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The Land of the Living September 24, 2012

Posted by markgeil in Music, Philosophical musings.
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[Upon returning from Hutchmoot, the annual gathering of folks from The Rabbit Room to celebrate music and writing and all things bright and beautiful.]

This guy named Andrew Peterson said this guy named Frederick Buechner said something that really resonated with me, that spoke to my eternal soul, but I can’t remember what it was.

The abundance of Hutchmoot means that words and moments of sublime wisdom fall all around me like shavings from a whittler’s knife, such that I forget more brilliance in one long weekend than I’ve remembered all year. I feel like Rich Mullins when he sang, “There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see.”

My “dream session” happened on Saturday morning this year. The aforementioned Andrew Peterson, as gifted a singer-songwriter as I have known, and Ben Shive, who possesses a preternatural musical intellect, were discussing the life and music of the similarly aforementioned Rich Mullins, the name I fill in the blank beside “All-time favorite musician”. Stoked, I was.

At the appointed hour I made my official photographer rounds to each session and landed at Rich-fest. Which is to say I landed near Rich-fest. The little chapel room was full. The doorway was full. I was three-deep outside in the foyer, straining to listen. I actually cocked my head to one side like a curious dog hoping the scant soundwaves might better land in my ear.

What I heard was like the fragmented call of a one-bar cell phone. A couple of audible sentences would thrill me – this really was AP and Ben talking Rich! – and then the whole room would laugh warmly at a statement I did not hear. I heard the start of a discussion about the elusive lyrics of “Land of my Sojourn”, and then someone in the foyer ordered some sort of frothy coffee that made all kinds of noise.

Standing just outside the room, forlorn and frustrated, I was suddenly reminded of my place in this fallen world. I don’t intend to deify Andrew and Ben and Rich, but in that moment they represented a glimmer of the Divine. The conversation in that chapel was something I desired because it spoke, in my language, of the beauty and mystery of the Creator and His Heaven. And I couldn’t hear it all because of an untimely cappuccino. I was a Mullins mendicant wandering off toward a cathedral, aching for the glory inside, stuck at the door.

Then, someone left. And none of my fellow mendicants moved to claim the empty seat. So I did. I took my place inside, where I could hear every word. I was no longer an eavesdropper, but a participant. And then Ben started playing a familiar hammered dulcimer part on his keyboard, and Andrew sang, “Well the moon moved past Nebraska and spilled laughter on them cold Dakota hills.” And then my fellow participants and I started singing along, in that infinity-part harmony that only seems to happen at Hutchmoot. And I felt the thunder, and I saw the Lord take by its corners this old world, and He shook me free to run wild with the hope.

I am home now, and Hutchmoot is past. In some ways I’ve left the chapel again, and I am back in the foyer where cars are double-parked and noisy televisions make their political noise. But I have learned that though we toil on this side of Heaven until eternity, though we are soiled and temporal, the doors to glory are not barred. We might be butterflies, fluttering frantically amidst the fumes of a grimy gas station, but by the grace of God we are butterflies nonetheless, and loftier breezes and cleaner air are in our skies.

I am determined to seek the glorious, and to seek it often.

“I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.”

Psalm 27:13

Hutchmoot: Marching Orders August 23, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Church, Philosophical musings.
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[This is the fifth and final log in my Hutchmoot diaries. Scroll down on the home page to start from the beginning.]

The esteemed Mr. Wangerin was kind enough to humor a long line of well-wishers and autograph-seekers following his address. It’s a funny thing, the autograph. Here I was in a room full of musicians I greatly admire, with a car full of their CDs, yet I did not ask a single one for an autograph. But I had no hesitation to get my copy of the Book of Sorrows inscribed. Are autographed books cooler than autographed CDs?

One more call from home and I learned that prayers were answered and all was well with Rebekah. She and Amy made it home from the ER safely and I breathed relief while Amy devoured a several-hours-late dinner. I had sat way in the back for the Wangerin talk so I could hop in and out for phone calls, but with my family safely home I ventured forward, and for the second straight night took a front-row seat at a concert. This was a gathering of the Square Pegs Alliance, a group of singer-songwriter types who get the concept of capital-S-Story. I was amused by the motley piles of guitars and cases on either side of the platform. One of the cases was all covered in some kind of silver foil. It looked like a Jiffy-Pop to me.

