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.
[Folks, Carolyn Arends has long been one of my favorite writers--both when it comes to songwriting and prose. Her book Wrestling with Angels is one of my favorites. She's in the midst of raising funds for a new Christmas album, which promises to be most excellent, so I'm including her (awesome) Kickstarter video at the bottom of this post. I hope you'll join me in supporting her. --The Proprietor] ------------------------------------ Given an opportunity to contribute something here at the Rabbit Room, this piece came immediately to mind. Why? For starters, it’s inspired by some things C.S. Lewis (The Patron Rabbit? The Grand Hare?) wrote about worship and pleasure. Second, it’s also about Mexican food. I can’t explain why, but I just have a feeling that quite a number of the folks who hang out here understand the importance of quality TexMex. So, while this piece was originally published in Christianity Today a while back, it gives me a particular pleasure to share it here. I hope you feel likewise! --Carolyn There's a TexMex restaurant in Houston I have visited on three occasions. Each meal has begun with chile con queso. The cheese at this particular restaurant is the most delicious food I have ever tasted. Each time, the queso has ushered me into a worship experience. With every bite, I have been overcome with gratitude to God for creating taste buds, cows, and human ingenuity. And that gratitude has led to praise. I get varied reactions to my testimony of worship-via-queso. Some folks understand. Some think I’m kidding. And others are skeptical that such a carnal thing as a TexMex appetizer could facilitate genuine worship. We Christians have a long history of mixed and sometimes openly-hostile attitudes toward sensual pleasure. Saint Augustine is the fourth-century poster boy for our dilemma, struggling in Book X of his Confessions to reign in each of his five senses. He attempts, for example, to “take food at mealtimes as though it were medicine” and to “fight against the pleasure in order not to be captivated by it.”
This subject deserves more attention, but consider this a timid foray into a field with tall grass and various lurking beasts all of which this adventurer cannot hope to see. A friend recently bemoaned the apparent problem that many of our leading theologians are disconnected from good storytelling and that many of our leading storytellers are disconnected from good theology. I share that concern. Of course, there are notable exceptions and I think this might be changing. But it is, in my mind, a persistent problem. If you’ll allow the point, I’ll offer some thoughts at least on why I think many young preachers might be disconnected from good storytelling today and offer a couple of suggestions from an amateur, armchair quarterback. First, let me announce myself as an advocate of Theology. There is so much hostility toward Theology (especially among “enlightened creatives”) that one might assume it is the root of all evil, instead of the essential study of the living God. So, I speak as a friend to young preachers who are concerned with truth, who are concerned with seeking God in his Word and with communicating the Word of God well. This isn’t going to be another missive from an artistic apostle of Doubt-as-Creed, hammering his 95 thesis of why Theology is, like, so dumb and stuff, to the wall of the Witlessburg Cathedral for Zeitgeist Studies and Hugs. With that understood, onward.
Some mornings you wake up and you know you've tossed and turned the heavy covers right off the bed in the night, and you wonder "What is this weight on my chest?" and then you realize---it's THE ENTIRE WORLD. I was having one of those. I don't remember the exact circumstances. I just know it had all been too much for too long without a break or a breakthrough, and I was worn out. This must have been three or four years ago. On my way to the Beehive that morning, aiming myself into the day, my phone dinged with an email from Melanie Penn; it was a voice-memo demo of a new song. Melanie and I were just beginning conversations about making a new record together---a follow up to her dear-to-my-heart debut album, Wake Up Love. As I hit play, a scan would have revealed the critical center of my brain opening its doors for business while my emotional core slept off a bad hangover. Little did I know this memo-demo was about to bring my emotional core breakfast in bed. It's a long year already, And only February 4. The days are hard, Who are we kidding? Older we are, we suffer more. And I think we deserve a song. I don't know about you, but I can start to feel like a beast of burden---like my only purpose is to work long hours until my brain is mush and then sleep not quite enough only to wonder where the money went at the end of the week. I know it's not the truth. Actually, I'm quite convinced it's a lie of the devil. And Sabbath is the word for God's answer. And Jesus is the word for Sabbath. Still, I can get to feeling that way. I know for certain I was feeling that way when I first heard Melanie sing these lines. "We deserve a song!" It still brings tears to my eyes to hear my small sufferings identified with and dignified in such a way and then answered with, of all things, a song. My heart recognized it at once as God's song over me. And yet, throughout the remainder of Melanie's gorgeous song "Turnaround" (which now appears as the opening track on her brand new album, Hope Tonight) it's you and I doing the singing. Singing to gray skies with winter birds. Singing all manner of songs to befit all manner of occasions. Is it our duty to keep singing, Whether funeral songs or hymns, Whether lullabies or battle cries Until the spring? I think it is. Sometimes I'm not sure if I can keep singing when it seems so futile. Why? Why keep singing? Who will hear? Who will care? These questions are ever-present to me. Sometimes when I finish an album for an artist, I feel like I am handing her an enormous burden. "Go now and make these songs heard amidst an ocean of noise, all the while wondering if it's been utterly vain to write them in the first place." And yet how can we stop singing? Jesus our Lord did what he saw his father doing---and Jesus' father is always singing! Singing the song of belonging to the orphan, freedom to the slave, salvation to the sinner. God's people will never stop singing God's song in the world. I would love to tell you more of the joyful moments of making Hope Tonight with Melanie, and perhaps I will in further posts. But I could think of no more fitting way to convey to you the quality of Melanie's songs than to share with you the way that "Turnaround" came out my car speakers one morning and helped restore my faith. "Turnaround" by Melanie Penn from Hope Tonight [audio:Turnaround.mp3]
