Your Story

How you read that previous post of mine, I can only imagine.  Some blogger’s Dad is diagnosed with incurable cancer while quoting Joy Davidman using the awfullest words in response to her own.  What a story this blogger is having, and what stories he’s telling.  This is how I’m imagining, in the still silence, the yet silentness, of no comments from you.  What’s your story on that?

Can I give you a bit more of Joy Davidman?  I’m reading her letters while reading her book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments.  For some reason, I feel compelled to say again the this is my Dad’s own copy of the book, the very original edition, the one without C. S. Lewis’s “Forward,” a book which new went for $1.65, the price on the back jacket.  Well, the reason for my making such a big deal out of that is that Dad says he really likes the book and used it to preach a series of sermons.  And the reason for telling you that?  Hmm, the story is painful.  Let me tell it to you another day, okay?

I’m deeply interested in adult human conversion.  We went to dinner last evening with one of my best friends and his wife.  He’s a Jew, an agnostic, and has always been; she has been a Christian now for several years, converting late in life, and the birthday we were celebrating she says is not the day of her only birth.  It’s just the day of her physical birth.  I mentioned this to him.  Listen, would you?  It’s a fun bit in a letter by Joy Davidman to a friend.  At least we and our friends found it to be funny.  The language makes Jews and Christians laugh.  So what do you think about how Joy minds her language?

Since my conversion–I am now, believe it or not, a deaconess of the Presbyterian Church, and it feels odd to say the least.  Oy!–since becoming a Christian, I am reveling in my new-found ability to admit my ignorance.  In my old world, you just had to have an opinion on every conceivable subject that came up; an open mind was a moral offense.  You can’t imagine what a luxury it is to have no opinions where I have no evidence!

Let me say how odd this paragraph might have read to my Dad, had he seen it when preparing his sermons. Once upon a time, he would have frowned on deaconesses, and much more on pastoresses, because of fundamental Bible beliefs and interpretations, mainly sexist and Southern Baptist ones. That’s a story I’m not so inclined to tell you today. But let me just say that Dad has also had and is having adult human conversion, which fascinates me, and today at the risk of some pride perhaps he’d be happy to report that his sermon series developed from a book written by a Jewess who was a deaconess and a Presbyterian. (I also want to let you know how men, and some women who must be silent around these men, are today perpetuating sexist beliefs about the Bible. Click here for Suzanne’s blogpost on this true story.)

Joy Davidman also writes the following in this same letter I quoted from above:

As a Christian Jew, I have had to analyze in myself and my background all the peculiarly Jewish attitudes toward the Christian. I think very few Gentiles realize that even the most Americanized Jew usually shudders when he sees a church, a cross, or even the name of Christ in print. It is, of course, a shudder of fear; but it gives rise to hate immediately…. I have almost never met a Jew who wasn’t anti-Christian.

Davidman, in her essay of conversion autobiography entitled “The Longest Way Round,” discusses her Christian husband’s abuse of her and her children. But she confesses the following too:

The inner personality was deeply interested in Christ, and didn’t know it. As a Jew, I had been led to feel cold chills at the mention of his name. Is this strange? For a thousand years Jews have lived among people who interpreted Christ’s will to mean floggings and burnings, “gentlemen’s agreements,” and closed universities. If nominal Christians so confuse their Master’s teaching, surely a poor Jew may be pardoned a little confusion. Nevertheless I had read the Bible (for its literary beauty, of course!) and I quoted Jesus unconsciously in everything I did, from writing verse to fighting my parents [who also were atheist]. My first published poem was called “Resurrection”–a sort of private argument with Jesus, attempting to convince him (and myself) that he had never risen. I wrote it at Easter, of all possible seasons, and never guessed why.
The cross recurs through most of my early poems, and I seem to remember explaining that Jesus was a “valuable literary convention.”

When I started writing this post, intent on sharing stories, Dad’s perhaps more, mine therefore, and Davidman’s intertwined, I was interested and still am in the language. Note how Jesus and Christ and the cross and the Bible are literary, for Davidman. I wanted to tell you how she came to this and converted into and through and beyond such language into minding other language. You may not have liked that she cusses at cancer, and uses God’s name when doing it. You may, therefore, if that’s you, really like how she interprets, as a Jew, a Christian, a deacon, a woman, and even a person of a particular protestant denomination the Third Commandment. I’m out of time for now. Let me just say that it’s all about language, and conversions of language.

