The Gospel of “It’s a Wonderful Life”

By Dan Clendenin

James Dillon, The Gospel of “It’s a Wonderful Life:” A Spiritual Journey Through the Movie (Bloomington, IN: LifeRich Publishing, 2021), 193pp.

In the introduction to his book, James Dillon compares his own life to the character George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) in Frank Capra’s Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). A medical crisis at about age fifty landed Dillon in the hospital for three weeks. This sounds horrible on the face of it, but he came to see it as his “miraculous illness” with the help of watching the famous Capra movie: “It was like I was witnessing my story all over again.” Dillon describes himself as a lifelong and active Catholic believer, and says that watching Capra’s movie was a profoundly spiritual experience that radically changed his life.

Watching IAWL became a yearly ritual for him. One Advent, he put together a four-week discussion group in his church to reflect on the movie, which in turn led to this book. He describes the book as a resource and not a “blue print” that pretends to have one correct interpretation of the film. Rather, it’s intended to help facilitators lead their own groups. The book divides the movie into four sections of about thirty minutes each, such that it lends itself to the four weeks of Advent. Although Capra’s movie received mixed reviews when it was released in 1946, and did poorly at the box office, today it is widely acknowledged as one of the best films ever made. For many families, watching it has become a Christmas ritual. Both Capra and Jimmy Stewart said that it was their favorite film.

Dan Clendenin: dan@journeywithjesus.net

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