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Guest Post: Southern Inklings and a Texas Oasis (by R. M. Sanders)

[Editor's note: On March 26-29 Laity Lodge welcomed us back to the Texas Hill Country for the 2nd annual Rabbit Room Retreat. The weekend was an enormous delight and today's guest writer, Randi Sanders, recounts the experience.]

“Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
Our company of four – whom I shall refer to as Merry, Pippin, Bilbo and Frodo – consisted of two musicians, an aspiring writer, and an all-encompassing creative. For months we collaborated in anticipation of a retreat at Laity Lodge that, we hoped, would prove to be a unique and inspiring adventure. Having been at least ten years or more since I last attended a “retreat,” when Frodo mentioned this opportunity I agreed to go in blind enthusiasm. Graciously, all of our spouses indulged our whims – and off we went.

Hurting

I find that some writings come together relatively quickly. Others I tinker with off and on for years before I'm satisfied. And still others languish in a state of stunted realization perpetually, perhaps never to be completed. I find this equally true of stories, songs, poems, and essays. I have fragments of up to 40,000 words languishing (or percolating) on the backburners of these hard drives. Some are perhaps only the initial workings out of an idea that eventually finds incarnation in some other form or piece. But others seem to be their own thing, such that either I will one day bend them to conclusion, or they will simply sink into the peat bog of the half-finished and the forgotten and the might-have-been. In celebration of the not-fully-realized, I offer the following found poem. This is one I created some time back, probably ten years ago, limiting my source material to a single page from a history textbook. I never had the settled sense that the poem was complete though, so I never did anything with it. In looking back at it now, I concur with my initial instinct. This poem still needs one or two additional closing lines; some sort of clincher that ties it all up or brings the reader to a new place. Even so, I like what it is and where it's going.

Eating Reality

I’ve been lately enjoying George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie. Many of the ideas in those books echo the thoughts in one of MacDonald’s other fantasy books, Phantastes. MacDonald’s characters are often on a journey of some sort which prompts all sorts of surprises and discoveries. There is nearly always some sort of tension between faith and unbelief, virtue and temptation, courage and fear, and MacDonald never fails to give me deep, life-changing prompts for my own journey. I’ll highlight just a few of these to keep this post from being a novel of its own. The first example is that of unbelief, that progressive losing of the childlike mindset that sees wonder and potential and possibility all around. Curdie is a miner boy whose stealthy spying on the goblins in The Princess and the Goblin uncovers a plot to kidnap the princess. But in the beginning of the sequel, The Princess and Curdie, he is losing his grip on true reality:

Tonight: The Local Show with Andrew Peterson & Friends

We've got a great line-up for tonight's edition of the Local Show. Andrew Peterson is hosting and he's invited this great group of songwriters to share the stage. Leading the pack is a name you're all familiar with: Rabbit Room alumnus Jason Gray. We're thrilled to have him at the Local Show for the first time this week. Next up, the too-young-to-be-so-talented Caleb Chapman (of Colony House) returns. And finally, an acclaimed songwriter with no less than 12 Dove Awards and 21 #1 hits to her credit, the great Cindy Morgan. Tickets are available for $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Rabbit Room members can purchase a $5 admission at the door with their membership card. Show time is 7:30pm at The Well coffeehouse on Old Hickory Blvd. Doors open at 7:10pm.

England: Day Three

[Day One] [Day Two] DAY THREE MUSWELL HILL, LONDON 21/02/2015 We drove east from central London (sometimes keeping to the appropriate side of the road) to a place called Dagenham. I overheard someone explain the pronunciation: "It's DAG-en-HAM, yes, but to sound local you just mash it all together so it sounds like 'Dagnum.'" We stayed with the Harts, a family we met on the Petersons' European adventure almost two years ago. In July of 2013 they picked up Jamie and the kids and me from Heathrow and drove us to their home in Dagenham, charming us with their accents the whole way. Tom grew up on a farm in England and Rachel is from the highlands of Scotland, and now they live in the manse of a little church in a little neighborhood called Osborne Square. In a delightful case of Englishness, their proper address has no house number---it's just "The Manse, Osborne Square." Tom, whom I don't think I've ever seen without a smile on his face, cracked up me and my boys right away when he asked, "So what's the deal with July 4th, anyway? What are you guys celebrating?" I love that I had to explain Independence Day to the first Brit I met. Evidently, it's a bit of history they've chosen to ignore, for understandable reasons.

