I bet you’ve heard the song “Babylon” by David Gray. It’s the kind of song that immediately draws you in, and the first time you hear it you know it’ll be around for a long time. “Let go of your heart, let go of your head, and feel it now,” he sings in the chorus, followed by the word “Babylon,” which fits so perfectly in the groove and the melody that it’s hard to imagine anything else in its place. What a strange word to throw into a song about a broken relationship, right? But wait. Let’s put on our school caps and take a quick look at what’s unfolding in the lyric.
The first verse (Friday night) is about the main character’s regret at the way a relationship has gone, specifically about “jealousy,” “bitterness,” and “ridicule,” while the second verse (Saturday night) is about running away from the girl, and realizing in a crowd of people that he just wants to be with her. The third verse is Sunday morning, and he’s turning around and coming home to find her waiting. Each chorus ends with “Babylon,” which, as you may remember, was the city of the Jews’ exile. The Psalmist, in one of the most painfully beautiful images in the Bible, wrote about how God’s people sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon when they remembered Zion, their true home. Now the word “Babylon” makes sense in a song about exile and return. Brilliant. And brilliant, too, that he doesn’t go out of his way to connect all those dots for the listener. Honestly, until I really stopped and thought about it (and spent some time poking around the web) I didn’t get it. But I didn’t care, because the song is so spot on, musically and lyrically, it didn’t matter to me. I don’t know what David Gray believes, or what he intended with the Babylon reference, but man, that song rings my bells.
Let’s take a minute and listen again, now that we’ve dwelt on the lyric.
[Day Five: Part One]
[Day Five: Part Two]
Eric slept soundly that night in Hay-on-Wye, little Z’s floating up from his beard and hovering near the ceiling for a few moments before gliding down to rest on the many old books piled around him. I slipped out of my bed, army crawled across the floor and, with a little fan of my fingers, tried to snatch his copy of The Great Divorce, Indiana Jones-style. Alas, Eric had gone to sleep with the book tucked under his arm, and every time I gave it a little tug he snorted and a fresh batch of Z’s poofed out of his mumbling mouth.
None of the above is true, but you get the picture.
“I just don’t get this thing you have for old books,” said lots of people, always.
It’s okay. Of all my strange affections, this is possibly the one about which I feel the least embarrassment. I’ve always been bashful about my tendency to read books with dragons, or my weird fascination with honeybees, or basically everything in thrift stores, but I am and will remain an unapologetic bibliophile. But I get it. I get why you think I’m crazy. How in the world, you ask, will I have time to read all those books, and why in the world would I let them take over my house–especially when you can store all that information on a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad? What could possibly be enjoyable about rummaging around in a dusty bookshop for hours?
Let me explain, in bullet-point fashion for the sake of brevity.
MUSWELL HILL, LONDON
We drove east from central London (sometimes keeping to the appropriate side of the road) to a place called Dagenham. I overheard someone explain the pronunciation: “It’s DAG-en-HAM, yes, but to sound local you just mash it all together so it sounds like ‘Dagnum.'”
We stayed with the Harts, a family we met on the Petersons’ European adventure almost two years ago. In July of 2013 they picked up Jamie and the kids and me from Heathrow and drove us to their home in Dagenham, charming us with their accents the whole way. Tom grew up on a farm in England and Rachel is from the highlands of Scotland, and now they live in the manse of a little church in a little neighborhood called Osborne Square. In a delightful case of Englishness, their proper address has no house number—it’s just “The Manse, Osborne Square.” Tom, whom I don’t think I’ve ever seen without a smile on his face, cracked up me and my boys right away when he asked, “So what’s the deal with July 4th, anyway? What are you guys celebrating?” I love that I had to explain Independence Day to the first Brit I met. Evidently, it’s a bit of history they’ve chosen to ignore, for understandable reasons.
