The Archives

The Local Show, Season Two

Last year I had coffee with a good friend by the name of Jeff Taylor. Jeff is one of the busiest and best players in Nashville, and one of the coolest things he's a part of is a band called the Time Jumpers. Every Monday night at a club called 3rd and Lindsley he joins about ten other of the most brain melting musicians in town (including Ranger Doug from Riders in the Sky and some guy named Vince Gill) and plays some of the most brain melting songs Texas ever exported. It's no exaggeration to say that the Time Jumpers are a Nashville treasure, and if you don't try and see a show at least once, you'll spend your elder days berating yourself for choosing Netflix over that increasingly rare and wonderful thing called Live Music played by those rare and wonderful things called Real Musicians. Jeff wanted to meet me for coffee because he had an idea.

Song of the Week: Ben Shive

It seems like every few months someone's new album is announced and Ben Shive's name shows up as its producer (albums by Ellie Holcomb, Colony House, Andrew Peterson, Carousel Rogues, and Melanie Penn, just to mention a few). But a few years ago, Ben Shive released an incredible CD (and it's book companion) of his own called The Cymbal Crashing Clouds, and everyone who heard it was kind of blown away. Ben's an amazing songwriter. He's an amazing producer. Put those two skills to work together and you've got one incredible set of songs. Both Ben's album and his book are part of our March Madness sale. Don't pass up this chance to grab them at a great price. Here's the last track off the album---it's one of our favorites. "A Last Time for Everything" from The Cymbal Crashing Clouds by Ben Shive [audio:ALastTime.mp3]


[Editor's note: Please welcome the Rabbit Room's newest contributor: Jonny Jimison. Jonny has contributed fine works to all three volumes of the Molehill and has just published his first graphic novel, Martin & Marco---you should click here and buy it. I first met him (online) after he read my books and sent me some comic book-style illustrations of a scene from The Fiddler's Gun. Says me to myself: "This is a man of fine tastes and impeccable literary discernment." We've kept in touch ever since, and for the life of me I can't figure why it's taken so long to offer him a seat at the table. Welcome, Jonny.] leavings1 leavings2

March Madness Books and Music Sale

Every year we pile up a whole mess of books and CDs that have been damaged by the postal troll and his mischievous minions, and the time has come to winnow that pile down once more to a manageable size. Enter the Rabbit Room store's March Madness sale. Your celebrations may commence. The goods listed here are damaged in some way, but they are completely readable or usable. Books may have missing or torn dust jackets, creases, or other cosmetic issues, while CDs almost universally have broken jewel cases---the CDs themselves are undamaged. We're also overstocked on quite a lot of shiny and new---yet completely undamaged---titles, and those also have been marked down to ridiculously low prices. Shop at your own risk and beware---the madness is real. Here's a link to the Mildly Scratched and Lightly Dented items. And here's a link to the Shiny and New---Yet Overstocked items. When they are gone, they are gone. Get 'em quick!

Lent Against a Million Faustian Bargains

A few weeks ago the Rabbit Room editor sent out a message to his writers soliciting posts on various subjects. Two of the subjects---Lent and politics---caught my attention, because there's a connection between them that doesn't receive enough attention. Of course, as a subject, politics receives hardly any attention at the Rabbit Room. After the editor suggested it as a post topic, I searched all the posts ever published here---now over two thousand---for the word “politics.” The search returned only twenty-six posts. Most of those used the word “politics” only in passing, and the word appeared in only two post titles: one promotional post for an event called “The Politics of Jesus”; one lament, by Matt Connor, about “The Lie of Politics.” Near the end of Matt’s essay, which appeared about a month before the 2008 general election, he wrote this:

The truth is that there is no hope in principles or issues. There is no hope in politics, world leaders, policies or government. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ candidate. There is only the hope of Jesus Christ. The only thing that remains is the grassroots gospel of a new humanity of people loving and serving and giving their lives so that God might increase and be known to others as they do so.
Reading that paragraph now, several years after its publication, my first instinct is argue with Matt’s grave diagnosis. I want to quibble over definitions. I want to ask, “but there is no shortage of politicians that want either to co-opt Jesus---to make him the untimely-born champion of some twenty-first century political cause---or to kill him. Shouldn’t his disciples do something about that?” I want to argue that political acts have a place among the acts of love and life-giving service “the grassroots gospel” may produce. And yet, for all that, which of us cannot relate to what Matt said?

