Figuring It Out Later: Hutchmoot 2013

“I’ll probably figure out what this weekend meant to me in a few days,” I said to Rachel and Christine as we drove home from Hutchmoot on Monday. After I attended for the first time last year, I discovered that I couldn’t put into words what it had meant until I’d read the offerings of a few other attendees. When the experience congealed enough to examine, I was able to see how it had begun to heal wounds and weariness deep within my soul and how God was pointing me forward to what would come next.

***

When I lived in Alaska, I struggled greatly with the lack of sub-created beauty. There was plenty of beauty to behold—don’t get me wrong. The mountains, the rivers, the wildlife: it was all gorgeous. But on those bent branches, no one had built straight baselines. Architecture in the far North is utilitarian at best. The visual art is almost exclusively representations of the scenery.

I found that I wanted to be surrounded by artists—visual artists, musicians, performance artists, writers—who would seek to create new beauty as image bearers of their beautiful Creator. It was one reason I chose to leave Alaska and pursue my craft.

IMG_0971In leaving Alaska, though, I lost my primary missions connection. I’d been serving as a missionary there, involved in a global agency, and seeing lives changed through the power of the gospel.

***

A few months after the 2012 Hutchmoot conference, I sat down with my boss at the University and sketched out my thinking regarding my vocation and my job. One of the things Hutchmoot had made clear to me was that the two were not the same. In the course of that conversation, Todd took a step back and asked me—as a friend, not an employer—what it was I wanted to do in life, what I really love.

I stumbled through an answer. One of the reasons life thus far has been somewhat random in terms of experiences is that I really love a whole variety of things. I love writing. I love college students. I love missions. I love art. I love teaching.

I think I said all those things, but what Todd picked up on was that my voice broke when I said “missions.” He said, “You’re still passionate about that. Remember that.”

***

At some point during Hutchmoot in 2012, my sister observed to me that she hadn’t seen a lot of international flavor at the conference. It wasn’t a criticism, just an observation. “Not a lot of international flavor” is odd for our family. We grew up in missions, our parents based out of the U.S. Office of SEND International. The family lived overseas twice, in the Philippines and Hong Kong. We traveled the world. Even just growing up in Metro Detroit, global was part of our blood. In high school, I had classes in which I was the minority—my favorite school events were the ones run by the Indian American Association, the Asian American Association, the Pacific Islander American Association…

***

In June I left my job. I leapt, not sure where my feet would land.

I’m still not sure. Currents of wind are carrying me along for now, but I don’t know if they will hold me up forever, or even for long. I’m loving flying right now. It’s been wonderful. And I’ve gotten to do and be involved in things in the past four months that I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago.

***

The intersection of arts and the global engagement has been a theme of my past year. I’ve begun working with Curator, a publication of the International Arts Movement, and gotten to know more about the organization as a whole. My roommate, a missionary, is discovering what her place in the arts is and could be. I’ve begun working with a missions organization that publishes books. I’ve built friendships with artists who are engaging with art on an international level.

Most of all, I’ve become convinced that in our global society, the message of the gospel, the Kingdom message, must be communicated through creative means. Whether we are crossing cultures, or if we are Westerners communicating to our own culture, art is a way to communicate the Message to a culture that is not able to, or does not want to, understand us.

***

I returned to Hutchmoot this year with two friends, the spilling over of my experience a year ago. As the Lord would have it, both of them have global missions experience.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that this would be the year I would meet other ’Mooters engaged with global missions. Perhaps Randy Goodgame singing about aliens living among Israel on the first night was prophetic. Perhaps it’s because of what God’s been doing this year that my ears were more open to others who were thinking about the intersection of the arts and global missions. Perhaps it’s because I brought two friends with me.

But I met people whose world was bigger than the contiguous United States. I heard phrases like, “I lived in Europe for a while,” and “Have you been to Romania?” and “I may not be staying where I am right now, God’s moving me on,” and “You’re an MK? Me, too!” and “Next year, there should be a session on Art and Missions.”

I walked away with some definition to the global corners on a few of the dreams I’ve been dreaming. And in the time since the conference, I’ve learned of some ministries that fascinate me, because they are doing just what I have been wrestling with in terms of global engagement in the arts.

