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Live @ North Wind Manor: Jeremy Casella

Tonight's Bible study with Michael Card is filled up, but we've got another treat for you coming up next weekend. We're pleased to announce our latest house show. On January 24th @ 7pm Jeremy Casella (and maybe a special guest or two) will be here at the manor to play songs from last year's brilliant Death in Reverse album (and other stuff too). If you aren't familiar with Jeremy's music, you need to be. He's got one of the best voices in town and a songwriting knack for U2-style anthemic melodies that get stuck in your head in the best way. Death in Reverse is one of my top 3 favorite albums of 2014. Don't miss this show. Tickets are $12 and limited to 30 seats. We ask that everyone bring a snack to share with the group. Drinks are on us. Click here to secure your spot. We'll see you at the door!

That Hideous Weakness

Nate Wilson kicked off our friendship with a bang. When he came to his first Hutchmoot the first thing he did was hand me a first edition of Till We Have Faces, which is possibly (depending on the weather) my favorite  C. S. Lewis book. He didn't know it was my favorite, which made it an even sweeter gift. Last year I headed up to Moscow, Idaho, to teach at a workshop at New St. Andrews and Nate gave me yet another most excellent gift: a first edition of That Hideous Strength, the final book of the Space Trilogy. I had only read the first two (thanks to Kevan Chandler), and couldn't really imagine book three outshining the sweep and wildness of Perelandra. One thing is clear: opinions abound about That Hideous Strength. I know of no other Lewis book that polarizes like this one. I've talked to quite a few people who never finished it, others who finished it but didn't like it, and still others (like Nate) who claim that it's Lewis's finest work. Well, I just finished it. And while the book as a whole may not have blown my mind like Faces, and while it took me longer to read than any other Lewis book, its effect on me was undeniable for a number of reasons. There's a word that's given me a lot of trouble in the last few years. A word that we tout a lot around here. It's a word that's easy to use and hard to embody, a word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and a word that, thanks to Dr. Steve Guthrie, I'm just now beginning to realize represents a great deal of power. That word is chartreuse. I dare you to say it without shuddering at its import! But seriously: the word is community. I've called the Rabbit Room "an experiment in community," and at Hutchmoot we talk about carrying whatever light we encounter back into our communities. I've lauded the way the community of Christians here in Nashville has shaped my life and work and ministry. The Local Show is (hopefully) a way to plant community seeds. Community, community, community.

Meanwhile: More Process

It's been a few years since my brother-in-law, poet-bard Isaac Gill, approached me about working on the cover art for his first official LP. He was going to Kickstart it into the world (an endeavor he did successfully manage) and he wanted me to illustrate/design the packaging. The first post I shared with the Room had a lot to do with process, and I guess that's where I find myself with this one too. Heck, that's where I find myself on a moment-to-moment basis, in everything. I'm sure we all do. A while back, Isaac was elated to find that Pandora had finally processed (yes, that word again) his album and was about to release his music into the world via the streaming radio thing they do. This prompted me to post some stuff to Facebook in celebration, and that took me back into some of my old sketch work for the record, which was both cathartic and educational for me. "Did I really generate this many test sketches for Isaac?" "How many different kinds of hand-rendered typography did I pitch to him?" "I can't believe I worked out the whole cover in water color before deciding to go with a digitally-rendered composite!" 

Miracle on Demand

Last night I sat down with a C.S. Lewis essay titled “Miracles.” Lewis is my favorite author, but I wasn’t expecting much from this topic. It’s not that I’m not interested in the mystical, it’s just that miracles aren’t very effective. People who don’t want supernatural evidence for God will grit their teeth and explain away a cosmic whamboozie, even if one smacks them upside the head. Miracles aren’t a problem for science, reason, or intellect. They aren’t some kind of cognitive hurdle to overcome. They are revelatory. They reveal what observers have already decided about God, based on old wounds and old battles. That’s why I wasn’t all that eager to engage. The topic didn’t seem very practical. However, Lewis takes an angle I wasn’t expecting. He writes that miracles tend to be condensed versions of divine engagements that happen to us every day. For example, 5000 people are fed from five barley loaves. “That couldn’t have happened!” we shout.

Superheroes, Space Outlaws, and the Church

What do a bunch of space outlaws, a raccoon, a sentient tree, and a handful of human and alien superheroes have to teach us about the church? Quite a bit actually. I had the chance to see Marvel's summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy back in August. With its story of a group of space misfits and outlaws coming together for a greater cause, it reminded me a bit of the TV show Firefly, the brainchild of none other than Marvel director Joss Whedon. Firefly, which attained cult status after its very brief run on Fox in 2002, follows the adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew on the ship Serenity. These characters, all brought together from various walks of life and for sometimes questionable motives, are initially at odds. But over time they become a quirky family who learns to work together for a greater purpose, which in Whedon's follow up film Serenity becomes unmasking the corrupt Alliance government. What Whedon excels at is giving each character their own screen time and back story in which we learn about the ways these loners and oddballs have been broken or wounded, and why they really need each other. Whedon, of course, went on to direct Marvel's massive tag-team film The Avengers, in which Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and their associates come together to defeat the threat of Thor's adopted brother, the scheming and narcissistic Loki. Avengers plays out this theme of misfits coming together on a larger scale. For a superhero film, it's fascinating that Whedon spends almost two thirds of the time exploring the dynamics of these slightly dysfunctional, damaged, and extraordinary individuals coming together as a team. As Whedon has said about the film, “Ultimately these people don't belong together and the whole movie is about finding yourself from community. And finding that you not only belong together but you need each other, very much.”

