I'm writing from the bench at the bend in the trail. When we moved to the Warren these woods were a claustrophobic tangle of thorn, privet, and bush honeysuckle (don't be fooled by the name--bush honeysuckle is a bane). Jamie and the kids and I crouched our way under the brushy eaves, lopping branches here and there, looking for good trees, marveling at huge slabs of limestone and granite peeking out of the soil, wondering how all those old beer bottles ended up under the humus so far from the house. Eventually we cut a series of trails, the path guided by the shape of the land and the fattest trees we could find--mostly cedar and hackberry, but along the way we happily discovered a couple of young sugar maples, a beast of a shumard oak, as well as the Goliath of our woods--a massive tree that neither of the two experts I've brought out here could identify. "It looks like a white walnut," one of them said, "but if it is, that's the biggest one in Tennessee."
There's been a lot going on for the past couple of weeks and I'll cover it all, but first let me urge you to circle August 4th on your calendar. Stephen Trafton, whom many of you will remember from his performance of Encountering Philippians at Hutchmoot 2012, will be back in Nashville to perform his new show, Encountering Colossians, at the Church of the Redeemer. The show starts at 7pm and the event is open to everyone. It's also totally free, but we will take up a love offering to help support Stephen in his ministry. Please help us spread the word through Facebook and Twitter, as well as the more traditional grapevine. Hope to see you guys there. You'll be glad you came. Click here for the Event page. Speaking of Rabbit Room events---last week we held the first-ever house show at North Wind Manor. Son of Laughter (Chris Slaten) played to a packed house (literally) and I think it's safe to say that we all had a grand old time. I especially enjoyed the chance to hear the new songs Chris has been writing for the new full-length record that he and Ben Shive are working on---it's going to be great. After the show, folks hung around until almost midnight to chat on the porch, visit with friends in the library, and snack on desserts in the kitchen. It made me and Jennifer happy to see so many people enjoying the house and the fellowship. We're hoping to host a monthly Rabbit Room event at the Manor, so keep an eye on the Rabbit Room website to find out what we've got planned for August. Tuesday was the big day for The Proprietor (Andrew Peterson) who released the final volume of The Wingfeather Saga into the world. There was a release party for The Warden and the Wolf King at Parnassus Books in Nashville and the place was jam-packed with people of all ages, many of whom were dressed up as characters from the books. There were Flabbits, and Sara Cobblers, and Florid Swords, and Podos, and Rockroaches, not to mention Toothy Cows. Oskar Nos Reteep even made an appearance and made wild claims in his mad attempts to cast doubt on the true authorship of the Wingfeather books. If he and Andrew ever meet in person, I expect there will be fireworks. The Warden and the Wolf King is now available wherever great books are sold. Look for Pembrick's Creaturepedia, hardback editions of The Monster in the Hollows, and full-color maps of Aerwiar to be available soon. Rebecca Reynolds wrote a couple of remarkable poems last week, and nothing I say about them is going to be as useful as simply going and reading them. You should do that now. Great job, Rebecca. Click here for "Glory Be (I)" and here for "Glory Be (II)." The newly wed Chris and Jen Yokel have been moving into a new apartment and making it their own, and in Chris's latest Rabbit Room post he discovers the poetry inherent in the everyday work of bringing color, shape, light, and life into an empty space and making it a home. Click here to read "The Making of a Home." Barbara Lane recently took a sabbatical at a monastery in New Mexico, and while there, she found herself pulling up weeds, both literal and metaphorical. In her post, "Gonna Take a While..." she learns that a fruitful garden isn't grown in a day. Matt Conner flexed his music journalism muscles this week and nailed an interview with none other than the Counting Crows' Adam Duritz. They talked about the Crows' new album (coming out in September) and the unique sense of hope in one of the new songs, "Possibility Days." We also learned that Adam is a fan of Sunday in the Park with George, which is kind of awesome. Read the entire interview here. And yesterday, Lanier Ivester posted a recollection of her experience with the first Hutchmoot and how that has in many ways shaped her perception of what it means to be an artist. The post is called "Waiting for the Artist" and you can read it here. And speaking of Hutchmoot, look for an announcement about our special guest speaker next week. We think you'll be pleased.