(a parenthetical postscript is this:  my Dad’s ongoing conversions I’ve hinted at before, here and here where he was such a pastor when my daughter had deadly cancer and here where I’ve said what sort of Jewish Jesus he’s coming to believe in.  If I stop blogging for a bit in the upcoming days, it’s because I’m with him and with Mom as they battle his cancer.)

12 responses to “Your Story

  1. May you and your family know the nearness of God in this very difficult time.


    • Dana,

      Your kindness touches me deeply, and my family and I are very grateful that you’ve stopped by here to remind us of God’s dear nearness.

  2. Just got home from out of town, but reading along now. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to respond to your posts, generally.

    I tend to think about what you write, but am never sure what to comment on. I’ve even come back a day or two later to comment, but never seem to know what to say. I think it may be because your posts are more complex than the other blogs I read, and so I ended thinking more than I’m used to.

    Anyways, it seems that you have things right if you will quit blogging for a bit to spend time with your father. Will be praying for you.

    • Nathan,
      First, and always, thank you for praying! As I wrote this blogpost, I thought of you reading Darwin. So many reading his Origin of the Species have been converted to agnosticism and sometimes even atheism. What I didn’t say in my so quickly written post is that my best buddy, the agnostic Jew, is leaving town this week to be with his family to memorialize his dear uncle. His uncle was diagnosed with cancer around the same time my Dad was. His uncle’s cancer was operable and curable; Dad’s isn’t. His uncle despaired nonetheless, and committed suicide much to everyone’s shock. In contrast (such a very difficult thing and contrast among friends), my Dad has decided to fight the disease, to live on this planet as many days with Mom as he can, although he so very much looks forward to being with God in the new place in his new body. Ironically, both men share the same name, Jim. It’s so very very difficult this news about my friend’s Uncle Jim while watching the nasty cancer fight of Jim, my Dad. One gave up hope, the other has much peace and hope. (And, in Jim’s name, not long ago, the four of us friends with others in our community, donated our blood for use in such fights for health.) Sorry to ramble on. Please keep on praying. And would you please also pray for my dear friend and his dear family and their tragic difficulty?

  3. Pingback: Taking a second look « Jack Of All Trades

  4. John Radcliffe

    Hi JK,

    I don’t really know what (if anything) I could say here that might be of any help, but I hope I’m more successful than Job’s “friends” were.

    I’m thinking about my dad at this time too, but in my case because next Sunday would have been his 109th birthday. And as my mother and I plan another trip to Scotland at the end of August, we both wonder (mostly to ourselves) if this might be the last time she will be able to go. (We celebrated her 93rd just over a month ago.)

    So I’m thinking that love is indeed a double-edged sword. It would be much easier, wouldn’t it, if we were unloved and unloving. Then we wouldn’t have to face the fear (and ultimately, unless we “go first”, the certainty) of losing one we love. We wouldn’t have to experience how much it hurts us to see one we love suffer and be able to do so little to help; and how, ironically, seeing our pain can add to rather than ease theirs.

    And of course, the more we love and are loved, the more it hurts. (Which gets me to wondering just how much it hurt “God his Father” to see Jesus being beaten and spat upon, and then hanging there on the cross.) So, yes, life without love would be so much easier. But would such a life really be worth living? Could it even be called “life” at all?

    Some time ago, a friend from church was admitted to hospital with terminal cancer. The first time I went to visit him I arrived just as some of his family were leaving. Once they were safely out of earshot, I asked him if there was anything he was worried about; anything that he’d like to talk about to someone who wasn’t “too close”. He knew what I meant, but assured me he had his spiritual bags all packed and was ready to go.

    From then on our relationship reverted to type. Although we were very different in many ways, we got on because we both considered life (and, yes, even death) too important to be taken entirely seriously. I’m sure that evening, and the few that followed, we got many puzzled looks as the staff, other patients and their visitors probably all knew that he had only a short time to live, and so they couldn’t fully understand why we spent so much of my visits laughing. No doubt some thought we were “just putting a brave face on things”, but I don’t think that was it at all. The way I see it was that what my friend needed from me (and that those closer to him were probably too close to provide) was help to set his “imminent departure” in a wider perspective; reassurance that his life hadn’t shrunk down to that single defining point of his being “a terminal cancer case”.

