The Archives

Breath for the Bones: The Wisdom of Luci Shaw

Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water was the first book I ever read that explored the role of the Christian in the arts. For me, it was a game changer. Not only did it rearrange my thinking about what I felt called to, it affirmed and distilled many of my beliefs (and opinions) about the way Christians should approach their work---not just art, but any work. After Walking on Water I discovered more and more books about the creative life---a much richer subject than all those how-to-write books I was reading. The former is a healthy and helpful exploration of a corner of God’s kingdom (the process of subcreation), about the great mystery of the creative act and its implications for a Christian---the why of art. The other sort of books, the How to Write a Novel in Five Easy Steps sort, may be helpful to a point, but spending too much time there is getting the cart before the horse. Why books are all about the horse; How books are about the cart. You can fill your brain with practical advice, but that’s akin to loading a horseless cart with cargo. You’ll just sit there. (Good grief, I’ve gone this far, so I might as well exhaust the metaphor.) Reading L’Engle’s book was like strapping a galloping Clydesdale to my little wagon. Along the way, many of those parcels of advice rattled loose, or I cast them off once I realized their lack of usefulness, but the horse? It's still moving.

Rabbit Room Recap 08-08-14

We're in the process of lining up another event at North Wind Manor and we hope to announce it next week, so look for that news soon. We've also got another big announcement coming up regarding this year's Hutchmoot special guest, and if you missed out on getting a Hutchmoot ticket, you'll want to pay special attention to the blog next week. There may be some new...opportunities. More on that next week. Elsewhere in the Rabbit Room... LivingLettersIn Nashville earlier this week, Stephen Trafton performed the latest of his "Living Letters," this one entitled Encountering Colossians. We had a good turn out and and Stephen put on a great show. His ability to shine new light on scripture in this way is pretty incredible. If you get the chance to see one of these shows, do not miss it. And I bet Stephen would love to talk to you about performing at your home church. Visit his website for details. UntitledFrom the "bench at the bend in the trail" Andrew Peterson delivered a post called "Digging Tunnels," both literal and metaphorical. "Something about having a few acres wakes up the survivalist in a man, which is part of why I so enjoy gardening nowadays. The less I depend on the machine the more connected I feel to the remnants of Eden shimmering at the edges of the natural world. Before you think me too hippie, I should remind you that I’m writing this on a computer, and I enjoy my Netflix account." Read the entire post here. bilboChris Yokel popped up last week to stir the Hobbit pot. He's one of those oddities who think the second Hobbit movie wasn't awful (yes, I'm serious), but despite that strike against him, he's got a good discussion going on about the nature of adaptation and the expectations we bring to such things. Read the post here and join the conversation. We'd love to know what you think. FlannerySelfPortraitThis past Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of Flannery O'Connor's death. Far be it from O'Connor maven (yes, maven) Jonathan Rogers to let such a day go unobserved. His post, "Beyond the Region of Thunder," sums of a good deal of what made O'Connor so complex, so fascinating, and so unique. It also contains some of Dr. Rogers best writing, and if you haven't read his O'Connor biography, The Terrible Speed of Mercy, you're missing out on a great book. Read his post here. pota2Thomas McKenzie tackled The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in the One Minute Review. This is my favorite movie of the year so far, and I agree with Thomas: Get thee to a theater. Movies this good don't come around very often. Hail, Caesar. Click here to watch the review. VanAugust 4th marked another notable literary date: the 100th birthday of Sheldon Vanauken, author of A Severe Mercy, which is Lanier Ivester's favorite book. She celebrated the day with a post called "O, Cavalier," and treated us to a poem of her own dedicated to Sheldon "Van" Vanauken. Read the post, and the poem, here. appendixaAndrew Peterson is in the studio this week re-recording a bunch of old favorites for his forthcoming best-of album, so we featured an old AP favorite as the Song of the Week. Here you can listen to a rare live recording of "Canaan Bound" and get a coupon code to use when buying the album (Appendix A) in the Rabbit Room store. Jill-ITH-Fence-535x266Jill Phillips is also working on a new record and Matt Conner interviewed her about the project. The album will be out later this year and here's part of how she describes it in the interview: "It’s been bittersweet, sad to watch people struggle, sad to watch people die, sad to watch things happen that you don’t want to happen to people that you love. At the same time, my faith has been increased a hundredfold. So that’s where I want to write. I want to write in that place, the place that a good friend of mine calls the “both/and.” The honesty of the struggle and the hope." Read the entire interview here. christmas cardsAnd finally, Jamin Still gave us a little taste of what he's been painting lately: a set of Christmas cards---one of which is a snow-covered rabbit topiary. What'll be next? I'm putting in my vote for a T-rex. Click here to read the post.

