Lewis’s Oxford-Cambridge Distinction

I watch from afar (via Facebook posts) those who are participating in the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s Oxbridge conference. I already had my England trip this summer; couldn’t afford this one.

It’s nice to relive, through the posts, some of the spots I visited earlier, especially the Kilns. The conference now moves on from Oxford to Cambridge, where Lewis taught in the last decade of his life. I’ve never been there; my bucket list is not yet emptied.

Moving from Oxford to Cambridge was hard for Lewis, even though he was offered a chair created with him in mind, and despite the poor treatment he received at Oxford, primarily from those who could never forgive him for wading into “religious” writing.

At first, he declined the invitation to teach at Cambridge. He was concerned about moving out of the Kilns after making a life there. At the urging of Tolkien and with the permission of Cambridge, he was able to keep the Kilns as his residence and take the train to Cambridge during the week.

His inaugural lecture created a sensation. In it, he spoke of the loss of the heritage of the past. He famously described himself as a dinosaur from whom others might still learn.

If a live dinosaur dragged its slow length into the laboratory, would we not all look back as we fled? What a chance to know at last how it really moved and looked and smelled and what noises it made! . . .

Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.

When he made the actual physical move, transferring all his books to the new university, it took him a while to adjust. Joy Gresham, not yet his wife, helped with the move. As I wrote in my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis (accessed here),

To some friends she wrote of how Lewis was adapting to the move, revealing the emotional wrench it was for him at first, even though he handled his uneasiness with his usual sense of humor:

“Poor lamb, he was suffering all the pangs and qualms of a new boy going to a formidable school—went around muttering, ‘Oh, what a fool I am! I had a good home and I left!’ and turning his mouth down at the corners most pathetical. He always makes his distresses into a joke, but of course there’s a genuine grief in leaving a place like Magdalen after thirty years; rather like a divorce, I imagine.”

Lewis, according to those who knew him at Cambridge, came to love the place. As he wrote to another correspondent, Mary Willis Shelburne, about his new Magdalene College,

It’s a tiny college (a perfect cameo architecturally) and they’re so old fashioned, and pious, and gentle and conservative—unlike this leftist, atheist, cynical, hard-boiled, huge Magdalen. Perhaps from being the fogey and “old woman” here I shall become the enfant terrible there.

I would be interested in knowing if Lewis’s perception of the distinction between Oxford and Cambridge remains today.

Meanwhile, as I enjoy others’ experiences from my vantage point across the ocean, running through my mind is one thought: Oxbridge 2020.

The C. S. Lewis Conference: A Report

I had a wonderful weekend at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Why was it held there? I’ll get to that.

As I did last fall, I presented a paper at the Academic Roundtable, a time for deeper thinking as a group of academics listened and discussed what each had to offer. The most interesting part of such a roundtable is getting perspectives from different disciplines. I was the only historian in the group; others were professors of theology, philosophy, and architecture.

My paper was on the distinction that we must make between liberty of conscience, which is a Biblically based concept, and pluralism, which is the more humanistic viewpoint—a viewpoint that attempts to push the Biblical worldview out of the public square. It seemed to be well received.

Plenary sessions were offered by excellent speakers. One of the most interesting to me was Malcolm Guite, a minister, theologian, professor, and poet at Cambridge University. He was a captivating speaker, is a songwriter and performer (he gave us some samples), and his poetry is the type that I actually love, which is saying something because I’m not naturally attracted to poetry.

Malcolm Guite

With his full beard, long hair, and short stature, he reminds me of a hobbit. That’s a compliment, by the way.

At a special faculty luncheon, Dr. Mary Poplin of the Claremont Graduate School spoke, and her personal testimony was both striking and stirring. She was a strident radical feminist and atheist (toying with Buddhism along the way) before God gave her a dream of standing before Jesus. That, along with other miraculous occurrences, led her to faith at the age of 41. Shortly after, she went to India to work with Mother Teresa.

Mary Poplin 1

Dr. Poplin also spoke at the final plenary session, outlining the four distinct worldviews that are in conflict. I was struck by how her presentation was very similar to what I do in the classroom, even starting with Colossians 2:8, one of my favorite scriptures:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Green Pastures-Outside 2I raised the question earlier as to why this conference was taking place in Massachusetts. The site was only about half an hour from a house that the Foundation has purchased and is planning to use as a study center. So one of the highlights of the conference was an excursion to that home in the town of Northfield.

Currently, a massive renovation of the home is taking place, with the goal of its being a place where students can come and discuss issues of faith and the Christian answer.

The Foundation already owns Lewis’s home, The Kilns, in Oxford, which it uses as a study center; the goal is to make this a place that can be used in the same way.

One of the dreams of the Foundation is to also establish a C. S. Lewis College in the town. It would be focused on the study of the Great Books and intensive discussion/argumentation (that latter word used in the best sense).

Green Pastures 1

A bonus on this trip was that just down the street is the birthplace of famous 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody, which we also were able to tour.

Moody Birthplace-Outside

Included in the home was an excellent museum.

Moody Birthplace-Museum

I took a shuttle to and from the airport. While the shuttle was waiting for another person to pick up at Amherst College, I noticed a statue that I had wanted to see, so I was able to jump out and take a picture of it.