    I doubt I’m making myself entirely clear, but I trust you’ll have some idea of where I’m coming from if I say I hope your dad also knows at least one person “who doesn’t know him too well”; someone who isn’t “too close”. And the same might go for you too; indeed, that may be what these blog posts are about (although, as I’m no psychologist, I’m not going to speculate any further on that).

    But I’ve rambled on for long enough (you may have noticed that I tend to say nothing or too much). So let me just say that I’ll be sure to remember to mention you, your dad, and those close to you next time I’m talking to my Father (you know the one I mean: the one who is “ours, yet filling the skies”).

    May God bless you and yours at this difficult time, and may you each be a blessing to each other.

    Kind regards, John

  5. love is indeed a double-edged sword

    John, I’ve read through your comment post thrice, sure I’m not going to be able to give a deserving reply to all the kind and encouraging things you’ve written to me. It’s just such a great privilege to have you as a friend, one who thinks about the sort of friend my Dad needs now. He has just under a score of years to reach your mother’s age. What a blessing you have in her! Thanks for blessing me, and my father, by writing. Please tell your Mum that some stranger on the internet (me) is really grateful for her. I imagine some day, some glorious day in what my Dad calls glory, we’ll meet. All of us may just take an eternity seeing our Creator face to face and finding just all he’s made us for. If “now,” when the best swords still have that second edge, is just a glimpse, I think “then” is just wonderful. (And speaking of now, please know there’s not going to be much time these days for me to get over to the blog. I’m rambling, scrambling to try to say Thank you John!). Sincerely, J. K. “Kurk” Gayle

  6. John Radcliffe

    Hi Kurk,

    I told my Mum what you said, but I don’t think I explained the background particularly well. Now she probably thinks people on the internet aren’t so much strangers as simply strange (me included).

    I’ll post here a rendering of mine you might enjoy (less than a day old). Please note that I fully understand about your priorities; comment back only as and when you have both inclination and time to do so. I won’t take offence at even an extended silence.

    (The leading dots are just because I don’t know how to indent):

    Psalm 23

    1 The LORD my shepherd does ensure
    … there’s nothing that I lack,
    2 In pastures lush he has me feed
    … – then rest there when I’m done,
    and takes me to the tranquil streams
    … where I can drink my fill.
    3 And so my life he does rebuild
    … – to make me truly “me”.

    He points the way that I should go,
    … because it pleases him.
    4 And even if that way is dark
    … – as dark as death can be,
    I need not fear I’ll come to grief,
    … because he comes with me.
    His shepherd’s rod and his staff too
    … will keep me safe from harm.

    5 You spread a feast out just for me
    … – right there, before my foes,
    and bless me with far more than I
    … could ever need or use.
    6 Your goodness and your covenant love,
    … doggedly pursue my days;
    and the LORD’s home will be my own
    … throughout the days that come.

    • John, I’ve tried once already unsuccessfully to reply here via an iPhone, but must keep at it. Your rendering of the 23rd Psalm is just beautiful. When I was just a boy, a closet atheist who was the son of a Christian missionary, I was made to memorize this particular psalm among several. “Not forced to,” my father corrected me recently, “but strongly encouraged.” At a recent birthday celebration for him, I recited the psalm for him from the NRSV, which is the Bible he’d given me many years ago. Now a theist myself, and now that my Dad is a much changed and kinder loving man, I wish I’d had your translation, John, to recite to him from memory. And so I’m memorizing it. Have read it aloud to my family and blessed them with it. You know it’s meant to be read aloud. Absolutely beautiful your rendered is!

  7. John Radcliffe

    Kurk, thank you for your kind words (once again).

    Have read it aloud to my family and blessed them with it. You know it’s meant to be read aloud. Absolutely beautiful your rendered is!

    You are, of course, quite right. I’ve tried (but not always succeeded) to give it an appropriate rhythm.

    I’m glad you liked it, and I’m extremely flattered that you should read it to others and also want to memorise it.

    I continue to “remember” you and yours.

    Kind regards, John

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