Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 6, 2002
Spiritual heroes bless us with their lives
The Living Christ: The Extraordinary Lives of Today's Spiritual Heroes, by Harold Fickett, Doubleday: New York, N.Y. 2002. 288 pages. Hardcover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Harold Fickett wrote The Living Christ: The Extraordinary Lives of Today's Spiritual Heroes because he believes exemplars of the Christian faith enchant the public imagination.
One of the best ways for people to come to know and follow Jesus is to discover him at work in the lives of Christ-like individuals.
So Fickett, a journalist and religious writer living in Nacodoches, Texas, set out to draw a portrait of the living Christ through contemporary stories of his followers.
He did his homework and thought through what he had discovered about Jesus' personality as presented in the gospels. He also sought to isolate key characteristics of Jesus' ministry.
The author then visited and talked with people whose stories and behaviour demonstrated roles Christ might play were he alive now.
As he interviewed candidates worldwide, Fickett found that like the classic saints, contemporary saints have their foibles and weaknesses, open or secret.
"We are all wounded healers . . . My subjects were conscious - sometimes overly conscious - of how their own debilities might come through far more clearly than any reflection of Christ's character."
Fickett creates profiles of remarkable contemporary believers in the context of their work with other people. He uses fictional techniques, reportage and other narrative devices with his subjects.
Six chapters introduce his multi-cultural and ecumenical cross-section of modern saints. Subject titles range from the wayfarer, the healer, and the man of prayer, to the liberator, the prophet and the martyr.
Pentecostal, evangelical and mainline Protestants are highlighted alongside a Roman Catholic lay person, a priest and the current pope.
A concluding chapter describes how an Orthodox parish of Lebanese heritage in Wichita, Kansas points modern Americans to Christ through the drama of its timeless liturgy.
Fickett's skill as a journalist and spiritual writer leads the reader through varied narratives.
One is that of a hardened truck driver who suffers from a profound loneliness.
A priest discovered his charism of healing decades ago and now ministers to thousands who have come to trust him as a God focused miracle worker.
A thrice divorced woman lives one of the most spectacular prayer lives possible. Her daily visions, scientifically verified as authentic, have become a gift to all believers.
A Baptist missionary in Thailand spearheads a safe house movement for the liberation of vulnerable young women lured from the countryside and enticed into the sex tourist trade.
John Paul is portrayed as a prophetic advocate of apology and reconciliation counteracting centuries of Church bias against the Jewish people.
Three indigenous evangelical Protestant leaders are martyred for the faith in the Muslim dominated theocracy of Iran.
Fickett writes for a general readership that includes evangelical Protestants as well as Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
His centrist position may ruffle conservative Catholics on the one hand and liberal Protestants on the other.
His appeal to the mainstream reader, however, comes in the form of the stories which will attract those wanting to discern and affirm the Spirit of God at work in the world.
Such readers do not get polarized theologically.
The Living Christ is a worthy candidate for parish and ecumenical book studies and provides stimulating, private devotional reading for those valuing an integration of the spiritual and the practical.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)