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Rabbit Room Review & Reprise 05-09-2014

First things first, I just got an email confirming that The Warden and the Wolf King has been shipped from the printer. That means that Monday afternoon we'll be unloading thousands of books in the rain---which is bound to be just as fun as it sounds! Pembrick's Creaturepedia is scheduled to ship either this afternoon or first thing on Monday morning. That means that if all goes as planned, we'll begin shipping Kickstarter rewards next week! I can't wait for you guys to see (and read) these books. Now, on to the weekly review . . . legomovieMonday morning, Chris Yokel gave us a post that explores some of the themes at work in the Lego movie, like teamwork and creativity. Here's an excerpt from "The Power of a Building Block": "We need the boring stability of the everyday, the organized structure of the plan. We need the wild, think-outside-the-box creativity of the charismatic individual. These things are not opposed to each other, but are designed to work in harmony The structure provides context for the artist, and the artist provides fresh meaning and perspective for the structure." Read the post here. DeathTuesday saw the long-awaited release of Jeremy Casella's new album, Death in Reverse. The record was inspired by N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope, and if that's not enough to recommend it, the track below should do the trick nicely. The album is available in the Rabbit Room store. "Letter to an Old Friend" by Jeremy Casella from Death in Reverse [audio:Letter.mp3] coffeeMatt Conner was supposed to be working this week, but instead he was sitting in a coffee shop eavesdropping on strangers. The result is a post called "Coffee Shop Symphony" and, thankfully, it's not as creepy as it sounds. In fact, it's kind of beautiful. Read the post here, and be careful what you say if you're sitting beside Matt at Starbucks. Oracle bannerAnd finally, in my ongoing mission to write a short story each month this year, I submit to you the latest of my Tales from an Unremembered Country. This one's called "The Oracle of Philadelphia," and it takes place mostly in the Arctic. There's even a frozen shark, a whale, and a hypothermic polar bear. No lie. Read more about it here, and pick it up in the Rabbit Room store (PDF and ePub) or on your Kindle (or Kindle app) via Amazon---it should also be available in the iBookstore any time now. Oh, and you can click here to read a preview. Enjoy!

New Short: The Oracle of Philadelphia

You may recall that I'm on a mission to write a short story each month this year. I started in February, and that story was released in March---The Timely Arrival of Barnabas Bead is available here. I know, I know, I'm already running behind, but the next one is finally ready to go. It was written in March and April and not a sentence of it came easy. Like squeezing blood from a stone, I tell you, but such is the work of writing. This one's called The Oracle of Philadelphia, and it revolves around an expedition into the Arctic Sea. I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated with polar exploration. Annie Dillard's "Expedition to the Pole" is one of my favorite essays of all time (it's found in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk). Josh Ritter's song "Another New World" has some of the most magical lyrics in this or any world, and, like a moth to a flame, I'm drawn to any book or documentary about the Shackleton expedition. Heck, I'll even thrown in John Carpenter's The Thing as a reference (that movie scared me to death when I was a kid). So consider this my humble entry into the hoary canon of polar literature. Hope you enjoy it, and I assure you, it's much lighter fare than any of the aforementioned works. Special thanks to Daniel Sorensen for providing an illustration for this month's story. Check out his website. He's a talented guy. The Oracle of Philadelphia is available as a PDF and ePub file in the Rabbit Room store. It's also available on Kindle (God bless those who leave reviews!) and (soon) in the iBookstore. Click here to read a preview. (Note: the observant reader may spot direct ties between this story and Fiddler's Green.)

