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  • Battle Hymn of the Body

    by Shigé Clark [Editor’s note: As we enter into the celebration of Christmas, we’d like to share with you a profound piece from Shigé Clark that has grown more deeply pertinent since it was first published in 2019. In it, she explores the history of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in tension with the ways in which the gospel testifies that peace will come to earth.] I now know three songs set to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The classic version published in 1862 is probably best known to all of us. I’ve sung it in triumphant chorus at church and later at West Point, where our starched uniforms with their flashy buttons lent us an extra (if unearned) level of pride in singing the military march. When I actually commissioned in the Army, I learned the tune better as the cadence “Blood Upon the Risers.” So it was that as I sat in church and the band began playing the melody, my first flash of thought was, “Why are they playing a cadence?” Common sense immediately caught up, and as the first familiar line began, I realized, of course, it was “Battle Hymn.” I thought it was a weird choice for communion, but hey, it’s triumphant, and I’m new to this whole Anglican tradition. Maybe it was meaningful to this service in a way I didn’t understand. Then the song changed in the second line. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord You are speaking truth to power, you are laying down our swords Replanting every vineyard till a brand new wine is poured Your peace will make us one Many of you may recognize this as Audrey Assad’s recent song “ Your Peace Will Make Us One .” This was my first time hearing it, and it’s a brilliant display of the power one song can hold, especially when molded and considered in the context of previous works. The song’s association with previous versions lends it greater depth and nuance than it could carry on its own. “Battle Hymn” began as a soldier’s tune, which Julia Ward Howe crafted into a march of righteous indignation for the Union side of the Civil War. Despite these honorable origins, it has a Manifest Destiny-esque appeal—casting its singers as though they’re on God’s side of whatever conflict it’s being applied to at the time—and it has since been used as an anthem for a wide assortment of causes (sometimes in support of directly opposing sides). It speaks to God’s wrath, justice, and judgment. It speaks to the unequivocal stomping out of evil in defense of a righteous cause. This is a familiar mindset for many of us. It’s the mindset in which I joined the military. You go out and defeat evil by attacking it. You protect the defenseless by destroying those who would hurt them. There is trampling, and lightning, and terrible, swift swords. Soldiers took the tune back up in World War II with “Blood Upon the Risers,” and it has since been an Army staple. In this variation, it’s a marching cadence about a young paratrooper who has a parachute malfunction during a jump and dies on impact in the dropzone. The triumphal “Glory, glory, hallelujah” in both other versions of the song becomes “Gory, gory, what a helluva way to die” in this one, yet the tone of the song remains triumphant, the lyrics at times simultaneously graphic and gleeful. I wonder how often we go marching into figurative or literal battle on God's behalf when he would instead call us to gentleness. Shigé Clark A general rule of military cadences—and of military humor at large—is that we make light of death. We sang “Blood Upon the Risers” as a way of laughing in the face of the real possibility that we could die jumping out of an airplane (or helicopter, in my case). There’s a reason we have marching songs rather than simply counting cadence. Song is powerful—song sung in unity even more so—and somehow this is recognized even in the most regimented and horror-struck corners of existence. We sang about death so that we could laugh as we huddled in bunkers beneath mortar fire; so that it didn’t catch us off guard when it came for our friends, or coworkers, or people we were trying to help. We sang gory songs like “Blood Upon the Risers” because if we could sing about it, if we could laugh at it, if we could cheer over it in unison, if death could be a thing of glory rather than horror, then it could hold no power over us. I’m not going to go into all of the ways that’s actually incorrect, or how the civilian world often does much the same thing with the way it glamorizes and venerates military service. I say all this to set the framework for you. I need you to hold these depictions of ruthless judgment and jubilant violence as the context of your thought and imagine this familiar tune coming on, then somewhere out in the darkness a soft voice sings to the same, resolute melody: I’ve seen you in our home fires burning with a quiet light You are mothering and feeding in the wee hours of the night Your gentle love is patient; You will never fade or tire Your peace will make us one Peace , the music whispers to the soldier. The pounding of thunder and mortar shells gives way to a mother’s soft singing beside a crackling fire. Peace , it whispers, as a broken and divided body stands row by row, making their way to kneel together in defiant communion. Peace , it whispers in a steady, undeterred march. It is peace that will make us one. The juxtaposition of these songs staggered me. The more I live and come to know my God, the more I wonder how often situations actually call for our righteous fury, and how much more often they call for our unyielding love and empathy. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in righteous causes and righteous rage. For everything there is a season, and I’ll usually be the first to tell you that there’s a time to get angry and a time to fight (just see my last post ). Yet I also know that David—man after God’s own heart and perhaps the Bible’s most celebrated warrior—wasn’t permitted to build God’s temple because he was a man of war, and I wonder how often we go marching into figurative or literal battle on God’s behalf when he would instead call us to gentleness. As we come to the end of Advent, this rings even more true—isn’t it the entire story and surprise of Christmas? Perhaps it is peace, and not retribution, that is the glory of the coming of the Lord. Shigé Clark I had a conversation with a friend a while back, about how we as Christians today are so sure of the way God works and what’s going to happen. Just as sure as the people of Israel in Jesus’ time were—so sure from their knowledge of scripture that he was going to come marching in, all swords and fury, to save them. So sure that Christ’s coming meant all of the evil, wrong, other people would finally be put in their place, and all of the good, chosen people would be vindicated. So unable to grasp the unimaginable creativity of God and the unforeseeable depth, and breadth, and soaring, whirling, all-consuming scope of his love for us. We today read the New Testament as the Israelites did the old and believe—again—that we understand how all this is going to go down. Again, we call for lightning, and fire, and judgment, and vindication. I can’t say for sure that isn’t how it will happen. Our God has surely shown himself exacting and just. He certainly could come with righteous sentence, mowing down evil with a terrible, swift sword. He is God, after all. He has the right. Yet, I’d like to think that if I have to see the hearts of men sifted out before his judgment seat as “Battle Hymn” describes, then my own heart will weep in devastation for the brokenness of humanity. And if my heart would weep—my selfish, judgmental, and bitter heart—then what of the heart of the Father? Absolutely we groan for the end of all evil, but is it the trampling or the replanting of the vineyards that we yearn for? Perhaps freedom and the end of injustice look less like the warfare portrayed in the first two variations of this song and more like the dismantling of empires that Assad describes. Perhaps death, even in service of a just cause, is never something we should glory in or grow desensitized to. Perhaps it is peace, and not retribution, that is the glory of the coming of the Lord. What I know right now is this: First, that a “fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel” wasn’t the Gospel that reached into the darkness and pulled me bleeding into the arms of One who loved me without cause. Second, that when Jesus could have called on legions of angels to fight on his behalf, instead he told his people to lay down their swords and healed the man his disciple had wounded. Glory, glory, hallelujah Glory, glory, hallelujah Glory, glory, hallelujah Your peace will make us one

  • “Emmanuel:” A Christmas Day Reflection by Thomas McKenzie

    by the Rabbit Room Merry Christmas from the Rabbit Room! In celebration, we’re sharing a Christmas Day reflection by Thomas McKenzie from his Advent devotional The Harpooner , accompanied by Sara Groves’s nativity song “Just Like They Said.” The Prayer of the Day O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Scripture: Luke 2:8-20 (NIV) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the Heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest Heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Homily: Emmanuel Today is a day of celebration, the first day of the twelve-day Christmas season. You’ve been preparing for twenty-five days for this moment. Enjoy yourself. Spend time with people you love. If you’re alone, do something special for yourself. God has not left you orphaned. He is with you. And he will come to you again and again. Thomas McKenzie If your church offers a Christmas Day service, please attend. While Christmas is often thought of as a family holiday, it is first and foremost a holy day of the Church. If your congregation does not have a Christmas Day service, find a church that does. These services are not well-attended, of course. Most people have other things going on. But worship is the very best thing to do on the Day of Incarnation. Whatever you do today, remember that Jesus is with you. In his Incarnation, he became Emmanuel, “God with us.” Through his Resurrection and Ascension, he is with us still. No matter what’s happening in your life today—whether you’re alone in an empty apartment, enjoying a house filled with family, at the beach, or in a hospital bed—God has not left you orphaned. He is with you. And he will come to you again and again. Psalm 110:1-5 The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord will send the scepter of your power out of Zion, saying, “Rule over your enemies round about you.” Princely state has been yours from the day of your birth; in the beauty of holiness have I begotten you, like dew from the womb of the morning.” The Lord has sworn and he will not recant: “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord who is at your right hand will smite kings in the day of his wrath; he will rule over the nations. Click here to view The Harpooner in the Rabbit Room Store. “Just Like They Said” by Sara Groves Laid my head down, fell asleep Woke to voices like a mighty rushing wind Sky on fire, sky on fire They told me how I’d find Him And it was just like they said Just like they said it would be Wrapped in a cloth, laid in a manger No one believes me, no one believes me They shake their heads and say, “What good comes from Bethlehem?” I know what I saw, I know what I saw And it was just like they said Just like they said it would be Wrapped in a cloth, laid in a manger Years later I walked by this place I know this place The roof caved in, but I know this place Cause I ran the whole world And it was just like they said And it was just like they said Just like they said it would be Wrapped in a cloth, laid in a manger He was just like they said Just like they said He would be Wrapped in a cloth, laid in a manger Laid in a manger Laid in a manger Laid in a manger

  • No One’s Forgotten About Us

    by Kelsey Miller A few months ago, I first learned about the phrase “trail magic.” It’s a thing out there in the hiking world to leave behind sustenance for other travelers at particularly difficult parts of the trail. You might reach beneath a bench as you are gasping for breath and find a much-needed granola bar and bottle of water. It might be that you stumble into a gorgeous view right as you were about to give up. It might be the encouragement from a fellow hiker that keeps you moving up a steep incline. It’s all trail magic: what you need when you need it. A friend of mine was using the phrase to describe a recent experience with his young children. Parenthood seems to have a lot of mundaneness, some drudgery at times. But here were his children, absolutely losing their minds over Boo at the Zoo. The hype was contagious. And as a parent, this stuff was trail magic for him. There would be meltdowns and discipline and fatigue to come, no doubt. Probably even later that evening when the sugar rush kicked in. But in those moments, he would have this moment to look back on: the hype and magic his children felt at such a simple pleasure and new experience. It was what he needed when he needed it. A figurative bottle of water for a parched parental spirit. I can think of two particular moments of my own trail magic. The first is early March 2020, when my beloved Katie was about to marry Ruben. Drew and I flew to Austin for a few days to enjoy all of the festivities. I don’t know if I can describe how rich and good this time was without falling back on clichés. There was so much laughter and so many tears and so much dancing. I looked around at the reception and just felt this big love for Katie and this big love for Ruben and this big love for all of these friends around me and big love for the margarita in my hand and big love for my own husband and big love for the sacrament of marriage, this mystery that allows people to pledge their lives to one person and mean it. Perhaps that is what trail magic is all about: the tangible and metaphysical and metaphorical reminder that we have not been forgotten. Kelsey Miller Drew and I were out running errands the day before the wedding, picking up a few things Katie needed around town. We stopped for lunch at the True Food Kitchen in downtown Austin and I wept. I’d spent the last 24 hours in the company of women who are among the best I can name: in their charity, their humor, their willingness to share their love and prayers. I couldn’t stop crying. Eventually I squeaked out, “I don’t feel cynical right now.” If our waiter thought it was odd, he didn’t let it show. He just kept bringing me napkins to wipe my face, a real human-to-human kindness. Those few days in Austin were, though we didn’t quite know it, a last hurrah of normalcy before a new way of being was ushered in. And my last note was gratitude. The second is just a few weeks ago. Our friends Jon and Helena hosted a gathering of friends. We were all invited to bring something to share, a story or a song, that had meant a lot to us that past year. A characteristic of trail magic is that the moment is hard to describe. The words hardly do it justice. That is certainly how I feel about that evening. The room was filled with friends and food and a Christmas tree and hearth-fire. We were all there to give and receive in equal measure. The atmosphere was attentive. When Melinda finished her Beethoven Sonata on the piano, the room absolutely erupted. We were all so proud of her. Helena and her ten-year old daughter began the night by singing the song “Stay Gentle” by Brandi Carlile. There is something about mother and daughter harmonies and the hopefulness of a child singing about keeping the eyes of a child. And as I listen to that song again and again, one lyric always catches at my throat: “No one’s forgotten about us.” Perhaps that is what trail magic is all about: the tangible and metaphysical and metaphorical reminder that we have not been forgotten. That someone out there sees how hard it is and sends us a buoy for our spirits. That we don’t always have to feel the way that we have been feeling. That things change. That we can change. That there is water for parched mouths and we can drink big gulps of it. That we don’t have to be cynical or sad. That we are less alone than it feels like we are. That there is more to life and this universe than we can currently see. This past year has been another One of Those Years. I won’t list all of the global and personal tragedies, but I’ll assume you have your own too. It’s been difficult. We are all tired. And what will the coming year hold? In the words of my husband, “there will be surprises.” I’m counting on it. Miraculously, impossibly, joyfully, no one has forgotten about us. I’ll be hitting the the trails in 2022, eyes peeled for magic. [Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in Kelsey’s newsletter. Want to receive more writing like this in your inbox? Click here to sign up. ]

  • There’s Joy in the House of the Lord

    by Janna Barber A justice centered, theologically rigorous, people-affirming, life-giving, and Spirit-breathed church is possible because God is still in the blessing and miracle-working business. —Yolanda Pierce, In My Grandmother’s House It’s a rare Sunday when I don’t cry in church, but it’s not because I’m sad. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. For the last three years, I’ve been part of a church plant that makes me feel like David, who thousands of years ago proclaimed, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Granted, there have been moments of sadness here and there, especially since some folks I love no longer join me at church, but the overriding experience in the room each week is one of joy, and it’s that unexpected joy that makes me tear up Sunday after Sunday. Like the other day when the mother of a Latino family sitting in front of me was holding the ten-month-old baby belonging to the interracial couple sitting in front of them. I saw little Luca look up at teenage Jonah, and I couldn’t believe how much they looked like brothers, even though they aren’t related at all. Scenes like that are more beautiful than the most ornate church I’ve ever seen, and they more than make up for the conveniences of established churches I sometimes miss. Our church plant is called Bridge Church , and we meet in an elementary school on the south side of the river that runs through the middle of town. The school is in one of those neighborhoods that used to be rundown, but has lately become the best place to buy and flip historic homes, so lots of new businesses are popping up now—along with a few new churches. But, we’re the only ones setting up chairs every week in a gymnasium. My husband, the Executive Pastor, takes charge of the work necessary to pull it off. He and several other men, including our son, show up at 7:30am each week to unload the trailer and set up two classrooms for children’s ministry—along with backdrops, computers, sound monitors and the rest of the band’s equipment. We average fifty people most weeks, not including kids, and our ages are ten months to seventy. We have black families, white families, blended families, and many single people. Some of us live downtown, several of us live out west, and the rest of us are from north, south, and east. We have construction workers, bus drivers, teachers, engineers, architects, homemakers, and social workers in our church. Some of us drive nice cars and have pools in the backyard, while some of us struggle to get a ride week after week, but the one thing we have in common is how much we love to worship. Our worship leader’s name is Kenny and before we ever had a service, my husband and I got together with Kenny, Anthony (the Teaching Pastor), and Kenny’s favorite bass player, Chris, to discuss how Bridge should structure service each week. Something I’ll never forget from those early meetings was hearing Chris and Kenny talk about the importance of having a good time at church. I’d never heard church described that way before. I was very familiar with people saying the music was good or the preaching was good, even more familiar with people complaining when they thought either was bad, but I had never known people who expected to have fun at church. For me, fun might have happened incidentally at church, before or after Sunday morning meetings, in the halls of Sunday school, or around a table in the Fellowship hall, but it was not the main vibe of the churches I knew before coming to Bridge. Bridge Church is unique in that we started as an intentionally multi-ethnic and multicultural ministry of reconciliation in Knoxville, Tennessee, during 2018; but we are not unique in the fact that we have fun. Apparently, that’s been happening in black churches in America for a long, long time. I just never knew because I’d never been part of one before. But Kenny and Chris and Anthony have taught me a lot over the last few years, and I’m so thankful for how they share their hearts and lead us into the presence of God every week, which is much more joyful than I ever imagined it to be. Going to church has been my Sunday morning habit for nearly forty-five years, and though I‘m not always raring to go at 10:00am (especially when it’s cold outside), I can’t imagine getting through the rest of the week without it. I’ve been a member of at least ten different churches in my life, and have visited dozens more, but something about becoming part of Bridge has made me want to celebrate the goodness of belonging to God’s beautifully diverse family. And what better way to celebrate than to write about it? Last year I published a memoir , lamenting some of the loss I’d experienced in life, as well as the fact that I didn’t know how to lament those losses in the first place. Having grown up in a culture that denied the validity of such mourning, it took writing a book for me to find permission to grieve. Well, now that I’ve spent three years in the presence of people who know the value of celebration, without denying the hardship of real life, I’d like to help more people find this joy for themselves. At a time when so many are walking away from church, or deconstructing faith altogether, might I suggest that diversity could be the way forward? For far too long the family of God has been segregated, and we’re missing out on so much goodness by continuing to remain separate. The book of Revelation tells us that one day people from every tribe and every tongue will bow before the throne of Christ in worship. Yet that glorious scene is available to all of us even now, if we get out of our comfortable traditions and try something new. Bridge Church is not a perfect church because there’s no such thing as that. We’ve made mistakes in the last three years, and several families decided our little experiment was too much work and bailed (truth be told, I’ve thought about leaving a time or two myself). But the ones who’ve stayed have grown closer to God and each other and are beginning to see the work God is doing in the community around us—a community that’s struggling and looking for hope, but also has gifts to give us whenever we serve them. I had never known people who expected to have fun at church. Janna Barber Paul taught the early church (which was a pretty diverse group, too, as I recall) that it’s better to give than to receive. Two thousand years later it’s still true, even in South Knoxville, Tennessee. The time I’ve spent with this little congregation called Bridge Church has given me more joy than I knew was possible, and Sunday after Sunday, that joy spills out of my eyes as tears—so often that I’ve begun carrying a small handkerchief in my purse to help wipe them away during service. Because this forty-five year old white woman has a new definition for “blessed,” and it’s got nothing to do with whatever is currently trending on the internet. Instead it’s based on the connection she has to the Ancient One who made her, and the many varied reflections she sees of him in the people of this world. Kenny often instructs us to “lift up holy hands” during worship because it reminds us to surrender our hearts and minds to Christ while singing praises to him; and in my imagination I sometimes picture our hands joining the thousands of saints across the world who worship Jesus, as well as all the millions of saints who’ve lived and served God through the ages before this one. These hands come in every shade, from palest white to silky olive and beautiful black. Some of them are small and some are large, many are aged and worn, while others are delicate and young. Some are strong, some are weak, some may even be dirty, but they’re all being made new by the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that kind of vision is sacred, worthy of a few tears, even if it looks a little crazy to those who don’t understand. So be it. A friend of mine once told me that the prophets of the old testament were the first poets, and I’m lucky to be counted among them when people call me a poet. If that’s the case, I’m happy to be thought of as a little odd when I cry in church or raise my hands in adoration. Church has become a full body experience for me these past few years, and the result is unspeakable joy and glorious tears.

