I think you’ve all heard of the Square Peg Alliance. Members like Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Andrew Peterson, Eric Peters, and Randall Goodgame are household names in these parts. But one of the outliers in the Pegs is also one of the best of the bunch. I’m talking about Jeremy Casella. Check out his fantastic RCVRY album to see what I mean (available in the RR store). This morning Jeremy launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a record that’s been a very long time coming. I can’t wait to hear what he’s been working on, and anyone who knows the man and his music ought to be excited. Check out the video and consider getting involved.
[Adapted from a talk at Hutchmoot 2012.]
“I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity, this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.” –Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
“Traditional” is a word that often comes with negative baggage these days. We too often equate “traditional” with “old-fashioned” or “out of date.” It’s a word too quickly applied to things we consider to have passed beyond their true relevance; things moving quickly toward irrelevance.
Traditional publishing. Traditional music. Traditional education. Traditional family. Traditional values. You get the idea.
But in the essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” T. S. Eliot argues that the word “traditional,” especially as applied to art, is not a negative label in any way, but is instead a positive and even desirable one. He says that “no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.” He argues that art is, by necessity “traditional,” that new works are predicated upon the old, each new poet standing upon the bones of the dead. He’s telling us that tradition is important, and to be “traditional,” is not to be old-fashioned or conservative or rote, but to be informed by and to stand upon the long history of literature and creation that has come before.
There is, perhaps, nowhere that this is more apparent than in poetry. Dante, Milton, and Eliot himself are each formidable poets taken alone. If Paradise Lost, for instance, were the only piece of poetry you’d ever read, you might still consider it a masterwork of thought, language, and imagery. But you’d be missing half the story, because when a work like Milton’s is taken in its full historical and artistic context, it’s elevated to far greater power by virtue of the foundations on which it stands—foundations like Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Isaiah, and Job.
Works like Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy are strewn with allusions to the works of elder poets and writers. They are packed with references to myths, legends, historical figures, and events that we’ve all but forgotten.
Eliot has said that while the immature poet imitates, the mature poet steals, building into his work bricks fashioned by his forebears. This is true of all art. It draws its power from context, requiring a knowledge of tradition in order for us to fully appreciate its current implications.
Now—I’d like you to imagine that we are living, as Marilynne Robinson suggests, in Troy, within an epic poem. I want to suggest that the world, our world, is itself a work of art, and that our very lives are paintings and poems, frescos and songs, all founded on that which has come before us—all rooted firmly in tradition. The world we inhabit, right now, the rooms we sit in, the walls around us, the sunlight coming in through the window, this all makes up the great work of an age.
So what might that have to do with the New Creation that the Bible promises us will come? What if we are, at this very moment, the tradition and context out of which that new work is about to be forged? Is it possible that we are the tradition and foundation—the metaphors, the symbols, the nearly forgotten tales—waiting to be written into the great work of an age yet to come?
Yes, it’s time for the year-end list of favorite stuff. Off the top of my head, here’s what I most enjoyed this year. Share you own top 5 lists in the comments.
Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) – This took me by complete surprise and is now one of my all time favorites. I wish Levin and Kitty lived next door so I could be friends with them.
The Wheel of Time series (Robert Jordan) – This probably doesn’t belong on the list, but I’ve been reading these books for about 20 years and just finished them this month. That’s an accomplishment worthy of mention. Sadly, the (14) books weren’t at all worth the time investment. Someone should edit the batch down to 4 or 5 crisply paced books.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars (Doescher) – This is one of my favorite things in the world. If you saw our stripped down production at Hutchmoot, be sure to read the uncut version in hardback (available in the store). We had to cut out some of the best stuff.
A Severe Mercy (Vanauken) – C. S. Lewis + Poetry + Sailing + Tragic Love Story = right up my alley. Beautiful book.
Till We Have Faces (Lewis) – It took me 50 or 60 pages to fall for this book, but once I did, I was head over heels until the end. Without a doubt it’s my favorite of everything I’ve read by Lewis.
