Wow. Tough crowd over here. I go away for the weekend and so does everybody else, apparently!
Anyway, I went away for the weekend. With my Paul. For our anniversary. As one does on First Anniversary trips (?), we spent most of the car-ride to and from our destination listening to Focus on the Family‘s radio-theatre adaptation of The Screwtape Letters. No matter what you think about Focus on the Family (and I confess my own impressions have risen and fallen and risen again), they do excellent radio theatre, and anyway, how can a project that combines Andy Serkis (atheist) and C.S. Lewis (former atheist) in the cause of Christ be a bad idea? I guess one or two of you might think that sounds like a terrible idea, actually, but I am here to tell you that you are mistaken: it was a very, very good idea.
Listening to this sort of audio in the car was a new thing for my Paul and me, and, since the CD set was originally mine and I had already listened to it, I was feeling some sort of nebulous pressure for my Paul to like it as much as I did. I didn’t need to worry; as the first CD wrapped up, he said, “You can put the next one in if you want.”
A lot of the content of the story ties in with things we’ve been discussing in Systematic Theology, and I got to thinking about this and to marveling (as I often do marvel, when confronted with the works of C.S. Lewis) at Lewis’ clear-headedness about sometimes muddy concepts, as well as his ability to express them so readably. I have this sheepish idea that C.S. Lewis’ writings are just one tier below inspired Scripture, and that one of the reasons for that tier is that he didn’t happen to write his stuff in the first century. This is a very unorthodox position to hold, and I don’t really believe that, but his books are the only ones outside the Bible that I can read and reread and still get something out of every single time. (Then again, I was searching for Bibles for my confirmation students yesterday and was kind of dismayed/irritated/yea-even-disgusted that there is now a “C.S. Lewis Bible” out there. So maybe I’m on safer ground than the above statement makes it sound.)
Anyway, all this thinking about C.S. Lewis reminded me of my childhood. (I’m cramming Memory Monday and Family Friday into this Wordy Wednesday, since I left you hanging all weekend.) When I was about two or three, my mother was reading the Chronicles of Narnia to herself, and she wouldn’t read them to me just yet, but she let me look at the wonderful Pauline Baynes illustrations, and she told me that Aslan the lion was Jesus. I was a pretty sensitive child, so when she finally did try to read them to me the first time, I got completely freaked out by The Magician’s Nephew, but eventually I tried again with the whole series and just ate it up. Since then, I’ve read them over and over, and listened to the Focus on the Family adaptation of those, too.
I think I must have been around seven years old, three years after I had announced in no uncertain terms that I wanted to become a writer “like Elsa Beskow,” when my mother asked me, “Jennie, how do you think you could use writing to serve God?”
I was right in the middle of the Chronicles for the first time, and obviously I hadn’t read any straight theology or anything before, and so I said, “I could write stories like C.S. Lewis.”
I’m not sure why my mother seemed a little taken aback and noncommittal when I said that, since I was only seven, had never been confronted with a question like that before, and was encountering God through Narnia as I hadn’t really through any other books at the time. I suspect, though, she was just thinking realistically. No one else could write like C.S. Lewis.
No, really–they can’t. I had to order a book by an eminent Scottish theologian for my Christology class which starts next term and, in looking for it, I discovered that this theologian has apparently also written some sort of fantasy allegory sorts of books. I have never read them so I have no idea if they’re any good, but the fact that I have also never heard of them, even though I have heard of this theologian since I was an undergrad makes me think that they’re probably a little stilted or contrived. There was another series of books of that sort from an entirely different theologian that I read as a kid in the 80′s. I liked them well enough as a kid in the 80′s, but they didn’t have the staying power of Narnia or Screwtape or even the Cosmic Trilogy (which is pretty lame sci-fi, but still a pretty great marriage of theology and fiction). I no longer have any of the editions of those other books, but I still have all my Lewis.
And here’s what I’ve been realising recently, with all this thinking about writing and writing about thinking about God: writing anything that comes close to the clarity and profundity of C.S. Lewis’ straight theology, let alone writing fiction that so powerfully incorporates strong theological ideas as his does, is kind of a long shot. Kind of an impossibility, knowing my writing. But it turns out that if you asked me, “Jenn, how do you think you could use writing to serve God?” I would still say, maybe not very certainly, but certainly hopefully, “I could write stories like C.S. Lewis.”