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To the Heart through a Wound

The Samaritans were the descendants of Israel’s northern kingdom who had intermarried with their Assyrian captors after they were carried off into exile in 722 BC. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as traitors who had exchanged the bloodline of Abraham in order to settle in a pagan land. Jesus and his disciples came to the Samaritan village of Sychar at the hottest part of the day and stopped there to rest and eat. The disciples went into the village for food while Jesus stayed by the well outside of town. While he was there, a woman approached. That she came to the well during the hottest part of the day suggested she was a social outsider who had to get water when no one else was around. She was surprised to come upon this man and even more surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink. “But you are a Jewish man and I am a Samaritan woman,” she said. “Why are you even talking to me?”

Peter Thiel and N. T. Wright on Technology, Hope, and the End of Death

[I came across this fascinating article last week. It's a conversation between Peter Thiel, the co-co-founder of Paypal, and N. T. Wright, one of my favorite theologians. The topic was the nature of Death and its place in the world and it's well worth your time to read. Would love to hear your comments. Here's how it starts. Click through to read the whole thing at Forbes.] It turns out that Peter Thiel quotes Hamlet. For Thiel, a line in the play’s second scene throws open the pessimism that runs throughout the tragedy and, in his opinion, our current cultural moment. “Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die,” says Gertrude to her son, Hamlet. Her words are a cold comfort to the young prince, who is grieving the death of his father. All that lives must die. “At some level it’s a statement about reality. At another level,” Thiel postulates, “it’s a statement about accepting the rottenness that is in Denmark.” Death is a fact of life, Gertrude says. There’s nothing to be done. Get over it. But Peter Thiel isn’t getting over it. “Why,” he asks, “must we die?” On a recent Monday evening in San Francisco, 700 members of the Silicon Valley tech scene swarmed the SF JAZZ Center for something of a fireside chat between Peter Thiel and N.T. Wright, hosted by The Veritas Forum. It’s not unusual for the technorati to show up in droves to hear from the billionaire technologist-philosopher Thiel, who co-founded Paypal, made the first outside investment in Facebook, and co-founded the behemoth private data analytics firm, Palantir (recently valued at $15 billion). He is one of the most successful tech investors in history, and has been called “America’s leading public intellectual” by Fortune magazine. Thiel’s fans have made his new book on entrepreneurship, Zero to One, an instant bestseller. But this Monday night he drew a crowd for an unusual reason: to talk about death and God with one of the world’s leading Christian theologians. [Read the rest here.]

Storm on the Mountain

A jaunt to the mountains is always a good idea. I especially like it when I want to interrogate God about the direction of my life, while also letting him know I'm a little miffed with the current particulars. Several weeks back, I was befuddled in soul so I packed my faithful blue hatchback and headed for the hills. I stayed in a mountain cabin with airy rooms, a steady supply of coffee, and a dimly lighted little porch just shaped for hours of brooding.  My plan was to do quiet, restorative things: read, take very gentle hikes, and generally make enough quiet space in my brain for God to speak some...encouragement? Direction? Anything would do. But the resting was not to be. I don’t know what possessed me, but I spent most of my time acting like a mountain goat. I hiked every trail in reach. My cabin, set right at the feet of great, jutting boulders in the foothill valley that flanks Pikes Peak, was perfect for meditation, prayer, and...climbing. In my heart and feet was an insatiable desire and a restless energy that set me on a series of long scrambles up red, muddy hillsides, out onto craggy, storm-shadowed cliff edges in quest of, well, I wasn’t sure what. A deeper drink of storm sky. A wider view. An end to my fitful thoughts. But my thoughts were tenser than ever by that afternoon when I hiked up the top ledge of a canyon. I had checked my trail guide and thought I would be out for a short, easy climb. I must have missed the turn because an hour in, I was still going up, too far to turn back but flummoxed as to where the downward road might be. I stopped to check my map and noticed abruptly how the air had pooled and stilled and the sky turned an ominous grey. The hot, pin-drop silence of air just before thunder filled the woods and then was shattered by a terrific crack. Great. Every mountain dweller has a cache of people-being-struck-by-lightning stories. I was pretty sure I was about to become the stuff of legend.

In the Studio with Andrew Peterson

As tourists pause to take pictures on the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, very few notice that the careful spacing of the stairs symbolizes the years of the Civil War. Some steps represent seasons of particular intensity, so they are steep and arduous. Other steps are spaced far apart, signifying seasons when “up” seemed distant and unapproachable. These details that so often go unnoticed are a part of what makes the destination at the top of the stairs, the monument, so memorable. Matt Conner has a theory that goes like this: An artist is never more interesting to his audience, than when he is in the midst of the creative act. We thought it would be fun to provide an inside look at the process of creating Andrew Peterson’s new album, and as I watched Andrew at work in the recording studio recently, I had the privilege of observing some oft-unnoticed details. I parked behind the purple building on Nashville’s storied Music Row, and Andrew’s producer and friend, Gabe Scott, opened the door. Gabe led me through a narrow hallway to a small room attached to an even smaller room. The smaller room was dark, but there stood Andrew with headphones and a microphone. Gabe sat at a desk facing not the window looking into Andrew’s dark cove, but a giant computer screen. He clicked something, pushed a button, and said, “I’ll punch you in.” The room filled with sound, and Andrew sang, “I had a dream that I was waking . . .”

