We are continuing here with Part 2 of a two part interview with author, speaker and educator, Andrew Lazo.
LES: Andrew, you’ve mentioned to me in a previous conversation that you served as Phil Keaggy’s road manager for a few years. That surprised me for a couple of reasons. What moved you to make the transition from the music industry to become a scholar and a C. S. Lewis scholar in particular? These seem to be extremely different paths.
AL: That’s funny. Phil is a dear friend and the most talented guitar player I know of. He’s also an inveterate reader out there on the road. When we first met and began working together, he leant me Letters to an American Lady, the first Lewis book outside the Narniad that I had read. It came at a crucial time, when I needed to find a more thoughtful faith to keep me from leaving Christianity. I trace my love of Lewis straight to Phil, and will always owe him that debt. He offered me three examples I still strive to follow. First, his incredible talent is the third best thing about him. He’s a better Christian, and a better father and husband. Second, he’s the most generous and humble man I’ve ever met—my one signed copy of a first edition book by Lewis came as a gift from him. By his example all those years ago (1991-1993), he challenges me still to treat those I talk to with his same wonder, respect, and love. Finally, his love for reading and education, and for Lewis and the Inklings, gave rise to the notion that I could read books and talk about them for a living. I’m not at all sure how even to begin measuring my debt to Phil. I consciously follow his example nearly every day; God has used him to give me this life I love so well.
LES: Several years back you co-edited a wonderful book titled Mere Christians with Mary Anne Phemister, who serves as a docent at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. What led you to co-edit this collection of essays? How did the idea get formed to do this? How does this experience with publication inform your writing now?
AL: Mary Anne deserves nearly all the credit for this book. I was lucky to be a part of it. I’d rented a room in the lovely home she shares with her husband Bill a number of times during visits to the Wade, and during one of these, in 2005, she mentioned an idea she was working on. As a docent at the Wade, she’d begun gathering visitors’ stories of how Lewis had changed their lives in deep and significant ways. Dr. Christopher Mitchell, then the director of the Wade Center, suggested working with a Lewis scholar as she made these accounts into a book. I happened along at the right time, and was able and willing to contribute a few accounts and to edit all of them a number of times. I’m grateful to have played a part—people still tell me about how that book helps them.
As my first entrée into publishing, I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of the making of books. I’ll certainly make use of these lessons with future books; I learned a few things the hard way during the process.
More than anything, having created this material object that delights me so gives me the encouragement that I can make another one. I love books, and now there’s an attractive one out there that I had a hand in creating. Perhaps there are a number more that will find their way out of my head, onto the shelves, and into peoples’ minds due to my efforts. The prospect thrills me.
LES: Of all Lewis’ works, what is it about it about Till We Have Faces that matters so very significantly to you?
AL: How long do I have to enthuse about what Lewis called “far and away the best of my books”? Simply put, as nearly as I can tell, Till We Have Faces culminates much of what Lewis was about all his life. The more I read or discuss it, the deeper, more beautiful, and more haunting and profound it grows. It’s my belief that in this book, all of Lewis’s gifts come together at the height of his powers and at the beginning of one of the happiest times of Lewis’s life. People have long underestimated the role Joy Davidman played in the writing of that novel. In turn, almost no one has noticed that their collaboration really set the stage for their marriage and falling in love. And that’s much to the point, for the novel of course is entirely about love. I think that, properly understood, people will gain profound insight into how love works in their lives, and how God comes in to that most crucial of questions.
And if I can write the book I’m planning to write about that staggering great novel, I pray I’ll help many who may have missed some of the profound beauties that Lewis has hidden in this book. I hope my explanations will revolutionize a number of things about Lewis, love, and God. I’d take it as a kindness for you and your readers to pray for my attempts.
LES: This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death and 50 years of his legacy as a teacher, scholar, writer and public figure. After a number of years of effort by Lewis scholars both British and American, this November Lewis will be memorialized in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. From your own perspective, what is his legacy after 50 years and do you think his influence will now quietly fade from the scene with his memorial in Westminster Abbey?
AL: Many people, starting with Lewis and those who survived him, have long expected Lewis to fade quietly from the scene for half a century. But Lewis’s influence rightly grows. The story is told of how a student of Lewis’s (and later a great Chaucerian), Derek Brewer, came to Lewis’s rooms in Magdalen College for his first tutorial with the great man. He knocked, and J. R. R. Tolkien answered the door. “Is Lewis your tutor then? Ah, you’ll never get to the bottom of him!” Tolkien proclaimed.
Tolkien’s still right. Perhaps fifty people in the world have read widely enough in Lewis to get a sense of what he was about, and none of us have read deeply enough. By dint of his enormous learning and memory, his diligent discipleship, his Jovial good humor, and both his love for God and his eloquent urge to write about it, Lewis continues to elude us even as he still shines a very powerful light on the nature of things.
