As a part of a new series highlighting those who’ve been impacted by our work at the Foundation, I’m pleased to interview our good friend, volunteer, supporter, and a valued member of the C.S. Lewis Foundation – Lancia E. Smith!
Steve Elmore: Give our readers some information about your work with Smith Environmental and its mission. Also describe your role there.
Lancia E. Smith: My husband Peter and I co-founded Smith Environmental and Engineering in 2000 with the purpose of providing comprehensive environmental consulting services to the Rocky Mountain region, developing a focused service base allowing our staff to have an excellent employment experience coupled with consistent time with their families, and to do that in an ethical and honourable manner.
Over the years we have expanded in every way and we are now a thriving design-build firm doing environmental consulting (design) and environmental construction (build). As president of our firm, my role has been multi-faceted from the beginning. I manage long-term strategic planning for the company; staff development; financial planning and growth; project intervention and conflict mediation as needed; and oversee marketing for the firm. Organizational management and staff development are areas I have been involved in for many years even before we launched Smith Environmental and Engineering and the skill sets required in these fields have been used successfully in arenas outside of the company as well as within it.
Our concern is still to provide outstanding environmental consulting for our clients and to develop an exceptional staff of environmental professionals working together as a multi-disciplined collaborative team. Environmental stewardship is what we do professionally; however, we see equal importance in the development of our staff members as whole human beings. I am very proud to say that we have a remarkable team of people and I am very privileged to work with them.
SE: You also run the website Cultivating the Good, the True & the Beautiful. Tell us about the site and its mission.
LES: The core mission of Cultivating the Good, the True, & the Beautiful is to present thoughtful readers with interviews and portraits of believing creatives who are successfully living integrated lives of faith, creativity, and sustained relationships. I think of those values roughly as character, craft, and community. This parallels the mission and goals of the C.S. Lewis Foundation.
The website features a range of interviews, images, essays and resources to learn more about the work of featured artists. One of the essential purposes of the Cultivating site is to provide a safe place of rest online for mind and spirit – a place that offers a peaceful view of beauty and wisdom. I very much hope that it is an encouragement to all our readers.
I launched the website with the intention of highlighting the work and well-lived lives of authors and artists doing creative work in context of faith. I rarely found either articles or interviews being discussed in the kind of depth I wanted to read about with people who are successfully overcoming the struggles that face every artist or creative – depression, strained relationships, and isolation. Almost everything I read at that time focused on creative lives that had “train-wrecked”.
I had a burning desire to ask questions of those rare individuals who were living worthy lives as creatives. Certainly not perfect lives, but ones committed to living as disciples of Christ and producing beauty to the best of their ability in context of faith.I still have that burning desire to know and to understand. As someone who has had a long struggle with integrating character, creativity, and community I really needed to hear how others were, and are, succeeding in that calling. And I still need to hear it and to see it lived out. It really has been a little like Lewis and Tolkien deciding that they would have to write for themselves what they best liked to read because they weren’t finding much along those lines written by others.
The mission of Cultivating the Good, the True and the Beautiful has been clarified and refined as the project has grown. I’m seven years into this now. But the primary focus is the same: portraying believing creatives who are intentionally and habitually choosing to cultivate in their lives what is good, true, and beautiful. This is a living-out of Philippians 4:6-10. This coming year I will be bringing in some new voices to write essays and blog posts in addition to the interviews I do and will be exploring a new series about resources for believing creatives. We will be exploring a series of foundational questions this year that I hope be inspiring and helpful. And over the course of the next year or so I will be producing a book related to this topic and am very excited about that!
LES: My first experience with any of the Foundation programs was the fabulous Summer Seminar held at The Kilns in 2005. When I say that experience was life changing I am not exaggerating or using hyperbole. The course of my life has not been the same since and the change of direction affected not only me but also my husband Peter, our children and our grandchildren. Even our company is run differently and run better because of the influence put in motion from that first encounter with the C.S. Lewis Foundation.
From the moment I walked up to the door at The Kilns I felt that a missing piece of me was put miraculously back into place and an entirely new unfolding of reality was suddenly come into being. I know that probably sounds far-fetched but I assure you that is exactly how I experienced it then and even more than a decade later that is still how I see it. Kate Simcoe met me at the door and if any one reading this knew Kate you will know what I mean when I say it was like being greeted by Heaven. I was terribly shy in those days and afraid and Kate made me feel safe, welcome, and important. I have never, ever forgotten her grace, kindness, or beauty.
Everything she did to welcome each of us attending was dipped in some kind of beauty. Kim Gilnett had a great influence on the seminar and I remember him quite distinctly in his tremendous breadth of knowledge and his patience with us. Professor Michael Macdonald led the sessions and I still think about things he said. And the sensory experiences were so extraordinary! Everything from the way our rooms were presented to us to the food we were served and the lingering conversations after dinner to the music we were introduced to were simply exquisite. Exquisite and yet not at all pretentious. Meeting Walter Hooper was utterly thrilling for so many reasons and to this day I still think about stories that Aiden Mackey told us during that seminar.
I made friends during that seminar with several of the attendees with whom I am friends to this day and I continue to hold all the attendees from that seminar in abiding affection. But perhaps a little different than other departing attendees, my lasting take-away was the overwhelming longing to work with the C.S. Lewis Foundation somehow and in some way do what Kate did for me.
I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything else (like being a writer or an English Lit professor) because for the first time in my life I felt through and through I had found what I was made for and had found my own people, my own kindred. And despite of coming home exhausted from that trip, I came home with an exhilaration that never really left me. You are welcome to read more about my experience of that Summer Seminar on my website here – https://lanciaesmith.com/the-kilns-2005-part-i/ and https://lanciaesmith.com/the-kilns-2005-part-ii/.
