C.S. Lewis Foundation: A Calling

Our friend Nan Rinella (who also has very graciously served as a long term volunteer and staff member/event director for our Texas events) recently wrote us a letter about some of her experiences with the C.S. Lewis Foundation and past C.S. Lewis Retreats. She said it would be fine to share with you after she turned it into a post. If you’d like to read more by Nan, you can also visit Nan’s personal blog that recounts her experiences with writing and gives tips for writers at NanRinella.com


“Why do you volunteer for a foundation that worships C.S. Lewis?”

The man’s eyes bored right through me, searching to expose my idolatry. I smiled right back.

We don’t worship at the feet of this famous writer. We honor his legacy and devotion to the God who brought him such joy. Lewis poured himself out as the Spirit filled him, and that influence is still touching lives today.

This is not a C.S. Lewis fan club, no dead writer’s society. Lewis introduced souls to God though logic and imagination. His writing appealed to the scholar, the man in the street, the child, and the child in man and woman.

We don’t read Lewis instead of the Bible; we read his work to increase our knowledge and expand our imagination. We don’t study Lewis’s works instead of Scripture; we study to develop our understanding. We don’t quote Lewis instead of memorizing Biblical verses; we just relish sharing his inspired words.

A Man to Emulate

One doesn’t stop at just studying Lewis’s work. Instead, one learns from his life—so mirrored in his stories and scholarly writings.

A simple man, a humble man, generous to a fault, Jack—as he was wont to be called by his friends—was human above all things. The student, soldier, don, atheist, poet, and bachelor, finally gave in to the Hound of Heaven, becoming the Christian writer, radio broadcaster, friend, host, lover, husband, professor, and debater we’ve come to know through his works.

A Hobbit in Narnia – How I was introduced to the C.S. Lewis Foundation

I must confess, as a rabid fan of the LOTR, I was a frequent visitor to www.theonering.com . Scrolling down the site in early 2004, I spied C.S. Lewis Summer Conference, San Diego, The Fantastic Worlds of C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading some of the scholarly tomes by the speakers suggested this hobbit was out of her league. My college-aged son thought I was going to a “Trekkie” convention and asked if I was dressing as a hobbit. I finally read all seven of the Chronicles of Narnia and ventured forth to San Diego “in fear and trembling”—a hobbit in Narnia.

No, we don’t worship the man. But we are inspired, influenced, encouraged, and motivated by the legacy of his life and writings. My introduction to the C.S. Lewis Foundation and the succeeding involvement has literally changed my life. My faith has grown through friendships with people I’ve come to know through the foundation and the events:

  • A real live hobbit with the heart of a hobbit, mind of an elf, and soul of an angel
  • A silver-haired fairy who has been to hell and back, but now holds heaven in her heart
  • An elf-king who never ends a conversation without prayer
  • A young elfish Great Knock (Lewis’ nickname for the professor who so affected his intellectual life), who is a prince to work with
  • And so many more you will also want to meet

What an eye-opening, life-changing experience. Like Bilbo in the house of Elrond, this former flight attendant, and now freelance journalist, was welcomed and accepted. The lectures were stimulating and intellectually challenging, the entertainment, world-class. After meeting such wonderfully interesting people, my appetite whetted and intellect born again, I wanted more. How about that annual Southwest Regional Retreat in Texas each fall?

Photo is copyrighted by the C.S. Lewis Foundation and Lancia E. Smith. www.lanciaesmith.com
Nan Rinella, with Noel Paul Stookey and Lael Arrington at the 2010 C.S. Lewis Retreat

The plenary speaker for the Camp Allen event in 2006 was a Cambridge professor, Anglican priest, poet, leader of a rock band, motor cycle riding grey-haired Santa look-alike named Malcolm Guite. I was also excited to meet Dr. Diana Pavlac Glyer. Reading her book The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community catapulted me right out of a four-year writing slump. I was no longer nervous in the company of Elves. I ended up winning the event’s icebreaker contest and was later asked by C.S. Lewis Foundation President Stan Mattson to run the contest the following year in 2007.

That next fall before attending Camp Allen 2007, with Diana’s permission,  I gave a whole-day talk on encouragement to my writers’ organization using Diana’s book as a guide,.

At the retreat in 2008, Dr. Mattson announced that Dr. Glyer would be plenary speaker for ’09.  I thought, “Why not include a writers’  breakout session or two?” My suggestion then led to an invitation to coordinate the 2009 retreat and add a full day writers workshop before the event.

The Delight of Being Called

  • Why do I volunteer with the foundation? Because I enjoy the people? Yes.
  • Because I rub pointy ears with elves? You bet.
  • Because I found out I actually have a brain? It was only on holiday.
  • Because it’s exciting? Absolutely.
  • Because I get to be co-director of the retreat? Can’t deny that honor!
  • Because I now personally know eminent Lewis scholars, writers like Randy Alcorn and Angela Hunt, agents like Steve Laube, editors like Terry Glaspey of Harvest House and Dave Lindstedt of Tyndale, singer Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, and of course, the Reverend Dr. Malcolm Guite of Cambridge? Like, who wouldn’t?
  • Because I got to work “Oxbridge”,  also known as the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute, the foundation’s flagship conference, and experience Oxford and Cambridge? Duh!

But really, why? Because what we are doing is furthering the Great Commission. How, you ask? As Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations [heaven or hell].” Ever thought about that? I mean, really pondered the consequences of how we live our lives and affect those we come into contact with, not to speak of, those we live with? The responsibility—onerous!

The Delight of Doing

So we pray and leave it to God? Well, yes, but . . . we are called to be “doers” too, are we not?

I remember at the close of the 2004 conference, Dr. Mattson challenged us to not go home and steep (my words, not his) but to go forth and to act on our experience. I did, and it’s been the delight of my life. We can be enlightened to kingdom come, but if we don’t apply that light in our lives to let it shine on others, we’re hiding our lamps under the table.

The C.S. Lewis Retreat

So this year, why am I and the rest of the staff expending so much time and effort on The C.S. Lewis Retreat? Is it to create a refreshing weekend for weary Christians with stimulating lectures by outstanding Lewis scholars, entertainment by exceptional performers, and heavenly worship and lasting fellowship? Yes, but also much more. Our goals are the equipping, educating, encouragement, energizing, and empowering of the saints to go forth on the Great Commission, whether laymen, clergy, writers, artists—all mere Christians.

I’d like to invite you then, to come to this place to be fed, energized, and encouraged to go out to serve and share. It’s “A place where we turn away from the world and toward God” (from The Book of Dreams by Davis Bunn)—a place for the transforming of hearts and minds of the saints and a garden for growth.