One Year In

Laity Square is now one year old, and I reflect on the beginning, the journey, and what’s next -- and notes from the celebratory watching of CS Lewis’ biopic The Most Reluctant Convert

On November 25th 2020, I hesitantly posted the following to my social media feeds: “Pandemic Diaries, Day #258: I have started a podcast. (See-no-evil emoji.)” Laity Square is now one year old, and today I reflect on the beginning, the journey, and what’s next. Perhaps more interestingly, I also talk about the celebration – my thoughts after watching CS Lewis’s biopic, The Most Reluctant Convert.

One Year In

It began in the early afternoon of Monday, November 3rd 2020. I was on a short break from work, thinking again about The Problem. Society was facing a new wave of consequential conversations on many topics. It’s almost like the pandemic brought out the philosopher in us again! The public conversations – election campaigns, public health drives, other debates – were relatively well stocked with varying opinions and worldviews. But as those conversations cascaded into homes, workplaces, neighborhoods – what I now call our “small public squares” – I noticed that my friends and acquaintances, even I myself, were having a hard time exposing and defending our Christian viewpoints.

The issue wasn’t classic apologetics. The conversations weren’t religious in nature. Rather, they were about contemporary social and political issues: race, euthanasia, climate, rights and freedoms… I felt that I, and perhaps others around me, were lacking ideas, tools and resources to analyze these issues from a Canadian and Christian perspective.

That day a thought entered my mind, which I think came from God: Musings of an average Canadian Christian on the intersection of faith, culture and politics. And that’s where it all began. The tagline brought my strategy into focus, allowing me to go from idea to action. Why I wanted to do this had been clear for a while; but in that moment, the what became clear too.

That was also the moment I settled on a podcast. In a decision that proved extremely naive in hindsight, I was swept by the idea that “people don’t read as much anymore.” I considered video, but found it excessively stressful, and decided that a podcast would be a good balance – not requiring my audience to read, and being more lenient on me than video. I also thought this decision gave me a “low effort” option. I still get a good laugh out of that every single time.

So, now I had a why and a what. It was just a matter of figuring out how. Much easier said than done! I happened to stumble onto a Kindle sale for Michael Hyatt’s excellent book Platform, which I quickly devoured. I set up social media accounts, settled on AWS to self-host the podcast, and worked with my close friend Alex Fleming to learn the rudiments of audio recording and editing.

Ultimately, I embraced LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s quote: “if you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.” Looking back at the first episode and the first version of the site, I have no concerns with my timing!

I thought it would get easier with time. And in some ways, it has. I’ve mostly tamed the audio workflow, imperfect as it still is. I’ve improved the process to come up with topics and scripts. And I succeeded at my modest goal of publishing between 30 and 40 episodes in the first year. More notably, when I started, everything was locked down. I had tons of time every day of the week. As things have begun to open up, some of that time has gone back into socializing, travel, in-person church gatherings – all of which I’m extremely thankful for. I think I’ve been able to adjust and keep going, although perhaps a bit slower.

One area where I changed my mind significantly was the matter of writing. I was wrong. People do read – perhaps more than they listen to podcasts. So, in the summer, I published every episode transcript, and a handful of additional articles as well. My true passion is writing, and I’m glad to provide that option. One thing I’ll be paying close attention to in this second year is what’s the right balance between these formats. And I think I’m close to taming my main issues with video, so maybe that becomes an option too? Keep a close eye on social media for polls and teasers in the weeks to come!

In hindsight, I’ve gotten tiny glimpses of God working in people’s lives through this work. I’ve definitely seen it in my own life. If no one else, I have been shaped and I’ve grown as a result of this effort. A year later, my prayer remains that which I borrowed from Mr. Fred Rogers: in everything I do and say over here, may a word from God be heard.

The Most Reluctant Convert

Anniversaries, of course, demand celebrations. And without giving too much away, I actually launched this site more or less around my own birthday. Last week, the recent CS Lewis’s biopic, aptly titled The Most Reluctant Convert, was still running, and I felt watching it was a great way to celebrate these life events. (Interestingly, Lewis’s own birthday is November 29, and he passed away on November 22 1963, a week before he turned 65.)

