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A few months after coming home from Hutchmoot 2012, I stumbled onto an analogy for my three-year experience with this conference: Star Wars!
That’s right, for me, the very first Hutchmoot could’ve been called “A New Hope.” That’s the year Walt Wangerin was my Obi-Wan and through him Jesus placed a stamp on my arm that said “Jedi,” which in the Hutchmoot realm meant artist, and for me specifically, writer. The whole weekend, everywhere I turned I was meeting my people. I’ve never felt belonging the way I did that first year when there were suddenly real life, 3D versions of all the rabbits I’d only interacted with online. There were so many little extra touches which felt tailor-made for me that year. From the artistic, delicate salads to the awkward first introductions to people I’d admired for years. Every session I heard and every note I took seemed like a kiss that came straight from God’s lips and landed right inside my heart. In truth, an angel whispered in my ear one night—out in the field, before the days of the white tent—that the world I’d left behind was gone and this place, these people were my real home.
Enter year number two, when the enemy struck back. I was so excited to come back to Church of the Redeemer, home of the Hutchmoot, just at the end of Rainbow Place. I was absolutely positive that everything would be wonderful once more. I couldn’t wait to see my old friends whom I’d gotten to know even better since that first year, and I was excited about meeting new people and making new lifelong friends, just like I’d done the last time. My expectations were about as high as they could be and that should have clued me in—but it didn’t. The hay rug was pulled out from underneath me, just as my bunny feet landed.
Here’s what happened. All weekend long, around every corner, there was a question. Have I met him before? Does she remember me? I wonder what they think about me… Did I wear the right combination of artsy-fartsy scarf and devil-may-care hairdo today? Does anyone even notice me down here in the kitchen? How come this particular meal and that particular session are not just like they were last year? Why do I feel so alone, and how did I get to be so mixed up?
But the real question in my heart was this: Can I trust all the goodness that happened to me last year?
Little did I know there was an actual five-and-a-half-inch red demon riding on my shoulder all weekend, complete with pointy spear and forked tail, yet completely invisible. I never thought to try and knock him off either because he had this cool trick of throwing his voice so that everything he said sounded just like it came from the inside of my head and felt enormously true.
“Those people were just being nice when they asked you to come back, they don’t really like you. You’re not any good at this writing thing you’ve been trying to do all year. Well, maybe you’ve got a little bit of talent, but you’ll never be able to write like she can. What makes you think anything that happened to you last year was real? Surely you imagined it all, just like you imagine everything. That’s all you’re good for is daydreaming, you can’t really do anything. And everything you try to do turns out wrong, because you’re never good enough.”
Well, thank goodness for my little Yoda, Sally Lloyd Jones. And for the friends I had but didn’t realize, who listened to my whining, understood my frustrations, and cared for me when I wasn’t behaving at all like a grown-up. Despite the overwhelming funk I was in all weekend, there were moments of grace. Like the meal I shared with Leanne and Dave Bruno, where they confidently introduced me as a writer, and the mini-counseling session in the sanctuary provided for me by Ron Block and Rebecca Reynolds. And then there was the time when Katherine Kamin drove me around for a while when my stomach was upset and that other time when the Prinzis laughed at my jokes like I was Steve Martin. Plus the other couple we shared a house with that weekend, the Andrews, who couldn’t help but be real and enthusiastic and sweet, all at the same time.
I went home regretting that my poor mood had kept me from enjoying more, but like God often does, he used that weekend to help me reassess what matters most in my relationship with him. What was more important to me, that God gave me the gift of writing, or that He even talked with me at all? Was my telling worth more than my being?
Hutchmoot #2 was like a murky green planet for me most of the time, where I did lots and lots of dispiriting exercise and faced many disheartening defeats, but once I came out of the darkness, I realized how much stronger my spiritual muscles were. It didn’t happen all at once, it was a hard year in many other ways that don’t fit this particular essay, but God faithfully used it all to draw me closer to Him.
So when I came back to Hutchmoot in 2012, I finally got to wear a gold bikini! Ha. Yuck! Gross, that’s not what happened at all; but I did feel like a real champion when the weekend was over. HM #3 was strangely relaxing and familiar to me, like putting on my favorite pair of warm socks just as the seasons begin to change. I came prepared for things not to be exactly the same as either of the years before, but I was pleasantly surprised to find many things, and people, just as real as I’d imagined them.
I was also given the gift of seeing how my attitude toward this work I’d been doing had changed over the years. That first year I was so happy Hutchmoot was happening that I was happy to do whatever anyone asked me, so long as I got to be there. The second year I was so absorbed with my own issues that I missed out on the opportunity to serve others with gladness. The third year everything that happened to me, from being recognized to working behind the scenes, began to feel like gifts again. The Jedi returned home, where she emptied garbage bags and got to know Phil Vischer; and both those things opened up like presents, with equally shiny red bows.
And here we are in 2013, two weeks after HM #4 and I know what you’re all thinking: Did Pete and Andrew pull a George Lucas and go back in time to the real beginning of the story? Did it suck as much as The Phantom Menace? The short answer to that is no, and the long one is that every analogy breaks down when you carry it too far, and the truth is that it took me three years to come up with this one, so I have no idea what to make of the rest of this story . . . yet.
In the last year, I’ve thought several times about writing all this down and posting it, but I just kept putting it off for some reason. I kept thinking that I needed to have a Star Wars marathon and go over all my session notes in order to get everything just right. I’m sure even now that some of who you know way more about this mythology than me are just dying to get to the end of this post so you can leave me a comment about something I’ve gotten wrong. And that’s fair; I’m no more an expert on that galaxy than the one I actually live in.
When I first heard about the Saturday night surprise planned for this year, it was not lost on me that this particular analogy had come to me before I ever knew there was such a thing as a book combining Shakespeare and Star Wars, or that a group of people I loved and belonged to would soon celebrate it as one of the best combinations since Rick Moranis and a big black helmet. Just like I didn’t know ten years ago that reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time as an adult would introduce me to a Jesus that I hadn’t grown up with—or rather I had, but had forgotten about for quite a long time.
But guess who did? That’s right, the same Lord who brought those pipe-smoking guys together in Great Britain decades ago and made sure their stories stayed around long enough to inspire some brothers from Florida to launch a website unique enough to attract all these rabbits. So come along Flopsy and Hazel, Peter Cottontail and Edward Tulane, Thumper and even Harvey. There’s room for you whether you’re a Max or a Ruby, whether your fur is gray, brown, white, or black; whether you have spots on your nose or even if you’re missing a toe or can’t sing on key. You don’t have to live in Nashville, smoke a pipe, or wear an artistic tattoo to be part of this moot; and the Keeper of our Hutch is kind, gracious and good. He knows just how to take care of you best, and he’s wise enough to show you all the places you need to see.
May we walk with him through the galaxies, even those from a long time ago, and far far away…