Discussion: Inside Out

A new Pixar movie is always cause for celebration. But with such a long string of films that are more like soft, huggable security blankets than mere films, I always go into the theater a bit anxious, worried that I'm going to be let down and disillusioned. Sorry, Brave, but you were an itchy blanket that smelled like cheese and Mom threw you out. Jennifer and I saw Inside Out this weekend and I'm pleased to report that I'll be hugging it until it's old, dirty, threadbare, gnawed at the corners, and begging for a biohazard warning. I loved it from the first frame to the last, in fact I didn't want it to end---and I'm hoping maybe it won't until we've seen a sequel or two because there's nearly endless potential for further stories. Go see the movie. Especially if you're a human. I'd love to hear what everyone else thought of it. P.S. (I think it says a lot about me that, so far, my two favorite movies of the year are Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both are heavyweights of visual storytelling--lots of "show," minimal "tell." And I also recognize that they both feature strong female protagonists, which Fin Button keeps telling me I seem to have a thing for. Who knows, maybe Joss Whedon and I are related somehow.)

No Half Responses

This is only a small reflection on a large theme. A few videos and animations have made the rounds in recent years. These show the scale of the universe. I like being able to scroll from the smallest to largest known object in the universe, and it is fun to see the scale of the Minecraft world along the way. The size of the Virgo Supercluster is mind boggling, yet it is a spec. And seeing the scale of earth next to the largest known star, then realizing that the largest known star is just a pin prick of light in any of the billions of galaxies in the universe, well, it is marvelous beyond comprehension. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the start of all revelation. It is how the revelation of scripture begins and it is how the revelation of nature begins. Our modern understanding of the scale of the known universe does not disprove a creator God, it merely underscores what ancients understood by the power of intuition; namely, a creator God must be powerful beyond measure. If there is a creator God responsible for all that exists, regardless of how that God went about making it, that God is so powerful and awesome and impressive that if we ever came into that God’s presence then we would feel utterly powerless and insignificant and diminutive. This is a God who ignites supernovas a million times over as part of the creative process. We could expect our lives would be nothing to that God. Should we ever face that God, the only logical expectation would be instantaneous annihilation. But, if for even a moment that God paid attention to us, if even for a split second we were shown mercy, then our response would have to switch from terror to worship. These are the options before the face of the creator God, and the options would present themselves in an instant: Insignificance and the expectation of immediate annihilation or else mercy and the hope of unending love. A moment of mercy before the creator God necessitates our eternal adoration.

Napping for Success

[Editor's note: For more of Jonny's work, be sure to check out his graphic novel, Martin & Marco, in the store, and visit his website to see what else he's been up to when he's not napping for inspiration.] (Click the image to view full size.) napping

Tonight: Andrew Osenga LIVE

Andrew Osenga is playing a FREE solo show tonight (Thursday) at Judson Baptist Church on Franklin Road in Nashville. Show time is 7:00PM. Come on out!

Twenty Years

“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” – African Proverb   Twenty years ago when I married my wife, I did not know her. And she did not know me. We were two. We were kids just out of college. I was twenty-two and she was twenty-one. Neither of us knew much about life outside of the nest. But we knew we wanted to figure it out together—the two of us. I didn’t know it then, but when it came to our marriage I wasn’t just learning how to be a husband, nor she just a wife. I was learning how to be her husband, and she was learning how to be my wife. Though this would certainly lead us to ways of relating common to any marriage, it would also forge a relationship as unique to this world as a fingerprint. Our marriage created an empty library, and we were two containers of books out at the curb, waiting to be brought in, cataloged, and shelved.

England: Day Six

[Day One] [Day Two] [Day Three] [Day Four] [Day Five: Part One] [Day Five: Part Two] Eric slept soundly that night in Hay-on-Wye, little Z's floating up from his beard and hovering near the ceiling for a few moments before gliding down to rest on the many old books piled around him. I slipped out of my bed, army crawled across the floor and, with a little fan of my fingers, tried to snatch his copy of The Great Divorce, Indiana Jones-style. Alas, Eric had gone to sleep with the book tucked under his arm, and every time I gave it a little tug he snorted and a fresh batch of Z's poofed out of his mumbling mouth. None of the above is true, but you get the picture.

