What are you looking for?
3467 items found for ""
- Christmas Came Early: A Free Puzzle Hunt With Love from the Rabbit Room
We like to keep things fun here at ye ol' Rabbit Room. For instance, a few years ago at Hutchmoot, the Rabbit Room's annual conference in Franklin, TN, we decided to make a deck of cards with puzzles on them (and adorable rabbits). We hid the puzzle cards around the conference and everyone worked together to find them and solve the puzzles. Now it is time to share the love. Call it an early Christmas gift from your friends at the Rabbit Room. Here Is How the Game Works: Print the puzzles out. Hide them around your house. Call a bunch of friends/family members over. Find them. Solve them. Make merry. Word to the Wise the First: You can play the game collaboratively or break into teams to see who can find and solve the most. Beyond that, just make up the rest of the rules as you go! Word to the Wise the Second: The difficulty level of these puzzles ranges from "My kid could solve that!" to "Are you kidding me? I'm not an AI." We recommend teaming up for the stumpers. Have Tylenol at the ready for any brain cramps. Without further ado, you can download all the QR codes that lead to the puzzles here. Or if you want to skip the QRs and go straight to the puzzles, here are the files. And just so you don't have to go to the effort of clicking in order to see what you're getting into, here are a few sample puzzles. (But you will have to download the file to see the answers.) Our weekly newsletter is the best way to learn about new books, staff recommendations, upcoming events, lectures, and more. Sign up here.
- Join the Rabbit Room Story—Giving Tuesday 2023
"True, lasting healing comes when we step away from the old life and into a more spacious place. This is what the Rabbit Room has been for us..." -Elizabeth Maxon, Rabbit Room supporter & member. We at the Rabbit Room are no strangers to the power of stories and the role they play in shaping our lives. Today is Giving Tuesday and we are using the special day as a moment to invite you to enter the story of the Rabbit Room through giving. Your contribution helps us expand old projects and launch new ones—all in order to create and curate gospel-infused stories, music, and art, for the life of the world. With your help this Giving Tuesday, we are able to dream bigger in our pursuit of that worthwhile mission! Help us reach our Giving Tuesday goal of $10K raised in one day! We asked a few of our members to share their story as to why they felt called to give to the Rabbit Room. Here is Elizabeth Maxon's story. "Hi, my name is Elizabeth Maxon. I’m from the little college town of Clemson, South Carolina and I'm a Rabbit Room supporter. Several years ago, I was standing in my front yard with Jonathan Rogers, who had just led a writer’s workshop in my home, when he looked at me and said – 'Have you heard of the Rabbit Room?'A few months later I was registered for my first Hutchmoot and officially a member of the Rabbit Room. The Rabbit Room community regularly meets me in the trenches of motherhood and ministry. My husband and I work with couples in crisis and people imprisoned by addiction. We’ve found that it is not enough to help them find freedom FROM whatever has entangled them. They also need to embrace their freedom TO live a brand new life. It has been true in our own lives as well. True, lasting healing comes when we step away from the old life and into a more spacious place. This is what the Rabbit Room has been for us – like a doorway leading to a wide open space where the goodness, beauty, and truth of the gospel is not only experienced but engaged. It has transformed our lives and the lives of our children. Every story and song, every illustration and interaction, is a creative expression of God’s deep love for us and an invitation to participate in the continuous recreation of that love. For this reason, we are committed to supporting the Rabbit Room forever and interacting with this community as often as possible. Sometimes this simply looks like listening to podcasts or reading the member emails for recommendations of great films or books. Other times it is planning a family vacation to Nashville to attend The Local Show, a Rabbit Room theater production live, or just spending a morning visiting and dreaming with our friends at North Wind Manor (the kids particularly enjoy slipping into the Harry Potter hideout under the stairs and I particularly enjoy sitting by Tolkien’s fireplace in deep conversation with Elly or Rachel or a new friend I’ve met). We’ve even brought some of the Rabbit Room musicians (like Skye Peterson) to South Carolina for shows! If you’re looking for something to breathe new life into your work, your family, your very soul – I think you’ll find it here with us. It is the kindest, most welcoming bunch of imperfect, but committed, kingdom builders I’ve found. I hope you know you’re welcome too! Here is supporter Cathy McKeon: "We love and support the Rabbit Room for its dedication to Christ-centered community and its nurturing of creativity in the arts, but more than that... It has been such a gift to find this welcoming, generous, and hospitable creative community. We entered long ago through the doors of music and story, but I’ve become more involved through Hutchmoot and zoom calls (member, artists &, and the Poetry Pub groups) and the friendships formed there. I have been inspired by getting to know artists who are living out their callings excellently and unto the glory of God, and I have been challenged and deeply encouraged in my own creative work and faith in Christ by amazing friends who are walking with me on this road. We are so grateful to be able to participate in the life of this community and in the work of the Kingdom." Here is the Larson family: "We have been members and supporters of The Rabbit Room for many years, after first being introduced to this community through the music of Andy and Jill. Our girls read “The Hiding Place” and became obsessed with Corrie Ten Boom, so when The Rabbit Room Theatre put on the play, Eraina and Lucy travelled from Texas to Nashville for the show. It was a highlight of the year. These nights and books and prayers and music are all little conversations that together have a big impact on our family. The Rabbit Room has been a steady help as we encourage imagination and joy and whimsy in our children and pursue what is “good, true and beautiful” together as a family. We are delighted to be members of The Rabbit Room and cheer on this great work.' You can join these folks and support the Rabbit Room by giving today. Click here to donate!
- Five Liturgies About Parenting From Every Moment Holy Vol. 3
Before becoming a parent myself, someone shared the oh-so-helpful statistic that surveys show that most couples report that the happiest days of their marriage were before having children. It was not a heartening statistic to hear as a newly-married-but-as-yet-childless person. Now six years into parenting three children, I can attest that the reality of navigating the ups and downs of parenting is so much more complicated than that statistic made it seem. We waited eight years before having children and, yes, those years held many joys to which we have since waved bye-bye. Joys like choosing when you want to wake up, jauntily walking out the door when it is time to leave the house, or not needing to check your sweaters each time you wear them to make sure they haven't picked up any new stains from food or... other things. As with most things, Michael McIntyre sums it up nicely. This season of life has held new joys of its own though—and new sorrows. It has been harder than I could have imagined, but I can also see that in the difficulty, the best parts of me have grown and the worst parts of me have been revealed and peeled away. Sometimes when I walk through the door, three little beings scream my name and walk/crawl over to me for a hug. Other times, however, I walk in while two or more of these little angels are screaming at, hitting, stealing from, or otherwise menacing one another. Sometimes I feel that I should read Ellie Holcomb and Douglas McKelvey's "Liturgy for After a Fight Among Siblings" before coming home and have Andrew Roycroft's "Liturgy for After a Child's Meltdown" or Hannah Greer's "A Liturgy for Responding to a Child's Needs" at the ready for soon after arrival. My oldest son started kindergarten this year and watching him ride his bike to school on his first day brought on a peculiar melange of feelings that I hardly have words for. It was a bright sadness, to say the least. Yet I know it is but a foretaste of what is in store when my children grow up and leave the house. I imagine that I will return to this post to read Heidi Johnston's "Liturgy for Contemplating the Empty Bedroom of a Child Who Has Left Home" on that day. On the whole, parenting is a delightful, strange, and maddening mixed bag. But did I leave my happiest days behind me when we had our first child? Definitely not. Has there been a trade-off of one kind of joy and one kind of suffering for another? Certainly. One thing is beyond doubt, parents need all the support they can get. So parents, to that end, we offer these liturgies gratis and with our blessing to help you through all the many ups and downs you will encounter on the way. Each of these liturgies is taken from Every Moment Holy Volume 3 from Rabbit Room Press. You can find more liturgies like these at EveryMomentHoly.com. Liturgy for After a Child's Meltdown by Andrew Roycroft Lord, as this present storm subsides, as we process our own agitated emotions, even our exasperation at this meltdown, help us to breathe out again. Soften this wounded hush into readiness to hear your voice, to show your mercy, to offer your grace, to model your love. All-seeing God, the hurt we feel is not unknown to you. Jesus, great High Priest, you are not unsympathetic to our distress. Blessed Holy Spirit, who brooded over formless ruin, come to us with your creative peace. We bring our child to you now overtaken by emotion, overwhelmed with frustration. Calm them, we pray. Root them ever more deeply in our unconditional love. Steady their ragged breathing and raging thoughts. Blossom their budded fists into opened hands. Where gospel conviction would lead them to your grace—our grace—let it do its work. Where harmful guilt would drive them to the brink, draw them back. Let your love shown through us become their safe place, their nearest shore. Thank you for the gift of our relationship with [child's name]. Thank you that our love gives them a sheltered space in which they can express their heart, their fears, their hurts and confusion, rather than choking those emotions down till they become a quiet poison in their veins. Help us to be steady for them in such moments, not reacting abruptly or unpredictably from our own old wounds—even when we feel overwhelmed by this child’s outburst. We bring ourselves to you, O Christ. We are sinners. We have raged against others in the past. We have raged against you. Forgive us. O Lord, we confess our failure in our handling of these circumstances. A MOMENT OF QUIET REFLECTION AND REPENTANCE MAY BE OBSERVED. Where we have spoken to our child with unbridled tongue, cleanse us, and re-season our speech with grace. Lord give us the courage to confess our sin to our child without justification or reservation. Help us to mean our repentance; help us to model it for them. In the present chaos of these emotions, remind us of your covenant, and help us to embody that same love to our child today. O Lord, as our child will come to us conscious of what they have done, cautious of our response, enable us to stand with open arms in the path that our child takes home, to welcome them, help them, teach them, and guide them. Take us beyond the symptoms of this meltdown and lead us to what is really the matter. May this present stress serve over time to strengthen our bonds of love. Help us to walk in the way of the cross and let your reconciling power be at work here. O Lord, help us! Work your gospel into this moment. Grant that I and my child would not only experience recovery through these hours, but that together we would discover your redemptive grace in new and healing ways, knitting our hearts even more closely than they were before this flare of emotion. Amen. A Liturgy for Contemplating the Empty Bedroom of a Child Who Has Left Home by Heidi Johnston Eternal, unchanging God, meet me here in this moment as my spirit hovers over the bittersweet emptiness of this place that once echoed with noise and life and laughter and possibility. Help me see the space before me as the next proper stage in this, the story of my child, and of my child within our family, and of our family within your greater story— the end of which will not be changed by circumstance or undone by the passing of time. Give me grace to look back with gratitude and not regret, treasuring the memories that come so easily to mind. ONE MIGHT PAUSE HERE TO REFLECT AND GIVE THANKS. Thank you, Father God, for the privilege of loving and nurturing this child over so many years. Forgive my countless failings. Use them only as reminders of your grace. If, in our home, there has been any delight in you, any hunger for your Word, any love for your people, may such things take root even now, growing ever deeper and spreading farther for the extension of your kingdom. As we move into this new season, teach me to accept with gladness the independence that has always been the end goal of parenting—in the knowledge that the bond between parent and child will not end with this letting go. Even as I acknowledge my changing role, help me to be a faithful supporter, always offering an open door and a listening ear, and, above all, remaining fervent in prayer. Thank you that my love for this child, although at times I imagine it unmatched in all of humanity, is but a shadow of your own never-ending love which follows them now where I cannot, and knows all that now remains hidden from me. Give me the courage to entrust to your care that which was never mine to keep. Bless and protect your child through all that is to come, captivating their heart and sustaining them with hope. Grant them wisdom and discernment and the courage to live well in the light of all that is eternally true. ONE MIGHT PAUSE TO PRAY FOR ANY SPECIFIC CHALLENGES NOW FACING THEIR CHILD Just as this child was always yours, so also is this empty space, to do with as you will. Breathe now into this void, showing me how to best use it for your glory. Are there others in need of nurture and care, who, for even a short season, may find refuge in this space? Or perhaps it will become a sanctuary, dedicated to your service in other ways. A place where I, or others, may use or hone or explore whatever gifts and talents you have entrusted to us for the building of your kingdom. ONE MIGHT PAUSE HERE TO PRAY FOR GUIDANCE AND WISDOM And now, with fondness for all that is past and anticipation of all that is yet to come, help me embrace this new season without fear, looking always ahead to that day when we will see that no ending was what it seemed; when all our stories finally merge into one epic tale of your relentless faithfulness, and we find that we are forever home, delighting to dwell in the rooms you have prepared for us. Amen. A Liturgy for Long Hours Caring for an Infant by Leslie Eiler Thompson I am so tired, Lord. This young life requires such constant expenditure of my energies and affections, till I feel drained of both. But you, O Jesus, knew in your own flesh the constraints of the human condition, for you also experienced the weariness of long hours tending endless needs. I beg now your provision of grace as I face the coming hours. I long for the moment when sleep finds me, but till then, I pray your strength would be at work even in my weakness. Now fill my empty cup again, with patience and with peace, that I might pour it out for my child, in joy. Amen. A Liturgy for Responding to a Child's Needs by Hannah Greer O Father, I abide in the beautiful truth that I can come to you expectantly, knowing you will hear me and answer me. You bend to listen to my pleas for help and comfort and guidance and strength. You carry me always. You never tire of it, and I depend upon your dependability to comfort and hold me. And yet, sometimes the voices of my own children become so continuous and exhausting and overwhelming. I am so easily put out and wearied by the whining, tugging, grabbing, and crying to be continually held and attended to. In my humanity, I am confronted with my many limitations. I am so easily given to selfishness, exhaustion, tedium, frustration, and irritation. My back aches and my neck and shoulders are aflame from hoisting small children up again and again and again and balancing them on my hip while trying to accomplish my tasks for the day. How easily my sin can twist the joyful blessing of holding a child into drudgery and a wearisome task. Is this not what I prayed for, Lord, when I asked you to fill my arms with children? I am so like the Israelites, who complained though you rescued them from their enemies, who complained though you rained manna from heaven and provided water from a rock. Yet you never tire of coming to the aid of your children. Father, give me the capacity I need to respond lovingly to my children who cry out to be picked up and held again and again. Remind me of the blessed truth that while I hold my little ones, you hold me. Let me display to them what it looks like to joyfully lay down one’s life for another. Help me to show them that while I will fail them at times, you will never fail them, and you will always hold us fast. Amen. A Liturgy for Giving Your Child Bad News by Janel Davis O Lord, in a few moments I have to tell my kids one of the worst things I hope they will ever hear. Have mercy on us, O Lord. I know you love them more than I could ever love them. Help me remember that truth as I watch the pain cross their faces, and also in the coming months as I shepherd them through the grief that is sure to follow. May this moment of awful revelation not become a memory that might uproot their budding faith, but rather one that plants it deeper within them, turning their young hearts to you in the midst of their dismay and giving those gospel seeds the resiliency they need to flourish for a lifetime, no matter the suffering or the circumstances they experience in their lives. Help me not to fall apart as I tell them, Lord. Help me hold my emotions together so that I don’t scare them, but also let me open enough of a window into my own sorrow that they might see that it is okay and good to grieve, to weep, and to express their feelings. Sovereign Lord, this news is so awful my children likely won’t even understand some parts of it. And I’m not sure quite how to explain it. Grant me wisdom, insight, and understanding to communicate just enough that they might comprehend this heartbreak in an age-appropriate way, but also such that no horrid, graphic details would lodge in their dreams and imaginations. I rely on you, Holy Spirit, to be my counselor, nudging me toward what to tell and what to hold back. Let me be sensitive and responsive to your voice that I might in this moment become a conduit of your wisdom and your love for my children. There will almost certainly be a loss of innocence in learning of this news. My children will begin to understand hard truths about life and humanity. Till now I’ve tried to guard their hearts from things too dark for them to deal with. I’ve tried to show them the flourishing and the beauty of your good creation. Now they will also hear of the horrors that followed on the heels of the fall. Lord, may they know that you are still good. May they better see why the news of your coming kingdom is such a great hope. May they begin to learn how you will subvert even this evil, somehow using it for the good of your people and for your glory. I entrust their innocence to your hands. Lord, our great Healer— redeem the trauma this brings to our lives. Let your redemption be active in ways we cannot even imagine. Redeem the shock and the wounds we will feel. And redeem the wreckage in the lives of those affected most directly. Do not let this trauma lodge for long in our bodies, spirits, or minds, O Lord. Make us resilient. Let our faith become more rooted and fierce in the face of storm and darkness. Give us a grit that would glorify you, using even this experience to make our lives more sheltering for others in their sorrows. Hold us, heal us, and comfort us, Lord Jesus. We entrust you with all that is good and all that is awful in our lives. Be near us in the hard conversation soon to happen. Be our balm and our guide, our counselor and our shepherd, in the hours and days and months that follow. Amen. Our weekly newsletter is the best way to learn about new books, staff recommendations, upcoming events, lectures, and more. Sign up here.
