Clive Staples Lewis, November 29th 1898 – November 22nd 1963

(Repost from previous years, slightly adapted)

On this day fifty-four years ago, the great C.S. Lewis died.

Because of the assassination of President Kennedy on the same day, the death of Lewis has always been somewhat overshadowed. Far be it from me to downplay Kennedy and what he stood for, but for me, Lewis was by far the more influential man.

In the early 1990s I lent a United Church minister friend a copy of Lewis’ Mere Christianity; when he gave it back to me, he said, “Do you have any idea how much this man has influenced you?” Mere Christianity came along at just the right time for me; I was seventeen and had begun to feel the lack of a rigorous intellectual basis for my faith. In this book, Lewis gave me just that. I went on to read pretty well everything he had written, including the various editions of his letters which seem to me to contain some of the best common-sense spiritual direction I’ve ever read. I’ve parted company with Lewis on a few issues (pacifism, Conservative politics, the ordination of women), but for the most part I still consider him to be one of the most reliable guides available to a rigorous, full-orbed, common-sense Christianity.

Lewis was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and, later, of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and in his professional career he taught English literature. Brought up in Ireland in a conventionally religious home, he became an atheist in his teens. Later, in his late twenties and early thirties, he gradually came back to Christianity (he told the story himself in his book Surprised by Joy) and went on to become a popular writer and speaker on Christian faith. He claimed for himself Richard Baxter’s phrase ‘Mere Christianity’; although he lived and died entirely content to be a member of the Church of England (‘neither especially high, nor especially low, nor especially anything else’, as he said in his introduction to Mere Christianity), he had no interest in interdenominational controversy, preferring to serve as an apologist for the things that most Christians have in common.

Nowadays evangelicals (especially in the United States) have claimed Lewis as a defender of a rigorous Christian orthodoxy (despite the fact that he did not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and was an enthusiastic smoker and imbiber of alcoholic beverages). Likewise, Roman Catholics have sometimes pointed out that many fans of Lewis have gone on to convert to Roman Catholicism (something he himself never did, because he believed that Roman Catholicism itself had parted company on some issues with the faith of the primitive church), and have resorted to blaming his Irish Protestant background as somehow giving him a phobia about Catholicism that made it psychologically impossible for him to convert to Rome. Lewis himself, I believe, would not have approved of these attempts to press him into the service of advancing a particular Christian tradition or denomination. I believe we should take him at his word: he was an Anglican by conviction, but was most comfortable with the label ‘Christian’.

What about his books? Well, there are many of them! In his professional discipline of literary criticism he wrote several influential books, including The Allegory of Love (on the medieval allegorical love poem), The Discarded Image (an introduction to the world view of medieval and renaissance writers), An Experiment in Criticism (in which he examines what exactly it means to take pleasure from reading a book), A Preface to Paradise Lost (in which he introduces us to one of his favourite works of literature, John Milton’s famous poem Paradise Lost), and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (this is only a selection of his works of literary criticism).

Turning to his more specifically ‘Christian’ works, in The Screwtape Letters Lewis gave us an imaginary series of letters from a senior to a junior demon on the art of temptation; along the way, as Lewis intended, we get some penetrating insights into practical, unpretentious, daily holiness. Miracles and The Problem of Pain are intellectual defences of Christian truth (the first examining the question of whether miracles are possible, the second dealing with the issue of evil and the goodness of God). Reflections on the Psalms is a series of meditations on the issues raised by the psalms (including an excellent chapter on the ‘cursing’ psalms), while Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer gives us accurate guidance on what a life of prayer is really all about. In the ‘Narnia’ stories and the Space Trilogy, Lewis baptizes our imagination, using the genre of fairy story and science fiction to present Christian truth in a fresh and compelling way. And in Mere Christianity he presents his case for the truth of Christianity and a good explanation of its central ideas.

These are just a few of his books; there are many websites that give exhaustive lists.

This website by Lewis’ publishers is of course focussed on trying to sell books – Lewis’ own books, collections of his writings published since his death, and many of the books that have been since written about him. Personally, I like Into the Wardrobe better; it isn’t trying to sell me anything, but includes a biography, a collection of papers, articles, and archives, and some excellent links.

Since his death Lewis has become almost a cult figure, especially in the U.S., and the number of books and articles about him continues to grow. He himself was uncomfortable with the trappings of fame, and I believe he would have been horrified with the growth of the C.S. Lewis ‘industry’ today. It seems to me that the best way to observe the  anniversary of his death is to go back to his books, read them again (or perhaps for the first time), ponder what he had to say, and pray that his work will lead us closer to Christ, as he would have wanted.

Rest in peace and rise in glory, Jack. And once again, thank you.

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On Being Happy

In one of the final chapters of his book ‘Sapiens‘, Yuval Noah Harari raises the issue of whether all the ‘progress’ the human race has made in the last few thousand years has actually increased the happiness of individual humans to any great degree (not to mention the happiness of the other sentient species on Earth).

I won’t give the game away by telling you his answer, but I would like to share a short reflection on one section of this chapter. In this section, Harari points out that happiness has a lot to do with body chemistry and temperament. Some of us just seem wired to be more cheerful than others. For example, one person might have a ‘happiness range’ (on a scale of 1-10) of 3-7, averaging out at a five. Another might have a range of 6-10, averaging out at an eight. There isn’t a great deal they can do about that, although of course upbringing and choices do have some impact on where we land up in the range.