NASHVILLE to LONDON
I’ll start with a confession: I’m an ancestry junkie. Once, at about eleven o’clock at night, Jamie asked if I was coming to bed. I told her I was almost ready, I just had to check a few more things on Ancestry.com, and then I was turning in. When I looked up I wondered what that strange light on the horizon might be and I realized it was the sun coming up. I came to bed just as Jamie woke and we both pitied my weakness for treasure hunting. One of my Christmas presents (to myself) this year was one of those DNA tests where you spit in a vial and mail it off to what I presume is a laboratory full of people in white lab coats worn primarily because they deal with peoples’ spit from all over the country. They do some scientific voodoo and email you a few weeks later with a readout that tells you exactly what you’re made of.
My main reason for the $80 splurge was that so many people (including Asians) have asked me if I have Asian ancestry I wanted to know if, indeed, one of my great-grandparents from Sweden had married someone from the Far East.
Last year I had coffee with a good friend by the name of Jeff Taylor. Jeff is one of the busiest and best players in Nashville, and one of the coolest things he’s a part of is a band called the Time Jumpers. Every Monday night at a club called 3rd and Lindsley he joins about ten other of the most brain melting musicians in town (including Ranger Doug from Riders in the Sky and some guy named Vince Gill) and plays some of the most brain melting songs Texas ever exported. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Time Jumpers are a Nashville treasure, and if you don’t try and see a show at least once, you’ll spend your elder days berating yourself for choosing Netflix over that increasingly rare and wonderful thing called Live Music played by those rare and wonderful things called Real Musicians.
Jeff wanted to meet me for coffee because he had an idea.
This is a poem I wrote for my sweet wife a few years ago. It was published in the third volume of The Molehill and I post it here because it’s February, when people talk about love and stuff.
You are beautiful in ways
You cannot see. Beautiful
In light and motion and grace,
In patience, in the little
Smile that is your first instinct
When you’re anxious or happy,
Or shy—even sad. In fact,
Your loveliest smile may be
The one you show me then:
When all that is left is you,
When at last your strength is spent,
When the plant has lost its bloom,
When you can no longer pretend
That your fear has no power;
Then, my love, you reach the end
And I can see your finest flower.
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.
Every year I spend about six months wondering who in the world will fill the shoes of the previous year’s special guest on the Behold the Lamb of God tour. I used to stress about it for six months, but it always works out so now I just wonder. We’ve been blessed not only with the crazy talent of the yearly band and artists, but since this thing started we’ve been joined by some amazing special guests—and most of them ended up on the tour due to some pretty random occurrences. Either I bumped into someone around town or sent them a text or they came to mind while I was jogging. My son Aedan is responsible for Thad Cockrell being on the tour this year. Here’s how it went down.
Carly, the songleader at the 12 South congregation of Midtown Fellowship, does a fantastically understated job of choosing songs and leading the music. There for a while we sang a few old hymns and gospel songs that I was surprised I’d never heard. The first was called “Oh To Be Loved,” a slow and simple waltz that was comforting and sad at the same time: “He knows the names of my sorrows / he knows the names of my fears / Why should I let them bother me? / For I know he is near.” Simple, direct, and the melody suits it perfectly.
I’m writing from a porch swing at Shiloh, watching my brother Pete as he sifts through several boxes of his old keepsakes. Every now and then he calls his wife over to look at some ridiculous or awesome piece of his past. (Ridiculous = his unopened Star Wars action figures; awesome = an original reel of the Return of the Jedi trailer.) The turkey’s in the oven, the Macy’s Day parade is on, and the sheep are bleating in the pasture behind me. There’s some terrible stuff happening in the world right now–and some terrible stuff in your lives, I’m sure–but today is a day to direct our attention instead to all the good and beautiful things that undergird the broken parts, like an underpainting that refuses to be marred even as the artist touches and retouches the imperfections.
We wanted to share a few items for your perusal in case you check in before or after your post-feast nap.
Here’s a brand new live performance of “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone,” which we recorded at North Wind Manor. It features my pals Nate Dugger on keys, James Gregory on upright bass, and my son Asher on percussion.
This is a Thanksgiving poem I wrote a few years back, which some folks have read aloud at their gatherings. It’s weird, but whatever.