An Easter Poem from Dorothy Sayers

[Thanks to Lanier Ivester for introducing us to this gem. Happy Easter, folks. He is risen.] Desdichado ---This is the heir; come let us kill him. ---Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved? Christ walks the world again, His lute upon His back, His red robe rent to tatters, His riches gone to rack, The wind that wakes the morning blows His hair about His face, His hands and feet are ragged with the ragged briar’s embrace, For the hunt is up behind Him and His sword is at His side,… Christ the bonny outlaw walks the whole world wide, Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me, Lie among the bracken and break the barley bread? We will see new suns arise in golden, far-off skies, For the Son of God and Woman hath not where to lay His head.” Christ walks the world again, a prince of fairy-tale, He roams, a rascal fiddler, over mountain and down dale, Cast forth to seek His fortune in a bitter world and grim, For the stepsons of His Father’s house would steal His bride from Him; They have weirded Him to wander till He bring within His hands The water of eternal youth from black-enchanted lands, Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me, Or sleep on silken cushions in the bower of wicked men? For if we walk together through the wet and windy weather, When I ride back home triumphant, you will ride beside Me then.” Christ walks the world again, new-bound on high emprise, With music in His golden mouth and laughter in His eyes; The primrose springs before Him as He treads the dusty way, His singer’s crown of thorns has burst in blossom like the may, He heedeth not the morrow and He never looks behind, Singing: “Glory to the open skies and peace to all mankind.” Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me? Was never man lived longer for the hoarding of his breath; Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . . If we perish in the seeking . . . why, how small a thing is death!” ---Dorothy Sayers

The Vaster End of Blood

[This Good Friday, I commend to you the following excerpt from Chapter 4 of Robert Farrar Capon's most outstanding The Supper of the Lamb.] In the Law of the Lord,      Leviticus, the eighth chapter, the fourteenth verse: Aaron      and his sons laying hands upon the bullock's head, blood      poured at the bottom of the altar to make reconciliation;      the caul above the liver, and the two kidneys and their      fat---all burnt by fire for a sweet savor. Smoke, incense,      wave breast, heave shoulder, rams of consecration, the      pomegranate and the golden bell, sounding upon the      hem of the robe round about; priest and temple, death      and holocaust, always and everywhere. Why? It is tempting      simply to write it off as barbarism, nonsense, superstition;      to fault it and forget it; But the fact of blood still stands,      reproving materialist and spiritualist at once; gainsaying      worlds too small and heavens too thin. This superadded killing,      this sacrifice, these deaths which work no earthly inter-      change, this rich, imprudent waste Witnesses The City's undiminishable size: Man wills to make of earth,      not one Jerusalem but two; this sacramental blood de-      clares the double mind by which he wills to lift both      lion and lamb beyond the killing to exchanges unaccount-      able and vast. Man's priestliness therefore      bespeaks his refusal of despair; proclaims acceptance of      a world which, by its murderous hand, subscribes the      insupportable dilemma of its being---the war of lion and      lamb having no other likely outcome here than two im-      possibilities: The one,      a pride of victors feeding on the slain; but leaving the      lion as he was before, trapped in ancient reciprocities by      which at last all power falls to crows; And the other,      a hymn to despair no victim will accept; it is not enough,      in this paroxysm of martyrdoms, to stand upon the ship-      wrecks of the slain and praise the weak for weakness; the      lamb's will, too, was life; he died refusing death. Sacrifice therefore Not written off, but recognized,      a sign in blood of the vaster end of blood; a redness      turning all things white; an impossibility prefiguring the      last exchange of all. The old order, of course,      unchanged; the deaths of bulls and goats achieving      nothing; Aaron still ineffectual; creation still bloody; But haunted now by bells within the veil      where Aaron walks in shadows sprinkling      blood and bids a new Jerusalem descend. Endless smoke now rising Lion become priest And lamb victim The world awaits The unimaginable union By which the Lion lifts Himself Lamb slain And, Priest and Victim, Brings The City Home. [Artwork by Chris Koelle.]

Design a Rabbit Room T-shirt

I've got a crazy idea, and I need your help. We want a new Rabbit Room t-shirt, but we want to give all of you a chance to design it. So here's what I'm thinking. Design submissions are open from now until April 27th. Submit anything you like, but let's set a basic theme of "Music" for this shirt. Take that and run with it in any direction you want. Your design can be text-based, or illustrated, or anything at all. Be creative. Don't overthink it. Just have fun. On May 1st, we'll reveal our favorite and take orders for a limited time (2 weeks only). The winner gets a free shirt and some credit in the RR store. If all goes well, we'll do this every month and you can stockpile a whole wardrobe of community-designed clothing. Fun, right? Click through for details.

From the Molehill Vol. 3: “Never, Sweeting, Could I Play Thee False”

The newest issue of The Molehill contains a couple of truly unique pieces of history. The first is an original, previously-unpublished essay by the great G. K. Chesterton, and you'll have to pick up a copy of the book to read that one. But the other is this bit of literary treasure discovered by Jonathan Rogers while doing research via microfilm in the Vanderbilt library. It's a hand-written poem he found in the margin of a sixteenth-century manuscript by a Sir Richard Roland, Second Earl of Astley. Apparently it has never been published (at least not until we published it in The Molehill Vol. 3), so this is a poem that few living eyes but yours, dear reader, have ever seen. "Never, Sweeting, Could I Play Thee False" Never, sweeting, could I play thee false, E’en until the day we both should die— Verily, till we go to our vaults. Ever was there lover true as I? Rocks may split, the mountains all remove, Gone away the rivers, all run dry. Only I will love still, still unmoved. Never was there lover true as I. Never, sweeting, could I make thee weep. Away, away with each old love thou ruest. Give me thy heart, and my heart thou canst keep. I of every lover am the truest. Verses sometimes lie; I never do. Eye me, and the soul of truth thou viewest. Yew bow never shot a shaft so true. Of every lover, dear, I am the truest. Until the end I plight my troth, forsooth. Upon my hoary age, upon thy youth… Prithee, hast thou ever known such truth? —Sir Richard Roland (1587)

