Book Review: I Still Believe
Title: I Still Believe
Author: Jeremy Camp with David Thomas
Pages: 213 (plus photo spread)
[In order to comply with certain FCC guidelines, I am required to inform you that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for my review on my blog.]
I went to Bible College in the fall of 1991. I had just married my wife in June of the same year. By the time December of that year rolled around, we knew she had Hodgkin's Disease–a cancer of the lymphatic system. By January of 1992, we were fully engaged in the first round of a six-month regimen of chemotherapy. This would be followed up with six consecutive, five-day a week radiation treatments. This is how we spent the first year of our marriage.
I Still Believe is a memoir written by popular Christian musician and songwriter Jeremy Camp. I was on the early bandwagon for Jeremy and still own and listen to his first three records. I have always enjoyed his music, his guitar playing, and the tone and depth of his vocals. After reading this book, I think I can now say that I also appreciate the lyrics to his songs as well. It's not that I didn't enjoy them before, but I think like most, I listened to the lyrics, often sang along, but rarely gave thought to what they might mean or what the background might be. Frankly, I am a big fan of musicians sharing the background to songs they write. It makes the songs more meaningful.
That said, this was a difficult book to read. I'm sure it was a difficult book to write. It made me think about my own walk with my wife: after her cancer at the age of 20-21 we have enjoyed nearly 23 years of marriage. But I am also acutely aware of the fact that her cancer could manifest itself again at any time. We are not so much in control as we like to think. And the struggle is summed up nicely in Camp's song and title: I Still Believe. But will we? We suffer and struggle a lot in this journey and it is terribly easy to fall back and forget that we are like so much gold in the fires of purification. We often blame God, accuse God, yell at God, shake our fist at God–and sometimes we just flat out ignore him. I think God is big and strong and can handle it and waits for us to come to our senses, but he waits. He is that Father who is waiting on his son and sees him off in the distance and runs to him.
And I think this is what troubles me the most: he waits. Sure there are sermons (or poetry) about God the great hound nipping at our heals. The Psalms tell us over and over again to 'wait on the Lord' and it is just that that bugs me. We are told to wait; he is waiting; someone has to make the first move. Someone has to get the ball rolling. Someone has to take charge. What we are supposed to learn, I think, is that God is in charge and all we can do is weep, wait, fall face down on the floor in prayer. Maybe we are to be like Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego: God can rescue us, oh king, but even if he doesn't we want you to know that we will not bow down to your statue of gold.
When I was in homiletics class at Bible College, one of the first an most enduring lessons I learned about preaching was this: don't talk about yourself in sermons. If you do, we were told, you make yourself out to be a hero of sorts and that's not always happiness. That is, it makes the person speaking seem to be less than humble. To this day, I can say that I may have spoken about my wife's cancer (and a subsequent bout with hemolytic anemia 2 years later) only a handful of times–which is an arrogant thing to say. That's what made the memoir, the memoir of someone who hasn't had trouble succeeding, very difficult to read. There is a tremendous depth of honesty and candor in the writing, but it comes off as heroic; a lot. Camp probably doesn't intend it to be so, but it does nonetheless. This was the least redeeming aspect of the book.
It's a difficult path. You want to tell your story. You want to honor Jesus. But there's always the struggle of painting yourself too highly. It may not be intentional, but it is inevitable.
Yet it is a good story to read. I read the revised and expanded edition so I have no idea what was changed or altered from the previous (2011) version. I'm not sure this book is worthy of a second read, although some may think it is. I also think this book is written for younger people–maybe college age or high school. It's not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or anything, but he's probably not trying to either. He is sharing his testimony before the Lord in the hopes that one person might hear and be saved. I'm fine with that.
He deals with weighty issues: I too would have been devastated if my wife had died during that first year of our marriage. Jeremy Camp gives us a wonderful picture of what the depths of sorrow and devastation are like–and perhaps how to respond to such devastation. And in this regard, we can come alongside Jeremy and sit in the ashes with him for a while. It is good to be sorrowful together, to carry one another's burdens, and to weep together in the Lord. But he also gives us a picture of what it means to trust and wait on the Lord–to Stay 'right there in the light.' I might find him a bit too heroic at times, but I cannot say he is not faithful. I might not read the book again, but I'll keep listening to his music. There, in his songs, is where his testimony is.