- The Best Storytelling Music Videos of 2023
It wasn't too long ago that music videos were somewhat of a luxury item in music - especially Christian music. In the decade of 2001-2010, it was a no man's land for music videos. MTV and VH1 had essentially pivoted away from showcasing videos, YouTube was in its infancy, and Instagram didn't even exist yet. Back in 2010, I interviewed Andrew Peterson, not long after the release of "Dancing in the Minefields" - his first career music video. Andrew shared, "We live in an entirely different world than when I started playing music ten or twelve years ago. It used to be, if you made a music video, where was it going to get played - on ZTV or TBN late at night? I don’t know how that works. But I knew that I wasn’t ever watching Christian music videos. Now with YouTube, the Internet, and blogging and stuff, I was like, 'Hey, maybe we should try doing this thing.' We ended up deciding in a meeting in about five minutes to make a video for 'Dancing in the Minefields.'" As of today, that music video has over 2 million views. Today, we live in a much more visual world, and videos of all varieties (lyrics, live performances, visualizers, conceptual, reels, etc) are nearly symbiotic with the making and releasing of new music. One of the wonderful gifts that music videos give us is to experience music with more than just our ears. This art form is at times a practical tool like an extra layer of marketing. But there are also magical moments where the music video showcases a deeper level of artistic expression that can make a good song great, and a great song iconic. Can you think of the songs "Thriller," "Take On Me," or "Single Ladies" without imagining the music videos? Here we have selected five music videos from artists of faith - all released in 2023 - that are beautiful visually and musically and draw us into a deeper story through the craft of music video making. "Two Sides" by Gabrielle Grace Creating a story around an artist's reflections on personal grief is not easy to pull off with integrity. The acting, story arc, videography, and artistic direction in this video pull me in and emotionally grip me every time I see it. I'm blown away that this is a fully independent video done on a shoestring budget. It shows that good storytelling is more valuable than high budgets. "Lead Us Again" by DOE The setting is one that many in the Rabbit Room have been a part of - planning and leading a worship service. This prayerful song aligns us with the Holy Spirit as our Guide, instead of yoking ourselves to human agendas and performance. The color orange takes on spiritual symbolism, and in one scene orange paint covers over a detailed worship service schedule. There are lots of visual and artistic nuggets in this one. "Hope" by NF We cannot talk 2023 music videos without this one - from a production standpoint one of the best music videos of the year in any genre, showcased by the over 100 reaction videos by vloggers on YouTube. It is symbolic, cinematic, and with better videography than many Hollywood movies. Plus, this track - visually and musically - wrestles with big themes like defining success, regrets, forgiveness, and mental health. "Kind" by Cory Asbury There is a trigger warning for this one as the concept deals with a death in a hospital. The concept of turning a music video into a full short film has been an effective medium for decades - for example, Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," and Taylor Swift's "All Too Well." In this November 2023 release, directors Kaiser Cunningham and Taylor Kelly tell a gripping story of a marriage in crisis, the hope of restoration, and the bitterness of grief. A lot went into the making of this video, and it's worth the 7-minute ride. "Only Time Will Tell" by JJ Heller The video features a real-life couple who gave birth to their fourth child in 2019, and in early 2023 underwent a double mastectomy for a recent breast cancer diagnosis. The genuine personal footage (filmed by Joy Prouty and edited by Dave Heller) adds an intimate touch that gives the song a deeper context. The song tries to move love from a feeling, a romance, or even a vow and move it into a space marked only by the depth of years. In the same way, the personal footage of one family's real journey gives an incarnational space for this song to have a deeper impact. Dave Trout is a claw game conqueror, pepperoni pizza connoisseur, and indie music curator. As founder of UTR Media, he hosts four podcasts, manages six streaming playlists, and produces events, Kickstarters, and special projects. Find his work at https://utrmedia.org. Our weekly newsletter is the best way to learn about new books, staff recommendations, upcoming events, lectures, and more. Sign up here.
- A Holiday Guide To Talking To People You Disagree With
Slow-moving cultural forces have combined to make the holidays more difficult than they used to be. As Bill Wright writes in The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, we have become geographically and demographically stratified in recent decades. We are surrounded by people who live like us, think like us, vote like us, and see the world as we do. All the while, we are more isolated than ever. We are reaping the seeds the modern self has sown and the modern self is a lonely self. As cultural alienation and stratification set in, we lose those trace infinitesimal opportunities to be influenced by those with whom we differ. Robust communities have always offered humans opportunities to be changed by a variety of sources, but now we are brainwashing ourselves by likeness. And then the holidays come around. We pack up the car and go back to the places we came from to celebrate the holidays with the people who raised us and we find that we’ve become even more different than we were last year. We discover that there are things we can’t talk about anymore, places we can’t go, views we can’t express. Or, even worse, we do step on one of those conversational landmines and, sure enough, it blows. Suddenly a gathering that started as a celebration of the day God dawned in flesh amid his darkened world becomes a clash of inflamed opinions and old wounds. If you find yourself in that position this holiday season, take a step back. Take a breath and remember that this isn’t only something you’re doing. It is also something our culture has done to you. We are both the victims and the perpetrators of our broken discourses. But what has been done can also be undone. How Can Christianity Help? It is no small thing to have a conversation with someone whose ideas you disagree with (or possibly find repugnant). It can be painful, confusing, and frustrating. We can enter difficult conversations with the most careful intentions, only to be dragged into a tit-for-tat, zero-sum battle of words that leaves everyone wounded and no one closer to the kind of insight that changes people. It is not a foregone conclusion that just because you are a Christian, you will interact with people as Jesus did. Modern people are not short on conversational role models that are at odds with the teacher from Nazareth who gave his time to talking, teaching, listening, challenging, forgiving, and loving people out of their misbegotten thinking. Yet, if we are to pursue the pattern of a God who was incarnated into our broken world to put it to rights, we are going to have to get better at talking to people we disagree with (even when those people are seated around the family table). Yet, in our polarized, digitized, and politicized cultural moment, that is exactly the skill we are in danger of losing. The ability to have unhurried, nuanced, generous conversations is not an optional add-on for the people of God. Too often, we pattern our speech after culture warriors: we use sound bites, slogans, and straw men to “win” our conversations, but these won’t do if we want to understand (and be understood by) those who are not already members of our particular tribe. If we are to overcome the world’s ways of making ideological war, we are going to need more mental, emotional, and spiritual firepower — but not of the kind the world recognizes. If we are to master the taxing task of conversing with those with whom we disagree, we are going to need more patience, kindness, love, laughter, time, wisdom, grace, curiosity, and, above all, humility. The good news is that transforming humans into the kind of people who are characterized by those qualities is exactly what Christianity does to those who would follow the way of Jesus. The question is: What hope and help can Christianity offer to our culture when the kinds of conversations we need have never seemed less likely? Quite a bit of help, as it turns out. Everyone alive bears the image of God All Christian relationships and communication should be built on the bedrock of the image of God. If we raise our conversational houses on that foundation, we will avoid all kinds of errors. The image of God reminds us that all persons have been imbued with dignity by God himself, so we will not subject them to indignity in our minds or words. The image of God reminds us that God is committed to the well-being of our conversation partner, so we must be likewise committed. The image of God reminds us that the person in front of us is a whole person, not just the sum of their ideas and opinions. The image of God is able to both humble and inspire us. It humbles us because God’s image is also both present and marred in ourselves. It inspires us because everyone — even that difficult person we are talking to — bears God’s likeness, is the object of his affection, and benefits at every moment from his care even if they give him no thanks. No one has said this better than John Calvin. To paraphrase his wonderful thought from The Institutes: “The Lord wants us to do good to all people without exception, though most people, if judged by their own merits, are unworthy of it. But Scripture tells us that we are not to look to what people themselves deserve, but to attend to the image of God in them, to which we owe all honor and love… Whenever anyone comes to you in need of help, you have no grounds for denying it to him. Say he is a stranger — the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you. Say he is lowly and of no consequence — the Lord points him out as one on whom rests the glory of his own image. Say that you owe him nothing — the Lord has substituted that person in his own place, that you might give to him the great obligations that you owe to Christ. Say that he is unworthy of your smallest effort on his account, but the image of God he bears is worthy of your life and all your effort. If he merits no good and has provoked you by injury and mischief, still there is no reason why you should not embrace him in all possible love… In this way only we attain to what is not only difficult but altogether against human nature: to love those who hate us, to render good for evil, blessing for cursing. We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but to look to the image of God in them, which covers and removes their faults and by its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.” The ability to have unhurried, nuanced, generous conversations is not an optional add-on for the people of God. Ask Questions With Humility Don’t forget that you are also a fool. You also have treasured distortions of the good in your own life. You have blind spots and strongholds of falsehood that you guard and protect. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, not only in our behavior but also in our thinking. All of us will be subjected to the lifelong process of refining our ideas and removing the dross from our convictions. Are you certain that process isn’t continuing right now with the person you are talking to? Do not forget Jesus’ sobering words for those who would be judges: “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” I take this to mean that even when we see our brother’s or sister’s sin clearly, we should be more grieved by, more focused on, and more repentant over our own. The missionary and minister Francis Schaeffer spent his days talking with people from all walks of life who came to his home in Switzerland. He used to say that if he had an hour to speak with someone, he would spend 55 minutes listening and asking questions so that he could say something of actual value in the last five. So when you find yourself in a conversation with someone you disagree with: Why not spend more time listening and less time correcting and accusing? Why not make curiosity your watchword and channel it into genuine questions? When you feel an answer or rebuttal burning inside you, why not prohibit yourself from interrupting in order to gainsay the person you are talking to? Why not listen carefully, repeat their argument, and then ask if you have understood it correctly? If you haven’t, ask them to say it again until you can say their own point back to them better than they said it. If you could accomplish that monumental task, I wonder what would happen to the part of their brain that is gearing up for another battle of misunderstandings? If this became your pattern of listening, what would happen the next time you had something to say? Challenge With Patience Christian conversation is not all about listening and questions, however, because having an opinion is not the same thing as knowing the truth. Therefore, our conversation must involve challenge. That said, we should take off our shoes before we go tromping around in the minds, lives, and attitudes of our fellow image-bearers. We are walking on holy ground. But we must not forget that God’s reality, though it surpasses us, is not infinitely malleable. It is not a ball of clay that will take any shape we mold it into. At times, if we want to be people of the truth, we will have to stand for the truth in our lives and in our conversations, come what may. God’s truth is rich, complex, and full of mystery, so we should always challenge with humility and as much strength and gentleness as we have the maturity to muster. When you have something important to say, don’t just blast your conversation partner with a cannon full of “truth” and see what happens. Jesus told his people to be “harmless as doves and wise as serpents.” What does it mean to challenge with wisdom and strength but without fear and violence? What would it mean to forswear harshness for firm strength (which can accomplish everything harshness can but without the damage)? What if you built bridges from truths people already loved to truths they do not love yet? What would it take for you to discern which hills to die on and which crazy comments to completely let slide? What if you saw your role as sowing conversational seeds without harvesting them all at once? Could it be enough for you to simply drop questions into the minds of your conversation partners without launching a follow-up barrage of answers? Remember That God Changes People, Not You We should remember — especially in our most difficult and trying conversations — that the Holy Spirit is the one who is the Great Counselor who leads people into all truth. God works in people’s lives both in brief, intense moments of insight (perhaps as a result of some impactful conversation) and in long, slow revelations that take decades to come to fruition. Any single conversation might be just one part of God’s ongoing work of redemption in a person’s life. Or it might not. After all, we know that any conversation takes place in the context of God’s larger care for people. God, who made and loves our conversation partner, is ultimately responsible for clearing away the error from their thinking and the sin from their lives, not us. We are invited to play a role in speaking and demonstrating the truth in our words and actions — no small part of that being to simply do no harm to our fellow humans for whom Christ died. C.S. Lewis’s words of comfort in Perelandra are a balm to anyone who feels they have erred in a conversation: “Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad. Have no fear, lest your shoulders be bearing this world. Look! it is beneath your head and carries you." Christians should be able to trust God enough to believe — even if your words don’t produce the results you hoped for — that God was at work before the conversation started and abides with the person long after it is over. The fate of the person with whom you are speaking doesn’t rest on your shoulders, but the God who took the burden of the whole broken world on his scarred back carries you both. Receive and be glad. Andy is a staff member of the Rabbit Room and a former staff member of L'Abri Fellowship. Read more from Andy on The Darking Psalter (commentary, translations, and poetry about the Psalms), Three Things (a monthly digest of worthy resources to help people connect with culture, neighbor, and God), and Pattern Bible (reflection on biblical images in the Bible). Our weekly newsletter is the best way to learn about new books, staff recommendations, upcoming events, lectures, and more. Sign up here.
- First Look: Glad and Golden Hours
[Editor's Note: For the past few years, Lanier Ivester and Jennifer Trafton have been chipping away at something remarkable, something that has the potential to deepen and gladden your experience of Advent and Christmas—and to do it with beauty, humor, wit, heart, theological depth, and good, good food...so much food. Glad & Golden Hours is headed to a bookstore near you next fall--but you can have an appetizer today (see download link for cookies and more).] I love a good origin story, particularly if it contains all the elements I love in a regular story: serendipity, friendship, history and happenstance. I want a story to be lit with a lamp of joy, and burnished to a rich glow under the pressure of some holy sorrow. Above all, I require a goodly dose—or at least a glimpse—of real redemption. I don’t want to see sadness tied up with a bow; that would be an insult to both sorrow and redemption, not to mention to my own battle-scarred heart. I just want to be assured that sadness is not meaningless, and that the ordinary matter of my ordinary life actually matters—for something and to Someone. I like to think that the story behind Glad & Golden Hours: A Companion for Advent and Christmastide contains all of these elements for it is, in fact, a deep slice of my story. And, like every story of which God is the author, it has seen some plot twists and taken some unexpected turns. When I sat down to write this book in January of 2021, after the strangest and loneliest Christmas that many of our generation had ever known, I thought I knew exactly what it was about. This was the book I had been dreaming about for over a decade, squirreling away notes and ideas in a folder on my laptop. A Christmas book, yes, but not exactly like any of the ones that already crowded the shelves of my home library. This was an invitation to revel in the light of Christ, contemplatively and experientially, and a defiant flame of joy against the gloom of the world. More than a cookbook, far from a traditional devotional, what I had seen growing in my imagination all these years was a collection of essays and reflections threaded with practical suggestions for celebrating the Incarnation in tangible ways. Like a Christmas memoir, I told myself. With recipes. “If I write it, will you illustrate it?” I had asked my dear friend Jennifer Trafton over breakfast one morning. We had been talking about how fraught this time of year could be and how easy it was in our consumer-driven culture to become jaded with the whole show. We had also been talking about how much I love it, from the first ruby tinge on the holly berries in late October to the last guttering candle of Epiphany, and how, rightly considered, the trappings and trimmings of the season could be translated into sincere offerings of devotion and grateful love. I had mentioned, rather wistfully, how I’d love to gather all of my zeal and experience into a book—a book, of course, thronged with beautiful pictures, for as long as a book remains in the dream stage the sky is the limit. Even so, it was a half-playful proposal, almost a dare to my own reticence. Like the best kind of friend and kindred spirit, however, Jennifer took me quite seriously. “Yes!” she said, almost before the question was out of my mouth. “Absolutely.” From that moment we proceeded to plan and scheme in an absolute downpour of creative energy. It was just the project we both needed, an outlet for her artwork and my ardor, and we leapt to work with an enthusiasm I had not felt in years. The more I mapped the outline, the more I wanted to write and share, for this book was not merely about celebrating Christmas so much as about celebrating God’s faithful and unwavering presence in our lives, even in the face of great sorrow and loss. I found myself mining griefs I’d once thought too personal to share, remembering that grief is a road we’re all acquainted with, and that joy is always its intended destination. And I realized how important it was to acknowledge the stumbling blocks that had, over the years, hindered my shaping—and receiving—of a Christ-centered holiday. I began, in short, to let down my defenses and to try and write this book, to the best of my ability, as an act of hospitality. I’ll confess, it was a challenge to conjure Christmas in the broiling heat of a Georgia July, and more than once I resorted to drawing the curtains, lighting a few red tapers, and brewing a pot of ginger-laced chai just to fool my subconscious into feeding me glimpses, memories, tastes, and sensations of December’s enchantments. But every time Jennifer sent one of her illustrations—whimsical borders, recipe-card depictions of treasured holiday dishes, full-page spreads—my excitement was kindled afresh. She not only understood what I was trying to say, she had expounded upon it in glorious, delightful color. And then my mother died. I was no stranger to archetypical loss—I had lost my father seven years previous and nearly lost my home to a fire shortly thereafter, both of which had unmade and remade me in the mercy of God. And there were other losses and heartaches threaded among these towering ones, some seen, some unseen. But none of these had prepared me for the loss of my mother. It was like a subterranean cavern roiling with a torrent of rushing water, and it carried me along for a while, insensible to anything but its inexorable course. And then it was an iron door, clamped firm between all that had come before and all that was yet to be. I stood on this side of it like a lost child, bewildered, bedraggled. Homesick. I don’t know how I made it through 2022. The book was shelved, first for the funeral and its aftermath and then for the heartrending process of dismantling and selling my childhood home. Every day for months I walked into that house whispering, Lord, show me what to do next, and, Help me to do it. He did. And he did something far more than that. In sifting through the accumulations of the story of our family, I realized that God had given me back that story in a profound and meaningful way. What’s more, he had given me my mother as I had not had her before. I had always known what a wonderful hostess she was, and how much joy she took in making a home for my father, my siblings, and me that was truly a refuge from the turbulence and darkness of the world. But I had never fully realized, as obvious as it may seem, just how much she had gone into the making of me, or how deeply my ideals of family, home, and hospitality had been shaped by her sacrificial efforts over the years. Sifting through everything that had been hers had thrown her values into stark, sweet, simple relief. Mama cared about one thing and one thing only: relationships—with her people and with her God. By January of this year, I was back at my desk with a new target in sight. But also with a new inspiration. For I realized, with a stab and a smile, that Mama was already all over the pages I had written, even where I had not mentioned her, and that the rest of this book and its subsequent drafts would be shaped, not so much by her loss, as by the extraordinary gift that had been given to me in being her daughter. My mother was the kind of woman who delighted in sharing her home and her table with everyone God brought into her life. Now, in the mercy of God, I could share her with everyone who happened to read this book. And we would all be the better for it. Keeping company with these impressions and ideas has carried me along this year, more forcibly even than the river of grief. For while grief can be one of the most clarifying forces in the world, it’s the love that remains when the storm has cleared. I keep telling people that this book is not the book it would have been had my mother not died while I was writing it, and this is absolutely true. It is also true that I am not the woman I would have been had not grief chiseled such caverns in my heart over which God’s unseen—often unfelt—presence broods with such ineffable tenderness. Nothing is wasted, those hollowed chambers have echoed, again and again. And no good thing, as our friend, Doug McKelvey reminds us in Every Moment Holy, will be lost forever. This book is still about Christmas, of course, and the crafting of a holiday which articulates our joy in Christ’s coming. But the candle of a bright sadness burns in its windows and its rooms are crowded with the communion of saints. There have been times over the past year that I have sat down to write and have wept instead for all those I have loved and lost over the past several years. If, however, this manuscript was spattered with tears, it is also laced with a love that is as strong as death. We’re in the home stretch now. The book is nearly complete. And this Christmas season, I’m excited to offer this first look, or sneak peek, at what’s coming in full from Rabbit Room Press next year. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have treasured writing it. Lanier Ivester is a homemaker and writer in the beautiful state of Georgia, where she maintains a small farm with her husband, Philip, and an ever-expanding menagerie of cats, dogs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, and peacocks. She studied English Literature at the University of Oxford, and her special area of interest is the sacramental nature of everyday life. For over a decade she has kept a web journal at lanierivester.com, and her work has also been featured on The Rabbit Room, Art House America, The Gospel Coalition, and The Cultivating Project, among others. She has lectured across the country on topics ranging from the meaning of home to the integration of faith and reason, and in both her writing and her speaking she seeks to honor the holy longings of a homesick world. Our weekly newsletter is the best way to learn about new books, staff recommendations, upcoming events, lectures, and more. Sign up here.
