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.
It took us a little longer than expected to get the new mugs sent out to all of our members, but they are finally in the mail. Here's a look at the new design and color (the brown actually has a bit of a purple fleck in it which is hard to capture on camera). These are available exclusively through Rabbit Room membership (which you can find out about here).
This is a moving example of what Tolkien called "sub-creation"---in essence, using your gift to speak light into the darkness. This, by the way, is hand-drawn animation. Thank you, Glen Keane, for making something beautiful. (And thank you, Brannon McAllister, for the link.) And if you want to dig a little deeper into just how much work, thought, and attention went into the short film, watch this and be inspired.
First things first: Happy birthday to my wife! She's an amazing thinker and writer, a beautiful woman, and a wonderful person to share life with. Yes, I know that sentence ended in a preposition, but "with which to share life" is just too cumbersome---she's also a great editor. Happy birthday, babe. I'll buy you some baby chickens later today. Now, on to business... All pre-orders for The Warden and the Wolf King have shipped and should be showing up in your mailboxes any time now. We've got a huge load of orders that have come in since the unofficial release on Tuesday and we're working to get all caught up on those by the end of the day today. So hold tight, readers, we're working as fast as we can. We haven't had a recap in a couple of weeks so I'm going to cover a lot in this post. The biggest news is that the Rabbit Room has moved its physical location. We were sad to leave Baja Burrito (our former neighbor) behind, but we're super excited that the office is now located at our new property, which we've named North Wind Manor (I'm sure any George MacDonald fan can illuminate the etymology of that name for you). We've got a lot of hopes and dreams for this old place and it won't be long until we'll be inviting you out for our first Rabbit Room event in the new place. More on that in the next week. Andrew wrote a post about how we ended up here and you can read that for more details. Rebecca Reynolds wrote a fantastic piece called "Providence" in which she digs into her childhood memories to recall her grandparents. Rebecca's writing is always a joy to read and this essay is an exceptional example. She's got a great eye for telling detail. Read the post here. Melanie Penn released a new album a couple of weeks ago and if you've heard it, you're probably in love with it. Melanie stopped by the Rabbit Room with a post about one of her favorite songs from the record. The song is called "Before a Fall" and you can listen to it by clicking the play button below. Pick up the record in the Rabbit Room store. [audio:BeforeaFall.mp3] If you're heading to the movies, Thomas McKenzie has a couple of recommendations. Click here to check out his One Minute Reviews of The Edge of Tomorrow and X-men: Days of Future Past. Hint: they are both pretty darn great, and it's hard to go wrong with Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, and Emily Blount. In a post called "A Difficult Generosity," Sarah Clarkson ruminates on the the nature of art and creativity and the way in which we approach our gifts. Good reading. Excerpt: ". . . the artists and storytellers and makers of song offer the inner vision they have known as a sign of hope to the hungering world. They invite us into the sacred, inmost rooms of their minds and let us stand at the windows of their own imaginations where we glimpse, ah, wonders we might never have dreamed alone." Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible is out the gate and currently taking the world by storm, and now the Slugs & Bugs: The Videos Vol. 1 DVD is joining it. The DVD features a whopping 17 animated videos of Slugs & Bugs songs like "Tractor Tractor," "Bears," "Mexican Rhapsody," and "Who's Got the Ball," from the entire Slugs & Bugs library and is available now in the Rabbit Room store. Last week, Andrew, John & Janna Barber, Matt Conner, Arthur Alligood, Andy & Alison Osenga, myself, and about 2500 of our Nashville neighbors got to see Toad the Wet Sprocket and the Counting Crows at the Ryman Auditorium. The show was one of my person bucket-list items and the bands did not disappoint. Toad has been a huge influence on Andrew and his music and he tells us why in his post "Toad the Wet Sprocket: An Appreciation"---which Toad retweeted a couple of times, sending it spiraling across the entire internet. Awesome. Anyone who's worked as a substitute teacher should have an almost unlimited number of stories to tell. Barbara Lane is no exception, but she's got more than just a story, she's got a great essay on the power and importance of stories and words themselves. It's called "Every Life's Telling" and here's an excerpt: "To articulate and share our own stories, to encourage and receive the stories of others---this is vital to our sense of self, of community, and of belonging. Simply and emphatically put: Your story matters." The Warden and the Wolf King doesn't go into wide release until July 22nd, but we've decided to make it available now in the Rabbit Room store. Maps, Creaturepedias, and other goodies from the Kickstarter campaign will be available soon. “Prepare to have your heart stirred by Peterson’s bittersweet and sweeping finish to the Wingfeather Saga.” -N. D. Wilson And finally, Lanier Ivester has poked her head up once again and delivered another piece of stunning poetry called "Sonnet II." Isn't she awesome? Yes, yes she is. Just wait until you read the ghost story she's writing for this year's issue of The Molehill. Well, we've got a couple of hundred more orders to pack and ship (and I've got to get to the doctor for a steroid shot to save me from poison ivy), so have a great weekend. We'll see you on Monday. [If this post is rife with typos, I apologize, but I'm about to be late for my doctor's appointment!]