Coffee Shop Symphony

"If you want to get in touch with creation, ride the bus or take the subway." -maybe, possibly, Eugene Peterson
I wasn't given a playbill, and it definitely started without me, but I'm enjoying the symphony nevertheless. I’m settled into a cold corner table near the kitchen, and the coffee shop is well into the performance. An orchestra of voices already warmed, already in tune, already swelling in unpredictable harmonies. The girl wearing the bandana and workout clothes looks like she has yet to make it to the gym. Maybe she'll exercise after she's done telling a friend about the fear she has of telling Brian she loves him too. College kids gather around laptops, textbooks open, minds and hearts alive only in whatever has them laughing—likely not the subject matter of their assignments. A couple of tourists are wrapping a "wonderful" weekend trip to Nashville---We should do it again sometime.

Release Day: Death in Reverse

Jeremy Casella tends to be the Square Peg that lurks unnoticed in the background, so you're forgiven if you aren't a fan yet. But while he's lurking back there, he's making great music, and this new album has been a long time coming. Death in Reverse has been a hard journey for him and we can't wait for you guys to hear it. Jeremy wrote a post about the record a while back, and here's how he describes the record:

A few years ago I read N. T. Wright’s wonderful book Surprised By Hope and had my mind blown by all of the beautiful implications of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Being an artist and songwriter, I naturally started to wonder how I might explore ways to connect with the resurrection musically. I found myself day dreaming about writing an album full of songs that sounded like they were coming from the other side of renewal, but with lyrics tethered to the present. I wanted to explore the “already/not yet” tension of living with expectant hope in the midst of suffering. In addition to this, I wanted it all to sound like joy.
Here's sneak peek at one of the tracks from the record. The whole album is now available in the Rabbit Room store (note that CDs aren't in yet, but if you order now, we'll ship them in two weeks when they arrive). "Letter From An Old Friend" from Death in Reverse by Jeremy Casella [audio:Letter.mp3] (Click through for lyrics.)

The Power of a Building Block

Note: This post contains some major plot spoilers for The Lego Movie When I was a kid, my brother and I had two boxes of treasure. You could run your hand through them and hear the clinking cascade, or grasp a fistful and watch the pieces fall through your fingers. So much opportunity, so much potential to work with. One was a box of Playmobile, the other a box of Legos. We spent many long, creative afternoons beside that Lego box, which represented a conglomerate of various sets collected over the years. Nothing stayed in its original state very long, but was sacrificed to the common hoard of building blocks. The results were wonderful and varied. A medieval castle might arise from the icy foundations of an arctic science laboratory. A pirate might don a space helmet (no wonder I love Firefly and Andy Osenga). Wild and incongruous creations emerged from our uninhibited eight-year-old minds.

Rabbit Room Review & Reprise 5-2-14

Big news! Not five minutes ago I confirmed our featured speaker for Hutchmoot 2014! We'll make an official announcement soon, but I have no doubt that you guys are going to love her. Let the rampant speculation begin. small mapWe also received a bunch of boxes this week filled with giant, full-color maps of Aerwiar. So for those keeping track, here's what we've got so far: Monster in the Hollows hardback---check; Giant maps---check. Still to come: Pembrick's Creaturepedia---delayed at the printer, expect them to ship next week; The Warden and the Wolf King hardback---delayed at the printer, expected to ship May 15th. We're really disappointed about the delays, but they are beyond our control. Unfortunately, this sets the Kickstarter shipments back a couple weeks. Don't worry, though, we'll start shipping you the books just as soon as we have them in hand. Here's what else is going on in the Rabbit Room this week. Old-GuitarSitting down to create something out of nothing can be one of the most intimidating things in the world. Anyone who's ever gone to the creative well and then gone back for more has experienced the fear that when they get there, it might just be empty. Andrew Peterson knows exactly what that fear is like. Time has given him some perspective, though, and he shares some of what he's learned in a post called "Process: Starting from Scratch." ellen-and-the-peacockcropIf you've looked at many of Jamin Still's paintings, one thing you're sure to notice is that they tend to hint at larger stories lurking just beyond the frame. This week, Jamin explains why that is by taking a close look at one of his works and walking us through its development. Check out "Ellen and the Peacock, or 'What If?'" for details. img_4827In her essay "The Present Eternity," Jen Rose reminds herself, and the rest of us, of the importance of the present moment, and how neglecting it can have eternal consequences. C. S. Lewis's Screwtape shows up in a supporting role: “The humans live in time, but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” rabbitroommember2014And finally, 2014 Rabbit Room Memberships are now available. Membership is primarily a way to support the Rabbit Room and all the books, music, and events we create, but that doesn't mean it doesn't come with some rewards. This year's membership benefits include exclusive mugs, access to the 2013 Hutchmoot audio archive (nearly 18 hours of audio), store discounts, a free Molehill, and more. Thanks for your support. We love what we do and couldn't do it without you.