Work in Progress – Christmas Cards

I've been working on some sketches for a series of Christmas cards that I plan to make this fall. Here's the first in my topiary animal series that I started this morning - I thought you folks might appreciate it. I'm open to suggestions for the other animals...   Click the image below to view full size. christmas cards

Rabbit Room Interview: Jill Phillips

[Editor's note: Jill Phillips has been working on a new album. So, "Matt Conner," I said, "get you gone and find out what she's up to." Thus did he sally forth, and thus with this interview did he return. I have no idea why I'm talking this way.] Just to start, I'd love to get an update on exactly where things are with the new album. I've taken a little bit more of a pause in the past month-and-a-half for obvious reasons. We've been traveling and everything. But before school let out, we'd gotten to where there were basic tracks for all of the songs---percussion, some overdubs. We actually did some recording three or four weeks ago with Ben Shive, who did piano for one or two songs. We've had a cellist come in. So we've done a good bit. Maybe we're a little over halfway done. I still have to do my vocals. I have maybe one or two finished, but I really didn't want to do those piecemeal. I wanted to be in the zone and do it, so I did one, took a pause, and then I'll get to the others when the kids start school next week. When they're home for the summer, it's just impossible to get that much work done. [Laughs] My goal is to have it done by Hutchmoot. Maybe that's ambitious, but we'll give it a shot.

Song of the Week: “Canaan Bound (Live)”

Andrew Peterson, our faithful Proprietor, is hard at work on a special "best of" collection, re-recording several old favorites selected by a special fan vote taken earlier this summer. Such compilations are great portals into an artist's full body of work, but what AP's fans might not realize is that he also has a great selection of Appendix releases available with demos, alternate versions, live tracks, and other rarities. Our song of the week is a lovely live version of "Canaan Bound" and is one of 25 tracks found on Andrew's Appendix A: Bootlegs & B-Sides. If you've never ventured into the Appendix series, they're a great addition for any AP fan, old or new. You can use coupon code "CANAAN" to get 15% off of Appendix A in the Rabbit Room store this week. “Canaan Bound (Live)” by Andrew Peterson from the album Appendix A: Bootlegs & B-Sides [audio:Canaan.mp3]

O, Cavalier

Today marks yet another important date: it is the 100th birthday of Sheldon Vanauken, author of my favorite book of all time, A Severe MercyHaving honored dear Davy with a sonnet on her illustrious centennial, I could not bear to let this day pass without acknowledging our great chum Van in like manner (though his gift is in the form of a bit of free verse). Reading A Severe Mercy not only incited an absolute volcanic eruption of latent longing and desire in my life, it breathed a loving affirmation that at once broke my heart and healed it. And though our copy has been nearly read to pieces over the years, I cannot so much as crack the cover without a burning rush of that original joy. This poem refers to Van’s final and ultimate surrender to Christ, some twenty years after Davy’s death, a “return to the Obedience” which led to the writing of this immortal book. Happy Birthday, Van. We owe you the greatest debt. Look forward to telling you all about it over a heavenly pint someday. ~~ O, Cavalier! When once that gallant head went down In fealty unforsworn, And rebel heart consigned to Mercy’s cause, Love’s triumph shook the earth for such proud prize And heaven stooped to smile. Knighted with a poet’s sword, Branded by a lover’s seal, The beauty of your breaking pierced the world.