- An Introduction to Rabbit Room Lore in the Form of Five Comics
Luke Murray is an illustrator and maker of memes based out of northern New England. He is also an art student at the University of New Hampshire. He started the Instagram page @RabbitRoomMemes on a whim after going to a concert by The Arcadian Wild in March 2022. It is fair to say that Luke's life was significantly changed (for the better) when he first went to Hutchmoot in 2022. Luke Murray is an artist who has taken it upon himself to add his own garnish to the lore of the Rabbit Room in the form of @RabbitRoomMemes. Now he has kicked things up a notch with five short comics straight out of the back alleys and inside-joke-laden passages of the wonderful and weird thing we call the Rabbit Room. We asked Luke why he made these comics and this is what he said: "My 'normal' work can often be rather boring (I'm an aircraft mechanic) so I'm left with plenty of time to generate ideas. The comics come from a similar source of inspiration and love of the work of the Rabbit Room as the other memes, but in another medium. I am so grateful to the wonderful people involved in the Rabbit Room as I can attribute nearly all of the progress in my art to artists that I have found there. I think the memes and everything are just an outpouring of love and wanting to give back to the community. " Cheers, Luke. Those of you who have been to Hutchmoot, the Rabbit Room's annual conference, or frequented the Chinwag, will catch some of these references. For the rest of you, if you do not recognize a name, reference, or event, use the links below each comic as a rabbit trail that will lead you further up and further in. Consider these comics a welcoming invitation into the wonderful, quirky, cast of characters, traditions, and lore that is the Rabbit Room. Happy romping. "Hutchmoot" is the Rabbit Room's annual conference. Why "hutch"? Because rabbits. Why "moot"? Because ents. Nuff said. Every Moment Holy is a collection of liturgies by Doug McKelvey published by Rabbit Room Press. There are three (so far): Volume 1 (the brown one), Volume 2: Death, Grief, and Hope (the red one), and now Volume 3: The Work of the People (the blue one). The aforementioned Ned, Doug, Stephen, and Malcolm are (in ascending order of Hobbit-ness): Stephen Crotts, Ned Bustard, Doug McKelvey, and Malcolm Guite. No Neds, Dougs, Stephens, nor Malcolms were harmed during the making of this comic. This is Eddy Efaw, potter extraordinaire. Find John Barber on the Chinwag. Do not purchase his elevator passes. Consider yourself warned.
- A Guide to Finally Understanding T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets (Audio Lecture)
Andy Patton is on staff with the Rabbit Room and is a former staff member of L'Abri Fellowship in England. He holds an M.A. in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He writes at The Darking Psalter (creative rewordings of the Psalms paired with new poetry), Three Things (a monthly digest of resources to help people connect with culture, neighbor, and God), and Pattern Bible (reflections on biblical images in the Bible). There are no two ways around it, Four Quartets is a dense and difficult poem. If you Google “I thought about getting into poetry and then decided not to because it was too complicated, obscure, and opaque”, you might see a picture of T. S. Eliot’s smiling face high in the search results. And this is coming from a guy who named his firstborn son “Eliot” because I couldn’t name him Four Quartets. Eliot can be downright inscrutable. He lapses into other languages without translation. He changes scene and tone without transition. He alludes to other works constantly without attribution. His poems need footnotes - which he sometimes supplies and sometimes doesn’t. Four Quartets is a labyrinth, and sometimes when you enter the labyrinth, you get lost. Despite that, it also might be one of the greatest Christian poems ever written. Though there is joy in wandering on your own through the beautiful labyrinth of the Four Quartets, if you bring along a guide in your initial forays into this masterpiece, you may save yourself discomfort and confusion. In preparing for the lecture below, I sought the counsel of many guides who had gone before me and written to tell about it. I collected their advice in the form of the lecture below. May it guide you safely in your wanderings inside this immortal and important poem. [Note: This lecture was given at English L’Abri, a Christian study center in Southern England that offers hospitality and shelter for people all over the world.]
- A Kingdom of Tea and Strangers—A Documentary About English L'Abri
This post is part of the "Behind the Curtain" series in which creators share about the process of making their work and the deeper themes behind it. Houston Coley and his wife Debbie are missional documentary filmmakers from Atlanta and Czech Republic. Houston is a YouTube video essayist, self-described 'theme park theologian', and the artistic director of a nonprofit called Art Within. Read more of his work on Substack. Last summer, my wife Debbie and I spent three months at L’Abri Fellowship in Greatham, England. The two of us met there, so in many ways, it was like coming home. This time, though, we had a mission beyond the usual: we were making a feature documentary called A Kingdom of Tea & Strangers. If you don’t know much about L’Abri, it may be because they deliberately avoid advertising themselves; in fact, when the staff of the English branch of L’Abri agreed to allow us to make a documentary, they did it under the condition that it would not be a commercial trying to get people to attend L’Abri. Hopefully, rather than putting the particulars of this place on a pedestal to market to the world, the film awakens spiritual imagination about a “way of being” that can also be embodied elsewhere. L’Abri Fellowship was founded in 1955 by Francis and Edith Schaeffer in the Swiss Alps, with the second (and now, largest) branch opening in the rolling downs of South England in 1971. Among people who have been to L’Abri, it is infamously difficult to describe with one tidy label. I think the truest comparison might be Rivendell from The Lord of The Rings: a place for weary and wounded travelers to stop on their journey, to rest and engage with beauty and reality, to try and prepare themselves to head back out on their quest. Tolkien said, “Rivendell was the perfect house, whether you liked food or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.” For the many people who pass through the creaky front door at English L’Abri, it can feel much the same. English L’Abri is located in a 16th-century manor house in Hampshire, and students of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities come to stay during three-month terms—some for a day, some for a weekend, others for the entire term. A Kingdom of Tea & Strangers, the film that my wife Debbie and I shot last year, is a feature documentary chronicling one summer at English L'Abri. The film follows a group of students as they look for belonging, wrestle with doubts & uncertainty, and grapple with finding spirituality and community in their ordinary lives back home. Making a Film About Community in Community During the first month, one fact became clear: making a documentary about community while living in community was going to be a far more complicated task than we’d anticipated. In French, L’Abri means “the shelter,” and as such, many of the people who come to L’Abri are seeking refuge from the busyness, distraction, trauma, or hardship of their normal lives; to make matters more complex, most of the students who were coming for this term did not know that we would be attempting to make a documentary during their stay. Many of the great cinema-veritè documentaries involve a filmmaker becoming so invisible that they’re able to exist as a fly on the wall. In the early weeks of our time at L’Abri, our experience could not have been further from that one; every time the cameras came out, people seemed tense and uncomfortable. At L’Abri, students are encouraged to keep most media technology (computers, smartphones, etc.) out-of-sight in their room, except on Thursdays, the weekly day off. To some, our cameras often felt like a breach of the commitment that L’Abri would become a shelter for those who came through its doors. Despite all of this, in the first few days of our stay, we attempted to be resolute. We were determined not to let a day go to waste without capturing something worthwhile on film; after all, we had two months ahead of us, but every day felt like a ticking clock of precious time (and potentially profound moments) going undocumented and unobserved. Very quickly, however, the workers at L’Abri gave us some pointed and deliberate advice: they encouraged us to spend the first three weeks of the term without filming at all, using that time to be present with the community and get to know the students around us. It was difficult wisdom to hear, but we heeded it nonetheless. Slowly, gradually, we accepted that these early weeks would be for sewing seeds, not harvesting. Fighting our fast-paced productivity-driven inclinations, it felt like God was directing our attention toward “people” over “project.” We needed to work to preserve the sacred shelter of L’Abri that had made us want to make our film in the first place—and as we slowed down, we started to get closer to the community around us outside the context of filming. As artists, it can be hard for us—all of us—to allow ourselves to be known without our cameras, paintbrushes, guitars, microphones, or the other instruments of our trades that can serve to give us a sense of purpose and identity in the face of a strange new community of strange new faces. But knowing a person’s art or knowing their skill with a guitar is not the same as knowing the person. For Debbie and I to gain trust, we first needed to be known also as dishwashers, as gardeners, as carrot-choppers, as guests at a lunch table, as volleyball players, as quiet listeners, and as friends. About three weeks into the term, the workers at L’Abri allowed us to have one of the weekly film discussion nights to show the students our previous documentary, Love In The Time of Corona, and our concept short film for the L’Abri documentary featuring former L’Abri workers Andy and Lindsey Patton. It was the first time we’d ever shown any of our films to an audience of more than one—and both seemed to resonate deeply. After showing both films, we had an open discussion with the community about our documentary plans, engaged with questions and logistics of when not to film, and ended with prayer. Going into the term, our clumsy approach to making the documentary had been to assume everyone was okay with being filmed unless they told us otherwise. In those early weeks of waiting, as we’d walked through the tunnel of overhanging trees on nearby Church Lane every day, it had become very clear that the more integral approach would be to assume no one was okay with being filmed unless they agreed to participate. As filmmakers, it was a difficult change of mindset to make, but one that would ultimately produce more fruit and personal trust in the long term. After our screening night, we requested that everyone come to speak with us personally in the next few days to tell us how they felt about being filmed, either in the background or in more focused interviews. What a huge answer to prayer it was when nearly everyone told us that they were okay with being onscreen! Filming throughout the remainder of the summer remained a bumpy road; some who were usually at ease with cameras could change their mind from day to day, new students continued to arrive from week to week, and the advance scheduling of our filming times meant that spontaneous moments were more difficult to capture. Even so, with every passing week, relationships and dynamics—both in front of the camera and behind it—only became more natural, more trusting, and more full of grace and understanding. As trust increased, our opportunities to capture spontaneous moments became more possible. As the summer drew to a close, there was more vulnerability in everything we shot—and a stronger dramatic question in every interview about returning to the “world outside.” Slowly, that question arose as one of the central questions of the documentary. Increasingly, the students were concerned about the challenges involved in leaving L’Abri to return home and try to embody it elsewhere. I don’t think we would have been able to capture these questions in the same way if we’d started shooting in the early weeks of term. It was because we’d been forced to slow down that our relationships were strong enough for our central idea to emerge. We walked away unsure of exactly what story we had, but certain there was something powerful in it. Sharing a Film About Community in Community In the spring of 2023, we had the opportunity to work on the documentary from North Wind Manor, the building that houses the Rabbit Room. Every day, we set up our laptops beside the fire, put our headphones on, and got to work editing the more than 70 hours of footage we’d shot at L’Abri. Words cannot express the comfort and catharsis of being able to work on A Kingdom of Tea & Strangers at North Wind Manor, a place that could probably also be described as a kingdom of the same things. Rewatching, transcribing, structuring, and editing has been its own tedious journey—one that we are still far away from finishing—but along the way, we found many reasons to praise God for the story he’d been telling beneath the surface of everything we captured. In a way we never understood at the time of filming, this is a story about spiritual imagination and the courage to pursue the vision of the New Creation even in your ordinary life. This past month, we screened one hour of the rough cut of A Kingdom of Tea & Strangers to an audience of around 80 people at Hutchmoot, the Rabbit Room’s annual conference. It felt like a culmination of a film about community to show parts of it in community. The difference between experiencing something at home alone on your laptop and witnessing it with a room of other people in fellowship cannot be overstated. I think, in many ways, art experienced in community becomes fundamentally different art, more like itself. The most cathartic part of showing A Kingdom of Tea & Strangers at Hutchmoot was the laughter. Contrary to the idea of L’Abri as a quiet, meditative monastery with little humor to be found, our documentary includes a lot of the whimsy and silliness of a typical term. Jokes and funny moments that made us chuckle during the editing process generated big, affirming laughs in the room at Hutchmoot. The more contemplative moments were elevated by people, too; watching a film in the presence of other people means that it’s difficult to check your phone when things get slow, forcing you to engage with patience and silence. More than anything, our experience of art nourished by community—both in making the film at L’Abri and in showing it at Hutchmoot—has encouraged us to hold more gatherings to show the film at churches and homes all over when it’s finished. The connectivity of the internet can be a beautiful thing, and we still plan to release the film for free online, but the value of art experienced in physical fellowship cannot be replicated. Funding a Film About Community in Community Early on in the process of funding A Kingdom of Tea & Strangers, Debbie and I received an offer from a small streaming service to pay for the entire film’s budget if we’d release it exclusively on their platform. We considered it for weeks, and eventually politely refused. From the start, our hope has been that the film would be accessible, easy to share without needing to pay for a subscription, and that the funding would come from a community of people who care deeply about the ideas it explores. Despite the finished trailer and preview at Hutchmoot, we still have a long way of editing, sound mixing, musical scoring, marketing, and touring to go. If funds allow, we’re even planning to do follow-up interviews with several L’Abri students again in their home countries around Europe. We’re also creating a L’Abri-inspired tie-in album called “Songs From The Shelter,” featuring music by artists who have had experiences with L’Abri—and our dream is to premiere the film at The Belcourt Theatre in Nashville in Summer 2024. Because of this, we’ve launched a Kickstarter this week to raise the finishing funds for the project with a deadline of Friday, December 1st. Backers of various tiers can get the physical version of the film when it is released, attend various showings when they occur, and be the first to know about our progress as we work to finish in the spring. We’d deeply appreciate having you along for the journey.
