For the past several months, Randall Goodgame and Ben Shive have been hard at work on the newest addition to the Slugs and Bugs library: Sing the Bible. The album contains 18 songs taken directly from scripture and features Sally Lloyd-Jones, The African Children's Choir, Buddy Greene, and a whole bunch of other goodness. Best of all though, these are great, great songs (it's hard to fault the lyrics, after all). Randall has outdone himself and we can't wait for folks to hear his work. When you pre-order the album (which is expected to ship the week of December 10th), you'll be able to download 5 songs immediately. Here's one of our favorites. Don't be surprised if you find it running through your head all day long. "Two Shirts" by Randall Goodgame [audio:TwoShirts.mp3]
“There is but one sin,” wrote G.K. Chesterton: “to call a green leaf grey.” Which is to say, every kind of sin derives from a willful refusal to see and enjoy the beauty, the glimmers of transcendence that surround us. The serpent, remember, stood with Eve in the beauty and abundance of Eden and said, in effect, “Can’t you see that God is holding out on you?” To refuse to see beauty---to call a green leaf grey---is to say that God is not good. Beauty is a kind of grace. It comes from outside and changes something on the inside, and it usually comes as a surprise when it does. When I experience beauty I am very aware that something is happening that I could have never ginned up within myself. I feel gratitude. I feel longing. I feel that there is more going on than I can account for. But I can’t feel pride as a result of experiencing beauty. Consider by contrast other aspects of religious experience---truth, say, or morality. When I understand truth (or think I do), I am in constant danger of considering myself better than those who don’t understand that truth. When I practice morality, I am in similar peril. I don’t wish to belittle either truth or morality; beauty wouldn’t be much good without them. I mean only to suggest that when it comes to understanding what grace is and how it works, beauty is a pretty good guide. Beauty is sneaky like grace, fulfilling desires and healing hurts we didn’t even know we had. It slips past our defenses. Beauty isn’t quite irresistible (we all make ourselves blind to beauty from time to time), but even the hardest heart would have to be vigilant indeed never to be affected by a wide sky or a bright eye or a well-turned poem. In the end, however, the real work of earthly beauty isn’t to fulfill our longings but to stir up longings it could never fulfill. Beauty sidles up and whispers, “What do I remind you of?” Then it slips away and leaves us wanting more.
Thanks for signing up to participate in this year's Community gift exchange! The sign-up period has ended and matches are being sent out right now. It'll take us a few hours to get them all sent so be patient. If you signed-up and haven't received your assignment by tomorrow morning, please let me know. While you are waiting, you're invited to use the comments section of this post to introduce yourself to everyone. You might want to let folks know what your favorite color is, or what kind of music you like, or what you like to read or do in your spare time. Having a few details on a person's interests and hobbies can make gift selection a lot easier. (Be sure to tell us your name if it's different from your account handle, otherwise folks won't know who you are.) Have fun. Merry Christmas! (And Happy Thanksgiving, too.)
Okay, I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet---but I'm going to talk about Christmas music anyway. Buddy Greene is one of the nicest and most likable guys in Nashville. Every time he drops by the RR office, whether it's to buy a book, play a harmonica, or just say hello, he's all smiles and laughter from the moment he walks in until the moment he walks out. And he leaves smiles and laughter behind when he's gone. One day last month I got a humble email from Buddy telling me that he had just finished recording a little Christmas album and he wondered if I'd give it a listen. Now let me be honest. My fear was that I was in for an hour of weary Christmas classics and carols adapted for the harmonica---and I wasn't sure how much harmonicated "Jingle Bell Rock" I could handle. I should go ahead and admit that I don't really like Christmas music in general. There are a few exceptions, of course. I love Harry Connick. I love Jill and Andy Gullahorn's Christmas CD. I loved last year's Over the Rhine Christmas record. And I love . . . well . . . I suppose that's about it (I'm not including Behold the Lamb of God here because I think that's something more than Christmas music, if you know what I mean). So it's with great surprise that I've found Buddy Greene's December's Song added to that small rotation of favorites. Somehow, it's a nice fit beside those other Christmas records. It seems right at home there. It's a little bit folk, a little bit bluegrass, a little bit hymnal, a little bit jazz, even a little bit crooning Bing Crosby. I love it. So I'm going to shut up and let you hear some of it. Check out the song below. "Canticle of the Turning" by Buddy Greene [audio:Canticle.mp3] Buddy just released the record to the public last week. You should check it out. Here's the link.
“Come, let us worship God, wonderful in his saints!” So ended Michael Ward’s introduction in our program today for the C.S. Lewis memorial service. And that is exactly what we did. I read those words as I sat in my straight wooden chair beneath the rainbow filtered light of the soaring stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey. The organ hummed the opening music amidst the swish and whisper of the gathering congregation. I watched almost a thousand people filter in to celebrate the life of C.S. Lewis. Wielder of words, weaver of stories, and humble-hearted friend, Lewis wrote and spoke from the Love that was the light by which he saw the world. In honoring his life today, we blessed the beautiful God who was the heart and Joy of it all.