It is not often that I think much about what Heaven will be like. I figure it is my certain destination and it is bound to be better than anything I could imagine, so I just don’t dwell on it much. That evening, though, the thought occurred to me that this might all be a lot like Heaven. There, in a church, among a group of people with a common love for Creator and creativity, words were sung and melodies were played for the sake of God but also for the things that make His children, like beauty, humor, and love.

Each of the ten performers took two turns at the microphone, in order, without introduction or excessive fanfare. They played whatever song seemed to fit, accompanied by just enough words to make it all make sense. They backed each other up sometimes, and borrowed each others’ gear, all for the sake of the Story. See? Heavenly.

And then there was the camel song. Right in the middle of it all, Randall Goodgame took his second turn at the mic and sheepishly (but provocatively) declared, “I can’t believe I’m going to do this next song.” It’s from his upcoming Christmas album for kids, and it opens with a stern and appropriate castigation: “Everybody loves the camel song. Why don’t you?” As I listened to the many virtues of the camel, I kept wondering how he was going to turn this into a Christmas song. For me, the odds were on a Magi-carrying dromedary seen in some of those plastic Nativity sets. Oh, was I wrong! The Camel Song took a sudden turn into a galaxy far, far away, reminded us of the name of those big hairy white beasts from the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, rhymed the name of the actor playing Luke Skywalker with the song’s namesake, and triumphantly pronounced the Tauntaun a “Christmas Camel!” See? Heavenly.

The last artist took the last turn at the mic, and we were reminded of the temporal again. Andrew Peterson said a few parting words and then suggested we close with the Doxology. In all my days I’ve never heard a sweeter sound. The sanctuary could not contain the worship. There were harmonies upon harmonies, and the sound so completely swelled that I felt the fullness all around me. The last word was sung – “Amen” – and we all stood, motionless, desperate for it not to end. In Heaven, it won’t.

I fumbled out of the room with the shimmer of the music still lighting my ears. It had grown quite late, but I was still desperate for this to not end, so I went to the living room for the so-called fireside chinwag. There, in the little kitchen and not near the fireside, because when people chinwag they universally do so in the kitchen, I had a lovely chat with Whit and with AP’s wife and children. I thought of my own sweet wife and children, safe and sound back home, and I smiled.

Sunday morning brought church, Anglican style, an abundant brunch at a place called the Copper Kettle, and a final session in which four authors read chapters of their books. At the worship service I delighted in hymns, Psalms, and – get this – not even the Apostles’ Creed but the Nicene Creed! At the Copper Kettle I delighted in the opportunity to alternate bites of omelet, beef, and pastry over warm conversation and recollection. Storytelling, it was. At the final session I delighted in Jonathan Rogers’ Georgia accent, and I decided I want him to read me a bedtime story every night, if that’s not too weird.

And then, I went home. The drive was pleasant, as always, and gave me time to reflect. As so many have said, it was indeed wonderful to be in a room with all these like-minded and similarly-interested people. It was a privilege to sit under the tutelage of so many gifted artists. I learned from their topics and their words, but I also learned from just being around them. I learned that they all seem to “feel” more deeply than I do. You might not believe it from my maudlin stories, but I’m still pretty analytical at heart. I noticed something else, too. Over and over I heard a speaker confess feelings of inadequacy and fears of failure. They would stand on a stage and speak of the times when they did not want to stand on a stage, when they struggled to see themselves as God sees us.  Again, I am quite different. My confession is not feeling inadequate, it’s feeling too adequate. My pride makes me long for the stage and the spotlight, and I am too quick to think I belong there.  It is instructive to understand these differences and to know we’re on the same team, seeking the same goals.

More than anything, I grasped a newfound appreciation for story itself. I’ve always appreciated art for art’s sake, but I can appreciate it so much more when I understand from whence it came and to what end. Beyond that, I understand the power and responsibility that comes with storytelling. We don’t just share our small portion of the one great Story. We must know that in the telling, we have an effect on others. These, then, are my marching orders, spoken by Wangerin. These are the words that will give me pause every time I tell a silly bedtime story to my kids, or prepare a talk for the kids at Awana, or post on this blog, or interview some musician and write about it.