- C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot: How Rivals Became Friends
Joel J. Miller is chief product officer of Full Focus, before which he served as vice president of editorial and acquisitions at Thomas Nelson Publishers. This article originally ran at his thrice-weekly literary newsletter, MillersBookReview.com. Did Charles Williams know what would happen when he invited his mutuals, C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, to tea? One suspects. Lewis had long registered disapproval of Eliot’s work. But surely they’d get on in person, no? No. It was 1945 and the trio convened at the Mitre Hotel in Oxford. The first words out of Eliot’s mouth? “Mr. Lewis,” he exclaimed, “you are a much older man than you appear in photographs!” The meeting deteriorated from there. “I must tell you,” Eliot continued, “I consider A Preface to Paradise Lost your best book.” Already irked, now Lewis was in disbelief. While he had dedicated the book to their friend Williams, Lewis had taken a few deliberate swipes at Eliot in those very pages. T.S. Eliot from the LIFE Collection. Color by Palette. 1 Deep Disagreements Chapter 2, “Is Criticism Possible?” Lewis defends his right to comment on Paradise Lost. Eliot had written earlier that only, as Lewis said, “the best contemporary practicing poets” were fit to challenge Eliot’s views on Milton’s epic poem. Lewis wasn’t having any. How, after all, could a person validate if a writer belonged to this august group of poets? It takes one to know one. “Poets become on this view and unrecognizable society,” Lewis objected, “and their mutual criticism goes on within a closed circle, which no outsider can possibly break into at any point.”2 This points us to a deeper irritation for Lewis, who possessed strong opinions about poetry and considered himself superior in the art to his rude tea companion. He trashed Eliot’s poetry in private correspondence. “[Eliot’s] intention only God knows,” Lewis wrote Paul Elmore More in 1935, adding: I must be content to judge his work by its fruits, and I contend that no man is fortified against chaos by reading “The Waste Land,“ but that most men are by it infected with chaos. . . . The Inferno is not infernal poetry: “The Waste Land” is. 3 Lewis also trashed Eliot’s poetry in poetry. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” published in 1915, begins, 4 Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherised upon a table. . . . “I don’t believe one person in a million, under any emotional distress, would see an evening like that,” Lewis wrote Katherine Farrer. 5 So, Lewis responded with a verse of his own. 6 I am so coarse, the things the poets see Are obstinately invisible to me. For twenty years I’ve stared my level best To see if evening—any evening—would suggest A patient etherized upon a table; In vain. I simply wasn’t able. Interestingly, Lewis wrote his letter to Farrer in February 1954 and published his riposte in Punch later that same year—four decades after Eliot’s original. Something about Eliot’s phrase lodged firm in Lewis’s craw. “Lewis found Mr Eliot’s comparison of an evening to a patient on an operating table unpleasant,” explained Lewis’s secretary Walter Hooper, “one example of the decay of proper feelings.”7 Indeed, he attacked the same line in Preface to Paradise Lost. “I have heard Mr Eliot’s comparison . . . praised, nay gloated over, not as a striking picture of sensibility in decay, but because it was so ‘pleasantly unpleasant.’” As far as Lewis was concerned, asking the reader to relish something so revulsive was morally dangerous: That elementary rectitude of human response . . . is a delicate balance of trained habits, laboriously acquired and easily lost, on the maintenance of which depend both our virtues and our pleasures and even, perhaps, the survival of our species. For though the human heart is not unchanging (nay, changes almost out of recognition in the twinkling of an eye) the laws of causation are. When poisons become fashionable they do not cease to kill.8 Overdialed? For Lewis Eliot’s poetry was playing with fire, and the entire modernist movement Eliot represented was jettisoning everything valuable in inherited forms and sensibilities. Either Eliot hadn’t actually read the book he praised at tea or he was blowing off Lewis’s gravest warning. Outside the Circle These swipes in Preface to Paradise Lost weren’t Lewis’s first. In 1926 he mentioned in his diary a “joke” to float pseudonymous and parodic modernist poems to Eliot’s magazine The Criterion to expose the “quackery” of the style. In a letter around the time he referred to this prank as “a leg pull to Mr. T.S. Elliot’s [sic] paper.”9 Then in 1933 Lewis leveled his guns in The Pilgrim’s Regress, indirectly referring to Eliot there as “Mr. Neo-Angular.” The book was a wide-ranging allegorical takedown of religious, social, and intellectual movements—“Anglo Catholicism, Materialism, Sitwellism, Psychoanalysis, and T.S. Elliot [sic],” as Lewis explained to his editor—patterned after Bunyan’s classic.10 “T.S. Eliot is the single man who sums up the thing I am fighting against,” he admitted of the project.11 There could be something pettier at play here, at least to rankle Lewis beyond his principles and which might have hardened him in them. Lewis was ten years Eliot’s junior and early on, though stuck teaching philosophy and later literature, wanted nothing more than to be a poet. Yet his first forays proved unsuccessful. Spirits in Bondage (1919) and Dymer (1926), both cycles of verse published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton, flopped. Lewis loathed Eliot’s poetry, but his own attempts had failed to garner much praise or success in the marketplace.12 Meanwhile, Eliot’s star did nothing but rise. It’s easy to assume some jealousy for the older man. Such an assumption throws green-tinted light on Lewis’s jab in Preface to Paradise Lost about “the best contemporary practicing poets,” a circle whose work he disdained and to which he was barred but which he nonetheless wished to join—on his own terms, of course.13 But then something happened; the pair met again. A Humanizing Project Through the 1940s and ’50s, Lewis’s reputation as a popular religious writer grew. The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity, and other titles brought him critical and commercial success—and at least occasionally the attentions of church hierarchy. “C.S. Lewis in his Reflection on the Psalms shows what a layman has to contribute,” said Gordon Selwyn, dean of Winchester Cathedral and editor Theology, a journal to which Lewis contributed, in a letter to Geoffrey Fisher, archbishop of Canterbury. Fisher and Michael Ramsey, archbishop of York, had decided to revise the psalter used in Anglican services, originally translated by Miles Coverdale in the 1530s. “Two scholars of English” were asked to join the team tasked with the work: Lewis—and Eliot.14 Eliot couldn’t make the committee’s first meeting in January 1959, but he made the second in April. “It seems to have been the first meeting between Lewis and Eliot since 1945,” says Lewis scholar George Musacchio, who studied the relevant archival materials.15 While their first meeting started with fireworks and degenerated into time-killing small talk until the pair could politely depart, leaving Charles Williams the satisfaction of his stunt, this encounter was different. It was only five years since Lewis had compared Eliot’s work to poison in his letter to Katherine Farrer, but something had shifted. Perhaps it was marriage. Lewis wed Joy Davidman in 1957, a relationship that seems to have stretched and softened him. Eliot had also wed that same year, marrying Esmé Valerie Fletcher. Perhaps it was the shared appointment to the committee. While Lewis had doubted the seriousness of Eliot’s Christianity, surely their joint invitation by the two archbishops lent it credence. Eliot’s comportment in the meeting must have also had an impact. As evidenced by a letter to “My dear Eliot” following the April encounter, Lewis seems to have turned around.16 The two were aligned on their love of Coverdale’s translation and wished to retain as much of its style and feel as possible in the revision. In fact, the modernist Eliot proved more conservative on this point than the conservative Lewis. Their shared perspective opened other possibilities. After the July 1959 meeting of the committee, which lasted three days, Lewis and Eliot lunched together with their wives. “As a result of their work on the Psalms,” said Musacchio, “the two men gained respect for each other.” Indeed, Lewis said he found it easy to “love” Eliot after getting to know him.17 Before their work on the committee, it’s safe to say that Eliot wasn’t a person for Lewis. Eliot was instead symbol, an icon of everything Lewis detested about modernism, Anglo-Catholicism, and whatever else. Early on, he couldn’t even bring himself to spell the man’s name correctly. The extent of Eliot’s humanity was bounded by what he represented to Lewis. But then you get to know “the single man who sums up the thing I am fighting against” and your estimation changes. A shared project exposed commonalities that humanized Eliot, engendered respect, and repaired a relationship. Let them who have ears to hear. . . . (By the way, there is a postscript to this story about the interactions between these two literary giants after Lewis's wife, Joy, was diagnosed with cancer. Read it on Joel J. Miller's Substack.) 1George Musacchio, “C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and the Anglican Psalter,” VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center 22 (2005), 48. 2C.S. Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost (Oxford University Press, 1942), 9–10. 3C.S. Lewis, On Writing (and Writers), edited by David C. Downing (Harper, 2022), 137–138. Here I should pause and thank Professor Leslie Baynes of Missouri State University. After I quoted this bit in an earlier review, she pointed me to Musacchio’s article quoted above and later in this piece. 4T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems, 1909–1935 (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1936), 11. The poem was first published in the June 1915 issue of Poetry and later collected in Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations, published by Egoist In 1917. Only 500 copies were printed of this first edition; it’s likely Lewis read the poem in a later edition. 5Lewis, On Writing (and Writers), 137. 6C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964), 1. 7Lewis, Poems, from Hooper’s Preface, viii. Hooper adds that Lewis “mistrusted . . . the free play of mere immediate experience. He believed, rather, that man’s attitudes and actions should be governed by what he calls . . . Stock Responses (e.g. love is sweet, death bitter, and virtue lovely). Man must, for his own safety and pleasure, be taught to copy the Stock Responses in hopes that he may, by willed imitation, make the proper responses.” In his letter to Farrer, Lewis warned of abnormal imagery: “I believe that anything but the most sparing admission of such images [namely, a night spread out like a surgical patient] is a very dangerous game. To invite them, to recur willingly to them, to come to regard them as normal, surely, poisons us?” 8Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost, 55. Note that Lewis’s letter to Farrer, written more than a decade later, returns to the idea that Eliot’s imagery is poisonous. 9C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. 3, edited by Walter Hooper (Harper, 2007), 1503. 10C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. 2, edited by Walter Hooper (Harper, 2004), 94. “There are,” says Lewis biographer A. N. Wilson, “sentences in ‘Neo-Angular’s’ speeches which are echoed almost word for word in the essays of T.S. Eliot and the letters of Evelyn Waugh.” See Wilson, C.S. Lewis (Fawcett Columbine, 1990), 134. 11Quoted in Musacchio, “C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and the Anglican Psalter,” 47. As his biographer Alan Jacobs notes, Lewis’s depictions in The Pilgrim’s Regress were more earnest than accurate. See Jacobs, The Narnian (Harper, 2005), 158–159. 12Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis (Tyndale, 2013), 106, 132. 13Jealousy helps explain the vendetta-like quality of Lewis’s disdain. J.R.R. Tolkien rejected the idea. “That his literary opinions were ever dictated by envy (as in the case of T.S. Eliot) is a grotesque calumny,” he wrote in a letter to Anne Barrett. “After all it is possible to dislike Eliot with some intensity even if one has no aspirations of poetic laurels oneself.” Of course Lewis did possess such aspirations—at least early on—so the situation is perhaps more complicated. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin, 1981), 350. 14Musacchio, “C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and the Anglican Psalter,” 45–46. 15Musacchio, “C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and the Anglican Psalter,” 47. 16Musacchio, “C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and the Anglican Psalter,” 48. 17Musacchio, “C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and the Anglican Psalter,” 48–49.
- Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga: Exploring A Comic Book Fantasy World
This post is part of the "Behind the Curtain"series in which creators share about the process of making their work and deeper themes behind it. Jonny Jimison is a cartoonist, illustrator, and the creator of the all-ages comic series The Dragon Lord Saga, published by Rabbit Room Press. In addition to drawing playful comics, he loves Thai food, fantasy stories, and playing tabletop games and video games with his wife Elise in their little home in Tennessee. He thinks that you're cool and would love to meet you - come say hello at www.jonnyjimison.com! Art begets art. When I started working on The Dragon Lord Saga, over a decade ago, I had no idea how far this idea would grow or how many people it would touch. But I knew whence it came: I love the epic fantasy world-building of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, rich in lore, backstory, and adventure. I love the classic comic strip humor of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Walt Kelly’s Pogo — two classic comics are fun and exuberant and so joyfully visual. I’ve spent a lifetime absorbing the stories and art that delighted me, and the result was a unique new concoction I called The Dragon Lord Saga - part fantasy adventure, part cartoon comedy. If you’re new to the series, The Dragon Lord Saga is an epic fantasy in comic book form, told with playful character humor. It’s about two brothers, an impulsive knight named Martin and a cautious stableboy named Marco. Their journeys take them far from home, where they meet a bandit princess and a talking horse, encounter dragons and desperados, and discover a wild fantasy world far beyond their kingdom in the North. But there’s a new spin-off series, called Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. It’s a series of short comics — a spin-off from the main series that you can read in any order. But more than that, it’s a comic book anthology! Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Tales was my template. After writing four Wingfeather Saga novels, Andrew enlisted a group of writers and illustrators to create their own stories in the world he had created. In the forward to Wingfeather Tales, Andrew writes that the anthology was necessary because “there were castle ruins and cities and jungles full of trolls that I hadn’t yet explored.” I had the same predicament: I’ve come to realize that there are areas of this fantasy world I’ve created that Martin and Marco will never see on their journey through The Dragon Lord Saga. In Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga, I’ve invited some of my favorite cartoonists to tell comic book stories set in my world… but with their own storytelling sensibilities and their own visual style. They went above and beyond, and created some truly incredible tales! It was ambitious to try to create an anthology comic in just six months. But it happened, it expanded to two issues, and we sprung the project on unsuspecting attendees as a surprise release at Hutchmoot! This was only possible because Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga was a collaboration from start to finish. Meet the Contributing Artists John Haney created a comic about a cat named Reginald and a hermit named Batholomew - a playful fable exploring the idea of “losing life by clinging to it and finding life by losing it.” His colorful, exuberant style brought something new to the world I had created, and together, he and I came up with the idea to have the storyteller interrupted mid-story, which set the overall tone for both books. Ben Humeniuk enlisted the help of the two biggest Dragon Lord Saga fans he knows - his kids, Ellie and Peter. Together, the three of them collaborated on a creepy, funny folktale with sly references to the main Dragon Lord Saga series. Their tale features two kids named Grace and Rocky, and the monsters they encounter in the dark woods. Ben, Ellie, and Peter had loads of fun planning the story and designing the characters… and you can feel it on the finished page! Jeshua Koilpillai introduced two new characters — short-tempered Tom Foolery and distinguished Robert Moneysworth — and took them to Snark Island, a location that I had placed on the map but had said nothing about in the books. You can tell in the ensuing adventure that Jeshua relished the opportunity to fill that blank slate with clever character designs, wild environmental world-building, and a comic adventure that escalates into pure comedic chaos before resolving into a happy ending! My wife, Elise Jimison, told a nautical tall tale of sea monsters, prophecy, and a ragtag group of sailors, rendering the whole story in stunning watercolor! I absolutely love watercolor comics, and I don’t see them often enough. Elise used her evocative painting to take us on a journey above the sea, below the sea, onto shore and back again… and she did it all in rhyme, with all the narration and dialogue told as a ballad of the high seas! Stephen Hesselman created Professor Hesselman’s Varmintpedia — creature profiles pairing a creature illustration with “academic notes.” Stephen wrote his notes in character as Professor Hesselman, a creature enthusiast in the world of The Dragon Lord Saga. His illustrations are a delight, and his creature descriptions make me giggle uncontrollably every time. Then there’s Will Kelly, who did the impossible: he took all these wildly different stories and came up with amazing cover illustrations that brought every tale together and beckoned us from the cover into the wild cacophony of delightful stories inside! He really helped tie together the themes of each book — stories from the forest in issue #1, and stories from the sea in issue #2. Even I got in on the act. In addition to overseeing the project, I ended up creating some framing narratives to wrap around the individual stories. My cue here was David Peterson’s Legends of the Guard, an anthology spin-off of his Mouse Guard graphic novels. In Legends of the Guard, Peterson created comics about his mouse characters sitting around the June Alley Inn, swapping stories. When a mouse begins a story, you flip the page and you’re suddenly inside that story, via a comic contributor to the anthology. I followed that pattern to create an eight-page story for each issue, showing the folks in The Dragon Lord Saga who are telling these tales … and just for fun, I made those storytellers my own in-story caricatures of the real-life contributors! My favorite thing about anthologies is the diverse spectrum of story styles and techniques, and I love how that plays out in Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. Just as I drew from Tolkien’s fantasy and classic comic strips to create The Dragon Lord Saga, each of my contributors drew from their own influences, inspirations, and resources — as well as drawing from The Dragon Lord Saga itself. The results are art and story that never would have happened if we hadn’t all collided into art and story on these pages! Elise used her skill with watercolors, her sailing experience, and her love of monster stories to tell a nautical ballad about a giant sea monster. Ben collaborated with his kids, whose adventure-loving personalities shine through their folktale about monsters in the dark forest. John combined my fantasy world with story ideas he was already exploring, creating a tale larger than either of us could have created on our own. Stephen and Will took what everyone else was creating and remixed it in their own inimitable style. And while my fictional world impacted Jeshua’s story, he also put his mark on my comic — he came in at the eleventh hour to help color one of my framing narratives when the deadline was looming a little too heavy! Art begets art. Inspiration meets inspiration, and something new happens. It’s true of every story, but I love the way that Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga puts that in the front window and lets it shine! But I’ve saved my favorite story for last: We always knew that Elise’s story would take place on the high seas, but as an experienced sailor, creating that story prompted some questions. What elevations can be seen from sea level? Which nations in this fictional world are sea traders, and which have military navies? Would the tides behave as though there is one moon, like our world? Or is there more than one moon? Or NO moons? I had NEVER considered these questions before, and discussing them was so much fun that I asked Elise to create a sea chart for the seas of The Dragon Lord Saga, which she did with a pizzazz and authenticity that befits this wild world we’re creating. The chart is included in issue #2 of Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. We put it in the center of the book, in case anyone wants to carefully pry up the staples and remove the chart for their own imaginary voyages. Elise brought her curiosity and scientific knowledge, and I brought the world I’ve been creating all these years. Together we created a sea chart that not only inspired her story, but is already inspiring spin-off stories of my own. Art begets art. I hope that the ideas, techniques and art styles in Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga inspire you to new ideas and stories as well! Click here for issue #1 of Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. Click here for issue #2 of Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. [For the record, Elise and I decided that the world of The Dragon Lord Saga has two moons. Because that sounds cool and I really wanted to draw that.]