Demandez l'étoile matinière et prenez aussi votre amour terrestre. My heart in grief’s a stricken dove which leans O’er hidden nest of given things, mild head Inclined unto dark mercies, awful means, Whereby kind Love woos living from the dead. For Joy, my pinioned soul takes leap in art Of blackbird’s liquid song, and blood-stained wing The blessed wound I bear from Love’s trained dart: Old earth but veils the heaven which I sing. From Love itself my frantic spirit flees In Fear, a maddened gull that won’t be tamed By peace, but lights on waves of doubt the sea Casts up, or flies in storm’s black face. Unshamed, Love sends my lover, in whose arms this wild Bird’s snared, content to be by love beguiled.
“Prepare to have your heart stirred by Peterson’s bittersweet and sweeping finish to the Wingfeather Saga.” -N. D. WilsonBut wait, release day isn't until the end of July, right? That's right, but from now until then, the final book of the Wingfeather Saga is available exclusively through the Rabbit Room store. Click here to snatch up your copy (or a Wingfeather Bundle). I was a Kickstarter backer, where's my book? The last of the Kickstarter rewards have shipped. If you haven't received your book yet it's because of one of the following reasons: 1) You haven't logged in to Kickstarter to fill out your shipping survey---which means we don't know where to send it. 2) You live outside the US. International orders began shipping on Friday and will take 2-4 weeks for delivery. 3) The postal troll ate your books. If you suspect that the postal troll claimed your reward, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll investigate. I pre-ordered at a Christmas show, where's my book? As of yesterday, all Christmas show pre-orders have been shipped. Please allow 5-10 business days for delivery. I pre-ordered through the Rabbit Room store, where's my book? As of this morning, all RR store pre-orders have shipped. Please allow 2-10 days for delivery (based on your chosen method of shipping). I want to buy a giant full-color map of Aerwiar, or a hardback edition of The Monster in the Hollows, or a Pembrick's Creaturepedia, where can I do that? These items were designed exclusively for Kickstarter backers. However, now that Kickstarter rewards have all been shipped, we do have some extras of all three items. These will be made available exclusively through the Rabbit Room store sometime in the coming weeks (probably around the public release date of July 22nd). What about audiobooks? Weren't they part of the Kickstarter rewards? How can I get one of those? Audiobooks for The Monster in the Hollows and The Warden and the Wolf King were indeed part of the Kickstarter campaign. The Monster in the Hollows audiobook has been recorded and is being edited now. Andrew will be recording the final book any day now. Once the audiobooks are complete and delivered to Kickstarter backers, they will also be made available through the Rabbit Room store (download only) and other digital audiobook channels. If you have any other questions about the release, we'll be happy to answer. Just leave your question in a comment. Enjoy the book! [The Warden and the Wolf King is available in the Rabbit Room store.]
“Without the truths that are lodged in every life's telling, the old narratives thin, become brittle, and shatter, and we are left in chaos, no trail to follow home.” —Kim Barnes
The scratch and tap of pencils filled the room, punctuated by miniature drum beats pattering through a set of headphones. I was substitute teaching in a high school classroom. When I’d arrived that morning, the teacher’s scrawled instructions were waiting on my desk: Have them write a response—“If you were to create a self-portrait, how would you reveal yourself and what materials would you use?” After a collective groan, my students set about their task. I drifted between desks, answering questions along a trail of pencils poked into the air. With a distraught sigh, Sarah raised her hand. When I reached her desk, she looked at the floor and shuffled her feet. “I dunno what to write,” she whispered, fighting tears. “Besides, nobody’s gonna read this shit.”
—In a culture requiring little more of our stories than a 140-character “tweet,” areas of language easily fall into misappropriation and disuse; our abilities to think critically and exercise imagination suffer. Stories are a primary means of establishing identity and forming relationships. But as I read through the pile of essays left on my desk that day, I realized that the limited capacity for language that so restricted the expression of my students’ stories was only a microcosm. I could see traces of the same limitation in my own use of language and hesitance to see my story as a thing that others needed to hear.