Guest Post: Of Tolkien, Fairytales, and the Gift of Hope

[Today's outstanding guest post is by Siobhan Maloney. Siobhan works for the Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research at the John Paul II Institute in Washington D.C. She also assists with their online review journal, Humanum. She studied Humanities and Catholic Culture at Franciscan University, and Theology at the John Paul II Institute. Interested in submitting your own work? Click here for submission guidelines.]  Every time I come home for the Christmas holiday, I am greeted by the familiar sight of my father lounging comfortably in his big, black leather chair, the soft yellow glow of the lamp beside him illuminating his little corner, his old green flannel shirt, the glasses he’s finally resigned himself to needing, and perhaps the most essential piece to complete the scene: the worn and battered copy of The Lord of the Rings lying open on his lap. This picture evokes winter to me: winter at home, in the warmth and safety of our log house tucked into the woods of north-eastern Ohio. Perhaps for most people “winter” immediately evokes fires, hot chocolate, warm blankets, soups and stews, mittens and hats and scarves, and snow. But that image of my father with Tolkien’s trilogy is just as quintessential to me as these. He re-reads it every winter season. It is a ritual for him. As soon as the leaves start to fall, and the chill returns to the air, you’ll hear him say, “It’s about that time again. I’ll have to dig the old book out.” I have always wondered a little at what keeps him going back to this book, year after year.

The City Our Eyes Cannot See

I love “found poetry” for the unexpected connections it forces the poet to make. When I occasionally attempt to craft such offerings myself, I lean heavily on the variation of the genre pioneered by Annie Dillard in her beautiful, droll, and surprising collection of found poems Mornings Like This. The basic idea is that one selects a source text (the more obscure or unexpected the better) from which to selectively cull and rearrange phrases to create an altogether new piece that---assembled like Frankenstein’s monster from cast-off parts---takes on an unexpected life and meaning of its own. On a technical note, punctuation is entirely malleable. The City Our Eyes Cannot See (From the Washington DC Official Visitors Guide, Fall/Winter 2014-2015) Under the white dome, senators (one born in each year) meet to shape the black granite walls and the beautiful cherry trees. Across the street, where President Lincoln breathed his last breath, you’ll find yourself dreamily following him, mesmerized by his tales of snow-lovers who have died in battle: We are in the heart of one wounded soldier, surrounded by quiet woods and gardens. And if the bells chime, you can see the stars even during the day. When the sun goes down, the singing and the silence will lead you to uncover hidden secrets that only locals know: outposts to the north, a moonlight glide across the ice, gilded mirrors, Italian marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers, private nooks and cozy corner tables, a waterfall, and plenty of open space. There are more than thirty two secret doors that whisper home. But don’t be fooled. The ghosts of Christmas past would agree: Doors close quickly and can separate you from your party and the dream of realities.