***

I still don’t know exactly where I’m going. But if I could distill what God taught me last year through Hutchmoot 2012 into one sentence it would be this: “I’m a writer.”

As He continues to work in my heart in the coming weeks, as I continue to process the things He taught me during Hutchmoot 2013, I’m wondering if a single sentence will come to the fore again. If it does, I suspect it may be this: “I’m a missionary.”

Spilling Over

It’s a weird, wonderful time of year again. I’ve returned to a place I only came once before, to find that it is a place I belong, just like I’ve suspected since I left a year ago.I’m back at Hutchmoot.

I was trying to find words yesterday evening, over dinner, for what last year’s Hutchmoot meant to me. I fished about, “It was…” I looked at Christine for help. “Life changing,” she said.

photo

Yeah. That about says it.

We sat in the Square Peg Alliance and Friends concert last night, and my friends who came with me had tears running down their face. Both of them, after the end, said, “I’m so full – and the sessions haven’t even begun yet!”

Christine turned to me as the music stopped. “I just remember you coming back last year, and going to Cosi for dinner and you sitting there with your notebook and spilling out everything you’d heard and seen and learned…Yeah. I get it now, really.”

You have to spill over from this place. You have to spill over from what is poured into you.

I can’t say if this year’s conference will be as “life-changing” as last year’s. I doubt it could be. I’m not expecting that it should be.

But I brought two friends with me – the spilling over of what I experienced a year ago, the sharing of an experience I shall not capture again. But I am certain I will be filled. As will my friends. And we will spill over that fulfillment into the lives we touch as we return.

That, friends, is why I’m at Hutchmoot again.

Review of Walking Song Published at Curator

Ron Block's Walking SongA few weeks ago, WORLD magazine published a review of Ron Block’s new album, Walking Song. While, in essence, the review was positive, it was, quite possibly, one of the most dismissive I’ve ever read. The reviewer seemed to be saying that the promotional material for the album, which talks about the process of creating it, should be ignored and the album enjoyed on its own merits. Perhaps not bad advice, except it was said in such a way, with such a tone, that it just irked me.

It irked me enough to make me keep thinking about it, niggling it over again and again in my mind, trying to figure out what bothered me so much.

And then I landed on it. I’ve read about the creative process behind this album. Ron partnered up with Rebecca Reynolds as a lyricist, and magic happened. And I know that it was something new, something Ron had never tried before. And I know that Ron himself would say that the creative process that made the album what it is; in fact, he has said as much, “Rebecca came along and said, ‘Let’s just be kids creating again.’ It’s more like what I was doing when I was 17, 18 years old, even though the stuff I was doing wasn’t as developed. It was just a kid sitting there experimenting, having a good time.”

I wanted to respond to the WORLD review, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to say what I really wanted in a letter to the editor, so instead I decided to just write my own. It posted yesterday over at The Curator. Here’s a snippet:

My love of American folk music has nostalgic tendencies to be sure. However, as I look at the growing popularity in recent years of bands like The Civil Wars, The Avett Brothers, The Lone Bellow, The Lumineers, The Vespers, etc. (and of course the meteoric fame of the non-American-American-folk-rock band Mumford and Sons), I realize I’m not alone in my love for Americana.

There is something about American folk music that speaks to us, something in its essence that keeps us asking for more.

Here’s the thing, though. As much as I love all those bands listed above and latch on to nearly every new album that seeks to generate the Americana sound, it’s rare for me to find an album that fully captures what I found under that patchwork quilt. It’s not often contemporary musicians strike the same chords in my soul as “Down in the Valley.”

Enter Ron Block’s “Walking Song”.

So hop on over and check out the rest, and then get your hands on a copy of the album and listen. ‘Cause it really is that good.

The Cry of the Artist

“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost!” –Babette’s Feast

***

Criterion Collection DVD cover for Babette’s Feast

I came to Babette’s Feast eagerly. I’d seen it years before – multiple times. I’d studied it in a course and given a presentation on it. I’d read the short story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), perhaps even before I first saw the film. I’d read the short story again many times since. I’d taught it in a course. I’d recommended it to friends. I thought a few years back to buy the DVD and discovered to my horror that it would cost me nigh on $50 for a DVD produced in the mid-90s. I bided my time.

