has founded a number of charitable organizations whose missions are to aid disadvantaged and homeless people. The groups have raised funds to pay for resuce services, youth programs, beds, kitchen, food, and daycare.

• The Dream Fund at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) was started by Albom in 1992. Its purpose is to provide funding for under-served children to participate in the arts and to instill confidence in our youth. Since its founding, CCS has used the Dream Fund to support visual, performing, summer “Week at a Time” youth scholarships, community art programs, and even the Detroit 300 project in 2001. The Dream Fund has raised over $115,000 in scholarships since its inception.

• S.A.Y. Detroit (which stands for Super All Year Detroit) is an umbrella organization for charities dedicated to improving the lives of the neediest—including A Time to Help, S.A.Y. Detroit Family Health Clinic, and A Hole in the Roof Foundation. S.A.Y. distributes money to shelters in Detroit for projects specifically designed to help the plight of those in need. Its projects to date include the building of a state-of-the-art kitchen at the Michigan Veterans Foundation shelter and a day-care center at COTS for children of homeless women

• A Time To Help was established in 1997 as a means of galvanizing the people of Detroit to volunteer on a regular basis. The group has staged more than 100 monthly projects ranging from building houses, delivering meals, beautifying city streets, running adoption fairs, repairing homeless shelters, packing food, and hosting an annual Christmas party to a shelter for battered women.

• A Hole in the Roof Foundation helps faith groups of any denomination, who care for the homeless, to repair the spaces in which they carry out their work and offer their services. The seed that gave root to the Foundation—and also inspired its name—is the I Am My Brother's Keeper church in Detroit, MI. Here, despite a gaping hole in the roof, and no matter how harsh the weather, the pastor tends to his community to provide spiritual nourishment and a sanctuary for the homeless. (Adapted from Wikiipedia. First retrieved 9/18/2013.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) Albom delivers a command audio performance. He brings his two clergymen-protagonists-an elderly rabbi from Albom's home synagogue and an African-American pastor leading a ministry to Detroit's homeless population-to vivid life and conveys their messages of faith with sensitivity and respect. The audio's most memorable moments feature the humility-and eccentricity-of the two spiritual leaders who, despite their deep religious commitment, refuse to be placed on a pedestal. From the ail-ing Jewish leader breaking out into whimsical songs in the middle of his grueling medical treatments and his Christian counterpart savoring the joys of barbecuing, Albom's characterizations brim with humor and compassion.
Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions 
1. Have a Little Faith asks, “What if our beliefs were not what divided us, but what pulled us together?” How would you begin to answer this question? Which of the world’s ills could be healed, which wrongs could be made right, if religion were more of a unifying force?

2. How would you react if someone you knew asked you to write their eulogy? How would you go about doing so?

3. In describing the journeys of faith taken by the Reb and Pastor Henry, Mitch Albom discusses his complicated relationship to his Jewish beliefs. Talking about one’s religious faith is a personal endeavor; do you find it easy or difficult to talk to others about religion, specifically your relationship to it? Are you comfortable discussing religion with someone with different beliefs?

4. In continuation of the above question, do you think anyone can ever “win” a religious argument? What do you think lies at the core of disagreements about religion?

5. How can many faiths coexist? If different faiths have different beliefs, how can they all be correct? Does one faith have the right or obligation to convert members of the others? When Mitch asks this of the Reb, he explains that just as there are a variety of trees, multiple faiths all come from the same God (page 160). What do you think about the Reb’s explanation? Can dialogue and debate about different beliefs, as the Reb argues, really enrich one’s own faith?

6. Compare and contrast the Reb and Pastor Henry. How are their stories similar, and different? Did you identify with one man more than the other?

7. Were you uncomfortable with Henry’s troubled past, especially when he admits his violation of the Ten Commandments? What did you think of Mitch’s initial hesitancy toward him? Do you think that someone who turns so far away from God, even though truly repentant, can really be a “Man of God”?

8. Think about some famous eulogies delivered in recent memory: Charles Spencer’s eulogy of his sister, Princess Diana; Oprah Winfrey’s of Rosa Parks; Cher’s emotional tribute to her former husband Sonny Bono; President Obama’s stirring remarks about Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Re-read Albom’s eulogy of the Reb at the end of the book. What does it have in common with other eulogies you’ve heard or read? What makes a eulogy truly memorable—does it rely solely upon the personality of the person who died?

9. Have you ever experienced a crisis of faith? How did you approach it? Was it resolved? Was there a lesson you took away from it?

10. In the chapter called “A Little History” (page 11) Albom describes his early religious education, and his resistance to it. Did you receive any religious instruction as a child? If so, did you enjoy it, or did you experience it the same way Mitch did, going to lessons feeling like a “dragged prisoner”?

11. Albom talks about his ambivalence toward his New Jersey childhood home, characterizing it as being “too small for what I wanted to achieve in life, like being stuck wearing your grade school clothes” (page 25). What do you think of your hometown now? Why are hometowns so pivotal to how people are shaped?

12. Consider what the Reb says to Albom in the chapter “May: Ritual” (page 42): “‘Mitch,’ he said, ‘faith is about doing. You are how you act, not just how you believe.’ ” Do you agree with the Reb’s sentiment?

13. Re-read the anecdote that Albom relays on page 76, about his interpretation of the story of the parting of the Red Sea. What does this story mean to you?

14. “It is far more comforting to think God listened and said no, than to think nobody’s out there” (page 82). What do you think of this statement by the Reb? Do you agree?

15. Both the Reb and Pastor Henry describe what they believe to be the keys to happiness. What do you think the secrets to happiness are? Where might faith fall on such a list?

16. In “September: What Is Rich?” (page 112) Albom explores the Reb’s childhood as an impoverished son of immigrants living in New York City. After finishing this chapter, how would you answer the question asked in its title? What does “rich” mean to you?

17. At the end of the chapter called “Church” (page 140) Albom describes the Hindu celebration of Kumbh Mela, a gathering that’s been called “the world’s largest single act of faith.” In your own life, have you ever been a part of something big while doing something small? How did it make you feel?

18. On page 176, Albom presents a quote from the Robert Browning Hamilton poem “Sadness.” What does this verse mean to you? How does it relate to the themes Albom explores in the book?

19. After reading Have a Little Faith, were you inspired to learn more about religions other than your own? What are some commonalities among different religions?

20. Have you read any of Mitch Albom’s other works, such as Tuesdays with Morrie, or his novels The Five People You Meet in Heaven or For One More Day? What does Have a Little Faith have in common with Albom’s other books?

21. If you had to write your own eulogy, what would you say about yourself? How would you most like to be remembered?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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