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Book Trade – Memorial to C S Lewis in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, London

November 22, 2013 3 comments

Friday 22nd November 2013 is the 50th anniversary of C S Lewis’s death in 1963; a date he shares with USA President J F Kennedy. A permanent memorial to Clive Staples Lewis (1898 – 1963); writer, scholar and ‘one of the most significant Christian apologists of the twentieth century’, was laid today in the floor of the South Transept at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

C S Lewis: Memorial Stone

The service to dedicate the memorial was uplifting and joyful, a spiritual occasion with shades of a funeral farewell. Hymns were sung which I hadn’t heard since my school days – John Bunyan’s He who would valiant be – a throwback to Lewis’s world of the 1950’s; so all the more significant then that Lewis’s books continue to sell in such volume, and with such wide appeal. The Chronicles of Narnia have sold upwards of 100m copies around the world! Mere Christianity continues as a classic.

The rather pronounced English voice of Belfast-born ‘Jack’ Lewis (taken from his wartime talks for the BBC) was broadcast in the Abbey on this bitterly cold but sunlit November day in London;

Look for Christ and you will get Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in. Look for yourself and you will get only hatred, loneliness, despair and ruin’.

C S Lewis’s last pupil read a lesson; the service was seamless and beautifully choreographed.  The Abbey was filled with a soft light suffused through the glorious stained glass and with soaring choral music which echoed off the ancient stonework. As the memorial was dedicated, there was a reading from The Last Battle:

Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no-one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before’.

The draw for many in this audience was the past Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and a Lewis author (The Lion’s World : SPCK) who gave a short but erudite address. On this occasion he wisely left Narnia alone, concentrating instead on Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. Lord Williams of Oystermouth homed in on how Lewis deplored the misuse of language; how he saw it is used to hide from ourselves and to hide from reality.

Our questions fall away; we have nothing to say because we have too much to say.

Rowan Williams noted Lewis’s aversion to the King James Bible which he saw as getting in the way of our understanding. Instead Lewis preferred the Moffatt and J B Phillips translations of the Bible in order to best ‘hear’ the freshness of the text.

The one-hour service ended with a choral anthem based on verses written by C S Lewis and specially commissioned for today’s service. Then the long queue began as almost the entire congregation snaked around the Abbey to view the new slate memorial stone set at the base of one of the stone pillars in Poets’ Corner, engraved with Lewis’s words:

‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else’.

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Book Trade – Christian Resources Together 2012: A Perspective

June 18, 2012 1 comment

Almost 300 delegates and over 50 suppliers met together in June at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick for Christian Resources Together 2012. The conference hashtag #CRT2012 reveals a Twitter stream full of pertinent observations, not least by super-speedy-trade-tweeter, Melanie Carroll.

CRT’s latest venue (in 2011 it was held at the smaller Highleigh centre) meant that almost 100 extra people registered for this year’s extremely well-run one-night, two-day retreat, a tribute to the meticulous organising skills of Steve and Mandy Briars.

For me, the most memorable aspect of the two days was the chance to hear not one, not two, but three really engaging speakers:

Mark Stibbe, The Father’s House Trust

Charlie Cleverely, Rector, St Aldate’s, Oxford

Alister McGrath, King’s College, London

The worship for each session – full of the presence of God – was sensitively and powerfully led by Lou Fellingham (Lead singer, Phatfish). Her new refrain to the Welsh hymn, Here is love vast as the ocean, particularly affected me:

Grace takes my sin,

Calls me friend,

Pays my debt completely

Love rescued me

And seated me with my King forever.

Opening the retreat, Mark Stibbe described Borders Bookstores as ‘an icon of a bygone age’! He spoke of the Book-trade facing huge challenges and being in ‘the perfect storm requiring prayerful and careful navigation’.

These points particularly struck me as Mark Stibbe worked through his five key ideas:

Passion – He spoke movingly of his adoptive father stimulating his own great love and passion for reading and writing, by deluging him with books during his youth!

Perspective – ‘There are never enough books to contain the wisdom of God’, ‘the Christian bookshop is an outpost of heavenly wisdom in the midst of a land of barren ideas’ and ‘we are in the business of the Kingdom and not the kingdom of business’.

Partnership – ‘All parts of the trade need the other’.

Proactivity – ‘We need not to be reactive but to breakout … Christian bookshops have immense value … the Starbucks founder talked of a third place, not at work or at home but of somewhere just to hang out … Bookshops can offer that sense of the presence of God … Indy’s can thrive again … we need a creative business model’.

Pliability – Stibbe especially recommended Jim Collins, ‘From Good to Great’.

‘No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books’.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

On the second day, Charlie Cleverley was the guest devotional speaker and commenced with ‘God has not yet finished with the printed book’!

His latest book is about God-appearances: ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’ (Hodder Faith).

Charlie’s theme was ‘regaining vision’. In visions become realities. The vision of how good God is drives mission: ‘Grant unto me a vision that changes everything’.

In Revelation, John saw the heavens open. He saw the Divine. In Exodus 34, Moses boldly asked God ‘to show him His glory’ and Ezekiel wrote down the vision that he saw: colour, flashes and lightening, an awesome sight. On Patmos, John called the Church back to its first love. When we behold God’s glory, it will refresh and restore us.

Cleverley moved on to talk about stillness and discipline: Stop – Look – Listen. The discipline of living in the presence of God – not activism but contemplative prayer. He quoted Nouwen and Fenelon (Be silent and listen to God) and embarked on a tour of some of the great mystic writers of the Christian tradition.

He spoke about ‘being Charis-mystical’, of seeing the Lord and of the Prayer of Quiet. Then … of being stilled, of union and communion and of spiritual ecstasy. To be on fire with devotion. Of the patrimony, the inheritance of God.  He encouraged retailers to so strive to hold resources in our outlets that will enable people to ‘see’ God.

Alister McGrath was the final speaker. It was a privilege to finally get an opportunity of listening to such an important theologian and apologist.

McGrath is author of the best-selling The Dawkins Delusion (SPCK) and he commented first on the Diamond Jubilee of Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis, 1952); the 60-year spiritual impact of which since publication has been ‘simply colossal’.

McGrath moved on to discuss the development of the New Atheism kicked off by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins in 2006. Ironically the public debate had rekindled interest in God and, as a result, it’s now much easier to talk about faith and spirituality. There seems less enthusiasm for the new atheism, which indeed seems to be fading, but there remains in society a lingering interest in who God is and in the ‘Big Questions’.

Finally, Alister complimented all that was being done through Christian resources. His theme for the remainder of the session was ‘Building a vision of God, the Gospel and of who we are’. He drew our attention to Isaiah 6 and the need to refresh and renew our vision of God.

McGrath concluded by stressing the absolute constancy and faithfulness of God. God is utterly trustworthy even in the midst of much change.

Click here for a comprehensive report of the #CRT2012 industry awards: the People and Products.

Next year, Christian Resources Together will again be held at The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick on Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th April 2013.

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