What did the stormtroopers say when they walked into the church?”
I tend to sit on the edges of things. To not get too involved. To give little and expect nothing. Like C.S. Lewis’s Tisroc of Calormen, I’m unwilling to stretch my hand any further than I’m able to pull it back.
Once I’m in a comfortable space with people I like, I tend to stay there. A “no” marks the boundaries of my comfort and, therefore, the perimeter of my relationships. But about two years ago, I wondered if maybe I hadn’t drawn my relational boundary lines in the most pleasant of places. I decided to replace my comfortable “no” with an adventuresome “yes.” Yes to more invitations and more people and more possibilities of relationship. The road of yes led to uncharted places, at least for me. One yes got me into twelve-hour-long D&D sessions. Another led to running through the streets of Aurillac for fear of missing a train. After yet another yes, I found myself crashing into bed at four a.m. after being out all night with new friends—folks I’d met barely half a day earlier, most of whom spoke languages other than English. I’ve spent more money than I intended to while telling myself, I can make more money, but I can’t remake these memories.
The decision to say “yes” has stretched me. Uncomfortably at times, yes, but each expansion revealed new discoveries about who I am. Apparently, one of my favorite things to do is tell an inside joke in public. The combination of glee from those who get it and confusion from those who don’t brings me immense pleasure. I know—it sounds bad. Why tell a joke if everyone around won’t get to laugh? Because those who are in on the joke get to share in a short-lived joy of shared experience within the deep well of friendship. I’m discovering little bits of heaven on earth.
My yes has transformed me from Lewis’s Tisroc of Calormen to the lover in his Four Loves, with a heart open to being “wrung and possibly broken.” I know what Lewis is talking about now. And I am glad for it.
When I think of the possibilities of community, I think of Corin, the rebellious boy prince of Archenland in The Horse and His Boy. There’s much to fault Corin for—his disobedience, his recklessness, his prankstership; but Corin, oft-overlooked character that he is, exhibits an extravagantly invitational spirit in his interactions with his counterpart, the slave-boy Shasta.
Corin and Shasta, despite being twins, couldn’t be more different in character. Corin is free, friendly, and bold. An insider and one of the elites of his world. Shasta is fearful, fretful, and timid. A slave boy, run-a-way, and outsider. Yet, when Corin stumbles in on a sleeping Shasta whom the pre-occupied Narnian royals have mistaken for him, his immediate reaction is to invite Shasta further into his world.
“Why are you in such a hurry [to get away]?” Corin says. “We ought to be able to get some fun out of this being mistaken for one another.” On the surface, Corin is simply trying to give life to an elaborate prank. But on a deeper level, Corin desires to draw Shasta into his world. To share in the joke.
When invited to a social gathering, I want to know who else is going to be there. If the list includes one or two people who I know and like, I feel better about going. I’ll be one of the insiders.
I wrestle with feeling satisfied at being on the inside of a thing, being woven into a community. Is my satisfaction prideful or vain? Am I, as Lewis describes in his address on inner rings, deriving “pleasure from the loneliness and humiliation of the outsiders,” or am I simply pleased with being in? After all, it does feel good to be in.
Lewis recognized that one of “the most dominant elements” in “all men’s lives” is “the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.” And while he critiques that desire because it often leads to individuals acting against their own consciences and good morals to gain acceptance, he acknowledges that a proper fulfillment exists for every desire.
In The Weight of Glory he said, “If we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us.” Is this not why we search for a place to belong? A place where being on the inside brings immense satisfaction—however bent to the dark side that feeling may be? Lewis seems to think so, he sees us grasping for heaven everywhere:
There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.
Every community, whether centered around school or sport or leisure, is a little bit of heaven. And what is heaven but an inner ring, a glorious clique, or (as Dante might argue) a boundless empyrean circle that surrounds and contains all other expressions of community?
As in a circle, light and love enclose it,
as it surrounds the rest and that enclosing,
only He who encloses understands.
No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion,
but it serves as the measure for the rest . . .
(Paradiso, Canto XXVII, 112–116)
Inclusion is a gift, and delighting in inclusion means delighting in God’s good design. But finding yourself on the inside brings an opportunity, a responsibility even—it takes an insider to bring people in.
The selfish desire to keep to myself the late nights, the inside jokes, the travel, the being known by others and knowing others is lessened—and sometimes extinguished—when I recognize the beauty of extending an invitation. My decision to say yes to more invitations to community has inspired me to say yes to more opportunities to invite others in. To make circles larger. To make hearts at home. To let others extend the parameters of their relationships.
A passion for community goes against my fear of rejection, my natural inclination to be better off alone. I have to choose between the two. And I have. A life alongside others is better. And I want the better thing for everyone, not just myself.
The communities I’ve been invited into expand my life. Now I want to be the benevolent one—like Prince Corin, inviting others into beautiful spaces where people “walk with a swing and let their arms and shoulders free, and chat and laugh.” I want to be the one holding the door open saying, “Come in! Come in! Let’s be friends.”
By the way, the stormtroopers said pew pew pew pew.
Cover image by Felix Rostig.