A Tribute To Mr Clive Staples Lewis

(Or, Eight Ways One Man Changed Me)

I owe my life to Professor Clive Staples Lewis.

I do not say this lightly. He truly changed, and in changing saved, my life. And, in commemoration of his death, I offer up this tribute of sorts.


First a little about Mr Lewis – he is said to have announced as a child of four that he henceforth wanted to be referred to as “Jack.” (I’ve always liked to imagine one could hardly expect different from someone with the burden of such names as “Clive” and “Staples.” The real reason was he named himself after a dear dog, Jacksie, which was killed by a car.)

An English professor in medieval literature, he wrote everything from the Oxford History of English Literature (which he jokingly referred to as. “Oh Hell”!) to the children’s series, Chronicles of Narnia.

He died at the age of 65, on 23 November, 1963, on the same day as JF Kennedy. Popular as he was in his life (and he was amazingly popular), his death was overshadowed, for obvious reasons.

  1. He helped me find faith again. Mere Christianity, with its appeal to reason in defending faith, gave me the rational basis for faith that I’d, before then, sought in vain. I didn’t even dare hope there might be such a basis, and it formed a dichotomy I never could resolve, until I turned my back on faith. He helped me retrace my steps.
  2. He helped me find my place IN faith. His intellect gave mine a voice. Before Lewis I felt a misfit as far as my faith was concerned. In Lewis, I found the head of what I was to find was a vast tribe of Christian intellectuals going back through the ages. I finally knew why I’d never related to David, that most beloved of saints, and found a dear friend in Paul, that lover of a good argument.
  3. He helped me find my place as a writer. He gave me a model for who I could be. For who, it turned out, I really wanted to be. After discovering Lewis, I had a burning desire to share him with everyone I could. But to my dismay, I found that he was not as accessible as I imagined. Until it hit me: what Lewis had been to me, I could be to others. Boom.
  4. His writing became one of the most powerful writing models for me. His use of imagery changed how I write. If you have ever appreciated any of my many analogies, you have him to thank. If a professor of medieval English could write so lucidly, I surely had no excuse for lack of clarity.
  5. His writing has proved satisfying on many levels. I enjoy Lewis as a reader, as a lover of words and good writing, as a thinking person, and as a Christian. He speaks to me on every level, and speaks better than nearly anyone else for each. Especially as a Christian, God alone knows how often I have turned to Lewis for refreshment in a time of spiritual dryness.
  6. He taught me to think clearly. I was already learning this, of course. But Lewis was, and remains, on another level. I have met many minds, but Lewis, surpasses them all for both precision and articulation. Plus, he introduced me to Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Dorothy L Sayers, two minds who have greatly enriched my life.
  7. He saved me from intellectual snobbery. (I even learned the term from him.) Before him, I was already falling into it as a teenager, grasping desperately at my intellect in a world that seemed to have no use for it. Lewis showed me the danger of it, and even better, modelled what the combination of intellect and humility looked like. That latter was the true gift
  8. Lewis combined a love of reason and a vibrant imagination in a way I’ve seen very few do. He showed me that reason need not stifle imagination, and that one could love philosophy and fantasy equally. John Piper (perhaps my favourite living preacher) calls him the Romantic Rationalist. I couldn’t say it better.

Lewis, old chap, thanks a million.

It would be remiss of me to speak of Lewis without mentioning those through whom I made his acquaintance:

Mr Silas N. Eke owned the first copy of Mere Christianity that I ever read. I got it in an indirect way: Chidi Eke lent it to Dr Afolabi Oyapero, and I got it when he returned it. (Actually, I took it, reading it twice or thrice over before I considered that if the book meant anything, it at least deserved to be returned.) Dr Oyapero remains his kind and encouraging self, and I am grateful for his continued acquaintance. I must not forget Selwyn Hughes, who first introduced me to Lewis, by his frequent mentions in his Everyday With Jesus devotionals.

Perhaps, my mention of Lewis may so serve someone else.

P.S. If you are interested in discovering Lewis’ non-fiction, his “Screwtape Letters” is a great place to start. If you don’t like that, you might not like him at all. Or else, start from his delightful “Chronicles of Narnia” series. Some of his more popular books are available at Laterna, but if you want to go deeper, Amazon might be your best bet. (Feel free to hit me up privately for specific recommendations.)
(Image via Wikimedia)


From My Cage to Yours

Here we stand, you and I,
aching souls sentenced to life
within frail cages of tissue and bone
behind walls that first were fences—
boundary-markers over which to meet—
but now serve only to imprison our selves.
And within, we are lonely.