  • The Habit Podcast: Justin Whitmel Earley and Better Habits

    by the Rabbit Room It’s a new year, and a new season of The Habit Podcast. If you are looking to form better habits, heed Justin Whitmel Earley, author of  The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose in an Age of Distraction . His most recent book is  Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms . Click here to listen to Season 4, Episode 1 of The Habit Podcast. Transcripts are now available for The Habit Podcast.  Click here to access them. The new theme music for Season 4 of The Habit Podcast is  Drew Miller’s  song “Grace.” Sponsorship on the Podcast Network Are you interested in teaming up with us to support the work you love? Send an email to our Head of Development, Sarah Katherine, at sarahkatherine@rabbitroom.com if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of our Podcast Network . Rabbit Room Membership Special thanks to our Rabbit Room members for making these podcasts possible! If you’re interested in becoming a member, visit RabbitRoom.com/Donate.

  • The Light that Shines in Darkness

    by Lanier Ivester It was the 26th of December, the second day of Christmas by the traditional reckoning, and I’d spent the balance of it on the couch, nursing the cold I’d sustained thanks to late nights and early mornings and running out barefoot onto the frost-touched grass for just one more branch of holly. But I couldn’t have been happier—behind me, a glad and golden Christmas Day crowned with laughter and the faces of those I love; before, a long week of indolence punctuated by last-minute gatherings with friends and small flurries of merrymaking. There was a kingly sunset that night; we watched it over our tea with growing delight as it deepened from a glitter of gold among the pines through every shade of apricot and orange into a fiery splendor of crimson, spanning the pale sky in streaks of wild color. The finest sunset of the season, we said, and a glory that reminded us with joy that this was just the second of twelve glad days. And then, just as the last flame had vanished from the sky and the animals patiently gathering down by the barnyard fence told us it was time to pull on our overalls and get into our coats for the nightly ritual of bedding down, the lights flickered and went out, leaving us in the candlelight of the two tapers on the coffee table and the cheery glow of the Advent wreath in the window. “This should be interesting,” Philip said with a grin. “And kind of neat.” With one of my candle lamps and the two holly-trimmed hurricane lanterns from the front walk, we made our way across the darkened lawn with our dog frisking in the shadows and a waxing gibbous sifting a thin dusting of silver over our way. The animals all greeted us at the gate as usual. But they were unnerved by the darkness of their comforting barn. And the sheep, at least, were none too sure of the wavering lights we bore to dispel it. We hung the lanterns in the stalls as we worked, from the hay drops and perched atop mineral boxes, and I sang and spoke low to the frightened darlings as they alternately followed me as a body and dispersed in sudden panic. The goats were fine once they realized that grain was still forthcoming and hay was in the offing, and they munched some of their Christmas apples with as unperturbed a satisfaction as ever, their breath showing in fragrant puffs by the light of the lantern. But the sheep were too terrified to enjoy their evening repast, dropping their loved apples down into the straw untasted to be trampled underfoot by the others. I caught an image of our terror of the holy, even when it's couched in perfect love. Lanier Ivester What a parable , I thought. The Light shineth in the darkness. And, according to my sturdy old King James, the darkness comprehended it not . Other renderings of that verse tease manifold nuance from these mighty words: the NIV tells us that the darkness has not overcome; according to The Message translation, the Light simply couldn’t be put out. But “comprehended it not” lends a poignancy often overlooked in all our joyous affirmations of hope this time of year, foreshadowing the heartbreaking statement with which the passage proceeds: “He was in the world, and though the world was made by him, the world did not recognize him.” A Light, in this sense, not only incomprehensible, but feared . I’ve often heard it said that the first words out of an angel’s mouth when greeting a human being were always, “Fear not!” And watching my poor frightened flock, I caught an image of our terror of the holy, even when it’s couched in perfect love. I knelt down in their midst, calling to them softly by name, soothing and stroking as they drew near, a ring of lovely ovine faces illumined by the glow of the lanterns, their tender eyes and smooth velvet noses blooming out of the murkiness beyond. And then I was struck by another image altogether, a picture so precious I caught my breath and smiled. This is what the barn must have looked like on the night of Jesus’ birth, perhaps the light of an oil lamp scattering the shadows of the stable rude and lighting up the faces of the friendly beasts that gazed with wonder alongside shepherds and Mother and Father. That sweet tilt of Hermia’s head, so gently touched with gold, went to my heart, as did the soft muffle of Benedick’s breath in my ear and the rustle and clucking of a hen in the next stall. It all just gave me such a moment of transport, a flicker of knowing . Let us go then, even unto Bethlehem… The barn was beautiful by candlelight. And even though the animals protested noisily when we took the candles away (any light was better than none!), we came merrily back across the lawn, lanterns swinging, to the music of utter silence in the world around us. Wrapped in an almost heavenly calm. I was even a little sorry when the lights came on a few hours later. Lanier Ivester is a “Southern Lady” in the best and most classical sense and a gifted writer in the most articulate and literal sense. She hand-binds books and lives on a farm with peacocks, bees, sheep, and the governor of Ohio’s leg. She loves old books and sells them from her website, LaniersBooks.com , and she’s currently putting the final touches on her first novel, as well as studying literature at Oxford.