Rabbit Room Membership 2014

People often ask how they can best support the Rabbit Room, the work we do, the content we create, and the people involved. The first and best answer is to support the authors and musicians we feature and the books we publish. By purchasing those works through the Rabbit Room store, you can be sure that the artist is receiving the lion’s share of the profit, and the rest helps offset the operating expense of the Rabbit Room itself. Many people, however, have asked how they can contribute in a larger way, and that brings me to Rabbit Room membership.

The Present Eternity

For the first time in weeks, I woke to the sun in my curtains, and it felt like the break of spring. It may be the Sunshine State, but chill and rain have pushed their way into paradise. As brief as a Florida winter can be, there comes a time when the wet and the gray give way to the sun, and it feels like death working backwards, even though the next wave of rain will come again soon. The sky is the perfect pale blue. The air is just cool enough to wear a light sweater. Even a few of my neighbor’s pink azaleas had the audacity to bloom. Today, I’m not holed up in an office, or buried under blankets avoiding the rain, or turning future preoccupations over and over in my mind like a troubling foreign object I found in my yard. Today, I simply take the time for being and dip my fingers in the stream of eternity. These days I catch myself too often living in the future, for good reasons at least. I can’t wash my hands without catching the flash of a diamond that promises how everything will soon turn upside down. When I’m not trying to work or sleep, my mind tries to skip forward in time. After all, there’s wedding food to taste, guest lists to tweak, shoes to search for. From the growing task lists to help me pull off this party, to packing boxes before moving and making a new family, to choosing napkin colors and cake flavors and what kind of vacuum to put on my registry, everything seems to exist in a sort of rapidly approaching someday that becomes more real with every sunrise.

Ellen and the Peacock, or “What if?”

Here’s Ellen and the Peacock, a piece I did a while back. (See the full image below). It’s story-ish looking (as most of my paintings tend to be) and so people naturally assume there’s a story that goes with it. There’s not. At least not yet. Ellen first appeared back in 2006 or 2007 when I painted her walking through the woods with a bear. I finished the piece and I wrote a little story that went with the image. Back then she was just “the girl.” But somewhere along the way “the girl” showed up again and she was Ellen, and this time she was carrying a suitcase through the woods on a dark and snowy night. I began to wonder if there was a bigger story here. I began to ask myself who she really was and what she was about.

Process: Starting from Scratch

It occurred to me this morning that it might be helpful to think through one really annoying aspect of creative work, which is that every single time you sit down to make something, even if you've done this for years and know the routine, it feels like you're starting from scratch. It feels like you have absolutely nothing to offer, nothing new to say, and whatever you've managed to get right in the past was just a fluke, and you're not writing a song so much as reinventing the wheel. Or building the Space Shuttle out of matchsticks. While this is true in some ways, in others it isn't true at all. Here's what I mean. It's true because the creative act is and will always be a mystery to which we are only allowed the access of clarity for fleeting moments if at all. For ninety nine percent of the time the process is frustrating and difficult and tiresome. This is to be expected. Good things take work, and in the end God isn't interested in the thing you're making half as much as the person he's making out of you. Work, pain, frustration, joy, patience: these are the tools God uses (along with many other things) to shape our souls. In this sense, then, the song is writing you. Every now and then, though, the veil is lifted and the subcreator gets to see the beautiful mechanism (wheels within wheels) at work behind the curtain, and the process of songwriting makes sudden and perfect sense. "So this is how you write a song," you think. Then, just as suddenly, the veil falls back into place, the glow is gone, and the world seems drab by comparison. Has this ever happened to you? It's tantalizing---just enough to make you want to pick up your guitar again in defiance of your fears. But there's another truth at work: you're not starting from scratch.

