The Decade of New Focus

The end of another year looms. This time of year, as we look forward to Christmas and a new year that will probably be quite similar to the current one (that’s both good and bad), I have a tendency to reflect. That’s not a bad idea, of course, given the subtitle of this blog. My reflection will be a pondering on how God has given me a new focus over the past decade. And that new focus centers on this particular man and his writings.

I was given a sabbatical from my university in 2014, and due to my many years of teaching American history and government, my primary intent was to visit presidential libraries to uncover as much information as possible on spiritual advisors to presidents in the modern era. Along with a religion colleague, we hoped to write a book about that. Well, that book never materialized, although I did make a number of trips to presidential libraries—Reagan, Nixon, LBJ, Cliinton, Eisenhower, and George H. W. Bush–and amassed a lot of good material from the archives at those places, material that was useful in courses I have taught since.

It was while I was researching at the Billy Graham archives at Wheaton College that I realized I had enough time to check out the Wade Center as well, inspired by the thought that perhaps there might be a niche for an American historian to write something about C. S. Lewis, a man who never visited America.

I camped out at this spot for a few days and indulged my curiosity about Lewis’s contacts with Americans and whether anyone had written a book about those contacts. My conclusion was that a clear path for such a book was evident. With help from the Wade Center and from Lewis’s friend Walter Hooper, that book became a reality.

America Discovers C. S. Lewis was published in the autumn of 2016, timed with a presidential election that inaugurated a time of political turmoil that has not yet abated. My interest in the political realm cooled with each passing year until I was far more excited and inspired to write and teach about Lewis. That was a seismological shift in my outlook.

Almost immediately, I developed a university course on his life and influence. Then, in 2017, I had the opportunity to accompany another professor and students to the UK where, on one very special day, we were at the Kilns and met Walter Hooper, who came at my invitation to speak to our group. Soon after, an Inklings group comprised of professors and students in my city of Lakeland, Florida, began meeting, seeking to follow in the footsteps of those original Inklings.

My attendance at Lewis conferences became one of the staples of my life, participating in two academic roundtables at Lewis Foundation gatherings. At Taylor University, a Lewis and Inklings conference gave me the opportunity to expand my repertoire when I presented a paper on Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers. At that conference I met for the first time David and Crystal Downing, who had recently been appointed co-directors of the Wade Center.

COVID led to thirty-four full-time faculty being dismissed from my university. To my surprise, I was one of that number. Where to turn next? God opens doors.

My church hired me to develop courses for the strong adult education program and I have been doing so ever since. Some of those courses have been on Lewis. I’ve been able to teach (in this order) Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity (along with my book), all seven Narnia books, “Lewis on Life, Death, and Eternity,” which incorporated Surprised by Joy, sections of The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, A Grief Observed, and that exquisite sermon/essay, “The Weight of Glory.” These were followed by a course on the entire Ransom Trilogy and my most recent one, “Writers C. S. Lewis Admired,” which introduced participants to the writings of George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Dorothy L. Sayers. My next course, beginning in January, will be “The Lewis Essays: Thoughts on Theology, Education, and How Christians Interact with One Another and Society.”

In the last couple of years, I had another idea for a Lewis book that I trust came from the Holy Spirit. I began to research the question of just how involved and knowledgeable Lewis was on history. I discovered, along with my co-author, that he was definitely a historian (as well as a writer, educator, and critic) and that he had a lot to offer on that subject. The result was this book that appeared at the end of August of this year.

I’ve written about my recent trip to Romania to speak at the Lewis conference there, which was a wonderful experience. The shift in my focus from politics to Lewis—and all that means with respect to thinking and rethinking priorities in life—has been tantamount to a lifesaver for this academic.

So I want to encourage as many people as I can to continue to rely on the Lord and His leadings in life. Be open. Be ready. Be available. Then go where He bids. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6