Wednesday, June 27, 2012

pure gold

With a British Olympics around the corner, I suspect David McClasland's Pure Gold (Lion, 2012) has been republished with the possibility of a fresh readership in mind. If so, I succumbed - and am so glad I did. It caught my eye at Auckland Airport - and it filled that eye with more than few tears.

It is such a sad book. Liddell was just 43 when he died of a brain tumour in an internment camp, just months before the war ended. He waited and waited for the love-of-his-life (Florence) to reach a marriageable age and then spent more time apart from her than with her, in an 11 year marriage. He never met his youngest daughter Maureen. And his own childhood in a missionary family was full of separation: 'Between the ages of six and a half and thirteen, Eric had lived in a family home with both parents for only a hundred days' (43). And then there is Florence as well - left as she was without a husband at 33, with three little girls for which to care. An incredibly sad book.

Then there is a tenderness as well. I love the way McCasland describes Eric and Flo's relationship. After the decision to marry: 'They were both hopelessly and fearlessly in love with the most wonderful person they knew' (143). After a year of separation on the way to marriage: 'They embraced for a long time without speaking, trying to make up for the yearnings of a year apart' (166). Describing their honeymoon: 'The reality of being husband and wife sank in slowly but deliciously each day' (176). Then when discussing remarriage after the death of either one of them, Eric twinkled away with 'Now, Flo, you know I'm always happy to do whatever you ask. However since you chose my first wife for me, I think it would only be fair if I was allowed to do my own choosing' (190).


The more I reflect on the story, the more I am convinced that Eric is the kind of Christian we need to be nurturing today. Eric was 'an ordinary man who lived so extraordinarily' (281) and that is possible for us all. He was a simple chemistry teacher. Sure, he was an Olympic champion but 'part of what endeared him to others was his ability to enjoy his success while being completely detached from any sense that he was responsible for it' (94). 


There is a rich spirituality here. Positive and relational. Salt and Light. Truth and grace. Thinking about my previous post on fashion and relevance, Eric would not stoop to care about either of them (he wore 'gaudy floral print shirts...made from his wife's curtains' (259) at the internment camp). Then there are the Four Absolutes by which he lived: 'absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love' (105). 'He was serious about God, but never about himself' (137). He was 'never too busy to accommodate himself to the wishes of others' (236). I love how he described living his faith in the workplace of a high school in China: 'The Spirit of our Master slowly works his way into our games, works, and services' (153). And when things became so uncertain, he concluded that 'in every daily contact he had, whether with British, Japanese, or Chinese, he wanted to be part of God's "amazing offensive of love".' (226). His approach to Bible study was to 'read accurately, interpret honestly, apply drastically' (162). When 300 children from Chefoo School arrived at the camp, they loved Uncle Eric 'because he was concerned and available' (266) - with a number of them prominent in the story of his final days.


None of these qualities are out of reach for any of us. The story inspires, but more importantly, it gives the reader something to which to aspire which is realistic. Eric is just the sort of believer and follower which God desperately needs to sign up for his mission in the world. His is an example which can be followed. 


It is a beautifully written book. It starts where it should start: that final farewell to Flo and the girls beside the ship in Kobe, as they head back to Canada. The author writes the personal story against the backdrop of the history of the world. I love it when that happens. For example, Florence discovers that her Eric had died (she received the news two months after he died) on the very day the world celebrated Hitler's death, with newspaper headlines 'as tall as a man's hand' (282). While the world around her was euphoric, she was swallowed up in grief. 

I'll be watching Chariots of Fire yet again when I get home, buoyed by the fact that Flo reckoned it captured Eric so well, particularly his 'winsome and humble spirit' (13). 


Why not infuse this British Olympic season with a book that will do you a lot of good?


nice chatting


Paul

6 comments:

not a wild hera said...

LOVED seeing a new stage version last night - brilliant experience! Do tell Joseph and Barby if they haven't seen it yet: http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/event/261896/chariots-of-fire?DCMP=Google-PPC

Ben Carswell said...

Paul
I'd echo the previous comment - apparently the stage version in London is excellent.

I love your comment "The more I reflect on the story, the more I am convinced that Eric is the kind of Christian we need to be nurturing today." You articulate what I've believed & tried to put into practice in discipleship of others.

McCasland's biography is the best of the biographies that I've read. However, I recently picked up 'Complete Surrender' - Julian Wilson in a local bookshop & enjoyed that. Overall, I don't think it's as well written as Pure Gold, but it is a good read & there are some different angles. Its over-riding theme is 'absolute surrender' & it challenged me afresh. You'd also enjoy it, I think.

Was great to see Pure Gold in Whitcoulls, Queen Street recently. Would be great if Kiwis & tourists visiting picked it up & were challenged through his life & witness

Paul said...

Yes, Ben - the Julian Wilson book is on my list for purchase now and I wish I'd lived closer to London so that I could see that stage version. I'll have to encourage Joseph to go - and then increase further my list of illustrations for the word 'vicarious' ... :)

Paul said...
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