12 Years a Slave – By a large margin, the best movie I saw this year. Great cinema.
Saving Mr. Banks – I was completely delighted by this whole movie. I smiled all the way through it. My favorite Emma Thompson role since Beatrice.
Mud – I didn’t see this one coming. It reminded me of a modern-day Huck Finn.
Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing – It’s hard for me to imagine anyone as Benedick and Beatrice except Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson, but I loved pretty much every second of this movie. Thank you, Joss (and William).
Breaking Bad – I binged the entire series a few months ago and it’ll probably be on my list of favorite pieces of cinema (film or TV) for the rest of my life. I’ve definitely never seen anything else on television that can match it. Finishing it was like finishing a classic piece of Russian literature—like Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment. Best show ever.
Doctor Who – I think this is the year I finally fell for the Doctor. Love this show. So weird. So wacky. So timey-wimey. And yet so very good.
Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs – It’s kind of ridiculous how much I enjoy this record. Well done, Randy.
Arthur Alligood – I fell in love with Arthur Alligood’s music this year. I can’t get enough of either of his records (One Silver Needle and I Have Not Seen the Wind.)
The Mantis and the Moon – Chris Slaten’s (Son of Laughter’s) EP completely blew me away. It actually makes me angry when I listen to it because I want there to be at least 5 or 6 more songs, but there aren’t. Darn you, Chris Slaten.
Trouble Will Find Me (The National) – I thought sure Trouble Will Find Me would disappoint me coming on the heels of High Violet, of which I can probably recite every word. But against all odds, the new record is every bit as great and manages to have a vibe all its own. Love it.
The forthcoming Caleb (the band) album – I’m kind of cheating on this one. I spent a lot of time this year listening to Ben Shive producing Caleb’s new album in the next room. It’s ridiculously good, and I can’t wait for it to go public so the rest of the world can hear how awesome it is.
Okay, I know, I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet—but I’m going to talk about Christmas music anyway.
Buddy Greene is one of the nicest and most likable guys in Nashville. Every time he drops by the RR office, whether it’s to buy a book, play a harmonica, or just say hello, he’s all smiles and laughter from the moment he walks in until the moment he walks out. And he leaves smiles and laughter behind when he’s gone.
One day last month I got a humble email from Buddy telling me that he had just finished recording a little Christmas album and he wondered if I’d give it a listen. Now let me be honest. My fear was that I was in for an hour of weary Christmas classics and carols adapted for the harmonica—and I wasn’t sure how much harmonicated “Jingle Bell Rock” I could handle. I should go ahead and admit that I don’t really like Christmas music in general. There are a few exceptions, of course. I love Harry Connick. I love Jill and Andy Gullahorn’s Christmas CD. I loved last year’s Over the Rhine Christmas record. And I love . . . well . . . I suppose that’s about it (I’m not including Behold the Lamb of God here because I think that’s something more than Christmas music, if you know what I mean).
So it’s with great surprise that I’ve found Buddy Greene’s December’s Song added to that small rotation of favorites. Somehow, it’s a nice fit beside those other Christmas records. It seems right at home there. It’s a little bit folk, a little bit bluegrass, a little bit hymnal, a little bit jazz, even a little bit crooning Bing Crosby. I love it. So I’m going to shut up and let you hear some of it. Check out the song below.
“Canticle of the Turning”
by Buddy Greene
Buddy just released the record to the public last week. You should check it out. Here’s the link.
Several years ago I joined a couple of friends to form a reading group in which our chief aim was to read books that we should have but have not. Paradise Lost was the first we read and there’s been a long list of others since. It’s been a good thing for me because the group has forced me to read quite a few books that I certainly would not have otherwise, and in the process I’ve discovered some of my all-time favorites.
Then last week at breakfast, Jonathan Rogers (who has for years cruelly and evilly spurned invitations to our reading fellowship) said something that made me shake my head and sigh. What he said was something to this effect (and I welcome him to correct me in the comments): “I’m done reading books I don’t enjoy. If I don’t like it, I don’t finish it!”