Interview With Designer/Illustrator Glenn Hernandez

I would like to introduce all of my Rabbit Room friends to illustrator, Glenn Hernandez. I discovered Glenn's art on Instagram a few years ago, while he was working through some Wind in the Willows art, and was instantly captivated by his sensibilities. His unconventional style pays respect to his subject matter while ignoring cultural norms and expectancies concerning the given subject. JS: Glenn, first I want to say thank you for your time, and if you don't already know, I'm a massive fan. Could you begin by giving us a glimpse of your artistic background, then tell us about Funomena and your roll there? GH: And thank you, Joe, for inviting me! I too am a huge admirer of your illustrations. I started drawing and painting when I was five years old. My parents are Guatemalan immigrants who, despite the troubles they experienced making ends meet, always encouraged my desire to draw and paint. My Dad would often sit for me to draw his portrait and would supply me with whatever he could to practice my drawing. I was largely self taught until my junior year of high school when I took my first formal art classes. After high school I decided to pursue music at St. Olaf College since I was also heavily involved in choir during high school. I entered as a vocal performance major and sang in The St. Olaf Choir for three years, though by the end of my time there I had switched my major to Studio Art because Music Theory got the best of me. After college I moved back to California and began to entertain dreams of working in animation. After a few years taking classes here and there, and constantly applying to Pixar (about eight times), I eventually landed a couple of interviews for a Character Design position there and though the interviews went very well, the timing just wasn't right. Fortunately, a few months after those interviews I heard about a small game company that was starting up in San Francisco called Funomena and decided to cold-email the co-founder/CEO of the company, Robin Hunicke. After a few conversations over the phone and in person, we began to work together and I officially became a part of the team in November of that year. I am now Art Director on one of our game titles, Luna. I work with a small team of artists to develop the look and feel of the game. I feel very fortunate for this opportunity, especially since I am afforded a lot of autonomy in my work on a daily basis. The leadership part of the job is new to me, but it has been a tremendous growth opportunity. JS: First, Pixar missed out on you. Second, working on games sounds awesome. I’m sure any game with you on board will have aesthetics others do not. As an illustrator and designer, where do you pull your influences from?

Song of the Week: “Bluebird”

Once upon a time, slugs and bugs weren't capitalized and Randall Goodgame was a solo artist with sweet, irresistible releases like his Bluebird EP. He's found a home writing hilarious and compelling songs for children and families these days, but we still enjoy going back a few years to listen to Randall-the-serious-songwriter now and then. If you've never heard Randall's work, then this title track from Bluebird will serve as a perfect entry point. “Bluebird” by Randall Goodgame from the album Bluebird [audio:Bluebird.mp3] Use coupon code "BLUEBIRD" to get 20% off the album this week.

The Romance of the Gospel

[Loosely adapted from my portion of the Hutchmoot 2014 session “The Romance of the Gospel”*] Five years or so ago, I took swing dancing lessons in the name of trying scary things. Ballroom dances evoke images of poise and elegance and precision, but swing appealed to me as a reckless street dance that anybody can join, regardless of skill or athletic ability. (So no, I never did experience being tossed in the air and flung over someone’s head, thank goodness.) But of course, if you’re going to dance, there are always a few rules to get out of the way. The teachers stressed two major elements at the start of every class: frame and connection. Frame involves how you hold your body and keep a good posture as you move with the music. Connection is where the two frames meet, and the silent, subtle communication between leader and follower. If your frame is too loose, the follower flails around, unsure where to go. But hold your frame too rigid, and her moves become snappy and robotic, losing the flow and rhythm. The trick is keeping these things in balance, just taut enough to signal each move. Two great dancers can make it look like mind reading, even if they’ve just met. Without tension, there is no dance. It reminds me of the balance between head and heart as we contemplate the mystery of the Gospel.

One Minute Review Oscar Preview

Here's a quick rundown of all the movies nominated for Best Picture. If you want to hear more about any of them, each film is fully reviewed at and One Minute Review: Oscar 2015 from Thomas McKenzie on Vimeo.

Free Stuff: Behold the King of Glory Study Guide

Are you looking for a personal or group study guide to compliment your reading of Scripture and focus in on the narrative thread of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? I have just the thing: the free, downloadable Behold the King of Glory Study Guide. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and running through Easter, I will be posting one study guide per day (minus Sundays) over on my Facebook page. Come over and like the page if you'd like to get those daily in your feed. Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (the book) was written to help readers follow the arc of the story laid out in the four Gospels. I tried to thread the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together into a cohesive and compelling tale while staying true to the text of Scripture. To do this, I buried the narrator’s voice as much as I could so as not to draw attention to the storyteller himself. I took this idea from the apostle John, who only rarely made direct eye contact with his readers. What lessons I hoped to teach from the Gospels, I tried to do through the way I told the story. Because of this, Behold the King of Glory does not address the reader directly until the closing chapters. I have written this study guide to serve as a companion to the book and to engage the reader more directly. It is designed to do three things.

