Andrew Peterson, better together, boys and men, Bridges, captive audiences, dreams, featured, G.K. Chesterton, Inbound and Outbound Marketing, journey to twilight, The Rabbit Room

Come to The Rabbit Room

by Andrew Peterson

Two years ago I walked the streets of Oxford with my wife. We were in London for a few days during the final throes of Spring and took the train to the famously literary town to visit, among other things, the former home of C.S. Lewis.

It’s a two-story brick house called the Kilns, in what used to be the outskirts of Oxford and is now buffeted by subdivisions. Fifty or sixty years ago Lewis sat upstairs at the Kilns and wrote, or he strolled around the pond behind the house smoking his pipe; now college students live in the house and the pond is littered with old tires and oil bottles.

Not far from his house is a picturesque Anglican church building made of hewn stone and tucked in a quiet hollow of Oxford. We walked through the old empty building where Lewis and his brother used to sit through the homily until five minutes before the end of the service, at which time they would sneak out the back door to beat the lunch rush at the pub down the street.

Behind the church is the cemetery where Lewis is buried. My wife and I stood at his grave feeling the peace of the place: the long-haired cows tearing grass from the hill visible through leafy bowers, the sun pushing through gray English skies as soft and easy as a yawn, the green of new grass well-kept. As hokey as it sounds, I felt like we were in the Shire, and I suppose that in a way that’s exactly where we were.

The tour ended at the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings often met for beer, friendship, and the sharing of their latest writings. I dragged my wife inside and promptly ordered fish and chips at the table where Tolkien, Lewis, his brother Warren, Charles Williams, and others once enjoyed one another’s company. I felt bashful and self-conscious about going so far out of my way (with my patient wife in tow) to visit these places. What did I expect to find there? I’m not sure what’s so fascinating to me about these men and their works, their approach to creativity and their understanding of the source of it all. Their brilliance was remarkable; they were Christians, intellectuals, and yet childlike enough to love stories and seek fellowship in their making.

London itself was a wellspring of inspiration for me. We strolled through Kensington Gardens where Peter Pan was born, ate still more fish and chips in pubs that had welcomed travelers for four hundred years, I thought about Robin Hood, George MacDonald, Harry Potter, King Arthur, and Shakespeare. And of course, I thought about the gospel. History breathes in London, seeps through the cobbles and like mist it rises from the Thames. It’s easy to see why so many beloved stories have sprung from England’s imagination.

History swept me up when I walked beneath the portcullis of the Tower of London, when I took communion in Westminster Abbey among the tombs of long-dead kings. The blood and body of Christ, shed for you, peasants and kings, pagans and priests. The feast at the table is good and gives life, and is your only hope for meaning and peace and rest from the baying of the hounds at your heels, because Death and Sin and Hatred pursue you and would swallow you up if not for the strong voice of Jesus saying “Peace. Be still.” And at his word the dogs snap back into the darkness with a yelp as if reaching the limit of their chains. History belittles us. Its story is one of conquest and murder and vast darkness, and the noblest of men ends up as dead as the thief. I realized as I walked through the hall of kings in the Abbey that my time here is brief and my earthly crowns are worthless as chaff; the words of my epitaph will ring hollow lest they point to the fullness of Christ.

Which brings me back to Oxford. Ron, our tour guide, told us that he once asked a hundred people on the streets of Oxford who C.S. Lewis was and none could tell him. None. A few wrinkled their eyebrows and asked if he was “that Alice in Wonderland” guy. He told us that when he started giving the tours of Lewis’s time at Oxford, his tomb was overgrown and covered with mildew, its words barely legible. But for a relative handful of people (most of them Americans) who know about Aslan and the Deep Magic and the High Countries, the world knows little about Lewis and lauds him not. But the marks this man’s stories left on my soul–the gospel in his stories–are deep and lasting and I believe I’ll one day show them to him.

I believe strongly in the value of the artists in this world. I believe that when someone who was made to strive to create beauty in the world is, as Brennan Manning said, “ambushed by Jesus,” the art that results bears a God-given power that draws men to Christ. I have encountered that power in the sub-creations of Christ-followers countless times. (I’ve also encountered it in the works of those who haven’t yet succumbed to the source of their gifting.) Those works of art have helped me to better understand the Bible and its author, they have given me the tools with which to worship, to serve, to revel in the greatness of the Maker.