  • Stuff We Liked in 2021

    by the Rabbit Room No matter what your 2021 held, you were no doubt helped along by some comforting art, music, and story. You might have discovered an album that seemed to name precisely your own emotional landscape; perhaps you stumbled on a book that you could count on as an escape in the silent hours of the night; or maybe it was a TV show that kept you hooked from its pilot to its finale. Whatever it was, we want to hear about it! So please share in the comments section below. In the meantime, we’ve got some excellent recommendations from the Rabbit Room’s staff and blog contributors to get the conversation started. Pete Peterson (Executive Director & Managing Editor) Books The Princess Bride by William Goldman – I’d never read the book before, but this year, while we were on the Appalachian Trail, Jennifer and I started reading it aloud around the campfire at night. We’re still not finished with it, partly because I’m savoring it and don’t want it to end, but it’s been SO much fun. I’m amazed both by how different it is from the movie, and how perfectly the movie captures it. Pro-tip: the introduction is long and indulgent and off-putting and necessary, but don’t let that fool you, because once you get into the story itself, it’s magical. The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr – This book articulates a number of things about the Bible that I’ve often felt, but haven’t been able to articulate myself. I’m so thankful for Dr. Barr’s voice and scholarship and perspective and especially enjoyed the dive into various eras of Christian history. I wish I could get everyone to read her book and act accordingly. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – I’m a sucker for a doorstop-sized fantasy epic and this one fit the bill. I was mostly there with the first book in the series ( The Way of Kings ), but this one was pretty much un-put-downable for me. I blew through its 1,000 pages and still wanted more (though I’ve slowed in the following book). Apparently I need more giant lobsters in my life. Didn’t see that coming. Music Hold Still by Taylor Leonhardt – I’m in awe of this record. Taylor is an incredible songwriter and this album feels like she’s hitting her stride. Can’t get enough. In These Silent Days by Brandi Carlile – I don’t know how she does it, but I’m a sucker for her raw honesty. Throw in a werewolf and I’m hooked. All the Wrecked Light by Hannah Hubin – Seeing/hearing the evolution of this poetry/songwriting project was a real treat this year. I’ve listened to it all the way through dozens of times via the Hutchmoot production and each time it amazes me with some new depth or insight. Film/TV Landscapers – I didn’t see this one coming. I knew nothing about it other than that it starred Olivia Coleman, and it turned out to be one of my favorite pieces of cinema in a long time. I love the way the filmmakers found to tell the story. It’s a tale that’s complex and baffling and tragic and beautiful and it’s captured with creativity and nuance and incredible performances by Coleman and David Thewlis. Don’t miss it. The Green Knight – Baffling? Yep. Beautiful? Yep. Will it bore some people into a coma? Yep. But I loved every second of it. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It’s a film that kept my mind engaged for weeks afterward, and I can’t wait to see it again. And again. And again. The Sound of Metal – In the same way a great documentary does, it’s a film that takes you deep into a specific, yet usually hidden, corner of human experience and helps you know it and feel it in a way you didn’t before. The film follows a drummer as he goes deaf and struggles to figure out how life works in silence. It’s a fantastic piece of film-making (and acting). Be sure to watch it in surround sound so you can appreciate the viruostic sound-design. Chris Thiessen (Head of Operations) Books On the Road With St. Augustine by James K. A. Smith – This book—equal parts travelogue, theological commentary, and biography—met me in a place where I really needed it this year. The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers – This book is so important for critical, Christ-centered thinking about art. I wish I had read it years ago. Dune by Frank Herbert – The only fiction book I managed to finish this year also could have made it on my Film list. The world is so immersive and Herbert’s writing is captivating. I had no idea how many ways one could describe sand. Music I Don’t Live Here Anymore by The War On Drugs – I just love everything about the War on Drugs brand of rock. Their newest record is probably their most accessible with tight hooks and memorable melodies all over the place. I’ll be spinning it for years. GLOW ON by Turnstile – I didn’t think a hardcore punk record would make my top three this year, but I cannot get enough of this record. The rhythms, the riffs, the tender moments, the anthems…it’s glorious. Songs of Sage: Post Panic! by Navy Blue – My favorite rap record of the year. Navy Blue is a master of complex rhymes and dreamy soul production. This record is steeped in pain, frustration, sorrow. Yet, underneath it all burns a fire for change and hope for a new day. Film/TV Pig – Someone described this Nicolas Cage film as “What if John Wick, but it’s Ratatouille? ” And honestly, yes. The Beatles: Get Back – I was just delighted for the entire eight-ish hours to be immersed in this shockingly intimate fly-on-the-wall experience with my musical heroes. Licorice Pizza  – Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are  so  good in the Paul Thomas Anderson tribute to early-70s Los Angeles. It’s a blast and really highlights the social and personal awkwardness of those kid-adult years stuck between 15 and 25. Shigé Clark (Head of Development & Communications) Books The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr – I wish I’d had this book far earlier in life. Whether you agree with the conclusions Dr. Barr draws or not, the information itself is illuminating—and the mere inclusion of nuance in scripture passages we take for granted as obvious can be world-changing for those seeking to know and draw closer to the heart of God. As an addendum to this read, I’d suggest the Bible Project Podcast series on  How to Read the Bible . The two together paint a transformative picture for how we engage with God’s word to better love and bring life to the world. The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon – Those who know me will be tired of me talking about this book. I make no apologies. I wasn’t exaggerating when I called it paradigm-shifting. I’m not the type to pick up a cooking book of my own volition—whenever Capon humorously mentioned something about “no cook worth their salt would…” it applied to me. I’m the cook not worth my salt. So while lovers of food and the art of cooking will surely get  even more  out of it, I have the credentials to assure the rest of you that this is a book for all of us. It’s full of theology, beautiful writing, humor, and, yes, food and cooking. It will uplift you, expand your life, and inspire you to see and love creation in a new way. “Art, Beauty, and the Testimony of the Spirit” by Steve Guthrie – I don’t know how to talk about this essay from  The Testimony of the Spirit  without just quoting large swathes of it. I will say that I always want to think about art and creation the way Dr. Guthrie does. The various talks, articles, and podcast episodes he’s done that touch on how the Spirit interacts with sub-creation are gently yet profoundly reshaping the way I think of our connection with God as creators, and always for the better. Music ALL THE WRECKED LIGHT by Hannah Hubin – I loved this thoughtful, meticulous work all over again getting to see it in action at Hutchmoot: Homebound. What a triumph of poetry, music, and artist collaboration. A work of defiant hope born out of rigorous study and the sharing of communal gifts. The Land of Canaan by J Lind – The amount of thought and work J puts into his songwriting is astounding. The music is stellar, and I appreciated his daring in this album to approach questions and feelings that we don’t often allow ourselves or others to face. Destiny and Dead People Tea by Autumn Orange – I’ve never been a lo-fi listener until I happened upon this album by accident. Turned out I needed something calming and kind to listen to this year, and this was the ticket. I loved the hints of story woven into it without clear explanation; it added an element of lore and mystery that I found fun. Film/TV Spider-Man: No Way Home  – Feel free to skip this if you want to avoid spoilers! As my brother said after the movie ended, “I feel so vindicated for all the investment I’ve put into Spider-Man movies over the years.” I can’t believe I finally got the Spider-Man movie I’ve been waiting for all this time, and I can’t believe  this  was that Spider-Man movie. I couldn’t possibly say all I want to here, but more than a fun superhero movie, this story about empathy for one’s enemies—even in the face of great loss and personal sacrifice—is that not what we need? As amazing as it was to be amongst a crowd of people cheering and screaming at Spider-Man being all that he spider-can, it was far more amazing to watch a compelling story of entire worlds being put at stake for the salvation of a group of villains. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? But love your enemies, do good to them.” If these were actually the heroes we emulated, how different would the world look? Arcane  – A beautiful story brilliantly told. With the show being born out of a video game, I was cautious in my approach, expecting a pretty, but empty, cash-grab. I was taken aback at every turn by the love and intention poured into every aspect of this story. I play the games, quasi-know the lore, and I’m pretty adept at TV-trope trivia. Every single time I thought, “okay, now they’re going to do this,” they surprised me, to the very end, and in the best way. The entire thing would be worth watching for the final episode alone, in my opinion. (Note: It’s not a kid’s show. Please do not read this and then go watch it with your kids; there will be discomfort.) Ted Lasso  – The main story thread and themes of this one-of-a-kind show are imperative and counter-cultural in the best way. I’m still kind of blown away that a show like this exists. I know some are turned off by the raunchiness it sometimes contains, and I completely respect that. For me, there’s such an abundance of good counterbalancing, it’s not even an issue. To be able to approach vital, relevant themes in such a lighthearted, approachable way is stupendous. The show is like Ted himself—it slips past your cynical defenses with its goodness. I love what they’ve set up in the main plot, and can’t wait to see what they do next season. Elly Anderson (Development & Communications Coordinator) Books Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells The Dutch House by Ann Patchett Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures by Martyn Lloyd Jones Music Home Video by Lucy Dacus – Lucy makes you laugh, cry, and question everything you know about songwriting. Every track off this new record is memorable and demands to be heard. Favorite tracks: “Hot & Heavy,” “Please Stay,” “Triple Dog Dare” Valentine by Snailmail – A perfect mixture of Lindsey Jordan’s classic rock tone with the pop flare of King Princess. Their defining single “Pristine” used to stand out amongst all other tracks, but each song off this record brings something different to the table. Favorite tracks: “Valentine,” “Madonna” Good Woman by The Staves – A sister trio from the UK…need I say more? Favorite tracks: “Nothing’s Gonna Happen,” “Paralysed,” “Failure,” “Satisfied” (I could go on) Sour by Olivia Rodrigo – I feel like this one is a given. Favorite tracks: “deja vu,” “jealousy jealousy,” “favorite crime” Film/TV Money Heist Hawkeye Spiderman: No Way Home No Time to Die Drew Miller (Content Developer) Books The Sunday Philosophy Club series by Alexander McCall Smith – If McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series was my 2020 comfort read, then this was my 2021 comfort read. There are so many of these books, and each one is more delightful than the last. They center around Edinburgh resident (as always) Isabel Dalhousie, who is editor of The Review of Applied Ethics and has a tendency to become involved in the dilemmas of others. Plots are outrageous and yet just barely believable, and the writing is effortless, but where McCall Smith shines best is in his subtle, subtextual commentary on human nature. Great bedtime reading. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff – On a drastically less chill note, this book does an excellent job of de-mystifying and contextualizing the complicated web of deceit the Internet has become. Zuboff’s tone admittedly borders on apocalyptic, but then again, that could prove to be a fitting descriptor of where we find ourselves after all. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan – I’m such a sucker for Michael Pollan’s writing. Disarming, informative, and ever-curious, in this book he tries some magic mushrooms! As someone who believes the Christian story to be true, it was gratifying to read the perspective of a writer so thoroughly agnostic as he searches for spiritual meaning in brain chemistry. I loved (most of) his insights. Music Becoming Ordinary by Becca Jordan – My first full listen of this record was in the dark right before bed, through headphones with my eyes closed. These songs are straight-up therapeutic, and they exemplify the magic of well-earned simplicity. The lyrics on this album are extremely concise, packing deep emotion and truthfulness into just a few syllables. Give it all your attention and it will reward you. Oh, and the production of Jess Ray and Kyle Langdon is therapeutic in its own right, making sparing use of soundscapes that set up the listener to receive what’s being said. The Land of Canaan by J Lind – I look up to J as a songwriter so much. This album is fascinating , from start to finish. The integration of the story of Abraham and Isaac throughout, the slow unfolding of themes from that story, the delicate balancing act of critiquing religious language and “leaning into it” at the same time—it’s dense and juicy like a Steinbeck novel. And it’s mysterious. But J knows exactly what he’s doing. Listen and let yourself wonder what it means, and let that wondering lead you into new thoughts and questions. This is an album to sit with for multiple listens. Alice in Wonderland by Nahre Sol – The way Nahre Sol approaches music energizes me as a musician in a way that I can only compare to someone like Chris Thile. I found her through her ever-educational YouTube channel, and when I learned that she’d released an album of piano music in 2020, I added it to my library faster than you can say “coo-coo bananas.” And that’s exactly what this album is: coo-coo bananas. It might stress you out at times, cost you energy, and baffle you. Let it happen. And then bask in the slow, meditative moments when they give you a well-earned break. What you’re hearing is the sound of a skilled composer, wondering aloud. The patterns, the progressions, the melodies, the moods. It’s all just too much, in the best way. Film/TV The Mitchells vs. the Machines – An absolutely bonkers movie. One night in the no-man’s land of summer (my least favorite season, at least in Tennessee) I decided to watch it when I was alone at home, in a terrible mood. By the end, I had both laugh-cried and cry-laughed on at least a dozen occasions. This film is somehow deliciously funny, surprisingly insightful, and tender-hearted, all in the same breath. A completely contemporary film tackling contemporary problems with all the open-hearted playfulness of a child. Bo Burnham’s Inside – Woof. This one will hurt. Now, it gets dark. And at times, almost unforgivably indulgent. But that’s the whole point: the guy is alone inside his house during lockdown in 2020, but look! He made you some content. And this…”content”…often felt like hearing my own stream of consciousness about current events, in both an unsettling and a comforting way. This film is messy, but its gift is solidarity, the practicing and questioning of humor as a redemptive force, and the lingering sense that you are not the only one who has been slowly losing your mind. Only Murders in the Building – This TV show completely blindsided me with its abundant goodness. Martin Short, Steve Martin, and…Selena Gomez?? No. Absolutely not. But, wait a second…yes. Yes, please. How does it work? I don’t know. Don’t ask questions. It just works. This one is a wild ride, but you will be richly rewarded if you choose to join. Plus, what in the world could possibly come next with season 2? I eagerly await. Also, Ted Lasso . Always Ted Lasso , the TV show which has my whole heart. What did we ever do to deserve this story? Leslie E. Thompson (Marketing & Publicity) Book A Window to Heaven: The Daring first Ascent of Denali by Patrick Dean – This is the book I managed to read on my maternity leave, and it was captivating. It’s the telling of the first team to reach the top of the largest mountain in North America (formerly Mt. McKinley) in 1913. The team was led by an episcopal archdeacon who was originally from Britain but found a home among the native Alaskan people in Fairbanks. He was an ally for that community, speaking out against the “whitewashing” happening in the state, and especially against the naming of the mountain McKinley as it had been called Denali by the native peoples for centuries. The team’s leader, Hudson Stuck, used the ascent as a way to bring justice to the native peoples and insured there were native Alaskans on the team to accomplish the feat with him. The book initially piqued my interest because early in 2021 my husband and I took a babymoon to a bed & breakfast that overlooked Denali. The mountain, called the “High One,” became a symbol of redemption and promise after our miscarriage in 2020. We left that trip knowing we’d likely name our daughter Denali. Alice Denali was born in September and when considering a book to read over feeding sessions, I remembered this one and thought it a good fit. It was a reminder that Christ-followers have a unique vantage point and purpose in the world, and that though we can often feel lost in our quests and adventures, they aren’t isolated and can be used for something greater than the things themselves. Carly Anderson (Shipping Office) Books The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner – I don’t think I will ever outgrow good Young Adult series and this one has been one of my favorites. One of my friends handed me the first book a couple months ago, and a week later I was back for the second one. Each book is different, but they all keep you on the edge of your seat. The author keeps her cards very close to her chest and no matter how much you think you know, you will never see the end coming. The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen – I got this little book as a Christmas present and I plowed through it. The book is written as a letter to the author’s secular friend, trying to communicate what is like to live as the beloved of God and how that translates into our brokenness and the way we give to each other, all the way from life to death. It’s a quick and easy read but it has some profound truths that I will be pondering for many weeks to come. Music The Painted Desert by Andrew Osenga – Andrew Osenga seems to have a talent for creating music that finds you exactly when you need it. That has certainly been true for his album The Painted Desert over the past couple of months. My life has recently been a mess of beautiful chaos and his songs “Still Waters” and “The Year of the Locust” have brought me peace and stillness again and again. They have both been playing in my car almost nonstop and I am so grateful for the soft words of truth they have been speaking over me. Film/TV A Boy Called Christmas – I was under the distinct impression that all of the good Christmas movies had already been made, but I was pleasantly surprised. This movie has the whimsical, old-school magic of a Grimm’s fairy tale with just enough joy and heart-felt warmth to make it a delight to watch without the syrupy sweetness I have found in other movies. Maggie Smith is as dry and hilarious as ever and the characters around her are so fun and engaging that I can’t wait to watch it again. Begin Again – This is a bit of an older movie with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightly about the struggles of pouring your story and your brokenness into songwriting. It manages to be both real and hopeful, a balance that seems to be getting more and more difficult to find. It’s a simple story, but I think it can hit close to home for anyone who has ever been a new and struggling artist, or for someone who loves getting the best of the best out into the world. Helena Sorensen Books The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – This is the kind of book that could only be written by someone who has spent many years asking impossible questions and loving people well and suffering and growing wise. A speculative fiction novel of this scope could easily become mired in the sorts of details required to make a Jesuit mission to an alien planet plausible. And truly, Russell dazzles with her careful attention to, and thoughtful consideration of, everything from interplanetary travel, botany, chemistry, and medicine, to the governance of the church, the problem of overpopulation, and the complexities of marriage. But what takes the reader’s breath away is Russell’s unfailing humanity and her insistence on taking us to the silence beyond the unanswerable questions. Fair warning: You won’t recover from Emilio Sandoz’s story. You aren’t meant to. Longbourn by Jo Baker – To take one of the most widely known and beloved stories in English literature, pick it up, and scrutinize it from just below, and off to the side, requires considerable nerve. To create something new from the raw material of that novel—a triumph of tenderness and human agony, an honest look at class structures and racial inequality, an insightful foray into the horrors of forced labor and war—is astonishing. It’s all there, flitting at the edges of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s love story. But we never thought to look until Jo Baker expanded Austen’s masterpiece to include the invisible souls who prepare the tea and scrub the stains from the unmentionables and wait long hours with the horses while the young ladies dance and those, too, whose blood and sweat funded the leisure of the upper classes. A moving, gorgeous, fascinating novel. Film/TV Ted Lasso – I don’t care if every person on the blog recommends this show because while I saw some beautiful films and some compelling television this year, Ted Lasso trumps them all. A sampling of my favorite things: Without exception, everyone is held accountable. Why? Because there are no healthy relationships in which only one party is accountable, and relationships are the heart of the series. Everyone is accountable, AND everyone has a reason for behaving as he/she does. There is more to people than their anger, their self-centeredness, their ambition, their silence, or even their positivity. People have layers (like onions, or parfait, if you prefer), and it’s worth digging below the surface. Which is of course accomplished through relationships! The male lead’s primary relationship in both seasons 1 and 2 is with a woman. And here’s the kicker: the relationship is one of friendship and ever-deepening respect. There are no romantic overtones. Hah! Take that, world! They’re just friends, and it’s magnificent. I can’t think of a time when, collectively, we were more desperate for a reminder that there are people of all kinds, in all places, choosing to behave like adults, to risk, to hope, to ask forgiveness, to make themselves vulnerable, to move toward one another, to celebrate, to love. Doesn’t that make you want to do the same? And keep doing it? A man walks across a locker room full of men shocked into silence, and he embraces his adversary in that man’s moment of deepest shame. I mean… Jen Rose Yokel Books Wintering by Katherine May – I don’t even know what to say about this book other than it was right on time. In a year where I often found myself tired, numb, and creatively fallow, May’s book was a gentle reminder of the gifts hidden in seasons of retreat. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – I’ve determined my favorite adult fiction genre is “I have no idea what’s happening but it’s beautiful and I’m here for it.” The House is a captivating world of mystery, and Piranesi’s love and wonder for the place is beautiful to read. The Love that is God by Frederick Bauerschmidt – A brief and beautiful apologetic for the Christian faith. This quote alone earns a place on my list: “If, as Josef Pieper put it, what it means for us to love someone or something is to say ‘I am glad you exist,’ then what it means for God to love us is for God to say, ‘Because I am glad, you exist.’” Music Hold Still by Taylor Leonhardt – Taylor is quickly becoming one of my favorite songwriters, and her second album is so worth the wait. Departures by Jon Foreman – Whether solo or in Switchfoot, Jon Foreman’s music has soundtracked my life. Grateful for these songs that explore the challenges of the past couple years with honesty and hope. Pressure Machine by The Killers – I didn’t know I wanted a moody, stripped down, Nebraska -esque concept album from The Killers, but I’m really glad it exists. Film/TV The Green Knight – David Lowery’s Sir Gawain adaptation is a weird, thoughtful twist on the Arthurian legend that I’m still pondering months later. Summer of Soul – A fantastic music documentary. I could talk about the beautiful footage restoration and stunning performances, but honestly, my favorite part is watching one interviewee tear up with joy while watching his childhood memories come alive on screen. WandaVision – A standout series in Marvel’s latest TV experiment, WandaVision works as an exploration of grief and escapism, wrapped up in loving homages to the history of television. (Honorable mention to Hawkeye , a MCU show I loved for completely different reasons.) Chris Yokel Books Renegades trilogy by Marissa Meyer – A story about warring superhero factions with a strong X-Men vibe. The storyline was thrilling and complex! Jackelinan series by Stephen Hunt – I got sucked into Hunt’s series set in an alternate reality sort of Victorian steampunk world. I read the first four books, and each of them plays off a genre type of story, from Indiana Jones-style archaeological adventure to murder mystery. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – I absolutely loved Morgenstern’s The Night Circus , and this follow-up does not disappoint. If you like mysterious fantasies involving vast magical underground libraries, this is for you. Music The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby – Somehow it took me this long to discover Bruce Hornsby. His debut album has such great classics like “Mandolin Rain,” “Every Little Kiss,” and “The Way It Is.” Into the Mystery by Needtobreathe – One of my favorite bands holed up in a house for three months during the pandemic and created maybe their best album. Year of Love by Beta Radio – Beta Radio has quietly become one of my favorite bands of the past few years. This album is a meditation on all the anxiety and possibility that 2020 offered. Film/TV WandaVision – What can I say, watching WandaVision was a thrilling yet profoundly moving journey. The Green Knight – I wrote about David Lowery’s adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for The Rabbit Room a few months ago. Spider-Man: No Way Home – As a die-hard Spidey fan, I was delighted and moved by the latest Spider-Man entry. Matt Conner Books No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton – The past year has found me digging into Merton’s work more than ever and it’s become an essential element in this stage of my discipleship. The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead – This book of short stories as tribute to the Big Apple stopped me in my tracks at several moments. Some of Colson’s best work. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle – I’d wanted to read something from the front man for The Mountain Goats for a while now and his debut novel did not disappoint. Music Sapling by Foy Vance – The Irishman has never missed in a decade of making music, but the story of this album as an expression of feeling completely useless to those he loves most at home when not able to tour due to the pandemic is so affecting. Vulnerable and beautiful. Gold-Diggers Sound by Leon Bridges – The smoothest sounds of 2021 belong to Leon Bridges, especially on a groove like “Motorbike”. Pressure Machine by The Killers – Brandon Flowers did his best Nebraska (Springsteen) impression and created an album that makes me cry every time (“Sleepwalker”, especially). Film/TV The Power of the Dog – This recent Netflix release should be a popular name at the next Oscar’s ceremony for myriad reasons, not the least of which are Benedict Cumberbatch’s incredible performance and Jane Campion’s exquisite direction. Ted Lasso – I suspect this will be a popular listing here at the Rabbit Room for the likely fact that so many of us needed as many uplifting episodes of Ted in an unsettling year as we could get. Dune – This ticks all my boxes. Childhood literary love? Check. Denis Villenueve directing? Check. Epic sci-fi? Check. A film so many have wanted to make (and failed) over the years fully delivered for me in my first theater-going experience in a couple years. Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson Books The Essential Margaret Avison by Margaret Avison – “Nobody stuffs the world in at your eyes / The optic heart must venture: a jail break / and re-creation…” I was delighted to discover this collection that pulls together a number of my favourite Avison poems and introduces new ones. ‘Snow’ has shaped a life-long desire to cultivate an ‘optic-heart,’ ‘The Dumbfounding’ is now a perennial Lenten call to reflect upon “the outcast’s outcast” who “sound(s) dark’s uttermost, strangely light-brimming, until / time be full,” as is ‘The Word’ reaching out to that which is “far fallen in the / ashheaps of my / false-making, burnt-out self…” Keeper’nMe by Richard Wagamese –Delving deeper into the art of my indigenous kin is one of the ways I am seeking to better understand how our Creator calls me to live well in the place I am planted. And I have fallen in love with the storytelling of this Objibwe author. Indian Horse is his signature novel, but the gentle exploration of ‘Story’ in Keeper’nMe moves me deeply, and re-reading it with friends this year incurred some great conversation about the potential healing of community, story, and the refusal to give up on each other. Saving Us by Katharine Hayhoe – How often is a book recommended by both a Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and Margaret Atwood? Hayhoe is a bit of a hero to me for how she persists (and usually succeeds) in facilitating communication, respect, and fruitful dialogue even with those who most adamantly disagree with her. In her work as a scientist she determinedly models a Christlike attitude and practice, the efficacy of which has pleasantly surprised and challenged many who accepted the characterization that Christians don’t care about the planet. If you’re curious about that call to ‘steward the earth,’ pick up this book. Music Waska Matisiwin by Laura Niquay – Whilst I await the new album from soulful and sassy Indigenous pastor and musician Cheryl Bear , I have been listening to Waska Matisiwin (‘ Circle of Life’ ), by this Atikamekw (Cree) singer-songwriter. Listed for the Polaris Prize, the album is grungy-folk-meets-indy-Québecois-meets-traditional-indigenous. In her native language Niquay explores themes of community, resilience, hope, and revelation (liner notes include translation into French). Don’t let the language difference be a barrier to the beauty. Lost Words: Spell Songs – You may have heard Malcolm Guite discuss Robert MacFarlane’s revolutionary picture-book project with artist Jackie Morris: The Lost Words —a protest to the replacement of nature words in the Oxford Junior Dictionary with new technology terms. This album is the collaborative response of a group of independent Scottish, English, and African musicians to that picture book. The concern for language, landscape, the mutual identity of God’s creation is swept up into a blend of harp, guitar, cello, kora, Indian harmonium. “The Lost Words Blessing” is my favourite: inspired by traditional Gaelic blessings, it acknowledges grief whilst summoning hope and light, and calls us to attend. The album throughout is layered with musical and linguistic influences spanning Orkney to Senegal. (And if you’ve not read MacFarlane’s essay on the memory of ice—“The Blue of Time”—please do!) The Anniversary Collection by ‘Harry Christophers & The Sixteen’ – Purcell, Byrd, Palestrina, Tallis, Allegri are musicians to whose work I could listen on repeat ad infinitum ; my Desert Island music. This new album has notable pieces by each, including Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus ( Have Mercy on Me, O God )—that polyphonic wonder which boasts one of the most ethereal moments known to music. The one lacunae is Tallis’ Spem in Alium , which serves to remind me of perhaps my favourite art installation experience: watching Steve Guthrie and his family encounter Janet Cardiff’s brilliant reworking of Spem in Alium at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa. Collectively the Guthries manifested what I feel every time I visit that invitation to ‘climb inside’ Purcell’s prayer-motet. This then is my vote to add an artists/exhibitions/installations list in the future! 1 Film/TV The Man Who Planted Trees – With Andrew Peterson, scientist Suzanne Simard, and novelist Richard Powers all reminding us to be like Théodin and ‘remember the trees,’ I’ve enjoyed revisiting and sharing the inspiring short animation ‘The Man Who Planted Trees,’ by Frédéric Back, based on Jen Giono’s short story L’homme qui plantait des arbres . Narrated by Christopher Plummer, and free for watching on the National Filmboard of Canada site, this evocative telling of a sylvan shepherd in the foothills of Provence will have you reaching for a spade. Making Peace with Creation – Theologian, poet, environmentalist, and Inklings guru Loren Wilkinson (himself an institution at Regent College, Vancouver) explores the vital relationship between humans and the rest of Creation, and how the Incarnation of Christ speaks to that relationship: what it means for us as Image-bearers, co-creators, and dwellers of the earth. Bringing visual artists and philosopher Iain McGilchrist to the conversation, the stunning videography and accompanying works of art invite us to respond with embodied wonder. Directed by Iwan Russell-Jones, this hour-long documentary has just been re-released for free viewing . Wolfwalkers – The third in the stunningly animated Irish Trilogy by studio Cartoon Saloon finally arrived in December 2020 (the first two were ‘ The Secret of Kells’ and ‘ Song of the Sea ,’ and their sister-piece is ‘ Breadwinner’ ). As visually sumptuous as the previous works, this tale delves again with detail into both history and historic art, as well as cultural myth, for inspiration. The reminder of actions taken by Cromwell and his tree-felling troops as they sought to subdue 17th century Ireland, and the religious language they used to fortify their actions, is not comfortable but invites some important questions. Our relationship with beauty, nature, and each other continues to be explored, as does the invitation to parse out the misuse of religion for power and our cultural lenses in consideration of what might be holy. Hannah Hubin Books Determined to Believe? by John Lennox – Good, clear thinking on Scripture and doctrine from the Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh – A hard book, but an important one. We need Waugh’s voice these days. This novel is in many ways just Ecclesiastes. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson – It was high time I read Robinson, and she didn’t let me down. She has a lot to say about longing in this work, the sort of desire that Lewis calls sehnsucht in Surprised by Joy. Music Don’t Lose Your Laughter by Aaron Schnupp – A beautiful debut album and a much-needed encouragement for the year. Aaron is a true poet, and his honesty—met with his narrative, imagery, and admittance that “hope is painful work”—made this album one of the best parts of my year. Poet Priest by Andy Squyres – A lot of my prayers this year came from this album. Listening to his music feels like reading the last chapter of a Wendell Berry novel, and if Andy Catlett had been a songwriter, I think there’s a good chance his work would be this. Sticks and Stones by Justin Schumacher – Some of the best folk material around. Six songs with such a solid vibe. My autumn sounded a lot like this. Film/TV Cinderella Man – It’s hard to beat a story about boxing. A Hidden Life – I think a lot about the question Malick is asking in this film: whether or not faithfulness at all costs matters when there’s absolutely no earthly gain. He lets it play out on a grand scale so we can see it better, but it’s a question we should be asking every day, because we face it every day. Tenet – I just don’t plan to stop thinking about this one. I feel like a kid at a magic show. I just want to see Nolan do it again and again. John Barber Film/TV C’Mon C’Mon – This black and white story about a man and his nephew is the most life I saw on a screen this year. It’s a story about empathy, to be sure, but mostly it’s a story about finding yourself by truly listening to someone else. It’s heart-achingly sweet and tender, without overt sentimentality. This is the kind of film that makes you want to be better. The French Dispatch – This is the Andersonest Anderson. It’s Wes in peak form, telling an anthology of travelogue stories, complete with his color palette perfection. But more than just being great Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch is funny (Tilda Swinton is hilarious), sweet, and always interesting. The ensemble cast features Anderson stalwarts like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, and many more. West Side Story – Climb up the fire escape, and find out what happens when the greatest film director of all time takes on a musical. This retelling of a classic film isn’t just a serviceable remake, it’s a jewel in his crown. The emotional weight provided by the combination of a cast of largely unknowns and Spielberg’s technical brilliance makes for a masterpiece. Heidi Johnston Books Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund – I know a lot of people have talked about this book but it is with good reason. For me, it was like a friend who put their arm around my shoulder and quietly reminded me of some much-needed truths about the heart of God. There were so many sections I underlined and re-read but this one sentence stopped me in my tracks and sums up much of what the book is about: “Perhaps Satan’s greatest victory in your life today is not the sin in which you regularly indulge but the dark thoughts of God’s heart that cause you to go there in the first place and keep you cool toward him in the wake of it.” Deep Roots of Resilient Disciples by Rick Hill – Rick Hill is a fellow Northern Irish author and this book was one of the surprise discoveries of 2021 for me. If Gentle and Lowly was a reminder that God is for me, despite my repeated failure to live up to my own standards, let alone His, then this book was a call to live intentionally and courageously in the light of the grace I have found. Maybe it’s because he’s writing out of the same culture I live in, but there is an earthiness to Hill’s approach that feels very rooted in local community and the rhythms of practical, ordinary, everyday life in a “post-pandemic” world. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman – This is not a book that will change your life but, if you’re anything like me, it will make you smile. I was given a copy by my daughter’s friend and I read it with few expectations. The main characters are a group of elderly friends who live in a retirement home and solve murders for fun. It’s light-hearted, entertaining and shamelessly ridiculous at times, but I loved it. Film/TV The Chosen – I am not generally a fan of on-screen portrayals of Jesus and I was sceptical when a good friend assured me I would love The Chosen . As a family we reluctantly gave it a try, and by two or three episodes in we were hooked and I was crying. It’s beautifully made and the way they capture the humanity of Jesus helped me read the gospels with fresh eyes. There are so many highlights but the scene where the disciples are fishing and the nets are suddenly full of fish, and the moment when Jesus turns the water into wine, are stunning. All Creatures Great and Small – This is a favourite in our house and managed to delight our teenagers as much as it delighted us. It is gentle, warm and charming and it should be watched by the fire with people you love. This is Us – Glenn and I started watching this on a whim during the lockdown at the start of 2021. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do, and it’s not flawless, but there is something captivating about the way the story jumps between the past and the present, giving you insights into each of the characters as adults. Ben Palpant Books The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry – All of his best poetry (in my humble opinion) in one volume. A tender love song to dirt and grass and everything quietly content to exist. It’s the kind of poetry book that sits by my reading chair so I can pick it up after difficult and noisy days. Some of his poems are better than others, of course, but for the most part, they settle my soul. God of the Garden by Andrew Peterson – The sketches alone are worth the price of admission, but there’s so much more. In classic Peterson fashion, he weaves together vulnerable life anecdotes with ancient wisdom to make a transcendent reading experience. Dig deep. Branch out. Bear fruit. Film/TV The Crown – My short attention span robbed me of this incredible series for several years. I just couldn’t stick out the first couple of episodes, but then I got hooked. A work of art. High story-telling complimented by remarkable acting, filming, and a soundtrack to match. James Bond: No Time to Die – A fitting finale that restored spectacle to the silver screen. Tim Joyner Books We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God by Kendall Vanderslice – Kendall’s exploration of the centrality of the Table to Christian life and worship—plumbing the depths of its metaphorical and literal beauty—has injected new life into the ways my family eats and worships. Side bonus: her Instagram account is chock full of practical bread making tips and profound liturgies for baking. Stories of the Saints by Carey Wallace – This collection of tales includes absolutely striking illustrations by Nick Thornborrow. As the author writes in the introduction, “it’s their stubborn hope in something beyond this world that makes saints brave and good. But they don’t just point to things the rest of us can’t see. Led by their faith, they actually bring the better world to be, and invite us all in.” Music Eternal Light by Paul Zach – Paul Zach’s songs are always artfully written and often perfectly suited to congregational singing. His past albums and his work as part of The Porter’s Gate collaborative are the kind of favorites I come back to again and again. His new offering is no exception to this pattern. Plus, Liz Vice sings on multiple tracks; if you know, you know. Spell Songs and Spell Songs II: Let the Light In by Jim Molyneux, Kris Drever, Seckou Keita, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter, Karine Polwart and Julie Fowlis – The companion music to Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Words and The Lost Spells , this pair of albums is super creative, beautiful, haunting, yet comfortable enough for repeated listening. Film/TV tick, tick…BOOM! – It made me cry, and it made me feel less alone as an artist and human being. Basically what I’m looking for in a movie. Ted Lasso – This was everyone’s favorite of all the things in 2021, right? Mark Meynell Books The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St Aubyn – These are five semi-autobiographical novels by the English author, each focused on just a few days or even hours of fringe upper class Patrick’s life, from young boyhood to middle age. Trigger warning : in the first he is sexually abused by his father (thankfully, we are spared too much detail) and this causes lifelong damage. For instance, in his early twenties he is wildly hooked on hard drugs. But the writing is truly sparkling and at times incredibly funny (I’ll never forget the tightly crafted descriptions of his insanely freewheeling trips in book 2). But over the five novels, we find deep humanity and grow to deeply love Patrick. And he finds gentle redemption through his own two young sons. The recent miniseries with Benedict Cumberbatch in one of his finest performances is remarkable too. But go to the books first! Dweller in Shadows: A Life of Ivor Gurney by Kate Kennedy – It’s unlikely you have heard of Gurney, a criminally forgotten English poet and composer (almost Tolkien’s exact contemporary). But he was almost the archetypal troubled genius. He battled with mental illness for most of his life anyway, but serving in the First World War trenches hardly helped. In 1922 he was certified insane and spent the last fifteen years of his life in the City of London Mental Asylum, Dartford. It didn’t stop him writing or composing, though this ground to a halt in the 1930s (he died in 1937). Kennedy has written a brilliant biography; she’s uniquely qualified as a classically trained cellist with an English literature PhD. Especially moving to see how close friends like Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Herbert Howells stuck by him to the very end. Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come by T. J. Clark – Clark is an atheist Marxist and History of Art professor at London’s Courtauld Institute with decades of experience. He is also a superb writer and polymath. I couldn’t put this book down—he wrestles with honesty and passion to interpret paintings he loves, expounding details brilliantly and giving historical context, from Giotto to Picasso. So interesting. Music Recomposed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Max Richter – You might recognise Richter’s sound world, as it’s been featured in many a soundtrack and influenced many others. The Four Seasons is an old classical warhorse, and it’s easy to forget its genius. The surprise with this album (which I only encountered last year) is that for all the quirks and messing around with the old Venetian priest’s original, Richter has managed to make the original shine ever brighter while creating something uniquely beautiful and contemporary. Infinity by Voces8 – I’m a sucker for anything this British acapella group put out. The quality of the singing is incredibly high: tonally precise and pure but never stolid or cold. Their repertoire is pretty eclectic too. This, their latest album, is no exception. Chemtrails over the Country Club by Lana del Rey – Constantly surprising, even unsettling, this album is utterly beguiling. It is beautifully produced, without ever losing a sense of brittle fragility and hurt. Have definitely had days with Chemtrails on a loop! Film/TV The Dig – Based on the true story from Sutton Hoo in 1930s Suffolk as the storm clouds of war gathered. An amateur archaeologist (Basil Brown played by Ralph Fiennes) is convinced there is something significant under a widow’s (Carey Mulligan) farmland. The bigwigs from London try to take over, but in the end, the victory is his because they discover one of the UK’s largest ever Anglo-Saxon hoards buried in a huge ship. Much of it is in the British Museum for all to see now. I spent most of my childhood growing up just twenty minutes away and Fiennes’ accept is spot on! A stunningly beautiful film apart from the absurd shoehorning in of fictitious romance subplots. And why we don’t get to see the actual treasure at the end I’ve no idea! Minari – Another beautiful cinematic paean to land and the landscape, this time 1980s Arkansas, as a Korean family immigrates and tries to start a new life on some disused farmland. It’s tough, needless to say, and there are many inevitable conflicts and much heart-searching. But it is such a grittily inspiring depiction of family life and loves, as well as of gentle, groping, confused Christian faith, that I was overwhelmed by it. The director’s semi-autobiographical story. Charité – A German language show with just six episodes per season, set in the Charité, Berlin’s world-famous teaching hospital, at different times (#1 in 1880s, #2 in 1940s, #3 in 1960s). Have only been able to see first two seasons so far but it’s gripping, beautifully acted, and thought-provoking. Backstories are inevitably dark, because these periods in German history were dark: anti-semitism, eugenics, fascism, and so on all profoundly challenged the dilemmas and integrity of medics who were desperate to do the right thing. Jill Phillips Books A Burning in My Bones by Winn Collier – It is always good for my soul to read books by or about Eugene Peterson. Knowing him changed my life and affected the way I approach my work, church, community, and my own long obedience in the same direction. This authorized biography by Winn Collier is wonderful. The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor – This is a beautifully written book by a young priest on faith and loss. I was very moved by her story and her writing. The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall – I really enjoyed this story about two families who are friends and in ministry together navigating the inevitable joys and sorrows of life. It reminded me of Wallace Stegner’s writing. Music A Beginner’s Mind by Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine – This album feels other-worldly and achingly beautiful. The way their voices and styles blend together is perfect. Daniel Tashian – You might know Daniel Tashian as a producer for Kacey Musgraves, but if you haven’t heard his music, now is the time! I have really been enjoying his EP with Burt Bacharach called Blue Umbrella and his Christmas EP called It’s a Snow Globe World . Check out the title track featuring Patty Griffin. Sunday Night Soul – This is a live music event that happens twice a month or so in Nashville at The 5 Spot and is hosted/founded by the insanely talented Jason Eskridge. I don’t know what took me so long to make it out to this concert series but it was a highlight of 2021 for me and it won’t be my last time! Follow Jason Eskridge on Instagram for information about the upcoming shows. The joy in the room was palpable. Film/TV Mare of Easttown – I loved, loved, loved this show. All the darkness felt like it was building to something healing and the acting was out of this world. Ted Lasso – Not much to say here, just found most episodes a joy and a nice escape. Only Murders in the Building – I loved the unexpected throwback style of this show and watching Martin Short steal every scene. David Mitchel Books Merry Christmas, Anne by Kallie George, illustrated by Geneviève Godbout – This was a late addition to the Stuff I Liked in 2021, since I bought it for my older daughter (who’s not quite three years old) just before Christmas. But not only is it a delightful picturebook that’s remarkably true to the spirit of L. M. Montgomery’s story and characters, it’s a surprisingly deep meditation on community and art. A Faith of Our Own by Austin M. Farrer – Another late addition to Stuff I Liked in 2021; it was a Christmas present from my wife. Austin Farrer was one of the most brilliant theologians of the twentieth century. His works are often quite difficult to read. So it was refreshing to glimpse, in this little volume of essays, the clarity and depth with which Fr. Farrer the priest could write on practical and theological subjects for a general audience. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Louis Wilken – I reread this in the summer of 2021, and found Chapters 9 and 10—on the development of Christian poetry and visual art—particularly enjoyable. Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary W. Moon – Dallas Willard’s work on spiritual formation is notable for its practical, philosophical, and occasionally mystical depth. And this biography gave me a fuller appreciation of all that went into forming the man who could write what he wrote. Music Surrounded by Scott Mulvahill – Scott’s bass playing has as many levels of complexity as Fred Astaire’s dancing. He makes lines sing; he adds harmonic color and depth to accompaniment; and he provides songs with a strong rhythmic pulse—often doing all three things simultaneously. At the top of his baritone range, his voice is also a notably strong and supple instrument. On Surrounded , he explores tender subjects: what-if?, denial, heartbreak, and the rich, gritty joys of home. And he does so in a most striking way: in conversation with woodwinds and strings and, on his beautiful cover of “Up Above My Head,” with the gospel vocal trio ReSound. Few musicians could serve such a feast in the space of an EP. 25 Trips by Sierra Hull – Forty-five minutes of pure musical and lyrical enchantment from one of the great musicians of our time. Senderos by Dino Saluzzi – The music of the Argentine bandoneon master defies easy categorization. But it’s always a joy to hear his musical explorations. Mark Geil Books Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings by Ingo Walther and Rainer Metzger – You get a workout just lifting this comprehensive 732-page book. It’s more than just the art; it’s also an extensive biography that mines Vincent’s letters and works in an effort to understand his motivations and his progression as an artist. In the Heights: Finding Home – Lin Manuel Miranda’s pandemic-delayed musical film was wildly entertaining, and this companion volume—similar to his “Hamiltome”—is so full of heart it works even if you’ve never seen the movie. Hawkeye by Fraction & Aja: The Saga of Barton and Bishop – The primary source material for the Disney+ series was re-released in a collected softcover this year, and it was wonderful to revisit. This is some of the best comic book storytelling you’ll find anywhere. Music Pressure Machine by The Killers – This was unexpected. The band of gloss and bombast created a series of intimate character studies populating a small Utah town. “Sleepwalker” is the “Dear Prudence” we all need after a couple of hard years. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) [From the Vault]” by Taylor Swift – Here’s a primer: Taylor Swift is re-recording her old music to get the rights. This sleeper hit from Red was ten minutes long before trimming, and as part of the autocover Swift has given us the full version, (the most parenthetical song of all time), directed an accompanying short film, and ushered a new era of unrelenting ire toward Jake Gyllenhaal. This is brilliant songwriting that just became even more brilliant. Sign O The Times (Super Deluxe Edition) by Prince – This Grammy-nominated box set captures Prince at what might have been the height of his creative prowess. The album was already his best, but the book and vault tracks reveal new insights into the enigmatic artist. Film/TV Spider Man: No Way Home – See what happens when people work out their differences? Sony and Marvel squabbled over Spidey, parted ways for a bit, reconciled, and we got the best movie of a storied and sometimes bumpy franchise. (Plus, my kid’s in the high school scene!) Get Back – Peter Jackson’s take on hours of footage of the Beatles in the studio in their waning days as a band is personal, revelatory, and a treasure for fans. From stories of the era, I expected John and Paul to be at each other’s throats; instead, their old friendship was kinda charming. Also, Jackson still needs an editor. tick, tick… Boom! – Andrew Garfield is brilliant in this engaging biopic that captures the joy and anguish of the creative process. Can he please win the Oscar? Please? Hawkeye – This six-part series was so charming and fun, maybe because the stakes were not about saving the universe from destruction but simply making it home for Christmas. Renner and Steinfeld were wonderful leads. (Plus, I got to work on four episodes and had a ball.) J Lind Books The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air by Søren Kierkegaard – I dedicated most of my 2020-2021 reading to the life and times of SK, and this was one of the shortest, most accessible, and most personally transformative books of the lot. A great intro for anyone hoping to read SK directly. Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning – A historian’s take on how a group of ordinary men became mass-murdering Nazis. Psycho-sobering. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez – A laboriously-researched genealogy that offers some explanatory power for our cultural moment. If the subtitle angers you, maybe reading the book won’t. M usic A Pillar of Salt by Noah Gundersen – Perhaps the first Gundersen album with palpable hope throughout, and I’m here for it. Phoenix by Pedro the Lion – Ah, to grow up in such a beloved, bizarre desert city. If it hits at all, it’ll probably hit hard. Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens – Dear Lord (hug me, I’m scared) Film/TV Jojo Rabbit – Deep, jarring comedy… the good stuff. My Octopus Teacher – The philosopher of biology Peter Godfrey wrote a whole book about the octopus as a window into other minds and the nature of consciousness. This could be the film adaptation as far as I’m concerned. Seinfeld – I learned everything I shouldn’t know, and way too early at that, thanks to this show. It’s a pleasure to relearn.