Tonight: Encountering Colossians

Tonight at 7pm @ Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Stephen Trafton will be performing the second of his Living Letters shows, Encountering Colossians. It's an imaginative theatrical performance designed to take the audience back to first-century Colossae to encounter the arrival and delivery of Paul's letter in its original context. Stephen's performance of Encountering Philippians was a big hit two years ago at Hutchmoot and since then he's performed his Living Letters shows all over the country. We hope you'll come out and join us tonight. The show is free, but we will take up a love offering at the end of the show to help support Stephen in his ministry. Encountering Colossians Church of the Redeemer @ 7pm 920 Caldwell Drive, Nashville 37204

One Minute Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis is back, covered in CGI fur, and doing an amazing job. A simple plot, emotional storytelling, and solid directing make this film one to see. Also, check out Thomas's reviews of Snowpiercer and Safety Not Guaranteed.  

One Minute Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from Thomas McKenzie on Vimeo.

Beyond the Region of Thunder: Flannery O’Connor’s Last Days

[Editor's Note: This Sunday, August 3, is the fiftieth anniversary of Flannery O'Connor's death. This memorial is adapted from Jonathan's biography of O'Connor, The Terrible Speed of Mercy, which is available in the Rabbit Room store.] Fifty summers ago, Flannery O'Connor was thirty-nine years old. She had battled lupus for most of her adult life, managing the disease with massive doses of corticosteroids, which themselves had serious side effects. As she wrote to a friend, "So far as I can tell, the medicine and the disease run neck & neck to kill you." In the spring of 1954, a major surgery reactivated O'Connor's dormant lupus; the tell-tale "lupus rash" broke through the protective steroid barrier, signaling that the disease was back in earnest. O'Connor spent a month in Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital--from May 21 to June 20. A prodigious letter-writer, O'Connor kept up her correspondence from her hospital bed. Through her many hospital stays, she almost always kept up her letter-writing. But she tended to put off fiction-writing until she could get back to her typewriter. The fact that she wrote much of "Parker's Back" in Piedmont Hospital, in longhand, suggests a sense of urgency that was unusual for this most deliberate writer. O'Connor seemed to understand that there was something different about this hospital stay, about this recurrence of a disease that had come and gone but had been mostly manageable to that point. The letters she wrote that month didn't have the same cheery tone that she usually assumed in her hospital letters. "I don't know if I'm making progress or if there's any to be made," she wrote her friend Maryat Lee. "Let's hope they are learning something anyhow."

Hobbits and Adaptations

So the first trailer for the last Hobbit film has been released, which means the re-commencement of The Battle of the Five (or more) Opinions of The Hobbit Films. Here in the Rabbit Room we are passionate about our books, our films, and our books made into films. When it comes to Peter Jackson's second foray into Middle-earth, I know there are strong opinions on both sides. All of this brought to my mind the idea of adaptation, and how we think about that. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to teach The Hobbit to high school students. One week I had them watch the two films, and then we discussed the films vs. the books. In my own search for material, I stumbled across a very helpful discussion of adaptation, and how we think about book-to-film adaptation, by Tolkien scholar Corey Olsen. He deals with the buildup to The Desolation of Smaug, but also spends a bit of time discussing general principles of adaptation. The lecture is pretty long at 2 1/2 hours, but well worth your time if you'd really like to listen. Listen here Olsen's lecture, and the reemerging discussion with the release of the last Hobbit trailer, has brought some questions to mind that I thought I might share here, and spark some discussion on adaptation in general: 1. How much responsibility does a filmmaker have to adhering strictly to a text vs. creating their own vision of a text? Is an author's opinion and vision of their own work the final authority? Consider that when you read a story, how you imagine the characters and environment may be very different than how the author does. Does this make you wrong? 2. Is it possible for a filmmaker to improve upon a book in some ways? 3. Is it possible to love both a book and a film adaptation of the book, even if they are significantly different, without betraying a sense of "loyalty" to the original story? 4. How do we navigate the gap between two very different mediums, which require two very different storytelling styles, in a knowledgeable way? Let's have a good, respectful discussion. Duels are only allowed over whether Galadriel is the fairest of them all.

