[Zach Franzen is frequently seen arguing for a culture of gratitude over at Story Warren. Here he is rallying us all to that cause with the irresistible call of poetry about the smell of ironing. He includes his own old-fashioned illustration to pair with Dorothy Aldis's charming poem. --S.D. Smith]
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I recently read an article urging Christians to be more countercultural. By countercultural I think the author meant that Christians ought to get arrested more often and sing “in your face” anthems at their parents and/or capitalists. Of course, we know that a protest culture isn’t precisely counter to our culture. It’s as mainstream as a discontented child screaming and grasping in a Toys-R-Us. Still, Christians ought to be more countercultural, and certainly this extends to our artistic and creative offerings. One way to push back at our culture is through the simple elevation of gratitude.
Christians see gratitude as essential to happiness, but in our Freud and Marx influenced culture, gratitude is the undignified badge of surrender. Dissatisfaction is seen as the way to rally the masses to overthrow corrupt Western power structures and bring in the Utopia. Gratitude (much like a Norman Rockwell painting) is perceived as an obstacle for vital social change.
But it isn’t.
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Bear with me. This will make sense in a moment.
I got a new car this year. Gently used, actually. I turned in the keys to the family van that had been mine, a well-worn 2002 Honda Odyssey. Sally wisely declared that at 61 it was time for me to have a bit more manly ride. My son Joel found the car at a used lot in our little town. It was a good fit, and a quick decision. A late model, dark grey Subaru Outback with 70,000 miles. My car’s name is Gandalf (the Grey).
As I drove my “Subie” to my office this morning, I realized that being in a new car has changed my self-perception and outlook on life. When I am in my new ride, I enjoy the trip, listen to great music (like “Light for the Lost Boy” and “Birds of Relocation”), and find myself imagining new books, songs, ideas, and projects. I think about new things.
Maybe it was just the change that changed me, and not the car. But reflecting on its effect reminded me of a principle of cultivating creativity in our children that was a fixture in our toolbox of parenting: New things do things.
[This is a short piece I wrote for Story Warren that may resonate with Rabbit Roomers as well. --S.D. Smith]
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“Wonder is involuntary praise.” Edward Young said that and I’m glad he did.
What are we doing to facilitate wonder in our families? C.S. Lewis said we need an enchantment to set us free from the bondage of worldliness. How are we working for our children’s liberty? If it is only in books and art and literature, then we are only making them more interesting slaves. As Lewis says, the true thing comes through the books, or the art. The art is not the thing. Beauty will not save the world, really.
I believe we fail our kids insofar as we perpetuate in their lives the mirage of Godless Delight. We fail them if we convince them, by the forms of our lives or by our words (or both), that the basic reality of the world excludes God. The sad reality is that this is an assumption that flavors much of the stories and art we receive and which shape our spiritual formation. I confess I sometimes live like this.
There was a bad storm rolling, so we piled in the basement to wait it out. As far as I can remember, I was five, which means it was probably the spring of 1977.
Your grandparents have always been fond of simple, self-driven entertainment. They respected me enough to believe I could find something worthwhile to do in an hour alone, so they handed me a pencil and seven pieces of pink paper. The pages were ripped from a carbon copy stack, fronts scribbled with charts and numbers, backs blank with potential. Mom showed me how to fold them in half and staple the middle to make a binding.
I sat on the cool concrete floor and began to mark out chubby new sentences.
“Once there was a wolf. He did not eat girls. He ate wolf food.”
[This post by James Witmer is one of my favorites. It really captures what we mean at Story Warren by saying we want to be "Allies in Imagination." I think it will ring true to the rabbits over here in this excellent room. --S.D. "Sam" Smith]
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What is imagination good for? And why do we need imaginative stories?
The real world is full of beauty. Normal lives are full of drama. And beneath it all is Truth; bright, hard, sharp as the point of a spear.
So why make stuff up? Why read (or play at) things that aren’t real?
[Howdy, Rabbits. Allow me to introduce you to Loren Eaton, another of Story Warren's fine contributors. Loren blogs about genre fiction and is an accomplished short story writer. He's also a dad and "has discovered that love covers a multitude of Richard Scarry." Enjoy! --S.D. "Sam" Smith]
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At first blush, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane seems an odd choice of book to encourage holy imagination in a child. Newberry-winning author Kate DiCamillo’s tale of a china rabbit who becomes separated from his owner (one Abilene Tulane of Egypt Street) and undergoes numerous misadventures has a distinctly downbeat tone. The trouble, if we want to call it that, begins with the titular protagonist. Edward Tulane is not a nice china rabbit. Vain, prejudiced, self-absorbed — such adjectives only begin to describe him. He’s not your normal “hero,” that’s for sure. And the book’s speculative premise proves odd, too. In most respects, Edward behaves like any other doll, meaning he doesn’t really behave at all. Yet he possesses a rich thought life, one that turns successively darker as the novel progresses. Make no mistake, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane goes places few children’s books dare. Circumstances constantly conspire to sever Edward from those whose care he comes under. In one instance, Edward even has to listen as a child dies from a terrible consumptive disease.
