November 22nd 1963. Quite a day! The day that Aldous Huxley died as Sheryl Crow mentioned in her song Run Baby Run. It was also the day we lost CS Lewis. If he had only written novels, Belfast born, Lewis would have left a legacy that Hollywood would have mined for many a long decade. The Narnia Chronicles have produced some of the most popular films in recent years. Yet, Lewis I will argue below left so much more. Of course the deaths of Huxley and Lewis deaths were over shadowed by perhaps the one of the most memorable, for all the wrong reasons, post war events; the assassination of President John F Kennedy.
As the world’s media have concentrated this week on the 55th anniversary of the Kennedy killing, I have been pondering CS Lewis. Belfast has too which has kept Lewis’s passing in our minds when most of the rest of the world haven’t heard a thing about him. As I have surmised I wonder who left the biggest legacy? Who changed the world most? Now I am no expert in Kennedy’s impact as I was just past my second birthday when he has so callously taken from us. I have no doubt that he was the first modern day pop star President. I have no doubt that he set in motion modern America and that the civil rights world changers likes of Martin Luther King Jr benefited from his Presidency. Let me state that I am in no way diminishing the legacy of JFK.
Yet, in the world I move in, CS is embedded deep in the DNA. As a Christian minister I wonder how many of my congregation have actually had their spiritual lives shaped by the work of CS Lewis. Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, A Grief Observed and The Great Divorce are among the Christian classics. Then the fictional works like Til We Have Faces, The Screwtape Letters, the Space Trilogy and The Chronicles Of Narnia were deep in spiritual insight and allegory. When I consider generation after generation allowing these works to seep into their souls and then live them out across the world I can only imagine how much impact the life and genius of CS Lewis has reaped. Three of my favourites bands, U2, The Waterboys and Over The Rhine are drenched with Lewis’s influence!
In my own life Mere Christianity was foundational as a 17 year old who like Lewis was surprised by God’s existence. Lewis helped me reason the transcendent interruption of grace that had redirected, reinvented and redeemed my life. I have used and abused his Screwtape Letters, as Bono has done, in performances to deal with darkness and light. I have read the Narnia Chronicles to my girls and watched the movies with them always loving the fact that God (Aslan) has a Ballymena accent like me. In Fitzroy where I am minister “Aslan is on the move” is our phrase when God turns up and shakes us. Below is my very favourite part of his writing. I have used it so many times in preaching and used it in my introduction to my Dare collection of poetry.
It is that bit at the beginning of CS Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. It is the first venture into Narnia and this journey was not through the Wardrobe but by magic rings transporting Polly and Digory through a pool into this big new world. Lewis, as a man of his age, becomes a little sexist in that Polly is immediately a little frightened and wants to jump back into the little pond and head back to safety and normality. Digory though, in his macho stereotype role, proves courageous and brave. With an adventurous spirit Digory declares, “There's not much point in finding a magic ring that lets you into other worlds if you're afraid to look at them when you've got there." I love that!
There are a lot of Pollys in the Church. Many people are happy to have the rings to the Kingdom BUT are concerned about safety. They are like the guys in Jesus parable who are given a talent and dig a hole and bury it. The Master returns and is angry with their conservative playing safe. The talent has not been lost and damaged but it is whipped away from them and given to those who were brave and a little risky with their talents.
Safety is not an attribute in the Kingdom of God. There is no one from Genesis to Revelation who plays it safe and gets any credit at all from God. It is the reckless, who risked and at times got it way wrong, find themselves in God’s list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.
When we are born again into a whole new life and Kingdom, God does not want us to remain in the maternity ward obsessed with that rebirth. He longs for those who enter the Kingdom to head further up and further in. He longs that they would grow up again and head out into that Kingdom, to discover the dangerous terrain that God would long to redeem. There would not be much point of Jesus coming to live and die and be raised to life again in order to let us into a new Kingdom if we are afraid to explore that new Kingdom when grace throws us right into it.
CS Lewis threw us into another Kingdom. He fired our imaginations but kept it relevant to the ordinary. He led us further up and further and will continue to do so every time someone opens a book with his name on it. If in eternity we can look back into time and history I believe that we will see that on November 22nd 1963 the most significant death was that of CS Lewis. No matter what the TV says!