I found this liberating.

I am well aware that I have been handed a somewhat melancholic temperament. It’s easy for me to see the dark side of any issue. I panic easily, I worry a lot, and I tend to make negative observations about situations and people.

Looking at my families of origin, I can understand this. It’s in our genes. It’s not something I need to feel guilty about.

However, I do have a choice about where in my ‘range’ (let’s call it a 3 – 7) I average out. And there are things I can do, choices I can make, habits I can form, that will increase my happiness. Gretchen Rubin wrote an excellent book on this subject called ‘The Happiness Project‘. No, I can’t flip a switch to change my emotions. But there are behaviours I can engage in which have a cheering effect on my disposition. I’m talking about things like doing acts of kindness to others, sticking with my diet and exercise disciplines and so on. I know that when I’m intentional about these things, I’m a happier guy.

And I’m also more pleasant to be around. Which is why making decisions that increase my happiness is not a selfish pursuit. Generally speaking, happier people lift up the people around them, while gloomy people drag others down. I want to lift others up.

I can’t do anything about my temperament, but I can do something about my actions. I’m going to try to remember to do that.

‘We British: the Poetry of a People’

29958072This book isn’t quite a history of British (i.e. English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish) poetry from Caedmon to the present day; it’s more a sort of annotated anthology, with poems and excerpts from poems giving a representative sample of each period. As such, it’s an excellent introduction for the person who enjoys poetry but isn’t well-informed about the history of the craft in the British Isles.

For me there were lots of old favourites here, but also many with whom I was unfamiliar (old and new). Like all poetry fans reading the book, I was ticked off by the omission of some of my favourites (John Masefield, R.S. Thomas), but a book of 640 pages attempting to introduce the reader to 1,350 years of British poetry is bound to offend in that way. Overall I thought the book was brilliant. And I’d give this one word of reading advice: read it aloud, and with a spouse or partner or friend if you can. Marci and I read it in coffee shops and we thoroughly enjoyed this treat for the ears as well as the eyes. Five stars, and well-deserved.

Andrew Marr: We British: the Poetry of a People (Fourth Estate, 2016).

You don’t need a Kindle or a Kobo to be able to read Kindle or Kobo e-books

kindleappLittle known fact: you don’t actually need to actually own a Kindle or Kobo to be able to read e-books for Kindle or Kobo.

You can download a Kindle or Kobo app for your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Then you can go to the Kindle, Kobo or Indigo stores, buy e-books, and read them on your device.

For Amazon.ca, go to the Kindle store section of the website and then click on the linkunnamed ‘Free Reading Apps’. It will take you to this page, where you can download the app for your device (computer, iPad or other tablet, iPhone or other smartphone). On other Amazon sites, search for the appropriate tab. (You can also download the app directly from the Apple App store; I’m assuming you can do the same thing from the equivalent stores for apps for other platforms).

For Kobo, go to Kobo.com, and at the very top of the page you’ll see a link for ‘Apps and E-Readers’. Follow that link to download the appropriate app for your device. For Apple, it will direct you to a link in the iTunes store for iPhone and iPad, or on the Kobo site itself for desktop or laptop computers. There are similar links for other platforms.

meadowvalecover-smallOnce you’ve done that, your next step is to purchase Meadowvale for Kindle on Amazon.ca or your own local Amazon site, or at Indigo or the Kobo store for Kobo! What could be better?!

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for owning a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle or Kobo. You’re not so distracted by the temptation to check your email or browse the web. And you don’t have to deal with backlit screens either, so they won’t keep you awake at night.

But if you already have a device and don’t want to fork out the extra cash for a dedicated e-reader, you don’t need to miss out on reading books that are only available as e-books – books like Meadowvale, that is!

 

Would you like to help me reach more people with my e-book?

Many thanks to the 24 people (so far) who have bought copies of ‘Meadowvale: a Novel‘ on Kindle or Kobo!

If you wouldn’t mind, here are three things you can do to help me reach another twenty four people!

1. When you have finished the e-book, go to the site you bought it from (Amazon, Indigo, Kobo etc.) and rate it out of five stars. Be honest – I don’t mind!

2. If you would take the time to write a short review, this would REALLY help. When it comes to books appearing in the algorithms, the number of reviews is really important. And if you wouldn’t mind copying your review to the other sites (Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and – if you’re a member – Goodreads – that would also really be helpful.

3. Share the link to my e-book on your own Facebook page and/or blog, with a few words about what you thought of it.

Thanks very much! I really appreciate your help!

Just a reminder of where you can get the e-book:

Amazon.ca (if you’re not in Canada, search for it in your own Amazon stores – it’s in all of them).

Indigo.ca

Kobo.com

 

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‘Meadowvale’ on Kindle

I’m pleased to announce that my novel ‘Meadowvale’, which has been featured in various versions on this blog over the past few years, is now available to purchase on Kindle.

I have been working on and off on this book for several years, so this is of course a dream come true for me.

The link to the book in the Canadian Amazon store is here.

Here it is at Amazon.com.

Here it is at Amazon.co.uk.

Please note that you can still read the first six chapters of Meadowvale for free on this blog. If you want to read more, you know what to do!

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