Crawling Through Thorns – John Sam Jones

CTT(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The author is about the same age as me and we both grew up in seaside towns. We have many similar, and also many different, experiences. He discovers cottaging in his teens. Many of is encounters have also been described in his novels: Welsh Boys Too, Fishboys of Vernazza  and  With Angels and Furies .

When John Sam Jones’ life reached a crisis point, he faced a choice between change or suicide. This book describes his journey back from the edge

He grew up during the ’60s and ’70s in a small town nestled between the Irish Sea and the Rhinog mountains in Wales. His family lived in that community for many generations; hard-working, Welsh-speaking, and solidly Presbyterian. The town was a summer holiday resort that had seen better days, but life still seemed spit into two; the three-month-long season and nine months when nothing much happened. Both his parents were second children.

Realising that he was gay at the age of 11 or 12 wasn’t easy. In the late 1960s in Britain, homosexuality was barely talked about – unless in hushed tones and with distaste. All he knew about homosexuals was what he’d read in newspaper reports – about men being arrested for improper behaviour, and the word “homosexual” was always accompanied by words like unstable, alcoholic, sinful, sick, criminal.

The clash of religion, culture and sexuality in his sense of identity became intense by the time he was 18 and he suffered depression and an eventual breakdown.

The repressed gay ordinand who seeks to cure him by having sex with him is just typical.

The NEB version of 1 Corinthians which mistranslates as homosexuals can’t go to heaven is the experience of many, to their despair.

The extempore prayer that uses the word ‘just’ several times is a bit anachronistic for the 1970s – I think.

However, the account of Taize is accurate and atmospheric.

The arrival in Israel, wit its sweltering heat and citrus smell; reflects my experience too.

I enjoyed SCM being dubbed ‘Slightly Christian Marxists’.

Richard (Kirker) was, indeed, ever the salesman.

It’s astonishing that aversion therapy was still going on in the 1970s – but then it is still is in some places. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t work, it’s highly immoral to encourage men to use women.

The Welsh Book Council has described it as “book that refuses to be pigeon-holed: it reads like memoir, is presented as fiction and offers a critique of society’s changing attitudes towards the gay community from the 1960s to the present day. It is a brave and often shocking book, whose flashback structure generously softens the pain… Crawling through Thorns is the story not just of a personal quest for honesty and openness, but also of a society having to confront its fears and prejudices. Highlighting the difference between the toxic shame delivered upon the oppressed and the real shame that should be felt by the oppressors, it is a challenging and compulsive read – often harrowing but ultimately uplifting.”

The title echoes a slightly obscure poem by Waldo Williams. The book jumps about a bit.

I liked the contextual theology and Robert MacAFee Brown.

And I really do get that someone who is dying wants Communion from the person who cares for them rather from some remote priest.

There’s a bit of obsession with sound systems – Bang & Olufson and the like.

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