And if you want something a thousand times more beautiful, here’s a benediction by Robert Farrar Capon (which you Hutchmooters will remember Pete reading before the final meal).
And finally, we present a fun song from our friends at the Tokens Show (a live radio show in the spirit of A Prairie Home Companion), called “Thank You, Thanksgiving!”
On November 10th (in a mere three weeks!) my newest album, After All These Years: A Collection, will be released into the wild, so we’re commencing with preorders.What is this collection, you ask? It’s a total of eighteen songs spanning the last fifteen years or so of music—and that track list includes four (FOUR!) new ones and eight (EIGHT!) brand-spanking-new recordings of older songs (SONGS!). The new recordings of old songs were made in two days with some great friends and great musicians who I’ve had the honor of working with over the years: Ben Shive, Andy Gullahorn, Ken Lewis, Matt Pierson, Joe Causey, and Jill Phillips. Re-recording those old songs was strange and wonderful, especially since we reimagined some of them, which sort of gave them some new clothes to wear—clothes that fit better now than they did fifteen years ago. I can’t wait for you to hear them.
Here’s the quick highlight reel of the new songs:
“After All These Years” was written right after my 40th birthday this year, as a deliberate exercise in gratitude. It felt appropriate to write a song that would be a sort of Ebenezer stone in the wilderness—a song of thanksgiving to God for his abiding love over the last four decades, and one that I would have to sing every night for the next few years. A lot has changed in my life in a short amount of time, and I’m prone to some boneheaded grumbling these days. This song (and this record, for that matter) is my way of stacking stones, a cairn on the hilltop that I’ll be able to see from the valley floor in the days and years to come.
“To All the Poets” was co-written with Gloria Gaither, and is an ode to the many poets, songwriters, and storytellers who have carried the fire and given us all words to pray when we had none of our own. (I’m looking at you, Rich Mullins and C. S. Lewis.)
“Romans 11 (Doxology)” was written right after we recorded Love & Thunder, but it never made it to an official album. I included the demo of it on Appendix A and then forgot about it, more or less. Then I met a guy named Charlie, a song leader from Michigan, who told me that he had been using it for years as the closing doxology at the retreat center where he works. When I sang it at the show that night I was overwhelmed by the sound of the congregation singing it back to me and decided to include it on this collection. Thanks, Charlie.
“Everybody’s Got a Song” was finished backstage at the Ryman Auditorium right before the Behold the Lamb of God show in 2012. It’s a love song to Nashville, my family and friends here, and to the coming Kingdom. This one features Nate Dugger on lap steel and the great Stuart Duncan on fiddle.
This link will whoosh you to the Rabbit Room Store, where you will not only be able to preview the tracks, you’ll be presented with three (THREE!) irresistible offers. 1) Preorder the download of all 20 songs for a mere $10. 2) Preorder the disc (which would only fit 18 of the songs). 3) Preorder the download of all 20 songs AND the physical copy (which includes a pretty extensive booklet featuring an essay by Mark Geil). All three of these options helps me pay the mortgage, so we Petersons give you a hearty thanks.
I hope these songs are a blessing to you and yours.
The fifth annual Hutchmoot has come to an end.
It’s hard to compare one Hutchmoot to another because each one has had such a different flavor, but this year was one of my favorite of the bunch. From Luci Shaw’s keynote (not to mention her presence with us all weekend) to Jill Phillips’s concert to the Local Show to session after session that I wish I had been able to attend, we were overwhelmed by good stories, good music, good food, and time to think deeply about beauty, calling, obedience, and the Kingdom.
Now comes the tricky part. Now comes the daily grind, the reintegration into our vocations, our churches, our families, the long work of building the Kingdom brick by brick, book by book, meal by meal, day by day. I want to offer a resounding THANK YOU to all the volunteers, session leaders, kitchen masters, trash haulers, painters, organizers, and encouragers who gave so much of themselves this weekend, and to give each of you a chance to sound off on the impact of the weekend.
What were your favorite parts? What did God teach you? In the words of Stephen Trafton at the end of Encountering Colossians, “You know you have been changed. How?”
