On February 7, 1948, Davidman writes To Aaron Kramer, “Your letter relieved me inexpressibly; I’d been jittering ever since I sent mine as to how you’d take it. To be able to take criticism such as that in the spirit you’ve shown is itself a sign of tremendous ability; a person of little talent couldn’t have done it. By all means let’s wrestle on the points you don’t agree with; on many things I was probably over-severe…” [Page 72, Out of My Bone – The Letters of Joy Davidman, Don W. King editor, Eerdmans, 2009.]
I include this excerpt to glimpse how Kramer received Davidman’s criticism and to get a picture of how she willingly returned the conversational ball – the game continued. Giving people what they want is often risky – do they really want our opinion or are they asking so we’ll tell them how beautiful their stick-figure drawings are? Davidman took the time to explain the basis of her critique, writing “something of a treatise” and then using the small treatise as a framework for her direct analysis of Kramer’s work. Without her little treatise would she and Kramer have had a context for dialogue?
How many times have we been jittering after either asking for critique or providing critique? I think a case of jittering is a good thing to have when giving critique, after all, someone has invited us into their life, into their creativity, into the recesses of their soul – that’s a pretty special invitation and to not take it reverently is to profane the relationship.
To “wrestle on the points” does not mean to wrestle with each other; we miss that at times – when self-worth or self-image or self-esteem or whatever we choose to call it is at stake then it is difficult to wrestle on the points because the transaction is personal – it’s isn’t about the subject matter it is about people. Much of what I observe in the public arena today is about people as opposed to being about the points – no matter what the arena of ideas, be it political, theological, sociological, etc. People ask me what I think about a certain popular media preacher and I must tell them that I don’t know the person or watch or listen to the person – however, what I have read that the person has written gives me concern over whether his message is centered on the Christ of the Cross – they are often taken aback and wonder what I have against the man. I have nothing against the man per se, I don’t know the man…but I must wrestle with the points of the Gospel – is the Cross central to his message?
By the same measure people are often against social and economic equity and justice not because they have really wrestled with the points but rather because advocates of just causes are demonized and caricatured – people are attacked at the expense of wrestling with the issues. No one is perfect, every Achilles has his or her heel; if we make the rhetoric about the vulnerable personal heel we move the discussion away from substantive wrestling with the issues – we sell so many more newspapers that way, we garner higher viewer ratings, and we manipulate the crowds.
Davidman and Kramer portray a nice model of mentor – mentoree; risk, give and take, a willingness to examine oneself on both ends of the relationship, a commitment to the relationship.
Jittering now and then is a sign of health.