  • On Poetry, Programming, Chaos, and Cosmos

    by Micah Hawkinson A few years ago at Hutchmoot, Pete Peterson said something that has been enriching the leaf-mould of my mind ever since. Quoting Walt Wangerin, Jr. , Pete talked about how the Sanskrit word cinoti “makes of the poet ‘a heaper into heaps, and a piler into piles.’” In that essay, Wangerin goes on to write: We artists, we writers—we come upon the stuff of our crafty attentions already there. But we find it a mess. Hopeless. A meaningless chaos. Our job is to organize. To order. To heap certain things with certain things over here, and to pile other things over there. To declare associations and differences and relationships. To make of this chaos a cosmos, which we do by translating things into language, and language into character and episode, and episodes into whole stories. —Walt Wangerin, Jr., “Story and History, Shaping the Day” There is a shelf in my library labeled “Programming and Other Poetry.” On it, T. S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Anne Bradstreet sit nestled among books on algorithms, data structures, and business analysis. Every weekday morning, I go to work at a fluorescent-lit office full of standing desks adorned with rubber duckies, computer screens, 3D-printed desk toys, coffee mugs, and printouts of programming memes. (“It was the data,” sobs First World Problems lady , ”Just like always.”) There, for eight hours, sometimes punctuated by lunch if I remember to eat, I immerse myself in wreaking order from chaos. I shape the vague longings of pharmacists into clearly worded statements of work. I ponder business requirements and conform them by imagination into my software’s existing architecture. And, most glorious of all, I use words to breathe new worlds into being, or to reorganize worlds that have grown chaotic. Writing poetry is the closest thing I know to writing code. Every word, every line break, and every punctuation mark has enormous significance. Micah Hawkinson In the beginning, there is a blank screen, ominous and full of promise all at the same time. I know that my first effort will almost certainly be wrong. I will probably even break the rules of the language, causing the compiler to scream errors at me. But I will fix my mistakes until the code compiles. Then I will run it, and find problems, and fix them, and run it again, until I can’t find anything else wrong. Then, I will move on to the next piece of the solution and start the whole excruciating process over again. Finally, when the code is as done as I know how to make it, I will beautify it. I will remove duplication, make logic more elegant, and straighten out the crooked lines, until it is ready to be reviewed and merged into the trunk of our code-tree. It is a long road to my destination, but I have a general idea of how to get there. The cursor on the blank screen flashes at me, daring me to type the first word. And with fear and trembling, I do. Writing poetry is the closest thing I know to writing code. Every word, every line break, and every punctuation mark has enormous significance. Each decision must be carefully considered, weighed, and fixed or thrown away if it is found wanting. In poetry, as in code, large mistakes are irritating, but subtle errors can be disastrous. I am not the first person to observe these similarities. In The Mythical Man-Month , Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. writes: The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. —Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., The Mythical Man-Month As beings made in the image of the Great Maker, we delight in shaping the world around us, in forming a cosmos from the chaos. Sometimes, while I wait for my code to compile, I write poetry on my PC’s other screen. I choose my words carefully, line them up in order, read them aloud, and savor their taste on my tongue. Occasionally, my co-workers give me funny looks and turn their headphones up. After I’ve written a stanza or two, I rethink the lines, revise them, play with them, seeking out lovelier ways to tell a truer tale. When I increase my automatic test coverage, or rewrite a block of code in half the lines, or rename a cryptic variable to something clearer, I feel the same thrill that I get from writing the perfect final couplet of a sonnet. I am working on this world in my hands, shaping it through wisdom until I can sit back and call it very good. In this, I reflect my Maker. I’m not really suggesting that code is a sub-genre of poetry, or even that it is equally important. After all, poetry is the pursuit of truth by way of beauty. Computer science is, as Aristotle said of money , “merely useful and for the sake of something else.” In my case, the “something else” is providing for my family, giving to build God’s kingdom, and supporting other sub-creators as much as I can. But this much is true: Our God-given hunger for a beautiful, well-ordered world touches every area of human endeavor. I’m thankful to have a job where I can serve others by building worlds of pure thought-stuff, even if those worlds are merely useful. And I trust that my code, like my poetry, echoes God’s Word that called His good world out of the formless void.