Rabbit Room Review & Reprise 04-25-14

I'm expecting a truck to pull up any minute and start unloading hardback editions of The Monster in the Hollows for Kickstarter backers. Maps and The Warden and the Wolf King should be here early next week and Pembrick's Creaturepedia shortly thereafter. I'm not sure where we're going to put all these books, but we'll figure something out. Let me see if I can get this Friday recap done before the truck gets here. Lamb-Slain-535x266Going back to Good Friday, I reposted one of my favorite passages from The Supper of the Lamb. If you haven't read the book, then you must. My wife likes to say that if G. K. Chesterton and N. T. Wright got together to write a cookbook, this would be the result. And reading it during Holy Week is a traditional worth keeping . . . this passage especially. Then on Saturday, Jen Rose and Chris Yokel showed up with some Lenten poetry. Chris wrote a trio of poems fittingly called a "Lenten Triology," and Jen's, "How it All Ends," specifically commemorates Holy Saturday. Let the poets know what you think. astronaut_suit_3d_model_by_radoxist-d5p79peOn Monday morning, David Bruno decided to put together the two most disparate subjects he could think of. The resulting post puts Wendell Berry and space travel together for the first time and asks you for your opinion. Check out "Garden Tomatoes and Rocket Ships" and join the discussion. New Header 2014Andy Osenga's life is changing in a big way. He's turning in his guitar for a desk---okay, that's just me being dramatic, but it's also partly true. He broke the news this week in a piece called "New Beginning." I know Andy's really excited about this new direction in his career, and I can't wait to see where it takes him. Read the full post for the scoop. love-music-wallpaper-20203-hd-widescreen-wallpapersMatt Conner checked in with the Monday Music Update (he was late, and it almost became the Tuesday Music Update, which isn't nearly as alliterative). Read the post for news about Don and Lori Chaffer (Waterdeep), Randall Goodgame (Slugs & Bugs), Andy Osenga (Stage-It show), Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive (covering Rich Mullins), and Chris Slaten (Son of Laughter). fiddleOn Wednesday, Barbara Lane delivered a post of, in this editor's biased opinion, impeccable literary taste and insight. The piece,"Ink Between the Lines," takes a look at one very real way that Barbara has turned pain into beauty in her life (and in her arm). Luci Shaw and Fin Button make welcome cameo appearances. holding-moon-illusion-01Jonathan Rogers kept it short and sweet this week with a brief anecdote called "Ball." I think I heard a truck full of books pulling up outside, so I'll leave you with a couple of songs that Ben Shive wrote and recorded for his church during Holy Week. Enjoy. "Remember Me" by Ben Shive [audio:Rememberme.mp3] "Into Your Hands" by Ben Shive [audio:Intoyourhands.mp3] You can also listen to the songs on Ben's website here.

Ball

"Ball," he said, and he gestured to the heavens. I looked where my little boy was pointing and saw a full moon hanging high in the winter sky. "That's right, you brilliant boy," I said. "It is a ball. The moon is a great big ball." He didn't know more than four or five words at the time: Mama. Daddy. Ball. Dog. Plane. What a remarkable thing---to have words only for one's favorite things in the world. "The moon is a ball," I told my boy, "and so is the earth we're standing on. This whole world is one big ball set spinning in the universe." He smiled at me. It was not a smile of comprehension, but of contentment. To me it seemed to say, "Of course this whole world is a ball! And why shouldn't it be? It's a great ball where dogs trot and planes soar overhead and my mama loves me and my daddy holds me in the cold night and tells me what I suspected all along: that the moon is a ball, and the world is too."