Those works of art are the fruit of obedience to the artist’s calling. The burden God places on each of us is to become who we are meant to be. We are most fully ourselves when Christ most fully lives in us and through us; the mother shines brightest with her child in her arms, the father when he forgives his wandering son, and the artist when he or she is drawing attention to grace by showing the pinprick of light overcoming the darkness in the painting or the story or the song.

The world knows darkness. Christ came into the world to show us light. I have seen it, have been blinded by it, invaded by it, and I will tell its story. I cannot help but see that story everywhere I look. I see it when I am full of joy and weightless as a cloud, and I see it when grief and self-loathing root me to the cold earth; it is remembering the story, Christ whispering it in my ear, that kills the despair, sets me gently on the donkey, and takes me to an inn to recover from the wounds. How can I keep myself from singing?

The Rabbit Room is a place for stories. For artists who believe in the power of old tales, tales as old as the earth itself, who find hope in them and beauty in the shadows and in the light and in the source of the light.

After my fish and chips in the back room of the Eagle and Child, I noticed a paper sign attached to the gable. On it was written the name of the little room where the Inklings met: the Rabbit Room. I don’t know why it was called that. There was no explanation to be found. But the name struck me, stuck with me, and grew into this website. Here you’ll find writings and reviews by artists and appreciators of art, conversations about creation, storytelling, songwriting, and the long journey of becoming who we’re meant to be.

I also wanted to provide a place where you could support some of these artists and writers by purchasing from the Rabbit Room store (as opposed to some gargantuan bookseller). Sure, you may find the book or CD cheaper elsewhere, but here you’ll help sustain the ministry of some of these artists and writers, and you’ll be supporting this place where I hope you’ll come for support and sustenance of your own. The books and CDs for sale in the store each tell the old, old story in their way, and I believe that they have the potential to be a balm for you in your long journey.

So pull up a chair and join us. The fish and chips are fattening, but so, so good. You can find the Rabbit Room community blog on Facebook here. Join us if you are of like mind and heart.

The Proprietor

The Warren, Nashville

Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.

Welcome to the Rabbit Room

Author tools and hacks, book excerpt, featured, improvisation, Laura Bartnick, op-ed

EMBRACING IMPERFECTIONS IN OUR STORY

By Laura Bartnick

“Improvisation. That’s why we call creativity art, isn’t it?

I’m an author and also an author coach. Part of what I do is help an author grow personally in order to deepen the author’s storyline or character drawn inside the pages of their manuscript.

We writers embrace imperfections in our written characters’ thought patterns or behaviors so that the story can twist and turn just as much as real life does.

Like jazz, the development of a good story means the endings are kept strategically hidden in misunderstandings, physical barriers, or something in the past. I’ve discovered a group, Teaching Tolerance, which has developed a test for discovering anyone’s own historical or cultural bias, implicit bias. You can see here how you might use a character’s natural bias to direct his or her communications or meditation or self-talk.

Proverbs 20:5 alludes that the purposes of a heart run like deep waters, but someone with insight can draw them out. What is your character’s point of view?

Can a writer love the antagonist?A writer should learn to love the enemy of the protagonist. Did Jesus love Judas Iscariot? How could He?

Learning about your antagonist’s unique place of belonging or setting helps you shape his or her believable thoughts, recognizable appearances or dialogue with the accompanying accents and activities that would be true to the character.

From an unlikely source or through an accident that turns out well, insight emerges. Imperfections make your characters relatable. They string you along. When you love them through their story, you emulate God’s love for our imperfect selves born into an imperfect world.

Even settings can wrestle for hope.

Developing a setting can help hide or reveal your plot or your characters. The light we cast onto the flaws of our story characters is an act of kindness, though sometimes it is severe mercy.

Did Hagar run to the desert to escape, only to be visited by the God of her hated mistress, Sarah? “I see you,” God said. “Eat. Drink,” and, “Go back to your hated mistress. I have a plan for you. Your own son will make a great nation because I have ordained it.” “Me?” Hagar said. “Yes, Hagar, I see your need and your mistreatment. Yes, you,” God said. So, Hagar dragged herself back to Abraham and Sarah. In faith. And, God blessed her walk of faith.

