I went to the doctor yesterday for the first time in years. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been sick; it means I’m the kind of stubborn fool who doesn’t like to take an ibuprofen for a headache, the kind of crank who would rather walk around squinting and snappy than to take the blasted aspirin. I just don’t like medicine. I prefer sweating it out, however inconvenient that is for the people around me. So after ten days of coughing and sniffling and whining I finally decided it must be a sinus infection. I have a show in a few days, and I can’t afford to be sick. So I bravely did what any man in my shoes would do: I asked my wife what to do. She told me which doctor to visit and I drove to the offices with a steely resolve. The nurse behind the sliding glass window handed me the clipboard with the dreaded New Patient Paperwork, and then the thing happened that made me want to write this.
The questions began. “Do you have any allergies?” “Do you drink caffeine?” “Do you use tobacco?” “If so, how often?” “Do you exercise regularly?” “Is there a history of heart disease in your family?” “Have you had any surgeries?
I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Osage Beach, Missouri. Ben Shive is in here, too, working on a string arrangement for the upcoming CALEB record. The weather is chilly, I’m a little homesick, I’m wearing three-day jeans, all adding to a pleasant melancholy brought on by the fact that today something is ending. A story that started last January, which actually started many years before that, about a little kid from Illinois who grew up and lost his way a million times but was found a million more by God himself, is reaching its final chapter tonight.
I’m glad. And, as I said, I’m feeling a little blue about it too. I’m glad because singing these songs every night has been painful. I’m sad because the little community that gathered to tell this story has been deeply encouraging and Christ-like in humility. You know, it’s not just music that makes high school kids want to be in bands–it’s brotherhood. It’s belonging. It’s that peace-giving fellowship of locking arms with friends in defiance of something. There are few things so moving as watching a team of people with diverse gifting, temperament, and background working together to accomplish something greater than any of them could do alone. It’s a good picture of the church. Whenever someone says, “I want to join a band,” I try to remember the word “band” is older than rock and roll. I think of Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men, or Shakespeare and his “band of brothers.” The kid isn’t just saying, “I want to play some songs,” he’s saying, “I want to belong to something.” I was that kid, so I know.
It’s Holy Week, so I dug up a few old writings and uploaded a live version of “Hosanna” in case you haven’t heard it. Click here to download it. Below are two very different pieces: first is the “about the song” paragraph that I wrote for the press kit. Second is the first of what someone named my Resurrection Letters. If you’re interested in the rest of the meditations, click here. I pray your celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus this week brings you great joy.
“Hosanna” is an old Hebrew word that means “Save us, now!”, which the Jews employed while they waved their palm branches and welcomed the Messiah into Jerusalem for the last time. Only in God’s Kingdom is a cry for help equal to a shout of praise. Once, the Jews asked Jesus for a sign to prove his authority. He declared that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it again in three days, a statement that I’m sure set them gasping and fanning their faces and running in circles. Some of them probably fainted dead away. The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus was talking about himself. But Jesus of Nazareth has plans to wreck us, too, and leave not one stone on another–-indeed, we should welcome it, because we know that Jesus has not just the power to lay waste, but to rebuild–-even his own body. And we all need rebuilding. This song is both a confession and a praise. To say to Christ, “Save me,” is to admit that you need saving, and also to acknowledge that only God is man enough to do it.
I. THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
Lord, forgive us.
We welcome you in because we think you’ll give us what we want. We act as if our true motives are hidden from you—you who made the world with a word. We spread our coats and wave our hands and cry “Save us!” and you ride with your back straight and your face drawn, accepting our hosannas because you know that even if the heart is false the words are true, and for now, that is enough.
You come in the name of the Lord. Son of David, you come to save us. You come to save a fickle people, who one minute cry for help and the next cry for blood, and it is both help and blood that you give us.
The sun shines hot on the city gate, and you feel the air move with the palm branches. You hear the hearts pumping in their chests. Their mouths cry “save us” while their hearts cry “give us what we want.” But because you are God you hear even deeper in the spirits of men and women and even children the silence of our profound loneliness. You hear the trickle of need we scarcely know ourselves.