Ink Between the Lines

Not a day goes by that I don’t look down and see it. Every day, at least one person asks about the symbol tattooed on my arm. “What’s your tattoo mean?” I never know how to answer that question. Well, that’s kind of a long story . . . it’s from this book I read . . . Fin Button (the protagonist in Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green) is an icon of my own passions and fears, my own wounds, my own desire to voyage out into the world to do something with my burning heart. She embodies some of the most fundamental aspects of our human existence: the need to love and be loved, the yearning for a place to belong, the burning desire to be who we are in the world and to nurture and protect the places and people we hold dear. Every time I return to Fin’s story, I hear the last stanza of Christian Wiman’s poem, “And I Said To My Soul Be Loud”: For I am come a whirlwind of wasted things and I will ride this tantrum back to God until my fixed self, my fluorescent self my grief-nibbling, unbewildered, wall-to-wall self withers in me like a salted slug Fin’s journey through pain and into beauty is, like our own, dizzy with light and darkness, joy and suffering. It follows no pre-determined formula for traveling from Point A to Point B and takes on the non-linear and wildly free traveling pattern of a ship at sea—destination in mind, but swept along by the breeze of life. There are enemies and allies, tragedies and victories; mistakes are made, and lives are taken. The smell of gunpowder is strong, but there is music floating across the deck of the Rattlesnake. In the transformation of pain into beauty, what is calcified in us is softened; what is artificial and grief-stricken finds its way to joyful authenticity; what is confined and lost in wonderlessness recovers the innocent eyes and imagination of childhood.*

Monday Music Update – 4/21/14

Don and Lori Chaffer recently put the kick in Kickstarter campaigns by raising over $40,000 toward a brand new double album from Waterdeep. The total more than doubled the original goal, which means the Chaffers plan on delivering the music twice as fast. That last part is not true. Randall Goodgame will be playing two free Slugs & Bugs shows this weekend. The first is on Friday, April 25 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The second show will be on Sunday, April 27 in Vincennes, Indiana. Check the S&B tour page for full details. Andy Osenga will play a special Stageit show on Tuesday, April 29 at 7:00pm. Appropriately titled "Andrew's Reverse MidLife Crisis Eve," it's Andy's last show before joining Capitol Records in his brand new full time job as A&R for their Christian music division! The show begins at 7:30 CT. Andrew Peterson spent two days with Ben Shive in the studio recording his version of the Rich Mullins song "Calling Out Your Name." The track is for an upcoming CD release related to the film Ragamuffin. Several familiar faces contributed on vocals, including Jeremy Casella, Andy Gullahorn, Andy Osenga, Eric Peters, and Jill Phillips. After a hugely successful Northeast Spring Break tour (eight shows in eight days thanks to you, Rabbits!), Son of Laughter is currently scheduling another series of living room shows throughout the country this summer during the months of June and July. While he is starting to line up shows in the Southwest and Midwest, he is open to just about anything. If you're interested in organizing an event, contact Chris Slaten at sonoflaughtermusic@gmail.com.

New Beginning

I've wanted to be a musician since I was a kid. Had posters on my walls of Jars of Clay and Steven Curtis Chapman (before I discovered Pearl Jam). I dreamed of playing arenas, being in a recording studio, making music with my heroes. It has been an incredible gift and honor to, one by one, put little checkmarks on each entry of the dream list. It's also let me see the reality of touring/musician life, and that being "bigger" or more successful is not something I actually even want. It would mean more travel and more things pulling me from my family, which to me is a much deeper calling. I've come to a place where it feels I have to choose between providing for my family on the road or being with them at home. This past year I've found myself praying for a way to keep working with people I love on music I love, while coming off the road and being with my family.