Thursday, April 3, 2014

Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd, Sonja, and Colton Burpo and (Contributor) Lynn Vincent--Now on Blu-ray & DVD!

Heaven is for Real by Todd, Sonja, and Col-
ton Burpo, and Contributor: Lynn Vincent.[1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     This week's book review is about a book I've had on my stack of "to be read books" that I had put off reading for quite some time. Perhaps, like so many people, I find it uncomfortable thinking about death and then if you pair that topic up with a child dying, why, you have nothing less than an "untouchable" topic.

     I puchased this book in December 2013 for $1.99 as one of the books Amazon was offering as a special deal. Even then, I didn't pick up the book to read it until I noticed that the movie, based on Todd Burpo's book, would be out in just a few short weeks. I decided to take the bull by the horns and just get it read.

     It has been kind of difficult to escape all the hype over this book. I mean, the book was on The New York Times bestseller list within weeks after it was released for publication. And then, of course, add to the mix appearances on various shows like NBC's Today Show and throw in both praise and prayers for the boy, the book, and the upcoming movie. Counterpoise that with condemnations and vilification for the boy, his family, and Christians who support the family over the publication of the book. It is hard to believe the furor over one little boy and a book. What are we to believe? Is this all the work of God, the Devil, or is it just greed and egotism? I'm not sure I can sort this all out to anyone's satisfaction, so why read my blog post today? 

This wonderful graphic is from
(banners and posters for teachers). [2]
     My blog is about books, and my love of books. And, while there may be a furor over the book (positive and negative), I think a lively discussion of the merits of any book is worthwhile. For, it is in examining what we read that we get to utilize critical reading and thinking skills.

     We get to exercise an ability that, for some people, seldom gets used: the ability to set aside our emotional response (at least for a few minutes) and look at something rationally, in this case, a book. I hope we can look at the book and get to apply what we know to get to an analysis that, in turn, will lead us to synthesize and evaluate the book intelligently.

     At the end of the review we will bring back into the equation the emotional and spiritual elements and discuss how they impact our understanding and feeling for the book. But first, let's start our look at the book, itself, disentangle our feelings from recognizing what is actually in the book, and gain some knowledge about the message the authors of the book are attempting to convey to the reader.

A photograph of Colton at four-
years-old. This is when Colton
underwent emergency surgery for
a burst appendix. [3]
     The book begins with a prologue where Todd Burpo, Pastor of the Mountainview Wesleyan Church, Nebraska, is driving with his family and Todd Burpo is teasing his young, four-year-old son Colton, about taking him back to the hospital (where, as Todd Burpo puts it, they had "...spent fifteen nightmarish days in March [2003]...praying for God to spare Colton's life."). Then his mother asked Colton if he remembered the hospital. Colton said that he did, because "That's where the angels sang to me."

     The author, Todd Burpo, Colton Burpo's father, reports in the book, Heaven is For Real, that his son had undergone emergency surgery on March 5th (and a second surgery on March 13th) after his son's appendix burst. In the months after the emergency surgery, the four-year-old began making incredible statements about Jesus, heaven, and people he met when he was in heaven. The first such statement was the one reported in the prologue.

Marc Chagall's Dessins pour la
Bible (Job Praying)
. [4]
     Interspersed throughout the book are snipits of Pastor Burpo's life. He tells the reader about how he became nicknamed "Pastor Job." Todd Burpo described his life as having "seven months of back-to-back injury and illness that included a shattered leg, two surgeries, and a cancer scare" [Kindle location 195]. He also works into the story other aspects of his life, such as his company (Overhead Door Specialists) and his volunteering as a wrestling coach for Junior high students, being a member of the school board, and volunteers with the Imperial Volunteer Fire Department as a fire fighter (as well as being chaplain for the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighter's Assn.).

     All of Pastor Burpo's medical problems had taken place from August 2002, but by the time February 2003 rolled around he, reportedly, was feeling back to normal--even if his bank account was hurting from all the expenses of his medical bills.

Here is a visitor to the Butterfly Pavilion--specifically,
at Rosie's exhibit--getting her sticker for holding
Rosie in her hands--it's the only way to get the sticker [5]
     Not knowing what the immediate future held for the family, the Todd Burpo took his family with him on a trip to Greeley, Colorado. En route, they stopped in Denver and took the children to a Butterfly Pavilion and a "Crawl-A-See-Um," where they were to see terrariums housing beetles, roaches and spiders. The Tarantula Tower drew the kids. One exhibit featured Rosie the tarantula--everyone who held her got a special sticker.