A while back a couple of little girls came into my wife's library and asked, "Do you have any sad books?" What a great question. There's a lot to love about sad stories. For one thing, sad stories remind us what really matters to us. We feel sadness at the loss (or else the absence) of things we value. I don't suppose they knew it, but the girls who asked my wife for sad stories were looking to affirm the things that mattered most to them by feeling what it would mean not to have them. By looking to enter into another person's sadness (even a fictional person's sadness), they were looking to experience their own lives more fully. That's why I love sad stories. In children's fiction, nobody does sadness like Kate DiCamillo. The same ache haunts The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Magician's Elephant, and Because of Winn-Dixie (I haven't read her other novels). In each of those stories, the hurt, the loneliness, and the sadness nourish the souls of characters and readers alike.
As you may have heard by now, Farrar Straus & Giroux recently published the prayer journal of a very young Flannery O'Connor. William A. Sessions, an old friend of O'Connor's and, deo volente, her official biographer (he's been working toward an O'Connor biography for twenty years or so) found a black-and-white marbled composition notebook among her personal effects. That notebook, as it turns out, was a prayer journal that O'Connor had kept while she was earning her MFA at the University of Iowa, from January 1946 to September 1947. She was twenty years old when she began the journal and twenty-two when she gave it up ("There is no more to say of me," she wrote on the last line). I'm deeply ambivalent about the publishing of this journal. Of course I am fascinated by the insights that it offers. The Habit of Being, O'Connor's collected letters, includes very few letters from her Iowa years, so this prayer journal paints an intimate portrait of her inner life at a time of life from which we have few other sources. On the other hand, the portrait is so intimate that it often feels like voyeurism to look. I was discussing this with my wife last week and she remarked, "You sure are protective of her." Maybe so. But I have a journal I kept when I was twenty, and if I had any reason to suspect that anybody might publish it when I'm dead, I would go burn it right now.
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Some time ago, after I was given a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales, I asked my 8-year-old niece if she wanted to read one with me.
Lilly said no, she doesn’t like fairy tales: “They have the worst endings. ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ Stories shouldn’t end that way because that’s not what happens in real life.”
She has a point: That isn’t at all what happens in Real Life. Stories about Real Life are stories about alarm clocks and rush-hour downpours and staining the back deck; stories, in the words of another author, about “exports and imports and governments and drains.” Worse, these are stories of sorrow and loss. There are also moments of beauty and wonder and love, to be sure, but every story about Real Life eventually ends in death—guaranteed. Real Life kills off its characters with less restraint than even George R.R. Martin.
It’s not that those stories about exports and drains are bad or unnecessary, but that they aren’t real enough. They’re incomplete; the curtain closes before the final act is done. This world presents us with a kind of relentless, creeping materialism that crowds out the possibility of a deeper reality. In contrast, the best stories peel back the curtain on our world—which masquerades as the only life there is—to show us that Aslan’s deeper magic is more real than we ever thought.
More than two years ago, Andrew Osenga built a spaceship and named it the HMS Reveille. Most everyone knows he then went on to record an album called Leonard the Lonely Astronaut in that spaceship. He was also attacked by space pirates (which is even more awesome than it sounds) and detailed that experience on an EP called Solar Wind. But what many may not know is that at the same time, Andrew and director Grant Howard were using that same space ship to shoot a short film about Leonard and his travels. The film, Reveille, stars Andrew Osenga and enters the world of Leonard to further explore the personal story of the record. Today marks the official release of Reveille. Well done, guys. Andy O is now the first person we know to star in his own science fiction movie. What could be more awesome than that? The film is nine minutes long and is now available for download from the Rabbit Rooms store. Here's the trailer.
If you were at this year's Hutchmoot, you will undoubtedly remember the moment a roomful of people came alive to a new voice among the mix of Square Pegs and Friends. Arthur Alligood hadn't picked up a guitar in over a year, and even then was uncertain how the night would go. After playing two songs, the songwriter described the night as a "glorious moment" and one that would lead to newfound inspiration. If you're new to Arthur's music, his ability to stand out even in a songwriter's circle speaks to his incredible ability to connect so deeply and meaningfully. His music is now available in the Rabbit Room store. Look for a sample of one of his songs at the end of the interview. You just played Hutchmoot and told us it was your first time playing in a while. Just how long has it been? I think I played a show last September if I am remembering correctly. It was miserable, I do remember that. There are not many things worse than being away when in your heart you just want to be home. So, its been a little over a year since I've performed. I desperately needed a break from the touring machine. As far as I'm concerned, I'm still on break. But I can't imagine a better way to reenter performing than to share a couple of songs at Hutchmoot! I feel grateful to have been invited to play. I'd like to attend the entire retreat next year, if I can get a ticket. I hear they go pretty fast. For those who weren't at Hutchmoot, the room came alive and people started clapping along to "Darkness to Light." How was that moment for you?