Now, in defense of such an indignant and Rogersian argument the following point was made:
Let’s say one reads two books a month, religiously, for the rest of one’s life. If such were the case (and I think that’s a pretty liberal estimate) that means that in my lifetime, I will probably only get to read about 1000 more books. Given that frighteningly finite number, doesn’t it make sense that I’d want to guarantee each of those reads was enjoyable as possible?
Sam Smith just posted an interview with Thomas McKenzie about his forthcoming book, The Anglican Way. There are only a few days left to support Thomas’s work on Indiegogo. Here’s an excerpt, but please check out the entire interview on Sam’s website.
SS: When I’ve heard you preach, you have always emphasized the Gospel. Is the Gospel hubbub of late just another fad?
TM: The Church only has two things to offer the world: Word and Sacrament. These two, together, are how we proclaim the Gospel. The Word is the voice of the Gospel, the Sacraments are the body. The only reason for the Church to exist is to proclaim the Gospel, in word and deed.
We’ve been about this work for 2000 years, and I don’t expect us to stop until Christ’s return. I don’t think Gospel preaching and living could be considered a fad. I don’t see that there’s been a hubbub of late, but I might be missing something.
The audiobook officially releases on November 5th (next Tuesday). It’ll be available here in the Rabbit Room store as well as at other digital audiobook outlets (for those who wish to support Russ, the best place to shop is the Rabbit Room store).
If you’re unfamiliar with Russ’s book, here’s a sample from the new audiobook in which Andrew Peterson reads from the foreword (which he wrote) and tells the story of not only where the book came from, but of why it matters.
“What is the Molehill?”
People ask me the question all the time. I usually tell them it’s the Rabbit Room’s literary journal, and then I find myself wanting to apologize for calling it something as highfalutin as “literary.” But at the very least it’s a bound collection of writing that aspires to literature. So maybe the question I really want to answer is this: “Why is the Molehill?” Why this when the literary world is already filled with more fine journals than most of us have time to read? Good question.
Our plans are laid, and today’s the day. Travel safely from near and far. Arrive in good cheer. Come ready for dinner. There’s a weekend of live music, rich laughter, fake astronauts, good books, and old friends waiting for you here. Bring your stories and make them ours. Convene the Hutchmoot!
[Note: The Rabbit Room and the Rabbit Room store will be lightly manned for the next week while we moot and recover. Order fulfillment from the Rabbit Room store will resume on 10/18.]
Those of you who know Thomas McKenzie only through his One Minute Reviews may think you’ve got him pinned down as a rather eccentric and ordained combination of Jack Black and Conan O’Brien. But what you may not know, unless you attend the church he pastors or have listened to his sermons or have read his Molehill essays, is that there are least two things he’s more passionate about than movies: his church, and the Gospel.
I listen to him preach almost every Sunday morning and I’m consistently amazed by his ability to be disarming, strange, shocking, insightful, and profound all in the space of fifteen minutes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned to my wife after church and said, of one of Thomas’s homilies: “I didn’t see that coming.” One of Thomas’s great gifts, I think, is his ability to see to the truth of things and communicate what he sees simply and without ego. That talent informs his preaching, and it also informs his writing.
For as long as I’ve known Thomas he’s been working on this book, The Anglican Way, and in the last few months he’s finally finished writing it, and I’ve had the chance to read some of his work. It’s an accessible, easy to read, comprehensive overview of the Anglican Church and what it means to be a part of it. As someone who’s a newcomer to Anglicanism, I can’t wait to read the whole book. I hope to be one of its editors, so that could be very soon if this IndieGoGo campaign gets funded.
When I sat down with Thomas a couple of weeks ago to hear his plan for the campaign, the thing that sealed the deal in my mind was this: He’s giving the book away. That’s right—giving it away. Thomas sees this work, his work, as a gift to the church, and he’s committed to giving it away to the people who need it most. I think that’s an amazing and beautiful statement of faith.
His goal is $12,000, and that’s to cover the expenses of production, printing, and shipping, as well as building a website that will facilitate the free distribution of the book. Even if you aren’t an Anglican, I hope you’ll see how important this gift is to Thomas and help support him in this good work.