You come to us though you know we’re praying to you for the wrong reasons, singing to you without the faintest notion of how powerful and just and holy you really are.
We don’t even realize the danger we’re in, crying for salvation from Caesar when the Devil himself is battering the door—crying like a baby for its bottle when a wolf is loose in the nursery.
And yet, you come.
You set your iron gaze on Jerusalem, and because the Father wants you to, you come.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
There’s a place across the sea where some of my favorite stories were born. Aslan, Frodo, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Hazel and Fiver of Watership Down, King Arthur, young Diamond (who visited the Back of the North Wind), Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes—they all haunt the cobblestone streets and grassy downs of England, and when I’m there I feel like the kid I was when I first read about them. However you may feel about Peter Pan, it’s hard to deny the magic of seeing Big Ben, that majestic clock tower, rising out of the moonlit clouds as the Darling children glide past. And after two quick trips to London over the years, I can tell you the sight of the real Big Ben still contains some of that magic. But London is only part of the story.
A short train ride from away you’ll find the ancient city of Oxford, where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends gathered in the original Rabbit Room to share their stories (and a few pints of ale). I would wager that anyone who’s had their heart nourished by some of these tales has wished at least once to visit the ground where they sprang up like Samwise’s vegetables. I jokingly called it my C.S. Lewis Pilgrimage as we saw the Kilns, Tolkien’s house, the Eagle and Child pub, Addison’s Walk, and Lewis’s resting place beside the old stone church he attended. While Jamie and I stood in silence I spotted long-haired cows grazing on the adjacent hill, and the cold spring sun broke through for a few minutes while I thanked God for good stories and their tellers.
It’s not that there aren’t places in America that are just as beautiful or spiritually significant; I’ll never forget the first time I drove across Kansas and into Colorado when at last I caught my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. I grew up reading about those, too. I’m a proud American, but I’m also a shameless Anglophile. Now that I’m in the process of finishing the Wingfeather Saga I’m thinking more and more about that faraway land and how I long to visit it with my children before they outgrow me. So I’m going back. We’re touring Sweden again (as lovely a country as ever there was), then heading over to the U.K. for several shows—and this time the kids are coming with us. I can hardly wait.
There’s this restaurant in East Nashville called Mas Tacos, right down the road from Cason Cooley’s home studio. Ben, Gully, Cason, and I walked there for lunch several times during the Light for the Lost Boy sessions, and I can tell you it’s some of the best Mexican food in Nashville. I can also tell you it annoyed me, for a couple of reasons.
First, they don’t take credit cards. These days—when even Waffle House takes credit/debit cards, when most folks I know don’t bother to bring much cash, when even regular dudes like me can take credit cards at my merch table—why in the world wouldn’t Mas Tacos? There are fees associated with it, sure, but isn’t it an inconvenience to the customers? Several times we wanted to eat there but couldn’t because I was footing the bill and didn’t have the cash. Your loss, Mas Tacos.
Secondly, their hours are a little weird. Like many of the restaurants in East Nashville, they’re closed on Sunday and Mondays. Due to invisible forces in the universe, this creates a fierce craving for Mas Tacos on Sundays and Mondays. Almost every Sunday after church I find myself thinking, “Oh! We should totally go to Mas Tacos—ugh. Nevermind.” There have also been several times when I wanted to take Jamie out to a simple, small dinner and headed towards Mas Tacos before I remembered that they’re only open for lunch (except on Fridays).
Because I’m a spouter, I spouted off about it to Cason. “Why wouldn’t they want to take credit cards and make it easier on me, the Almighty Customer, to pay for my food? If there’s a demand for business, why on earth wouldn’t they add to their hours?” Cason gently pushed back, as is his way, and said, “But the owners are interested in keeping their food local, in having their own lives, in keeping their business simple. What’s so wrong with being small?” Mas Tacos serves excellent food. Maybe part of the way they keep their food great, not to mention part of the way they maintain good customer service, is by virtue of their simplicity. Maybe their commitment to buying local vegetables and meats requires that they resist the American urge to grow, grow, grow, GROW. Maybe the very thing I like about that place would disappear if they gave in to my grumpiness, at which point I would be the first guy to say, “It’s too bad. Mas Tacos used to be great.”
