The Rabbit Room, Year 1 – Something Resembling a Community

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Back in 2007, I got an email from Andrew Peterson asking me if I would like to be one of the contributors to a new blog he was going to start. The site would be a place where artists, writers, pastors, and musicians would write about ideas and art that interested them.

I was living in Kansas City at the time, and I jumped at the invitation to become part of a community like this. In September of 2007, The Rabbit Room went live. (That means that The Rabbit Room now has a full ten years of archived content under its belt.)

One of the earliest posts (I believe it was actually the third Rabbit Room post ever) came from Jonathan Rogers. He told the story about the time he boarded an airport shuttle with a man who was carrying a banjo case. As the bus circled the airport, one of the other passengers started “egging the banjo picker to play us a song.”

To everyone’s surprise, the man with the banjo complied, and played the Ballad of Jed Clampett as they made their way to long-term parking. (Turns out, that banjo player was the incomparable Bela Fleck, but only a couple of people recognized him in the moment.) Jonathan was telling the story to make an observation about generosity.

Jonathan wrote, “I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget how that little space was transformed the moment the first few notes rang out. At the risk of overstating the case, something resembling a community began to emerge among people who would have normally treated one another with jealously guarded indifference.”

When the Rabbit Room started, we were not unlike that airport shuttle— strangers in many ways to one another. We were people en route— as we always are. And the words we wrote for the blog, and the ideas we tried to form, were gestures inviting each other to be part of the formation of a new community.

For that first couple of years, we were all still figuring it out. Back then, no one really knew what the Rabbit Room would become. We were finding our way.

Some people in the original line-up of contributors were far more accomplished in the craft of writing than others (I was a novice), but none of us were bloggers. We were throwing things out there to see what might resonate.

But not only were we finding our voice. We were also finding our audience. We were writing letters to whom it may concern. Who those people were, we had no idea. We did not know who our readers would be. So we wrote to a nameless, faceless void. That is hard to do— writing to everyone and no one in particular.

So Pete wrote about his love for Godric. Jonathan spun anecdotes about paint cans and a fifth grade art class. Matt Connor wondered if we’d really have mansions in heaven. Jason Gray told the world he loved Harry Potter (and was taken to task for it, and defended for it). Ron Block opened up his files on Lewis, MacDonald, and L’Engle. Andrew took us behind the scenes of the creative process of making a record. My first piece ever was a review of Andy Gullahorn’s Room to Breath record.

I was relatively new to writing. I had kept a journal for years, and was accustomed to writing a sermon a week, but writing for a format where the words would be for general consumption was a new voice for me. I wasn’t much good at it, but I had been given something that would shape the rest of my life: I had been given a place. A place to learn how to write. A place to learn how to curate words. A place to grow as an artist.

I remember how in those early years we helped each other. We would send each other our posts in process, and listen to each other’s feedback. From my fellow contributors, I learned some rules for good writing— rules like:

  • Adjectives and adverbs are guilty until proven innocent. Interrogate them all. If your writing requires lots of descriptors, you’re probably choosing the wrong nouns and verbs.
  • Good writing permits only three exclamation points per 100,000 words. And even then, only if you must.
  • Assess whether your attempts at humor are actually funny. Humor is an art form, and not easy to pull off gracefully on the written page. Awkward humor, that’s easy. Unfunny attempts at humor, easier still. Effective humor, however, is a learned skill.
  • Do away with the ellipsis. An ellipsis is an indication that the sentence you started wasn’t even worth…

We wrote, and we edited, and we opened ourselves up to feedback. We developed thicker skin, better instincts, sharper focus, and clearer writing. We developed. And this is the process by which people become artists.

While this was happening, we also gained readers – people with names who would interact in the comments section – names like Redhead Kate, Dave Bruno, Carrie Givens, April Pickle, and Tony Heringer – people who would become our friends, and friends with each other.

As I reflect on ten years of The Rabbit Room’s existence, one of the things I see, and am personally grateful for, is that what started as an experiment in community and creative development has, in fact, become a community through which many artists have developed. It became a place.

Back when all this started, we were strangers on the airport shuttle. Each had an instrument case, and though we didn’t know each other well, we gathered up the nerve to say to one another, “Why don’t you play us a little something?”

I think we’ve all gotten better over the years, but what’s more important is that we’ve all developed a deep desire to keep developing in our crafts. One of the lasting legacies The Rabbit Room can already claim is that there are people making art, contributing truth and beauty to a world that desperately needs it, because they found this community, this place. For some, the Rabbit Room was where they began. For others, The Rabbit Room has been a resource that has helped them keep going.

I am grateful for this community of people, and thrilled still to be part of it. In the words of my dear friend Jonathan Rogers, “I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget how that little space was transformed the moment the first few notes rang out. At the risk of overstating the case, something resembling a community began to emerge.”

And ten years later, here we are. Here’s to many more.

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003).

Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


5 Comments

  1. Matt Conner

    @mattconner

    Lovely! I’ve appreciated every step of this journey and have been honored to lock arms with the contributors as well as meet so many beautiful people through this community.

  2. April Pickle

    @hildamae

    At Rabbit Room Live, when Russ mentioned adverbs and adjectives, nouns and verbs, my throat hurt until I let out tears. I wasn’t expecting that. But now that I’ve had some time to mull it over, I think perhaps I know why simple advice about parts of speech moved me so. It’s because nouns and verbs represent what is tangible, what is true, what is honest, what is real — all the things I’ve discovered through the arts, thanks to the Rabbit Room. Nouns and verbs represent the gospel, what dispels the darkness that is denial.

    No wonder the Flannery O’Connor Summer Reading Club changed my life, a life that had been marked by anxiety and fear. No wonder when Jonathan Rogers teaches a writing class, he tells his students to let nouns and verbs carry the weight. 
    “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
    “Taste and see.”
    The stores are true.

  3. April Pickle

    @hildamae

    And Russ, I didn’t know that you weren’t writing something other than sermons before your Rabbit Room posts. So glad you were given this space, and thankful for how your writing has grown and is flourishing.

  4. Jody Collins

    Russ, the list of what you learned from your fellow writers is worth several nuggets. Thank you. I am ellipsis guilty….oh so guilty.  I will have to re=think my penchant for using them.

    What a heartwarming review of how Rabbit Room began–I feel better knowing a group I greatly respect had the same awkward beginnings. I’ve been blogging for almost 5 years–still a newbie–and just formed an online faith-based writing group. We are totally making it up as we go–your words are an encouragement. (apparently I am rather fond of em dashes as well).

  5. Cynda Pierce

    @cyndap

    I discovered the Rabbit Room in 2011. I read the entire archive and don’t think I’ve missed a single article since then. I’m not a writer, musician or artist, but the Rabbit Room has changed the way I think about and consume art. I am forever grateful.

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