  • The Habit Podcast: Amy Baik Lee Notices Small Splendors

    by the Rabbit Room This week on The Habit Podcast, Jonathan Rogers interviews memoirist and essayist Amy Baik Lee. Amy writes essays and short memoirs for The Cultivating Project and on her own blog, A Homeward Life . She is also the co-director of the Arts Guild of The Anselm Society . Amy and Jonathan Rogers talk about the discipline of noticing small splendors, the ways that art reminds recipients that they mean something to someone, and the ways that time and distance unpack our memories to show us meaning that was there all along. Click here to listen to Season 4, Episode 2 of The Habit Podcast. Transcripts are now available for The Habit Podcast. Click here to access them. Sponsorship on the Podcast Network Are you interested in teaming up with us to support the work you love? Send an email to our Head of Development, Sarah Katherine, at sarahkatherine@rabbitroom.com if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of our Podcast Network . Rabbit Room Membership Special thanks to our Rabbit Room members for making these podcasts possible! If you’re interested in becoming a member, visit RabbitRoom.com/Donate.

  • Encanto and the Miracle of Empathy

    by Shigé Cla rk One of the reasons I love fantasy as a genre is because of the inclusion of magic. In fantasy stories—the good ones anyway—magic can reveal the spiritual realities that we all sense in life but can’t see, and have no material frame to express. The trees of Fangorn Forest groan, and shudder, and come to life, and we the readers call it “magic,” but we know the truth. There is something alive when you walk in a forest—something deep, something old, and sometimes dark. Leeli Wingfeather’s song reaches out to her family in shimmering strands that burn through the earth, and we call it “magic”—but many a mother I’ve heard tell how she sat up in the dead of night knowing that her child was in trouble, and many a friend I’ve called with a sudden burden to pray for them, to find that they were facing a trial and needed help. We know the truth. Something deeper connects us than blood and bone and dirt and stone. The stories that do it well gesture to the reality that’s beyond our sight, bringing it to the forefront so that we can ponder it together. Encanto is such a story. Set in the mountains of Colombia, it follows the multi-generational Madrigal family, blessed with a miracle that brings their house to life and bestows each child with a magical gift. Except, that is, for our protagonist Mirabel, who never received a gift. Here, I expected the familiar ugly duckling tale, where the overlooked kid resents her special family and heads out on a journey to prove her worth, only to discover “that the real gift was inside her all along!” I was delighted to find that wasn’t the story at all. Instead, we’re given the story of a girl inextricably interwoven with and impacted by her place and history, even and perhaps especially the parts she doesn’t know. Perhaps I ought to have known that immediately, since the movie opens with Abuela telling Mirabel their family’s story—how they were forced to flee their home and lost her husband, but in their darkest moment were given a miracle that allowed them to start a new life. Abuela took up the literal and figurative mantle as head of the family and the village, and guides the Madrigals to use their gifts in service of the community. As she sings in the opening song: We swear to always help those around us And earn the miracle that somehow found us The miracle that the Madrigals have been gifted is represented by a glowing candle that never goes out. It gives them a magic house and special gifts, and unites them in purpose. But we quickly learn that all is not well. The magic is dying—seemingly beginning with the absence of Mirabel’s gift. The story centers on Mirabel and Abuela both trying to protect the magic, and clashing in their differing approaches on how best to do so. Abuela wants to present a strong front to the family and town, believing that if they all just buckle down and use their gifts to the right ends, then they’ll be safe: The town keeps growing, the world keeps turning But work and dedication will keep the miracle burning And each new generation must keep the miracle burning —”The Family Madrigal,” Encanto Removed from the upbeat melody of the song, which is sung before we know that the magic is in danger, the stress in those lines is more easily apparent. “The magic is strong,” Abuela repeats over and over again to the town, in defiance of the cracks they can all see working their way through the foundation of their home. Mirabel’s approach is to dig deeper and deeper into what’s going on, believing that if she can find the source of the cracks then she can stop it. As she digs, she unearths family secrets, hidden shame, and the pain and insecurities behind the strong and happy facades of each of her family members. The cracks continue to spread; the family’s gifts start malfunctioning. We who are following Mirabel in her quest can see how each member of the family is fighting in their own way to protect and preserve what they’ve built and how Mirabel’s connections with each person are strengthening the magic. But Abuela comes to believe that Mirabel’s digging is what’s causing the cracks to spread, which leads to a confrontation between them where they each accuse the other of breaking the family and killing the miracle. In that moment, the earth splits between them, their home crumbles around them, the new generation scrambles to save the candle, and Mirabel—who alone manages to reach it—cradles it in her hands amidst the dusty wreckage of their united lives as the flame flickers out. We the viewers call it “magic,” but we know the truth: that there is some burning core at the center of a family that connects each member to another, and which we fight to preserve. It’s a tangible thing with its own gravitational force, and when something’s wrong—when that central connection is unraveling and something is dying—we can feel it, as surely as a sickness in our own blood. We know it can be threatened. We know it can die. And seldom do we understand what kills it. During the peak of their confrontation, the mountains that guarded their home split, opening for the first time the way back to the place from which Abuela and her village fled. At the entrance there, Abuela finds Mirabel, who has run away from her family in shame. In the aftermath of the destruction of all she tried to protect, Abuela Alma sits beside her granddaughter on the edge of the river where she lost everything. “I’ve never been able to come back here,” she says. “I thought we would have a different life. I thought I would be a different woman.” Set to Sebastián Yatra ’s spectacular “Dos Oruguitas” (fittingly, the one song in the movie completely in Spanish), we watch Abuela’s story unfold in a new light. Alongside Mirabel, we receive the full picture of the struggle and loss that led to the creation of their family’s miracle—the depth of Abuela’s grief, and the weight of the burden she shouldered in raising three children and leading a town all alone. We see the mountains rise between her and the river, obscuring the source of her grief and shielding the town and her family from it in the new life she builds for them. “I was given a miracle,” Abuela says, “A second chance. And I was so afraid to lose it, that I lost sight of who our miracle was for.” What feels irrevocably lost can be reclaimed, and what waits beyond the hard work of conflict, growth, and understanding is even better than what we cling to in fear. Shigé Clark If you listen again to the movie’s opening number “The Family Madrigal,” you’ll recognize the melody of “Dos Oruguitas” in the bridge where Abuela says that the family must keep the miracle burning through work and dedication. (If you speak Spanish, you’ll be one step further, since you’ll hear in “Dos Oruguitas” the story of two caterpillars who have to let go and break down in order to be reborn into new hope.) Our first introduction to Abuela, which sets the stage for her character, actually turns out to be a reprise to the moment of her loss. Much like Mirabel would, we never question where Abuela got the idea that the family must earn their miracle through work and service. We take for granted that it’s true simply because Abuela says it. But the music gives us the answer before we know there’s a question to ask—that this belief comes from the fear born out of her loss, and her resolve to keep it from happening again. During that first song, we’re just like Mirabel; the key to the story is already playing out before us, but we don’t yet have the context to understand it. We know this story well, or we should. Anyone who was raised with a strong sense of family duty, grew up in a pastor’s home, or has worked in a ministry or nonprofit has seen how easy it can be to get so swept up in the concept of the “mission” that you lose the entire point. How often do believe we have to earn through service the gifts that God freely gives us? How often do we destroy the very things we feel called to protect because we’re operating out of fear? How often is the true hero the one who does the work of facing and healing the wounds among a group, quietly patching the cracks without recognition or appreciation? How often is the one creating the cracks unable or unwilling to see it, and how rarely does that person come to see their flaws and apologize? How often is blame cast on those trying the hardest to help because they’re “stirring up conflict,” and how rarely do the ones in the right turn and offer empathy and grace to the person who created the rifts? I’ve seen responses from people criticizing the character of Abuela. One lady called her “toxic” and said that she couldn’t enjoy the movie because of how angry she was at the character. I lament that someone could miss the mark so much. I’m sure her response comes from having an Abuela in her own life, and I wished I could grab her by the shoulders and say, “Don’t you see, this story was for you .” She missed the point—and I was so proud, so grateful that Encanto didn’t. It would have been easy to vilify Abuela Alma, to paint her only as the controlling family leader who needed to bow to the new generation’s better way of being. “You’re the one who doesn’t care,” Mirabel says during their confrontation, “you’re the one breaking our home. The miracle is dying because of you.” The story could have ended at the river, with Abuela’s apology, and realizing that Mirabel was right all along. “We are broken because of me.” If it did, it would have still been a pretty good story. Being willing to self-reflect and admit when we’re wrong is a difficult and vital thing to learn, and it’s necessary to what comes next. The fact that it doesn’t end there, though—that there is something that comes next—makes it great. Earlier in the movie, Mirabel comes away from a vision of how to save the family believing she must reconcile with her sister, and she does—but the observant viewer will recall that the first part of that vision doesn’t come to pass until this scene at the river, after Abuela’s apology. Those who would condemn Abuela for her failures have missed the entire point of the story. Every one of them is a part of this family; none can be ignored or discarded for the core to survive. In response to her loss, in fear of losing the “family” as a concept, Abuela Alma ignored the care of the individuals that make up that family and nearly destroyed what she was trying to protect. If Mirabel were to vilify her, she would be repeating the same mistake. But she doesn’t. She is the realization of all that her family has worked and struggled toward—what Abuela Alma couldn’t be as the one who started the journey. Mirabel listens to her abuela’s story as she has done throughout the movie for each family member, and when that story is finished, she takes her grandmother by the hands and stands with her in the place of her greatest loss and deepest pain. “We were saved because of you. We were given a miracle because of you. We are a family because of you.” Empathy. We’re literally dying for lack of it. And I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a story that handles it so well. Mirabel returns with her family to their shattered home and leads them in a new start. “Look at this home. We need a new foundation.” Reunited, they set about rebuilding—this time not on a foundation of fear, but one of openness and empathy. The community they’ve served comes out to care for them in their brokenness. At the end, Mirabel—who has been in the background her entire life, quietly keeping the family connected through her empathy and compassion—is given the doorknob to open the new house. “We see how bright you burn,” her family sings to her, “We see how brave you’ve been.” Is there a human born to earth who doesn’t need to hear that? When she adds the doorknob, after they’ve done the hard, inescapable work of rebuilding together, the door lights up, and life comes back to their home. We call it “magic,” but we know the truth. Redemption is real. What feels irrevocably lost can be reclaimed, and what waits beyond the hard work of conflict, growth, and understanding is even better than what we cling to in fear. Encanto is a rare and wonderful story. An incredibly nuanced depiction of family dynamics where everyone, everyone cares and is trying, yet there is conflict and heartache because the world is broken, and it’s difficult work to hear and understand each other. There is no external villain—no outsider who seeks the family’s downfall to band against. The villain is fear, and miscommunication, and the expectations we place on ourselves and each other in pursuit of the ends we think will protect us. There is far, far more to celebrate about Encanto that I simply can’t get into here. It’s not a perfect movie, but I can’t believe it manages to pack in all that it does in such a balanced way. At its heart, though, is the invisible impact of generational trauma and a hero who saves her family through empathetic leadership that extends even to those members who’ve hurt her most. I can’t think of a more hopeful story to tell about family than that.

  • Imagination as an Agent of Healing (Part 1 of 3)

    Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives… Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach. —Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score by Hannah Mitchell I had an imaginary friend when I was little. I don’t remember his name, but I remember what he looked like. He was green, about the size of a Smurf, with a round nose and a mushroom-cap instead of hair. He lived in my fireplace, which was always empty due to my mom’s asthma. As a lonely only child, he helped me pass the hours when neighborhood friends couldn’t play. He used to send me on missions around my house to save the world from Rita Repulsa, the villain from my favorite show, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. By the time I came back from my missions, the ache of loneliness was forgotten. I was the hero, and the hero is never alone. My imaginative nature in my childhood eventually grew into a soul that channels its wounds into story. I wrote two novels after my friend’s death because sometimes writing felt like the only way I could keep breathing. But once the grief had cleared from a cloud to a gray haze, my curiosity got the best of me. Why did writing feel so much like healing? It wasn’t just writing, though, it was reading books and listening to songs and watching movies. I found my grief was known by a nameless man wandering beyond the maps. And that a young boy named Kubo knew there was still joy within this consuming ache. My search for understanding drove me to read about how painting, writing, singing, dancing, and even playing are used in counseling to work toward healing. But as I read, I quickly learned that it’s imagination that is the agent of healing in creative expression, not the act of creating. Making something doesn’t stitch the wound. It’s imagination’s waking that begins to staunch the bleeding. If it is imagination that does the healing, then why doesn’t all art heal? Why doesn’t every book I read ease the pain of my wounds the way others do? Why doesn’t every song echo in my veins as the chords roll? What makes some art healing and other art simply pleasing? The answer, I think, has to do with both the creator and the recipient of the art. Artists are not always healed people, but they can teach us how to engage the transformative aspects of emotional upheaval rather than experience the madness that occurs when imagination turns against itself. Art shows how the difficulty can contain its cure if channeled into life-affirming expression. —Shaun McNiff, Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul Those who create healing works of art are those who have learned to commiserate with themselves, who see the broken parts of themselves and do not flee, but grieve. They walk this life-long cycle, actively engaging in self-compassion with each new wave of sorrow that seeing one’s own brokenness brings. And in this grief, the imagination works to heal as the artist creates. Their work does not need to reflect a hint of the pain from which it is was born. Imagination only cares about the process. But the artist’s work must be forged in honesty. It must be born of commiserating with wounds of the soul instead of intellectualizing or distancing. It is a generous, hospitable act by the artist, one that works to mend the fissures in both the creator and the recipient. If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it. Let fairytale of mine go for a firefly that now flashes, now is dark, but may flash again. Caught in a hand which does not love its kind, it will turn to an insignificant, ugly thing, that can neither flash nor fly… The best way with music, I imagine, is not to bring the forces of our intellect to bear upon it, but to be still and let it work on that part of us for whose sake it exists. We spoil countless precious things by intellectual greed. —George MacDonald, “The Fantastic Imagination” Have you ever gone from simply drinking in a work of art to suddenly feeling known by it? There is a moment when a line from a story slips from our brain to our soul or a little flower in a painting reminds us that we’re not alone. And when this happens, something shifts. We are no longer looking at something but are watching something happen—we are bearing witness to imagination’s mending. It’s never been a panacea; a story has never cured anxiety and a song has never halted grief. But sharp edges are dulled. Joy feels less daunting. A micro-mending occurs, leaving us far from healed, but better than before imagination did its work. The imagination plants the inconceivable in our minds and makes our hearts long for it to be true. Hannah Mitchell In his essay “The Fantastic Imagination,” George MacDonald speaks of the necessity of each person taking their own meaning from his fairytales, that the reader’s meaning may be even better than his own. I think, though, that there’s more to it than each person simply taking their own meaning. There is truth to be felt when imagination is awakened, truth that is unique to the heart that is aching. What if the reason that favorite quotes from a book or lyrics from a song vary from person-to-person is that the imagination knows what it needs in order to do its healing work? Just as the brain pulls blood from the limbs to survive when the body is dying, what if the brain knows what it needs to heal through art? What if some art makes us feel known not only because of the creator’s hospitality and generosity, but because we know deep in our soul that we are bearing witness to a sacred healing—a healing we often did not know we needed, but our imagination did? One sentence lurking innocently in MacDonald’s “The Fantastic Imagination” captures both the glory and the terror of art’s healing. MacDonald states that “everyone…who feels the story, will read its meaning after his own nature and development: one man will read one meaning in it, another will read another.” The glory of art’s healing comes in our imagination knowing what we need and seeking it to begin the mending within us. It grabs at sentences or brushstrokes or chords that can bind our unique wounds with a tenderness no other can know. But sometimes before the gauze is unrolled, terror can overtake us and halt the work imagination has begun. Because when pain has been raging endlessly inside, it can feel nearly impossible to trust that anything that comes from within us—that a thought, a dream, or even a hope—can be good and might even be true. It is a brave thing indeed to trust there may yet be good amongst the broken parts of our souls, to believe that maybe a part of ourselves still holds beauty. A body fighting to live on through life’s pain wants to shrink into the safety of what is already known. But the imagination is not safe. It drags us through cloud-fields where raindrop horses prance. It lets us think we can smell the sun and that fairies surely live in the flower garden down the street. It plants the inconceivable in our minds and makes our hearts long for it to be true. In the moments when we feel most lost, the imagination can speak to us in the secret language meant just for our soul. It gives us hope that our pain has been seen by another and known. It makes us feel the impossible: that we are not alone. Click here to read “Imagination as a Spiritual Practice (Part 2 of 3)” and here to read “Imagination & Kubo and the Two Strings (Part 3 of 3).”

