At the end of Jonathan Roger’s podcast, The Habit, he always asks his guests, “What writers make you want to write?” I love listening to people’s answers—to find out who has encouraged them or given them a vision for writing. I always smile when people say either C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien… because, me, too!
The question could also be asked as “What artists make you want to create art?” or “What singers make you want to sing your own songs?” I believe that at the root of these queries is the question, “Who moves you to find more in yourself to be creative, using your own gifts and voice and vision for others? Who helps you live out being made in the image of a creative God?” And perhaps even deeper, “Who do you encourage to help live out their creativity in the image of God?”
My husband Ned and I have talked often about this idea, many times leading us to discuss who encourages us to live creative, generative lives in our community.
The Merriam-Webster definition of generative is having the power or function of generating, originating, producing, or reproducing. What a utilitarian definition of such a poetic idea! Painter Makoto Fujimura puts it a bit differently when he writes, “When we are generative, we draw on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life-giving.”
For Ned and me, the idea of being generative solidified in our minds when we were with Fujimura at The Philadelphia Museum of Art looking at the show Cezanne and Beyond, a major Paul Cézanne exhibit. Mako has a wealth of understanding about the language of art, and he helps others see contemporary artwork more clearly. He mentioned that Cézanne was a “generative” artist. And as we continued to walk around the museum, we talked about Cézanne as someone who opened up beauty to us, inspiring us to create or appreciate the world. In contrast, Pablo Picasso (although brilliant) tends to shut the door to almost any conversation. Mako explained that Picasso takes a visual idea to its utter end while Cézanne would give you ideas and suggestions of paths you could follow after he was gone.
Since that conversation I have kept my eyes open for writers and art-makers that free my heart and mind to keep creating and to find more of myself in the creative process, in hopes of encouraging others. For example, writers like Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Seamus Heaney offer something to me that keep me paying attention to the world and my reactions to it.
In his essay “On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care” Mako posits that being generative includes genesis moments, generosity, and generational thinking.
Genesis moments are an artist’s own moments of beginning, through inspiration, work, and even failure. An artist’s genesis moments can then offer genesis moments to others, sparking a movement in creativity they had not experienced.
Generosity comes from an open heart and open hands to others. It’s offering something out of an overflow; it is not holding back out of fear or scarcity.
And generational thinking is about dialoguing with past artists to create something with which future generations can dialogue and from which they can create.
Generative thinking is fueled by generosity because it so often must work against a mindset that has survival and utility in the foreground. In a culture like that, generosity has an unexpectedness that can set the context for the renewal of our hearts. An encounter with generosity can remind us that life always overflows our attempts to reduce it to a commodity or a transaction—because it is a gift.—Makoto Fujimura
I have seen this idea worked out in the Rabbit Room community. Andrew Peterson wrote, “One of the central tenets of the Rabbit Room is that art nourishes community, and community nourishes art. If you want to write good books, good songs, good poems, you need some talent, yes. You also need to work hard, practice a lot, cultivate self-discipline, and study the greats. But you also need good friends. You need fellowship. You need community.”
There are myriad of examples of how generative the Rabbit Room’s vision has been and how it has influenced many, many people. Genesis moments have happened in community and collaboration through activities like Pass the Piece and also through mentor relationships. Artist Stephen Crotts shares about his experience with this: “Through the Rabbit Room, I’ve had the opportunity to form relationships with artists I admire. They have become mentors to me, but have also allowed me to encourage them in their vocations. Now, I even get to exchange critiques with some of my heroes.” Relationships like this have become seeds for more creative genesis moments.
Rabbit Room folks have been generous in their sharing of words, music, and art making. Eddy Efaw bears witness to how this abundance of ideas has been generative for him: “For me, the deep impact of the Rabbit Room began with the first Hutchmoot I attended in 2011 when I was introduced to the idea of thinking about my artistic life and my spiritual life as being integrated and not compartmentalized. This seed has steadily grown over the years, and now my art would feel extremely empty to me if it wasn’t informed by kingdom thinking in some way.”
