The Archives

There is a Narnia

A little over two months in, and this brand new year has already beaten us up pretty good. I should have known it was an ill omen when, instead of the dinner party we’d planned with friends, we spent New Year’s Eve in the ER with my dad. We got home just in time for a somber little champagne toast by the fire and a rather tearful listen to Over the Rhine’s Blood Oranges in the Snow. When the neighbors’ fireworks boomed and flowered in the night sky, we went out onto the back porch to see what we could over the trees. I remembered another New Year’s when the neighbors’ display of shells and repeaters had been a tangible symbol of hope for me, kindling fires of faith in my heart. I sighed, and drew my cardigan close. Then I went back in the house. “I’m afraid to open the door to 2015,” I whispered to Philip. “I don’t trust it.”

Album Preview: Josh Garrels’ “Home”

It's no secret that many of us here at the Rabbit Room were big fans of Josh Garrels' last album, Love & War & The Sea In Between. It remains among my personal favorite albums of all time, and Christianity Today named it the top album of 2011. Four years later, his follow-up is finally set to arrive on April 7. Home is the name for the new set of songs, and I can tell you firsthand that they are a domesticated set, tamed from the epic, wild nature of Love & War. These songs are intimate and warm and speak of familial themes more than any other --- from a love song for his wife ("Heaven's Knife") to a kingdom understanding of home ("At The Table"). Check out a new preview of the album below:

Say it Out Loud

A few years ago I attended my first Hutchmoot as a guest illustrator. The strange part for me was actually being treated like one. With me that weekend was a portfolio of largely unpublished work and a handful of Wingfeather sketches brought to convince the hoard that I might be worthy to illustrate the final chapter of the saga. Despite the respect shown to me by all who stopped to talk, inside I was still just the packaging engineer who had struggled for years to get noticed in the field he adored: children's books. I never referred to myself as anything other than a packaging engineer who had other artistic hopes, even though I had work published and a Wolf King on the way. That Sunday morning in Nashville I stood at the counter at a Starbucks, ordering my coffee, when the barista asked a simple question. A question that changed my perspective. "What do you do?" That's all he asked. What do I do? I thought. And I said something crazy.

The Pencil and the Keyboard

What's better for your creativity: handwriting or typing? Here is a short but fascinating video making the case for both as essential tools: The basic suggestion here is to use handwriting for note-taking, brainstorming, and synthesizing ideas for yourself, but to use a computer to create pieces that give information to others. Or more simply, always carry a pencil and learn to type faster. As a writer who frequently switches back and forth, this rings true for me. All my poems begin as scribbly drafts on paper, but many an article or blog post was written completely digitally, when my fingers need to keep up with my ideas. (This may also explain why, since breaking my arm a few weeks ago, I've come up with a ton of ideas but have nothing to show for it. Science! One-hand typing is hard. Yes, I am making excuses.) So let's discuss. Writers, what's your preference, and when do you pick a keyboard over a pen? Do you find your medium affects your ideas? Artists of other types (music, visual arts, etc), what role does technology play in your creative process? (H/T Austin Kleon)

England: Day One

DAY ONE. NASHVILLE to LONDON I'll start with a confession: I'm an ancestry junkie. Once, at about eleven o'clock at night, Jamie asked if I was coming to bed. I told her I was almost ready, I just had to check a few more things on, and then I was turning in. When I looked up I wondered what that strange light on the horizon might be and I realized it was the sun coming up. I came to bed just as Jamie woke and we both pitied my weakness for treasure hunting. One of my Christmas presents (to myself) this year was one of those DNA tests where you spit in a vial and mail it off to what I presume is a laboratory full of people in white lab coats worn primarily because they deal with peoples' spit from all over the country. They do some scientific voodoo and email you a few weeks later with a readout that tells you exactly what you're made of. My main reason for the $80 splurge was that so many people (including Asians) have asked me if I have Asian ancestry I wanted to know if, indeed, one of my great-grandparents from Sweden had married someone from the Far East.

Film Review: Last Days In The Desert

[Editor's note: If you've been around the Rabbit Room long, the name John Barber will be a familiar one. If you're new, or just haven't yet had the pleasure of knowing him, let me introduce you to today's guest poster. John's a movie, music, and book nerd---and I mean that as a high and worthy compliment. He's been our loyal "Lord of the Merch Table" at every Hutchmoot, and more importantly he's a good friend. I'm convinced that one of these days he and his family are going to move to Nashville and that'll be one small step toward all things being made right.] Last Days in the Desert is a curious thing. This isn’t a movie about the movement of Christianity, or about the apostles, or about miracles. There are no cheering crowds with palm branches. There’s only the desert. Last Days tells the story of Jesus’ temptation for 40 days by Satan in the desert (Matt. 4, Luke 4). Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Blue), Last Days stars Ewan McGregor as Jesus, or Yeshua, as he’s called in the movie. The film opens with Yeshua calling out, “Father, where are you?” and we’re introduced to a man who is far from the superhero Jesus of modern media. He’s dirty and battered by the elements. He’s lost. Yeshua begins the film lonely and unsure of his purpose. He’s been left alone by God the Father to figure out who he is, in much the same way that we sometimes push our kids out of the nest. The Father isn’t speaking, no matter how hard Yeshua listens. It turns out Yeshua isn’t alone in the desert. He finds and befriends a small family---a man, his ill wife, and their teenage son. Identifying himself only as a “Holy Man,” Yeshua stays with them, engaging in their lives and learning to love people. He becomes entrenched in the things that are important to them. He learns their troubled spots and flounders a bit in his attempts to help them. This is Jesus fresh from his baptism and before his ministry begins. This ordained “Son of God” thing is new to him, and he struggles with it.

