Monday, August 16, 2010

Gratitude, Hutchmoot-style

Last weekend my good friend Laura Peterson and I attended a conference in Nashville called Hutchmoot. As I have labored over this post over the course of the last week, I have found the actual event to be quite as inexplicable as the name. “What is a Hutchmoot?” is almost as difficult a question to answer as “How was Hutchmoot?”

Here’s my best shot at explaining the first: Hutchmoot was a gathering of various sorts of storytellers (authors, songwriters, sit-in-a-coffee-shop-with-a-book-and-a-friend storytellers, etc.) who share a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We found each other by way of the Rabbit Room (an excellent little corner of the internet) and many of us also share a love for the writing and/or music of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Frederick Buechner, Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray, and many others. In short, Hutchmoot was a way for a bunch of people who had never met each other to come and talk about things they found they all cared about.

Laura and I were there among them, and I’m gladder than I can say that we were.

I’m glad because now I know what “the magic hour” is and find myself filled with gratitude almost every evening when the descending light turns everything golden. It is a fine thing to have more gratitude in your life.

I’m glad because I now have several new items on my List of Books to Read. They come with recommendations from most trusted sources, so I’m counting on them being Very Good.

I’m glad because I now have a heavy (but not too heavy) hand-thrown mug called “The Professor” to drink my coffee out of every morning. I want to say that when I drink from it I get little visions of the wonderful things that I learned at Hutchmoot, but that’s not really true. It’s more of just a warm feeling, a comfort, like a smile I don’t realize I’m smiling until later.

I’m glad because I know better than I did before that I have something to offer other people. During one session Andrew Peterson shared with us his belief that each of us is an “image-bearer,” and therefore each of us, even the most unlikely, can create and share and edify. At Hutchmoot, I remembered that my desire to create is a good and God-given thing. At Hutchmoot, I realized that what the Rabbit Room contributors do that convicts and affirms and encourages me is essentially just “composed experience,” to quote Walt Wangerin. It’s shaping and naming, and then sharing. Handing it to someone else to experience. I have dabbled in the shaping. Now I want to learn how to do the sharing.

I’m glad for the delight of having crossed paths (even ever so briefly) with other people who believe that stories are important, that beauty is worth taking time to shape and thank God for, and that The Story is indeed true. I remember now better than I did why I believe these things.

And I’m glad for the delight of a more lasting variety of continuing on the same path, at least for now, with my good friend and traveling companion Laura Peterson.

There’s more to say, of course. Maybe there will be other Hutchmoot posts in future days. But for now, may I simply be thankful for what I have been given.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Sandwich

Today I worked for 6.5 hours, made six dollars, and spent five of them on my lunch. It was the best decision I made all day. I got a Monte Cristo sandwich—ham, turkey, and swiss in between two thick pieces of powdered sugar French toast with raspberry dipping sauce on the side. I savored every bite. I raved about it to my coworkers, who politely nodded. I ate the whole thing instead of saving the second half for later.

I spent the other dollar on a coffee at Lemonjello’s, where I am right now, enjoying the air conditioning and the unexpected afternoon off work.

Talk about enjoying what you have like you couldn't if you were worrying about what you don’t. May I remember.

It was a rough day. There’s a hefty amount of cleaning and various other chores to do in our restaurant, even when you don’t have tables to serve, and today we definitely didn’t have enough tables to serve. It’s always discouraging to work hard and not be compensated for it. It’s easy to complain, easy to compare your lot with someone else’s, easy to let bitterness crawl out of you… or at the very least, crawl around inside you (Yes, I think I inadvertently borrowed that sentence structure from Andrew Peterson).

But God was gracious. On the whole, I was more grateful than I might have been, more controlled than I wanted to be, and more good-humored than the rusted and corroded soul inside me could have ever been without the grace of God.

I guess when things reach a certain point of bad-ness, there’s really not anything you can do about it except laugh. So I laughed. And, without even putting my ice scoop down, I hugged Amelia when she told me I could go home.

(By the way, my Hutchmoot response post is indeed still forthcoming, for all of you who have asked about the weekend and been disappointed by my vague answer of “It was really good.” I haven’t given up yet.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trusting the Narrator: A Review of The Wingfeather Saga

When On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness did not grab me by the hair within the first few chapters, I almost put it down. I felt confused by all the strange creatures and customs of Skree and unengaged in the story. As Andrew Peterson’s songs have been extremely meaningful to me over the years, I had hoped that his stories would be the same. Naturally, I was disappointed. I concluded that I would just have to dismiss it as a valiant but failed effort by a good artist to cross genres. I figured I’d just listen to his music from then on, after at least doing the book the dignity of finishing it.

Then one night, it hooked me.

Without warning, I found myself finishing the second half of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness in one swallow and urgently flipping open North! Or Be Eaten. All of a sudden, I was involved and participating in the story. Janner, Tink, Leeli, and the others had become real and I found that I cared.

Thinking about it now, I think the thing that changed in the middle of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was not the story, but me: I had started to trust the narrator. He had managed to make me care, even though I had entered his tale with a whole briefcase full of suspicions, criticisms, and practicalities that threatened to ward off the wonder of Aerwiar and Skree and the Wingfeathers. That he managed to pull that care out of me, even after I had dismissed Aerwiar as too unbelievable and the narrator as too unreliable, was reason enough for me to trust him.

Most of you reading this will not have read the book yet. Well, let me tell you—the Wingfeather Saga takes place in a very, very strange place. Aerwiar feels much more foreign, at least to me, than Middle Earth or Narnia or Hogwarts has ever seemed. And the narrator who guides you is just as strange.

But to walk through that strange place, at least as more than a shadow, to walk through it with your heart open, takes a lot of trust. We have to trust that this narrator is telling us the truth, that when he tells us that “the common thwap was a little bigger than a skonk” (OEDSD, p. 16), it is true and it is important for us to know. Even though we have no idea how big a skonk is, and therefore have no idea how big a thwap is! This is humorous, but it’s also more than humorous. The narrator is testing the reader: “Do you have the kind of imagination it takes to walk through Aerwiar and come out changed? Are you still enough of a child to play, to laugh, and to trust?”

You will probably enjoy the ride through the story, laugh at the funny lines, and be entertained by the adventure if you are not. It’s a worthy plotline with memorable characters (especially North! Or Be Eaten, in my opinion). But to let your soul into it, to be changed and made new by it (as all good readers of good stories do, I think), you have to trust this narrator. Even when he tells you mysterious, great, or seemingly irrelevant things that you do not understand.

I did not trust him at first. But I’m glad I learned to—the characters and their struggles have latched onto my heart and I won’t be forgetting them. I highly recommend both books to you and look forward to reading them again myself in the near future, but not without locking the suspicious adult in me away in a box when I do so.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Now, after a long spring of writing papers, listening to lectures, and driving for hours on I-96 every week, I am a graduated graduate student.

This morning I made cranberry-almond baked oatmeal and cinnamon-spiked Love Buzz coffee, completed my Beth Moore study for the day, and read the next chunk of Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way attentively enough to thoughtfully contemplate what I read. After church I shared a thought-provoking lunchtime conversation with Nicole and now I am in Lemonjello’s, reading my book and writing.

This is rest. And it is wonderful!

I am beginning the job search, and hope to work through that process diligently and faithfully. But today, in this particular moment, I am most grateful for the chance to be still, to stay in the same place for a few days, to gather up my hopes and recent experiences and spend some good time sorting through them, trying to hold them steady in my hands.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Today I changed my blog layout.

Does that count as a post? :)

Yours in contemplation of how some people manage to share their words with the world,