“This is what shapers do for those who have neither universe, nor personhood, nor name: We weave the world around them.”

Hutchmoot: Composed Experience August 16, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings, Writing.
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[This is the fourth installment of my recap of Hutchmoot 2010]

Saturday promised to be a memorable day. We were set to be at the church all day, and indeed, I soaked it all in from early morning until well past midnight. This, I gather, was the day in which the organizers had some nebulous concept of what might happen, and they had done an excellent job lining up speakers and themes, but I don’t know that any one of them quite knew how the day would unfold. I can’t imagine any of them were disappointed. In retrospect, Friday prepared us, Sunday let us catch our breath and reflect, and the day in between was a saga in which heads were filled and hearts were… well, now I’m struggling for a word. Some were encouraged, but that’s not profound enough. Some seemed to be rent and put back together. Let’s call mine illuminated.

The morning meal was called “Cold Breakfast” on the schedule, which sounded marginal to me, so I ate a Pop Tart on the way over. I should have known the spread would be fabulous, rivaling the genuine continental breakfasts I’ve had in Europe. Devotions followed in the sanctuary, a first reminder of the joy of liturgy and responsive readings for this Presbyterian-cum-Southern Baptist. There was already a familiarity present, since so many had met on Friday, and I felt like I was among friends.

The first session I attended was called “The Immersed Imagination”, and was led by Andrew Peterson and Ron Block, speaking about George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis. After Peterson opened with a bit of context and a caveat about some of G-Mac’s beliefs, he and Block each read an essay he had written on the topic. I would have thought this would be a horrible mode of presentation, but it was strangely engaging. I wrote a page of notes in my slow, messy broken-hand script, and here are a few things I learned:

Apparently (I’ve never read more than a page of his writing), MacDonald’s fiction was meandering and child-like, the product of an excessive and exuberant imagination. Lewis counts him as his major influence. In the two of them, storytelling becomes a way to help us “see” with the fresh perspective of a child. It’s like snapping a photo of something versus drawing a picture. Each captures the same object, but they explain it differently. Many times, the picture is better than the photo, because it couples an object of observation with an interpretation of an observer. Both are God’s handiwork, so I think the picture lets us see not only an object but also another glimpse of God.

Block mentioned that in his own Bible study he often discovers truths that have already been placed in his heart through the fiction of authors like Lewis and MacDonald. What a wonderful and frightening possibility! The author can take the truth of God’s word and try to convey it in a story. The reader then captures a hint of the truth, which prepares him to receive the real deal from the Word. There is a profound place in God’s plan for storytelling.

Two more quotes from the session that meant a lot to me:

                “The few real moments of clarity in my life happened when the child in me was awakened.”

                “Don’t let a theological superstructure obscure the Word. Read it like you’ve never read it before. Approach it as a child.”

Peterson and Block had both brought guitars to the session. I found out later they were really there as security blankets in case they ran out of things to say. It is bittersweet that they did not, as I would have quite enjoyed a duet. As it was, I was satisfied just listening to the inimitable Mr. Block tune up.

My next session was “Perfected in Weakness”, featuring Pete Peterson, Travis Prinzi, and S.D. Smith. S.D. is really Sam, the first person I met at Hutchmoot. These gentlemen also read essays pontificating on Walter Wangerin Jr. and J.R.R. Tolkien. There was much talk of the antihero in story, and the observation that the best authors allow their characters to have flaws, since so many of our best moments come when God works in our weakness. Sam started by speaking of Samwise Gamgee, a character with no status who is infinitely important in accomplishing a task only he could do. Another Tolkien story tells of a character unknowingly gifted by an outside source and explores how the character would use the gift. Isn’t that our life in Christ?

Prinzi spoke eloquently of the reality of the fall, and how too often we (as writers and readers and even as parents) try to soften the fall too much. We know there is supernatural terror in the world, but we pretend it doesn’t exist. This, Peterson added, is another purpose of story. We can only understand abstract ideas through firsthand experience or through story. There are things we must understand but do not wish to experience; for these, story is vital. Peterson evoked the parables of Christ and books like Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow in saying, “We don’t tell stories to communicate fact. We tell stories to communicate truth that we cannot otherwise explain.”