Winter Does Its Work

Blame thirty years of Florida living, the media, Norman Rockwell, or Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, but to me the idea of winter always carried a certain air of romance. Back home I loved the days of weather dipping into the 50s and chillier (Northerners, feel free to laugh at me here). Any excuse to pull out the cozy sweaters and settle in with hot tea and a book was fine by me. I guess I didn’t have much experience with cold. To paraphrase a famous snowman, it was more that I liked to imagine what real winter was like when it comes. When I moved to New England last summer, I quickly realized my homeland was a fancy handwritten invitation to jokes and pity and some variation of “Haha, poor thing, wait until winter gets here.” Which is all in friendly fun, but sometimes it sounded more like, "You, naive one, are gonna die." I'd laugh it off, because I thought I knew full well what I was getting myself into.

When People Move Here, They Stay Here

As a kid (having already fallen under the influence of cartoonist Walt Kelly) I found great humor in the excesses of advertising pitches and promises. I would make up my own outlandish ad claims for fake products, or create fake slogans for real products, because I understood there was something pretty funny about the idea of . . . well, of people hiding or stretching the truth just to make a buck. And by funny I mean tragic. But I also mean funny. Oh, look how nicely that segues us into the second found poem I compiled entirely of phrases culled from the pages of the "Washington DC Official Visitors Guide, Fall/Winter 2014-2015" (which is, by its very nature after all, one long advertisement). [If you're unsure what a "found poem" is, see the brief explanation in the earlier post The City Our Eyes Cannot See.] Because not everyone has the time to read the DC Visitors Guide from cover to cover, I set out (purely as a public service, I assure you) to distill all of the promised excitement of our nation's capitol into a one-page poem. I hope you'll be able to sense the tidal wave of contagious enthusiasm that the Tourism Department is brimming, buzzing, and bubbling over with. In the end, it can hardly be contained. And, by golly, I do love me some exclamation points!

A Wilderness In The Neighborhood: Annie Dillard and the Art of Nature Writing

Recently I stumbled across an interesting piece by Diane Saverin in The Atlantic about Annie Dillard and the writing of her Pulitzer Prize winning work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Dillard's book, like many works on nature, has been shrouded in a sort of holy aura by readers. There's this sense that all such writers disappear into the wilderness to sit on a log for several months in order to get in touch with the sublime spirit of the rocks and trees. The Thoreau mythos prevails. And yet, as Saverin's article reveals, Dillard was an ordinary Virginia housewife living in the suburbs at the time she constructed her book: She wasn’t a man living alone in the wild. In fact, she wasn’t even living alone. She was residing in an ordinary house with her husband—her former college poetry professor, Richard Dillard. Before she published her book, she scribbled in her journal, wondering who would take her book seriously if its author was a “Virginia housewife named Annie.” Saverin's essay is a fascinating look at the process behind one of the 20th century's most enduring works of non-fiction, and touches on many other issues along the way. Here are a few excerpts.

The Local Show

The Local Show returns for its spring season. Every other Tuesday, beginning on March 10th, come out and join us for a new mix of great music from some of Nashville's best singer-songwriters. The next show is hosted by Andrew Peterson with guests TBA. Tickets are available now for all shows. $10 in advance, $15 at the door, or $5 at the door for Rabbit Room Members. The Local Show is held at The Well coffeehouse in Brentwood, just off of I-65. Doors open at 7:10pm. Showtime is 7:30pm.

Song of the Week and Interview: Colony House

Chances are, you've heard Colony House, whether you know it or not. Formerly known as Caleb, Colony House not only knocked us off our feet with their stellar debut LP, When I Was Younger, produced by Ben Shive, but they also served as the backing band for Andrew Peterson's Light for the Lost Boy album and tour. In addition, if you saw last year's Behold The Lamb of God tour, then you caught front-man Caleb Chapman on electric guitar. The pop/rock trio released their album in the fall and earned comparisons that ranged from Keane to The Killers to Kings of Leon---any and all of which piqued our interest. They also made their TV debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers. This year, they're likely going to logging thousands of miles in support of the release as they jump from tour to tour to earn their stripes and build on the foundation they've laid. I recently spoke to Caleb around the turn of the year to reflect on and look ahead at the swirl of success for Colony House. He seems quite happy as a road warrior since the live connection fuels the creative fire. "I think there's something special about driving across the country and playing random cities you’ve never been to that are thousands of miles away from home. And whether it is for 10,000 people or whatever the number, they are singing the songs you wrote in your bedroom. "There's something about that that's hard to explain. It reminds you that what you did means something to someone else, and it meant enough to them to spend enough time to know your lyrics. It’s a humbling thing and it’s a special thing to be able to communicate with people in a unique way all across the nation---sometimes even crossing the pond." You can read the rest of the interview over at Stereo Subversion. "Moving Forward" from When I Was Younger by Colony House [audio:Moving.mp3] Check out their website for tour dates. Use coupon code "FORMERLYCALEB" this week in the Rabbit Room store to get 20% off their To the Ends of the World EP.