[Author's note: I originally wrote this in February during my first chance to process life after the birth of our first child. It also happened to be the one-year anniversary of our move to Nashville. A couple friends recently asked about the emotions of such a transition and whether I had any advice for their own. This feels appropriate to share in light of all of that.] Thousands of years ago, my ancestors set up monuments for these kinds of moments. Rocks were carried then stacked then ordered, row upon row until a pile was formed. And then it was named. A monument was created to mark a specific place, a specific time, a specific event. We are a forgetful people whether we live in the ancient world or use iCal on our smart phones. I need this monument to mark this moment. It was a year ago today that we wept like we've never wept before. Our final friends stopped by to see us off, the moving truck revved outside due to the subzero temperatures. We were leaving Indiana after nearly a decade of leading church and community development efforts in the post-industrial town of Anderson. A tight-knit community of like-minded folks had developed in that time. We'd laughed. We'd cried. And on this day, we cried once more.
To date, we've shipped out 1496 boxes of Wingfeather books to Kickstarter backers. We're all a little tired and stiff (including Mike, our local postman), but we've still got 713 to go before we're done. If you didn't back the project on Kickstarter, you may be pleased to know that The Warden and the Wolf King is now available for pre-order in the Rabbit Room store. We'll start shipping pre-orders on June 24th, so you'll have it a month before it's available anywhere else. Once we finish up with Kickstarter rewards, we also expect to have a few spare maps, Creaturepedias, Monster in the Hollows hardbacks, and signed/numbered art prints, which we'll make available once we have a solid inventory of what's left. Here's what's going on elsewhere in the Rabbit Room: David Bruno looked in the rearview and discovered he was the target of the maniacal road rage festering in the car behind him. What he did to incur the wrath aimed his way is still a "Mystery Unsolved"---but we suspect it was either Barbara Lane or Rebecca Reynolds. Melanie Penn's Wake Up Love is still one of our favorites. Her second album "Hope Tonight" was released this Tuesday---and there was much rejoicing. Ben Shive once again produces, and once again outdoes himself. The record is beautiful, unique, and perfect for the great weather we've been having. Here's the title track. Check out the rest in the store. [audio:Hope.mp3] Sam Smith's kids have been in Jennifer Trafton's online writing class for the past six weeks and have loved the experience. (Full disclosure: Jennifer is my wife.) On Wednesday, Sam took the time to discuss some of his observations of the class, and he commends it highly (he was neither paid nor asked for said commendation). Enrollment for Jennifer's fall classes will open sometime in the next couple of months. Warden and the Wolf King illustrator Joe Sutphin has launched a contest called "Create Your Own Cloven." Don't know what a "cloven" is? Better grab the first book of the Wingfeather Saga and catch up. Contestants are invited to illustrate their own creations and submit them via Instagram. Three winners will receive a copy of The Warden and the Wolf King signed by Andrew, and doodled in (and signed) by Joe. And take heart, judging will not be based only on skill alone. Both kids and adults are welcome to enter. The deadline for entries is June 20th. Have fun! Speaking of online writing classes, Jonathan Rogers will be hosting his own creative writing class this summer based on last years Hutchmoot session, "Writing Close to the Earth." I expect Jonathan will pop up next week with some more information about the course. There's still time to grab a ticket for Blackbird Theater's new original play based on John Updike's novel, Roger's Version. Don't miss this great chance for a challenging and thought-provoking evening at the theater. Admission is free to Rabbit Room members, and, by this special invitation only, is just $5 for non-members. This special price is only for the private performance on May 29th. We'll see you there. If you recall the epic awesomeness of the Light for the Lost Boy tour, you'll remember that half of that awesomeness was thanks to the band Caleb, who backed Andrew for the tour. The band has changed its name to Colony House and is just about ready to spring their new album on the world. They just released a video what I assume is the first single. Beware, you'll have a hard time getting this one out of your head once you've heard it. Here's the video. As of yesterday, there's a new Tolkien book in the world. Tolkien was one of the 20th century's most knowledgable scholars on the Old English epic Beowulf, and Tolkien's own translation of the tale is finally available in print. The book contains Toller's (prose) translation of the poem along with commentary and a couple of other previously unpublished works, "Sellic Spell" and "The Lay of Beowulf." The book is a beautiful hardback and is now available in the Rabbit Room store. And finally, here's Thomas with his review of the new Spiderman movie. One Minute Review Amazing Spiderman Two from Thomas McKenzie on Vimeo.