I tell you this story in order to apologize to the many of you who didn’t get into Hutchmoot this year.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.
–Wendell Berry, from “How to Be a Poet (to Remind Myself)”
Just a few miles from my house there’s an intersection that always makes me happy. If you ever want to go there, it’s a four-way stop at the intersection of Old Franklin Road and Cane Ridge Road. Here’s the link, if you want to see it on Google Maps. If you end up doing the Street View you’ll notice that it’s not terribly interesting. This isn’t a scenic overlook. The houses aren’t gigantic. But it’s a strangely pleasant place. I don’t know why, but I feel a rightness every time I pull up to that intersection, and I tend to look around as if I’m on the verge of solving some bright mystery—until the driver behind me honks and I’m forced to putter up the hill.
I’ve mentioned it to Jamie and the kids, and they agree. It’s a nice spot. To them, it’s probably just that. But my mental wheels start turning and I want to know what about it makes me feel that way. Is it the shape of the land? Is it the fact that the stop sign forces me to pause for a moment and consider my surroundings? Does it remind me of some lovely childhood drive? I can’t put my finger on it. There are other intersections in more beautiful locales that don’t make me feel the way this one does. Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” I know the psalmist wasn’t thinking of country roads when he wrote this, but I always think of this verse when I sit at that intersection. “This, surely, is a pleasant place,” I think to myself. And in some ways, a pleasant place is better than a breathtaking one, isn’t it? I love the Grand Canyon and have hiked into it a handful of times over the years, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
I wrote “You’ll Find Your Way” (from Light for the Lost Boy) for Asher, my second son. He turned 13 last month, and I wrote him a letter for part of his birthday (the other part was a drumset). Here’s a little excerpt from what I told him:
You’re thirteen today. I know you know that, but it feels kind of weird and wonderful to sit and think about it, doesn’t it? I remember being that age, and beginning to realize more than ever before that growing up was an inevitable adventure. “Inevitable” means it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it as long as you’re drawing breath. And I don’t just mean getting older and taller, either. I mean your heart is growing up. You’ve experienced some pain, some loneliness perhaps, some sense of your smallness in the great big world. It’s a scary thing, isn’t it? There’s no shame in saying yes. But it’s not all the bad kind of scary, either—it’s also the good kind of scary, like roller coaster scary: you’ve been clicking up, up, up toward the top of the ride, and any minute now the coaster is going to peak and plunge you down into the wild and holy speed of life. Throw your hands in the air and scream.
But one of the grand things about growing up, I’ve learned, is that you’re already ancient. Your soul, whatever the “soul” is, will live forever in Christ, and God exists outside of time. That’s a crazy thought, isn’t it? God looks at us and sees the beginning and the end at once, kind of like a song or a story. When you hold a book in your hand, you’re holding that character’s whole world—the terror, the joy, the lostness, and the final good ending. But if you think about it, the character in the story doesn’t see the ending, doesn’t know his story is something that can be held in one hand. The character is feeling whatever he’s feeling when you read that sentence. But the reader, a little bit like God, can flip to the end and see how it all works out. Maybe that’s how God beholds our lives. He sees the ending, the middle, and the beginning as one good story. Right now, you’re thirteen and wondering where you’re going to work, who your friends will be in twenty years, where you’ll live, who you’ll marry, what your kids will be like. But in some mysterious way, God knows all those answers even now. Every day is another page in that story, and you can’t know how it’s all going to turn out, just like riding a roller coaster for the first time—except that because of Jesus, because he has made you his son, you can embrace all the twists and turns with joy because you can be confident that he built the ride and loves you more than you can presently know. You will survive until the end of your life (whenever he has decided that is), and then you will continue on into the next book of your life in Christ. That’s Heaven.