- On Community and Solitude in the Work of Writing
[Editor's Note: In the spirit of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, Ben Palpant has written letters to his daughter to help her along the path of creativity and faith. He uses his hard-earned experience to help her learn to write and to live well and, by doing so, helps us do the same. He patiently and gracefully paints a vision of what it means to enter into one’s creative work as an act of generative obedience—an act that blesses the writer, the work itself, and the world that receives it. In this selection from Letters From The Mountain, Palpant reminds his daughter (and us) that God gave us solitude to feed our souls so that we could nourish the community for which we were made.] “The first stars hover and drift down. Like a roosting hawk, I listen to silence and gaze into the dark.” —J. A. Baker, The Peregrine Out of five hundred plus in my graduating class, I was voted most likely to become a monk. No, I didn’t find it funny at the time, but after nearly twenty-five years of marriage and five children, I can laugh about it now. Mine isn’t exactly the monastic life, but I know why they voted that way. I’ve always been at ease with solitude. I was the kid who would rather be left alone most of the time, free to think his own thoughts and do his own thing, a textbook introvert. Even today I feel most at home in solitude, and most like a foreigner in crowds. Maybe that’s why this quotation from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together keeps nagging at me. You read it to me yesterday because you share my aversion to crowds. I’m glad you gave it to me. His words have prompted me to meditate on the paradox of community, the necessity of being alone and together. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God . . . But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together Called to Serve Community God calls you to serve community. Your community is more than your family and friends. It includes coworkers and strangers, too. Generative Christians engender loyalty and trust and affection from those people. We build relationships, not simply platforms. The former tend to stay people-centered, while the latter are focused on income and influence. Neither hardship nor prosperity should derail the proper prioritization of people over prestige. Christ prioritized people over power in this way and you’re an extension of his love. Generativity Thrives in Community I’ve been surprised in life to find that my writing generates in those around me new creative expressions that, in turn, inspire me to further work. This picture coincides with the garden metaphor. When I cultivate the garden around me—weeding, watering, planting, and fertilizing—those plants blossom and send forth their own shoots, their own seeds on the wind. You will find this principle true in your own life. Join a community that shares your love for God, for people, and for life. Share poetry together. Send each other quotations from the books you’re reading. Encourage them in their endeavors. That community is an important part of sustaining you on life’s journey. Eat together, play together, work together, and forgive each other. All communities are prone to flattery, passivity, gossip, alliances, or jealousy. That is no reason to avoid groups. Patiently work through those things together, candidly honoring each other and helping each other to greater faithfulness. If you learn to depend upon others, your community will guard you from lusts of the mind, from pride, and from an inordinate self-reliance. Fear these things as much as you fear the lusts of the flesh. They are equally dangerous to the soul. The Power of Community For good or ill, people living in community share with each other, compounding their resulting growth. This isn’t always a good thing. The flu, for example, spreads rapidly, building momentum within a community as its victims increase in number. Gossip has a similar contagious quality—be it in a family or a class at school, and technology and social networks only accelerate the speed and extend the reach. That’s the bad news. The good news is that many positive things are contagious, too, such as laughter or a strong work ethic. Gladness and hope are also contagious. Generativity is contagious. Friends who labor together for the same cause impact culture more effectively than one person who works in isolation. We desperately need community. Isolation amplifies our vulnerability and multiplies our insufficiencies. The human heart’s downward drag will inevitably shift our vision from Christ to self, from faith to fear, from dependence to self-reliance. We need other people to remind us of God’s faithfulness and conquering work. We need them to keep us from trusting in our own strength. And we need others to lift our eyes to Jesus as we help them lift theirs. We have a responsibility to cultivate an upward orientation in the community God has given to us. Consequently, one of the most important decisions we have to make is whom to befriend. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” So find people whose faith seems stronger than yours, whose eyes are more fixed on the Lord than yours, and who verbalize thanks more often than you. Watch them. Imitate them. Walk with them. Eat meals with them. Pray for them. Thank them. Be vulnerable with them without dragging them down into your own self-pity. Fight the urge to become a vortex of selfishness. Finally, the great power of community rests on its ability to engender thankfulness. Where people serve each other, pray for each other, weep with each other, and laugh with each other, thankfulness abounds. Thanksgiving, like praise, gives the heart an outward orientation. Maybe God calls us to community in part because being alone for too long turns our attention onto ourselves. The more we verbalize thankfulness, the more we forget about ourselves. We start noticing others and what they are doing. We start finding reasons to be thankful. Ultimately, we start seeing abundance instead of scarcity. Start asking yourself, “How can I thank the person right in front me?” A teacher, mother, sister, stranger? Learn to ask, “What is God giving me right now?” Ultimately, your work is largely meaningless apart from community. You need readers, right? You need editors, right? You need to bounce your ideas off of others, right? Your writing is formed by others and for others. This realization should not surprise us since God is three persons in one, a community. He made us in his image and designed us for relationship. For this reason, the two greatest commandments offered by Christ to summarize the law given to Moses were to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love, as found in God and described in his word, requires community. Writing Is Lonely Work Yes, we’re called into life together, but I couldn’t be a writer without time alone. Writing usually happens in solitude. Most of the time, I have to generate ideas alone, too. I certainly have to agonize alone. More often than not, I must motivate myself to work and keep myself determined as well. Other people stay involved, encouraging where they can, but actually running the engine, maintaining the engine, and driving the engine somewhere are my job and mine alone. I think you will find this true in your own life. The real substantive work must happen in your own heart and mind. You still have to wake up on your own and start writing. Once you are out of school, no one will make you do it. I doubt this news discourages you because you’re already wired to carry the writer’s lonely burden. But you may find that the hardest thing to do is find time alone. Something always intrudes. Solitude vs. Isolation I do not refer to family or friends who have every right to intrude, I refer to the myriad technologies that beckon to us: smartphones, social networks, immediate news alerts, YouTube. Despite our best efforts, we simply do not have the godlike ability to absorb and attend to so much information. As a result, I think our spiritual depths have shallowed, our inner landscapes have shrunk. Information’s incessant assault has made solitude—mental quietude—nearly impossible. Ironically, with this decrease of solitude has come an increase of isolation. The differences are subtle but important. Both words describe time alone. Solitude is sought by those who want mental space to think and fill the heart’s tank before returning to community. Isolation, however, is sought by those who want to be alone and who will put up any wall to stay there. Solitude does not push others away like isolation does. Or look at this way: love desires solitude, selfishness desires isolation. Christ desired solitude, an angry teenager wants isolation. Isolation amplifies the ego’s siren song; solitude exposes the heart’s unbridled babble. Solitude also affords the opportunity to feel mystery and immensity while encouraging an awareness of the inner life that relentless busyness and fear tend to arrest. In solitude, silence asserts itself. For these and many other reasons, isolation is qualitatively different from solitude. God blesses a measured amount of the latter; the former is a sign of the curse: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Prov. 18:1). God did not make you to be alone in a permanent sense. Such aloneness goes against his Trinitarian nature. Those who stay isolated for too long end up lonely. But that’s the world in which we live. Despite our increased connectivity, our homes have become isolation cells where we eat alone, watch TV alone, and sleep alone. Even within families, we push each other away. In private or public, we plug in to escape. I write these paragraphs while sitting in a shopping mall’s lounge. I’m taking advantage of the moment while I wait for friends. Five candy and soda dispensers line the wall to my left. From two enormous televisions on the wall, sports commentators analyze an athlete’s ten-second failure. They are animated, but I cannot hear them over the clambering children, the exasperated adults, and the pop music pumping over the speakers. I’ve plugged in my earbuds to drown out the banging noises with noises of my own choosing. The irony of my situation is not lost on me. So I’m faced with this reality and my own failure to handle it well. Can I concentrate only by plugging in my earbuds? Is solitude only possible with virtual detachment from reality? And when I detach in this way, do I usher in a loneliness I did not expect? Learning to Value Solitude Our Lord Jesus used solitude as a means of preparing for community and for work. If Christ needed to be alone in a boat or alone amongst the hills when he wanted to fellowship with his father, who are we to think that our souls will thrive on a diet of distraction and perpetual productivity? We need to get away, but we rarely do, so the pre-Socratic philosopher, Meno, asks a question still pertinent today: “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” If solitude and mental quietude are utterly foreign to us, how are we supposed to experience them? How are we supposed to recognize them when we see them? I pause and stare out the window. I have no answer. Or maybe this moment is an answer. I have so much to learn. I’m trying to live out the paradox of community, taking time to be alone and living faithfully in community. I try to find small moments of solitude, no matter my station or duties in life. I try not to lie to myself about how little time I actually need to get away. I need less time for solitude than I generally think, but more than the world will offer. I’ve found that more frequent though shorter times of solitude are better than infrequent but long ones. A short walk is often enough. Dorothy Sayers remarked that while our lives are flooded with words, we do not know what the words mean, nor how to fight them or fling them back. She says we’re prey to propaganda, but believe ourselves masters of our desires and convictions. If she is right, then humanity is currently in a pitiful position. I think part of the reason for our societal gullibility is the lack of solitude. We have no quiet spaces in which the mind can think carefully, the heart can long for transcendent things, and the soul can stretch toward God. Contemplation is an endangered practice. BenPalpant is a memoirist, poet, novelist, and non-fiction writer. He is the author of several books, including A Small Cup of Light, Sojourner Songs, and The Stranger. He writes under the inspiration of five star-lit children and two dogs. He and his wife live in the Pacific Northwest.
- All of Life is Liturgical—Doug McKelvey's Foreword to Every Moment Holy Vol. 3
[Editor's note: This fall, Rabbit Room Press is releasing the third volume in the Every Moment Holy Series. This post is the foreword to Volume 3.] It is a point of discussion in some theological circles whether the Greek word leitourgia—from which we get our word liturgy—is most accurately translated as “the work of the people” or “the work for the people.” I would suggest there might be ample room in the word to encompass both meanings. Because what Christ has done for his people, and what we, as his body are to be about in response, are—together—from beginning to end, the work of Jesus for, and in, and through his people. Jesus has done a good work for us. The Holy Spirit is doing a good work in us. And God equips and calls each of us to go out and do good works, works that he has prepared in advance for us to do, and that he alone, by his power and his Spirit, will bring to completion through us. In this sense, for the child of God, all of life ought to be seen as liturgical, because every part of life is meant to be lived as a facet of our unceasing labor of worship. Our relationships with spouses, parents, children and friends, our caretaking, our town planning, our artmaking, our storytelling and music making, our gardening and governing, our baking, our tending and maintenance of things, our greetings and our goodbyes, our learning and studying, our eating and drinking, our contemplations of truth and beauty and the natural world, our labor and leisure, our love, our hope, our loneliness and fear and discouragement and loss and grief, our repentances and forgivenesses, our hardships and celebrations—all these parts of life are to be lived in view of the work of Christ for us, and in willing surrender to—and participation in—the ongoing work of Christ in and through us. And herein lies the great mystery of the church. God does not need us. He could accomplish his labors by divine fiat. Yet it is his good pleasure to labor through us. And this despite our many foibles and failings. He doesn’t need our prayers. Yet he moves in response to them. He doesn’t need our acts of mercy, compassion, and generosity, yet he chooses to display his own heart through them. He doesn’t need our strengths. Yet he displays his strength in our weaknesses. He doesn’t need any of our creative works, our sacrifices, or our service. Yet he invites each of us to play some part in the outworking of his redemptive plan for his kingdom, his people, and his creation. He certainly doesn’t need our friendship. Fullness of love and delight exist eternally within the triune godhead. Yet he calls and draws and welcomes us into relationship with himself, and by so doing, he also beckons us into a richness of relationship with one another in the family of God. So perhaps we could look at it this way: The essential liturgy, the leitourgia of Jesus, the work for the people, the work of the One for the many, is the great overture of God. But in light of that great work undertaken on our behalf, we are invited to participate in the liturgical response of the work of the people, which is also the work of the One through the many. And even these works, accomplished through us, are still the ongoing work of Christ for the many, for it is he who is the head of his people, the church, and he who labors through us to accomplish his ends in culture, in the creation, and across the span of history. Every Moment Holy, Volume III, is the fruit of labors undertaken by many in glad response to the work for the people accomplished by our Lord, and in the good hope that what we would create together might in some sense truly become along the way a work of the people, the process nudged and guided by God’s Spirit, the end result offered to Christ that he might bless, multiply, and distribute it as he would, for the nourishment of many. Every Moment Holy, Volume I was penned over the span of a year in 2016-17. EMH Volume II (which focused on themes of death, grief, and hope) was a two-year writing endeavor. Community served to shape those prayers in ways that were significant and necessary, but the actual writing of those books was a solitary labor. This Volume III, though, was conceived as an explicit labor of community from beginning to end. More than sixty authors, poets, and songwriters were invited to contribute original prayers, and seven artists were invited to create the accompanying prints. Some are names readers will recognize. Others might be encountered here for the first time. Some are emerging talents in their mid-twenties, with much work before them. Others are more seasoned creators, journeying even well into their nineties, who already have a great body of work behind them. Most authors are contemporary, but some are followers of Jesus who lived decades, hundreds, or even more than a thousand years ago. We are particularly pleased to offer here for the first time in print, three prayers penned by Dorothy Sayers—prayers only recently uncovered in a library archive. Sometimes it is a great encouragement simply to learn that the things we struggle with or delight in today are the same for another, even if they might have lived in some other part of the world long ago. The kinship and fellowship of the family of God extends across time, as does the consolation and encouragement we might offer one another. Who knows? Perhaps in a few hundred years some of the newer prayers and illustrations in this book, so lovingly crafted by these authors and artists in hopes of serving the church, will still be circulating in some form, offering solace, direction, encouragement, or insight to pilgrims who today are not yet born, articulating the cries of their hearts in a way that makes them pause and say “Wait, how could they have known, so long ago, what I would feel today?” But the ways in which these prayers circulate and serve the Body of Christ, where and for how long, are not in our hands. All we can do is offer the fruits of this labor to God, to use as he pleases, for his good glory. The work of the people is, after all, from start to finish the work of our Lord through his people, as all of us are called into this great project of divine redemption, called to live and love and labor for the good of our neighbors, for the glory of God, and for the advance of his kingdom as it is worked out across every square foot of creation, in and through every people group, across all vocations and callings and fields of study and labor, across the span of time and history, in every relationship, in joy and in sorrow, in work and rest and play, in all our hours, in every moment. The advance of Christ’s blessed kingdom, even in this age between his first and second advents, is a thing we are always to be about individually and collectively—many parts, one body; each of us laboring unto the same good end, encouraging, equipping, and cheering one another on. Our hope is that our collective labors to build this book will resound to the praise and glory of Christ who is ever at work, laboring for and in and through his people. αχρι ημέρας —Philippians 1:6 Douglas Kaine McKelvey Conon Bridge, Scotland, Conon Hotel, Room 9 7 June 2023
- The Divine Game of Pinzatski and the Glory of Creation
W. David O. Taylor is Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and the author of several books, including most recently, A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of the Physical Body in Worship (Baker Academic, 2023). He lives with his family in Austin, Texas. You can find him on Twitter (@wdavidotaylor) and Instagram (@davidtaylor_theologian) Praise God from earth, you sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps; Fire and hail, snow and ice, hurricanes obeying his orders; Mountains and all hills, apple orchards and cedar forests; Wild beasts and herds of cattle, snakes, and birds in flight; Earth’s kings and all races, leaders and important people, Robust men and women in their prime, and yes, graybeards and little children. ―Psalm 148:7–12 the message “When [God’s] hand was opened by the key of love, the creatures came forth.” —Thomas Aquinas Some years back my wife and I visited the small village of Glen Coe in western Scotland. We chose it chiefly because of its proximity to the West Highland Way, a popular walking trail that runs ninety-six miles across the Scottish Highlands. Formed into a U-shape by an ice-age glacier, the trail narrows sharply at a point called the “Pass of Glen Coe.” This pass is famous not just because it served as a location for Monty Python and Harry Potter movies, but also because of its stunning geography. Lying between the six-mile-long notched ridge of Aonach Eagach and the truncated spurs of Bidean nam Bian, the glen is an ice-worn valley mantled with screes and debris from the mountains. As the Scottish National Heritage describes the area, the peaty flats of the lower glen stand in sharp contrast to the towering precipices and waterfalls around them. The region includes rugged mountains that soar from the flat valley floor as well as waterfalls, vertical outcrops, and hanging valleys. During our three-mile hike up Stob Mhic Mhartuin, Phaedra and I played a game that we have often played during our walks in nature. It’s a game that I learned about in seminary called the “Divine Game of Pinzatski.” Conceived by Arthur and Ellen Pinzatski, the game calls for one person to point out an object in nature that the other person must then, as best they can, state what the object might say about God and why. I’d point to, say, a bit of green moss, and Phaedra would say, “the gentleness of God,” and explain why she thought so. Or she’d point to a boulder-strewn cut in the mountain, and I’d say, “God’s severe mercy,” and explain why I thought so. Playing this game over the years has taught us to pay attention to the details in creation and see that there’s no such thing as generic moss but rather things like Perthshire Beard–moss and Woolly Hair–moss; that rocks are not just rocks but can be volcanic or sedimentary. It has taught us to hear the voice of the Maker in the things that he has made—that moss and rocks do in fact praise God in their own unique language. It has taught us to re-see ourselves as humans, how small we are yet how well-loved we are, too, in this “theater of God’s glory,” as John Calvin once described the world. And it has taught us to see what the psalmist saw long ago, in Calvin Seerveld’s translation of Psalm 19:1–4: The heavens are telling the glory of God. The very shape of starry space makes news of God’s handiwork. One day is brimming over with talk for the next day, and each night passes on intimate knowledge to the next night —there is no speaking, no words at all, you can’t hear their voice, but— their glossolalia travels throughout the whole earth! their uttered noises carry to the end of inhabited land! The Psalter opens with an echo of the first chapters of Genesis and it closes with a vision of the entire cosmos at praise. Before humans arrive on the scene, the psalms would remind us, creation was already at praise—long at praise. Once humans enter on the stage of history, creation does not cease to play a role. It continues to supply the proper context for all faithful praise. As I wrote in my book, Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life, within the context of the psalms, creation enacts the praise of God and it summons us to fullsome praise. Hill and dale, fire and frost, along with amoeba, atom, Asiatic Black Bear, and Arcturus, twenty times the size of the sun, all rejoice in the Lord, and their praise extends to the “ends of the world,” as Psalm 19 puts it (niv). Throughout the psalms, we see how God ravishes us with his creation and so invites faithful praise from the human heart. We see how creation invites us to participate in its joy in God, and in giving ourselves willingly to such a joy, we discover our true purpose as creatures made in the image of a joyful God: to faithfully reflect the divine image in all contexts of our created life as royal representatives of our Creator-King. It's an astonishing vocation, which creation would remind and inspire us to continue to fulfill, if we but had ears to hear, a nose to know, and a mouth to taste and (eyes) to see that the Lord is indeed good. When we find ourselves forgetful of our truest vocation, my wife and I might head out again on a walk through the neighborhood in order to re-play the Divine Game of Pinzatski. Our walks are less breathtaking in our aesthetically washed-out, architecturally grim neighborhood in northeast Austin, Texas. But with eyes to see and a willingness to attend to detail, we’re bound to notice the hidden grace of God in a small tuft of grass that has survived the hottest summer on record in this region of the world or the tenacious nature of God’s promises in the dogged roots of the Bradford Pear tree that sits on our front lawn and that refuses to yield its leaves to the rays of a seemingly pitiless sun. Photo by Niklas Weiss on Unsplash