Song of the Week: “Silhouettes”

Many of you will already be familiar with Colony House (formerly known as Caleb). They toured with Andrew Peterson for many of the shows in support of Light for the Lost Boy, but what you are likely unfamiliar with is the way they've matured as songwriters and performers. Their new album, When I Was Younger, produced by Ben Shive, conjures up comparisons to bands like Keane, Phoenix, Leagues, and The Killers, and the infectious blend is nearly impossible to resist. Check out their single "Silhouettes" for yourself. “Silhouettes” by Colony House from the album When I Was Younger [When I Was Younger is now available on iTunes. You can also use the coupon code "CALEB" to get 15% off of their To the Ends of the World EP (from back when they were known as Caleb) in the Rabbit Room store.]

Digging Tunnels

I'm writing from the bench at the bend in the trail. When we moved to the Warren these woods were a claustrophobic tangle of thorn, privet, and bush honeysuckle (don't be fooled by the name--bush honeysuckle is a bane). Jamie and the kids and I crouched our way under the brushy eaves, lopping branches here and there, looking for good trees, marveling at huge slabs of limestone and granite peeking out of the soil, wondering how all those old beer bottles ended up under the humus so far from the house. Eventually we cut a series of trails, the path guided by the shape of the land and the fattest trees we could find--mostly cedar and hackberry, but along the way we happily discovered a couple of young sugar maples, a beast of a shumard oak, as well as the Goliath of our woods--a massive tree that neither of the two experts I've brought out here could identify. "It looks like a white walnut," one of them said, "but if it is, that's the biggest one in Tennessee."

Rabbit Room Review 07-25-14

LivingLettersThere's been a lot going on for the past couple of weeks and I'll cover it all, but first let me urge you to circle August 4th on your calendar. Stephen Trafton, whom many of you will remember from his performance of Encountering Philippians at Hutchmoot 2012, will be back in Nashville to perform his new show, Encountering Colossians, at the Church of the Redeemer. The show starts at 7pm and the event is open to everyone. It's also totally free, but we will take up a love offering to help support Stephen in his ministry. Please help us spread the word through Facebook and Twitter, as well as the more traditional grapevine. Hope to see you guys there. You'll be glad you came. Click here for the Event page. sonofSpeaking of Rabbit Room events---last week we held the first-ever house show at North Wind Manor. Son of Laughter (Chris Slaten) played to a packed house (literally) and I think it's safe to say that we all had a grand old time. I especially enjoyed the chance to hear the new songs Chris has been writing for the new full-length record that he and Ben Shive are working on---it's going to be great. After the show, folks hung around until almost midnight to chat on the porch, visit with friends in the library, and snack on desserts in the kitchen. It made me and Jennifer happy to see so many people enjoying the house and the fellowship. We're hoping to host a monthly Rabbit Room event at the Manor, so keep an eye on the Rabbit Room website to find out what we've got planned for August. clovenTuesday was the big day for The Proprietor (Andrew Peterson) who  released the final volume of The Wingfeather Saga into the world. There was a release party for The Warden and the Wolf King at Parnassus Books in Nashville and the place was jam-packed with people of all ages, many of whom were dressed up as characters from the books. There were Flabbits, and Sara Cobblers, and Florid Swords, and Podos, and Rockroaches, not to mention Toothy Cows. Oskar Nos Reteep even made an appearance and made wild claims in his mad attempts to cast doubt on the true authorship of the Wingfeather books. If he and Andrew ever meet in person, I expect there will be fireworks. The Warden and the Wolf King is now available wherever great books are sold. Look for Pembrick's Creaturepedia, hardback editions of The Monster in the Hollows, and full-color maps of Aerwiar to be available soon. MoonRebecca Reynolds wrote a couple of remarkable poems last week, and nothing I say about them is going to be as useful as simply going and reading them. You should do that now. Great job, Rebecca. Click here for "Glory Be (I)" and here for "Glory Be (II)." homeThe newly wed Chris and Jen Yokel have been moving into a new apartment and making it their own, and in Chris's latest Rabbit Room post he discovers the poetry inherent in the everyday work of bringing color, shape, light, and life into an empty space and making it a home. Click here to read "The Making of a Home." weedsBarbara Lane recently took a sabbatical at a monastery in New Mexico, and while there, she found herself pulling up weeds, both literal and metaphorical. In her post, "Gonna Take a While..." she learns that a fruitful garden isn't grown in a day. CC-1423x800Matt Conner flexed his music journalism muscles this week and nailed an interview with none other than the Counting Crows' Adam Duritz. They talked about the Crows' new album (coming out in September) and the unique sense of hope in one of the new songs, "Possibility Days." We also learned that Adam is a fan of Sunday in the Park with George, which is kind of awesome. Read the entire interview here. candle-light-burning-free-image-alegri-photosAnd yesterday, Lanier Ivester posted a recollection of her experience with the first Hutchmoot and how that has in many ways shaped her perception of what it means to be an artist. The post is called "Waiting for the Artist" and you can read it here. And speaking of Hutchmoot, look for an announcement about our special guest speaker next week. We think you'll be pleased.