Lenten Splendor

I didn’t even wear a coat for the walk to my coffee shop today. The air is honey-toned and soft. The sky is so vividly blue it flashes in, arresting as flame through the windows of the lecture hall in the morning, drawing eye and heart into its promising warmth. Springtime is a dream blooming up at the edge of winter today. Daffodils huddle under the woven black of the bare, tangled tree limbs. The earth broods, damp, close to waking. The first snowdrops star the dark carpets under the trees. And birdsong wakes me early in the morning. The life of this freshened day, the light, the searing blue, draws my sight up and outward constantly. From work, from screen, from dreams, my consciousness is drawn away from the clamor of my student life to a great, silent glory. I am challenged to attention by this beauty. The color of it is a kind of demand upon my eyes, a request I fully answer with my wholly given attention. Who could refuse an invitation to such magnificence? Funny then, that Shrove Tuesday, the day in the church year when believers around the world prepare to abstain in some way from earthy luxury, should fall amidst such splendor. No rain, or dampened skies, no dim, dark hours are present this afternoon to match the self-denial so associated with the opening of Lent. Tomorrow, I’ll walk up to the altar in my church, confess my mortality, and receive the mark of ashes on my forehead. I’ll remember my sin. I’ll try to fast in some way for forty whole days. Incongruous, it might seem at first, to begin this Lenten season of self-denial just as springtime wakens in all its opulence.

A Poem for Jamie

This is a poem I wrote for my sweet wife a few years ago. It was published in the third volume of The Molehill and I post it here because it's February, when people talk about love and stuff. You are beautiful in ways You cannot see. Beautiful In light and motion and grace, In patience, in the little Smile that is your first instinct When you’re anxious or happy, Or shy---even sad. In fact, Your loveliest smile may be The one you show me then: When all that is left is you, When at last your strength is spent, When the plant has lost its bloom, When you can no longer pretend That your fear has no power; Then, my love, you reach the end And I can see your finest flower.

Guest Post: Always a King or Queen: C. S. Lewis on Childhood (Part 2)

[This week's guest post (in two parts) is by Matthew Aughtry, whom you may recall created this short film, and this "What is Hutchmoot" short. Check out Matthew's Vimeo channel to see his beard and his other work.] Read Part 1 here. In studying Lewis’s life one finds that it is no secret that he was not very popular within the corner of academia that he occupied and The Chronicles of Narnia certainly did not help his case. Even J. R. R. Tolkien, his Oxford colleague who had written a children’s book himself, was not fond of the series. Yet a large portion of the world was very fond of them, especially children. Lewis did not worry over this fact because he knew that a good book for children is simply a good book, period. He once wrote in an essay,

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
Perhaps some think Lewis’s chronicles are in the category of books you should eventually feel ashamed of, but it seems that many more do not. Indeed their endurance in popular culture is at least some testament to this. Many adults must consider these books still worth reading since they continue to pass them on to students and even to their own children. Perhaps one of the things that children find most appealing about these stories is that the protagonists are always similar in age. Moreover, the Narnian tales may be particularly engaging for children because they not only tell stories centered around young boys and girls but the narratives themselves place great importance on what they do, how they act or react to certain situations, and the choices they make. In Narnia, any boy can become a brave warrior and any girl is capable of becoming a wise leader. In their ordinary lives children may see themselves as ancillary to the primary story of the world, to its hard choices and the difficult decisions of adults, but in the world of Narnia they have the weight of responsibility thrust upon them.