- A Saint Who Pulled No Punches: The Story of Blanche Biggs
[From Meredith Goehring’s Afterword for The Major and the Missionary, available in the Rabbit Room Store.] Born on the 20th of December, 1909, in North East Tasmania, Blanche Biggs was the youngest child in a family of ten. In her last years at secondary school, she decided that she wanted to study medicine. From pocket money and various odd jobs, she saved one shilling a week until she had enough to enter nursing school. While a student, she contracted tuberculosis. In those days, tuberculosis was often a death sentence. She spent six months in a sanatorium and following that, six years being cared for by her parents. During those years, she grew very close to her mother. They both prayed, and they believed that God heard their prayers. After long years of convalescence, Blanche was pronounced completely cured, and she went on to finish her medical degree at Melbourne University. Soon after, while attending an Anglican church service at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill in Melbourne, she heard a visiting preacher appeal for medical missionaries willing to go to Papua New Guinea. Blanche believed that God was telling her why He had answered her prayers for healing. Blanche took several extra courses in tropical medicine and received training as a midwife. Then, on the 7th of September, 1948, she was appointed by the Australian Board of Missions to the mission field. Blanche spent the next 25 years serving in Papua New Guinea. She specialized in tuberculosis cases and worked among those with leprosy. But, as is often the case in mission hospitals, Blanche was also called upon to provide whatever medical care might be needed: delivering babies, tending to burns, and performing surgeries. In one of her early newsletters from the mission field, she describes an encounter with one patient as follows: Since I wrote last, I have done a fair amount of traveling, finally collected all my straggling bits of luggage and unpacked; and can fairly say that I have settled in. There have been odds and ends of surgery, none of it major; the most alarming thing I have done so far has been to repair a man’s arm after a crocodile had finished with it. Both the patient and I, I think, offered up thanks that it was a small crocodile. In spite of the filth that crocodiles are credited with carrying in their teeth, the wound healed by first intention. (Newsletter 2) This crocodile encounter occurred during her first year of service in Papua; her tone expresses a robust sense of adventure and curiosity that would sustain her through the next 24 years. She continues, “There are plenty of most interesting medical problems here, and one often longs for up-to-date laboratory facilities; however, one must go ‘by guess and by God’ and leave it at that” (Newsletter 2). Though she was often overwhelmed by the amount of work she faced, she seemed undaunted by the challenges of the jungle. Blanche did it all; she hosted Bishops and managed Church conferences and inoculated children against polio. Throughout her time on the mission field, she held two full- time jobs: as a hospital administrator and as a doctor who served as a midwife, primary care physician, and surgeon. In 1950, a year and a half into her tenure in Papua, she was presented with a little girl whose lips had been fused together by a tropical infection. Known colloquially as “yaws,” this infection causes areas of the skin to swell and burst, forming lesions. Blanche writes that the girl was kept home from school and could only whisper. Blanche restructured the girl’s lips in surgery and was “rewarded by a funny little smile” the first day she dressed the girl’s wounds (Newsletter 10). Tuberculosis was (and still is) one of the most prominent killers in Papua New Guinea; it was one of Blanche’s fiercest challenges. She and her fellow missionaries were able to cure most of the cases brought to them. For example, she treated one woman with hardly any lung function. She had wasted to a mere skeleton. However, after receiving care in the hospital, the woman’s appetite returned, and she was strong enough to participate in the mission’s Christmas festivities (Newsletter 65). Blanche cared for everyone she could. During her time in Papua, Blanche was awarded the Order of the British Empire. John Biggs notes, “Her OBE was the only instance where she might have been accused of the sin of pride.” In trying to sum up his aunt’s life and contributions, he writes, “She firmly believed that God had guided her life, and that intercession by prayer worked.” He concludes, “Her oldest sister, Lil, was a saintly saint, her other sister, Win, a worldly saint [...], Blanche, the youngest of the three surviving sisters, was a feisty saint; a saint who pulled no punches.” Blanche Biggs and C.S. Lewis’ older brother, Warren Lewis, exchanged letters for years. In October of 1968, Blanche wrote the very first of [her] letters to Warren. In it, she ponders the merits of burning her extensive memorabilia of documents, photographs, and journals, collected over a lifetime. Then she hesitates: “Some of my letters and papers might be useful in the future, even after my death, not because of their merit in themselves; but I have been a missionary doctor living in this same area for 20 years, and I have seen this Territory developing right under my nose, from primitive life to a pseudo-civilized one” (Letter 1). Blanche was wise to consider that her letters and papers might be useful one day. They offer a genuine portrait of life as a missionary in Papua New Guinea in the mid-1900s, articulated with candid authenticity. Blanche wrote for the joy of self-expression and connection with her reader. It is a gift to us, the audience Blanche would never have imagined, that one of those favored readers was Warren Lewis. It was certainly a treasure to him. Warren’s connection with a missionary doctor across the seas enriches our understanding not just of the elusive Major, but also of the Lewis brothers and the Inklings. Blanche and Warren’s story entrusts us with the same charge as the greatest tales: to live sacrificially for the sake of the good we see, both in the world and in one another. Blanche’s story in particular is engaging and inspiring in its own right, and more: it is a reminder of generations of unsung heroes—missionaries and others—whose own stories deserve to be told. Blanche’s commitment to Christ steered her life. Just as it guided her through her years of service in Papua, her faith guided her during her last years. Even in retirement, when she had settled in Brisbane, she sought opportunities to serve: “I have been doing a refresher course in medical work, and hope to do a bit of medical work; perhaps among the aboriginals who are pretty plentiful in this city, and need medical care” (Letter 85). She emphasized an open attitude to people no matter their abilities or background, writing that the hospital tried to create a spirit “of service and friendship to all, regard- less of barriers” (Newsletter 8). She carried this conviction to the end of her life, remaining a robust and servant-hearted woman all her days. As she approached her 90th birthday, her good health faded. She suffered multiple health crises in her last decade, “each of which,” as her nephew says, “she hoped would deliver her to her Maker, who she yearned to meet face to face.” Blanche herself says little about this yearning, but her nephew John Biggs believes that her point of view was much the same as that of her grandmother Harriet Burville: It may be that I am nearly home... but I am not a bit afraid. My precious Jesus, who has never left nor forsaken me in all the years since I gave myself to Him, has taken away all fear of death... my whole trust is in the finished work of my Saviour, who is always my constant, ever-present Friend, close enough to be touched [...] I have not gone home yet, but waiting, trusting, and longing to go, and yet quite willing to stay here as long as my loving Father pleases. ... His will be done. Blanche Biggs died on May 7, 2008. Her ashes are scattered in the rose garden of the Kenmore Parish Church (Queensland), where she was an active member. The papers, letters, and photographs that she had collected over the years were not destroyed: she donated her correspondence with Warren Lewis to The Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois, and the rest of her accumulated papers, diaries, and photographs to the special collection at the Fryer Library, the University of Queensland.
- Celebrating Our Members: Join to Double your Impact & Receive a Gift
As our team loads up the van, puts together folders, and welcomes speakers and participants from far and wide for this weekend's Hutchmoot conference, we want to recognize the people who make it happen. And no, I’m not just talking about the people who plan the details and programming, but the people who make the event (and everything else around here) exist through their support, the Rabbit Room members. Thank you! For those of you who are not yet members but are interested in joining, read on. We have something for you. When you sign up for membership today through Monday, October 9th: Your initial donation is doubled for a potential $10k matched You’ll receive a handmade, leather Rabbit Room bookmark from our friends at Growley Leather along with our 2023 New Member Mug. (Reminder- you’ll also have access to our Housemoot Digital conference at no extra cost) You may be thinking, “Wait a tic... is this just for people attending Hutchmoot or Housemoot?” Set thy hearts at rest, friends. The answer is no. Everyone who signs up during this time window can make the extra impact and receive a bookmark. If you’re ready to take the step and partner with us, you can join the membership here. Expect your new member package in the next few weeks! If you’d like to learn more about the exciting new opportunities in Membership that go beyond supporting Rabbit Room programs (like access to Housemoot, lectures, and Member course opportunities), you can click here. We’re grateful for those who want to partner with us in this mission and support all Rabbit Room programs through membership. Thanks for being here and taking part in the work!
- Suffering Honestly: Philip Yancey’s Undone
Editor’s Note: Undone is acclaimed author Philip Yancey’s latest book, published by Rabbit Room Press. In it, he renders 17th-century poet John Donne’s meditations on illness and suffering into modern English and adds his own commentary, informed by his experience with a debilitating diagnosis. Read Philip Yancey’s preface to Undone, explaining his heart behind the book. I was born at the height of an epidemic. In 1949, just over 42,000 Americans contracted the disease polio, most of them under the age of five. Less than 10 percent of the afflicted died, but a large number experienced paralysis. Children with crutches, leg braces, and deformed limbs were a commonplace sight, spreading fear among parents and children alike. My father, though an adult, somehow became infected. He spent several months in an iron lung, completely paralyzed, and then died at age 23. My first book explored the question Where Is God When It Hurts?, a question that had hung over my brother and me like the shadow of a missing father. In the years since, my writing has often circled around the issues raised by pain and suffering. Then came 2020, when a global health crisis put everyone on the planet at risk. Within weeks, a tiny virus overwhelmed hospitals, disrupted economies, and upended everyday social interactions. For a time, everything came undone. We had no instruction manual on how to respond to a pandemic—or did we? Historians soon dug up lessons from prior outbreaks of diseases such as polio, smallpox, cholera, bubonic plague, and Spanish influenza. At various times, these scourges spread terror and brought normal life to a halt. Each pandemic reduced humans to frail, bewildered creatures facing questions that seemed to have no satisfying answers. Where could I find a guide who had survived such an ordeal, and who offered wisdom for the ages? I found the answer in a journal predating COVID-19 by four centuries. John Donne wrote Devotions upon Emergent Occasions in 1623, during a bubonic plague epidemic in his city of London. Here, at last, was a master tutor, a trustworthy companion in crisis. Thrilled at the discovery, I sequestered myself in a mountain retreat and began a project that would occupy me for several months. My goal: to make more accessible for 21st-century readers the timeless insights from one of our greatest writers. The understanding and treatment of disease has changed dramatically since Donne’s time, and yet I know of no better account of someone confronting God during a health crisis. Ironically, just as this book was being edited, my doctor confirmed a most unwelcome diagnosis: ‘Philip, you have Parkinson’s Disease,” she said. Suddenly I knew exactly how Donne felt when he wrote the first words of his book: “Variable, and therefore miserable condition of man! This minute I was well, and am ill, this minute.” Unlike Donne’s feverish battle with immediate symptoms, I face the challenge of adapting to a chronic, degenerative disease. Yet I am finding that his journal of suffering points the way toward a hard-won faith. John Donne composed twenty-three meditations charting the stages of his illness. They include some of the most famous passages in English literature: “No man is an island . . . never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. . . .” To Donne’s meditations, I have added seven entries that explain some of the author’s background. Donne wrote as a form of contemplation, and his reflections should be read that way. I recommend reading one entry per day over a thirty-day period, slowly and meditatively. I was brutally selective as I edited Devotions, slashing anything that required explanations: archaic science or Greek mythology, or even obscure Bible passages. retained only parts that seem to have an immediate relevance, not only to the COVID-19 crisis, but to any crisis that stirs up existential questions. And, wincing at my own effrontery, I sought to tame his complicated writing style into something that modern readers can more readily absorb. I sought to extract from Donne’s literary masterpiece universal truths on how to live and how to die. —Philip Yancey, 2023
- Get Tickets for Alter: The Open Concert at Hutchmoot
Editor’s Note: Ashley Bayne, producer of Alter: The Movement of Change, this year’s open-to-the-public concert during Hutchmoot, reflects on some of the experiences of change that went into choosing the theme of this year’s show (October 6, 7:30-9:00). You can get tickets and learn more at Universe.com. A few months ago, I was invited by the Hutchmoot team to produce a show for the Friday evening of the 2023 conference. The year prior to COVID, I put together a show called “WELL” for Hutchmoot, which featured Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson, and Ella Mine, among many others. It explored the idea of mental health and wellness through a Kingdom lens with personal stories and music. Mental health was a hot topic that year and putting the show together was my way of sitting with this topic and gaining a deeper understanding of its role in my life, my community, and the world. I was asked, could I do something like that again? At first, I was nervous. A great deal has changed since 2019. Then, I realized that’s exactly why I needed to take the project on. This time last year, I was awaiting the arrival of my 4th child, due in mid-October. After her arrival, I would quit my job to stay home full-time; a job I loved with some of the loveliest people I knew. The regular rhythm of sitters and breaks that I enjoyed from my kids wouldn’t fit in the budget anymore, and the extra income that made life more comfortable would be gone for a season, making us more conscious of each dollar spent. But there was also a sweet new squishy baby to be held and loved and enjoyed in the fleeting newborn days. There was a village of friends and family that showed up to help in all sorts of ways that tore down my self-sufficient walls and flooded us with love, encouragement, and friendship that has permanently altered how I exist in the world. Since that moment in October of 2022 when the baby arrived, life has felt as if it was tipped on its head. It has been full of moments, decisions, and experiences that permanently altered my trajectory; friends moving away, new work for my husband, and a search for a new church family. I find myself telling the stories of all that has happened lately to help me process. Whether desired or not, planned or unexpected, my stories all circle around the theme of change. As I ruminated on all the change since my last Hutchmoot show in 2019, I realized it’s actually been since the beginnings of COVID that I have found myself in an overwhelming and unrelenting sea of change, and I know I’m not the only one. In 2021, 48 million people quit their jobs – a phenomenon aptly dubbed, “The Great Resignation”. One study reported that only 15% of churches described their congregational attendance numbers as “steady” over the past 3 years. Homeschooling enrollment has increased by an estimated 30% since 2019. These all signify huge shifts in the lives of millions. Not one of us is alone in our grappling with the plethora of “new normals” that we are facing. In light of the changes we have all experienced, what better theme could there be for this year’s Hutchmoot show than change itself? So the Alter event was born. Alter will be a chance to pause and simply sit with the idea of change, acknowledge its presence and role in our lives, to recognize how life has been altered these past three years, to mourn, celebrate, and honor those changes before diving back into the deep turbulent life-altering waters of daily life. Above all, it will be a time to remember that God, unlike all of creation, exists completely outside of the grasp of change, and yet chose to change—to be born as a baby, to grow as a man, to die as a human—for our sake. On October 6 at 7:30 pm at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN, we are going to sit with this big idea of change and consider where it all might be leading. In the end, we’ll celebrate a God who is in it all yet remains unchanging in his promises and faithfulness. Our time together, while not quite a concert nor exactly a worship service, will be filled with music, words, and movement through dance all working together to help us along as we pause and contemplate together. I’m excited to have a variety of guests joining us, each with a unique perspective and their own stories of change: Jon Guerra, an accomplished singer-songwriter whose beautiful, poignant and honest songs have been the soundtrack of my life through this year of transitions. Odessa Settles, a wise friend and incredibly accomplished vocalist and activist who has lived through more change than most of us may ever experience. Philip Yancey, an award-winning and critically acclaimed author who is uniquely engaging in change with his newest work, Undone. Thomas Austin and Skye Peterson, both eloquent and wise singer-songwriters, anticipating the delightful change of marrying one another. Sho Baraka, a multi-talented writer and hip-hop artist with his own story of change to tell. Andrew Peterson, a singer-songwriter, author, and founder of Rabbit Room, who recently became a grandfather and also a filmmaker. My hope is that in the words and music these fine artists share, we’ll find some collective revelations about the nature of change and the nature of our God, and that we’ll all leave with a sense of greater communion with each other knowing we are walking this ever-changing experience of being human together. I hope you’ll join us. You can purchase tickets today at Universe.com. Ashley Bayne
- Join us for a Lecture at North Wind Manor With Andrew Peterson
Andrew Peterson is lecturing on unique challenges and opportunities artists face. Join us at North Wind Manor (or via Zoom) for the lecture on September 27 at 7:30 p.m. CST. Lecture Description Artists often move among the borders—they’re “borderstalkers,” according to Makoto Fujimura. This can give them a feeling of exile, and even loneliness, while they speak, write, and create along the edges of things—but perhaps they’re not as alone as they think. In this lecture, Andrew explores the feeling of displacement many artists experience and offers encouragement for the journey in the borderlands. Lecture Details—When, Who, and Where Date: Wednesday, September 27th 2023 Time: 7:30 p.m., Central Standard Time (Doors open at 7 p.m.) Where: In-person at North Wind Manor & Livestream (Available for Members only) Cost: $10 for those joining the lecture in person at North Wind Manor. The livestream option is available for members only. There are two ways to join the lecture: In-person and via Livestream If you want to come to the manor to watch the lecture in-person, purchase tickets below. If you want to watch online, members can receive a link to the livestream by reserving a free ticket on the plugin below. (If you are not a member but want to watch the lecture online. Sign up for membership here.) To view the event page and reserve tickets directly on Universe, click here. Mark your calendar for the rest of this year’s lecture schedule: October 25, 2023—Even the Darkness is As Light to You: Christianity, Horror, and Stephen King (Andy Patton) December 7, 2023—Living in the Creator’s Gift Economy (Andrew Fellows) (Yes, we know that these lectures are all from Andrews… it was mostly accidental. We shall endeavor to amend our Drew-centric ways in 2024.)