Wingfeather fans have long heard tell of mysterious cloven haunting the Blackwood. These creatures are reportedly the twisted results of the failed melding between man and beast. To have a little interactive fun with the Wingfeather community, we came up with the "Create Your Cloven Contest." Our hope is to get fans inspired to do something creative, even if they don't view themselves as creative types! We won't be judging the entries based solely on technical merit. We just want you to have fun. Here are the general rules: Create and draw your own cloven, made up of a human and one or more animals. Give it a strange or creepy name. Post a photo on Instagram and hashtag #clovenfast and #wingfeathersaga in the description. Contest deadline is June 20th. That's all. The rest is up to you! Judging will commence once the deadline has passed. Three winners will receive a copy of The Warden and the Wolf King, signed by Andrew Peterson and signed and doodled in by illustrator Joe Sutphin (that's me!). You may be asking, "What is Clovenfast?" Well, you will have to find out for yourself when you read The Warden and the Wolf King, available 6/24 at store.rabbitroom.com and elsewhere in the world on 7/22. Happy drawing, mad scientists!
Almost nothing is as refreshing to parents as someone who will come alongside you in the fight to love and shape your children. This informs the mission we’re on at Story Warren, so I try to be attuned to this happening. But life gets hectic and heavy, and our kids can suffer in the tumult. When we feel besieged, there’s nothing like the feeling of allies arriving. Many of you know that Jennifer Trafton teaches creative writing classes for kids. We have wanted to have our kids in the on-line version since it became available, but have only just now been able to do it. (We don’t live close to Nashville.) The six-week class just wrapped and I wanted to share some things about it. First off, I didn’t get to be in on all the details. Like many dads, I got to hear excited updates and tantalizing summaries, but didn’t really dig in like I had hoped I would. My experience was as an interested observer, albeit a heavily-invested one. My wife and I have been talking about the class and what it’s meant for our kids and here are some thoughts that came out of our experience.
[Editor's note: Melanie Penn's album Wake Up Love was an instant hit for me, and it's also one of my very favorite of Ben Shive's productions. Ben and Melanie have been working on this second record for a long time, and I'm so glad the rest of you finally get to hear it.] In 2000-something, I read an article in which Michael Card was asked, "Who is the greatest Christian songwriter alive today?" He said, "Andrew Peterson." (I bet AP hates that, but it happened dude.) Back then I'd never heard of Andrew Peterson. So I found his website and bought every CD that I could. I had a train trip coming up, and on that ride I listened to The Far Country on a . . . discman (good grief what year was this?). I just ate it---I mean, it's like I ate all of the songs on that album while I sat on that Amtrak train. I gobbled them up. I just loved that record. I had a feeling then, This guy might be my people. I wonder if his people are my people? You see, I am always looking for my people. Turns out, Andrew would become a friend. And so would Ben Shive, the producer of that record, The Far Country. Turns out, Ben Shive would produce my two solo records. The first, Wake Up Love, and now this one Hope Tonight. Turns out, many people are Andrew's people---musicians, Rabbit Roomers, and lots of other incredible folks. And we have all found each other, and loved songs, and loved the way that songs can bring us together and create a tribe. I wrote the title song for this record, "Hope Tonight," when I felt like I had no tribe. I wasn't making ends meet very well, and I wasn't meeting demands very well. I started throwing a pity-party for myself in my New York City apartment---just my guitar and me---like I do. "Here's the thing, it'll chill ya to the bone ..." But no sooner did I get into the guts of this song than all the blessings, promise, and hope of life came pouring back in---back into my heart and back into the lyrics. "There must be more than I / See with my naked eye / Some underlying design / Will make things right." Turns out our tribe has a lot more in common than songs, and artists, and the Rabbit Room . . . we have hope. And not just hope tonight---but hope right now, today, tomorrow, the next day, until the very end of the end when time stops and there is no more end. I hope this record reminds you of that. I guess what I mean to say is, Hello from Brooklyn. Ben and I made a new record. We hope you like it. [Hope Tonight is now available in the Rabbit Room store.] "Hope Tonight" by Melanie Penn from the record Hope Tonight [audio:Hope.mp3] (click through for lyrics)