When you draw on your own experience with fear or temptations, or from experiences of those close to you, you will understand that it is not impossible for the antagonist to be redeemed. If you determine to defeat the antagonist when thwarting the antagonist’s purposes, you must feel that grief. It was written that Jesus loved the rich, young ruler who turned away.

Imagine a master chef who creates a gourmet menu for a special entourage. She selects the best cuts of meat, the freshest organic grains to grind, the salad and herbs from her garden, and the cream from her cow. Someone sells her a tropical fruit, unknown to her, promising it will provide the hit. She shreds the fruit and tops the salad with it, only to discover that the fruit is poison.

“But everything I used was of the finest quality,” she argues to the police.

“Everything except that shred of poison you added.”

Use a shock point to hook the reader into how or why the poison was added, and by whom.

Empathetically draw the audience into the truth but do not dilute consequences. Make them meaningful.

A writer can find the image of God originally shaped in the arch-type enemy. This, a starting point for where a character departs, helps the writer make choices for the character. A writer can have the character diverge from her image of origin and from her calling by refusing to be rescued. When you know your bad character’s history and psyche, you will draw her story accurately.”

This excerpt is from Chapter 3, pages 65-67, Welcome to the Shivoo! (Bartnick)

Laura Bartnick
Laura Bartnick is the author of Welcome to the Shivoo! a creative and inspirational guide to entering into the Creator’s great party.
Humor, ingenuity, Laura Bartnick, literary

Oh, What Extravagance To Laugh

Laura Bartnick, Publishing Partner, Capture Books
Welcome to the Shivoo: Creatives Mimicking the Creator

A shivoo is a boisterous load of fun! The maker culture understands good fun. There was, however, a century or two in church history where humor was considered sacrilegious.

Bad luck wedding pillowHistorically, if rectors or ministers wasted their parishioners’ time by telling jokes in the pulpit, they were sorely reprimanded or even discharged for desecrating a holy calling.

Maybe the governing bodies had a point. After all, there is no verse of Scripture that instructs good Christians to be silly or to laugh.

A doctrine of good humor may be difficult to pull out of Scripture by chapter and verse. But there are parallels in the extravagance of good humor compared with the extravagance of God’s rich tenderness for us.  For, God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 2:4-5). Don’t we know that life without laughter is a living death?  Life without God’s powerful rescue through His Son’s work is permanent death. Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children (1 John 3:1).  What loving parent doesn’t thoroughly enjoy the learning curves of a beloved child in speech, in toddling, in playing . . . pretending, and in the ongoing wonders of discovery?

These days, getting the laughter rolling in a spiritual education class and also in the pulpit enjoys an allotted time-frame.

It is counter-intuitive to look on the funny side of the events rather than the logical and just side of things. There’s a special form of intelligence to brandish the one-liners rather than the guilt. And, that’s what God did for us by sending a counter-intuitive way out of the punishment that He Himself instituted (death for sin). And, a counter-intuitive personal sacrifice (His beloved genetic Son’s life for ours’, the created ones) is what became the model and essence of all goodwill.

I’ve used a lot of silly words in my book’s essays for the purpose of lighting up some ideas being conveyed. Does this technique make it fall into the secular box for you rather than into the “sacred speech” box?

WHERE IS THE HUMOR?

Before we separate and relieve serious teaching and preaching of lightweight joking or wry and witty smart talk, we want to consider the importance that the Lord Himself puts on cultivating the fruits of the Spirit. Goodwill, love, kindness, graciousness, contentment, redemption, joy, all spring from the development of good humor.[i]

Humor is offered to us and experienced in the array of animals and animal antics we enjoy. Children also, whom God created, make us laugh in their innocence and also in their naughtiness, causing us to be less judgmental and less harsh. Christians are mandated to practice attributes of good humor. Besides this, God created Mark Lowry, Tim Hawkins, Chonda Pierce, Michael Junior, Ken DavisTaylor Mason,  Brad Stine, Rich Praytor, Thor Ramsey, Jeff Allen, and Aaron Wilburnwe can, therefore, absolutely conclude that humor is sacred to God.

Maybe the Lord assumed that human beings would not have to be supplied with chapter and verse to discover the importance of laughter. Instead, He taught us through His own creativity and example of creation so that we should pick up and ingest the ability to mimic His goodwill and good humor through personal experience and natural expression.