Then the word came. The Criterion Collection was releasing a new DVD. They know how to celebrate good art. It was satisfying news. The cost would be reasonable. And I settled in to count the days until I could get my hands on a copy.

***

Early this summer – almost late spring – I sat on my friend Julie’s back porch in Charlotte, North Carolina and we talked about Jeffrey Overstreet’s book Through a Screen Darkly. I was aware of it; I’d followed Jeffrey as a movie reviewer for years. I’d heard good things about the book, but hadn’t yet invested the time or energy to read it.

Jeffrey was on the list of speakers for a conference Julie and I plan to attend this fall called Hutchmoot. I was excited. His book was on the recommended reading list. Julie had begun it.

“I’m loving it,” she said. “I’m wondering if we should think about using it as the next book in our reading group. What do you think?” She sketched out a few ideas of how it could be divided up nicely for discussion. I glanced through the table of contents. I skimmed a few pages. I concurred.

She floated the idea of asking Jeffrey to join the discussion. A book discussion with the author? I encouraged the thought.

***

I got more out of Through a Screen Darkly than I could have imagined getting. It did not just, as the subtitle predicted, look closer at beauty, truth, and evil in the movies; it looked at them in all of art. It challenged me to watch movies differently, to approach art more carefully, to be a better recipient of art, and therefore a better creator of it.

Julie had the brilliant idea of pairing each week’s reading with one of the movies Jeffrey mentions in the section we were discussing. The movies were optional. I did a terrible job of keeping up with them. Interestingly, as I read the book, I found myself watching movies less.

I knew now they deserved my close attention, and the glare of the computer screen and the Facebook alerts coming in on my iPhone should not be constantly present while I experienced them.

But the final week, after we finished all the chapters of the book, I knew I’d watch the movie: Babette’s Feast was planned.

I remember telling Julie when she suggested that we could end with a week discussing Babette’s Feast that the timing would be perfect. The planned week was immediately following the new DVD’s release. Then our discussion got delayed a bit along the way and we ended up with Babette a week later than planned – for me, immediately following a writer’s conference.

***

I keep thinking about art lately. About what it means to create art. About what the role of the artist is. About art in the contemporary culture. About art industries. About the relationship of the artist to the industries.

Ken Gire spoke at the Greater Philadelphia Writer’s Conference where I was on faculty this past week. He reminded us that we as writers are lovers of words. He speculated that there was a time for each one of us when we were reading and something inside of us said, “Follow me.” And now, 20, or 30, or 40 years later, we were there at a conference, pen and sheaf of paper in our hands, in hopes that our words will do for someone else what words did for us.

He called the handing over of a manuscript to an editor a sacred moment. “Something of your heart is mediated in the thin, white, wafer-like paper,” he said. And then he went on to challenge us: “Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t reduce art to paint-by-numbers….Aspire to something true: from the depths of your heart to the depths of another.”

***

wrote recently that the best thing about Joss Whedon’s new Much Ado About Nothing was that it got made at all – “that a group of friends decided they wanted to do this, made the time for it, and did it well. Limited release or no, it’s encouraging to see that something like this movie can still happen [in the contemporary art industry].”

I called Whedon’s choice to make the movie a risk. He had no financial backer when he chose to make the film. He had no method for distributing it. Sure, he had connections, but there was no guarantee that his art would ever see the light of day.

***

Makoto Fujimura uses the ancient Japanese technique of nihonga in his painting. Nihonga uses precious stones and metals to create the pigments with which the artist paints. Mako’s paintings have colors made from lapis lazuli, from gold, from corals, from malachite.

He points to Jesus’ commendation of Mary in John 12 when she brings the costly perfume and anoints him with it. “That is an amazing commendation for someone like me who tends to work from the heart, who tends to work with precious and costly materials. I remember that the extravagance of Christ’s love for me prompted an extravagant response. Eventually, I came to connect what I do as an artist with Mary’s devotional act. Maybe that is the one act we can look to as the centerpiece for a paradigm of creativity.”

***

I asked Christine if we could approach Babette’s Feast without the distractions. We put our computers in other rooms. We turned off, really off, our phones.

She’d never experienced the story. I had.

It has been years since I watched Babette’s Feast. I almost saw it with new eyes. I knew what was coming, but the visual portrayal was dim and faded in my mind. I watched Babette learn how to make bread and ale soup from the sisters, patiently learning words as she went, and I knew that they had no idea that they were teaching Shakespeare how to write plays.