There is no such thing as art. There are only artists. Ernst Gombrich, The Story of Art I had that driven home after attending The Rabbit Room’s first-ever gathering in the flesh, saw it living and breathing, laughing and even getting choked up at times. Felt its electricity tingling in my veins and an answering call piercing my heart. In company of some of the most passionate music makers and story tellers and painters and theologians I am ever likely to encounter, I tasted the good bread of Community and drank deep of the wells of Truth. I was privileged to sit in on lectures that made me dizzy with excitement and stimulation, ranging from the works of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis to Annie Dillard and Flannery O’Connor. I took copious amounts of illegible notes and I told secrets to friends of an hour. I laughed till I cried and I made a fool of myself more than once (always a good thing) and I felt the sweet sting of tears in my eyes as God plunged His words deep with that pain that heals and sings. And I saw Gombrich’s maxim above excavated and built up by an even greater truth, a higher, nobler beauty: “There are no such things as ‘artists’ and ‘non-artists’,” Russ Ramsey told us, sitting at the front of a small classroom with candlelight playing almost symbolically off his face. “There is only lit and unlit.”
If you're already a Counting Crows fan, then it's likely you fell in love with the emotional displays of Adam Duritz somewhere along the way. I bought three copies of August and Everything After, the band's debut album, my junior year of high school and wore it out several times as songs like "Anna Begins," "Round Here," and "Raining in Baltimore" hit me a strong emotional resonance. The trend has continued on every album ever since. No matter how old I get, Duritz's ability to pierce my heart by unveiling his own has been the hallmark of the Crows for over two decades. Several weeks ago, a few friends in orbit around the Rabbit Room went to the Ryman to hear Toad the Wet Sprocket (which Andrew wrote about here) and Counting Crows. For me it was the 12th or so time I'd seen the band. The band played several tunes from their upcoming album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, alongside several covers and old favorites, and they all sounded great. But one song in particular, "Possibility Days," struck me as hopeful, and it was one of the primary subjects of our recent interview at Stereo Subversion. "It’s kind of taken from the end of a Sondheim play, Sunday in the Park with George," said Duritz. "It got a revival that my friend was in, and we went to see it several times. It was about the painter, Georges Seurat, and the last lines of the play are taken from what is supposedly his mother’s notebook. It says, ‘A blank page. His favorite. So many possibilities.’ I think those are the last lines of the play. All the color disappears from the walls and it’s just white. That can seem like nothing, but it also offers all the possibilities in the world. I think the song is just about that."
The day is finally here. After years of work by a lot of different people (I'm looking at you, Pete, Kris, Christie, Carrie, Jessica, Joe, and all you Kickstarters), we're about to set The Warden and the Wolf King loose. Some of you have already read it. (Thank you!) Others of you may be sick of us promoting it. (Sorry!) But with this many people and this much work involved, it would be silly to not try and give these books the best possible shot at making it into the hands of the masses. I have long believed that Story (with a capital "s") is the language God wired our hearts to speak, and my hope is that this story is one that will speak to your heart, no matter what you may believe. So, if you're a fan of the Wingfeather Saga and you're willing to help, here's what you can do: 1) Come to Parnassus Books, 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville, TN 37215 at 6:30 tonight for the release party! We'll have a book signing, a costume party, snacks (bibes!), and Skye and I will be singing a Wingfeather song. 2) Tweet about the books. You can link to either Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or here at the Rabbit Room Store. 3) If you blog, please write a review about book four--or about the series as a whole. 4) If you're J. J. Abrams, please consider making a film.
“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” —Parker Palmer I recently spent some time sorting through boxes in my parent’s garage in preparation for an epic yard sale (I have a healthy respect for anyone who has done this more than twice in a lifetime). The dust, barely visible on my hands and collected in drifts across the concrete garage floor, added a visceral grit to those hours that mirrored the inner work of re-living memories, sorting through boxes and boxes filled with the past. With an endless stack of boxes in front of me, I sneezed and shook my head, then settled myself on a tattered old towel to fight through tears and dust. This is going to take a while. There was a lot of junk uncovered during those hours. There were treasures, too. The junk tended to be objects we’d purchased; the treasures were the things made or enhanced with that personal touch. The treasures were often the things that might easily be mistaken for trash—like a piece of paper, wrinkled and creased into something like a tiny book.
To Him who presses curiosities four-to-a-row across the dimpled backs of infant hands; Glory be. To Him who has made the dust of the hay barn settle in drowsy glory through a slant line of sun; Who has birthed three naked, new mice, just pink, bare thumbs, sucking out blind thirst in a mother’s tossings and tendings of the grasses of the earth; Glory be. Who has swelled the heavy teats of the cow? Who has made them drip milk in drops, sweet, white puffs and sighs on the dry brown barn floor? Who has wetted her brown, round, empathetic eyes? Who has given her a tail to smack against her meat? Glory be. To Him who has made the cool March wind snap the curtains to applause; Who hovers (might He even cluck or coo?), wing thrown round about His beloved, heady as the hot underside of a hen; Who opens up the earth like a lap, belly out, leaned back, arms thrown wide, feet planted in a father's welcome, Glory Be.