Amherst College started in the early 19th century as an institution to train ministers. One of its key founders was Noah Webster, who, as some of you know, was the subject of my doctoral dissertation (and the book that was published as a result of that). The college acknowledges Webster’s role.

Webster Statue-Amherst College

I have to admit to being disappointed somewhat by the statue. First, it barely resembles Webster; second, it seems to have been neglected. But there is a scripture on it, 2 Timothy 1:12, for anyone who might take the time to read it:

For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Amherst College no longer exists for its original purpose, but a testimony remains for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Many thanks for the hard work and dedication of those who planned and carried out this conference. The Holy Spirit was evident in every aspect of it. A spirit of love and genuine fellowship prevailed.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 3)

This is the third in my series revealing the results of a survey I took of Americans’ debt to C. S. Lewis. Conducted in conjunction with the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, the goal was to provide testimonies to the influence of Lewis on those who responded to the survey.

Two weeks ago, I shared how the respondents had first become aware of Lewis and his writings. Last week was devoted to which of Lewis’s writings had the most impact. Today’s focus is on the following question:

Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, Involved with a C. S. Lewis Society/Organization or with Some Other Activity Connected with Lewis? Please Explain.

NY CSL Society MemoriamThis section of the survey showcased just how organizations with some connection to C. S. Lewis have proliferated in America. Starting with just one in 1969, The New York C. S. Lewis Society (two of the respondents currently are connected with this group), such societies are now found in many states and in cities that one would not ordinarily predict.

Respondents noted their participation in societies located in the greater southern California area, Washington, D.C., Seattle (at which one of the respondents read a paper), Portland (OR), and Pittsburgh. Others have taken part in societies outside the United States, in Toronto and, for one respondent, at Lewis’s own Oxford.

Universities in America also have C. S. Lewis societies; one, in particular, was noted at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina. A Socratic Club at Duke University was modeled after Lewis’s of the same name at Oxford. One respondent was a member of that club prior to its dissolution in 2009.

Others have been involved in organizations that are not necessarily Lewis-centric but have him as one component of their interest: a local Inklings group, in one instance, and the Mythopoeic Society for another. One respondent said, “I have started 3 Lewis Societies and visited/spoken at others in the US and UK.”

20140804_184024Four respondents have, at one time or another, worked at the Wade Center, which has only deepened their appreciation for all things Lewis. As one of those respondents remarked, “In my years as a student at Wheaton College I worked as a student employee for two years at the Wade Center as a book processor. I learned about and handled many Lewis books, letters, and artifacts at that time.”

KilnsAnother notes this connection with the C. S. Lewis Foundation in California, which now owns Lewis’s home, the Kilns: “I visited the Kilns this past February where I met the director of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. It was wonderful to have tea with her, have a tour, walk the grounds, and walk to his old church and gravesite.”

The arrival of the Internet—which was not a factor in the 1986 survey and only in its infant stages in 1996 for the second survey—was mentioned quite often as a way in which these Lewis fans have participated in activities. Six noted their membership in a Facebook page devoted to Lewis, three specifically mentioned working in connection with “NarniaWeb,” and one is a participant in the “Into the Wardrobe” website. Another stated, “I am an administrator on narnia.wikia.com, an online encyclopedia about the Chronicles.”

Overall, thirty-nine of the eighty-seven respondents have had some connection with a Lewis organization, a percentage that probably will only increase in the coming years as more Internet possibilities for participation increase.

Next Saturday’s post will detail the opinions of the respondents on the Shadowlands productions, covering both the BBC television film from the 1980s and the Hollywood version of the 1990s.

The Lewis Retreat

What does one do at a C. S Lewis Foundation retreat? One makes new acquaintances that one hopes will become good friends over time. One is immersed in a world of learning, love, and God’s presence. One wants to go back to every future Foundation event, if at all possible.

CSL Retreat

An air of informality infused with a rare combination of seriousness and humor pervaded these four days. I sat down at table with new people at every meal, learning something about each one around the table.

The main speaker, Dr. Jerry Root of Wheaton College, was the epitome of that unique blend of hilarious stories and profound insights.

Jerry Root

Personally, I was able to participate in what they call the Academic Roundtable, where each invited scholar offered a paper that the others would then comment on afterwards. It was the essence of caring and careful critique, nothing to get upset about because the goal was to make each other better.

Academic Roundtable 2

I’m the contemplative one on the far left (the only time I’ve ever been described as on the far left of anything). My paper on “That Hideous Strength‘s Omnicompetent State” was well received, a great relief to me in my first attempt to share thoughts on Lewis.

I bought books, of course (what academic doesn’t do that?), and a video that I hope to use in my Lewis course. I basked in the atmosphere and let God’s love wash over me.

I am hooked. I hope to present another paper at next year’s retreat in Massachusetts, and my bucket list might be completed if I’m able to attend the Oxbridge Conference in Britain two years hence.

If you have any inkling (yes, that’s a pun) to ever attend a Foundation retreat or conference, I strongly encourage you to make your plans now. You won’t be disappointed.