by Ryan Pemberton
Cole, Jen, and I attended a fireworks display in Oxford’s South Parks one Saturday night in November. He told us it was to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, a British holiday neither of us were familiar with.
In something of an informal history lesson, Cole told us that Guy Fawkes was a man who made plans to blow up parliament a few hundred years ago, and how he was discovered and thwarted at the last minute. He told us the British still celebrate catching Guy Fawkes to this day by lighting giant wooden effigies of him on fire each year, all around the country. They top the whole thing off with a fireworks display.
It was dark when we made it to the park, along with hundreds of other people, all funneling through a small iron gate. The ground was covered in straw and the park was filled with the sweet, salty smell of fried food as carnival rides lit up the night sky with neon bulbs and children’s laughter. It felt like we had walked into a county fair.
We settled on hot pork sandwiches for dinner and found a spot in the crowd to enjoy the show. The air was cold and steam rose upward, pouring out from our sandwiches. It wasn’t long before the fireworks began. The crowd was gathered together tightly. Everyone’s heads were craned upward, taking in the show.
I looked over at Cole about halfway through the fireworks and asked him how much he’d give me to start singing, “God Bless America.” He laughed, and he told me he’d give me a pat on the back. I decided against it, figuring I didn’t need an effigy in my honor.
The fireworks really were beautiful, though. And I found myself remembering something I had read a few days before, a quote from a British journalist named Matthew Parris, a professed atheist.
"The New Testament offers a picture of a God who does not sound at all vague to me. He has sent his son to Earth. He has distinct plans both for his son and for mankind. He knows each of us personally and can communicate directly with us. We are capable of forming a direct relationship, individually with him, and are commanded to try. We are told this can be done only through his son. And we are offered the prospect of eternal life—an afterlife of happy, blissful, or glorious circumstances....
Friends, if I believe that, or even a tenth of that... I would drop my job, sell my house, throw away my possessions, leave my acquaintances and set out into the world burning with the desire to know more and, when I had found out more, to act upon it and tell others" (Matthew Parris, originally published in The TImes).
As I watched the fireworks light up the black canopy overhead with bright whites and blues and reds and oranges, I found myself thinking about the kind of Christianity the atheist Matthew Parris had described. Watching the fireworks explode in a bouquet of colors, I thought how beautiful that kind of Christian faith would be. Like fireworks, it would stand out. I think it would be so captivating that people would stop to take it in when they heard about it. When they had seen it for themselves, I think they’d tell their friends. And, as they closed their eyes to go to bed at night, I think the scene would play again before the darks of their eyelids. They’d fall asleep with a smile on their face, thinking about how beautiful it was. Just like fireworks.
This pre-released excerpt is from the memoir Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis's House and Back Again by Jesus' Economy board member Ryan J. Pemberton. You can preorder Called here.
A volunteer board member of Jesus Economy, Ryan Pemberton is a graduate of Oxford, Duke Divinity School, and is the past President of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society. A communications consultant, Ryan has authored two books, including the forthcoming memoir, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis's House and Back Again.