  • Call It Good: Thomas McKenzie, Helena Sorensen, Russ Ramsey, & Malcolm Guite

    by the Rabbit Room New to the Rabbit Room Podcast Network is Call It Good: Conversations on Creative Confidence . Hosted by Matt Conner (host of The Resistance), Call It Good is a limited series of conversations with authors, artists, and pastors about the invitation before us to join with the Spirit in the act of re-creating the world. We’re excited to share with you not one or two but FOUR in-depth interviews on creativity, the Creation story, and what it means to bless the work of your hands. Read on for a word from Matt about each of these guests and what they bring to the conversation. Click here to listen to Episodes 1-4 on Omny , here to listen on Apple Podcasts , and here to listen on Spotify. Transcripts are now available for Call It Good. Click here to access them. Thomas McKenzie From the moment I had the idea for this podcast, I knew I needed to sit down with my friend Thomas McKenzie as the cornerstone conversation. Thematically speaking, as a podcast exploring what it means to create in the image of a Creator, it felt very important for me to begin with some theological guard rails in place, so to speak. After all, if we’re talking about the image of God, inspiration from God, and our interaction with God, then we’ve got to establish some theological norms pretty quickly. What made Thomas the ideal interview subject was easy: I trusted him. Not only was he a longtime friend but he was also my pastor at Church of the Redeemer for the years that my family lived in Nashville, Tennessee. And while I knew he was beloved by so many, it wasn’t until his recent funeral after a horrific car accident that claimed both his life and the life of his daughter, Charlie, that I learned just how many others had trusted Thomas the same way I had. Listening back to this interview stirs so many emotions in me. But one of those is certainly gratitude. He was always filled with so much wisdom and love when speaking on matters of the spirit. Thomas was such a beautiful co-creator with the Spirit and was a man who understood Genesis 1 as an invitation to join in the same process of calling forth beauty from chaos. Even now, it’s a gift to hear his voice and receive his words in this episode. And I’m so glad we were able to carve out the time to make this happen last summer. We certainly hope it’s helpful for you too, as we begin to explore what it means as Christians to call it good. Helena Sorensen If you’ve hung around The Rabbit Room over the years, then you’ll likely recognize the name and wonderful work of writer and speaker Helena Sorensen. She’s a frequent contributor to The Rabbit Room site as well as a presenter at Hutchmoot. She’s often featured with our friends at the Story Warren as well. As the author of the Shiloh series as well as The Door on Half-Bald Hill , perhaps her meaningful prose has found a home on your shelves, too. After charting a theological course with Thomas McKenzie (which you shouldn’t miss in our first episode), I wanted to continue the conversation with Helena because I had been privileged enough to see her creative journey up close. I knew that she’d become a fountain of wisdom about this whole process. When I first met Helena, she was a disciplined writer who was obedient to her craft and devoted to excellence. But she was also completely in the closet. Over the years, it’s been so heartening to watch the ways in which she’s grown to find an audience, and then to serve that audience with encouragement, coaching, and the authentic sharing of her own story. I’ve watched Helena walk through this very process of partnering with the Spirit to bring something to the world. And I’ve watched her offer it with open hands. On this episode, I asked Helena about her journey to date and what she thinks about the idea of chasing excellence, finding her worth in what matters, and this whole idea of calling it good in the first place. Russ Ramsey Talking to Russ Ramsey made sense from every angle. As a practitioner, Russ is an excellent author and writer who just released his fifth book, Rembrandt Is In the Wind . As a pastor, he not only shapes sermons each week for his Presbyterian church plant in Cool Springs, which is just south of Nashville, but he also shepherds his congregation toward those same sorts of endeavors that we’re interested in discussing. Even more than that, Russ has a lifelong passion for art and beauty. And if you follow him on social media you know exactly what I’m talking about. For quite some time, Russ has been publishing Art Wednesdays, as he calls it, a simple infusion of beauty into our social feeds in the form of hourly posts that showcase meaningful works and their context. That’s also the subject of Rembrandt Is In the Wind , by the way. On this episode of Call It Good, Russ reminds us how some of history’s greatest artists struggled with their own work and how he’s learned to apply the idea of creating in the image of a Creator to his own life, work, and congregation. Malcolm Guite We can’t venture very far into our exploration of Genesis 1 without contending with the form in which it’s been given to us. The creation narrative isn’t something to analyze and apply like a textbook. Instead, there’s cadence and meter, there’s rhythm, repetition. It’s a poem after all. It was clear to me fairly early on that I wanted to discuss the creation narrative—imbued as it is with themes of creating in the image of a Creator, rest and reflection, and participating in the Spirit-led recreation of all things—with someone who could approach it for the poem that it is. And I knew of no one better suited for that task than Malcolm Guite. To be quite honest, I was very nervous to sit down with Malcolm, although that’s not anything to do with his own posture. Rather, as a man so well versed in poetry and literature, a captivating author and speaker, I knew all my insecurities would rise to the surface. And then the idea of having those permanently imprinted on a podcast episode just made me feel a little ill. However, I also knew he would be the perfect interview subject to carry us further, to help illuminate the action of calling it good. Talking to Malcolm about Genesis 1 turned out to be like drinking from a firehose. Even in our pre-interview banner before we started recording, he was quoting off the top of his head Shakespeare, Keats, Wendell Berry, and George Herbert. Malcolm is a poet and priest, author, and chaplain of Girton College at the University of Cambridge. He’s written several books on theology and the arts and several more of his own poetry anthologies. In short, we needed a poet to appreciate the poem. And that’s exactly what you’ll find on this episode with the wonderful Malcolm Guite. Sponsorship on the Podcast Network Are you interested in teaming up with us to support the work you love? Send an email to our Head of Development, Sarah Katherine Woodhull, at sarahkatherine@rabbitroom.com if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of our Podcast Network . Rabbit Room Membership Special thanks to our Rabbit Room members for making these podcasts possible! If you’re interested in becoming a member, visit RabbitRoom.com/Donate.

  • Breathing Again: Long Covid & All the Wrecked Light

    by Leah McMicheal I was a little dizzy when All The Wrecked Light livestreamed during the last week of Lent in 2021. As a grad student, I couldn’t afford to do just one thing at a time, so I was roasting discount vegetables as my wireless headphones negotiated with the Wi-Fi. I only caught snatches of the dove over the water and breath taken back again. Two months into long Covid, that sounded familiar. The internet and headphones sorted themselves on the wish that there be no prophets and no priests. “This is the way the world ends”—but who hasn’t shrunk from that sacred shadow, especially at the edge of the glory and terror of Holy Week? Yet the story unspooled through sinking sand and scattered ash. Then breath came back to dusty bones. “And I know something of how it shall be,” Cardiff State sang, and I fell in love. I listened to the concert again as I waited for the peppers to roast and my breath-short dizziness to ebb. Lent tipped toward Holy Week. My church celebrates resurrection with vigils and dancing and trumpets, and when all that was still safely distant, it seemed like a good time to pray for healing. But when we came to Good Friday and Holy Saturday, it was terrifying. What if God didn’t answer? What if he did? On Saturday night, my friends and I prayed a rambling earnest request for the return of breath and strength. I woke on Easter morning with my lungs aching as they had for weeks. But my thought was threaded with All the Wrecked Light ’s final refrain: “This is the way the world begins again. This is the way the world begins again. This is the way the world begins again, though all I hear now is a whisper.” To me it came like a word of openness, expectation. The effort of song still left me coughing at the outdoor Easter service. But we made Christmas bell bracelets and rang in resurrection till the twine broke and the bells scattered golden across the grass. “This is the way the world begins again . ” For two months, every exertion had taken a toll in cough and weariness. I’d learned to pare daily walks down to a block or less, driving even between buildings on Wheaton’s small campus. I expected to pay for Easter on Monday and possibly the rest of the week as well. But I didn’t wake up worse. In faith or foolishness, I decided to walk to campus. Slowly. The magnolia trees were a wonder. The sky was sparkling a little by the time I got to work, but a few minutes on the bench outside put that mostly right. The next day, I walked to class and took out the recycling on foot. “This is the way the world begins again . ” Every venture across campus was at least a minor act of faith. When you speak the world, I will be healed— in an instant or a season, slow as the budding trees. A week after Easter, I walked over a mile on the local trail, listening to All The Wrecked Light yet again. It was the first time I’d walked so far, the first time I’d seen the spring’s wildflowers at the golden hour. The sky was vast behind gilded trees and the grass burned green. “And the first words we must say are ‘the world’s wrought in grace’” sang Cardiff State, and it rang true through and through. All the Wrecked Light came down from YouTube the day after that. Being musically challenged, I struggled to hold on to the melodies, though I soon had breath enough to sing the fragments I remembered. Life got better: from convalescence and grad school to long walks, work, and a home with friends. And then came Hutchmoot. The announcement that All the Wrecked Light was being produced as an album sent me careening around the apartment in delight. The concert on Sunday kept me close to tears. This music that companioned me, this story told in breath—it’s back to stay. I’m so grateful to enjoy it and support it. I hope you do the same. Click here to listen to All the Wrecked Light on Spotify and here to listen on Apple Music.

  • The Habit Podcast: Sandra McCracken Sends Out Light

    by the Rabbit Room This week on The Habit Podcast, Jonathan Rogers talks with Nashville singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken. Sandra released her first book in 2021. Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song is a memoir of a creative life and a meditation on the creative process. Click here to listen to Season 4, Episode 18 of The Habit Podcast. Transcripts are now available for The Habit Podcast. Click here to access them. Sponsorship on the Podcast Network Are you interested in teaming up with us to support the work you love? Send an email to our Head of Development, Sarah Katherine Woodhull, at sarahkatherine@rabbitroom.com if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of our Podcast Network . Rabbit Room Membership Special thanks to our Rabbit Room members for making these podcasts possible! If you’re interested in becoming a member, visit RabbitRoom.com/Donate.

  • Vinyl & CD Pre-orders: There Will Be Surprises

    by the Rabbit Room We have an exciting update on an album we’ve been looking forward to since it was funded through Kickstarter last fall: Drew Miller’s There Will Be Surprises. You can hear the whole album today—months before its release—when you pre-order a limited edition vinyl or CD through the Rabbit Room Store. Read on for more details. cover art by Kyra Hinton Vinyl Details Vinyls are being made to order and will not be ready to ship until October. Each order comes with a free digital download of the entire record, months before its release (August 5th), complete with a few digital surprises. Only 250 copies are available. Click here to view vinyl options in the Rabbit Room Store. P.S. Drew is giving away five copies of his vinyl record. Sign up for his email list by May 20th for a chance to win one! CD Details CDs will ship when the album releases on August 5th. Each order comes with a free digital download of the entire record, months before its release, complete with a few digital surprises. Only 150 copies are available. Click here to view CD options in the Rabbit Room Store. Although Drew’s album won’t be fully available for several more months, you can stream a few singles right now. Click the images above to listen , and click here to learn more about the project at his website .

  • Feasts We Were Never Meant to Serve

    by Leslie E. Thompson My name is Leslie, and I built the Hutchmoot: Homebound experience . This could easily be an essay about the Rabbit Room staff giving their time to make the experience a reality (and we could regale you with stories worthy of such an essay!), but it’s actually a blog about how, after months of work, I stepped away from preparing the feast of Hutchmoot: Homebound in order to serve another feast altogether. When we dreamt of an online Hutchmoot event in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I threw my hat into the ring to build the infrastructure—a fancy word which for the purposes of this piece I’d rather replace with “feasting table.” We did not know what this digital table would look like, we did not have a plan, nor did we want to use anything else as a reference point. We wanted to build an entirely new table. The building of the Hutchmoot: Homebound experience is documentary-worthy. One long discussion at a time, the team dreamed up a feast of goodness for those who arrived at the website to dine, and by the grace of God, it was able to be completed on time. Each day presented new challenges, each page requiring coding and intricate configuration, each feature requiring immense amounts of creativity to fit it into the tools we had at our disposal. We were one month from the event, in the heat of preparation and development, and my family experienced a particularly tragic event in the form of miscarriage. The Rabbit Room staff held me up as my knees were weak with grief, not only through emotional support and prayer, but through stepping into the website development while I took time to regroup. The site became a true team project. I was whisked away to an entirely different table to make a meal only I could serve. The new table is much smaller. And there’s one guest who is a different kind of beloved stranger. Leslie E. Thompson On the morning of the first Hutchmoot: Homebound, I sat in North Wind Manor with my laptop and huge external monitor ready for a train wreck. My palms were sweating the entire weekend while running on fumes to get to the finish line. At the completion of the event, I realized I was mostly disconnected and on the fringes both because I was anticipating disaster (which much to our surprise, never occurred!) and because I needed to get through this one event so I could grieve properly. With the final “amen” of the doxology, my knees buckled at the weight of my loss just weeks before. I crashed and rushed home. I was tired, grieving, coming off the tracks. I didn’t experience the feast I had helped to prepare like I had hoped. A few months later it was decided that the event would be happening again in 2021—a decision that was made just days after I discovered that I was pregnant again. Hutchmoot: Homebound would commence during the first month of my maternity sabbatical; I would not be there for it. In a private meeting, I disclosed my secret to leadership and agreed to work until the literal moment I couldn’t any longer, training others in the meantime to take over “the feast” when I went into labor. Then, baby Alice Denali arrived two weeks early, and I had to let go of Hutchmoot: Homebound much earlier than expected. It was out of my hands, and I watched from a distance as the event was finished by all the other capable hands that helped prepare it. It took a team to make the dinner feast, and it took a team to serve it. I just couldn’t be a part of that team anymore. On the weekend of the event, I brought two-week-old Alice for a few hours to watch this thing we made together take its final form. Though I was there, I felt like I did in 2020. Still working to establish a healthy eating routine, I would settle myself in a quiet room alone to feed her every hour and a half. I could only smell the feast I had helped to prepare as it wafted from under the door, while I was physically serving a small feast for one (this is not just an analogy—I was also smelling the literal feast Rachel Matar was preparing for the staff as Alice and I were by the kitchen at the Manor). What a grand feast it was. And yet, I had missed being able to serve the meal for a crowd of beloved strangers each time I had prepared it. It was like I had escaped through the back kitchen door before ever entering the dining room to help serve the meal. I never saw all the faces of those who were to receive the food of the larger meal—but I had to trust that they were taken care of, knowing they were always in good hands with or without me. In my departure from the larger meal, I was whisked away to an entirely different table to make a meal only I could serve. The new table is much smaller. And there’s one guest who is a different kind of beloved stranger, although her face is one I was always supposed to see—one who was always meant for my hands, whose heart was created for me to hold next to my own. There were ways I got to see the larger table from my new perspective. Momentary glances out of my window into the picture window of the other, quick pop-ins as I stuck my head in to say hello, hearing the laughter from the dining room and catching smiles as the swinging door (of course it’s a swinging door!) glides open. Only I could make the dinner for the one, and only I can serve it. I just count myself lucky that both dining rooms have windows. I was reminded of a book included in the Homebound 2020 experience: Leaf by Niggle , a short story written by J. R. R. Tolkien. Mr. Niggle spends his life painting a tree—he has high hopes for this work, but he is constantly interrupted to do other things, never finishing the painting before he is swept away to an allegorical heaven. Once in this afterlife, he sees the tree completed and real: “All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time.” His feast, left incomplete in his lifetime, was served and perfected without his own doing. To prepare a meal without enjoying its splendors is a theme of the Christian experience. Like Niggle, we may spend our years on this earth setting in motion glorious trajectories whose ends we will likely never see. Parenting provides a fine example of this, when in the wee hours of a sleepless night we gaze into the eyes of a baby, wondering what their years will bring long after we’ve taken our last breath. This is right and good, as evidenced by the wrong and unjust experience of losing a child to death. It is a sacred thing to watch one’s child grow and explore and leave; it is a desecrated thing to watch a child die. In no way do I dare compare the loss of a child to the loss of a dream (though, for some, this is one in the same), but there is a similar conclusion to be made from both. When a child is lost, a feast has been discarded before being tasted. For us to lose a dream or stop making a feast is to cease the possibilities of those things after our hands no longer hold them. The outworkings of our feasts may never be enjoyed by us in the time we have on earth. But for those of us who believe in life after death, in the redemption and renewal at the end of all things, we have hope that the things God has set forth in us will be completed—will be contextualized, will be perfectly finished—and we will see it. We will see the reach of our children’s grasp, the stretch of our own hands and work, and the satiated bellies after the feasts we so diligently prepared, even if we were unable to serve them ourselves.

  • The Habit Podcast: Esau McCaulley Feels Defiant Joy

    by the Rabbit Room This week on The Habit Podcast, Jonathan Rogers talks with author, professor, and theologian Esau McCaulley. Esau McCaulley is a Bible scholar and Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He’s a contributing writer at Christianity Today, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. His book Reading While Black won the 2021 Christianity Today Book Award for the category “Beautiful Orthodoxy.” His most recent book is a picture book called Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit . Click here to listen to Season 4, Episode 19 of The Habit Podcast. Transcripts are now available for The Habit Podcast. Click here to access them. Sponsorship on the Podcast Network Are you interested in teaming up with us to support the work you love? Send an email to our Head of Development, Sarah Katherine Woodhull, at sarahkatherine@rabbitroom.com if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of our Podcast Network . Rabbit Room Membership Special thanks to our Rabbit Room members for making these podcasts possible! If you’re interested in becoming a member, visit RabbitRoom.com/Donate.

  • Postcards Along the Way (Mile 0)