Here we stand, cage to cage,
and very ordinary-looking cages, too,
but for the windows through which pass
the elements—light and air and sound—
in endless but tentative stream
of shadows, breaths and fading echoes
bespeaking something more within.
But without, we are unheard.

Here we stand, two apart
longing to reach out across this space
littered with remnants of much unsaid, unknown:
emotion, experience, expectation;
but unable, it seems, to open doors
that, hardly aware, we locked so long ago—
locks that now are stiff, and we are stuck
within these familiar cages,
waiting out our life sentence, self-imposed.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in . . .” (Revelation 3:20 KJV)

Some of my favourite apps

My top go to apps

Trello rocks for project management and collaboration and pretty much anything to do with getting things done. Android | iOS

Evernote is the boss of note-taking apps. (I know most people use the ones that come with their phones, but that only makes sense if you will never leave Apple or Samsung or whatever. Me I can’t deal. Give me freedom or give me…just give me freedom.) Android | iOS

Buffer is nifty at posting to multiple social media networks. Plus the scheduling rocks. Android | iOS

Notegraphy is amazing for creating quick word-based graphics. Android | iOS

Google Docs, Sheets and Slides for my mobile office. (Because, online sync. Why people continue to use apps without sync remains forever beyond me.) DocsSheets and Slides for Android | Docs, Sheets and Slides for iOS

Bible (by YouVersion), because Bible apps are generally ugly beyond belief. Life is too short to be staring for minutes on end into ugly apps. Plus there’s a major update coming soon! (I LOVE apps with active developers.) Android | iOS

NOTE: (I use an — or is it a? — HTC and an iPad) and have all these apps on both devices. Following are my Android-only apps.

Google Keyboard is my go-to for fast gesture typing! (Plus it’s pretty. Like I said, I can’t stand ugly apps. I’m looking at you SwiftKey. It’s also has nearly zero lag. Take that, Swype.) Android only

Link Bubble (the only paid app in this list) is simply amazing. You won’t know how much you always wanted it until you use it. Telling you it opens links in a bubble without leaving Facebook or Twiitter or whatever doesn’t quite capture its amazingness.(If you simply must have free though, try Flynx.) Android only

Honourable mention to BBM for their latest major Android update. I’d almost abandoned the app for sheer annoyance until the revived it with Material Design and UI overhaul. Finally, you can select multiple smileys! Who knew?! Android | iOS

Have you heard this theory about driving in Lagos traffic?

There’s this theory I have about driving in Lagos traffic.

You know how when you try to overtake people, they won’t let you? How that’s exactly when they accelerate just to cut you off? (It’s annoying, I know—maybe the only thing more annoying is how you find yourself doing it after awhile.) Most outsiders don’t get why we Lagos drivers often don’t signal that we’re changing lanes until the last minute (or until we swerve into a free space), but it really just comes down to the simple fact that to signal like that might leave you waiting a good while to change lanes. And we Lagosians are in a hurry: we’ve got places to go and things to do!


Honk, honk! Move!

Anyway, so over time, I’ve developed this theory:

If you can get the other person to look at you, it’s harder for them to still cut you off.

(Okay, just chill: calm down. I said it’s harder, not impossible. Some people are just really mean.)

But my point is, I think it’s actually harder for the average person to be mean to you when it’s personal. (The average person—like I said, some people are just mean.) Most people can only go ahead and be mean when they don’t know you, or when they act like in that moment, you’re not a real person. I’m serious—you should try it out, and tell me how many times out of 10 your findings are different.

This shows up in many other ways, too. It’s why we typically don’t look at beggars we’ve decided not to give money to. It’s what makes it hard for the average person to look you in the eye when they’re lying to you. It’s why people tend to be nasty online in ways they often aren’t in real life.

And it’s why when people do really horrific things like sexually molest kids or blow up people, they probably aren’t thinking of them as persons: to them, in that moment at least, the other people are less than human, more like things. (The technical name for it is “objectifying people.”)

And we all do it. In many different ways, in a myriad of contexts. You can probably think of a few more examples yourself. And if you’re having trouble coming up with examples, just think how many times you’ve felt awkward when you found out the person you were beefing was someone you knew! Yeah, that’s when it got personal.

Don’t take my word for it, though: try it yourself. Your next time in traffic (which will probably be pretty soon), try to make eye contact, smile, wave. And see if they don’t let you in their lane (or at least apologise for not deciding on time).

All just to say, getting personal might feel stressful sometimes, but when we do—when we acknowledge our shared humanity—we actually become more humane ourselves. And maybe more human.

To put it differently, in that moment when you catch a stranger’s eye, they become a fellow human being.