I watched Babette win the lottery, cash the check, and put the money carefully into a wooden box. I watched her carry the box, clutched close to her heart, to her room, then sit down and look at it. I watched her walk the heaths and beaches. I knew the decision she would make. I knew the sacrifice that was coming.

I watched her thrill as she unpacked the ingredients. I watched her eyes alight as she created the dishes. I saw the industry with which she worked to prepare the meal, up to the very moment the platters went to the table. She did not touch the wine until the guests were in the later courses. Her sharp eyes kept all in order.

And then I experienced again the beautiful revelation at the end of the story, that Babette has spent her entire fortune, ten thousand francs, on the meal the sisters and their friends have just consumed. When they protest that she should not have given away all her money for their sake she gently tells them, “It was not just for your sake.” When they ask if she will now be always poor, she says, “A great artist is never poor.”

Philippa understands, to some small extent, the heart of an artist. She comes closer to Babette and continues to press: “Was this the sort of dinner you would prepare at the Café Anglais?” Babette nods, saying she could make the people happy when she did her very best. Then she quotes Achille Papin, the opera singer who once taught Philippa, “Through all the world there goes one cry from the heart of an artist: Give me leave to do my utmost.”

“But this is not the end, Babette,” Philippa says. “I feel sure this is not the end. In Paradise, you will be the great artist God meant you to be.” She walks forward and embraces the cook. “Ah, how you will enchant the angels!”

***

We sang a song in church this morning that struck me anew.

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb”

***

There is a cry that goes out from the heart of the artist.

It’s the cry that says, “Take the time to experience deeply.”
The cry that says, “Don’t sell yourself short.”
The cry that says, “Take a risk.”
The cry that says, “Extravagant art is worship.”
The cry that says, “It is worth spending everything.”
The cry that says, “Give me leave to do my utmost.”

The cry that says, “Worthy is the Lamb.”

New Guest Post at Everyday Liturgy

I had another guest post go up today at Everyday Liturgy titled, “A Romance It Certainly Is.” Here’s a snippet:

We cannot avoid the reality of this world. We see its dark underbelly in everything from the news to human trafficking to the person who pushes past us in a crowd without apologizing. This world, and we people in it, are broken, cracked, and bloody.

But as believers, we have a second sight of sorts. We see this world as it once was and as it will be again.

Check out the rest over Everyday Liturgy!

When Characters Come Calling

I met a boy the other day. His name is Peter. He’s about 9 years old. He has a sister named Sam, and a mom and dad. He’s cautious, smart, quiet, wise. He reminds me a lot of my nephew. He loves science and he’s going to discover the great world of bugs this summer. He will learn that life is not forever what it always was. He will discover that change is difficult and unsteadying. And he will learn that there is magic in the world – in the minutiae of creation, in the wonder of imagination, in the love of family.

One of the people who will speak into Peter’s life this summer is a older man named Ben Palmer. I met Ben years ago when he was living a different story. He was in crisis then, and while that is behind him now, I know that much of what I learned about him during that time will be seen in his interactions with Peter this summer. He will be hard-nosed and he will be truthful. He will be deeply broken and utterly renewed. And he will speak words to Peter that “alert him to the power he was perhaps too afraid to hope was real.”

Perhaps it is strange to you that I seem to know so much about Peter’s future though I only just met him. Don’t worry. This prescience isn’t wrapped in hocus pocus.

I’ve had encounters like this before. I once met a young man named William, and before we finished our first meal I discovered he had a whole story to live before I was done with him. And suddenly the name William just wasn’t right – not if we were to be spending a good portion of the next few years together. So decided to call him Edmund and he looked much more comfortable with that name.

In Peter, in Ben Palmer, in Edmund, I have the unique opportunity to see the past, the present, and the future all together. I’m fairly certain I know where they’ll end up, but I’m not quite sure. You see, they all surprised me when they came calling at the corners of my imagination. They could shock me once again with a sudden departure.

It’s an imperfect prescience. They’re breathing and living within their own stories. I hope to paint the canvas for them as they take the journey they’re on. But I don’t yet know what every bump in the road looks like. They may trip and fall. They may meet friends and enemies who surprise me equally when they come knocking with their stories fully formed, reaching back and reaching forward.