I love that God is an entertainer, and when we mimic Him, we become the best lil’ entertainers we can be ourselves. My fellow writer, Kathy Joy, is a humorist who couldn’t help but write me this note, “Glad to know Shiv-oo-lery isn’t dead!” after reading this book.  In The Melody of the Mulberries, historic author Tonya Jewel Blessing encompasses her story of a family’s search for forgiveness with the humor of discovering an aging, onery parrot in the Appalachian hills.

Because our Creator’s good humor is modeled for all people by His common grace, potentially all people are able to pick up and mimic God in good humor, kindness, gentleness, forbearance, graciousness, joy and love. All the more then, Christians should open wide, be infilled with the Holy Spirit’s power and with access to the light of God’s written word, and spill it out like rain over others.

The Apostle Paul advocated for remaining in a state of joy at all times when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. In chapter four, verse 4 he states, “Rejoice in the LORD always, and again, I say rejoice!” Rejoice is the active voice of being full of joy. Paul’s mandate to those who are already full of love and knowledge? Hey! Put some notes of happiness into your hearts at all times because of Who the LORD is. Rejoice means “ACTIVATE JOY, PEOPLE! Recycle it. Again, now.”

And because we have confidence in the risen Savior––Who has promised us many benefits in eternal life––shouldn’t we mimic His ironic patience, entertaining goodness, and merriment in our every action and reaction? Proverbs 17:22 clearly equates a merry heart to good (and needed) medicine, using a spice of humor to describe the opposite. A broken spirit tends to dry up the bones.

PRAY FOR BUOYANCY

You cannot manufacture joy.  It is a divine gift that we must submit to, and one that we typically experience when we remain in the LORD’s fellowship. When David was severely disciplined for his theft, adultery, and murder, he repented and then prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation!”[ii] If you lack joy, ask the LORD to open the eyes of your heart. These are a creative’s marching orders: find God’s good humor.

Find the exclamation point.

pexels-photo-787961.jpeg
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

You may have already discovered, sometimes incredible amounts of creativity are required to produce buoyancy in conflict. What did the Puritans do without television and radio and cell phones? Maybe they had lively parties with debates, singing and playing instruments, logging uses for medicinal herbs, creating educational material, cooking for groups, planting, harvesting, reading, developing businesses, quilting, writing, storytelling, and reciting. I’m not sure if they danced, but many Christian communities do.

We learn from tragedy, epic or otherwise, but tragedy is a genre of literature—believe it or not— which is considered entertainment. One of the fruits of the Spirit is longsuffering.[i] How can anyone suffer for a long while without some fits of humor to prop them up? Humor is absolutely necessary to human survival, and that is why the Creator gave some to each of us.

Caught me by surprise! throw pillow
Caught me by Surprise! throw pillow LOOK what you did.

When I met my husband, I discovered one of the most delightful senses of humor ever to cross my landscape. I fell in love with him. Gratefully! I had been too serious for way too long. Recently, he told me an old story about how some hungry hospital staff used to steal left-over breakfast items, the “safe” ones, from the top of the trash barrel to eat during the morning break.  The aide, my husband, arrived to scavenge just after the coffee grounds had been tossed on top of a plate of bacon. What did he do? What any low paid, hungry man would do. He washed off the bacon and re-plated it. As he carried his cache into the lounge, a nurse spied him. “I hope you’re planning to share that?” she asked. He shared it. . . in all good humor. My husband confessed this story recently to the nurse Monument to Joy mug frontinitially involved for the purpose of sharing a laugh about the old days—for bonding. For human cheer. What a gracious gift God gives us when He brings us funny people, and stories of situations like that. Some light-hearted communication can bring us great joy.

I think God enjoys silly human jokes.

The end of the book of Jonah shows that God enjoys pulling out a practical joke, or poking a bit of His own irony at Jonah.

I see the humor in Job’s memoir, “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” The comment is so absolute and desperate and bland, I can’t help but smile.

Can humor haunt you, tag you, gag you when you are too serious? Can it open the shades and throw into a dark room the rays of light?

Yeah, it can for me, too.

___________________________________________

Laura Bartnick is the author of Welcome to the Shivoo! Creatives Mimicking the Creator. This blog post is a selection from it.

[i] Gal. 5:23.

[i] Gal. 5:23 New King James Version.

[ii] Ps. 51:12 New International Version.