But when you don’t? Go figure.

Think about that next time you’re on the road.

I want to hear from you: what’s your take? Share in the comments just below, will you?


What happens when X-men and CS Lewis collide?

So (flourish of trumpets) Tambaya is back! 🙂 It’s been very long indeed, I know, and it feels good to be back again after so long. This is going back to being a regular blog, and I’ll be updating it at least twice a week, with all kinds of stuff I’m thinking about. And with that, here’s what up for today…

Image: 20th Century Fox. (Via Wikipedia)

The X-Men have always been one of my favourite superhero groups. And of course, among them, Wolverine is my definite favourite! (I know, I know, I’m not the only one on both counts.) I don’t know what everyone else’s reasons are, but I have a few reasons why I love them so much. (Besides the sheer awesomeness that is Professor X!) Today I’m going to share one of those reasons. One of the recurring themes in X-Men, as every fan knows, is the unending tension between mutants and humans (mutants are human, of course, but “non-mutants” is too long). This theme comes clearly through in the latest X-Men installment, Days of Future Past (fear not, no spoilers here). First, a bit of background. Mutants, in the X-Men universe, represent the next phase of human evolution. Or at least so most mutants believe. Within the population of regular people who are aware (not everyone is) that mutants exist, there into two camps: those who agree that mutants are the new human, and those who think they’re just freaks of nature. The interesting thing is, both camps actually agree that they are to be feared, and if possible, eliminated. (Preferably eliminated, some would say.) Those who consider them freaks argue, of course, that they must be eliminated because they can’t be controlled. Those who consider them humanity’s next evolutionary stage fear their continued existence will mean the extinction of humanity as we know it. As it turns out, the mutants are divided in two camps as well. Magneto believes that mutants, superior beings that they are, have no reason to pander to ordinary humans, especially given that those ordinary humans mostly want to destroy mutants. (One suspects Magneto would love to rule even if humans were totally non-threatening, but that’s a whole other issue.) For his part, Professor X believes mutants have the potential to be a force for good on the planet in general and humans in particular, and spends his life trying to inculcate this idea in the mutants who follow him. Sound familiar yet? If it doesn’t (and this is the part where CS Lewis comes in), here’s a clue. The quote that follows is from the only online version available of the original broadcast of a talk by Lewis that later became his bestselling book, Mere Christianity.

Now that’s just where Christianity, as I think, has the real answer to a question a lot of modern people are asking. Everyone’s heard of evolution, how man evolved from lower types of life. And people often ask, “What’s the next step?” “When is the thing beyond man going to appear?” Some imaginative writers even try to picture what the next step will be like, but they usually end in nonsense about men with six arms or wings or something of that type. But the Christians think those people are on the wrong tack. The next step has already appeared. The next step is from being mere creatures to being sons of God. The new kind of man appeared in Christ, and other new men, little “christs,” already to be found sorted here and there about the earth. We Christians don’t call it “evolution” because we believe it isn’t something coming up out of blind Nature but something coming down from the world of light and power and knowledge beyond all Nature. But if you like to call it “evolution,” do. The next step is here. You can become one of the new men in Christ if you like. Or, if you prefer, you can refuse the step and sink back.

Which will it be? And if you’re a “mutant,” would you go with Magneto or the Professor? (There are lots of Christians like Magneto’s crew, aren’t there?) “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:39, ESV) P.S. Of course, this is only an analogy, and must not be pressed too far. But I think it makes a very good metaphor. (The X-Men universe provides great metaphors for tons of stuff!) Anyway, what do you think? And what other ideas come to mind when you think about it? Let me know in the comments! And once again, it’s good to be back. 🙂

The Inconsistency Inherent in “Forgiving Yourself”

“Forgive yourself,” we are often told.

Nice-sounding, and well-intended, but is it consistent with reality as portrayed in Scripture? I mean, apart from the fact that there is not one instance of even a hint of such an instruction, how can you meaningfully forgive yourself when your sin is not against yourself, but against the God whose law you broke? (Psalm 51:4) You may well try to pay yourself a debt owed to another (not the best analogy, but it’s what comes to mind).

Please understand, I’m not here undermining the guilt that persists even after having confessed sin. The guilt is very real, even after the person knows God has forgiven them. But what’s the real problem behind that? Is it a failure to forgive yourself? Or is it, perhaps, really a failure to believe yourself really forgiven, whatever it was you did? That seems to fit more both with my experience and my understanding of the matter.

Maybe we should say what, it seems to me, we really mean: allow yourself to RECIEVE God’s forgiveness.

Or how do YOU see it?