I met a boy named Peter the other day. He trooped into my imagination whole-bodied, meditative, and staring at a blank spot on the fridge where there is no summer calendar while he ate his waffles smothered in real maple syrup.

I told you there was magic in this world.

Note: I wish to thank Sam Smith and Kristen Peterson, friends I met last year at Hutchmoot, for their contributions to Peter’s existence and Ben Palmer’s new story. Hope you don’t mind that he’s not called “Sam Peterson.” You never know when your words will spark someone’s imagination. See, I told you there was magic in this world. 

The Center Point

It often seems that my Advent meditations center around a single idea – often something meaningful to my reflections on the past year. Sometimes they’re painful meditations. Sometimes they are joyous. Sometimes they are revelations. Sometimes they’re old truths.

This year’s meditations have focused the coming of the Christ as the center point of history. From creation to new creation, it all revolves around this one moment, in a little town in Judah, when the Redeemer of the world arrived as a newborn infant. Creation, Fall, Redemption: all wrapped together in skin and laid in a manger.
Jesus: the Lord saves. Emmanuel: God with us.
This has been, for me, a Rabbit Room year. Yes, technically my sister introduced me to the place more than a year ago, but this is the year when I’ve really experienced the community: had my eyes opened to the life being lived in that community and joined it myself. The Rabbit Room had a community Christmas gift exchange this year, and, while I didn’t have the time to get involved myself, I wanted to share my thanks for the gifts the Rabbits have given me.
The artists who lead the community have blessed me beyond measure with the liturgy they’ve worked. Their songs, their stories, their essays, their insights have opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world God has made and our role in it as Christians.
The people who populate this cyber community have impacted me in ways they may not know. They’ve guided my steps as I’ve started this journey of discovery; they’ve shared their stories, their lives, their sorrows, their risks, their hearts. I have been encouraged. I have been challenged.
Without these groups, I may have considered Christmas differently this year. I may not have seen a Boy’s birth as the center point of all history. Perhaps this was what God intended me to see this year anyway, but He used the members of the Rabbit Room to point and say, “Look.” So here are some glances at the Christmas story as I’ve experienced it this year. May you see the Center Point and never look away.

from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:

“Plan the event. Arrange the reception. The King of kings is coming. He will shoulder governments. He will be called the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor…

“The Lord of all reality is coming to your hemisphere. And He, the pure Spirit, will take on flesh and need to eat and breathe and move His bowels, and have His diaper changed…

“He will be a carpenter, with splintered and blistered hands and cracking nails. One of His grandmothers was a whore of Jericho. He will enter the womb of a virgin and expand in the normal way. He will exit her womb in the normal way. And then she will suckle Him as the cows do their calves. Because, well, He will be mammal…

“The Lord came to clean the unclean. He brought the taint of Holiness, and it has been growing ever since. He was born in a barn and slept in a food trough. Maybe the livestock all took gentle knees, cognizant and pious, like the back page of a children’s Christmas book. Maybe they smacked on their cuts and continued to lift their tails and muck in the stalls.

“The angels knew what was going on even if no one else did. They grasped the bizarre reality of Shakespeare stepping onto the stage, of God making Himself vulnerable, dependent, and human–making Himself Adam. And so, in a more appropriate spirit, they arranged a concert and put on what was no doubt the greatest choral performance in planetary history.

“Were the kings gathered? Where were the people with the important hats? Where were the ushers, the corporate sponsors?

“The Heavenly Host, the souls and angels of stars, descended into our atmosphere and burst in harmonic joy above a field and some rather startled shepherds.

“But the crowd was bigger than that. The shepherds were a distinct minority. Mostly, the angels were just singing to sheep.

“I’m sure those animals paid attention, and not just because there was a baby in their food bowl.”

from Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative

“Though no one could have known all of this at the time, Jesus was the priest who became the sacrifice, the king who took on the form of a servant, the prophet who was himself the Word of God. He was Immanuel, God with us–Son of God, Son of Man.

“But the death and resurrection of Jesus only makes sense through the lens of his birth. God’s eternal Son, who was present at creation when God made man in his likeness, humbled himself and took on flesh, born in the likeness of man. The Maker knitted him together in Mary’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully forming each tiny part in the depths of her waters. God saw his unformed body. Every day ordained for him was recorded in his Father’s book of life before a single one had come to pass.