- Pulling a Dream into the Daylight: A Conversation with Wild Harbors
Being a self-described dreamer, I can tell you that having a dream is a complex predicament. It’s one of the strongest forces in our lives and sometimes gives us purpose and direction. It can also be as fragile as a dried leaf, at times crumbling between our fingers to be blown away by the wind. Dreaming isn’t just wishing on a star; it’s vision-casting, planning, implementing, perspiration, and perseverance. And even those who take the right steps in the right order are not guaranteed that the dream won’t hit a dead end or a major detour. I sat down recently with Chris and Jenna Badeker – the husband-wife band known as Wild Harbors. I’ve been friends with them for nine years, and I definitely see them as fellow dreamers, but they might not be interested in that title. Jenna: Dream is such an interesting word. I think it’s one I’ve had a tough relationship with over the past decade. Chris: I always kind of bristled at that language of what we do like, “Go to Nashville and chase your dream.” Jenna: It sounds fun, and there are so many people who get into that thought. It’s been really interesting for me, through life and reflection and clearing out old stuff from my parents and finding old things from my childhood, little kid Jenna totally dreamed about singing and writing songs and being a writer and an author. Those were dreams. I think it’s interesting to realize that God has worked to draw us into paths that tap into those dreams that we both probably had when we were younger. I couldn’t have articulated as a young adult, “This is my dream and I’m going to chase it down and do x, y, z to make it happen.” I think there is some good and bad in that. On one hand, it helps maintain some groundedness – this isn’t some fairytale situation. We have budgets and need to pay our bills; we need to be practical about how we go about this. But there is also some potential for a lack of dreaming to continue. Chris: For as much as I kind of bristle at that dream idea, I’m trying to analyze that and pick apart why that is. For myself in particular, I think there is this tendency to take the dream and—just as we are attaining it—to move the bar further out to make it unattainable again. For myself as a kid, if you were to ask me, “What is the dream?” My dream was to be an artist. And that feels embarrassingly ill-conceived and not fleshed out, and there’s no marketing or plan behind that. It feels very naked, but that was my dream to be an artist. And at some point, whether that was in middle school, high school, or college, I was creating art and making art – I was an artist. Jenna: And are you talking visual art when you’re saying artist, or just anything? Chris: I think of an artist as a chef, a musician, a painter, a poet. I hold all of those under an umbrella for myself. I still want to be an artist – a musical artist, a singer, all those things. That’s what I want. But when I became an artist I didn’t have a sense of, “My dreams have come true.“ I had a new sense, “I need to be a full-time artist.” And then that bar got a little further out like, “Well, if I was a real artist I wouldn’t be working in a library, I’d be working on my art all the time.” And where did that come from? Maybe not the same place that the dream to become an artist came from. It feels almost like sabotage, like every time we realize a dream, it keeps morphing into a different shadow that mutates it a bit in a way that feels less and less satisfying. Maybe I’m just weary of the way dreams can get morphed and mutated and twisted through the lens of “I need to be doing this really professionally and really well, and maybe it was fine to dream of being an artist at the beginning, but now I need to be a serious artist.” And that feels like a way to crush the dream at its root and then the playfulness gets lost and the creativity gets lost and it becomes a job. It becomes something to fail at. Dave: I’m in the middle of reading the book Say Yes by Scott Erickson, and it’s got a compelling subtitle: “Discover the surprising life beyond the death of a dream.” I’ve been reflecting on how sometimes the big dream dies. I also ponder about the smaller dreams within the dream that sometimes experience mini-deaths. They can be very disheartening and very frustrating to deal with because we only plan for success. But the mini-deaths can also be an amazing guide and teacher. Has that been true for you? Jenna: I’m realizing that in making music my main career, focus, and source of income, I have subconsciously created these unintended weights upon what the original dream was. Sometimes I think, “You are doing it wrong, or I’m not doing it good enough.” Then I drill down into that – what is making me say I’m not good enough? It’s not as actually evaluative as my head wants to tell me it is. We look sideways, and we look on social media and we’re like, “This person’s releasing all these songs and we haven’t released a new song that we’ve written in years, so we’re doing it wrong.” Or “I’m not booking as many shows as these people are, so I am failing.” I think I’m at a juncture now of trying to take a lot of steps back and seeing there are – like you said – a lot of little deaths that are happening along the way. If there’s anything that can kill dreams, it is a really out-of-control inner critic who is going to stamp all that right out of me. “Of course, I’m not going to release anything new because I can’t write because I feel bad at my job.” That’s not sustainable. If I let some of those things die away from what I thought a full-time vocational musician should do, is there room for the deep-down core of that dream to still have a beating heart and to gain a sure foundation looking differently than what I imagined? Chris: The ability to create freely and to create joyfully just starts to deteriorate under the weight of our own added expectations. I guess we have to reckon with some of those little disappointments. Maybe it’s not meant to look like someone else. And it’s okay if we can’t out-finger-pick Andrew Peterson or we can’t out-harmonize The Civil Wars or we can’t out-suave Johnnyswim. There is no success for us trying to piggyback or replicate the accolades that other people have. Instead of having to say it’s okay, we’re not going to find our thing trying to follow those trails. It’s been freeing to cut that tether and unhitch our trailer from certain things, and that gives us freedom enough to say we’re allowed to do what we want to do, and it doesn’t have to look like what any of our peers are doing. That actually feels more artistic and more creative. Dave: Now you’ve created something new and released a brand new single “Daylight.” Can you share the theme of the track? Jenna: This song came about during the pandemic. Nashville had a very mild winter, and while we were chained at home, we could still go outside. Chris and I had taken our Christmas money that year and bought bikes because there are so many amazing trails around Nashville. One day we were riding and I started making up the song on my bike. I positioned my phone on the holder and hit the audio recorder and just started singing and riding and feeling this rush. I was physically moving forward. Everything had been feeling like we were stuck – time was passing and none of us were moving anywhere. It felt so good to feel the sun and be rolling down that hill. This melody and words came – there is daylight, and it is here, and I don’t know how much we get but I really want to do good things with it. We use the phrase “make the most of it” so often, I don’t feel like I can fully understand what that phrase even means. But to actually pause and take stock that you have these 15 hours or so of daylight in a day. What do I want to do with it? And not “Are you spending it right?” Because that’s my bent – are you doing the right things with it? Instead of spending it right, I’m focusing on spending it well. I want to do great things with it in a way that is inviting and exciting. I want to invite other people into that – we have permission to do good things with our time. I want to do that together. Chris: For me, it’s a song about spending a day well, but it’s also that this day represents what I do every day, and what I do every day represents the sum of this life that we are living together. You only really get to answer that question, “Have I spent my life well?” one time, at the end of your life when you can see the whole thing in retrospect. But you get to answer, “Did I spend today well?” every single day, seven times a week, 365 days a year. Dave: How does it feel to be releasing the first new original Wild Harbor songs in a few years? Chris: I think primarily it’s excitement. Releasing remixes and stuff felt like a way to keep things going from a logistics standpoint for us, but there’s not the same feeling of show-and-tell putting something like this out there. It feels like the next season. If that was Season One, this is definitely Season Two. It has been about a year that we’ve been sitting on these masters. We’ve shared them with a few friends and family here and there to show them what we’re up to. Even those initial reactions helped me to remember other people are really excited to hear this too. When it’s just a thing in your own house and in your own head, it’s easy to forget the part of the interaction that I love the most – the sharing. It’s fun to get back to that season. Jenna: We’re not doing this to increase a number on a chart, we’re doing this because we felt passionate about a story and we want to share that story with other people. So it’s really fun for me to hear it again and be reminded about why we do what we do and the prospect of having that new season.
- Housemoot Teaser: Music and Grief with Andrew Osenga
Housemoot.com opens in six days! In case you missed the announcement, Housemoot is the Rabbit Room’s new pop-up digital conference, replete with a curated collection of pre-recorded lectures from some of our favorite writers, artists, theologians, and musicians. Because Hutchmoot, the Rabbit Room’s annual in-person conference, can be hard to get tickets to, we are offering Housemoot as a resource kit that you can use to create a “moot” experience of your own. We hope that it is a gathering point for your community. Go to Housemoot.com to learn more, buy tickets, or (if you are already a Rabbit Room member) let us know you’re joining Housemoot. Join Housemoot By way of whetting your appetite for the feast that is Housemoot, below is an excerpt with Andrew Osenga from a series of interviews with artists and creators about how music has helped them move through experiences of loss and grief. [If this topic speaks to where you are at right now, check out our new Music and Grief playlist and let these thoughtful, moving songs walk you through exactly what Andrew is talking about in the interview.] [Special thanks to Dave Trout and UTR Media for putting this interview series together for Housemoot!]
- The Importance of Small Things: Two Letters from The Major and the Missionary
Editor’s Note: After the death of C. S. Lewis, Major Warren Lewis lived at The Kilns in Oxford, spent time with friends, edited his famous brother’s letters, and did a little writing of his own. Then, out of the blue, he got a letter from a stranger on the far side of the world. Over the years that followed, he and Dr. Blanche Biggs, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, shared a vibrant correspondence. They discussed everything: their views on faith, politics, humor, the legacy of C. S. Lewis, and their own trials and longings. Enjoy a sample of their letters and a small window into their close friendship. Read the full collection in The Major and the Missionary. 3 August 1969 My dear Major Lewis, This correspondence has come a long way from the discussion of writing books which began it. I am too busy these days to think of writing except as a far-off dream; certainly not until I retire. I had serious thoughts about retiring after the present term of service, but our canny Bishop has given me a new job as Diocesan Medical Co-ordinator, and it is like creating a new portfolio; there is a fair amount of organizing to be done. I can’t foresee handing over to someone else in less than four or five years, so long as I have health and energy to keep at the job, so the Bishop will have me for longer than I planned, and my nice little cottage by the sea is fading into the future…sick patients still have to be nursed! Your holiday in Ireland sounds delightful; other people who have been there love the country too. Of course, you would look on it as your home. Have you relatives or friends still living there? I must confess that the news lately has shown up the Irish in a bad light, with their fights and riots on religious matters. It takes centuries to live down old injustices and prejudices. But our hustling cities are creating a bad kind of society too. Our Papuans are infuriating in their failure to value time, but in our more sober moments we realize that they have values that we have not. They rarely suffer from high blood pressure, coronary disease etc.… We are trying to help us all spiritually and to grow in Christian love by having weekly Bible Study classes. They are not my line of country at all, but anyway we are all trying. After a rather unfruitful study of St. James’ epistle we have now come on to Joy Davidman’s Smoke on the Mountain, a book that I have read and admired several times. We seem able to build more on her than on St. James! Basically of course, spiritual renewal must depend on prayer, and one has so little time and less energy for it. Life has been full to the brim of activity in the past three months, very interesting but very wearying. Today is the first day when I have declared war on “jobs” and determined to be social—on paper. If you will forgive my curiosity, I would love to know how the Gresham boys are faring. There is little mention of them in the book you edited about your brother… With all good wishes, Dr. Biggs 28 August 1969 Dear Dr. Biggs What a pleasant surprise it was to open your magazine and there to meet you, if not in the flesh at any rate by camera. I cannot say that I found the articles to be “simple” in the sense of being written for simple reads; to me they were just well-written and informative… I have also to thank you for a letter dated 3rd of this month, which was very interesting, though I’m sorry to see you in such an unsettled state. To an outsider it looks rather like a case of “too many cooks.” Anyway I hope and trust that the whole “tohubohu” (delightful and self-explanatory French word!) will sort itself out to your satisfaction. To get on with the job in a period of re-organization is one of the hardest things I know. Yes, my poor Ulster is passing through a bad patch, but I’ve seen many such before. The tragedy is that Protestant and Catholic are, one can say, born hating each other. I’m 3rd generation Ulster on my father’s side and on my mothers, 5th; I’ve lived out of Ulster for fifty years; and the other night when I saw on Telly the Protestant boys marching and heard the band playing “The Boyne Water” I felt as if I could throw a bomb with the best of them. Of course I said an instant prayer for forgiveness, but if I can react like that, imagine what the uneducated living cheek by jowl with their detested neighbors must be like! A sad, sad business… One great thing about retirement is that you do have the time for prayer but alas, not always the inclination; but one must stick doggedly to a routine and pray for inclination. My plan is to get up at 6 a.m., make a cup of tea, then pray while the whole world around me is quiet. I’ve long ago given up the almost universal habit of saying my main prayer last thing at night—about the worst hour one could choose, I think. I’m glad you like Smoke upon the Mountain which my brother thought highly of both before and after he met Joy. You ask about the Gresham boys for whom I’m glad to say I’ve no responsibility, they both being over 21. Douglas, the younger one is now a farmer in Tasmania and appears to be making a success of it—married to a nice girl (English) and with two children. The elder boy, David, is something of a problem. He is a strict orthodox Jew, intelligent, with no vices, but who at around the age of 28 has never earned a penny in his life, though he works hard. He is just back from a year at Jerusalem University and is now in England where instead of looking for a job, he is about to enter Cambridge University—to study the Talmud and Arabic! He inherited about £6,000 from a grandmother and it is I suppose on this that he has lived ever since. But even £6,000 does not last forever, and what then? We are all troubled about him, but he himself is as unconcerned as if he had inherited £6,000 a year… In case you have any curiosity about what I look like I enclose this snap. I’m the old gentleman in glasses and the other is my houseman. It was taken at a village on the Suffolk coast where we sometimes borrow a cottage. We go back there for a fortnight at the end of next month. I don’t expect you have gorse in Papua—the lovely rich golden wild stuff at our backs. With all best wishes, yours, Warren Lewis
- An Interview with Karen Swallow Prior: Imagination Makes the World Go ’Round
I (Joel J Miller) first met Karen Swallow Prior a decade ago while working at Thomas Nelson as vice president of editorial and acquisitions. I signed her book Fierce Convictions—a biography of British social reformer, educator, and abolitionist Hannah More—back in 2013. I’ve followed and benefitted from Prior’s work ever since. She’s written and edited several other books, including (most recently) The Evangelical Imagination, On Reading Well, and Booked. Her guide to the classics series for B&H Publishing features such titles as Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Sense and Sensibility, Frankenstein, and The Scarlet Letter. Beyond her books, Prior’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic, New York Times, Christianity Today, First Things, Vox, and several other publications. She also pens a monthly column for Religion News Service and has recently started her own newsletter here on Substack, The Priory. In this conversation, Prior and I talk about the role of imagination in shaping our experience of the world—whether we realize it or not. Karen Swallow Prior. Photo © Ashlee Glen Joel Miller: As I read your new book, The Evangelical Imagination, I reflected on the role imagination plays in our daily experience. We know the world through both external sensation and internal imagination, but even the external is filtered through our imagination because it’s how we make meaning of what we sense. Our entire experience is one of the imagination. Karen Swallow Prior: Exactly. Imagination is so much more than just the obvious, creative activity we tend to think of when we think about “using” our imagination. All of our thinking, dreaming, and processing relies on the imagination. As you said, our entire experience! JM: In the 1990s, it was popular in some circles to talk about worldview. Since Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age in 2007, it seems more popular to speak in terms of social imaginary, a term you put to good use. What do these concepts share and how do they differ? KSP: This is such an important question. The two concepts are related but refer to very different elements of thinking. Worldview is the conscious, rational application of beliefs or principles to some specific, concrete question or issue. It is a very cognitive and intentional activity. Social imaginaries, as Charles Taylor describes them, are precognitive, communal pools of inherited or traditional visions, assumptions, myths, metaphors, and so on. These lurk beneath the surface, often driving or directing our sense of how things should go, whether we realize it or not. Obviously, there are thoughts that can fit into either category. But a social imaginary contains elements that we often don’t know are there until something causes us to realize such an assumption exists. That something might be an experience in a different culture where expectations differ, or a conversation or book (ahem!) that brings to the surface something assumed that is not a conscious, chosen belief or understanding. For example, a Christian might apply a biblical worldview in deciding how to vote. But the sense that it is a duty of a responsible citizen to vote might originate from within a particular social imaginary. JM: You’ve written a bookish memoir, Booked, along with a very popular book on how to read well, On Reading Well. What role do books play in shaping our imaginations? KSP: Books, of course, are not the only way to shape our imaginations. As we noted above, humans use the imagination all the time. But books—stories in particular—expand our imaginations with materials, images, characters, events, outcomes, possibilities, people, problems, solutions, disasters, delights, and so much more than we’d ever “see” in our minds without them. We could say the same of any works of the imagination—film, music, and so on. But I do think there is something inherently more rigorous to the mind (and therefore the imagination) about worlds created by words. Words must be translated into images, feelings, sensations, and experiences. Words are more mediated, requiring more from us, and therefore yielding more for us. JM: Are there ways of being more intentional about that shaping? KSP: Absolutely. And it’s not an all-or-nothing deal. Whatever our entertainment/leisure time diet is, we can always be more intentional about taking in more of the good, true, and beautiful and less of the easy, comforting, and familiar. If it takes a year to read one great classical work, you’ll have read that work when the year is over. It will stay with you forever no matter how long it takes. You can also be intentional about shutting out more of the noise (no easy feat these days). That’s something I’m working on myself because, in my case, my life centers on the good stuff—but I have also been drawn in too often and too easily to the bad stuff (the latest Twitter dustup or church scandal or whatever). It’s not that we ought to ignore or escape from the real world. But it’s about being more intentional with what we do in our discretionary time to form our minds, tastes, and imaginations toward a desire for the good. Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books JM: One of the points you make in The Evangelical Imagination is that a massive overlap exists between Victorian and evangelical sensibilities since they were concurrent social movements. That seems true today as well with American Christianity. How do we tease out what’s Christian from what’s merely American? KSP: Well, this is really what I’m trying to model in The Evangelical Imagination. The fact is that the Victorian Age, taking place during the reign of the British Empire, affected all of the world, especially America. So what we see in contemporary American evangelicalism was shaped significantly by Victorian culture. But what I’m trying to show in the book is that it doesn’t matter what culture a Christian society is or was part of or developed alongside. The task will always be the same: to distinguish between what is cultural and what is eternal. We will always be products of our culture to some degree. And that isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just a matter of discerning the difference. I was explaining to a friend recently, for example, it’s not wrong to have an altar call or ask people to raise their hands to make a decision for Christ (something I discuss in the book). But it is wrong to assume that this method is universal and necessary for all church gatherings across time and place and that those who don’t practice it are wrong. Yet those who have grown up without knowing anything else can find themselves assuming that churches that don’t use this modern practice are somehow less Christian. That’s another example of an assumption that is part of the social imaginary. JM: Americans tend to be highly individualistic and therefore prone to biases and blindspots when it comes to larger social constructs. What impact do you think that has on seeing the role of institutions and shaping our imaginations? KSP: This is an important point. As I said above, the duty of distinguishing between what is cultural and what is eternal in our faith applies to all Christians in all times and places. Yet I do think this task of distinguishing is a bit harder for contemporary Americans because of the way we have been formed—as you say, more individualistic, more autonomous, and so forth. Our less communal culture puts up particular obstacles to seeing the way a social imaginary works. JM: Since we presuppose most of the stories and metaphors that shape our imaginations, we’re mostly unaware of them and how they function in our lives. What can we do to become more aware of these formative stories and metaphors? I think the first step is to recognize that language itself is metaphorical. This understanding comes more easily for those who study other languages. (Think of the difference, for example, between what we say in English about the weather—it is cold—as opposed to the same idea in French—it makes the cold. It’s a subtle difference but shows how the same experience can be expressed in terms of existence or createdness.) Once you become aware of how language itself is metaphorical, it is easier to see the patterns and archetypes in a culture for expressing those ideas, even the Christian ones. Conversion, for example (to which I devote a chapter in the book) is both a key Christian concept and one central to human experience. We see conversion stories everywhere! JM: Final question: You can invite any three authors for a lengthy meal. Language is not an obstacle. Who do you pick, why, and how does the conversation go? KSP: I am inviting Jonathan Swift (eighteenth-century British satirist and Anglican priest), Flannery O’Connor (twentieth-century American Catholic writer), and Gustave Flaubert (nineteenth-century French novelist). O’Connor brings her mother, Flaubert brings the wine, but Swift is not allowed to contribute the main dish. Regina (O’Connor’s mother) dozes off, but the rest of us stay up until 1 a.m. discussing Romanticism-versus-Realism, satire, empathy, and consubstantiation-versus-transubstantiation-versus-“doing this in remembrance of Me.” No one changes their mind about the Lord’s Supper, but O’Connor leaves with a new short story idea. [This conversation was first published at MillersBookReview.com, where Joel J. Miller publishes essays, reviews, and other bookish diversions.]