    by Pete Peterson Jennifer and I are taking something of a sabbatical this month and walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500+ mile pilgrimage from France, across northern Spain, to Santiago de Compostela, the traditional resting place of St. James. I’m writing a bit about the experience along the way. 28 April (Mile 0 / KM 0) – We arrived in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, today. We’re staying at the Beilari Hostel (Beilari is Basque for “pilgrim”) and I’m writing from a “meditation room” on the rock terrace behind the hostel. It’s a little stone room about six feet by eight feet that feels like a shrine to…everything? Or nothing, depend on how you look at it. It’s pseudo-religious, as if it wants to be a meaningful place, but in navigating itself around any particular faith, it’s become something of a no-place, a place of all faiths—and therefore none. There are sconces in the walls filled with a shell, a sacred-looking vial of perfume (with the brand sticker still on it—something French, of course), tea-light candles (one of which I’ve lit), a couple of angelic figures, a Sedona-style crystal, and several other assorted trinkets. There are two rosaries strung up and a couple of large, flat stones set in the center of the room asking to be knelt upon in prayer. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I’m bothered by the world’s readiness to become a no-place instead of a some-place or a one-place. I’d rather visit a Buddhist shrine than one that makes no risk at all toward something grander than mediocrity. But that’s just the room I’m in. And to be honest, it’s a good place to write. We had a seven-hour flight from New York that began the evening of April 26th and ended at 7am on the 27th in Madrid. The next step of the trip, our goal being to make it to St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, to begin the Camino, was to catch a train to Pamplona and from there to overnight and then catch a bus to St. Jean. The train from Madrid wouldn’t depart until 3pm, so we were left with seven-odd hours adrift in the city before leaving. We set out from the airport, taking the local train from the terminal to the train station, and then wandering the streets. We ended up spending much of the day in the Royal Botanic Garden, a gorgeous maze of gravel paths through acres of greenery, dotted with monuments to kings long-past. The chestnuts were blooming and gorgeous. They reminded me of the story of how America lost all its great chestnut forests due to a blight in the 19th and early 20th century and it made me sad (read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods , if you haven’t). It’s so easy to look at Europe and think how much more beautiful it is than the US. I know that’s not accurate—after all, I’ve seen the wild and varied glories our continent has to boast of—but when I consider the chestnuts, I have to admit some truth in the feeling. We’ve lost them, and we won’t get them back, at least not in my lifetime. But here in Madrid they flourish, and I’m grateful. Due to jet-lag, and little real sleep on the plane, by the time we boarded the train for Pamplona we’d been awake for around 36 hours and were exhausted. The train was an oasis of space and quiet and we dozed through most of the trip. Three hours later we arrived in Pamplona and found our hostel. After a quick dinner of Dominos pizza (yes, Dominos…it was right next door and we were too tired to wander), we collapsed at the wonderful Aloha Hostel and slept till 10am. This morning we boarded a bus and took the winding road across the Pyrenees to our destination, the beginning of the Camino de Santiago—St. Jean Pied-de-Port. After 48 hours of constant vehicle travel and exhaustion, we joked about how tiring it was just to reach the starting point of our trip, and how ready we were to be done with engines for the next six weeks. We walked cobblestone streets lined with shops and cafes until we found the Pilgrim Office. Inside, several volunteers attended to pilgrims from all over the world. There were volunteers helping in English, Spanish, and French, so we waited for one of them to call to us, finally answering to: “American people?” Yes, ma’am. She seemed impressed that we’d done our research and planned to stop at Orisson tomorrow and even more impressed that we already had a reservation. “You don’t need me at all,” she said, laughing. She stamped our pilgrim passports and wished us well. Beilari Hostel was right across the narrow street. We checked in. Lovely place. Immediately met a German woman, Ana, who had just arrived after hiking 800km from Arles, France, on her way to Santiago. I think she thought we were cute in our innocence of everything, a strange opposite to the Pilgrim Office volunteer. And then we immediately met an American couple, Gary and Joan. They arrived from the Boston area and seemed just as out of place as we felt ourselves. Joan is animated, friendly, eager, and just as Bostonian as you can imagine. Gary is quietly tolerant, as if he’s been dragged here solely at his wife’s request (we’d later learn that was exactly the case). Another man, Dave from Kansas, joined us for our welcome to the hostel. Once done, a quick walk to the market for a few items, then back to our room for a quick siesta. Jennifer is asleep now. Dinner with the whole peregrino group is downstairs at 1930. It smells delicious. I’m grateful for each of the members of that one-night family. To these gathered together I say thank you. Thank you for allowing Christ to play in 18 of his 10,000 places around our table tonight. Pete Peterson We’ve only just arrived and have had a couple of pre-Camino days in Spain (and France), but I’ve already gathered an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, displacement, and weariness that amounts to a unique humility. The first because I can’t communicate well. We studied our Spanish every night before leaving (a whopping 53-day streak on Duolingo!), and I swear I felt confident in it when we boarded the plane, but whatever false-confidence had accumulated via our iPhone teacher melted away in a hurry the first time I walked into a cafe and tried to order coffee. “Quiero una taza de cafe.” I said. The waitress ( camarera ) gave me a polite nod and then said something baffling and looked at me inquisitively. I still have no idea what she said, but I got my cafe con leche and enjoyed it anyway. That fairly describes every interaction since getting here. I feel like I know SO many words, but no one else seems to be using any of them, therefore: helplessness. As someone who generally moves through the world with confidence, it’s uncomfortable, and, frankly, oddly refreshing to find myself having to rely on the kindness and understanding of others even to order a coffee. As for displacement, that’s obvious, we don’t belong here. But it’s a displacement beyond that of merely traveling to an unknown place. It’s a displacement that’s peculiar to being a pilgrim; we walk everywhere, with everything, and we have to rely on what we find along the way to sustain us. I don’t want to romanticize the situation of a refugee, but there’s a similarity in situation if not in measure or seriousness. It’s a state of being in-between, of being en route . Our homelessness is by choice, of course, and not of necessity, but the rub is still there and you feel it in every stranger’s glance. Weariness explains itself by virtue of the other two. And when all three are taken together, they amount to a real sense of joy when encountering another human who’s kind and helpful and understands what you need. In light of that, I find myself wondering how I’m to go about being Christ in my small ways to the people I meet. And I’m realizing that maybe I can’t. Maybe that’s not my place right now. Maybe all I can do is reflect back the Christ they are being to me. To wit, immediately after writing that last paragraph, we went down for dinner. We joined 19 other pilgrims and our two hosts who had been cooking for hours. Joseph, a Basque Frenchman in whose home we were sheltered, assembled us all around a single table. The room was small and the table filled most of it. There wasn’t much, if anything, in the form of elbow room. Once we were all seated, he polled the room for names and nationalities: 3 French, 2 Swiss, 6 American, 5 German, 2 Brazilian, 1 Canadian. Between us, we almost had a shared language, but Joseph ended up needing to translate everything into either English or French. Most remarkable of all, though, were Lori and Russel, a couple in their 60s, both blind. Yes, you read that right: blind . A married couple walking five hundred miles across mountains and deserts, cities and rivers and the length of Spain itself, all without the benefit of sight. And get this: it’s their second Camino. Talk about humility. Both of them smiled from ear to ear for the whole meal. We passed around the wine and toasted one another as our “one night family,” as Joseph called us. Then followed a homemade lentil soup for an appetizer and fresh bread, then salad with fresh-mixed balsamic dressing and vibrantly colored slaw with eggs. After that Joseph brought the main course to our table and asked if I would like to serve. I would. And I liked. It was a vegetable entree of carrots and mushrooms and other delicious things atop steamed rice. I stood and served, and each person watched as I loaded up their plate and motioned when the portion was just right. So when Russel’s plate came around, I realized he couldn’t see the portion size and I called aloud to him, “Russel, are you a little bit hungry or a lot hungry?” And Reinhardt, a big German man seated next to him cried out, “Such a man is very hungry !” So it was. May we all be such men as Russel. He had light in his eyes. When the dinner had concluded with a picture, we retired to rest for the day ahead. I’m grateful for each of the members of that one-night family. No matter how ragged and scattered a remnant of humankind we are, we assemble, perhaps, in search of a some-thing, a one-thing. We resist the pull toward becoming no-thing, and a sacred presence shines through us each, calls us toward one another, toward itself—himself. Even the Sedona-style crystal in the meditation room glimmered with the brilliance of its maker. Even the blind shine forth in light. To these gathered together I say merci beaucoup, danke sehr, muchas gracias, muito obrigado , thank you. Thank you for allowing Christ to play in 18 of his 10,000 places around our table tonight. Tomorrow, we climb the Pyrenees. “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerard Manley Hopkins As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. I say móre: the just man justices; Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is — Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces. Click here to read Pete’s second journa l entry from the Camino and here to read his third. Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.

  • New from Rabbit Room Press: The Last Sweet Mile

    by the Rabbit Room The Last Sweet Mile , Allen Levi’s memoir of great loss and enduring faith, is re-releasing in paperback edition through Rabbit Room Press this summer. When Allen Levi’s brother Gary was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, neither realized they were about to embark on the best year of their lives. More than mere brothers, Allen and Gary were best friends, life-long bachelors, one a lawyer turned singer-songwriter, the other a globe-trotting missions worker. Their relationship was one of rare and powerful beauty, and in this rich memoir, Levi captures the small yet telling details of a life lived to the fullest—right up to the finish line. Like Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy , The Last Sweet Mile gives us a tale of both great loss and enduring faith, demonstrating that love is a refining fire, brotherhood a holy gift, and death itself a doorway to a wedding feast. The Last Sweet Mile is not only a testament to the life of Gary Levi, it is a testament to the hope that shaped and sustained him. The Last Sweet Mile releases in paperback on June 3rd, 2022 at the Rabbit Room Store, and pre-orders are now available. You’re invited to join Allen Levi in Nashville on June 24th for a book release event, to be held at the Rabbit Room’s North Wind Manor. Click here for tickets . Click here to order the paperback edition of The Last Sweet Mile in the Rabbit Room Store.

  • Branching Out: Galahad and the Tree of Tales

    by Malcom Guite Tolkien has rightly described the world of story, and especially the mysterious world of fairy tale, myth and legend, as being like a great branching tree: deeply rooted in the past, rooted in the very origins of language and the earliest mysteries of our creation as human beings, but branching out from the past into the present as each new generation absorbs the sap of the old tales and puts out branches, unfolds leaves—which are themselves new creations, new developments and yet rising out of the earliest stories, organically related to the whole, not so much inventing novelties as teasing out and opening up seeds of potentiality hidden in the earlier telling. Every storyteller is part of a long lineage of storytelling adding to something which is still unfolding, still becoming a great, many-voiced marvel. Nowhere is this more true than of the great body of stories that has grown up around the figures of Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, Gawain, Perivale, and of course Galahad, known collectively as “the Matter of Britain.” The first reference to Arthur by name goes back to a 7th century chronicler called Nennius, who tells us in the Annales Cambriae that “in 518 occurred The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur Carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for three days and three knights on his shoulders and the Britons were victorious.” So from the outset, Arthur was a Christian figure, recalled here in a battle between Christian “Britons” (Celts, probably Welsh) against the then pagan Anglo-Saxons. It is only by the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 11th-12th centuries, in his Historia Regum Britanniae , History of the Kings of Britain, that Arthur is mentioned as a King, that we meet the mysterious figure of Merlin and hear the story of the sword in the stone. After that there is a great flowering of stories and romances about Arthur and his knights of the round table, across Europe. And it is in the twelfth century, just as the church was beginning to reflect more deeply and attempt to divine the great sacramental mystery of holy communion, that the deepest motif of the matter of Britain, the legends of the holy Grail come to the fore. Writers like Chretienne de Troyes and Robert de Boron give us the marvelous backstory of the Holy Grail, the sacred vessel itself: how it was the vessel that held the wine at the last supper; how it also held Christ’s blood from the cross; how it was given by the risen Christ to Joseph of Arimathea, who had given Christ his own tomb; how, driven out by the first persecution of Christians, he came with the sacred vessel and with the spear of Longinus, the spear that had pierced Christ’s heart, to Britain, to these strange islands at the very edge of the known world; how these sacred relics were kept hallowed and apart by Joseph’s kin, the keepers of the grail, until a Christian King should arise, how that King was Arthur. And even as this tale grew and deepened in all its meanings and implications, reaching its roots into both the Christian Mysteries and the pre-Christian myths and legends of these islands, so many other tales began to gather around Arthur and his knights: tales of magical adventure, of love, enchantment, and transformation. And soon, as in all true storytelling, these stories began to explore great themes of our exiled humanity, bereft of Eden, yet full of hope. That story of loss and recovery began to find expression in the joyous attempt in Camelot to found a true Edenic community; how the tragic flaw, the crack in the lute manifest in the doomed love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the power-lust of Mordred, began to unravel that fellowship; and how in and through it all Christ stayed present in the grail, how the spear which wounded him became in the end a means of healing, how the numinous and mysterious figure of Galahad, himself the son of Lancelot, was able, in the achievement of the grail, to bring healing and grace even to the sins of his father. And so we too can come to the tree of tales, climb out on one of its branches, and begin to unfold some new leaves. Malcolm Guite Many storytellers, named and anonymous, contributed to the gradual exfoliation of this legendarium. In the course of that telling, many of the beautiful and suggestive myths and legends of pre-Christian Britain—the magical woods, the ladies of the lake, the wizards and dragons and shapeshifters—were all brought into the story, and ultimately into the light of Christ to find their transfiguration and fulfillment. In the fifteenth century the great storyteller and compiler, Sir Thomas Malory, bequeathed a gift to every English speaker and reader by drawing these disparate strands of story together from French, Anglo-Saxon, and Latin, translating them and weaving them into a single astonishing narrative: a many-voiced Romance published by Caxton in 1485 called The Morte d’Arthur . This became the great, prime source for subsequent writers, but still the tale unfolded, still the new branches and leaves kept growing. In the nineteenth century poets like Swinburne and Tennyson took up the tale, in the twentieth century writers as diverse as T. H. White, Charles Williams, David Jones and even in his own strange way T. S. Eliot all touched on, drew from, or retold the Matter of Britain. Not only Charles Williams, but the other Inklings like Lewis and Tolkien all drew from, reflected on, and retold the story. Indeed, the best and most beautifully written account of how the story grew and developed and how it might develop further is to be found in The Arthurian Torso , a book written by both Lewis and Williams which Lewis published after Williams’s death, containing Williams manuscript for “The Figure of Arthur,” the book he was writing about the Matter of Britain and never lived to complete, followed by Lewis’s own commentary on Williams’ two volumes of Arthurian poems. And so this central tale, this great Christian romance, this mysterious baptising of the imagination of Christian and pre-Christian Britain continues to unfold today. I was delighted to hear that the Rabbit Room would be publishing The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad and honored to be asked to contribute to it. Indeed, the invitation extended to me by the Rabbit Room really comes from Malory himself, for he goes out of his way to invite new stories: he tells us that “Galahad had many further adventures in the wild wood which have not been told.” And so we too can come to the tree of tales, climb out on one of its branches, and begin to unfold some new leaves. Indeed, for me personally, the invitation to contribute to The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad has a special significance. I had for many years been contemplating taking up the tales of the Matter of Britain myself, but I was not sure how to begin or what form to use. Writing my ballad of Galahad and the Naiad for the Lost Tales suddenly gave me the key—the ballad form would be perfect for my project, and since writing that piece I have embarked on the bigger project and am well into a full retelling of Galahad and the Holy Grail. There is, I thank God, no “authorized version” of the tales of Arthur, no definitive text from which no one can depart. There is instead a myriad of stories, a myriad of approaches, tones, styles, and possibilities, and the Matter of Britain remains for every writer what it always was for every knight: an open invitation to Adventure! Click here to learn more about The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad . Featured image by Ned Bustard Malcolm Guite is the Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge and author of various books on contemporary spirituality. In addition to this, he is a poet and singer-songwriter and fronts the Cambridge-based band Mystery Train. Visit www.malcolmguite.com where you can read Malcolm's blog, some of his poetry, or find out more about his music and media appearances.

  • Cracks in Creation: An Essay from Wild Things and Castles in the Sky

    by Ashely Artavia Novalis [Editor’s note: Our friends at Square Halo books have a brand new collection of essays called  Wild Things and Castles in the Sky . Together, these essays form one cohesive guide for choosing books for children. Today, we’re grateful to share with you an essay from the book written by Ashley Artavia Novalis, in which she demonstrates how stories of suffering provide safe, creative spaces to experience empathy and process pain.] When we were young, my sister and I couldn’t wait for our weekly trips to the public library. While our mother worked on the library’s computers, we set off to work of our own. Wandering through the rows of books, starting in historical fiction and then rounding the corner through fantasy and adventure, I took careful inventory before making my week’s selection. And each week, I ended my search in the same spot. After I had chosen a few new books for the week, I would circle back to the bookshelf closest to a large, round window facing the main road. My finger would scan a few rows up from the bottom and land on a gold-foil spine that read The Easter Story . This beautifully illustrated book by Brian Wildsmith tells the story of Jesus’ last week of life on Earth from the perspective of a little donkey that carries him around Jerusalem. I checked out The Easter Story every chance I had. As a sensitive and creative child, I was captivated by the colors and details of Wildsmith’s illustrations and moved by watching the donkey observe the final days of this good man’s life (I had never learned the story of Jesus’ death, so I was especially amazed). I resonated with the little donkey, encountering this terrible thing happening to this fascinating person in a strange, unknown world. Tracing my fingers across the gold foil parts of each picture, I would turn to the page of Jesus being put to death on the cross and cry. Thinking back, I’m sympathetic toward that young, eager reader. The story of Jesus’ death means something much different to me now, but at the time, I was a child making sense of the hard things in the world around me, and this story of injustice, death, and betrayal gave me an avenue to do that. From an early age, I was aware of the profound impact storytelling could have. Having spent nearly a decade working with children across professional and social settings, books have been some of my greatest resources. I have particularly come to value stories that depict suffering and hardship in deeply honest or creative ways. I’ve seen these kinds of books generate meaningful discussions, encourage empathy, and provide safe, creative spaces to process pain. From the time children learn to sing about Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall and how none of his friends were able to help him, they are acutely aware that there are cracks in creation. Ashley Artavia Novalis Understandably, we sometimes hesitate to introduce books with heavy topics to children, or we desire to limit their exposure to stories about loss, death, fear, or poverty. We would love to be able to protect them from some of the darker realities of this world. While age-appropriateness is certainly important here, stories of adversity are a meaningful part of a child’s library and not as far from the child’s imagination as we would think. From the time children learn to sing about Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall and how none of his friends were able to help him, they are acutely aware that there are cracks in creation. Beautiful children’s stories do not hide that truth or offer cheap fixes. Instead, these stories give room for children to explore the heaviness of pain and the goodness of hope. The Christian Scriptures also give us examples of honest stories that don’t shy away from brokenness. They present us with opportunities to work through the tension of the beauty of creation and its fall—to wrestle with the permeating effects of sin and the reality of hope. Good stories of adversity give children a framework that helps them make sense of the world around them. From picture books to young adult series, stories of adversity are not limited to a single genre or age level, and even the term “adversity” could refer to anything from divorce to deep sadness, from bullying to homelessness, injustice, disease, or abuse. Often the Christian tradition generalizes these kinds of life experiences as “suffering” or “brokenness;” I use all of these terms interchangeably here. My goal is not necessarily to make a case for which specific elements make a good book on suffering, but to show what a good story that includes suffering does for the child—how it can teach, encourage, guide, and enrich a child’s mind and life for years to come. In the last few years, childhood development icons like Fred Rogers and Margaret McFarland have resurfaced in the spotlight. This well-deserved recognition, along with decades of research in the childhood development field, has brought us to a place where the importance of social-emotional learning is increasingly on the minds of those who love, teach, or serve children. In Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood , the child’s mind was at the center of every decision: the way Mister Rogers entered the room, stared into the camera, or paused to listen. In the memorable episode about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, there is a noticeable shift in the neighborhood. Daniel Tiger and Lady Elaine have a sincere conversation about what “assassination” means, and how the characters in the neighborhood are all coping differently with the scary news. “When you feel sad, sometimes you don’t feel like a picnic,” Lady Elaine reassures Daniel Tiger when he just wants to stay home. Another somber moment happens when Lady Elaine explains to X the Owl that thinking about doing a bad thing, like shooting someone or getting very, very angry about something, is different than doing it. This episode is a masterclass in how families can help children grieve and serves as a prime example of one of Mister Rogers’s key philosophies behind the neighborhood: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” In the same way, good stories of adversity provide a language for suffering. Children experience emotions deeply; just like adults, they have many ways of naturally expressing those emotions. Unlike most adults, however, they are still in the process of developing the ability to express themselves through words. This relationship between language and emotion is a key component in social-emotional health, and children’s books are an abundant resource here. This can be learned through metaphors (Harry feeling “as though he too were hurtling through space” after watching someone he loves being murdered in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ), illustrations (a monster following a boy around in Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster ), or mindfulness of the body (Digory’s “lump in his throat and tears in his eyes” in The Magician’s Nephew ). Play—often referred to as the work of children—is crucial in developing and practicing this kind of language. I would suggest that reading is a type of play that encourages imagination, requires participation, and creates a playground (in the pages of a book) for rehearsing their growing emotional vocabulary. And in providing children with the ability to put words to their big emotions, we offer a way to begin to manage them. When Digory, on the journey given to him by Aslan in The Magician’s Nephew , is preoccupied with thoughts of his sick mother, he blurts out, “But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Aslan responds, “My son, my son. I know. Grief is great.” Digory’s worry and grief is not solved in his conversation with Aslan, but through this acknowledgement and shared language of suffering, he becomes more certain he can complete his journey with “new strength and courage.” This scene shows us another way stories of adversity teach children: they provide a way forward, a means of hope. This isn’t to say that every story with hardship or evil must have a happy ending where each conflict is neatly resolved. On the contrary, those kinds of easy fixes can lead to unhelpful or misguided conclusions about the realities of our world, thus minimizing the effects of suffering. True hope doesn’t overlook suffering; it perseveres in the presence of it. In some stories, this hope is obvious, like a man once dead coming back to life or peace being restored to a kingdom. Other times, hope comes through more subtle images, like the flags hanging through the streets at the end of the Second World War in Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars . The reader is left with questions unanswered, and this is where hard conversations about the world begin: where are all the people who had to flee for safety? How will the Jews be treated now that the war is over? Will their country be able to rebuild, and will life be like it was before? We are often tempted to avoid these conversations with children because we want to keep thoughts of the evil in our world away from the child’s imagination. But the child’s imagination is one of the first avenues through which they process those evils and think through those unanswered questions. By providing hope and a way forward amidst adversity, good books add to the child’s imagination the idea that, as G. K. Chesterton writes, “these limitless terrors [have] a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies . . . that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.” Good stories of adversity also build self-awareness, develop understanding for others, and give opportunity for empathy and neighborly love. Stories that reflect hardships or pain that a child can personally relate to can help build crucial identity and belonging, while seeing another’s perspective of suffering grows a child’s ability to sympathize with an experience unlike theirs. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop asserts that the best books go even further and ask for participation from the reader. Rather than simply looking into another’s world, a child is invited to enter in, to feel as another would feel, and, I would add, to respond in neighborly love. Though this essay is far from a comprehensive list of the benefits of including stories with adversity in a child’s library, the most meaningful stories that I have read share these common threads: they provide language for suffering, give a picture of hope, and encourage empathy for one’s neighbor. The Christian Scriptures themselves demonstrate this framework for responding to the cracks in creation. Through the psalms, we’re given ample language for suffering: from “My tears have been my food day and night” (Ps. 42:3) to “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?” (Ps. 10:1), God constantly provides a way forward for his people, a hope for the future through the promise of all being made new. We are given individual stories of suffering throughout biblical history that we can see ourselves reflected in or use to understand others. Finally, the reader of the Scriptures is challenged to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). And God enters into our pain with us: in the story of God, the response to all the suffering, violence, doubt, and death is the incarnation of Jesus. As participants in the incarnation and those given the sacred task of stewarding the imagination of children toward goodness, truth, and beauty, we gain much when we invest in stories of adversity that help children make sense of the world around them. Curated and edited by  Leslie  and Carey Bustard with  Théa Rosenburg ,  Wild Things and Castles in the Sky  explores topics like classic literature, imagination, art history, race, poetry, young adult novels, faith, and more. The aim and hope is that these essays would encourage parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends to share the power of a good story with a child they love. Click here to learn more about the book. To learn more about the book from its editor, listen to  Leslie Bustard’s conversation with Jonathan Rogers on The Habit Podcast. Want to dive deeper into the subject of children’s stories with heavy themes, like grief and death? Check out this beautiful Hutchmoot session with Sara Danger and Walter Wangerin, Jr. Ashley Novalis has spent a decade working in early childhood settings through non-profits and public school programs. Most recently, she works in child and adolescent behavioral health through a local counseling agency. Ashley is passionate about mental health advocacy, social justice, and good empanadas. She lives with her husband, Joshua, in the East Side of Lancaster City, PA, where they love reading books, watching Netflix, and attempting to garden.