“And now he has come.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

from Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God: The TRUE Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
He gave up His pride and He came here to die
Like a man

So rejoice, ye children sing
And remember now His mercy
And sing out with joy
For the brave little boy is our Savior
Son of God,
Son of Man

Don’t You Want to Thank Someone

I heard this song for the first time about a week ago at Andrew Peterson’s Light for the Lost Boy release concert, and it’s been in my mind ever since – not in the “stuck in my head” sense so much as the “stuck in my soul” sense. I’ve been washing it through my mind’s ear over and over again…

I can’t find anywhere online where you can hear the whole thing, but seriously, just go buy the album, this is the culmination of ten songs’ worth of meditation on the Fall and Redemption – and the beauty of the Kingdom that we see now through a glass dimly.

Don’t You Want to Thank Someone
Words and Music by Andrew Peterson / 1/10/2012, The Warren

Romans 8:19

Ephesians 1:13, 14

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” –Gerard Manley Hopkins

Can’t you feel it in your bones

Something isn’t right here

Something that you’ve always known

But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down

We face another night here

Waiting for the world to spin around

Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun

Burning through a silver mist

Don’t you want to thank someone?

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Have you ever wondered why

In spite of all that’s wrong here

There’s still so much that goes so right

And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside

The air is full of song here

The thunder rolls and the baby sighs

And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come

And it warms you like a mother’s kiss

Don’t you want to thank someone?

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy

As golden as a sunrise

Breaking over Illinois

When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up

And he’s haunted by the heart that died

Longing for the world that was

Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes

A grace that I cannot resist

And I just want to thank someone

I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged

It’s glimmering with promises

Written in a script of stars

Dripping from prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked

I am hounded by a restlessness

Eaten by this endless ache

But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat

I can feel it when the horses run

It’s howling in the snowy peaks

It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind

A million angels waiting in the wings

A swirling storm of cherubim

Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?

Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again

And the children of the King

Are ancient in their youth again

Maybe it’s a better thing

A better thing

To be more than merely innocent

But to be broken then redeemed by love

Maybe this old world is bent

But it’s waking up

And I’m waking up

Cause I can hear the voice of one

He’s crying in the wilderness

“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Come back soon

Come back soon

©2012 Jakedog Music (adm by Music Services) (ASCAP) 

“There Will be Butterflies.”

I came across the line on the airplane. I had decided only days before the conference to read the book, and here I was, on my way, with half of it left to go. Ah, well, I’d thought. If I don’t finish, I don’t finish. No one will be upset with me.

But then I started reading, and words and phrases jumped off the page at me, rattling my notions of how the world works and reminding me that the God I serve is just as micro as He is macro. That the world of molecules and the world of galaxies are magical places, painted by a Great Artist. That the Great Artist loves and cares for and comforts His people.

And I sat on the airplane, devouring the book, almost grateful for the flight delay as it would give me more time on the tilt-a-whirl.

Then I came to the line. I’m not a margin writer. I don’t generally underline. I avoid dog-earing page corners. I like clean pages and post-it notes. But I have journals full of lines from books, the ones that strike me just right that I can’t set aside, that I must keep and find again. So when I came to the line my first instinct was to dig in my backpack for my journal. And then I reached for a pen…and came up empty-handed.

I had grabbed the essentials – wallet, chapstick, Asian coffee-flavored hard candies – from my purse when I put it into the bag being gate-checked. Somehow I had missed a pen.

I was frozen for a moment, torn over the need to mark the passage and my distaste for marring pages. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at the man next to me. His burly arms were painted with colorful tattoos, his goatee long and frizzled. He read a graphic novel. It was the graphic novel that made me hope. Tattoos and a grizzly goatee might be on a biker guy, and I’d be less likely to expect him to carry a pen. But the graphic novel made me feel a little kinship with the man – though I can’t say I’ve ever read one. I know people who read graphic novels, and I know that they have creative minds and hearts. He might have a pen.

“Excuse me,” I asked, still slightly intimidated by the gauges in the ears and the hipster glasses on his round face. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

The pen was a sea-green Bic with sparkles in the plastic. He was not a cap-chewer. He went back to his graphic novel and I dove back in, to the line, and began writing on the first page of my new journal.