I guess that’s what I’m saying. Your soul and your body are mysteriously connected. Your body, like Mr. Clarence’s body, which you saw at the funeral a few weeks ago, is going to waste away, but you, Asher Jesse Peterson, will live on. After your body dies, your soul will happily await the day when Jesus will return to earth and raise us all again. Then, like moving into a new house, your soul will inherit a new, perfect body that is neither old nor young, and will go on living in a perfect world without disease or the great shadow of death. So in that sense, you who were made from the mind and imagination of God himself, were born on December 15th, 1999, but what you are made OF has always been, and, because you placed your life in Jesus’ hands a few years ago, you will go on living forever and ever. So yes, you’re thirteen. But in God’s eyes you’re already as old as the stars, and indeed, you will outlive them. Is that a crazy thought, or what? Your experience and age and wisdom are merely catching up to the eternal nature of your redeemed soul. And I believe that you’ll go on catching up to that eternal age, well, for eternity. Our lives will unfold and unfold and unfold forever into the Kingdom of God, the expanse of which is infinite. That means you’re already old, and you’ll continue growing younger as God’s son forever. Does your brain hurt? Mine does.
Here’s a quick list of some good films/television shows I saw this year. (Asterisks signify availability on Netflix Instant View.)
I just watched this for the third time. Yes, it’s that good. I paused it a few times when we watched it as a family—mainly to point out where I thought George dropped the ball with his marriage. (The film gives the impression that his marriage was already doomed and he would be better off abandoning it. Obviously that doesn’t jibe with what I want to teach my kids.) Other than that, it’s storytelling at its best: funny, heartbreaking, imaginative, entertaining, inspiring. Re-reading this, it’s a good time to point out that every one of these films probably has moments that might offend more sensitive viewers. Please don’t throw a brick through my virtual window. I’m a bit neurotic about recommendations like this because I’m a pastor’s kid who’s always assuming that something he says will get him into trouble. I’ll do my best to voice any caveats you should know about if you plan to watch these with your family. There. Disclaimer over. I exhaust myself, honestly.
I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson films (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox), and if I had to give one reason is this: he’s a great storyteller who seems to care about the audience. His attention to detail is staggering, and it feels like he’s bending over backwards to delight us with his stories. That said, most of his films have a moment or two that make me shake my fist and say, “Now why did you have to go and do THAT?” Moonrise Kingdom, in addition to having one of the most magical titles ever, is the perfect vehicle for Anderson’s prowess. But it has one scene that, frankly, ticked me off and, in my opinion, kept it from being the classic it might have been. Anyone who’s seen the film knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The BBC knows how to do television. There are two three-episode seasons of Sherlock so far, and each episode is about 90 minutes, which gives the story time to develop in ways most feature films only dream of. From a parental perspective, these are probably PG-13, though the first episode of season two, with the Irene Adler storyline, was racy enough that I fast-forwarded quite a bit of it. You wouldn’t be missing anything to just skip it altogether. I watched the last two episodes of season two with my teenagers and we loved them. The ending is ridiculously good.
Hello, rabbits. Here’s a short list of a few books I read and liked this year, very few of which were published in 2012. They’re not in any particular order, and a few may have actually been read at the end of 2011. Here goes.
I stumbled on this one at Goodwill and picked it up because I had the creepy feeling the title was describing me. I had, after all, just spent thirty minutes with my head cocked to the right so I could read every single spine of a hundred yards of used books. I’m a sucker for a good detective story—if it’s based on actual events, then even better. One of my hobbies on the road is visiting used book stores, so learning about not only the world of rare book collecting but the world of rare book thievery was fascinating.
I’ve read every book by Larson—first Devil in the White City, then Thunderstruck, then In the Garden of Beasts. He’s a great writer, and has carved a niche by unearthing relatively obscure bits of history and humanizing them as deftly as he researches them. His books are usually about two things: Devil in the White City isn’t just about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it’s also about a serial killer who was in the middle of it; Thunderstruck isn’t just about a famous English murder, it’s about the invention of the radio; and Isaac’s Storm isn’t just about the tragic Galveston flood of 1900, it’s about the beginnings of meteorology and the anatomy of hurricanes. Anyone who’s interested in American history and is awed by the power of storms will love this book.