SE: How has the C.S. Lewis Foundation made an impact on your life and work?
LES: One of the truly great gifts that have come to me through the Foundation is confidence. Confidence is something that I had very little acquaintance with before the Foundation. And along with the gift of confidence, the all-important companion gift of empowerment has been equally given. I have received more permission and empowerment through the Foundation than any other single source to explore my gifts and to use them. It is one thing to say enthusiastically to someone “Go do it!” and another thing altogether to provide mentoring, modeling and opportunity.
The Foundation has given me an abiding sense of value in being myself, a place to freely give from my skill sets and giftings, a family for my soul and a body of kindred kind among which to find friends. Is everyone at the Foundation perfect? No, no one here is perfect nor is the love that is given here perfect. But people don’t have to be perfect to be good or to be used of God for good. I can say truthfully that the only other two times in my life where I felt so deeply ‘welcomed to the table’ were when my foster parents took me when I was 15 and when my husband Peter married me.
The Foundation has had an absolutely pivotal impact on me personally, as a writer, as a business owner and as a Christian and honestly, I would not be who I am today were it not for how I have been loved by the Foundation. While I’ve served in one capacity or another at the Foundation over the last ten years, one of the great things the Foundation has done is enable me to work more effectively as a human being well beyond the Foundation itself, which of course is part of our core mission!
SE: Tell us about your subsequent history with the CSLF as a member of the volunteer staff.
LES: After my first experience with Summer Seminar in Oxford, I heard about the C.S. Lewis Foundation Retreat at Camp Allen and was excited to register for it. I wasn’t really sure at the time why I felt prompted to offer it, but I contacted the office offering to photograph the event and was very kindly told that need was already met.But later folks at the office called me back and asked if the offer was still on the table. I said yes, and in some ways the rest is history.
Even though I am a writer, teacher, and trainer, I do have a very specific skill set as a photographer and I felt it was very important to offer my “loaves and fishes” such as they were to the benefit of the Body. Once I was at the event I saw places of need that I could meet and was welcomed right into that. It was in some ways almost like I really had always been a part of the team.
Over the years, deep friendships were formed in sharing the work that we all love and I believe that even as it is still being played out, the work of eternity is being done in the community we are with each other. I have served in a variety of capacities with the Foundation helping to support events, offering core staff development, as well as planning and program committees. Photography turned out to be a starting point of service but it has certainly not been the only place I have been allowed to help. Serving as support staff is still one of the great privileges and joys of my life.
SE: How would you characterize the C.S. Lewis Foundation and its programs? What makes the Foundation different? Unique?
LES: How would I characterize the C.S. Lewis Foundation and its programs? A simple phrase for a complex experience is the C.S. Foundation and its programs are a feast for the mind, body, and spirit served with joy, courage and hope. There is a magnanimity and hearty welcome that is present with every Foundation program and there is simultaneously a kind of fierceness that fights (however quietly) for all that is good, true and beautiful. And excellence in every way goes without saying.
A tremendous cultivated awareness of individuals is a great distinctive of the Foundation. We pay as much attention to specific human beings as we do ideas and works of art. Not every one can say that. I have to say, I think the most defining characteristic embedded in every program and every offering is Love, sappy as that may sound. I know that sounds like a cliché, probably esoteric, and certainly not always perfectly executed, but it is the single most distinguishing factor of all, to me.
We do tremendous work in providing intellectually and artistically excellent programs. But the quality that marks us uniquely, however subtle and perhaps difficult at times to identify, is the heart of our focus. The heart of our focus is to nurture human beings to the best of our ability into whole human beings – mind, soul, and body. And all that is offered is undergirded with Joy. That love of human beings, both in our current condition and as we are being restored to be, and that fierce, unyielding Joy is the foundation of the Foundation. I see those utterly essential qualities in everyone who is part of the Foundation from the top to bottom, side to side. It is a kind of DNA and it is in some way unique to us.
SE: The C.S. Lewis Foundation’s mission is “Inspired by the life and legacy of C.S. Lewis, the C.S. Lewis Foundation equips and encourages Christians to live their faith within the world of ideas and the arts.” How have you been served by that mission?
LES: That mission has absolutely helped me to identify, articulate, and to equip me to live my faith outwardly within the world of ideas, arts, business, and family. It has in ways both personal and professional allowed me to blossom into a human being more deeply healed and mended. It has also allowed me to give freely from what I have been given.
Because of the equipping I have experienced through the Foundation I am not afraid to be an artist and an intellectual or to identify myself as both. The debt I owe to the Foundation is beyond calculating for me. From the circle of friends and the company I gratefully keep to the travel for events I have shared to the peace-making within me, the Foundation has influenced and nurtured it all. I know few other organizations who have done so much with so few resources. What a standard to aspire to!
SE: What would you like the Foundation to do more of?
LES: Easy. More events and specifically for national regions. I would love to see our events happening annually in 3 to 4 areas of the country and to be developing intellectual and arts based faith communities to foster relationship networks in given areas. Something miraculous happens in lives where they are loved, encouraged, nurtured and given vision. The C.S. Lewis Foundation does that in such a faithful and fruitful way. I would love to see much more of it happening in our country and globally.
SE: Thank you so much for the interview, Lancia!
LES: You are very welcome.
If you’d like to meet Lancia E. Smith in person, she’ll be a session leader at our upcoming C.S. Lewis Summer Conference, July 8-10, 2016.