  • Introducing Taste and See

    by the Rabbit Room Every once in a while, the Rabbit Room team has the good fortune of crossing paths with someone whose creative work is shockingly aligned with our own. These moments re-invigorate us not only in our own mission and vision, but in the desire to share the good and lasting work of kindred spirits far and wide. Most recently, this wonderful convergence has taken place with Andrew Brumme, who is directing a new documentary series called Taste and See that will blow your mind and change the way you think about breakfast. If, in some blessed alternate universe, Robert Farrar Capon had decided to make a documentary with Terrence Malick, guided by the foundational wisdom of Wendell Berry, then they would have made something like the pilot of Taste and See. Yes, it’s that amazing. Put more succinctly, and in the words of the official website , Taste and See “explores the spirituality of food with farmers, chefs, bakers and winemakers engaging with food as a profound gift from God. Their lives in the fields, in the kitchen and around the table serve as a meditation on the beauty, mystery and wonder to be found in every meal.” The first and most obvious thing to do once we got in touch with Andrew Brumme was to host a special preview screening at North Wind Manor. We held that event in March, and its success indicated to us that we weren’t the only ones who were smitten with this entire project—tickets to the event sold out swiftly and those in attendance fell in love with the film. And now, we’re inviting you to see it as well. You see, one of the most exciting parts about this new documentary series is the way the filmmakers have chosen to go about sharing it. In keeping with the spirit of the project, they have opted to premiere the pilot film in a series of virtual screenings beginning June 3rd and lasting two weeks. But these screenings consist of so much more than just sitting in front of your TV—the Rabbit Room has partnered with Andrew to create an event guide for your own Taste and See evening with your friends and family, in person or virtually. With your virtual ticket, you’ll receive several discussion questions to explore with your friends after the screening as well as a simple and thematically significant recipe you can try out together as a way of embodying the core values of the film. Plus, each screening will be followed by a panel discussion with director Andrew Brumme , author Norman Wirzba , and Rabbit Room founder and president Andrew Peterson , moderated by Lindsey Patton . Expect to hear plenty more from us about Taste and See over the next few weeks leading up to the screenings. We’ll be sharing an in-depth interview between Andrew Brumme and our content developer Drew Miller, a sneak peek into the panel discussion mentioned above, a lovingly crafted review of the pilot film, and more. Stay tuned! Click here to order your virtual screening event tickets, on sale today for screenings beginning June 3rd .

  • The Habit Podcast: Matthew Clark on Only the Lover Sings

    by the Rabbit Room This week on The Habit Podcast, Jonathan Rogers talks with singer-songwriter, podcaster, and essayist Matthew Clark. Matthew Clark  is exceedingly thoughtful and well-read, and all that thinking and well-reading makes its way into everything he makes—and every conversation. His most recent project is an album called  Only the Lover Sings , and a companion book of the same title–a compilation of essays by various writers inspired by the songs on the album. Click here to listen to Season 4, Episode 20 of The Habit Podcast. Transcripts are now available for The Habit Podcast. Click here to access them. Sponsorship on the Podcast Network Are you interested in teaming up with us to support the work you love? Send an email to our Head of Communications & Development, Shigé Clark, at shige@rabbitroom.com if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of our Podcast Network . Rabbit Room Membership Special thanks to our Rabbit Room members for making these podcasts possible! If you’re interested in becoming a member, visit RabbitRoom.com/Donate.

  • The Beauty of Bluey

    by Sarah Bramblett A Jennifer Trafton print of a quote from Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga adorns a shelf in my daughter’s room. Vibrant colors speak over the nursery, “It’s a story the maker has always told, and the story, my child, is true.” The Rabbit Room celebrates that beauty; good stories echo the True Story. Some of the best stories I’ve discovered in my daughter’s first year-and-a-half have been shared in seven-minute segments by a family of animated dogs. Bluey is a kids’ show from Australia that landed in the US in 2018 and quickly became a sensation. There’s an Airbnb that resembles the characters’ home, celebrities make guest appearances (I’m particularly excited to see Lin Manuel Miranda’s cameo in Season 3), and the show has won well-deserved awards. While I don’t know much about the show’s creator, Joe Brumm, or his beliefs about faith, I do know that for our family, Bluey echoes the story the Maker has always told because the story centers on love. Bluey highlights the beauty in ordinary, everyday love. The jaunty music and charming animation work together to enhance the stories of the Heeler family: sisters Bluey and Bingo, their dad Bandit, and mum Chilli. Kathryn VanArendonk compares Bluey to other children’s TV shows: “All of it is about imagination, but almost none of it is all that imaginative. Bluey is the only one that knows how hilarious play can be, how silly and intense, how trivial but life-changing.” Some episodes seem to be created primarily to celebrate beauty in storytelling. In “Camping,” Bluey meets Jean Luc, and though they don’t speak the same language, they imagine together. They build a mansion from plants, plant a seed as “farmers,” and hunt a wild pig (Bandit). Jean Luc’s camping trip ends before Bluey is ready. Ever insightful, Chilli counsels Bluey through her sudden sadness (all during a middle of the night “bush wee” for Bingo). Bluey asks if she’ll ever see Jean Luc again and Chilli responds, “Well, we’ll never know. The world is a magical place.” The episode concludes with a time-lapse of the planted seed’s growth, and every time I watch, I’m better able to see the world’s magic. Similarly enchanting, in “The Creek”, the kids venture far enough outside the playground to stretch beyond Bluey’s comfort zone. Her bravery is rewarded with the simple and refreshing beauty of a creek. I love when children’s literature (and television) trusts the kids to enjoy the splendor of creation and creativity. The plot in “The Creek” is not the most profound. Kids aren’t directly handed a moral. But the point of the episode is so seamlessly delivered: beauty is a worthy risk. The reward often cultivates imagination. The point of the episode is so seamlessly delivered: beauty is a worthy risk. The reward often cultivates imagination. Sarah Bramblett In Bluey, love is the fuel for imagination, even when imagination becomes the “villain” in the story arc. Bluey’s colorful imagination drives the family’s adventures, creates hilarious games for friends, and writes stories, but it often distracts her from important things. The Heeler family plays “Hide and Seek,” knowing that Bluey tends to lose focus. As predicted, Bluey’s mind wanders and she is entertained by a toy called, Cheeky Chattermax. Parents of small children are given a nugget of empathy—the toy is really annoying!—and a nod of truth: distractions have downsides, even when the diversion is imagination. Despite the occasional drawback, Bluey’s family doesn’t shame her for her imagination, and one of my favorite features of the show is that it echoes the idea that love doesn’t shame. The rule-follower in me strives to follow and respect the recommendations that my child shouldn’t be exposed to any screen time at such a young age, but the story-lover in me knows that I need quick, good, true stories. Our modern parenting culture seems to thrive on shame. The internet should be a trove of helpful advice and community for parents. When I google questions like “how to keep my toddler from climbing?” or “can my child overdose on blueberries?” I should get helpful “here’s an idea” or “you too?” responses. Instead, every search leaves me with the overwhelming sense that I’m doing everything wrong. By merely asking the question, by watching the show, by ever feeling tired, by not letting myself feel the whole spectrum of emotions about being tired, I’m a failure. Instead of creating a culture that fosters friendship, many of the answers and algorithms feed shame and competition. Bluey is different. Bandit and Chilli have phones, and the Heeler family asks great questions about technology in “Bob Bilby.” Bluey’s parents get tired (“Mount MumandDad”), and they don’t always want to play with their kids. In my favorite episode, “Baby Race,” Chilli reminisces about Bluey and her friend Judo as babies racing to walk. In a flashback, a more experienced mom, Bella, comforts Chilli: “There’s something you need to know.” Chilli hesitantly asks, “What?” Bella replies, “You’re doing great.” Remembering the scene, Chilli tells her daughters, “From then on, I decided to run my own race.” There is a principle that’s commonly taught to young writers: “Show, don’t tell.” Mommy Blogs tell me I’m doing everything wrong; Bluey shows me that truth and beauty are abundant in the parenting adventure. In the same way, the first few Hutchmoots I attended made me want to devour the Bible, not because someone was telling me I needed to read more Scripture or humble-bragging about their own quiet time rituals, but because I saw people genuinely love the Word and I wanted Life in the Big Story . Shameful places make us feel alone, but when I watch Bluey , I feel comfort and the courage to be authentic. The episodes of Bluey offer me the hug of friendship, and I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’s quote “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What? You too? I thought that no one but myself….” Bluey asks “you too?” Good art reflects a life we can relate to while encouraging us to become better versions of ourselves. Lucy Pevensie makes me want to see Aslan, even when the other children cannot. Star Wars compels me to resist the empire. The Great British Bake Off actually lures me to believe I can efficiently create an exquisite seven-tiered cake (I can’t). Bandit and Chilli invite me to enjoy playing with my daughter. Bingo and Bluey inspire me to love as I grow into my emotions. Bluey isn’t always a perfect show, and it doesn’t always reflect a perfect family. Watching Bluey won’t turn me into a perfect mom. But the magic of good stories is that they seep into the heart. Bluey reminds me to imagine. I picture life lived with a whimsical soundtrack. I’m encouraged to delight in everyday happenstances. The best elements of Bluey then become true, or as Bluey and Bingo would say, “for real life.” Sarah Bramblett has a PhD in English Rhetoric and Composition and resides in Kennesaw, Georgia with her husband Lane and daughter Shiloh (a "joy tornado"). Sarah was an intern for the Rabbit Room while in undergrad and still believes in the life-giving power of Story; she loves passing on that power to college students who don’t think they can write.

  • Marcel the Shell’s Movie is Good Medicine for Our Pandemic Recovery

    by Jeffery Overstreet On my way to the office to write this review, I passed Grumpy D’s coffeehouse and saw that it had closed. This place too? So many neighborhood “third places” have disappeared during these past few years of pandemic, lockdown, and economic hardships. It got me thinking. How many once-essential communities have I lost or missed in the last few years? After two years of “Zoom church,” my Episcopalian congregation began congregating in-person again only recently (and several friends have not re-appeared). COVID canceled a Santa Fe gathering that for 16 years had been the highlight of my yearly calendar: Image journal’s arts retreat, The Glen Workshop. A society I started 30 years ago focused on the joy of reading aloud—we didn’t miss a year until the pandemic. And I’ve been longing to reunite with my kindred creatives at Hutchmoot. In each of these sacred places, I’ve known love, purpose, and a strong sense of belonging. Being together transforms our separate experiences into a whole, a harmony, as if we are one large musical instrument. Eager to fill the void, I “masked up” last April to join a packed house at the Seattle International Film Festival. What an adrenaline rush—this communal experience of big screen art after two years of isolation! The movie made us laugh early and often, and then moved many of us to tears. I stayed through the end credits, savoring the buzz. I suspect that experience was enhanced by the fact that the film— Marcel the Shell With Shoes On , my personal favorite film of 2022 (so far)—is about a young dreamer’s loss of community, his longing for reunion, and the challenges that he and his grandmother face in going on alone. Wait. Did I just admit that I cried through an animated movie about a talking seashell? Speaking of community: Marcel the Shell’s origin story begins, appropriately, in a crowded place. Actress Jenny Slate explained it on The Drew Barrymore Show like this: At a 2012 wedding, she “felt so small” in the crowded hotel room where she and her friends were staying that she started speaking in a goofy, quavering, high-pitched voice to express how she felt. Her partner at the time, animator Dean Fleischer-Camp, decided the voice needed a character; so he combined a tiny shell, a single googly eye, and some pink doll shoes. The voice and the figurine were a perfect match. The videos they made together were a whimsical, improvisational project that became a viral sensation and led to a couple of children’s books. And now, at last, we have a feature film that is luminous with love. Marcel’s movie is an achievement as inspired, as enthralling, and as wholesome as anything ever imagined by Jim Henson, A.A. Milne, or the storytellers at Pixar. Jeffrey Overstreet If you aren’t familiar with Marcel yet, you might guess that Marcel’s power is just a case of cuteness and sentimentality—something “just for kids.” But no—unlike the saccharine simplicity that makes so much children’s entertainment forgettable, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On respects its audience’s intelligence and emotional capacities, revealing how, through the eye of this curious mollusk, a world that might seem mundane and unremarkable to us is actually alive with beauty, mystery, and possibility. Marcel’s movie is an achievement as inspired, as enthralling, and as wholesome as anything ever imagined by Jim Henson, A.A. Milne, or the storytellers at Pixar. And it has as much wisdom to impart to adults as it does to younger viewers. Marcel is not merely “cute.” His life inching around the AirBnB where he lives with his benevolent grandmother Nana Connie (exquisitely voiced by Isabella Rossellini) is filled with challenges and hardships. Some of them mundane: he throws up in moving cars, and he is frank about how much he hates dog breath. Some are more sobering: Nana Connie shows early signs of dementia, and Marcel is scarred from the nasty domestic feuds between the man and woman who once owned the house he lives in. It’s because of the film’s honesty about hardships, trauma, mortality, and grief that this movie is likely to mean as much or more to adults as it means to young viewers. But what I find most affecting about Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is its timely narrative about change and grief. The film is framed as an improvisational documentary by Dean Fleischer-Camp (playing himself), following these tiny shells as they move about the nooks, the crannies, the houseplants, and the backyard of the AirBnB. We learn along the way that they were once a part of a flourishing community. (Imagine Toy Story, but instead of living toys, Marcel’s creators have breathed life into all the odds and ends —the snack pretzels, the pencil nubs, the cracked peanut shells — that you might find under the couch cushions or in that one miscellaneous drawer of your desk.) And then, one day, that community vanished in sudden and mysterious circumstances.  The fewer details I reveal about how that community disappeared, the better. (Hint: It does not involve a purple supervillain snapping his fingers.) From this point on, it’s best that you follow Marcel’s quest on your own as he seeks to fill the hole in his heart and find his missing loved ones. I suspect you’ll want to see Marcel the Shell With Shoes On more than once. I’ve already seen it three times on the big screen, not only to laugh out loud for 90 minutes with my neighbors, but to feel my spirits renewed by the beauty, the light, and the intricacies of Marcel’s secret world. After you see how director of photography Bianca Cline and stop-motion director Eric Adkins merge animation and real-time footage into luminous images—curtains lifting on a breeze, a sunlit spiderweb, birthday candles as lamps around Nana Connie’s dinner table—you’ll find it easy to believe their testimony that Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was a primary influence on their work. As Marcel stares out the window into a world vaster than his tiny imagination can comprehend, wondering if he will ever be reunited with his family and friends, I found myself in that rare and elevating experience of cinema as prayer . Even though the film avoids specific religious terminology, I sense something sacred in Marcel’s vision of a world restored. But Nana Connie, in her wisdom, impresses upon Marcel (and us) that the path to healing is not without its risks, and not without its costs. It leads us forward into something new, not backward to recover what once was. In a moment of fear born of trauma, Marcel trembles and asks, “But what if everything changes again?” His grandmother, in a voice of courage and inexplicable joy, answers: “It will!” As I was editing this essay, I learned that a friend of mine had passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, from aggressive cancer. Stunned, I looked up my most recent message from her. She had written to ask if I thought it was likely that the Glen Workshop might bring us back together again in person soon. Strangely, I thought of Marcel. And that was an encouraging thought. In the making of all things new, Marcel finds hope beyond the here-and-now reunions I hope we are all experiencing. His epiphany—which we experience with him at the film’s glorious conclusion—offers us a profound image of an ultimate reconciliation. Like Jim Henson before them who gave ping-pong-ball eyes to a sock puppet and changed the world for “the lovers, the dreamers, and me,” these artists have breathed life into a tiny shell. And the character who springs to life onscreen gives moviegoers of all ages a new frame within which to wrestle loss and grief with faith on a path upward into hope. In the words of a song that Marcel performs with deep sincerity, you’ll “want to linger a little longer” in his world, even as you learn to lean forward, courageously anticipating how love is making all things new.

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