The Inner Ring

When I was at school there was always the “cool” people who hunted in packs. They would listen to the latest music, have the latest fashion and didn’t seem to do any work. But nonetheless we all knew that they were a cool group, I don’t know how we knew, but us the outsiders knew that we would never be in that cool gang so long as we had skirts below the knees and wanted to get good grades. These kind of groups are not just in school but also in society – in the work place, in families, communities and the church. There are groups of people who make what CS Lewis calls an “inner ring”, a group of people who Lewis describes as:

“It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the
insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be
designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called
“You and Tony and me.” When it is very secure and comparatively
stable in membership it calls itself “we.” When it has to be suddenly
expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “All the sensible
people at this place.”

Do you know the kind of groups he means? You find them everywhere, probably most commonly called cliques now. CS Lewis rightly says that this is unavoidable, its part of human nature to connect with like-minded people and make friendships with them sharing in interests and visions. And it isn’t wrong to have them either in order for organisations and communities and churches to function, there needs to be a group that’s in the know and makes decisions.

But Lewis doesn’t focus on those groups in his inner ring essay, he instead focuses on the outsiders and their desire to be in the inner ring. He says:

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.

I think this is true and a part of it is wanting to feel valued and wanted. We want to be a part of a group of people who value us and accepts us – we long for that community and when we find ourselves outside of that inner ring we feel rejected. So we strive even harder to be in that group. Because “It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons: but to have them free because you don’t matter, that is much worse.” This is certainly not exempt from the church, where there are many inner rings (we pretend there aren’t, but there are) and people from the outside struggle to find a place and struggle to feel a part of the group. Even when they pierce the first part of the onion they find there are more inner rings to pierce through!

But Lewis asks an important question for those wanting to be a part of the inner ring:

“Let Inner Rings be an unavoidable and even an innocent feature of life, though certainly not a beautiful one: but what of our longing to enter them, our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in?”

How have you felt being on the outside? How much are you striving to be on the inside? And once inside how much do you relish the idea of being “in” and others being “out”…

He says this striving would result in two outcomes:

1. HE warns us that if we spend our time striving to be in this inner ring, then we may find we become scoundrels –” Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” Our drive and determination to be accepted at all costs will find ourselves clouded and not quite ourselves at all. It will cause us to reject others, to think more highly of ourselves and to lose friendships.

2. He then warns that the novelty will wear off – “Once the first novelty is worn off the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humor or learning or wit or any of the things that can be really enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last.” If you just want to be “in” but have no care for the people, they will soon bore you and you will be looking elsewhere for another ring to break through. The grass isn’t greener on the other side.

What to do then? If you are feeling rejected and outside?

Lewis says: “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.” To do that is more simple and natural then we can imagine:

“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 center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its 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.”

I think what Lewis is saying is a breath of fresh air! We don’t need to strive to be a part of an inner ring that we see, but actually through natural friendships we may find ourselves in a ring of our own that is based around friendship which will make you far happier then striving to be in a ring for the sake of being “in”…

Perhaps I would also include that knowing Jesus means you’re in the most intimate and outward looking ring ever – that of the Trinity. You are very much included to enjoy the love of the Father just as the Son loves the Father through the Spirit!

This model of the Trinity should effect our inner rings where they are continually outward looking and wanting to include all people. You may be striving to be a part of an inner ring that you think will give you more status, meaning or control – but it wont make you happy. Instead your natural friendships will cause an inner ring and if it was to reflect the Trinity then it should be warm, friendly and ready to include all people. Include the outsiders, those on the edge of society, church and at work. I guarantee that when you look around on Sunday morning at church there are more people on the outside of the ring then you think and perhaps its an opportunity to include them into your friendship group, home, life and inner ring.

“To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of Insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentiality, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction.”

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3 thoughts on “The Inner Ring

  1. And that is why I love C.S.Lewis! He has an uncanny knack of getting inside my head, figuring out what’s going on, and then writing it all down for me with a clarity I could never manage… at least that’s what it feels like! And it’s a great reminder that our God is part of a circle that ripples outward, rather than growing smaller and more insular. Thanks for posting this, Cat!

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