Book Review: Good News from North Haven

goodnewfromnorthhavenGood News from North Haven: A Year In The Life Of A Small Town

Author: Michael L. Lindvall

Publisher: New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, A Crossroad Carlisle Book, 2002

189 pages, ISBN 0-8245-2012-2, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Reverend Michael L. Lindvall was born and grew up in small-town Minnesota. He developed a love for the stories told by folks living in such communities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the stories he tells in this novel are set in North Haven, Minnesota and, at the very least, are implicitly autobiographical. The storyteller in this novel is Reverend David Battles, the minister of Second Presbyterian Church—and Lindvall himself is a Presbyterian minister.

The novel begins with a brief history of First and Second Presbyterian congregations—the former lost their building to a fire, and most of the members subsequently joined Second Presbyterian. As the novel unfolds, Reverend Battles is keen to tell what he refers to as “tales of grace” revealed in the “things that happen” in daily dramas (p. 19).

In his compelling narrative style, Lindvall introduces us to a host of eclectic and eccentric characters—similar to the sinner-saints we clergy meet in our parishes. There are: the “intractable, intransigent, unmovable…iron butterfly” Alvina Johnson, who is skeptical about this year’s Christmas Pageant after directing it for four decades; the inactive Roman Catholic barber who confides in Reverend Battles about growing up with an abusive dad; Reverend Battles learning that the little things in life like reading a bedtime story to one’s kids and kissing them good night are important “…because the mark a man or woman makes on this world is most often a trail of faithful love, and quiet mercies, and unknown kisses” (p. 37); Carmen Krepke the rebellious young biker-woman who had a vision of Jesus; the wise patriarch of Second Presbyterian, Angus MacDowell; the single-minded boat-builder Lamont Wilcox, and many more.

The novel is also worthwhile for its humorous stories of Reverend Battles’ “short trip” on Easter Sunday while climbing the stairs to the communion table with the offering; Reverend Mitchell Simpson’s comments which he thought were spoken in private, but were heard by the congregation because his cordless microphone was turned on, when he thought he had turned it off; when soprano choir member, Emma Bowers’ spiked high-heeled shoe got tightly lodged into the heating grate, when choir member, Elsie Johnson was “raptured” during a recessional hymn, and more.

The final heart-warming story is the baptism of single mother, Tina Cory’s son, James; the whole congregation “stands with” James during the baptism as an act of love, acceptance and grace.

I highly recommend this delightful novel to the general reader, and especially to the clergy who serve in small-town and rural churches. The Reverend Lindvall shares a great deal of his folksy wisdom, insights and humour in these stories that instruct and inspire.

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Reason for hope

This past Thursday evening, I was blessed and privileged to accompany my daughter and attend a lecture by world renowned chimpanzee research expert, environmentalist, and inspirational speaker, Dr. Jane Goodall at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. This was a wonderful learning opportunity and occasion to spend quality time together. Here are a few of the insights that inspired me:

    The blood type of certain chimpanzees is similar to human beings so that we could actually receive blood transfusions from them.

    Environmental conservation and protection of endangered species can be holistic and serve the needs and interests of both humans and animals as well as the attendant natural habitats. Indeed this factor is necessary for the future sustainability of this planet.

    Dr. Jane Goodall grew up in a poor family in England at a time when women had few educational or career choices. However, thanks to the love, encouragement and support of her mother and the good will of a few other influential people, she was able to pursue her chimpanzee research in Africa and eventually earn her Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Thus, as a role model, Dr. Goodall is a powerful source of inspiration and leadership for countless youth around the globe today.

    Dr. Goodall’s mother allowed and encouraged Jane to explore the human trait of curiosity as a child and this was most instrumental in preparing Jane for her work as a research scientist.

    Dr. Goodall stated that there is so much focus on the negative and destructive events among humans in the mass media. Yet, she stressed that there is hope and we need to focus more on those positive, constructive events like, for example, the forgiveness of Nelson Mandela towards his enemy, the apartheid regime, who imprisoned him for over two decades. Each one of us can make a difference even in small ways. We are all in this together.

    Dr. Goodall’s emphasis on the interconnectedness of humankind and creation reminded me of the apostle Paul’s vision of the Church as the Body of Christ and his reference to the suffering—the moanings and groanings—of all creation as it longs for God’s redemption.