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.)