At North Wind Manor: The Life of Christ with Michael Card

FULL! Both January dates are now full. We'll start taking RSVPs for February later this month. We're kicking 2015 off in style. Mike will be at North Wind Manor at 7:00pm on January 13th and 27th for the first two sessions of a series he'll be leading on the life of Jesus. We'll be making his Gospel commentaries available soon in the Rabbit Room store, and they'll serve as fine companions to the discussions he'll be leading. These events are open to everyone, free of charge, but we're limited by space, so if you'd like to attend please RSVP to [email protected] (we'll respond with directions). We also encourage everyone to bring a snack to share. Drinks are on us.

Further up and Further in

On some level, writing is a solitary process. You go into the cave, and you write. But writing doesn't have to be altogether solitary. Indeed, I don't think I could go into the cave at all if it weren't for the life and light going on outside. I'm reviving my long-moribund blog this year, and one of its central features will be a place where writers can come out of their caves and say to one another, "How's it going down there?" or "Here's what's been working for me," or "I think I've lost my way" or "Let me help you find it." The name of this writing community is "Further Up and Further In: A Writers' Consortium" (thanks, Chris Yokel, for the name). The driving idea behind the consortium is simply to give people an opportunity to state their writerly intentions and to be taken seriously by people who have stated similar intentions. Throughout the year, we will offer each other encouragement, accountability, advice, and---hopefully---a growing conviction that the long journey of the writer is worth the effort. At least once a week I will post a consortium-related article at Jonathan-Rogers.com. That article may be about the writing process or about crafting better sentences; it may answer a question that has come up in the consortium that week; it may be a writing prompt. These articles will be part of my regular blog and will be available to anybody who visits the site. Some of the consortium discussion, however, will take place in a private Facebook group inhabited only by those who have joined the consortium. To learn more about the Further Up and Further In consortium---and to join the group---click here.

A Toast to the New Year

I wish I could go back in time and capture in stop motion the evolution of an idea. If I could, I would try to capture the formation of the Rabbit Room from its inception when it was not much more than an idea to the community it has now become. I was fortunate to be one of the original contributors to this site. Back then, we were nothing more than a collection of untested writers---most of us anyway. But what we had in common was a love of art and a respect for the way it can serve as a hammer and chisel in the hands of God. The blog began as a wood-paneled list of entries on subjects ranging from Lyle Lovett’s Road to Ensenada to an essay on self-righteousness told by way of a story about failing to recycle paint cans to a brilliant little piece A. S. Peterson wrote about pickles. We were taking some of our first swings at writing blog posts and finding our voices. I, for one, was awkward as a middle-schooler, all knees and elbows.

Your Best of 2014

Time to wrap up the year with, as usual, a bunch of best-of lists. So let's have it. What were your three favorite books, movies, and albums of 2014? Bonus question: What movie's existence did Pete Peterson most regret this year?

Live Stream “Encountering Philippians”

Many of you have seen one of Stephen Trafton's dramatic performances of his Living Letters, either "Encountering Philippians" or "Encountering Colossians." But if you haven't (or if you'd like to see the performance again), he'll be performing at Northland Church in Orlando this weekend and they'll be live-streaming each performance. The times are listed below. Stephen is actively booking performances across the country, so if you'd like to bring Living Letters to your neck of the woods, contact him at [email protected]. "Encountering Philippians" (click the links below for the live stream) Saturday, Dec 27 at 5:00pm Sunday, Dec 28 at 9:00am Sunday, Dec 28 at 11:00am Sunday, Dec 28 at 5:00pm Monday, Dec 29 at 7:00pm For more information about Living Letters: www.living-letters.com www.facebook.com/experiencelivingletters Twitter: @Living_Letters [email protected]

Merry Christmas: Get off the Internet!

The store will remain open for business during the next week, but note that the offices will be closed and shipping of all orders will be on hold until after New Year's Day (unless the Molehill comes in---we'll ship those right away). Merry Christmas, folks! Stop reading blogs on the internet and go have fun with your families and friends. Watch a movie (not the Hobbit), eat good food, play a game (not Monopoly), sit by the fire and read a new book, enjoy the time, relax. As the Angel of the Lord once said, "Hey, unto you a child is born." Shazam.