So why would I recommend such a dour title? Because it deals in profound ways with a superlative virtue—love.
[Salutations, rabbitpersons. This is S.D. Smith, presenting another post from your allies at Story Warren. Some of you met Justin Gerard at Hutchmoot, or heard about him here. I didn't actually experience my first contact with Justin through the Rabbit Room, but did meet him in person first at Hutchmoot 2011. Anyway, when Story Warren started, I invited Justin to join the squad. He declined, citing a supposed lack of qualification. Almost at once, he said, "But man, Zach Franzen would be perfect for what you're doing. Zach is always talking about exactly what you're saying. And he's a thousand times smarter than me. He's definitely your guy." Almost a year later I can affirm, with gratitude, Justin's claims. Zach Franzen is a wonderful illustrator and an even better thinker. I often tell people that talking to Zach is like going to college. A college where the professor draws awesome stuff. --Sam]
Some months ago, my wife and I were reading Eleanor Estes’ charming book Rufus M. We were amazed at one story where Rufus (the youngest of the Moffats and the title character) found some money frozen in the ice. While the rest of his family were busy trying to manage a frozen pipe under the house, Rufus managed to chisel two quarters, three dimes, and a couple nickels out of the ice. He used this money (quite a bit it seems for the time) to pay for a plumber to fix the troublesome pipe, then he went to the store and “. . . laid all his money on the counter. He bought two packages of kindling wood . . . He bought a small sackful of good, hard nut coal . . . He bought some apples, some oranges, some eggs, and some potatoes, and he went home feeling like Santa Claus.”
Rufus sensed his place in the family unit and desired to contribute. After reading this, my wife and I felt so proud for Rufus and had such pleasure at our feelings of admiration that we wondered, “Why aren’t there a million stories like this?”
[Greetings, rabbitfellows. This is S.D. (Sam) Smith, passing along another post from your friends at Story Warren. Over at Story Warren, we're all about being an ally to parents (and others) who want to help foster holy imagination in children. That often means trying to help parents see what they are doing, or want to do, in imaginative ways. James Witmer is gifted at leading us to a place, perhaps just a little ways off the path we're on, where our vision clears and we see. --Sam]
My wife loves plants. I love beautiful places that encourage a restful heart. The result is that I have learned to love gardening and the general niftyness of the plant world.
Caring for plants can also open our eyes to larger truths. For example: After thinking over the relationships I’ve been blessed with, I’ve concluded that people are what gardeners call “part-shade/part-sun” plants.
As you may know, a full-sun plant does best when stuck out to fend for itself, soaking up the sun with no shade, protective or otherwise. (Think daisies in a field.)
[Greetings, fellow rabbit types. I’m Sam Smith, but you might know me better as “Bizbaz the Foolhardy,” or perhaps as “S.D. Smith.” Most likely of all, you haven’t ever heard of me and that’s probably safest for you and any predator canaries you might know. Speaking of canaries, I’ve been a contributor here at ye olde Rabbit Room for several years now and last year helped to launch an ally-site focused on kids and imagination. This beast was called Story Warren. Pete has asked if we would join in here fairly regularly featuring a post from said Story Warren. That’s awful handsome of him and I’m delighted to be able to be the go-between. Without much further verbosity, I present our first such post. It’s by Clay Clarkson, coiner of the name “Hutchmoot,” father of RR (and SW) contributor Sarah Clarkson, author of Educating the Whole-Hearted Child (which is awesome), wearer of beard, knower of things. Clay has been a crucial player in Story Warren’s development and it's pretty easy to see why. --Sam]
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
Henry David Thoreau
There is a language of imagination. Let’s call it imaginationish.
It’s not actually a language, but more of a universal dialect. It is using words to describe things that the eye does not see, the ear does not hear, the senses do not sense.
We always knew when our children were speaking imaginationish. They would hear a symphony and begin to describe a forest teeming with life and mystery. They would look at a painting and walk into its colors and lines as they narrated a story of their journey. They would watch a movie and begin to think out loud about the deeper spiritual meanings of scenes and symbols.