What do a 1920s Canadian-American actress, a 1950s “Eastern” mystic-plumber, and a 1970s pro wrestler named “Big Daddy” all have in common? All were of special interest to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and they illustrate one of the most significant ways that his life has shaped mine.
Several weeks ago I wrote on how seriously Lloyd-Jones took preaching. But preaching was not the only thing he took seriously. He also took seriously the interests and enjoyments of those he loved, no matter how small or seemingly silly. Last week I wrote about how studying Lloyd-Jones is helping me become a better husband. This week I will share how studying him is helping me become a better father.
Of Mystic Plumbers and Cigarette Cards
Here are a couple of stories from the Doctor’s children and grandchild that illustrate how he has shaped me as a father.
1. The Lobsang Rampa incident
On the bonus features of disc two of Logic on Fire, grandson Jonathan tells the story of his teenage interest in transcendental-meditation. During his teenage years, Jonathan was, in turn, an agnostic, an atheist, and a Buddhist. He was then gripped by an author named Lobsang Rampa, whose book The Third Eye was causing quite a stir in Britain in the early part of the 1950s. Instead of dismissing Lobsang as utter drivel, for Jonathan’s sake, Lloyd-Jones read it. He wanted to know why this book was getting a hold of his grandson.
On the train, as he traveled to and from a preaching engagement in Manchester at the Free Trade Hall, he read The Third Eye. Years later, Jonathan’s mother and father would joke about how awkward it must have been for the Doctor to be sitting on the train reading this book with a hideous cover after he had just finished preaching at such an important meeting.
He proceeded to walk Jonathan through the book, pointing out areas of agreement and strengths and systematically dismantling the author’s arguments. Several years later it was discovered that Lobsang was no Eastern guru; he was a plumber from Plympton in Devon who claimed that Lobsang Rampa was the spirit of a Tibetan lama who inhabited his body. His other works include such gems as Living with the Lama, which is described as a “book typed by Lobsang but telepathically dictated by one of his many cats.”
Utter nonsense, and yet Lloyd-Jones took it seriously. Why? Because he knew that the book didn’t ultimately matter. What mattered was that he conferred on Jonathan the dignity of intentional, intellectual engagement. Lloyd-Jones took Jonathan seriously, and Jonathan loved him for it.
2. The Norma Shearer cigarette card incident
Here is how his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, describes this incident, nearly 70 years later:
When I myself was a very little girl, I used to collect cigarette cards. Now, as you can imagine, it was rather a hard job for me to collect cigarette cards, because nobody around me smoked. There were very few members of the church in Aberavon that smoked either, and I really labored my way through a collection of film stars in cigarette cards. . . . I got them all except Norma Shearer, and Norma Shearer hung over me for weeks. I couldn’t get her. I kept on getting all the ordinary ones like Errol Flynn and all these others, but not Norma Shear. . . . I was getting depressed about this; I suppose I was about 7 or 8 at the time.
Then one morning—I remember it to this day—I got up and there at my breakfast place, on my plate, was Norma Shearer. My excitement was tremendous. Apparently, what had happened was that my father had been preaching somewhere up the valleys. Someone had been driving him, and they were out to tea together. After tea was over, the man who had been driving him pulled out a packet of cigarettes and took a cigarette out. My father leaned across the table and said, “Excuse me, have you got a card in the there?” Somewhat surprised, the man said, “Well, I’ll have a look. I have,” he said. My father said, “Can I see it? Good!” “It’s Norma Shearer,” and he pocketed it for me!
I think about the delight Lloyd-Jones took in watching pro wrestling with his grandson Adam. Can you imagine Lloyd-Jones, in his black three-piece suit cheering on “Giant Haystacks” as he battled “Big Daddy”?
Or I think about the delight of Lloyd-Jones’s youngest daughter, Ann, as she remembered how her father would play with her on the way to Westminster Chapel. On Sundays, as a little girl, Ann would ride the train with Lloyd-Jones. There were 12 stops in between their station and Westminster. The rule was that he would go over his sermon notes through the first station, and then for the next 11 stops he would play a game with her. Can you imagine him in his black three-piece suit playing children’s games just before he is about to preach? One stop for sermon preparation. Eleven stops for kid’s games.
He took all his loved ones seriously. He entered into their world and their enjoyments from their earliest age. He loved what they loved because he loved them. And they never forgot it. Perhaps he knew the best way to increase his happiness is by entering into the happiness of another.
I think about those incidents often. What will my two girls remember about me 70 years later? I remind myself his example as I watch my two little girls twirling around the living room belting out Frozen lyrics. I ask myself: What would Martyn Lloyd-Jones do? He wouldn’t be checking his phone. He might just twirl around with them and sing “For the First Time in Forever” in his deep Welsh accent and his black three-piece suit.