And as the scholarship of Bruce Edwards, Michael Ward, Diana Glyer, Alister McGrath and others points out, the best work on Lewis lies before us. And McGrath said recently in an interview, Lewis repays careful reading. And this payment goes on enriching millions of lives around the world as generation after generation discover, read, and struggle with this great man.
LES: What do you hope your own legacy will be?
AL: I heard Peter Kreeft once say that his job was to sell C. S. Lewis books, and I can think of no better job description.
In attempting to develop a kind of “Universal Field Theory of C. S. Lewis” (a mad wish, I acknowledge), I think that Lewis’s mission was to help us see more clearly—to see literature, God, pleasure, Joy, ourselves more clearly. And because Lewis makes the deep things of this world so accessible and clear, I hope that when I’ve finished my earthly labors, I’ll have helped others to see Lewis more clearly, so that through Lewis they can see the Light, and see all things by that Light.
LES: Earlier in this interview, Andrew, I describe you as a dragon-slayer. It is a very serious term to me and I don’t use it lightly. Dragons represent destruction, death, deep terror. While we do not see with our physical eyes the dragons we fight, we are truly engaged in an on-going spiritual battle with real opponents that affect our lives here and now. What are some of the obstacles that you find yourself having to overcome? How do you deal with ‘slaying dragons’ in your life, especially the dragons of old fears, lies that you’ve been told over the years, depression and / or discouragement?”
AL: Ah, now you’re getting personal. Good! Like most people, I’ve gone through a real measure of grief in my life, a period of looking hard into the mirror and not at all liking what I saw there. That’s not so fun an experience, when you find you have failed to learn the lessons you need most. Here, as in most things, Lewis offered immeasurable help. From him I learned about the idolatry of our earthly loves that will not bend their knees to God, to Love Himself.
In The Four Loves (surely the most formative book I’ve ever embraced as an adult), Lewis quotes Denis de Rougement, who says, “Love ceases to be a demon when it ceases to be a god.” Much of the real damage I have done to myself and to others in my life has arisen fundamentally from a disordering of my loves. Whether loving myself too much or too foolishly, or placing the love of someone else on far to high a pedestal or altar, my mistaken expectations of love and what it should do has given rise to much grief.
At the same time, much of that grief came about also through my sometimes willful ignorance about the central importance of the ongoing and governing reality of the universe as I understand it: that the Creator loves His creation. And I get included in that—God loves me. The more I make that the grounding reality of my self image, my day, and my dealings with others, the more I overcome all the ways that I, along with the rest of this world, fall short of all I should be.
In his marvelous book Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning reminds us that “Our self-image rests on God’s relentless tenderness towards us.” And much of the grief and pain I have caused in others or experienced in myself has come from losing sight of this pervasive truth. God’s ceaseless love, His “chesed,” has in my own life given much water in a dry and weary land. And it makes me thirst for more.
LES: The term “The Good, the True and the Beautiful” is replete with meaning and importance to me, so much so that I am writing a book related to that and host this website for the sake of exploring what this means. What does it mean to you?
AL: Alas, my answer to this will surely sound too simplistic.
At the ground level, God is the only Good, the measure of all Truth, and the source of all Beauty. Like Keats, I affirm that a thing of beauty is a joy forever; like Lewis, I believe that all things good and true and beautiful serve as golden signposts to Jerusalem, to the creator of all good things.
And like Tolkien, I love the good, true, and beautiful things in this world, for in them I see “splintered light / fractured from one single White.” Sadly, one can misread the Hebrew Scriptures and glean only an arbitrary god of judgement. But surely this strains out the camel to swallow a swarm of gnats?
In the pages of the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets, we find a God who engraves our names on his palms, who gives sleep to those He loves, who offers Himself as our shelter and a shield, who rejoices over us with singing, and who makes all things beautiful in His time.
I see this world as God-haunted, and I see even the smallest incidents of goodness, truth, and beauty as the ghosts of God, as veiled and whispery glints of the true light. As I mentioned in a recent blog following the shootings in Sandy Hook, people often ask “Where was God?” when terrible things come to pass.
For me, when I see God even in seemingly insignificant acts of goodness or kindness amongst my students, colleagues, and friends; in moments where the truth rings out life a bell, clear and compelling; or in occasional flashes of natural or created beauty, I see the fingerprints of God all over this world.
Clouds part. The sun rises. A good cup of coffee and a long laugh with an old friend, a bit of music that clutches the heart, the sudden joyful flash when a teacher manages to make sense and a student’s eyes light up with inspiration and understanding—these are the treasures of this earth, and, to me, the best hints that a better world awaits.
Click here for Part 1 !
The images of Andrew Lazo in the following interview series are (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with permission for Cultivating.
Many thanks and blessings to Andrew Lazo for his generous participation in this interview and for all that he does to cultivate the Good, the True and the Beautiful in this needy world!
Many blessings to you, friend!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.