3 out of 4 stars
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Nicholas Gunderson’s life was going great. He had a beautiful wife and was an associate pastor to a church in Chicago. But when Nicholas attends a meeting at a bar, his life spirals out of control. He loses everything and realizes his need to surrender completely to God. He then gets a job working for another church as their janitor, and that is where he meets Ernie, an angel sent from God to give him a special assignment. Nicholas accepts the call and joins the St. Nicholas Society, a group that does good deeds anonymously.
Ozark Mark gives a creative twist on the St. Nicholas tale in his book Letters From St. Nicholas. Mark flips the traditional beliefs of Santa into promoting Christian themes and the real reason behind Christmas. Children send letters to Santa each Christmas, but it is Mark’s character, Nicholas, who sends letters to people he knows. The fabled Santa has his list of naughty and nice, while Nicholas in this story has a prayer list. Although Santa stories are usually marked for children, this book is geared for adults. In Nicholas’s letters, some issues he talks about are addictions, incarceration, and teen pregnancy. The author covers various problems that not only individuals go through but also churches. I especially thought the chapter on a congregation fighting over if they should have traditional or contemporary worship music would be relatable to many.
My most favorite part of the book is how the author highlights the pastoral role. I have a family member who is a senior pastor, and I have worked closely with others in ministry. It is not a nine-to-five job, and it is not for the faint of heart! Family time gets interrupted, emergency calls come late at night, and dealings with church politics and conflicts are always part of the job. Nicholas exemplifies how complex a pastor’s life can be, but he also exudes the grace and love one needs for that position.
There were several problems I think needs to be addressed in this book, though. First, the concept of the St. Nicholas Society was underdeveloped. When he first enters it, Nicholas travels to a sprawling estate and take classes that prepare him for his assignment. What were these classes about? The author never says. By the end of the book, it was still a mystery to me why this society was special. Nicholas’s assignment and what he deals with is nothing out of the ordinary for a pastor or a Christian. The only extraordinary thing that happens to him is talking to an angel named Ernie on several occasions. Second, each chapter is in Nicholas’s point of view, but unfortunately, they appear out of order. Nicholas signs his first couple of letters “St. Nicholas” before he describes later in another chapter how he got this nickname from his parishioners. There were also over ten errors in the book. These consisted of mainly missing quotation marks or words.
Overall, I enjoyed this work and its unique take on St. Nicholas. Mark presents the Gospel and what really matters in a Christian’s life well. I give Letters From St. Nicholas 3 out of 4 stars. Anyone who is of the Christian faith or who like untraditional stories about Santa would want to read this book.
Letters From St Nicholas
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