This isn’t the first movie about his life. In 1993, Anthony Hopkins and Debrah Winger starred in Shadowlands, a dramatization of the unlikely and bittersweet love story of Lewis and his wife, American writer Joy Davidman. That movie was adapted from a 1985 play. The play’s director, Norman Stone, worked with the Fellowship for Performing Arts to write and produce The Most Reluctant Convert – itself a play turned to film.

The production centers on Lewis’s early life and his conversions – first from materialism to theism, and then more specifically to Christianity. The movie adaptation retains some of the feel of a theater play, frequently breaking the fourth wall and primarily carried by lead actor Max McLean’s excellent delivery. The well-produced dramatizations and overall acting accentuate McLean’s dialogue, breathing some levity and rhythm into what otherwise could have been a very intense 90 minutes. I definitely enjoyed recognizing some of Lewis’s most memorable quotes in McLean’s dialogue.

The Canadian theater run has ended. If you weren’t able to catch it, I’d encourage you to follow the movie’s site for next steps. Maybe you can catch the play in an American city, or hopefully the movie hits streaming services sometime soon.

I won’t spoil you any details. I just want to highlight three things that struck me as I watched. First, I was reminded of the fact that Lewis’s intellectual honesty played a role in his conversion. From a biblical viewpoint, this isn’t surprising; the Bible teaches that God has revealed enough of Himself in His creation to make His existence evident. But I still found it interesting that an intellectually honest pursuit of a sound philosophical worldview brought Lewis to the then troubling realization that his materialistic worldview was deficient, and that theism was a firmer ground. It is my hope and prayer that more people from all walks of life pursue their viewpoints with intellectual honesty, to the full depth allowed by their capabilities.

I think it’s unfortunate that strongly held and loosely justified viewpoints are so common in modern society. Whatever you choose to believe, I encourage you to think deeply and clearly about it. I am nowhere near Lewis’s intellect and education, but within my limits, I’ve lived a similar process. Ultimately, I can’t think of a better model than Christianity to represent our reality.

The second thing the film reminded me of is the irreplaceable importance of personal evangelism and open and engaging outreach, at all levels, and in all environments. God has revealed enough of His existence in creation, but general revelation is insufficient to understand His character, His plans and purposes, and the full extent of the reality we live in. Lewis was greatly aided by long and thoughtful conversations, held over many years, with fellow Oxford scholars and theist friends J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson and Owen Barfield. Whether it is the labor of earnestly and plainly sharing the gospel, or the more indirect, intellectual, but also important task of apologetics, we cannot underestimate the importance and the impact of sharing our faith with those around us.

This is something that transcends vocation. Not all of us are called into full-time ministry; but whatever our calling, we are expected to pursue it with excellence, bringing a Christian perspective into it as well. These men were perhaps the finest minds in the British literary landscape of the early and mid 20th century. This brought them together. Their friendship transcended their theological beliefs and worldviews, and they were able to eagerly and respectfully discuss these issues. What a great model that more of us would do well to adopt today!

The final thought that struck me is that there is a place for credentials and qualification, but we all have a role to play in advancing the kingdom. Lewis never went to seminary. He was known as a lay theologian. I want to be careful here, because again, we’re talking about a very privileged and portentous mind. The realities of modern society, including specialization and the rise of the corporate church, demand that our pastors and teachers suitably prepare themselves. This is a good thing. However, all of us are uniquely positioned to share what we know and exert influence in our own small sphere.

As someone who has struggled with this, it’s been reassuring to see people like J Warner Wallace and Tim Challis eagerly encouraging lay people like me to write, to speak, and to share. And I want to extend this invitation to you. It’s not about amassing large numbers of followers, or becoming a leader in a field. It’s simply about looking at those around you, looking at what you think you have that they could use, and freely sharing it.

I appreciate your support and company as I learn by thinking in public. I hope that you will continue to be inspired and challenged by these issues, just as I am. And I look forward to hearing from you, and about you, as you take this effort into your own small public squares. Here’s to however many more years the Lord may grant!

Published: November 21, 2021