Peterson, through tears, read a final scene from Saint Julian. I promised myself to make more time to read.

Prinzi also gave me some surprising insight about the grand climax of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, something I had never thought of before. You’ll have to ask me about it sometime.

I missed two parallel sessions featuring Eric Peters, Jason Gray, Jonathan Roger, and Russ Ramsey. As expected, I heard great things.

Lunch was upon us, and with it more Hutchmeets and more good food. The afternoon brought the whole group back together for two panel discussions, the first with authors and the second with songwriters. I know I’ve used the word “story” over and over, but the whole weekend I understood quite naturally that the term applies as well to a novel as to a song. And by that I don’t mean to limit this to story-songs, in which a pony named Wildfire busts down its stall. No, like prose, songs of all sorts can tell a tale, even if they don’t even have lyrics.

The Story panel assembled authors, pastors, and even a filmmaker to help me further understand why I write and teach. The song panel gathered eight musicians to help me further understand why I like music so much. Here are a few things I learned:

The purpose of preaching is not to convey information but to make an impression. By extension, a good song was likened to simple mathematics. (NOW they were really speaking my language!) If the equation is 2 + 2 = 4, the song should not simply tell us “4”. It should tell us “2 + 2”, leaving us to conclude, “4”. The authors quoted C.S. Lewis (often), who said that story can “steal past those watchful dragons,” the baggage of fact and inhibition and prejudices that prevent us from understanding. All three of those points support one another.

The songwriters spoke some of craft, and I was riveted. Someone (I wish I could remember who) spoke of a childhood trip on a glass-bottom boat. He was mesmerized by this new undersea world, awakened to a greater reality, until a lady nearby dropped her sunglasses onto the glass, breaking the child’s other-worldly spell. Songwriters “break the spell” when they draw attention to themselves. Another musician concurred, saying, “Just because I can write a song in 7-8 time doesn’t mean I should.” This is obviously true of writing as well. Just because I know a fancy word doesn’t mean I should seek to shoehorn it into a sentence. (I try very hard not to do that. Honest.)

By this point in the day I noticed I was no longer star-struck by any of these distinguished presenters. Such is their humility and rapport. During the break between panels I stepped outside to call home, and noticed Andy Gullahorn pushing his kids on a swing at the playground right next to where my car was parked. The fact that my car contained a couple of his CDs, with songs I know by heart, no longer felt the least bit odd.

It was during that call home that I learned my youngest daughter was headed to the urgent care center for a lingering case of sharp abdominal pains. After the second panel, I got word that she’d been sent to the emergency room for fear of appendicitis. All this talk of story became jolted by reality, and I kept close tabs on her condition. The trip home would be about 3 hours and 15 minutes, so I didn’t exactly know if I should leave right away or wait and see. Amy did a wonderful job taking care of Rebekah and gave me peace through my anxiety and guilt.

I was late to dinner and the only available seats were at a table being reserved for some similarly late-arriving guests. My new friend Whit, the Cruise Director for the weekend, kindly asked if I might be willing to move later because they might need those seats for the likes of Michael Card or Phil Keaggy. Dude, for them I would skip dinner and just sit in a corner and stare if needed! Turned out I got to stay, and I got to share dinner with Don and Lori Chaffer. If you know them as Waterdeep, you either get cool points or you were at Hutchmoot and knew that already.

I ate quickly and followed the news from home, where a blood test result necessitated a CAT scan. I got to talk to Rebekah, who sounded okay and was apparently braver than her mother when they inserted the IV. I kept checking in with Amy at the hospital and Sarah at home until Amy’s phone ran out of minutes!

Back in Nashville, Walt Wangerin, Jr. was introduced. There could not have been a better talk to tie together all the brightly colored threads of insight we had discovered that day. Even with my divided attention and constant prayers for Rebekah, I managed to understand as he spoke of art as “composed experience”. Although the artist might have finished creating it, art is not fully realized until it is experienced. Art seeks a recipient. I think that’s what AP meant in that line about being alone in Many Roads.

Wangerin took to teaching, and revealed the Old English word for art: scop, pronounced like “shop”. From that word we get shape. Artists are shapers. Again, what a wonderful and frightening thought!

I ducked out a few times to get calls from home. CAT scan was negative. One more blood test was ordered, and then the plan was to send Rebekah home. Relief. Thanksgiving.

Wangerin concluded with an entrancing story about a broken man in prison and the power of perhaps the greatest short story ever uttered to finally reach him. I won’t try to retell it, because I won’t do it justice. I’m told you can read a version in his Advent Meditations. With his final, acutely motivational words, Wangerin took a seat, almost mid-sentence. The room was utterly silent.

A moment passed, perhaps two. We convinced ourselves that, indeed, the talk did have to come to an end. We applauded with esteem and thanks and a hint of awe. If you’ve read the Dun Cow, you’ll appreciate the gift Walt was given to thank him for his address. What to give someone to thank him for speaking about art at a conference full of artists talking about art? A plaque? Perish the thought! Instead, Wangerin was given a commissioned painting of Chauntecleer the rooster perched on the back of Mundo Cani dog.

Looks like I can’t capture all of Saturday in one already over-long post. There was still one more concert that night, and Sunday after that. So, a bit more to come.

Hutchmoot: Starting to Listen August 12, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Church, Music, People.
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CATCH UP ON THE PREVIOUS TWO POSTS IF YOU’RE LOST

Friday marked the second time I had driven from Kennesaw to Nashville all by myself in order to attend an event beginning with an Andrew Peterson concert. The first time was a couple of years ago when I was covering GMA Week for Christianity Today. I left at the crack of dawn to arrive in time for a breakfast sponsored by Compassion International featuring an AP acoustic show. I remember he covered Sometimes by Step by Rich Mullins, and it was sublime. This time, he would be kicking off Hutchmoot with a release concert for his latest, Counting Stars.

First, we all gathered for our first meal, prepared by Evie Coates, a brilliant mixed media artist and, apparently, chef. Introductions before dinner were another reminder of the value of the real world over the virtual one; on the Rabbit Room, Evie had always been “Long-E-sound-EEEEvie” to me. Turns out I was wrong, It’s more like Eh-vie, as in, “Drove my Chevy to the levy but then Evie was gone.” I just made that up, but now I’m enjoying singing it to myself.

Hutchmeets happened around the table, then more after dinner, then I started getting anxious because getting to the concert sooner might mean getting a better seat. I decided to grab a snack for the road from a stash I’d discovered in the Living Room, this warm and charming gathering place in the church, then hit the road. To my surprise, right there in the living room sat five or six Rabbit Roomers, including Andrew Peterson himself. I paused for a moment to process this unprecedented phenomenon, then thought to myself, Why should I dash off to the Andrew Peterson concert when I can sit right here and chat with Andrew Peterson? The argument’s logic overwhelmed my impatience, and there I sat. I Hutchmet the group (see how much mileage I’m getting out of that word?). Someone asked how I broke my hand. I told the story. More lazy chatting ensued. Finally, someone looked at a watch and mentioned to AP, “Shouldn’t you be getting to your concert?” I thought of my ever-so-punctual wife Amy, who would have been freaking out.

The venue was a few miles down the road from Redeemer at the Barn, a converted chicken house used by a megachurch in Brentwood for concerts and such. Those few miles of road were adorned with stunning mansions that seemed to be owned by people who valued appearances over privacy. There they were, right there on the main drag, with all their six-car garages and ostentatious fountains. I figured if any of the occupants were tithers, the megachurches were set.

I got in line, had another Hutchmeet with a new friend from Iowa, and noticed the arrival of Mr. Peterson to his own concert. Most of the folks in line were waiting to buy tickets, and soon someone saw our Hutchmoot nametags and shuffled us on in. The Person With the Very Important Hand Stamper noticed that I was a “Hutchmaster”, a title that sounds fanstastic but only means I registered early, and invited me to one of the reserved seats. There happened to be one on the front row center aisle, so, being not shy, I took it, alongside my new friend and the pastor of the host church, Father McKenzie. His name always makes me think of that sad line in Eleanor Rigby, but I never told him that.  

The concert was the sort of affair that can only happen in a place like Nashville. Brilliant musicians were in the audience, just to watch. The venerable John Mays from AP’s record label stopped by.  Just as Andrew started one song, Andy Osenga (Caedmon’s Call et al.) walked in. Peterson paused, mentioned that Osenga had co-written the song and invited him to sing backup, Osenga obliged, scurried down the aisle, hopped on the stage, and sang away. Delightful.

The first half hour or so was all requests shouted from the audience. I shouted, ”Let Me Sing”, not because of a sudden and overwhelming desire to sing, but because it’s my favorite AP song. Well, I didn’t really shout it, since I was 5 feet from Andrew, and my request got overwhelmed in the cacophony from the audience. My new friend next to me really did shout, and his request, Little Boy Heart Alive, was heeded. AP started the song, then decided to tell a story about his little boys, then asked their permission to tell the story since they were sitting right down front. It was a hilarious yarn about the time the lads decided to live off the land for 48 hours and wound up eating a songbird.

The view from the front row. It's good to be a Hutchmaster!

Next, Peterson played straight through the new CD. I had seen him do the same thing the previous week in a charming and sometimes bizarre online performance for HearItFirst.com. This time, though, he was accompanied by an extra half-dozen players, and the songs took on new life. (Plus, I was five feet away, and not watching through a little computer screen.) I got particularly caught up in the shrapnel of hope that finally lights The Last Frontier. The evening was grand and memorable and it set the mood for Hutchmoot as a Fellowship of the Story, if you will.

I drove back to the hotel on lonely streets lit by the afterglow of the Light of the World in my heart. Yes, that sentence couldn’t be more over-the-top, but I was over, too, so hopefully you will forgive me. I still didn’t quite understand what God would say to me through the rest of the weekend, but I had a pretty good idea He would say something, and I’ll take that anytime.

Hutchmoot: Hutchmeets? August 10, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Church, Philosophical musings.
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CONTINUING RECOLLECTIONS OF THE WEEKEND THAT WAS:

I parked my car in the back, like the little sign had directed, and entered the Church of the Redeemer. The welcome inside was warmer than any I receive at other meetings. Come to think of it, most all of the conferences I attend are for work, full of engineers and docs and PTs and such. Fine folks, mind you, but the common theme that unites us is, well, work. Hutchmoot participants were united by our own very different common theme. I’m just not entirely sure what it was! More on figuring that out later. Suffice it to say that we all knew we had an a priori bond, so even without sufficiently describing it, we knew we were among friends, and that was enough. A Facebook post yesterday likened this feeling to Gonzo’s stunning realization in Muppets in Space that he was not the only blue weirdo in the universe.

Upon checking in I received a lovely folder – the Hutchmoot logo had been hand-carved in wood and stamped on the front – and I met my first Rabbit Room celebrity, Pete Peterson. He’s Andrew’s brother, and his real name is something like Arthur Sherman. I don’t know where he got “Pete”. He’s an author, and by the end of the weekend I had purchased his debut novel and asked him to autograph it. Pete wrote “Pirates are better than Ninjas!” So, there you go.

I had scarcely sat down to review the contents of said folder when I had my first very specific sort of meet-and-greet. Let’s call it a Hutchmeet. (Clever, eh?) The Hutchmeets almost always included a few key questions:

“Where are you from?” evoked responses including where the person lives now, how long it took him to get here, and prior domiciles and hometowns and colleges, and often led quite nicely into,

“What do you do?” These responses were quite fascinating. Let’s see, just sitting here as I  type (on a flight to Chicago) how many occupations I can remember… Musician, author, news reporter, worship leader, filmmaker, church staff (plus, curiously, lots of former church staff), computer programmer, pastor, student, video editor, freelance writer/artist/graphic designer, school teacher, engineer, road manager, and so on – you get the idea. In general, there were a lump of jobs I would call “expected” – the artsy church folks – and then there were the rest. Normal, everyday jobs that might not be expected of a person at a gathering like this. Which begat the next question,

“What brings you here?” Herein lies our common bond. For most it involved some connection to the Rabbit Room. But what attracts folks to the RR? The majority knew first of Andrew Peterson, either from his CDs through the years or from his annual Christmas tour, Behold the Lamb of God. The rest stumbled upon the site because they were huge fans of either (a) C.S. Lewis, (b) J.R.R. Tolkien, or (c) All of the Above.

I had Hutchmeets with people who work just down the street from my house and people from Canada and people who had made 12-hour drives (that day!) and people who had flown in from all sorts of far-flung locales, and now that I think about it, we all came for one basic reason. We like good storytellers, and we seek to understand the Story. That capital-S-Story is a word I learned at Hutchmoot, and I like it. It’s the miraculous and mysterious Story of the grace and redemption and love found in Jesus Christ, and, ultimately, every good story (in prose, or song, or art, or a smile) is a part of this grand Story. All these people met at this strange intersection of art, creation, inspiration, music, books, trades, crafts, and hobbies, all practiced under the umbrella of – or maybe I should say mixed in the bowl of – the Story.

I did not really appreciate it at the time, in that first hour, but now I understand one more proof of God. It is creativity, the ability and desire to create. We are made in His image, so there’s something inside us all that yearns to create, just like He created the stars and the oceans and me. And every time we create, we are afforded the joyful privilege of communicating the Story with the rest of creation.

That’s why I’m typing right now, in the middle seat in coach class on a crowded airplane in front of a crying baby, with a broad smile on my face. Oh, what joy to be part of the Story!

Hutchmoot August 8, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Music, People.
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It’s Sunday morning, and I finally have a chance to write. I’ve been thinking constantly about writing and music for two days straight, all the while longing to tell you about it, and all the while better understanding why I long to tell you about it.

It’s the third day of Hutchmoot, a conference organized by the fine folks at the Rabbit Room. The answer to “what’s a Hutchmoot?” tests anyone’s skills at brevity. It’s a gathering of people interested in the craft of storytelling through music, literature, film, and visual arts to learn, foster community, and hear from master storytellers. Sounds like a hippie commune.

The Rabbit Room is a site founded by musician and author Andrew Peterson to do all of the above, only online. Hutchmoot is the grand realized dream of turning an online conversation about a book or song or movie into a face-to-face dialogue, replete with all its gestures and rhythm, and informing that conversation by some pretty heady pondering of the Source of it all.

The made-up name is derived from Hutch, a place where rabbits hang out, and Moot, which means discussion and has something to do with Entmoot from some Lord of the Rings book. Now it sounds like a geek commune.

So it was that I came to this hippie geek commune on Friday afternoon. I stocked my CD case anticipating conversations with people who not only know these CDs but also appreciate them as much as I do. I also guessed (correctly) that I would meet folks who stocked their own CD cases because they like holding cover art and liner notes and lyrics in their hands too much to just download everything. On the basis of those two points alone I knew this would be a refreshing community.

On the drive from Kennesaw to Nashville there is a stretch of highway that meanders back and forth across the state line beside rivers and mountains. It’s exceedingly beautiful this time of year, a rolling sea of greens with contrasting swaths of sunlight and shadow. Even as it delights me it tells me I’m close to Nashville, a city consecrated by music and storytelling.

My first stop was the cheap airport hotel I booked on Hotwire, a hotel festooned by a huge banner welcoming an Army Psychological Operations unit. Men in camouflage fatigues are everywhere here, possibly inserting little hidden bugs into my brain to control my thoughts. Well, hopefully not.

I dropped off my bags and made the short drive to the church hosting the event. A little paper sign that said HUTCHMOOT PARKING IN BACK delighted me more than I expected. It’s been said before (and said here) that while good conversations can happen online, community cannot. Yes, all the online stuff is real enough. But the physical act of printing a sign and posting it in the grass in front of a building, that’s the sort of concrete detail that never happens online, and it occurred to me that it was the first time I’d read this silly made-up word Hutchmoot when it was not on a computer screen.

I have much more to say, but it will take a few days. It’s time to check out now and go to church. There, I will have a very fresh perspective of my Creator God and why He created me and what the act of creation is all about. And so, I will worship.