- The Square Halo Gallery: A Place to Encounter Christian Art in the Midst of the City
Most people have a secret dream, a far-fetched vision that they keep tucked away in a hidden room in their hearts. Some may long to be famous singers. Others might long to travel around the world or to be the monarch of an important nation. Fame, money, power—these all are rolled into one in my ridiculous fantasy. If you were to catch me in reverie, I would most likely be planning and organizing The Square Halo Museum—a beautiful collection of contemporary art inspired by the Christian faith. In 2013 my good friend Dr. Robert Bigley was tasked with starting a performing arts center in our city, in the empty husk of the Lancaster Trust Company.1 He said to me, “I can’t give you a museum, but how would you like to have an art gallery?” I must have confessed my vision for The Square Halo Museum to him one night over a bottle of wine with our wives. Regardless of how he found out, I lost no time in giving him my reply: I immediately accepted his offer, and my first exhibition of art went up even before the doors to the rest of The Trust Performing Arts Center2 had opened. The inaugural show of the Square Halo Gallery featured art by a number of the artists from It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Since then, I have averaged a new show every other month, showcasing a wide variety of artists—both living and dead, famous and should-be-famous.3 Square Halo Gallery is in the middle of downtown Lancaster and in the middle of the arts district—a block from “Gallery Row” and The Fulton Opera House.4 Over time, I found that the gallery was also in the middle of an aesthetic and theological no-man’s-land. Of the Christians who entered the gallery, assuming it was a “safe” place for their tribe, many found that the art they considered “too modern” made them uncomfortable. And of the non-Christians who came in believing that the gallery—like any other downtown art gallery—was a “safe” place for their tribe, many were made uncomfortable by art they considered “too religious.” This led me to eventually realize that my role as a curator and gallery director is actually that of a translator—explaining contemporary art to the church, and explaining the Christian faith to the unchurched. I have come to appreciate that the calling of the Square Halo Gallery is to be neither a fancy museum nor a cooler-than-thou moneymaking gallery but to be a place to educate and beautify the city for God. The apostle John also had a dream, a far-fetched vision we now call the Book of Revelation. In it, he saw a glorious New Creation and the city of God that defies description. That city has been the plan since the beginning. When God gave mankind the cultural mandate at the dawn of time, He was calling us to be city builders. “Cities are the ‘culture-forming wombs’ of the society, made by God to be so.”5 Cities are places for building, making, and growing. In cities, people come to work together, live together, and blossom together. Business, justice, science, architecture, and the arts find a place to grow in these “wombs of society.” Aesthetician Calvin Seerveld says, The reach of God’s rule, the city of God—Augustine’s civitas Dei— involves government, commerce, education, media, families, transportation, hospitals, organized sports, centers of art—all societal institutions. God’s city is the place where God’s will is to be done and cultivated as a tangible signpost on earth of the rule of God currently in place at God’s throne, which sinless “city of God” Jesus will bring fully to earth at the end.6 Seerveld has also observed that the biblical vision of the city of God is distinct from but related to the church, therefore charting “a wide open terrain for Christians in the visual arts. This biblical perspective helps prevent us from assuming ‘church art’ or ‘liturgical art’ is the primary model for Christians in the visual arts.”7 Should Christians be involved in growing cities? Tim Keller says that the “single most effective way for Christians to ‘reach’ the US would be for 25% of them to move to two or three of the largest cities and stay there for three generations.”8 In fact, Keller insists that “We can’t not be involved in shaping culture.”9 If this is so, what vision could we embrace to help us work towards cultural transformation? Keller writes: For a possible model, think about the monks in the Middle Ages, who moved out through pagan Europe, inventing and establishing academies, universities, and hospitals. They transformed local economies and cared for the weak through these new institutions. They didn’t set out to take control of a pagan culture. They let the gospel change how they did their work—which meant they worked for others rather than for themselves. Christians today should strive to be a community that lives out this same kind of dynamic, which will bring the same kind of result.10 Before founding the Square Halo Gallery I tried to follow the model of the monks and set up a gallery in the narthex of our church. Our congregation included an unusual number of artists for a Presbyterian church at that time, but that venture only lasted for several shows—it was closed down after some members told the leadership that they wanted to go to church, “not to an art museum.” My brothers and sisters did not understand that our calling to creativity was woven into our DNA in the Garden of Eden. This was disheartening, but it helped to prepare me for the educational aspect of the Square Halo Gallery’s calling to the city for God. Therefore, much of the work I do is to communicate to the church that “being made in God’s image means—it must mean—that human beings reflect in some way God’s creative work.”11 I find myself frequently reminding them that the first record of God filling a human with His Spirit is when the artist Bezalel is set apart for artmaking. (Ex. 31:1–6) Often I need to repeat Leland Ryken’s affirmation that the “Bible endorses the arts . . . [and] there is no prescribed style or content for art. God-glorifying art can be realistic or fantastic, representational or symbolic or abstract.”12 But the educational calling of my gallery occurs at both ends of the spectrum. For example, I have had visitors come into the gallery and ask “Why does that man have holes in his hands and feet?”—demonstrating the illiteracy of my community concerning even the basics of the gospel. And even the most rudimentary of Sunday School stories—Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and Jonah and the Great Fish—are unknown to many who step through our doors on a First Friday. One of the earliest titles from Square Halo Books is It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, a book I contributed to and edited. Over the years I have found that, if by chance someone has heard of the book, it is usually because they read a quote from it by Tim Keller. In his essay for It Was Good, he asserts that Christianity needs artists because “we can’t understand truth without art.”13 The transcendentals of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are so organically intertwined with one another that to we need beauty to pull truth from our heads to our hearts. Keller wrote that Art is a natural vehicle for pouring out the praise we long to give God. Without art, it is almost impossible to praise God because we have no means by which to get the praise out. We can’t enjoy God without art. And even those of us who are terrible artists have to sing sometimes.14 And so, as my gallery has grown, a calling equal—if not greater—to that of education has emerged: that of getting God’s praise out through beauty. It has been a delight to watch parched souls come in and drink with wonder (and amazement) from the wells of beauty they have found in the iridescent paintings of Makoto Fujimura, the gilded drawings of Sandra Bowden, the exotic prints of Sadao Watanabe, the scrumptious collages of Mary McCleary, and more. Real, honest beauty is such a rare thing in our society that to see it in person often produces a profound, indescribable experience in the hearts of my gallery’s guests. The impact beauty has on people is not a rare or debatable phenomenon. We are not surprised when people are moved beyond words by the sight of the mysterious Giant’s Causeway, the majestic California Redwoods trees, the epic Grand Canyon, the lush Great Reef, or the massive Uluru. In fact, entire industries have grown up to take us to visit them. But because art is man-made, the visceral reaction it can generate often catches us off guard. We need not be flabbergasted, for “At its best, art is able to . . . satisfy our deep longing for beauty and communicate profound spiritual, intellectual, and emotional truth about the world that God has made for his glory.”15 When we are swept up into the glory of natural or man-made beauty, we are, in a sense, returning to the creation of our entire reality that is described in Genesis. For, as poet Malcolm Guite reminds us, “at every moment in which we are conscious and perceive God’s world, God is in that same moment creating it.”16 Every human has been made in the image of God; we are by design creative beings. The artmaking of both the atheist and the follower of Christ is worth considering as praiseworthy because “all art and all creativity declares His glory, even apart from the content or the intent of the artist. As Author and Originator of all creativity, His signature is written on the creative act itself.”17 Of course, Paul wrote, “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21), and the apologist Francis Schaeffer warned that “not every creation is great art . . . So, while creativity is a good thing in itself, it does not mean that everything that comes out of man’s creativity is good.”18 That caveat for our fallen nature acknowledged, it is important that we seek out and encourage “artists to stimulate that imagination and to show us that things have meaning,” as Keller writes, because “Artists have a special capacity to recognize the ‘other country’ and communicate with the rest of us regarding the greater reality. A good artist will reveal something about the greater reality in an indefinable but inescapable way.”19 Calvin Seerveld explains some of how this is when he writes that God’s Spirit calls an artist to help her neighbors who are imaginatively handicapped, who do not notice the fifteen different hues of green outside the window, who have never sensed the bravery in bashfulness or seen how lovely an ugly person can be—to open up such neighbors to the wonder of God’s creatures, their historical misery and glory.20 I love the work of education and beautification the Square Halo Gallery does for the good of our city and the glory of God, and I still have a dream of seeing it become a full museum. But I have an even more glorious vision now—to see artists who follow Jesus be inspired by the creeds of His church and anchored in the strange and glorious Story our Creator is spinning. I long to see artists who, like Bezalel, are highly skilled and filled with the Spirit of God, making imaginative art that “goes beyond what we can think of and rises to lofty heights where it contemplates the glory of God.”21 This essay originally appeared in Ordinary Saints from Square Halo Books. ENDNOTES 1 In 1912, Lancaster’s largest bank, the Lancaster Trust Company, finished construction on its new downtown headquarters. Sparing no expense in the process, the Lancaster Trust Company built one of the region’s most stunning buildings, a Beaux-Arts masterpiece from the imagination of Lancaster’s leading architect, C. Emlen Urban. A century later, Mr. Urban’s architectural treasure was re-imagined as The Trust Performing Arts Center. 2 In 2013 The Trust Performing Arts Center (https://www.lancastertrust.com) was established to honor God by encouraging excellence in the work of student and professional artists and by enriching our community through inspiring, challenging, and redemptive experiences. “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” (Ps. 37:3). 3 Some of the artists I have had the honor to feature in my gallery include Mary McCleary, Sandra Bowden, Guy Chase, Marc Chagall, Matthew Clark, Ruth Naomi Floyd, Makoto Fujimura, Daniel Finch, Jimmy Abegg, Mark Potter, Ryan Stander, Sadao Watanabe, Caleb Stoltzfus, Christine and Donald Forsythe, Wayne Adams, Steve Prince, Najwan Sack, Stephanie Lael Barrick, Brent Good, Craig Hawkins, Matt Stemler, Edward Knippers, and Georges Rouault. To learn more, visit https://www. squarehalobooks.com/sq-gallery/. 4 The Fulton Opera House, also known as the Fulton Theatre or simply The Fulton, is said to be the oldest working theatre in the United States. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. 5 Timothy Keller, “A Theology of Cities,” CruPress Green, accessed January 15, 2022, https://www.cru.org/ content/dam/cru/legacy/2012/02/A_Theology_of_Cities.pdf. 6 Calvin Seerveld, “Helping Your Neighbor See Surprises: Advice to Recent Graduates,” from Contemporary Art and the Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds, ed. W. David O. Taylor and Taylor Worley (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 213. 7 Ibid. 8 Keller, “A Theology of Cities.” 9 Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), Chapter 26. 10 Ibid. 11 Paul Buckley, “Genesis 1 and the Pattern of Our Lives” (sermon), October 20, 2019, Wheatland Presbyterian Church, Lancaster, PA. 12 Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly About the Arts (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1989), 62. 13 Tim Keller, “Why the Church Needs Artists,” from It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, ed. Ned Bustard (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books, 2007), 121. 14 Ibid. 15 Philip Graham Ryken, Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 8. 16 Malcolm Guite, Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books, 2021), 56. 17 Stephen Roach with Ned Bustard, Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books, 2020), 10. 18 Schaeffer, Francis A., p.52 19 Keller, “Why the Church Needs Artists,” It Was Good, 120. 20 Seerveld, “Helping Your Neighbor,” 211. 21 Keller, “Why the Church Needs Artists,” It Was Good, 120.
- Announcing Housemoot—A Pop-Up Hutchmoot Conference in Your Own Home
What is Housemoot? Every October, the Rabbit Room hosts a conference called Hutchmoot. It’s an opportunity for people from far and wide to gather in Nashville to celebrate art, music, story, and faith. This year we are also offering Housemoot, a “Hutchmoot kit” that you can use to create a “moot” experience of your own during the weekend of Hutchmoot (October 5-8). We are offering these resources to be a gathering point for your community. Housemoot is a collection of some of our favorite lectures, concerts, and activities that you can use to connect with people in your own communities. What to Expect The main Housemoot site will open on September 18, with hopes that will give you enough time to plan a local gathering to coincide with Hutchmoot on the weekend of October 5-8. Members and ticket-holders will have access to Housemoot through November. On the Housemoot site, you’ll find over 15 hours of lectures and artistic interludes in three categories: Art & Artists Bible & Theology Hospitality & Community You’ll get access to a curated collection of pre-recorded lectures from some of our favorite writers, artists, theologians, and musicians including Makoto Fujimura (via Trinity Forum), Russell Moore, Karen Swallow Prior (via Trinity Forum), Andrew Peterson, Tim Mackie, Ruth Naomi Floyd, Doug McKelvey (via Anselm Society), Malcolm Guite, and others. Using the Resources to Build a Pop-up Gathering With Your Community This is not your normal web conference. We would like to challenge you to use Housemoot as a “gathering point” for your community (no matter the size). That is why Housemoot is more than lectures. We have included recipes, art, and a gathering guide with practical tips on how to open your home during the event. In short, you can make Housemoot whatever you want it to be. You can pick a single lecture to watch and discuss with your friends over a meal. You could make a day of it, watching several videos and letting the ideas wash over your community. Or you could use Housemoot as a way to build your own weekend conference, gathering friends and neighbors to engage with the content in an even deeper way. As a part of Housemoot, you’ll get: Access to 18 lectures and videos (over 15 hours worth). Three beautiful “artistic interludes” comprised of songs, poems, and a bit of humor. A Gathering Guide with information on how to prepare to open your home during Housemoot. Buying a Ticket or Becoming a Member There are two ways to join Housemoot, buying a ticket or becoming a Rabbit Room member. Tickets cost: $19 per person $29 for a family and friends (5-10) $49 for a group (10+) $99 for churches and large-group gatherings (50+) Instead of Buying a Ticket, Join the Rabbit Room Membership Because our Rabbit Room members are at the heart of funding all our programs and resources, members can access Housemoot at the group level at no additional cost (a $49 value). If you’re interested in supporting the work of the Rabbit Room and receiving any of the benefits below, join the membership now. In addition to accessing Housemoot 2023, members receive quarterly gifts like our annual mug, early access to courses and lectures, monthly updates with backstage looks, and other goodies and experiences. If you choose to opt into the membership instead of buying a ticket to Housemoot, we’ll send you the password for the Housemoot site and everything you need to join the Housemoot experience when you join.