“Clean your little corner up and see what starts to change” --Andrew Osenga, “Don't Lose Heart” When I think of myself being “creative,” I default to my natural gifts, poetry and songwriting. But in the past few months those have been hard to come by. I had to prepare for one of the biggest changes of my life: finding a home and getting married. Back in February I was lucky to find a small third floor apartment from a kind old lady looking for good tenants. Jen and I stared at the blank walls and empty rooms, awaiting our touch like the unwritten days and weeks of our new life together. March was a month of hard labor and going to bed tired every night. You see, I'm not a tradesman by any means. I teach and read and write for a living, so while I'm not above physical labor, it's just not what I'm involved in every day. But that month I did more painting than I'd ever done in my life. I also became a frequent friend of hardware and furniture stores. I became obsessed with this new domestic space—how to make it better, how to make it pleasing for my soon-to-be wife. And yet, it felt like it was taking me away from my “creative” endeavors. Almost every spare minute after work and other responsibilities was poured into it until I collapsed on my bed at night. Something felt missing, like life usually feels when I'm not writing something.
At Hutchmoot 2012, one of the most memorable parts of the weekend was Stephen Trafton's one-man performance of Encountering Philippians (yep, that's Jennifer Trafton's Broadway-veteran brother). His Living Letters series is a project that Stephen has developed over the last few years that's designed to bring Scripture to life in a way that audiences almost certainly haven't experienced before. It's a dramatic performance, a piece of genuine theatre, and it casts you, yes you, in the role of a first-century Christian hearing for the first time a letter that Paul has addressed directly to your local church family. Stephen sets the scene, introduces the characters, and delivers Paul's letter in one seamless performance. Speaking personally, it's a powerful experience. When Stephen first told me about the show, I admit I was skeptical. I thought it sounded a little Sunday-schoolish. But boy was I wrong. Hearing and seeing Paul's letter delivered (in a way very like it might have been to the first-century Philippians) moved me in the best ways; it shifted my perspective on the text enough to let me see in it new colors, new angles, new life. I think it's kind of like poetry---it's one thing on the page, read silently in your head, but often quite another when it's made vocal and visual, enacted bodily. It makes for great theater, as well as great Bible-study. Since that memorable performance at Hutchmoot, Stephen has performed Encountering Philippians for thousands of people all over the country, and now he's developed a new show centered on another of Paul's letters. On Monday night, August 4th, at the Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, you're invited to join us for his performance of Encountering Colossians. The show will run about an hour and I'm pretty sure Stephen will hang around afterward to talk with folks and answer questions. Hope to see a lot of you there. There's no admission fee, but we will take up a love offering for Stephen after the show. Spread the word. Bring a friend or a fellow Rabbit. It's going to be a fun night. When: August 4th @ 7pm Where: Church of the Redeemer, 920 Caldwell Lane, Nashville 37204 Admission is free
To Him who permits the storm-torn hickory to cross upon itself, savage as thrown ink lines, Glory be. To Him who grants the turkey vulture a bare red face, so that she might reach between ribs of the dead and pick meat off their bones; Who beholds the rusted eye of Jupiter, blasting? (Like a woman in her fury? I cannot tell.) Even so, glory be. Nor can I tell if He ordains or simply allows hail to bruise the soft bodies of tree frogs; or why he does not stop the wild dog from laughing (by my judgment) overloud. Glory be to Him who shaped the teeth of the wolf in their sockets 'ere any shepherd shaped his staff; To Him who planted a fruit-bearing tree then spoke, "You shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Glory be. To Him Who has been from the beginning other, Who cannot be etherized, elucidated, abridged; Who grants to life gravity and resistance, Who is untamed by those who would harness Him, Who spins the moon round, round and round again, from dissonance to resolve until she flushes white and clean, shining like Moses fresh down from the mountain; Glory be.