Words Make Worlds

Lit candles cheer a jet-lagged heart. They frame and cradle the unshaped, lingering dark of the hours before dawn. A traveler might find herself sore-eyed, unravelled in the long night. But the self-assertion of a small, merry flame, defiant of the great dark round it, coaxes the mind into an assertion of its own. And the power of the mind is in the words it kindles, bright and fierce, to shape the night. O Lord, open thou our lips . . . Words, like light, can frame the time and space in which we move. Like flame in a darkened room, words have the power to define and form our hours, to shape the spaces of time in which we relate, create, believe. The words we use to describe and meet each day, the ones we allow to shape our contours of experience, teach us what to see and how to meet both joy in the day and sorrow in the darkness. Words make worlds, you know, and each one we speak forms the way we see our own. And our mouths shall shew forth thy praise . . . I just watched the hour of six AM slip by the window. I also saw the hours of three, four, and five. I've lit a lot of candles in the watches of this night, but I've also kindled a great many words. Instead of the shadows telling me what to think, I've lit the minutes with flames of prayer and poetry, lined the formless dark with thoughts that make a sacred space of this unformed hour, a filled, holy room of this hush. But as with many who watch in long darkness, the words were not my own. They were a gift, and in some way, an inheritance. O God make speed to save us . . .

Who Writes This Stuff’s exposé on Russ Ramsey

On this week's Who Writes This Stuff podcast, Nick Flora uncovers the truth about my ambivalence toward Star Trek and my white hot, though short lived, completely internal feud with the utterly likable Dave Barnes. I also talk a little about Behold the King of Glory. This was a lot of fun.  

Guest Post: Handling Dust

[Today's guest post is courtesy of Jennifer Hildebrand. Want to submit your own work? Click here for submission guidelines.] In our house, we follow one simple rule for updating essential items: Ignore until it's really, really broken, then figure out a way to fix it. I love the beautifying work of decorating, repurposing, and gussying up things in our home, just not the necessities. So, when my son's dresser drawer handles broke for the fiftieth time, I figured we needed the mandatory cheap update. Off to Lowe's we went to convince a six-year-old how cool it would be to pick the $1.27 handles to adorn his only big piece of furniture. He was picky and had his heart set on some sort of Wild Kratts-inspired jungle-motif wild animal handles. Alas, we did what we could and bought what actually existed. His old oak dresser has seen many homes. It's a hand-me-down piece that originated in my maternal grandparents' house in Mt. Holly, Arkansas, many decades ago when they were first married. It was later gifted to my parents and lived in their master bedroom before making its home in my own room during my teen years. Lots of hands had depended on the strength of those now-dilapidated handles. I couldn't help but reminisce a little as I removed each broken, crusty piece. I remember stashing boxes of top-secret notes and letters from school in those top drawers, alongside VHS tapes of my favorite MTV shows. I remember the ribbons of my black and gold homecoming corsages cascading through the brass enclosures and dripping to the floor. Little flecks of memories came chipping off with the removal of each rusted screw.

The Three Hermits: A Short Story by Tolstoy

I recently ran across this little story by Leo Tolstoy, and I thought it might be of some interest to the Rabbit Room.  THE THREE HERMITS An Old Legend Current in the Volga District

"And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him." --- Matt. vi. 7, 8.
A Bishop was sailing from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery; and on the same vessel were a number of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrines at that place. The voyage was a smooth one. The wind favourable, and the weather fair. The pilgrims lay on deck, eating, or sat in groups talking to one another. The Bishop, too, came on deck, and as he was pacing up and down, he noticed a group of men standing near the prow and listening to a fisherman who was pointing to the sea and telling them something. The Bishop stopped, and looked in the direction in which the man was pointing. He could see nothing however, but the sea glistening in the sunshine. He drew nearer to listen, but when the man saw him, he took off his cap and was silent. The rest of the people also took off their caps, and bowed. "Do not let me disturb you, friends," said the Bishop. "I came to hear what this good man was saying." "The fisherman was telling us about the hermits," replied one, a tradesman, rather bolder than the rest. "What hermits?" asked the Bishop, going to the side of the vessel and seating himself on a box. "Tell me about them. I should like to hear. What were you pointing at?"