The year was 1992. George H. W. Bush was the president. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Metallica, Def Leppard, and Bon Jovi were some of the biggest bands in the world. Wayne's World was cracking teenagers up and Home Improvement was making their parents chortle. I had just graduated from high school in the little town of Lake Butler, Florida, had cut off my mullet a few months before, and was steeped in hair metal and southern rock--not to mention all the bands mentioned above. I had recently discovered Marc Cohn's songwriting, and it would be another year or so before I happened upon Rich Mullins, but at the time my guilty pleasures were still bands like Slaughter and Steelheart and Stryper. Then one night while watching The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, I saw this: "Wait--is that a mandolin?" I thought. "And is he barefoot? And is he not trying to sing as high as possible? And none of those dudes have long hair. What could it mean?" Mixed in with all those thoughts was the dim awareness that "Walk On the Ocean" was a good, good song. It was evocative and utterly unique in my experience. Not only that, it told a kind of story ("somebody told me that this is the place where everything's better and everything's safe" "half an hour later we packed up our things"). But the band was called Toad the Wet Sprocket! I would have assumed this music would be super-weird and/or eclectic, a la They Might Be Giants, but this--this was different. The internet wasn't around yet so I had no way of learning that the guys had jokingly named the band in high school after a Monty Python sketch. (The name stuck and the Brits let them keep it.)
In the last few years, Randall Goodgame's Slugs & Bugs series of CDs has become hugely popular across the country, and it's a popularity that shows no signs of waning. For proof, look no further than the YouTube video for the song "Tractor Tractor," which has over 2.4 million views. Whoa. Coming on the heels of the fall release of Sing the Bible is today's release of the first Slugs & Bugs DVD, which features animated videos of a whopping 17 songs. Some of the videos are those you may have seen in the Slugs & Bugs LIVE show, and others are altogether new. The DVD is now available in the Rabbit Room store. Here's a sample:
I've come to write today in a downtown coffee shop where books line the walls and the air hums with slow, jazzy music. I haven't accomplished a single useful thing. Instead, I've cupped my coffee close, sipped it slow, and let my sleepy eyes roam over the rim of the mug. Mostly, I've spied on my neighbor. A scholarly air hovers about her along with heaps of textbooks, stacked notebooks, and four different kinds of pens. She's working very hard; eyes down under her fringe of dark hair, pen at a swift scratch, earbuds wedged in tight against the lazy aura of this place. But every so often she stops. With a distinct sigh, she reaches for her mocha and sets down her pen. And as she sips, she stares. For propped against the nearest pile of books is a vivid photo of Audrey Hepburn. The girl beside me fixes her eyes on that photo, never blinking as she takes a long sip of coffee and chocolate. Then she sets down her mug, wriggles up a little straighter in her seat and sets to work again. I cannot help my surreptitious stare. The strength she obviously takes from that photo fascinates me, as if in fixing her eyes upon it she receives some new shock of courage. I turn reluctantly back to my own book-piled table and cappuccino. A blank computer screen and a blank notebook are open before me. I ignore them. I open the topmost book on my pile, a series of essays by the poet Denise Levertov. My good friend Ruth is my source for modern poetry and when she tells me to seek out a poet, I go for it as I trust both her taste and also her navigation of the current age of poetry (a sphere of which my knowledge is slight). When she quoted Levertov and I found this book the very next day, I bought it. I am only one paragraph in before I stop, eyes arrested by these words:
"I believe poets are . . . makers, craftsmen: it is given to the seer to see, but it is then his responsibility to communicate what he sees, that they who cannot see may see, since we are 'members one of another.'"
The last time Patrick Stewart was involved in a franchise handing-off, time-bending movie, it didn't go so well (see Star Trek- Generations). However, he didn't have Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Bryan Singer, Wolverine, Quicksilver, or even a South Pole Elf to back him up. How do things go this time? Let the One Minute Review be your guide. Tom Cruise is 52 years old, and he's the action hero of yet another sci-fi movie. Do we really want to see this? Uhmm, actually ...