Aluu & all of us

I have silently observed the widespread outrage that has arisen in the wake of the recent deaths of young men at the hands of the people of a town called Aluu. I initially thought to merely observe the very predictable responses expected (and I have not been surprised in the least) and to say nothing of it all, but I think I should say a few things.

First, let me get something out of the way. What happened at Aluu was wrong. It was inexcusably. unjustifiably evil. I do not believe I need to justify this statement. The wrongness of it cannot be overstated.

But (you knew there would be a “but” coming, didn’t you?) what happened at Aluu was—and this is the part I know will be hard to swallow—human. When earlier I referred to the “people of Aluu,” I know some will take exception to my calling them “people,” and insist that normal, or sane, human beings could not possibly do such a thing. I beg to differ. I submit that “normal” humans are not only capable of such evil, but actually do perpetrate them. And as for their mental health being called into question, suffice to say that, as a mental health professional, I take exception to real and difficult illnesses being named as possible causes of wickedness, as though the two were somehow synonymous. It’s the worst kind of disrespect to those who live with the reality of true mental illness.

Now please, don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way excusing the people of Aluu. I am only saying we must not consider Aluu as a unique case. And I only ask that we consider for a moment the truth of the matter. Most of us have witnessed the merciless beating of people accused of stealing or other crimes. I have seen young adults and adolescents, and even mere children, stripped naked and beaten within an inch of their lives. I have heard many express, wholeheartedly or tacitly, support of such things. I have heard people say, when accused of what we’re accusing the people of Aluu of, things like, “You don’t know the wickedness of those people,” or words to similar effect. I have even heard it said about the present case.

Now, let nobody say that Aluu was “different.” If I beat you silly and stupid, what I have done is wrong. Should you be so fortunate as to live, your survival would hardly be to my credit. And make no mistake, the people who do such things as I am describing are hardly the dregs of society. I have seen this behaviour in rich and poor, in GRAs as in slums, in weddings and funerals and churches and shrines. And let us not even discuss here the woes that betide many a thieving house help, for as little as fifty naira.

No, I do not think the evil that happened at Aluu was unique. And that is, I think, the real tragedy: the potential for evil inherent in the human heart. There is a large body of work that has shown that people in groups are capable of levels of evil that, alone, they would never consider. And conversely, much of what we think are our virtues are more environmental than we might like to think. Outside the environments we’re familiar with, or in unusual circumstances, some really unpleasant things may easily come out. Notable here are Milgram’s unnerving studies, and Zimbardo’s prison experiments. We may remember Abu Ghraib and what young, otherwise normally adjusted young men did. Or we may come closer home and simply consider how less kind we are to others when we are with our friends. Something about being in a group makes us different. The research suggests that a reduced sense of personal responsibility is behind this: it’s not my decision, it’s OUR decision, so I’m not to blame.

And for those who castigate the people who watched as those young men were killed, I imagine they did not watch the videos. Because the pictures alone show that they were killed, did they not? Was there any need to see the videos for confirmation? Or was there, perhaps, something more sinister at work? A desire to SEE for ourselves? Does it not worry you that like vampires, we feed on the evil that others do in this way?

(Forgive me if I sound harsh, but we simply must acknowledge the truth if we are to get anywhere, and I really do not know a nicer way to say this. I didn’t see the videos myself, but I do not think less of anyone who did. I am only saying that in itself is a signal to the fact that there is something deeply amiss in our hearts.)

My point, as I come to a conclusion, so that we must not over-distance ourselves in order to feel outrage. Yes, it’s easier to believe that Aluu could only happen among a group of monsters in human skin, among people without the slightest trace of a conscience, seared beyond redemption. Easier to believe, but most likely untrue.

I hope I have made myself clear. I have not said anything in all of this about who was to blame in the tragedy of Aluu. I know that there are those who only seek to cast blame and who cannot read a piece like this without imagining that blame is somehow being cast one way or another, but I am doing no such thing. I am only saying that we must not consider Aluu as unique, that as we rightly condemn what happened, we must remember to shudder also at the fearful fact that the people who did this wicked thing were people.

People just like you and me.

P.S. Let me, however, attempt to lay blame. The tragedy of Aluu, is I think, more a symptom than a sickness. Yes, something should be done about it. Yes, the perpetrators should be brought to book. But at the end of the day, the truth is that, in any society where the perception reigns that the law is incompetent or ineffective, people will take it into their hands, period. It really is that simple. And until the law does carry some real weight, Aluu will probably repeat itself. That is not to say that the people are justified. They are not. What I am saying is, in the absence of a solid and working law—that is SEEN to be working—it will recur, because those who would do such things would feel justified.