Last week I put on my smart hat (I don’t actually have a smart hat) and went to Vanderbilt University. Professor David Michelson is teaching a course on early Christian poetry, and after one of the recent Local Shows he kindly invited me to audit the class. “As long as I don’t have to write any papers,” I said. He convinced me to stop by for a session, and—other than the fact that my smart hat was smoking and singed around the edges—I loved it.
Here’s what I learned in just two hours.
Our family watched A League of Their Own the other night (still a good movie, by the way) and there’s this moment where Tom Hanks tells Geena Davis that baseball is “supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great.”
At the end of every Christmas tour we all sit around and play “Highs and Lows,” naming the high points and low points of the month. The highs are easy to come up with; the lows are tricky because the real lows (for me, anyway) aren’t the sorts of things you can just blab about in a group of people. But in 2014, everybody had the same low.
Happy Thanksgiving, Rabbit Roomers.
I’m writing this from Shiloh, my parents’ 150-year-old Florida Cracker house, where we Petersons plan to feast like vikings in celebration of God’s goodness. My favorite song on the new record is called “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone”, as appropriate a Thanksgiving tune as I’ve ever written, so I thought I’d give away a few downloads.
This first is of the acoustic demo (from The Lost Boy Demos, which is only available in the 2 disc deluxe edition). The second is a fairly embarrassing (to me, at least) soundboard bootleg of the song from one of the shows on the fall tour with Ben Shive and CALEB. I hope you like it in spite of my lumpy-throated singing toward the end. That song just got to me every night.
Or you can listen here:
I’m grateful for so much, but somewhere near the top of that list is YOU. Thanks for supporting me and mine this year. I leave you with a roundup of Thanksgiving-ish thoughts from some of our favorite writers. If you have more, post away. Oh, and for the last few years I’ve posted a poem called “Thanksgiving: A Confession and a Plea to the Almighty”, which I’ve heard has been read aloud at family gatherings; strange but true. Here’s a link to the old post, should you be interested. Now let the authorly wisdom commence.
Happy Thanksgiving, Rabbit Roomers. I posted this poem last year and thought I’d dust it off again this week. Reading it just now for the first time since last November, I can’t decide if I like it more or less than I did when I wrote it. I remember that I was thinking of a poem by Berryman that I once heard Garrison Keillor read (I can’t remember which), but I gave up on all that by the tenth line and let the thing go wherever it wanted. Whether or not you enjoy the poem, I pray your time with family and/or friends is peaceful and that you remember in all your feasting that it’s but a shadow of what is to come.
(A CONFESSION AND A PLEA TO THE ALMIGHTY)
O God, Magnificent Confounder,
Boundless in mercy and power,
Be near me in my apathy.
Be near me, Savage Dreamer,
Bright Igniter of Exploding Suns,
But not too near. I’d like to live,
By your grace, just long enough
To taste another perfect steak.
And to see my children marry,
And, perhaps, to pen a memoir.
Great redeemer of my lechery,
Bright Dawn of Blessed Hope,
Lay waste to every prideful thing,
Each black infraction of your law.
O Swirling Storm of Holy Anger,
Be patient with me. I’m certain
I will make a second gluttonous
Trip to the festal spread of food.
And I might as well admit, O King
Omniscient, I plan to make a third.
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!”
It’s been too long since I’ve done one of these, but hey, it’s fall. And fall means touring. And touring means rehearsal. And what more enjoyable excuse is there to rehearse than doing fun little living room shows via the interwebs?
So once a week, starting tonight and leading up to the 10/9/15 release of my new album, I’m going to do one of these shows here at the Warren. (I haven’t told Jamie yet, but I don’t think she’ll mind.) Hopefully I’ll wrangle some friends into the deal, and I’m certain that there are some Peterson younglings running around here who would love to play along.
In the meantime, you can head over to www.RabbitRoom.com or iTunes and preorder THE BURNING EDGE OF DAWN, and when you do you get three early downloads to (hopefully) pique your itch to hear the whole record in October.
Usually this is a $5 per ticket affair (there’s that mortgage payment that comes around every…single…MONTH), but in celebration of the new songs, and since this is a weekly gig, it’s a pay-what-you-can arrangement (though StageIt requires a minimum of 5 notes, or 50 cents). I’m hoping some of you guys will come back each week.
Thanks for hanging out, folks! Can’t wait for you to hear the new songs.
Pappy and I drove south from Oxford to the Isle of Wight, but not before heading to the Kilns to see C. S. Lewis’s house and then the short drive to Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry to see his grave. Graves are funny. Let me qualify that. Death is most certainly not funny, and neither are graves, really, though some of the epitaphs at Disney’s Haunted Mansion are. What I mean is that, unless you were close to the person buried, there isn’t much to do other than stand there awkwardly for a few minutes and then move on. That happened years ago when Ben Shive, Laura Story, and a few others of us visited Rich Mullins’s grave in Indiana. It was meaningful, truly, but only for about 90 seconds. As I recall, we reenacted the Spinal Tap scene at Elvis’s grave, only we sang “Awesome God” with bad harmony instead of “Heartbreak Hotel.” Call me disrespectful, but I think Rich would have liked it.
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.
[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.