Songless

I know what it means to soar. When I was twelve years old, I got called out by my algebra teacher for writing stories in class. It was humiliating to have every eye in the room pinned in my direction—and it wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. I couldn’t help it, though: that back corner desk by the window was too near the real world of birdsong and daydreams, and that story was too intoxicating. My bonneted heroine had just toppled over in a buggy, for heaven's sake, driven, if memory serves me, by her deceptively demure rival. It was no time to be thinking of integers and variables (as if there ever was a time I willingly submitted my mind to such imponderables!). I still remember that notebook, purchased by my mother for the ostensible purpose of mathematical equations. But the thick, college-ruled paper was just too much for me: I almost saw the words on the page before my #2 pencil formed them. My heart jolted along in the wake of that tale, giddy as my girl in her careening buggy. Writing wasn’t work—how could it be? It was flying. By the time I was seventeen, writing had become a much more serious business

From the North Wind Library: More Than Words

[Editor's note: If you've been to Hutchmoot in the last few years, you may remember Sarah Geil's delightful smile. She's been a welcome volunteer in the past and we're pleased to have her working with us in Nashville again this summer. She's an English major at Shorter University in Georgia and is a promising writer in her own right.] Like beauty, books are meant to be shared. The library at North Wind Manor has been created as a place for books to be shared. With sections such as “Ghost Stories” and “Literary studies,” “Rabbit Room Authors” and “Children’s Books,” “Philosophy” and “Theology,” and entire shelves devoted to Lewis and Tolkien, this is no ordinary library. We thought it would be fun to feature some of the books housed at the library, while also welcoming those in the area to stop by and borrow a book. To kick off this series of posts, today we’re featuring More Than Words: Contemporary Writers on the Works That Shaped Them, a series of essays compiled by Philip Yancey that examines the bookshelves of twenty-one authors. In one chapter of the book, Walter Wangerin Jr. exactly captures the power of a story, and in doing so encapsulates the purpose of the entire book:

This is how the tales of Hans Christian Andersen so mightily influenced me. They were my world for a while. They named and shaped the universe in which I dwelt, and something of that shape has remained forever: not the fantasy but the faith that created the fantasy continues even now to explain existence. By his fairy tales Hans Andersen welcomed me to his bosom, and I delivered myself for safekeeping unto him. Those things which were horrible and senseless in my external world were, in Andersen’s world, horrible still; but his stories gave them a sense (often a spiritual sense) which I could grasp, by which the horror might be mastered, if not by me then by someone, by goodness, by God.” –Walter Wangerin, Jr., “Shaping the Child’s Universe,” More Than Words, pg 133
In More Than Words, contemporary authors such as Eugene H. Peterson and Robert Siegel discuss the writers who have shaped their stories. From Luci Shaw to Shakespeare, tributes are raised in such a way that will leave the reader with a long list of books to read, of worlds to explore, and of libraries to make home. If you find yourself at North Wind Manor, you are invited to check out More than Words or any other book on the shelves, enter a world, let goodness and God master the horrors, and be shaped.

Overspray

A few years back I was the copywriter on a team that was working on an ad campaign for a huge national organization. We were in a meeting one day with one of the higher-ups in the organization—the Director of Marketing, I think it was. In any case, he was high enough up to fire us if he wanted to, and he was talking like he wanted to. He was chewing us up one side and down the other for some ideas that he thought were terrible. He took a quick bathroom break, leaving us at the table to give each other significant, raised-eyebrow looks. When he came back to the table, the tirade picked up where it had left off. But from where I was sitting, I could see the man’s shoes. Black wingtips, glistening with drops of overspray from his peeing. I felt ever so much better. Nothing he could say could hurt me. I wasn’t the one who had peed on my shoes.

Cultivating Creativity

At the start of each day for the past week, I've been doing an ink warm-up drawing to keep my ink skills flowing. A lot of my final illustrations are done using traditional dip pens and nibs. I find that I get a little stiff and rusty if I'm not using them frequently, and with the span of time between final art on projects, I tend to have months in some cases where I'm not inking at all. Nibs have a specific direction and movement that they allow for and you have to get into a natural flow or your lines look really stiff. One morning I sat down and thought, I'll draw a frog man. No other thought. The result was a little, squat toad with some wanderer's accessories. Cute enough. I posted it to Instagram, as I usually do, in hopes of inspiring someone out there watching me. My wife, Gina, who was sitting out on the brick patio pulling weeds and tending to the moss growth, happened to be that person on that day.

Song of the Week: “Walking Song”

Ron Block served as the featured performer at Hutchmoot 2o13 with the official release show for Walking Song, his latest album co-written with RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds. The album features a guest list of Nashville's finest players, and the songs feel like classic bluegrass offerings even upon first listen. Check out the title track, "Walking Song", which features Kate Rusby, to hear an accomplished musician in his finest hour. “Walking Song” by Ron Block from the album Walking Song [audio:WalkingSong.mp3] Use coupon code "WalkingSong" this week to get 10% off the album.