Concert Window: Eric Peters / Andy Gullahorn Double-Feature

Tonight at 8:30pm EST, Eric Peters will travel from his living room to outer space and then descend upon the world once again, landing directly in your own living room. We're not making this up. All you have to do is go to ConcertWindow.com and watch the magic happen. But wait, there's more . . . At 9:30pm EST Andy Gullahorn---and his special guest(s)---will swim through your living room like a live shark and try to catch anything you dangle in front of him. The best part? He'll do it all without cracking a smile. He may also play music at some point, but that remains to be seen. Tune in to find out. The show starts at 8:30 EST (Eric Peters) and continues at 9:30 EST (Andy Gullahorn) on ConcertWindow.com (Note that each concert is at a separate Concert Window link.)

What do we do with this Jesus?

In this passion week, I'm happy to share with the Rabbit Room community an essay I wrote fifteen years ago for the liner notes of what turned out to be one of the most laboriously-titled CD's ever: "Music From and Inspired by Jesus, the Epic Mini-Series" While the TV mini-series starring Jeremy Sisto did manage to portray a warm, even playful, side of the Messiah, it also had some glaring theological flaws. Enough so that after viewing an advance copy, I didn't know if I wanted to accept the writing gig. I even went to my pastor to talk through the implications of affixing my name to a project that presented a distorted view of the nature of the Son of Man.

Hutchmoot 2015 Registration Opens

Registration for Hutchmoot 2015 begins today. There are 140 available spots, and this year registration will take place in two waves. Wave One consists of 70 tickets and will go on sale today at noon CST. Wave Two will consist of the final 70 tickets and will go on sale Tuesday April 14th at 4pm CST. Click here for the registration page on the Hutchmoot website. (Note that the web page has recently been updated and you may need to clear the cache in your browser if you do not see the registration link.)

The Golden Age of Television

There was a stretch of time --- a very long stretch --- that gave all of us every reason to abandon television. Every hour of programming, whether sitcom or drama, seemed to pander to the lowest common denominator. Devoid of meaning, it made sense to encourage kids (and adults) to turn off the television to find something meaningful to do. But at last, that season is behind us. Now the opposite is true: there's not enough time in the day to get through the staggering amount of recommendations on network television, cable, Netflix, Amazon or even web-based series. We're in a golden age of television, one in which characters are fleshed out, plotlines are complicated, and more is demanded of the viewer than ever before. We polled some of our RR contributors to get their recommendations, even as we realize that a dozen more could be discussed and highlighted. Add your own in the comments. We want to hear what you're watching.

England: Day Two

[Read DAY ONE here.] DAY TWO LONDON Friday 20/02/15 (Why break with British custom now?) During the 8-1/2 hour flight across the Atlantic, I watch two movies. One of them is a sci-fi action movie starring Tom Cruise, set in alien- and war-ravaged London. Later that night, unable to sleep because of jetlag, I watch yet another sci-fi film—this one set in an apocalyptic, dragon-scorched London. This is my first time visiting the United Kingdom, and I’m not sure what to expect when I land---either Tom Cruise or a fire-breathing lizard. I don’t know which would be worse. The plane touches down at Heathrow on Friday morning, 8:45am local time. The first thing I notice is a general, though pleasant and subtle, aroma in the air. Too discrete to be cologne, but certainly not Axe body spray, it’s something more tempered, more mature. I notice it everywhere we go: in the airport, in the restroom, on the shuttle ride, at the car rental site. No sign of dragons or scientologists. I approve. A while back I read a cautionary tale of a musician who was deported from the UK for visa-related hijinks. I’ve been dreading customs ever since. I'm the guy who gets nervous ordering a coffee at Starbucks. But here we are in the queue, and I’m trying my best not to sweat: Customs Agent: "Why are you here?" Me: “For pleasure." Agent: "What do you do?" Me: "Um, I have a landscaping business in Nashville, and I buy and sell books.” Customs Agent: "Why are you here?" AP: “I am an author, and I teach creative writing.” Agent: "To what ages?" AP: "College students."

Blind Spots

I am not the artist I think I am. Neither are you. Not completely anyway. All of us live with blind spots---realities in our lives and art and thinking we cannot see. We have them even in the endeavors we are most passionate about. Such is the nature of a blind spot---I can’t see it. There are so many bits of information, maturity, perspective, and wisdom I have yet to obtain. They simply aren’t yet mine. A friend asked me recently what I thought was my greatest weakness as a writer. As I thought about it, I discovered I did not know the true answer---a fact which itself may be the best answer I have to offer. My greatest weakness is that I am in many ways oblivious to my weakness. I don’t know what I don’t know, which means sometimes my writing is the work of a blind-folded man with vertigo stumbling around a china shop.