November 11th – November 11th – Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Jeremy Casella, Buddy Greene, Randall Goodgame, Eric Peters, Arthur Alligood, Jenny & Tyler, Andrew Peterson, and ???
The Well Coffeehouse @ 7:30pm
690 Old Hickory Blvd,
Brentwood, TN 37027
$12 in advance, $15 at the door (or $5 at the door for Rabbit Room members).
Buy tickets here in the Rabbit Room Store.
He has a magnificent beard. He seems both old and young. He’s wise. I’m pretty sure he has a walking stick. He’s always traveling from here to there, there to here, appearing when you least expect him. He’s a teacher and a student. He’s an author, a singer/songwriter and a banjo player, he’s a carpenter, a hobby astronomer, and a hunter.
I’m pretty sure there’s only one person on Earth who meets all the above criteria, and his name is Michael Card. I first met Mike at an artist’s retreat hosted by a ministry in Knoxville, and, knowing his name for years and years as “the guy who wrote ‘El Shaddai’,” I was surprised that he didn’t play us a single song the whole weekend. He seemed perfectly content—eager, even—simply to teach and to talk about the Bible without throwing a guitar into the mix. Truly, his teaching was so stimulating I didn’t miss the music by the end, either. Since I didn’t grow up paying any attention to Christian music it was a long time before I heard songs like, “Come to the Table” and “Immanuel,” and when I finally did it was live, in a church jammed with people singing at the top of their lungs. Goosebumps, I tell you.
A few years ago I was in dire need of a mentor. I needed someone older and wiser, a Christian to whom I could stay accountable, someone to encourage me to read my Bible, to guide me in some kind of formal relationship. Late one night I emailed Mike and, with fear and trembling, asked him to be that mentor. He emailed back the next day saying, in effect, “No.” He went on to explain that he wasn’t interested in a mentoring relationship. “What I need is friends,” he told me. “We can get together and hang out, but not just to talk about spiritual stuff. Let’s just be friends. And in this town, the only time you really get to hang out with your friends is on the road, so why don’t you open for me for a few shows?”
I was disappointed at first (about the mentor thing, not the shows), but several years later it turns out Mike was right. I asked for a mentor and ended up with a friend—a good friend, which is a much better thing. My disappointment was a sign of my immaturity. It was as if I had emailed someone and asked if I could pitch a tent in their backyard, and they said, “Sure, you can stay. But you’re not sleeping outside—you’re going to be in the guest cottage.” Mike’s friendship, I believe, has yielded far more encouragement and edification than an accountability partner ever would have.
Several more Mike Card stories come to mind—like the time he shared the stage with Frederick Buechner and Walter Brugemann, or the time we were watching the History Channel and he read a snippet of Isaiah from a scroll they flashed on the screen, or the time he showed me his new rifle with a laser sight, or the time he asked if he could record “The Silence of God” after he had already done it. I’m so grateful to call this man my friend.
AND I’m grateful that he’s coming to North Wind Manor in two weeks to talk about his new book. Mike has written about a zillion books, but his latest four are commentaries on the Gospels, part of the Biblical Imagination Series. Think about that for a second. Can you imagine writing not one but four commentaries? On the Gospels? Most of us would feel like we had just run four Iron Man races. So congratulations, Mr. Card, and we thank you for bringing your musical/poetic gifting to bear on the Scriptures so the rest of us can see it afresh. On August 29th, at 7:00, the Gandalf of Nashville will be teaching from the Gospel of John, and I hope you’ll join us. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like seeing Mike turn into a little kid while he talks about Jesus.
Admission to the event is totally free, though we do ask that everyone bring a snack item to share (drinks are on us). Space is limited, so if you intend to come, it’s very important that you RSVP via an email to [email protected] There are only 30 seats available. RSVP quickly if you want to secure a spot. We’ll include the address to the Manor when we respond to your RSVP.
This event is now full.
What: Michael Card discussing the Gospel of John
When: Friday, August 29th
Where: North Wind Manor, Nashville
Admission: FREE (but please bring a snack to share)
RSVP to: [email protected]
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.