Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sam Gardner’s experiences during his first year as pastor of the Harmony Friends meeting trigger flashbacks to his boyhood. Although he has been a pastor for twelve years after completing seminary, Sam learns about human existence only after unforeseen circumstances make him a spiritual guide among people he knew as a child. He chronicles the events of this year, blending humor and thoughtful reflection and always including his own shortcomings.

Several incidents are highly comic. Early in Sam’s tenure, Elder Dale Hinshaw hires Billy Bundle (the World’s Shortest Evangelist) to hold a revival. Formerly a wrestler known as the Mississippi Midget (though technically only a short man from the Bronx), Billy applies unusual showmanship techniques to preaching, but Sam sees the usual six people publicly repent, while Hinshaw calculates the high cost per soul.

More difficult than Hinshaw is Bob Miles, Sr. Displaced as newspaper editor by his son, Miles has become the town’s ultraconservative activist, berating the group regularly during services. The elders make him the Prayer Warrior, who must pray scripturally—that is, alone in the basement closet. They fail to realize that his loud prayers will boom through the heat ducts, louder than before. Sam must confront and admonish this elderly man, who angrily transfers to the Baptist Church, as he has done several times before.

Several incidents involve Sam’s gaffes. Repairing the church’s ancient freezer, he forgets to plug it back in and ruins the Women’s Friendly Circle’s prized chicken and noodles. Caught between Hinshaw’s objections and the women’s demands for a new toilet, Sam and his boyhood friend Uly Grant install the toilet late at night. Driving by, Hinshaw sees a light in the church building and uses his new cell phone to call the police.

Both Sam and Hinshaw are involved in the church bus fiasco. Venom (a rock group) abandon their worn-out bus at Harvey Muldock’s garage, suggesting to Hinshaw an inexpensive way to begin a bus ministry. When the bus keeps breaking down, Sam proposes giving it to Brother Norman’s Choctaw Mission, but the drive to Oklahoma takes them through St. Louis on the...

(The entire section is 904 words.)

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Initially Sam preaches explicit sermons on “grace,” but he quickly recognizes implicit sermons on humility, courage, and love in the lives of the church members. For example, Brother Norman is neither intellectual nor charismatic, but he has dedicated his life to serving the Choctaw Nation. Sam believes he is a more effective evangelist than showmen such as Billy Bundle. Likewise, humble church workers like Frank do good works that contrast with the dominance of people like Elder Hinshaw.

Several church members display perseverance and personal courage. Bob Miles, Jr., suppresses his thwarted ambition to be a foreign correspondent and publishes a newspaper that chronicles the town’s events. Wayne Fleming, whose wife suddenly left him, remains at his janitorial job, devoting as much time as possible to his young son Adam. Uly Grant defeats his family curse of alcoholism, managing the local AA chapter. Shortly before his death, Wilbur Matthews overcomes a lifetime of humiliating illiteracy and, with the help of Miss Ruby (the librarian), learns to read the Bible during worship. Jessie Peacock tears up the lottery’s presentation check, lectures lottery officials on the evils of gambling, and refuses to be intimidated by the state’s threats of legal action.

Another significant theme is love and continuity, especially within the family. Each Saturday Dr. Neely, Harmony’s physician, places a new toy car on the grave of his young son. He...

(The entire section is 414 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Gulley, Philip. For Everything a Season: Simple Musings on Living Well. San Francisco: Harper, 2001. More humorous, poignant stories paralleling the seasons of life and the seasons of divine grace.

Gulley, Philip. Front Porch Tales. Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1997. The foreword by Paul Harvey, Jr., introduces Gulley’s collection of humorous, inspiring stories about small-town life.

Gulley, Philip. Hometown Tales: Recollections of Kindness, Peace, and Joy. Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1998. This sequel to Front Porch Tales presents a retrospective account of the same themes and character types seen in Home to Harmony.

Gulley, Philip. Life Goes On: A Harmony Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Comic misadventures of Harmony characters and Sam’s serious dilemma about resigning when opposition arises.