[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 We too often equate “traditional” with “old-fashioned” or “out of date.”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.[audio:Foreword.mp3]
“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.
[Brian Rowley is well-known among many of the Rabbit Room’s pipe smoking ilk for his incredible, hand-crafted, artisan pipes. For most of the past year he’s been working on a special project. Here he is to tell you all about it. —Pete]
A “Pipe Of The Year” is a common practice among small communities, who share both the love of the community, and the art of pipe smoking. The concept is simple, find a pipemaker who will make number of pipes, specifically crafted for the community, and stamp them each as such. The idea is to have all of the pipes made in the exact same shape and size, so that they’re easily recognized by the community. It’s a form of art, bonding and brotherhood.
During Hutchmoot 2012, it became know to some of the attendees that I was a pipemaker, and over the course of the conference, several people asked if I’d consider making a Rabbit Room edition pipe. I was thrilled at the prospect and began envisioning the project.
The first task was to determine the shape. A standard Billiard, the quintessential pipe for any sophisticated pipe connoisseur, seemed just a bit blasé. With a crowd as artistic as the Rabbit Room, it was important to find just the right shape. I wanted a shape that exuded class, but not a shape so classic that everyone would already have one. After some deliberation, I settled on the Dublin.
The Dublin family includes the traditional English Dublin shape as well as the Zulu, Yachtsman, Cutty, and Belge. The primary characteristic is a gracefully forward-tilted bowl that tapers downward from rim to heel. The Dublin I chose favors the shape of the Zulu.
In a traditional Pipe Of The Year, they are all made exactly the same. For this first run, I wanted them to be all the same, and all different; so while each pipe is the same size and shape, each is also uniquely finished, allowing each buyer to choose with personal preference in mind. It’s my hope that as long as interest exists for a Rabbit Room Pipe Of The Year, I’ll produce a unique set each year by choosing a different shape.
Lastly, each pipe has been meticulously hand crafted, to provide the best fit and finish and quality that can only be expected from a high-end pipe. Duly stamped with the official Growley logo, as well as the Rabbit Room Smoking Rabbit, these pipes will forever be known as the the first offical Rabbit Room pipe!
About the Pipes
The briar (Erica Aborea) was hand selected and imported from the finest Italian woodcutter, Romeo Briar, and each stem was hand cut from raw Ebonite or Acrylic rods imported from Germany.
Each pipe measures the following:
Chamber Bore: .75”
Chamber Depth: 1.2”
Weight: 1.4 oz
[This inaugural set of seven pipes will be sold at Hutchmoot 2013 on a first-come, first-served basis. They are priced at $295 each, a specially discounted price just for this event. Visit GrowleyPipes.com to see more of Brian’s work.]
Jennifer and I read Robert Farrar Capon’s Supper of the Lamb out loud to one another this year. We read it on road trips, and in the bed at night, and on the sofa during rainy Saturday afternoons. For the first (and almost certainly the last) time in our lives, we wept over the final pages of a cookbook. For both of us the experience was like discovering a friend that we’d never known yet always missed. When introducing the book to others, Jennifer often describes it like this: “If G. K. Chesterton and N. T. Wright got together to write a cookbook, this would be the result.” It’s now one of our most cherished books, and it’s one that I pick off the shelf often, rereading favorite passages.
It’s a book that I think so throughly captures the spirit of the Rabbit Room and Hutchmoot that a few months ago, I spent a lot of time trying to track down Capon. I knew he was old, and I’d read that he had a hard life filled with heartbreak and disappointment, and I felt a deep need to thank him for his work, to let him know how much it meant to me and to so many others. I also secretly hoped to find a way to coax him into sharing a meal with us at Hutchmoot one day.
I never did manage to get in touch with him, and if you’ve paid much attention to the Facebook and Twitter feeds this morning, you’ll know that that moot isn’t going to happen. Robert Farrar Capon died yesterday and took his seat at a greater banquet table than Hutchmoot has to offer.
I like to think that as he joins that Higher Convivium, of which he so vividly wrote, that he’s offering up one of his great toasts and assuring the rest of us that there’s plenty of room left at the feast. I imagine that he’s tasting that wine, the like of which we scarcely dream, and it’s spilling down his chin as he laughs and shouts to remind us who we are, and who we are yet to be, and how important it is that we see Creation for the great good it was made to become. And as he sits down and sinks his teeth into the true work of the Lamb, I wonder if that toast might sound something like this one from the Supper of the Lamb:
“With that I leave you… I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity… May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.
We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot… Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.
Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”
“Lion become priest
And Lamb victim
The world awaits
The unimaginable union
By which the Lion lifts Himself Lamb slain
And, Priest and Victim,
Farewell, Father Robert, until we moot in that Higher Convivium.
Several weeks ago, Russ Ramsey had heart surgery. He’s written a series of posts about the experience, which you can (and should) read here:
Though the surgery went well, this past weekend Russ developed some complications and has been readmitted to the hospital. Last night was really tough on him and he’s asked for your prayers as the doctors try to pin down the problem and get him on the mend. Pray for his wife and four kids as well; I know they’re anxious to have him back home.
On Tuesday, August 20th at 7:00pm, Walt Wangerin, Jr., author of some of our favorite books (Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, Letters from the Land of Cancer, the National Book Award-winning The Book of the Dun Cow, and many more) will join us at the Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee to address the Rabbit Room community. Will there be music? Probably. Will there be snacks? We sure hope so. In fact, we encourage everyone to bring a snack item (preferably homemade!). Will there be a talk by a great American author? Definitely.
This special event is open to the public. The price of admission is the purchase of one of Mr. Wangerin’s books (listed here) through the Rabbit Room store (one book per adult in your party). The books you purchase will be given to you on the night of the event. No books will be shipped.
Today we celebrate the birth of two awesome things: Ron Block, and his new record Walking Song (co-written with Rebecca Reynolds). That’s right, today is Ron’s birthday so wish him well and buy him a copy of his record. He’ll love you for it.
Once you’ve read the review, listen to this. Thank me later.
by Ron Block and Ethan Block
Check back later for an exclusive video performance of “Walking Song” by Ron Block and Sierra Hull.
Happy birthday, Ron, and congratulations on the incredible work you and Rebecca have done.
I read Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb last year and it sort of rocked my world (or maybe it stirred my pot?). Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the notion of food and communal eating as a kind of sacrament. Reading the book even moved Jennifer and me to cook our own “supper of the Lamb” on Good Friday and invite close friends to share it with us. It was a special evening that I won’t forget. It’s funny, and amazing, how a book can open up an idea like that and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by ordinary things that seem a little more magical than they did before. Something as simple as dinner can be a holy thing.
I came across a great article on this theme, gustatory grace (yes, I had to look it up), and had to share it with you folks. It’s from The Paris Review and it’s about food, film, literature, and grace. Read and enjoy. Here’s an excerpt:
One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.
That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. The attentiveness of the writer is shown in how that writer lifts to the level of extraordinary the most ordinary of people, places, and things.