One Star Lit for Them

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 23 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, by Russ Ramsey.] In the months after the census, Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem, making their home there. (Mt 2:11) Learned men from the east, experts in the sacred texts, had heard that somewhere in Judea a boy had been born king of the Jews. They remembered how the Jewish holy book said, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Num 24:17) So when they saw a new star rise in the west, an uncommon one that seemed to have been lit just for them, they followed it. It led them to Jerusalem. Wanting to honor this king and pay tribute to his majesty, they began to ask around. Where was he? Herod the Great was a paranoid sociopath—a personality perfect for his position as the ruler of Judea under the authority of Rome. He built his empire to create the illusion that he was a man who could be in many places at the same time. Aside from his fortresses at Herodium, Sebaste, Machaerus, and Masada, he also built palaces in Caesarea, Jericho, and Jerusalem. At any moment, he could have been in any one of them, so at every moment, he might as well have been in all of them. His affinity for architecture was well known, as was his obsessive mistrust of those around him. There could only be one ruler in Judea. This was Herod’s passionate commitment. Already the bones of one wife, several sons, and multiple distant relatives cluttered the family tomb as the result of his conviction that each and every one of them was involved in a conspiracy to kill him.

Where the Lambs are Kept

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 22 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, by Russ Ramsey.] The shepherd’s life was ironic. Their job was to care for the animals that would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. Yet because of their handling of these dirty creatures, they themselves were unclean and thus prevented from keeping the ceremonial law. And because they were ceremonially unclean, they were often regarded as untrustworthy, irreligious, and poor in reputation. Nevertheless, it was also expected that one who did his job well, a good shepherd, would be willing to lay down his life for his sheep. (John 10:11) A good shepherd was someone who cared deeply for the lambs under his watch, many of which were appointed to die on the altar of the Lord for the sins of the very people who looked down on the shepherds. The shepherds’ lives were, in effect, sacrifices. On one particular night, in the pastureland skirting Bethlehem’s northeast side, some shepherds sat like sentinels at their posts, keeping watch over their flocks, unaware of the angel regarding them from the skies overhead. What would an angel think of their strange vocation? It was God’s idea that in this world sheep would depend on shepherds to watch over them. The Maker could’ve made them differently—and yet there sat the musty men with their staffs and their rods, cooperating with the order of creation, lest the beasts under their care perish. Though their solitary work afforded them many silent nights except for what they chose to speak or sing over their flocks, this night would be different.

Short Film: God with Us

[Editor's note: Some of you will remember Matthew Aughtry from Hutchmoot a few years ago. He and his friend Nathan Willis shot Andrew Peterson's "Rest Easy" music video as well the "What Is Hutchmoot?" short. Matthew has made several short films since then and his newest was just born yesterday. We're happy to feature it here today and we invited him to write a little about why he made it. Enjoy, and merry Christmas!]

God with us from Matthew Aughtry on Vimeo.

I became a father in September and, at the risk of employing a cliche, it has changed the way that I see the world. I spend a lot of time now just staring into my son’s eyes. There may be nothing more beautiful in the world than a baby’s eyes. They haven’t had the chance to become clouded with cynicism, nor do they have any pretense that they fully grasp what they’re seeing. Everything is new, everything is filled with wonder, each object is weighted with vast potential. I have no doubt that this film wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t recently become a father. Perhaps the most natural thing in the world for a parent to do is to wonder about his or her child’s future. So as I stared into my son’s eyes one night I began to wonder what his eyes would see in this world. I started to ponder what his hands would do and where his feet would take him. Then I thought of Mary. Did she do the same thing? Perhaps she was full of even more questions than I am. After all, his birth was preceded by the announcement of an angel from heaven. His life was full of promise. Yet did she also experience dread? Sometimes being a parent has more to do with worry than it does with wonder.

It Was Not A Silent Night

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 21 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative.] Nazareth to Bethlehem was a long journey. Weeks had passed, and they’d exhausted nearly every topic of conversation they could think of, including the details of the strange things they had seen and heard over the past year. They spoke of angels, of dreams, of their hopes for their people, and of their love and fear of God. The people of the cities and camps where they lodged along the way didn’t know much about Joseph and Mary. They could see that he was earnest and driven and that she was pregnant and about to burst. But this couple carried a holy secret, whispered into their ears by the lips of an angel and conceived in the warmth of her womb by the overshadowing Spirit of God. It played like a distant symphony, building in its movements and phrases to a coming crescendo that would shake the foundations of the world. But for now it remained a quiet, distant sound pulsing in the hearts of the man and his bride. To their amusement—and to her discomfort—the baby often turned and kicked. They hadn’t planned to spend the final weeks of her pregnancy on the road, but this miracle didn’t suspend life as they knew it. The extraordinary work of God and the ordinary business of living under Roman occupation ran in tandem. So when the order to register for the Roman census coincided with the final weeks of Mary’s pregnancy, it meant a trip to Bethlehem. They had to go.