A Song I Knew By Heart

I’ve been reading some of Brett Lott’s books lately thanks to a recent interview of his in World Magazine that I appreciated.  Overall, I’ve been a little disappointed.  I was expecting a clear, strong portrayal of the gospel–by which I mean neither the neat nor trite fluff of much Christian entertainment media, but the real deal: an honest look at the pain and trial and sin of life in this world through the lens of Christ’s life, hope and redemption in the next.  Perhaps others read with more perception than I, but I felt like what I got was a bit more on the opaque side of translucent. 

(Of course, I’m hardly one to judge, as my own scribblings tend toward neat, trite fluff…on the clear side of transparent and not in a good way.  Oh, I know.  I know.  Believe me.)

Disappointed–with the exception, that is, of A Song I Knew By Heart.  (I’ve also read Jewel and The Man Who Owned Vermont.)  In Song, Lott weaves as powerful a story of forgiveness (definitely a gospel theme!) as I’ve read in quite some time.  He takes head on the harsh reality of sin and the guilt that so often accompanies it and weaves a touching tale of a woman’s struggle to forgive–not only her enemies, but her friends and especially herself.  Ultimately, she learns that true forgiveness and freedom from sin are found only in God.

Too often, sin (of sex, vanity, violence, profanity, pride, etc) is portrayed in books or movies or everywhere in a way that actually makes me covet it.  I hate that.  I hate to admit it.  I assume no one else is affected this way, as I’ve had so many people tell me oh, Cristy, come on.  That’s just real life.  (Or the flip side: oh, Cristy, come on. It’s just a movie/book/advertisement.)

Maybe.  Maybe it is, though I’m not so sure.  Here’s what I do know: it’s not reality.  In reality, the earthly pleasure of sin is far outweighed in the balance by eternal pain–either Christ’s if we relate to God through Him or ours if we don’t.  In A Song I Knew By Heart, sin is ugly and painful and full of consequences…as it must be for forgiveness to have any meaning at all.  

And it does.  Forgiveness in Lott’s story consists not of easy words or good feelings or vague obligation.  It is the fruit of a love that runs as deep as betrayal.  It is hard.  It is messy.  It is humiliating.  It is incomplete.  In this life, maybe it always will be, I don’t know.  I’m still finding out.  Either way, it encouraged me so much to find herein a glimpse of the forgiveness that is mine in Christ–full, accomplished, and deeper than my deepest sins. 

I needed such a reminder. 

Don’t we all?



  1. #1 by Tierney on September 16, 2010 - 12:10 pm

    Definitely going to try and find this book now! Thanks for the review. I totally sympathize with the difficulty of finding good, Christian media that consists of more than fluff and happy endings – most of it is so dishonest! Have you read “Gilead”, by Marilynne Robinson? I went into it with low expectations, but ended up being almost stunned by how beautifully it was written, and how deeply it thought about life. (It’s written in the form of a long, rambling letter from a dying pastor to his young son.) The theology sometimes wanders a bit, but overall I would highly recommend it.

    • #2 by Cristy on September 29, 2010 - 7:54 am

      I realized I never answered your comment: I have read Gilead, and really liked it. I also (more recently) read Home (same author), which is the same story from a different perspective.

  2. #3 by joannamv on November 24, 2010 - 1:56 am

    I came back to this post because I have recently read several more of Lott’s books. Today I read Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life. I suppose we cannot expect all talented Christian literary Writers to be able to force all their main characters to be Christian.

    Have you read any of Nicholas Sparks’ books? Or seen the movies? (The Notebook…) They’re all pleasant enough books, sometimes sad. But they seem to all have a vaguely similar plot: two people meet and quickly fall in love, have sex, then someone dies. These kinds of books are really some of the most annoying, because Christianity is often professed and is shown supporting various immoralities, which are described in such a way as to make them beautiful. (Note the plot line above.)

    I guess that, if you write something explicitly Christian, you should have an elder check it for any incorrect doctrinal implications prior to publication…

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