It is no secret that Flannery O’Connor is one of the great American writers. I have read and appreciated many of her stories without going bonkers over them. I find that O’Connor only appeals to me when I’m in a certain mood, and I’m seldom in that mood. But Jonathan’s book changed that for me. I found that after reading The Terrible Speed of Mercy her stories feel deeper, more human, less eccentric—no longer do they feel like they’re written by the fierce, intellectual lioness of Georgia who doesn’t much care what I think, but by a weak, lovely and lonely girl who sees her writing as a way to wake the world to the glory of God.
This isn’t the greatest book ever, but it’s one of the most interesting. Lindskoog died a few years ago, having gone perhaps a little crazy trying to get the world to believe her theories on corruption in the C.S. Lewis estate. I finished the book feeling like Lindskoog was truly out of touch with reality on some points and yet raised some excellent questions about others. If even 10% of what she proposes is true, then I’d love some straight answers from the C.S. Lewis camp. It would make for an amazing documentary film.
Merton lived and wrote at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, which is where I spent the weekend in 2002 that led me to a song called “The Silence of God.” The Seven Storey Mountain is probably his most famous work, and I’m sad to say I’ve never read it or anything else by him until now. I found a first edition of Jonas at a bookstore on the road (I forget where) and started it one afternoon when I was feeling particularly sinful. It was just what I needed: the journal entries of a man in love with the mystery of God, who is discontent with his own sin and yet gives thanks for his suffering as the Lord’s loving discipline. Giving thanks for my own suffering is a virtue I hope to practice in the coming year. There’s so much to learn from Merton, and I’m excited that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Sometimes you don’t feel like reading a book written by a Trappist monk. Sometimes you read a book just for fun. If a tale about a Houdini-esque magician on the run from FBI agents who think he killed the president isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. I think this is Gold’s first book, and I think they’re making it into a film. I’m not the kind of guy who thinks every great book would make a great movie (Narnia is a case in point), but I kept thinking while I read this that it would make for a great ride in the theater.
A few of the songs on Light for the Lost Boy were influenced by this book—”Day by Day” is probably the most obvious, and I had the honor of singing it for NTW himself at a Rabbit Room event earlier this year. Chapter after chapter I found myself thinking, “I hope this is true,” and because Wright uses so much scripture I then found myself thinking, “It is true.” I’ve read a few theologians’ critiques of this book, but even the harshest admit that there’s much to be learned from it.
Every October I get out my collection of spooky stories, and Russell Kirk is at the top of the list (thanks to Jason Gray). I’ve read most of Ancestral Shadows, his collection of ghostly tales, but this was the first time I read Old House of Fear. If you’re ever in the mood for foggy moors, old castles, dashing heroes, ancient mysteries, and shipwrecks, then this is the book for you. And if you haven’t read Ancestral Shadows, it’s great. Search for Jason Gray’s excellent review of it.
Cartoonist Jonny Jimison was at Hutchmoot this year, and we talked a bit about Doug TenNapel. I had heard a lot about him (and knew of his creation, “Earthworm Jim”) but hadn’t read any of his graphic novels yet. Then at a local bookstore I was arrested by the cover of a book called Cardboard. I thumbed through it and loved what I saw: big, bold lines, cartoony but artful and bursting with energy—at times the panels felt like the best Bill Watterson drawings. I was sold before I ever realized it was a Doug TenNapel book. And it’s so good! I pushed it on my kids immediately. Then I went on a TenNapel binge and read Ghostopolis, Bad Island, and Monster Zoo. I grew up reading comics and graphic novels, but I’ve never read stories quite like his. He’s unabashed about being a Christian, and yet is well-respected in the comic world. That’s saying something. (His newer books are kid-appropriate, but Creature Tech, for the record, isn’t. I’m working my way through the back catalogue.)
There’s my short, off-the-top-of-my-head list. If I think of more I’ll tack them on. What about you guys?
Justin Gerard created this Christmas card a few years ago and posted it on his site today. It was too good not to repost here, in light of our rodential leanings. Thanks, Justin, and all you Rabbit Roomers for another great year.
Be sure and visit Justin’s blog for mounds of artistic inspiration. (But don’t worry–no recipes.) Also, for you Tolkien fans, he’s got an amazing array of original Hobbit pictures here.