Our hope is that this conference will plant seeds of generativity in the imaginations of those who attend.Leslie Bustard
Within this group there is much love for writers from the past—George McDonald, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien—as well as contemporary writers, musicians, and art makers. The fruit of this love has helped root the Rabbit Room community in the present, with eyes towards the hope of future flourishing for others. Singer and songwriter Hope Kemp explains it well, “These [writers] are the stalwarts they are, not just because of their writing, but because of their thinking. Their writing flows out of their ideas—and though we love the stories, it is their imagination that inspires and ignites our own. There is no other way to be creative for future generations than to do the good work of holding up the treasures made in former times.”
The work of the Rabbit Room is overflowing, and the people involved have been living examples to me of what Mako has said: “We can be comfortable, even confident, in affirming a cultural contribution as generative if, over time, it recognizes, produces, or catalyzes more beauty, goodness, and flourishing.”
Like many writers, musicians, and poets in the Rabbit Room, the Inklings—that group of writers connected to Lewis and Tolkien who met to share and discuss each other’s works—have been an inspiration for Ned and me in generativity. From naming our homeschool St. Clive’s Academy, Ned’s graphic design business World’s End Images, and a backyard play tower Minas Gûl, to artwork and storytelling rooted in the tradition of Lewis and Tolkien, our little home in the world (“BookEnd”) is warmed by the reflected light of the Inklings.
Several years ago, after having read Diana Glyer’s Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings and having enjoyed my first Hutchmoot conference in Nashville, I started imagining what a Square Halo Books conference modeled after the spirit of Hutchmoot might look like, focusing on the creativity, collaboration, and community of the Inklings.
The vision of Square Halo Books, for almost twenty-five years, has been to publish “extraordinary books for ordinary saints,” and to give writers who may not have the prerequisite platforms a place to offer their words and work. We have sought to be generative in how we care for this company, for those who write for us, and for those who read our books. Hosting a conference is a natural outworking of what we deeply care about.
On February 11th and 12th, 2022, Square Halo Books is hosting our third conference in Lancaster, PA. It is called The Inklings: Creativity, Collaboration, and Community. We are offering thoughtful talks about the writers and ideas of the Inklings, as well as offering activities that will involve our attendees in creativity and collaboration in community.
Our main speaker is Donald T. Williams, Square Halo author of Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis. Other speakers include authors Douglas McKelvey, Andrew Peterson, Christie Purifoy, Shawn Smucker, poet Christine Perrin, and illustrator John Hendrix. Friday night attendees will enjoy a talk with Matthew Dickerson, a pub night with locally-made beverages and snacks, and book release party for a new Square Halo book Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children (curated and edited by Théa Rosenburg, Carey Bustard, and me).
Saturday will be full with good talks and breakout sessions, as well as a staged reading of Leaf by Niggle by two local actors, a pop-up printing workshop with Ned, a gallery full of artwork inspired by the Inklings, and tea with readings from the Inklings. And of course there has to be food—breakfast and lunch will be offered, as well as coffee and snacks.
The final goodness crowning this event will be a concert given by Andrew Peterson in the Great Hall.
Our own work of putting this event together has included collaboration with other local organizations, such as The Trust Performing Arts Center, Square Halo Gallery, The Row House, Reverie Actors Company, St. Boniface Craft Beer, Hammond Pretzels, and Wanderlust Coffee.
The generative work of the Rabbit Room has been the impetus of relationships that span across the country, and some Hutchmoot friends will be helping us with this event—which makes putting this together a greater joy. Also, the Rabbit Room, as well as the Trinity Forum, The Cultivating Project, Black Barn Collective, Anselm Society and Classical Academic Press are our sponsors. It’s good to work with kindred spirits.
Our hope is that this conference will plant seeds of generativity in the imaginations of those who attend; that this weekend together will be a time to encounter generosity of spirit, experience genesis moments, and enjoy the fruit of generational thinking. And, having feasted on this richness, we hope to see people take all of these ideas and experiences back across the country to the people God has given them and in the places he has planted them.
Consider joining us this February 11th and 12th, 2022 in Lancaster, PA for The Inklings: Creativity, Collaboration, and Community conference.
Learn more about the sponsors for this conference at the links below: