The Ring Will Break Your Heart
Thirty years ago we convened a group of friends from around the country and they became the “Dream Team” charged with thinking about the possibility of what would eventually become The Gathering. We spent two days filling up newsprint sheets and hanging them on the walls of the hotel conference room. Following all the usual steps of brainstorming and strategic planning, we asked great questions and speculated about customers, values, niches, and brands. Still, just one thing remains for sure in my mind – our common desire that we do not become an “elite” group or what one team member called “a Bohemian Grove for Christian donors.”
In the years since we have walked close to that line – and probably at times crossed over. We have all been tempted – sometimes individually and sometimes together – to form what C.S. Lewis calls an Inner Ring:
“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. This desire in one of its forms has indeed had ample justice done to it in literature. I mean in the form of snobbery. Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hag-ridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is or was called Society. But it must be clearly understood that “Society” in that sense of the word is merely one of a hundred Rings and snobbery therefore only one form of the longing to be inside.”
This is not only true of Christian philanthropists. In fact, there are any number of organizations and ministries that pander to our desire to have access to the Oval Office, players, influencers, movers and shakers, and other self-appointed elites. We like to be included, don’t we? We like to think we have a place at the table and access to power; so much so that we are always susceptible to being seduced by our own idols. I have underlined in my Bible this verse in 2 Kings 17:15: “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.” Every time I read that I check my own motivations and tendencies.
However, at the end of his address to students at King’s College Lewis describes a different kind of “inner ring.” It is one that is actually a good thing because it is based on the desire to be part of something laudable:
“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will, in the long run, be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.
And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which seen from without would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental and its exclusiveness a by-product and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world and no Inner Ring can ever have it.”
That is the dream we had for The Gathering. It would be a community of friends and craftsmen who love their craft and each other. It is not built on keeping people out or schmoozing with Important People but growing a legitimate and worthy inner ring.