Last year, Chris Slaten (Son of Laughter) delivered a roundhouse kick to my brain with his EP The Mantis and the Moon, and I'm pretty sure his performance at Hutchmoot brought a full Van Damme down on quite a few other brains as well. Since then he's been all over the country playing house shows and raising money to record his first full-length record (for which he's already written all the songs). Part of our vision for North Wind Manor is that it be a unique house-show venue, and we've asked Son of Laughter to be our inaugural guinea pig. With that in mind, we've been working hard to get the house and grounds in order. Rooms to paint, weeds to pull, air conditioning to install, flowers to plant, screen doors to fix---the list is enough to make me tired just thinking about it. But we're looking forward to having a big group of all of you out next Friday night to put the place through its paces. Tickets are just $5 (free to Rabbit Room members) and we're limiting the show to 40 people. We also ask that you bring a snack or side dish to share. We'll provide the drinks. The event begins at 7:30pm and you're welcome to stick around and enjoy fellowship with friends after the show. We will also be taking donations for Chris, which will go toward funding his new record. We think you're in for a real treat. Here's what another house show host had to say: "Chris Slaten's songs . . . reminded us of longings and hurts and loves we had not known how to voice . . . He provided for us a space and a common language in which to reveal our lives to one another." ---Dr. Tim Basselin, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Worship - Dallas Theological Seminary And here's a taste of Son of Laughter's particular genius in the form of a song from the current EP, The Mantis and the Moon. It's called "The Fiddler" and . . . well . . . just listen. [audio:Fiddler.mp3] Click here for tickets. We'll see you at the door. [Note: If you aren't able to make the show at the North Wind, Chris has another show the following night at the Riverside Assembly Hall, also in Nashville. Click here for more information on that show.]
Friends, Skreeans, and Hollowsfolk! The official release of The Warden and the Wolf King is in three weeks, and we’re throwing a costume party. On July 22nd at 6:30 PM, at Parnassus Books (one of the best bookstores in Nashville), we’re ushering into the world the conclusion of the Wingfeather Saga, and we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re loosing the thwaps. We’re---we’re---herding the toothies! In true Hollish style we’re having a rowdy time, and I’d love for you to come. Why would you want to come to such an event, you wonder? 1) Because you’ll be able to try honeymuffins and sugarberry buns (and maybe some maggotloaf?). 2) You’ll be able to sip Hollish bibes of many fruity flavors. 3) You may want to to quote Oskar N. Reteep’s favorite books to one another. 4) There will be a COSTUME CONTEST—the winners of which will receive mind-blowing prizes. (One prize for each age group.) 5) My daughter Skye (the inspiration for Leeli Wingfeather) will be on hand to sing “My Love Has Gone Across the Sea” (from The Monster in the Hollows) with me like the Song Maiden that she is. 6) I’ll read from the new book and answer as many questions as I can. 7) Aedan and Asher Peterson will be there to autograph copies of Pembrick’s Creaturepedia, to which they both contributed vast amounts of talent. I hope you can come celebrate with us. Beware the toothy cows. AP WHAT: Wingfeather Saga Book Release Party WHEN: July 22nd at 6:30 PM. WHERE: Parnassus Books, 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville, TN 37215 (615) 953-2243 WHY: (See above list.)
Here is a literary exercise which might help illuminate a dilemma nagging my real life. When we are done with the exercise, hopefully, you can give me counsel. Think of one or more novels (or movies) that have shady characters. In the comments, list the title of the novel (movie) and the shady character. Now, by shady I mean to imply a character of doubtful reputation. A shady character is not definitely bad. Neither is she certainly good. Usually a shady character seems to be up to good but somehow gives the impression her motives are dubious. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they are not. Other characters are attracted to a shady character but never feel comfortable they should be drawn to her. Almost always, no matter how the shady character turns out in the end, the other characters are better off for having journeyed with the shady character for a time . . . but not always. A shady character can be as subtle as Mr. Tumnus leading Lucy Pevensie into the woods. A shady character can be as enigmatic as Sunday taking Syme on a wild goose chase. A shady character can be as unpleasant as Haymitch Abernathy mentoring Katniss Everdeen; Katniss herself is a shady character. Shady characters are most of the people sitting around Edna Spalding at church in that final scene of Places in the Heart.
Hello, Rabbit Roomers. We're narrowing down the list of songs to include on the "best-of" record releasing later this fall (as opposed to a "greatest hits" record, which would be very short, indeed), and I'd love to know which songs you think should be included. This is tricky because I'm torn between making sure the album is listenable (i.e., it can't be all slow songs) and trying to choose songs that might have the deepest impact for new listeners. If you could take a few minutes and let me know a couple of your favorites from each my albums (not including Behold the Lamb), I'd appreciate it. If you aren't familiar with the record, just skip the question. Thanks! Click here to take the quick poll. You can leave comments here, but the poll is the easiest way for me to keep track. Gracias.
I recently had a conversation with my pastor about how visual art might be used to enhance or possibly expand the congregation’s worship experience at our church. He speaks to us every week, but what if I got up every once in a while to explain my visual interpretation of some of the themes that we’re studying? I already choose or create the artwork for our podcasts, so what if I talked about why I choose what I choose? My pastor thought this sounded like a good idea. And so this week I spoke about this image (click here to see it full-sized). This is a piece I painted years ago, well before we started going through Genesis, and even though the painting isn’t about Genesis, it is about two of the themes that we’ve been studying. This was the first time I had told anyone what the painting was about, and I want to share it with you as well.