(This interview is part of my 4 Questions Project, where I get the chance to chat with authors and tell stories of people, life, and adventure. Be sure to check out previous interviews here!)
Do y’all remember that one time I talked about C.S. Lewis? I think it may have been about seven seconds ago. I heard about Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis’s House and Back Again not so long ago and after an email from a friend, I knew I needed to connect! Not only can I not wait to read the book (don’t miss the giveaway at the end), but Ryan is such a refreshing voice and is awesome, so I’m super excited to host him today!
I also need you readers to know that at one point he lived in the house C.S. Lewis lived in.
Jealousy. So much jealousy.
Ryan J. Pemberton left a successful career in marketing and public relations to write about life and faith and God. He has degrees in theology from Duke Divinity School and Oxford University, where he lived in C. S. Lewis’s former home, served as President of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society, and co-founded the Oxford Open Forum, an inter-religious dialogue group.
Ryan has written for Image Journal, Duke University Chapel, Bible Study Magazine, and Relevant magazine.
He serves on the Board of Directors for Jesus’ Economy, an international non-profit organization that creates jobs and churches in the developing world.
Ryan lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and daughter. This is his first book.
Let’s dive in shall we?
1. Why did you want to write this book, this story? Was this a story you wanted to publish when you got back to the States or did it come about gradually?
I wrote a magazine article a few years back called, “Lessons From Leaving a Desk Job.” I was blown away by the response I received, from people all over the world who wrote to say how it spoke to them, right where they were at in life. Feeling called to make a dramatic life change, but also being scared out of their mind to take that first step. I was actually working on another manuscript at the time, trying to get it published but struggling with closed door after closed door. And then I began to think, “Maybe there’s a book here…”
I started putting together the pitch when I returned to the States. It took about a year or so to get a deal, and then I wrote it while finishing my Master’s. It was a pretty crazy time.
2. What do you hope readers walk away with after reading this part of your story?
I like how you put that: “this part of your story.” Because the story’s not done, right? It’s still being written. And readers will feel that at the end of Called.
But as for your question, I hope those who read Called will feel a part of their own journey as they read this journey. I hope they’ll be led to think about where God is calling them, not so much to this job or that life change, but to this particular area of life that God is calling them to surrender, and to follow Him, even if following Him means staying right where they are, but staying in a new way—a way they would never have imagined on their own but that’s so beautiful that people stop and take note.
3. Let’s chat C.S. Lewis because he’s a genius :). What are a couple of his works you consider favorites?
The first C. S. Lewis book I ever read was Mere Christianity, which changed my life in tangible ways. I like to say that my heart was baptized years before, but it was only after I read Mere Christianity that my mind was baptized. It was then that I put both feet into the Christian tradition for the first time. Which is important, right? We’re heart and mind, not one or the other. The Christian narrative speaks to both, but I needed Lewis’s help to show me that. To this day, MC is still my favorite.
From there, it gets tricky. I actually really like the collection of essays titled, God in the Dock, because it gives you a chance to read Lewis on so many different topics. Also, I like Abolition of Man a lot; that was a prophetic book. And I always try and encourage folks to have a look at his letters. They’re now published as a three-volume work. You don’t have to read very many of them to see how incredibly thoughtful he was in correspondence, taking great time and care to answer the deep, personal questions people wrote him. They’re often overlooked, but they’re a rich read.
4. What’s one way the legacy and life of C.S. Lewis has impacted your life?
Well I touched on this earlier, but Lewis encouraged me to take my faith seriously intellectually. He has this great line in Mere Christianity where he says, “God is no more fond of intellectual slackers than He is of any other kind of slacker.” Which not only gave me permission to be a thinking Christian, but actually made me realize this is something I have to be. Like anything, my mind is something God has given me, and He expects me to use it to the best of my ability, for His glory and for the work of His in-breaking Kingdom.
1. What is something about your life right now that you would have never imagined 5 years ago?
This, probably. I mean, the interviews and talks and book signings. I recently gave a reading at this bookstore in my old hometown, and it was such a surreal feeling to actually be reading my book aloud to all these folks. The day before, I lectured at my undergrad alma mater on the life and writings of C. S. Lewis. Afterward, I was signing books and I looked over the shoulders of those in line at one point and saw the poster hanging on the wall with my photo and book cover on it. These undergrads were handing me copies of my book to sign, some with shaky hands, and I just thought “Whoa… This is actually happening.” It was pretty surreal.
This is something I dreamed of for years, but the journey to this point was so incredibly difficult, with more closed doors than I’d like to admit. So to actually be here, now, it’s an incredible feeling.
2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
Oh, boy… That’s a tough question. But there was a time on my journey when I became so worried, so focused on getting published, that I really feel like I became lost to myself. I became a pretty lousy husband and friend to my wife—not being there for her as I should have been—and a pretty poor friend to my friends. I let this ambition get in the way of who I was supposed to be and to the needs right in front of me. I think I had to get to a pretty ugly place before I realized, “This will never be worth it if you’re not taking care of what’s right in front of you.” Other authors say that, of course. I think of Anne Lamott, for example. But for me, I had to learn that one on my own. Like anything, getting published makes for a poor god.
3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
The birth of our daughter, Emma. Hands down. I told a lot of friends after she was born that I was completely unprepared for how much joy she would bring to my life. You’re prepared for the late nights and lack of sleep, of course—everyone tells you that—but no one told me how genuinely happy she’d make me.
My wife, Jen, and I spent six months of our first pregnancy 6,000 miles apart, during what was one of the most difficult periods of my life. I write about this experience in my book. And I think that darkness only made the joy of this experience that much brighter.
4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
That your story is not about you.
I’m not sure when that realization comes—it’s something I have to learn over and over again, it seems—but it sure saves us from a lot of grief. As someone who writes memoir, and who gives talks and interviews on my own journey, it’s particularly tempting for me to think my life is about me. But it’s not, of course. And when I started to realize that, I learned that I can actually use my life to point to something beyond myself. On my good days, God helps me to do just that.
I feel smarter just reading this interview. Thank you so much Ryan for joining me on Books and Beverages!
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