August 7
August 7 E-mail

Thursday - Final Day of the Conference

This is the final day of the conference and it seems as if they saved the best for last.  I sat across from Paul Vitz at breakfast.  (How can he eat before a big speech?!)

Michael Ward gave the morning's meditation.  Today, he was dressed as an Anglican priest.  He is gentle in delivery with a touch of humor.  I appreciate his humble attitude that he's been "entrusted" with the discovery and insight into the Narnia chronicles.  (See August 6 entry.)  In the meditation, Ward referred to the section where Edmund is asked, "Do you know Aslan?" and he replies, "He knows me."  How wonderful to rest in the knowledge that God knows me. 

Paul Vitz, a psychology professor and scholar, gave the first plenary address titled "Hatred, Love and Transmodern Identity" which included thought-provoking comments on hatred and the role it plays in contributing to personal identity.  Anger is a natural reaction to a perceived attack or threat.  It's an immediate response necessary for survival and not psychologically harmful.  Hatred, by contrast, is not an immediate response; it is the cultivation of anger.  The admonition in Ephesians 4:26 not to let the sun go down on one's wrath is aimed at preventing the cultivation of anger. 

Vitz talked about the joy that can be found in hatred.  We enjoy hating our enemies and the ensuing self-pity.  Revenge, after all, is a recurring theme in great literature.  The pleasurable payoffs of hatred include: (1) rationalizing personal failure; (2) support from social groups, i.e. those whose identity comes from hating the same enemy, think political parties; (3) the thrill from expressing discontent, think venting; and (4) a feeling of moral pride and superiority.  Some folks are so defined by hatred that if the person they hated were removed from the earth, they would no longer know who they are. 

Vitz calls for a transmodern culture (as opposed to modern or postmodern), which would leave the worst of modernity behind and keep the accomplishments.  He sees examples of this developing in psychology and education.

Parts of this talk resonated with me.  I admit to feeling a certain amount of pleasure in nursing a grudge.  At the same time, I am discouraged by the us/them mindset that has spilled over from the political arena into the church.  I especially need to guard against feelings of moral superiority and pride.  Let's call it what it is-a form of hatred.  Vitz's optimism for a transmodern culture is curious.  I hope he is right, but confess to being less optimistic.  Nevertheless, it is a good note on which to end the conference.

Philip Yancey spoke next.  He is tied for being my favorite living writer, (the other being Lauren Winner).  Both writers offer a fresh perspective on familiar topics and have a way of stretching me spiritually.  Yancey is aging like the rest of us.  His unique hair is now mostly grey.  He is slender and not that tall. 

Yancey talked about four sets of comparisons: (1) meaning v. interpretation; (2) quality v. compassion; (3) finding self v. losing self; and (4) embracing culture v. countering culture.  Under his second category, Yancey mentioned the proper ordering of desires, noting C. S. Lewis's comment that what first becomes a god can later become a demon.  He mentioned that the top ten health problems in America are caused by disordered desires (e.g. tobacco, obesity, etc).  Then there is the related problem of what the addiction is displacing.  What could that time, money, energy, and interest be channeled into, which is currently neglected?

Under his third category, Yancey shared the account of his February 2007 auto accident when his neck was broken.  He had to wait seven hours immobilized for test results.  During that time, he pondered: Whom do I love?  What have I done with my life?  Am I ready for eternity? 

He concluded by encouraging us to embrace the surrounding culture, so long as we don't idolize it.  We cannot be like passengers on a bus ride to the Grand Canyon who ride with the shades down, missing Colorado and the Rockies along the way.  Pleasures are good; they just aren't good enough.  The scent of the flower directs us to the proper object of our desire.

I admit to wanting Philip Yancey's autograph.  I selected Soul Survivor to take to be signed.  In that brief moment, I told him I was from a fundamentalist background and that his words on the subject of grace had brought great healing.  He glanced at my nametag and said, "thank you, Allyson," then was whisked away by one of the conference organizers to lunch.

I ate a quick lunch in my room then with umbrella in hand proceeded to spend the "free" afternoon sightseeing.  I went to King's College Chapel first so as to be inside during the worst of the rain.  It was breathtaking-the stained glass, the fanned vaulting, the historical artifacts.  Once again, I found my soul longing to worship in a cathedral that overwhelmed my senses and gave me a foretaste of the throne room of heaven.  Particularly stirring was a side chapel dedicated as a memorial to the members of the College who died during the First World War.  That was Lewis's generation, so many were lost. 

 wwi memorial

 World War I Memorial in King's College Chapel

kings college 

The grounds at King's College Cambridge 

Next, I set off to find Magdalene College, the Cambridge College where Lewis taught for the last nine years of his life.  It was small and cozy.  The buildings were three stories tall and arranged in two quadrangles. 


Magdalene College Cambridge 

I met up with two other Oxbridge attendees.  We tried to figure out which rooms had been Lewis's.  Finally, Marcia asked two charming porters.  They pointed out Lewis's rooms and hammed it up along the way.


Porters at Magdalene College Cambridge

csl rooms-cambridge 

Lewis's rooms at Magdalene College Cambridge 

 We stepped into Magdalene's small chapel and spotted a plaque in memory of Lewis.  It seemed just the sort of chapel Lewis would like--inauspicious and reverent. 

After my visit to Magdalene, there wasn't time to go back to my room, yet it was too early for the 5:30 service at Great St. Mary.  So I spent an hour in a bookstore (big surprise!) -the kind with comfy chairs-and bought a second-hand Detective Morse mystery to read on the journey home.  Mary's talk about her Morse mystery last week got me curious. 

The closing service featured more glorious music and Eucharist at the rail.  I have to admit I was so focused on doing it right that all thoughts of God vanished from my mind. 

After the service, we walked briskly to Queen's College, the venue for the reception.  Dark clouds filled the sky accompanied by rumbles of thunder.  Queen's College has a beautiful campus.  The reception was held outdoors in the downpour.  We huddled under awnings.  I chatted with the mother of a high school student from New Zealand.  Lucy, the teenager, had been in the workshop led by John Mark Reynolds.  I conveyed to her mother how well Lucy holds her own with the professors and other adults.  She said that her daughter's tutor and best friend are atheists.  Mom was glad that the conference served as a counterbalance, demonstrating that academia and Christianity can be successfully combined. 

I walked back to Robinson with James Taylor before the next downpour.  For the first time in my two weeks in England, I actually felt chilled.  Standing on the mathematical bridge at Queens, we saw a full rainbow arched across the sky.  It would not photograph on my low-tech camera, so I simply enjoyed it.