Since creation, God and the earth have seen a lot of stuff, gone through all of human history, and for a while I've wondered, "If the earth could talk to us, what would it say?" This song, "Before a Fall," was written just after Hurricane Sandy. In New York, a lot was destroyed in the rain and flood of the storm's passage. It felt like the planet was against us, like the tides and the rain and the wind could not be stopped nor tamed in any way. But things were not meant to be like this at all. Just like us humans, the earth too is falling apart and wreaking havoc everywhere---ruining things. But unlike us, the earth can remember a time before the fall, a time when it, and we, were not falling apart and nothing was ruined yet. So this song is from the perspective of the world God made---our earthly home. "Before a Fall" from the album Hope Tonight by Melanie Penn [audio:BeforeaFall.mp3] There used to be an angel choir that would sing in the evening with a band There was a cool kind of fire, you would hold it in the center of your hand But now the night is cold and the fire's hot And angels live above The ground quakes from my heartache I'm overcome and all my tears'll form a flood I am the one who saw it all Nobody tells you everything you stand to lose before a fall There used to be gold-covered clouds in a field of fog to walk across And there were speaking trees, a forest full of poetry and talk Now the clouds hang high and empty And leaves wither up The ground quakes from my heartache I'm overcome and all my tears'll form a flood I am the one who saw it all Nobody tells you everything you stand to lose before a fall Tonight you'll lie awake and think the world's a cold and lonely place Oh please, believe, I never meant to be this way So I will spin around again, hoping when we wake we will be new But my colors of mourning every day, another shade of blue I am the one who saw it all Nobody tells you everything you stand to lose before a fall [Hope Tonight is available in the Rabbit Room store.]
Western Kentucky is riddled with underground coal mines. When I was five or six, somebody told me that there was a big one dug right under the Dorris’s farm place, and I never could let that go. If I was sprawled out on the rug of Mammaw’s living room, I wouldn’t move around too hard, afraid I might shake us all loose into the underworld where men like my grandfather rode by iron gear into tunnels that made their lungs and fingernails black. It took us eight hours to drive to Providence from Marysville, Ohio. This was 1977, back when you could throw a foam mattress in the bed of a Ford pickup and let your kids bang around with boxes of puzzles and a stack of books while you made miles. After the sun would go down, I’d lean my head up against the the back of the cab and stare out through the green, concave windows of the LEER truck topper, watching the earth grow wild. The yellow fields turned silver at night, and natural gas pumps cranked like old men digging holes. Those pumps smelled sour, and if I fell asleep somewhere along the way, I knew we were close because of them, even before I opened my eyes.
The Rabbit Room has surprised me once again. One of the questions I've gotten quite a bit about writing (and one I've also asked many times) is whether or not it's a good idea to have an outline for the story. Every writer is different, but my answer is that yes, it's good to sit down early on and map out---in the vaguest terms---the outline of the story. However, that outline is only a tool to get you started. Once the real writing starts, the story will suggest itself to you, and if you're determined to adhere to the outline at all costs, it just might cost you the story. The story, you'll discover sooner than later, wants to be something, and there's a good chance that that something is better than your outline. In the words of that one .38 Special song "Hold On Loosely," uh, "Hold on loosely, and don't let go. If you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control." The best thing about this philosophy of songwriting and/or storytelling is that you, the writer, get the blessing of surprise along the way, of serendipity and excitement. I honestly had no idea how The Warden and the Wolf King would end until I got about twenty pages from the last chapter. It's scary, but it's way more interesting. Writing can be a way to discover not just what will happen to your characters, but what's going on in your own heart, soul, and mind. Well, the Rabbit Room---this mystifying corner of the internet, which encompasses Hutchmoot and Rabbit Room Press and used books and concerts and music and theater and conversations about Jesus---has been an act of discovery, too. We had no idea what a sweet fellowship of friends it would nurture, or that we would publish The Molehill, or spawn Dude Breakfast (our weekly Waffle House hang). We held on loosely, we didn't let go, and voila, Pete and I are here scratching our heads in delight at what God has done.
Last week I was invited to tag along as C.S. Lewis scholar and writer Sandy Smith took a group of men from our church on a tour of the local C.S. Lewis landmarks. I’ll be honest; I was more than a little excited. Actually I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning. There is something oddly refreshing about becoming a tourist in your own city. Somehow looking with fresh eyes gives you a chance to notice things familiarity had obscured from view. In Belfast, if you know where to look, the legacy of C.S. Lewis is on every corner. Tucked away a short distance from a busy intersection is a monument in the shape of a wardrobe. On the back, reproduced in bronze, is a letter to a young girl who had written to Lewis in distress after reading of the death of Aslan. In another spot, if you look down, you will find that the pavement itself carries a quote from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, engraved like a concrete tattoo on the streets of a city that is proud of its celebrated son. Hidden amongst the leafy suburbs, marked only by a small blue plaque, is Little Lea, Lewis’s impressive childhood home. On the top floor is a small window marking the attic where at the age of ten, when most of us were lost in adventure stories, Lewis was reading Milton's Paradise Lost and writing his own response. Or creating the imaginary land of Boxen. Or counting the rafters in an attempt to find his bearings in the rooms below, just as Polly and Diggory would do in years to come. Further down the road is the rectory where the young Lewis would often visit his grandfather. If you look closely you will notice that the oversized handle on the rectory door carries the face of a lion.