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By Ralph C. Wood
The Groves of Academe
This time a year ago, I had lunch with A. J. Conyers at the local Quizno's. Chip was preparing to begin another semester at Baylor's Truett Theological Seminary, where he had taught theology for the past decade. Yet he was also working out the complicated system that would allow him to receive intensive chemotherapy treatments every week in Houston while at the same time making sure that, with the help of a graduate student, all of his classes would be taught. I used the occasion to express sentiments to Chip that I had never voiced before, since it seemed obvious that he was dying of the leukemia that he fought so valiantly for a decade.
I expressed my enormous admiration for the way he had dealt with his illness—neither raving with rage at being struck down in the full flower of his career, nor sinking into the self-pity that would have made his disease the defining event of his life. I quoted a Presbyterian friend, a retired pastor who has seen many parishioners face death and who still holds to the difficult Christian doctrine of particular providence—the Pauline confidence, namely, that God is at work in all things, not by way of some vague general oversight, but by means of quite concrete and particular will. While visiting from North Carolina a few months earlier, this friend had briefly met Chip, but even this cursory visit had revealed to him what so many of us had found so remarkable about him. "Never have I seen a dying man face the end with such serenity, with such courage and grace, with such confidence that God's will is being done."
Chip received this tribute with his typical humility, but then he offered a surprising addendum. "Among those splendid words," he said, "there's one that you've left out." I inquired, of course, about the missing word. "It's puzzlement." How could he not be vexed at being cut off in his prime? Nearing the end of his fifth decade, Chip knew that his work was blossoming in new and unprecedented ways. He was producing books of ...