“To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You don’t cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”i


In an instant I was back in a hospital intensive care unit on December second, knowing that the man in the bed would not recover, would never play piano for me again. I was sitting in my sister’s bedroom on April ninth hearing on the phone that a woman I loved and worked with daily had died the evening before, three weeks after the cancer diagnosis. I was at the memorial service on May fifth, thinking of the man who had been my teacher, and watching his wife and children and grandchildren mourn him.

And I thought of what Lisa said when she woke up on that Easter morning that she died. Her sister came into the room and greeted her with, “He is risen.”

Lisa sat up in the bed and said, “He is risen indeed.” Then she gathered her energy enough to speak again. “It’s Resurrection Day, and my boots are in the closet.”

“There will be butterflies.”

And I thought of losing Keren, and losing Aimee, and all the other coffins that have been tragedies. But not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”

If nothing else this weekend at Hutchmoot reminded me of that hope. I serve the Creator God who chose to enter the anthill, the Second Adam who chose to lay down his life fighting the dragon in order to save His bride.ii Whose people create works that point to Him in various ways, like setting a story in a house called Maison Dieu, which is haunted by a Spirit, which welcomes all travelers to the central Chapel where they are reborn.iiiWhose greatest stories plant a signpost at the end that says, “The story goes on that way.”iv

“Death feels so wrong to us because death ends a story that was meant to go on.”v

But this life and these deaths are the foundation for a new work, a new creation, built on the old…

“Our hope is not for a happy ending, but for a happy beginning—a new story.”vi

“There will be butterflies.”


i Wilson, N.D., Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.Thomas Nelson. p. 113

iiWilson, N.D., Ideas presented in session on Adventurous Storytelling and in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.

iiiGoudge, Elizabeth, Pilgrim’s Inn.From Sarah Clarkson’s session on Spiritual Subtext.

ivPeterson, A.S., Idea presented in session on Tales of the New Creation.
vPeterson, A.S., Tales of the New Creation.
viTrafton, Jennifer. Tales of the New Creation.

Fare Forward, Voyagers

On the Sunday morning of Hutchmoot, my sister and I went to church with the friends we were staying with at Christ Presbyterian Church of Nashville. The minister, Scott Sauls, spoke from Philippians 2 on “The Humility of God.” In one of those “God-things” everything he said seemed to fit hand in glove with the content of the conference.

He challenged the congregation to look to Christ’s humility as an example and to be imitators of him. He said that humility is the freedom from the need to be thinking of ourselves, that humility liberates us to look toward others. He pointed to Jonathan, the prince of Israel, as an example – Jonathan weakened his own position so that David might become strong. And then he pointed out the irony: the less Jonathan acted like a king, the more kingly he became in character.

We serve a God who likes juxtapositions like that. He requires death for life, losing our lives for finding them. If nothing else this weekend was a reminder of the great juxtaposition that is the Suffering Servant and the Reigning King.

I could tell you the ideas I was presented with this weekend which took my brain out of my head, scrubbed it up and down on a washing board, and stuffed it back in, all freshly laundered and stretched in unfamiliar places. I could tell you about the delightful people I met who were kind, thoughtless of self, and thoughtful of others. I could tell you about the princes and princesses I met who made themselves nothing and thereby became great.

But I seem to be unable to form into typewritten words what I really want to say about this conference. So, instead, I shall lean upon one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, in his master work of juxtaposition, The Four Quartets.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
-“East Coker” V.123-133

I can’t quite find a way to explain it, but that passage sums up the feelings from this past weekend – the joy, the agony, the stillness, the running, the hoping, the waiting, the loving, the faith…

We’ve all gone our separate ways now, and cries of, “Hutchmoot let down!” are filling my news feed on Facebook. I’m certain we shall soon become wrapped up into the worlds we find ourselves in, but I hope that our hugs at the church or at the airport are not fully goodbyes. Instead, I hope that they are not goodbyes at all. But rather moments when, instead of thinking of ourselves, we were free to look toward others, to give them our kingly robes, and to send them out renewed.

“Not fare well, / But fare forward, voyagers.”
-“The Dry Salvages” III.69-70