Waiting for the Artist

There is no such thing as art. There are only artists. Ernst Gombrich, The Story of Art I had that driven home after attending The Rabbit Room’s first-ever gathering in the flesh, saw it living and breathing, laughing and even getting choked up at times. Felt its electricity tingling in my veins and an answering call piercing my heart. In company of some of the most passionate music makers and story tellers and painters and theologians I am ever likely to encounter, I tasted the good bread of Community and drank deep of the wells of Truth. I was privileged to sit in on lectures that made me dizzy with excitement and stimulation, ranging from the works of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis to Annie Dillard and Flannery O’Connor. I took copious amounts of illegible notes and I told secrets to friends of an hour. I laughed till I cried and I made a fool of myself more than once (always a good thing) and I felt the sweet sting of tears in my eyes as God plunged His words deep with that pain that heals and sings. And I saw Gombrich’s maxim above excavated and built up by an even greater truth, a higher, nobler beauty: “There are no such things as ‘artists’ and ‘non-artists’,” Russ Ramsey told us, sitting at the front of a small classroom with candlelight playing almost symbolically off his face. “There is only lit and unlit.”

Interview: Counting Crows

If you're already a Counting Crows fan, then it's likely you fell in love with the emotional displays of Adam Duritz somewhere along the way. I bought three copies of August and Everything After, the band's debut album, my junior year of high school and wore it out several times as songs like "Anna Begins," "Round Here," and "Raining in Baltimore" hit me a strong emotional resonance. The trend has continued on every album ever since. No matter how old I get, Duritz's ability to pierce my heart by unveiling his own has been the hallmark of the Crows for over two decades. Several weeks ago, a few friends in orbit around the Rabbit Room went to the Ryman to hear Toad the Wet Sprocket (which Andrew wrote about here) and Counting Crows. For me it was the 12th or so time I'd seen the band. The band played several tunes from their upcoming album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, alongside several covers and old favorites, and they all sounded great. But one song in particular, "Possibility Days," struck me as hopeful, and it was one of the primary subjects of our recent interview at Stereo Subversion. "It’s kind of taken from the end of a Sondheim play, Sunday in the Park with George," said Duritz. "It got a revival that my friend was in, and we went to see it several times. It was about the painter, Georges Seurat, and the last lines of the play are taken from what is supposedly his mother’s notebook. It says, ‘A blank page. His favorite. So many possibilities.’ I think those are the last lines of the play. All the color disappears from the walls and it’s just white. That can seem like nothing, but it also offers all the possibilities in the world. I think the song is just about that."