The Time I Made the Tozer Joke

I'm a smart, well-traveled career woman with a master's degree and three published works on the market. Unfortunately, I'm also fairly awkward. Please enjoy this series chronicling some of the awkward things I've done and the lessons I've learned along the way.

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 9: The Time I Made the Tozer Joke

Last year I visited a friend in the greater Chicago area. One evening, she and I drove across town to pick her daughter up from a birthday party at the home of a school friend. 

"You're going to love the house," my friend told me, and I did. "If they don't offer us a tour, try to get a look around anyway." Thus while my friend chatted with the mother of the birthday girl, I began to wander afield, eyes darting down hallways and up staircases, trying to get a good idea of the floor-plan. 

Tucked under a polished wooden staircase, I spied The Bookshelf, a classy airtight number with sealed glass panels, containing a wide array of first-edition and out-of-print books. I walked toward it as in a daze, hearing angel choirs. I did everything but press my nose against the glass. I itched to open the panels and run my fingers along those cloth-soft spines.

"No," I reprimanded myself. "You're a guest here. Not even a guest. You're a tag-along. Keep your hands out of the bookcase." 

I wandered back over to where the two women stood chatting, ignoring the shrieking grade-school girls swirling through the room. Their conversation broke as I approached, and some men (dads, I assumed) came in from outside to join us.

"You've got a great collection of books," I said, gesturing across the room.

The wife smiled as a man I took to be her husband joined our little circle. "[My husband] just loves old books," she gushed. "In the early days of the internet, when he realized he could buy them for a steal, he went online and just snapped them all up. Really cheap, too! Some of them are even signed by the authors."

I thought of the first-edition Tolkien I'd spied, and my brain melted a little.

"You must really like Tozer," I commented, referencing an entire row of A.W. Tozer's early works, many of them identical copies. 

"Oh!" the wife brightened. "Do you know Tozer?"

"Well," I deadpanned, "not personally."

A long silence ensued, broken only by shrieking from upstairs and the sound of a half-muffled snort-laugh coming from my friend bedside me.

"Oh, honey," the wife told me, smiling kindly. "Tozer's dead." I detected a soft pity in her expression.

The husband nodded slowly, looking at me seriously through his glasses. "He was part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Movement," he told me in a tone that seemed half tour guide, half high school principal. "He was a really well-known preacher and writer." He pushed up his glasses. "His best-known work is probably The Pursuit of God." 

"Well," I fumbled, trying to think how to backpedal gracefully. "I know who Tozer is. I mean, I know he's dead." But even to my own ears, I sounded defensive. I wasn't lying, though. I've read Tozer extensively, partly due to the influence of a favorite professor from my undergrad degree who had studied under Tozer way (waaaay) back in the day. I certainly knew Tozer. But it was hard to figure out how to say all of that without sounding pretentious. 

So I didn't say anything. 

I stood mutely as my friend wound up her chat and collected her own daughter. The minute we were back in the car, my friend cracked up laughing, "That," she said, "was awesome." 

I slunk down in my seat. "I don't want to talk about it." 

"Well, if it's any consolation, I thought it was funny."

"What's wrong with me?" I asked, not for the first time. "Why can't I just talk to people like a normal person? Why am I like this?"

My friend cranked the engine and put the car in gear, looking into her mirrors before pulling out into the quiet street. "I have a suggestion," she said. "Maybe you could try not acting like yourself until people have already gotten to know you."

All things considered, this is probably not bad advice.


  1. I empathize. Our family has a jocular outlook on life, and the width and depth of knowledge from which we draw our inspiration is obviously from a different part of the waters than the general public. When our son left home and became gainfully employed, he sadly related that he had to be cautious about his remarks, as some went right over his colleagues' heads and others were awkwardly misunderstood. Any attempt to salvage one's remarks only digs the ditch of awkwardness to a deeper level.

    I used to be mortified when those mishaps occurred, but time has mellowed my outlook. Our family dynamic and sense of humor isn't for everyone--like lutefisk or haggis.

    1. Yes, exactly! Sometimes jokes require intuitive leaps based on shared knowledge, and I love when I'm around people who will make that leap with me. :)


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