I've tried to let you know about my good friends at the Oak Street Bible Shop as their conversations reveal their characters and beliefs. But Joy has been a mystery to me, revealing less of herself than the others, even Sue.
But this changed when I had a chance to hear her out just a few days ago. I often cut down Oak on my way home even though it is a little out of my way. I like to look in and think of the good conversations we have had over the years.
I looked in one Saturday afternoon after closing hour and saw that the shop was all lit up, and decided to at least look in the window. I found a parking spot and when I walked up on the porch and looked through the front window, I saw Joy with a small brush in her hand apparently painting a shelf. I knocked on the glass and she looked up at me, then walked over to unlock the door. She was a little surprized and asked to what she owed the honor of my presence at this unusual hour.
I was not sure how to answer. "Just a hunch", I told her."You know I can't drive by without looking in, or coming in if you're open".
Joy is a formidable woman, tall and with a powerful gaze, as if she is always on the verge of confrontation. But I know she is a deeply committed Christian and capable of warmth if approached within that framework.
She had emptied a shelf of books and was applying varnish to the already varnished surface. Her shop is the most painted and varnished place I have ever seen. Every surface glistens as if it was still wet. I had the feeling she enjoyed lavishing care on her shop, even if it was not really needed.
"I have an order for you, but the cash register has been cleared", she said.
"I'll bet the Walvoord's are in?", I asked, and she nodded. "Actually Joy, I need to confess something to you privately. I have been feeling guilty about laughing at the joke Gary made, about you stepping on bugs and pretending they were Catholics. I know you don't feel that way at all."
"Oh, that's all right", she reassured me. "I laughed myself, Gary can really catch you off guard, with his spontaneous humor. But you are right about how I feel about Catholics. I consider Catholic people my brothers and sisters. They are where I was, and believe me I understand how they feel, because I was raised in that religion. But the Roman church really is corrupt, and I can't love that system".
"I have two things in my background that I really grieve over. First all the years I spent in that corrupt system. I mean I went the whole rout, with the adoration of Mary, confessing to priests. I wore the scapular, do you know what that is?"
I told her I did not. She continued "Well it's not important now, but I was really into the whole thing, from childhood on. My mother saw to that. But as I grew older I kind of looked at it and my enthusiasm cooled, you know."
This is more than Joy had said to me in all the years I had known her. I suppose she opened up because we were alone, and I was flattered that she trusted me to keep her confidence.
"The other thing is, my father used to run a saloon, and when I was old enough I tended bar there. Can you see me as a barmaid?" She looked right at me and raised her eyebrows as she asked this question.
"Actually, no", I fibbed. "But we all have done things that might seem improbable to others, I am sure."
"Well I helped send a lot of people to hell through drink and I can't get it off my mind." She put the brush into a little jar of thinner and put the lid back on the can of varnish. "So what changed things in your life so drastically, that you are no
longer a Roman Catholic and hate alcohol so much?"
"As for leaving the Catholic church, I told you I was already changing in my devotion to religion in general. I didn't know why at the time, but I was drifting away. It left me with an empty feeling. I could never be good enough for one thing. They heap a lot of guilt on you and you are always in doubt about where you stand".
Joy gathered up the newspapers she had spread on the floor and stuffed them into a wastebasket. Then she sat in her customary high stool as if it was a regular business day. "Do you want a chair" she asked. I told her I was happy standing and felt maybe I shouldn't stay too much longer anyway. But she wanted to talk.
"A friend of mine, an older woman had left the church and when we were talking one day she said, 'Do you want to know why I left the church, Joy'? I said nothing and she told me it was a book someone had given her. 'I'll give you my copy, Joy,
if you promise to read it and not put it down until you get the message'.
"The name of that little book was "The Two Babylons", by Alexander Hislop, and just like my friend said, it changed my life. A relative gave it to my friend. He had become a Baptist, like I am now."
Joy pointed to a shelf at eye level behind me. "There they are", she smiled as she pointed to them. Her books were like her children and she was proud of them. "I know that that little book offends people. I didn't believe it when I first read it, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. The illustrations really got my attention. Why would a church that says it is Christian adopt the same clothing and imagery of ancient Babylon, and why haven't people noticed it? It is so pagan you can't
"It took awhile, but I did go to a Baptist church. I felt it was as far away as I could get from Catholicism. It took a lot of adjusting for me, their whole language is different and their way of life. From the Baptists I learned just how evil alcohol is and how much the Bible condemns it."
What could I say to Joy? I was glad she got out of a system she no longer believed in and had become such a Bible believing Christian. But, I am a teacher and I just can't let things alone, when I feel people have gone to extremes in their beliefs. I go too far, farther than I should, I suppose. Maybe that is why I have so few friends. I offend people, even very good people, like Joy.
Joy looked at me with misgivings as I began my little contribution to her statement of belief. "I am glad you got out, Joy. I had to get out too, from a Methodist Church that did not teach the Bible and a Presbyterian Church that forbade teaching the whole Bible. My best friend left a prominent Presbyterian church because of their open paganism.
"And when we leave we all have a tendency to believe that what we have left is totally evil and what we have gone to is totally good. But after long reflection I feel that though some churches are far more corrupt than others, they all have enough evil within them to occupy their members in continual reform just looking into themselves."
When you get to the top most churches have plenty of corruption and error, if only in their Pharisaic attitude."
Joy did not like what I was saying and it showed in her face, but she has an incredible grace in her makeup. Joy is sensitive to the Word. If you can show her scripture, she may not agree with you right away, but she does take it to heart.
"Did you ever think how many ways you Baptists are like the Catholic church you left?" These were fighting words, I knew, but she said nothing. "Let me give you some ways; First you both teach you are the one true church, right?”
Second, you both believe that one man has the sole right to interpret the scripture. For the Catholics it is the Pope and for the Baptists it is the preacher, your dictator."Third, you both have a tradition of hell preaching, you love the
doctrine of a fiery hell".
"Jesus preached more about hell than anyone, Joy said. "Look up how many times he mentions hell".
"Yes, and look up how many times Paul mentions hell in his church epistles," I countered.
"Paul never mentions hell at all". It is not that Jesus and Paul are at odds with one another, but before we spout off shouldn't we look into what we are talking about?"
"And, Joy, the Bible does not condemn alcohol, but it does absolutely condemn drunkeness, on that we are agreed."
Through all this Joy had been far more patient with me than I deserved. Her forbearance made me feel really guilty. I had interrupted her while she was working and started arguing without any justification.
"Please forgive me, Joy, I interfered with you when you had a little time alone and I really am sorry. And thanks for telling me your story, it makes me respect you even more."
"It's okay" she said with a wry smile, "It's just your way, I suppose. But you know, Gerald, you really are an odd duck, do you know it? I mean what do you believe anyway?"
"I'm a Bible Christian, that's what I try to be. And sometimes religion gets in the way that's all."
"Well", Joy said, "I remember what you said about the ancient Greeks, They were born neither to rest nor to give anyone else rest.I guess that's the way you are too".