Have you ever wondered what it might be like to study in Oxford, England? Or maybe you have dreamed of being a writer. Or wondered what Christians mean when they talk about God "calling" them to do something. If you feel any of these statements might apply to you, then I think you will enjoy reading Ryan Pemberton's book, Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis's House and Back Again.
Called is the story of Ryan and Jen, two twenty somethings who give up a secure life (with Ryan working for a marketing firm) to travel thousands of miles around the world and study theology at Oxford. At turns this book is reminiscent of Bruce Feiler's Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge, Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford, or even Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy. The reason I associate Pemberton's first outing as a writer with some of these classic books is because the man is a wordsmith who loves, as he says, "stringing words together like Cheerios on a fishing line". However, I can assure you that the end result tastes much better than Cheerios. Reading this book is more like a feast. I found myself frequently underlining choice phrases and fabulous paragraphs that not only helped me to see but to feel Ryan's story.
Pemberton has the gut-wrenching honesty and vulnerability to paint a portrait, or share with us a snapshot of his life, that reveals what one man's Christian life really looks like, "warts and all". Along the way, the reader is invited to learn, in the best and really only way possible, what it might look like to be "called by God". No book I have ever read, or sermon I have ever heard, does justice to this topic like the simple sharing of Ryan's story--not so much because his tale is extraordinary--but simply because it is told truly.
I must confess that I have been blessed to know personally many of the characters and places in this story. But that, too, is a test of this tale's integrity. Despite my familiarity with the subjects, not a note of this score rang untrue to me. Rather, it all came alive, like the invitation to jump into a Mary Poppins chalk picture on the sidewalk, Ryan, through this book, was bidding me to enter another world. And as I accepted that invitation, I found myself being led by the most congenial of tour guides.
If you have ever visited Oxford for yourself and found yourself enchanted by that fair city's "grey magic," you will relish the opportunity to feel the magic again through reading these pages. And even if you have never been to Oxford, or even read a book by C. S. Lewis, this book may just make you want to do both.
To paraphrase another great writer, Frederick Buechner, Ryan's story is important not because it is his, God knows, but because if he has told it anything like right (and I think he has) the chances are we will recognize that in many ways this story is also ours.
At least, I found this to be so.