Taken from the collection of essays in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, "The Inner Ring" is a rather short address Lewis gave to a young adult audience. Lewis warns the young audience about the temptation to get on the inside, to be well liked by the people who "matter most" in society, to get in with the in crowd.
Lewis, considered by some as an outsider in the Oxford world, exhorts his audience to stay busy honing their own craft, to become great in their own fields and to essentially care less for what the so-called Inner Ring is up to and care more about your own work and your own friends.
When one pursues friendship and happiness in this way, a strange thing happens. You end up creating precisely what you had previously pined for: an Inner Ring.
I reread this little address quite often as a reminder to keep my head down, do "the work" before me, and to surround myself with the people I really like rather than the ones I'm supposed to like.
As a writer who contributes to the Christian world of publishing, I find Lewis's words resonant because they confront a culture predicated on networking, platform building, and leveraging. Great sacrifice can accompany blind pursuit of this inner ring; sound thinking for pop-theology, cause crusading at the expense of true spiritual affection, or even integrity ransomed to gain influence.
It's the desire to be inculcated into this kind of inner ring that drives us, and that can ultimately wreck us.
Stronger Than Sex
In the address, Lewis makes a bold statement regarding human desire. He says:
I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.
Lewis goes so far as to say that this desire to be included in the Inner Ring is stronger than our sexual desire (contra Freud). Indeed, we find Lewis, nearly three years earlier, preaching on just that topic in his epic sermon "The Weight of Glory." (June 8, 1941)
The literal weight of glory Lewis talks about in this sermon is the weight that accompanies God's appreciation, God's acceptance.
I watched The Judge the other night and the entire movie revolves around the idea to be appreciated, included, hearing an, "Atta boy!" from the people we desire so much to be a part of.
Being an outsider, for Lewis, is a matter of perspective. It's saying, "Hang it all, I'll do my own thing," rather than giving up whatever it takes to get in with them. When we realize that we are, in fact, appreciated by God, that we possess a certain glory before him, then the desire to be included with the so-called popular crowd fades.
In front of God all that matters, then, is to get to work, find good friends, and have at it. And when we live like this, we become like another who lived his life as an outsider; a man who, though on the outside, created his own Inner Ring; a man who was about his work, a work which was focused on others to the point of dying for them.
It's a radical concept to eschew the in crowd, and to find comfort on the outside. But that's the example we have before us. So, let's have at it.
Photo Credit: Oxford Times
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Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.