     Colton's sister, Cassie, quickly got in line, held Rosie and got her sticker. Colton was afraid, but eventually, before the family left, Colton held Rosie and got his sticker. But, as Todd Burpo said, "the knockout punch is the one they didn't see coming" [Kindle location 411]. Just hours later Colton complained of nausea. The family arrived back at their hotel and both Cassie and Colton "upchucked." [6]

     The next day Cassie was better, but Colton was very ill. Deciding that they could get in to see their doctor faster than going to the emergency room in "metro-Denver hospital," they took the three-hour drive home, Colton vomiting every half hour.

The doctor has spoken.
     Arriving at Imperial, the doctor dismissed appendicitis because the blood count was good, but acted concerned about the Xrays. With no definitive results Colton languished in the hospital growing worse with every hour--eventually his skin turning gray and taking on a deathly pallor. Desperate, the family took Colton to North Platte for treatment. After A CT scan, the diagnosis was a ruptured appendix. [7] After surgery, Colton told his father, "Daddy, you know I almost died." [Kindle location 742]

Church friends quickly put together a prayer service for
Colton's well-being. Hours later he started to improve. [8]
     Several days later, on the verge of going home from the hospital, the doctor reported more infection. Running on very little sleep, Sonja and Todd (Colton's mother and father), were near the breaking point. Church friends quickly put together a prayer service at the Crossroads Wesleyan Church. Over eighty people showed up to pray for Colton. Colton took a turn for the better, and eventually was able to go home with his family.
     Then in the weeks and months that followed Colton's near-death experience, he began to make statements that shocked his parents and made them reassess the situation at the hospital when Colton came so close to dying. Colton said things like, "...Jesus told me I had to be nice" (Kindle location 919). At a flower service for a deceased person Colton asked, "Did the man have Jesus in his heart?" (loc. 936).[9]

     Four months after Colton's near-death-experience, he divulged in a conversation with his parents that he "went up out of his body," had "spoken with angels," and had "sat in Jesus' lap." In an even more shocking part of that conversation, Colton told his parents what each of them were doing--in different parts of the hospital. To his father Colton said, "You were in a little room by yourself praying, and Mommy was in a different room and she was praying and talking on the phone" [Location 977]. Pastor Todd Burpo admitted being in the hospital room alone, "raging against God...pouring out...anger and grief" [Location 991].

     At other times, Colton talked about meeting Jesus' cousin [loc. 1004], a rainbow horse [1024], that Colton was in heaven [loc. 1024], what Jesus looked like (brown hair and hair on his face, pretty eyes, white clothes, purple sash, a gold crown with a pink diamond [Loc. 1060], and red "markers" on his hands and feet [Loc. 1083].). In other conversations, Colton divulged being with lots of kids and that "Everybody's got wings" except Jesus [Loc. 1152]. One of Colton's most insistent messages was that "Jesus said he really, really loves the children" [Loc. 1605]. [10]

     And then there was the disclosure of meeting the dead in heaven--"Dad, you had a grandpa named Pop, didn't you?" (Loc. 1332]. Todd Burpo then tells us some stories about his grandfather and his mother's worries about whether or not her father had made it to heaven.

     Todd Burpo also pulls out an old photo (1943) with a young-looking grandmother (then in her 20s, now in her 80s), his mother (a baby girl), and "Uncle Bill" at about six years old--Colton recognized "Pops" in that photo--then 29. Colton also disclosed that he had met his dead sister in heaven, a little girl who had died in his mother's belly, a little girl with no name [Loc. 1468]. [11]

     One (should I say "more"?) touching moment in the book comes when Pastor Todd Burpo and Colton go to a nursing home and Pastor Burpo prays over a dying minister. When he is finished with his prayer, Colton approaches, takes the old minister's hand and tells him, "It's going to be okay. The first person you're going to see is Jesus" [Loc. 1779].

"Prince of Peace," painted by Akiane Kramarik, when she
was eight-years-old. This is the image that Colton identi-
fied as the face of Jesus that he saw in heaven. Todd Burpo,
Colton's father, had been showing Colton image after image
of Jesus--Colton rejecting them all as to what Jesus looked
like. Then, a family friend e-mailed information to Todd Burpo
about Akiane Kramarik (who claimed to have been to heaven
and seen Jesus). Todd Burpo showed Colton the image of
Jesus painted by art prodigy, Akiane, and Colton agreed that
the image was what Jesus looked like. [12] 
     Finally, there are many other things Colton discloses. He tells his parents about the battle at Armageddon, his father's involvement in fighting the Devil and, how Jesus shoots energy down to his father when he teaches and speaks at church.

     What does Jesus look like? A friend e-mails Todd Burpo with information about a young girl who has reportedly been to heaven and is a prodigy at painting--she paints pic- tures of Jesus. When shown the image of Aki- ane's, Prince of Peace, Colton acknowledges that it is what Jesus looks like. Remember that, today, we are not looking at Akiane's story, this is Colton's story.

     (1) We need to remember who is telling the story. It is not Colton. The author is Todd, Sonja, and a professional writer (Contributor) Lynn Vincent. Colton was only four when he experienced the reported events and is far too young to have written the book. The book is the interpretation of what a four-year-old child disclosed to his parents. Not to say that it was a dishonest reporting, just that we have to acknowledge that the authors may have their own assumptions and biases to bring to the story--and, they cannot possibly see everything the way Colton has seen it. They can only interpret.

     (2) It was the professional writer and Colton's parents who decided what to include, how much to include, what to leave out, how to arrange the story, how to counter forseeable arguments against the book, and how much Colton would contribute to the story. And, since Colton is a child, it is the parents decision about how to best protect Colton, and how much he would take part in promoting the book (i.e. Today Show and other events appearances).

     (3) Since Pastor Todd Burpo was so open about the financial difficulties he faced, first after all his medical expenses, and then after Colton's catastrophic hospital stay, we must ask if the book was written solely as a means to make money from Colton's story, or whether the money made from the book was a blessing from God to help him continue his ministry in the Wesleyan Church. This is not a harsh question, because even Todd Burpo addresses this issue in his book.

Left to right: Sonja Burpo, Colton Burpo,
Todd Burpo and Matt Lauer. [13]
     (4) The hype. Some people have lauded the book as simply wonderful and a blessing from God. They say the book has helped them in their lives and given them hope. Others excoriate the book and Colton's parents for writing it. The book has been called nonsense and some Christians say that if you want to know about heaven, go read the Bible.

     I did a little research to find out how most people would rate the book, given the praise and condemnation at polar opposites. I went to Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to see what purchasers, readers and reviewers had to say about the book. Here is what I found:
GoodReads average rating: 3.99 [16]
Barnes & Noble average: 4.5 [15]

   4.5 average review.
[Note: the button in this image is non-functioning,
it is just an image from Amazon's web page.] [17]

     So, as you can see, most people have given good ratings for the book. As GoodReads puts it, "90% of [all] people liked it." The other noticeable attribute from these ratings details reports are that there are an awful lot of people buying and reading the book. GoodReads reports 172,122 reviews and ratings, Barnes & Noble, 8,769 ratings, and Amazon, 7,039 ratings/reviews. Yes, there are a small percentage of people giving it low ratings: GoodReads, for example reports only 3% of all readers awarded one star, and only 6% giving two stars. That's only a negative rating of 9% for bad reviews.

     Part of all the brouhaha and hype over the book has extended to the movie by the same name. That movie is scheduled for release in U.S. markets on April 16, 2014.

     I have obtained for your consideration, a trailer of the upcoming movie from YouTube. Take a minute to watch it and see if it influences you to read the book or see the movie. Again, the movie is entitled, Heaven is For Real, and is coming to the big screen on April 16, 2014. [18]

     Greg Kinnear will be starring as Todd Burpo, Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, Connor Corum as Colton, Lane Styles as Cassie, and others including Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church. Writing credits go to Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent for the book, Chris Parker and Randall Wallace for the screenplay. Randall Wallace is credited as the Director.      

Here is one of the movie posters for
the movie, Heaven is for Real. [19]
     I hope that the adaptation of the book to the big screen goes well for the director and other creative artists in charge of bringing the story to the cinema. Adapting a book to a movie is not always easy, so I'll be cheering their attempts to bring an interesting and entertaining movie to the big screen.

     I promised we would come back to the religious (or spiritual) and emotional aspects of looking at the book. So, here we are. Religion is a very individual thing. No matter what religion you are, you have core of beliefs about God, heaven and hell, faith, hope and charity, and, perhaps, other religious views. No amount of persuading can be done by anyone to move you from what you believe down inside yourself.

     So,  if you think the book is nonsense, and that you should only read about heaven from the Bible, then none will be able to convince you otherwise. If you have found solace, hope, encouragement, or a bolstering of your religious faith because of one family and their testifying about a unique experience they've had, who is to say you are wrong.

     I have said it before in my blog posts, and I'll probably say it again. What ever it is from your past (all your baggage and life experiences) that you bring with you to any book you read, shapes how you understand and perceive that book. No matter what you read, no matter what message the author intends, only you can decide what it is you will take with you from that book, from that reading experience. Only you can decide how much you will open your mind to a new way of perceiving and thinking.[20]

     Emotion is similar to religion in that only you have control of your emotions and can choose what to do with those emotions. If you let anger color the words you say to another person, you may find you have to deal with a damaged relationship. If you let a judgmental attitude color what you say, you may find yourself developing habits that lead you to criticize people, what people say, do, wear, or act, without always understanding what is going on behind the scenes. Personally, I like the way Joe South puts it in his huge hit from the 1970s, Walk A Mile In My Shoes. It still seems as apropos today as it did back then.[21]

     The movie is listed by IMDb as Drama and has a rating of PG due to "thematic material and medical situations." [22] In the case of the book, I too, would rate it as PG due to the same consideration for the material included. The book and movie may be fine for children who are not overly sensitive, and if the parent has the wherewithal to explain the material and deal with their child in a sensitive manner. Other people who may be sensitive to the themes expressed in the book would be couples who have had miscarriages, loss of a child,  and individuals dealing with the death or loss of a loved one.

     If you are a very religious person and have decided views on death, heaven, and near-death experiences, then you may want to consider your options before seeing the movie. If you consider yourself to be an open-minded spiritual person, you may find something to take away from the book and it may be worth reading.

     I very much enjoyed this book. While I did find a few of Colton's statements a little disconcerting, I have no trouble is recognizing that many, many people have had similar near-death experiences. Those reports can be life affirming and positive, even inspirational. I believe the movie will be very emotive and am planning on carrying some clean, dry tissues in my pocket.

4 Stars out of 5. [23]
     For all the above reasons, I give this wonderful book a rating of 4.0 Stars out of 5 Stars. Try not to be too judgmental when you read the book and see the movie. I am not a Wesleyan, but can believe that the Burpo family is devout and loves God and their fellow man. I know. I know. That's a judgment, too. But that is not the same thing as being "Judgmental." Just . . . try to be kind.

Virginia Satir said, "We need four hugs a
day for survival. We need eight hugs a
day for maintenance. We need twelve
hugs a day for growth." [24]
     My dear friends, this has been a somewhat difficult blog post to write this week. I find that writing about religion (and politics) are very, very difficult. I try to keep my relationship with God on a personal level and do not feel qualified to tell others what is right or wrong about religion. As I mentioned, above, you each have your own core beliefs on which to rely.

     I would like to exhort you today to spread the love around a little bit; so to get things started, I'm sending all of you a hug. I don't know if heaven is for real. That's something we take on faith. The only real thing I know to say to each of you is, "I send you my love!"

Until next time...
White Rose. [25]
...many happy pages of reading! 


1. "CelestialSales of Boy's Tale of Heaven." [by Julie Bosman] Retrieved 03-31-14.
2. "Bloom's Taxonomy." Retrieved 04-01-14.
3. "Forthe Burpo Family, 'Heaven is for Real.'" [by Mark Ellis] Retrieved 04-02-14.
4. "Marc Chagall; Dessins pour la Bible (Job Praying)." Retrieved 04-02-14.
5. "Butterfly Pavilion." Retrieved 04-02-14.
6. "Vomiting." Retrieved 04-02-14.
7. "Inkorrigible: What is it this time?" Retrieved 04-02-14.
8. "Prayer Service." [Friendship Baptist Church] Retrieved 04-02-14.
9. "Frugal" Retrieved 04-02-14.
10. "Angels Guiding Us." Retrieved 04-02-14.
12.  "'Prince of Peace' by Akiane Kramarik ...Finalist For 2013 Christian Retail Awards." Retrieved 04-02-14.
14. "Lynn Vincent: the most successful writer you've never heard of." [by Peter Rowe] Retrieved 04-02-14.
15. "Barnes and Noble." Retrieved 04-02-14.
16. "Goodreads." Retrieved 04-02-14.
17. "Amazon" Retrieved 04-02-14.
18. "Heaven is For Real: Official Trailer-In Theaters Easter 2014." [YouTube] 04-02-14.
19. "Heaven is for Real." Retrieved 04-02-14.
20. "Daily Reading-April 26, 2013-Take What You Like..." Retrieved 04-03-14.
21. "Walk A Mile In My Shoes." [Joe South] Retrieved 04-03-14.
22. "Heaven is For Real." Retrieved 04-03-14.
23. "Review: Seven Psychopaths." [4 Stars] Retrieved 04-03-14.
24. "Sending You My Warmest Hug." [by Joanne Logatoc] Retrieved 04-03-14.
25. "Top 28 White Roses Pictures For Free Download." Retrieved 03-29-14.