Good

At Hutchmoot 2013, I took pages and pages of notes for the talks I attended.The notes have arrows pointing to other sections, and words written in the margins on the vertical axis, scribbles, and single word entries — like just a name with no further explanation, e.g. Poincàre.

Honestly, most of my notes are crap. Half the time, I have no idea what I was trying to say. I know why my notes look like that though. So much good stuff was being said that I was trying to write it all down, and, as a result, got very little written coherently.

One thing that was said, though, that has stuck with me for years in a talk by Nate Wilson. N.D. Wilson has written a bunch of books: The 100 Cupboard series, Ashtown Burial series, Outlaws of Time series, as well as Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl and Hello, Ninja. He gave a talk called “The Case for Craft,” and I actually took notes I could read.

The first section of that talk was about technical value. Are we competent at what we’re doing? This part was life-changing for me:

It’s okay to be a widow and to give a widow’s mite.

It’s okay to be bad at something on the way to being good at it.

God gives everyone grace to create beauty with their life.

N. D. Wilson

Honestly, I wish I could write like John Steinbeck, but I never will because I’m not John Steinbeck.

I’d like to write like Annie Dillard and once even had a professor compare my writing to hers. But I’m not Annie Dillard.

I love Thomas Merton’s contemplative writing — but I’m not Thomas Merton either.

I can only write like me.

And that’s okay — as long as I continue to work at making my writing the best it can be.

It’s okay to be bad on the way to being good. I hope I’m on that path.

Friendship

What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.

C. S. Lewis

I daresay this is quoted every year at Hutchmoot.

Muppets from Space is also oft-referenced. That’s the movie where Gonzo (in a dream) is denied entrance to Noah’s Ark because he doesn’t have a partner of the same species but where he eventually (in real life) finds others just like him.

Some of my closest friends are people I met at Hutchmoot.

At my very first Hutchmoot, they had a storytelling evening. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things ever that they have done. Great stories told by great storytellers. I’ve asked if we could do it again and the answer was something like, “I don’t think we could ever top that one.”

I think they would be surprised. It was amazing, but the world is full of amazing people who experience amazing things. The folks who attend Hutchmoot tend to be attuned to the amazing that’s all around them.

Apparently, before Hutchmoot 2011, they had run some sort of contest where people could submit stories and then they chose two to read that night. I still remember one — a tender story about two trees and about the writer’s grandmother. (“Two Trees” can be read here.)

The woman who wrote it stood up shyly afterwards to receive applause. I watched her and felt her discomfort right along with her. Also, I was in awe at the beauty of her words. Oh, I wished I could write like that!

The next year, she was there again, and she spoke to me. I’m 99% sure that I said something stupid.

I thought that was the end of that until, a few weeks after Hutchmoot, she reached out to me via Facebook. I’m 99.9% sure that I rebuffed her overture of friendship. I didn’t feel like I was in the same strata as her.

She called me out. She wrote back saying something like, “Who decides who I can and cannot be friends with?”

And, with that, we began a long correspondence.

I told her things I had never said aloud to anyone, but somehow, it felt okay to tell Alyssa.

We wrote back and forth, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, but rarely letting much time pass without one of us checking in on the other.

We prayed for each other through challenging times. She’s been with me through three deaths in my family. I was with her through a foreign adoption and some health issues.

A few years later, I was at a retreat put on by the Rabbit Room (the same people who put on Hutchmoot) at Laity Lodge. In a Q&A session, the question was thrown out to the audience that was something like, what do you appreciate most about the Rabbit Room? Or, what is your best takeaway from the Rabbit Room.

I timidly raised my hand. I don’t usually like to speak, but I knew the answer to this one. “Alyssa,” I said. “The greatest gift of the Rabbit Room has been the gift of a close friendship of someone who truly understands me and loves me.”

Do you think I could find a picture of Alyssa for this post? Of course, not!

But this is Leah. We met at Hutchmoot and we traveled to Bosnia together. I love Leah! I could stories about how she has been a huge encouragement to me.

And this is Kim. We met at Hutchmoot. She is such an encourager! She came to a Zaengle wedding. We text frequently. We can’t wait until we can see each other again.

Speaking of seeing each other again — I got to see Alyssa last night. I’m traveling with one of my daughters to look at colleges and were not far from where she lives. It was such a treat to see her, to talk face to face, to laugh together and to share burdens.

Why didn’t I take a picture? Probably social distancing. And the fact that photos weren’t at the front of my thoughts. Just seeing her.

Friendship is the greatest gift of Hutchmoot. Truly.

Ego

Hutchmoot does not predetermine a theme for each year, but every year a definite theme emerges. That theme, though, may be different for each participant. Once, when a friend was asking me about Hutchmoot, I said that Hutchmoot meets you where you are.

I was reading through all my notes for 2012 and noticed a definite theme that I don’t know that I picked up on at the time. Here are some quotes:

It doesn’t matter what you think of me. It doesn’t even matter what I think of me. The only thing that matters is what God thinks of me — and He loves me.

Russ Ramsey — Friday chapel devotion

How did you become you? Pain.

Jason Gray, Recovery Through Song

I need to show up in my own life.

Andrew Osenga, Recovery Through Song

…to be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else.

e.e. cummings, quoted by either Lanier Ivester or Sarah Clarkson, The Art of Spiritual Subcontext

Over and over, I was reminded to lean into my own story and that who I am is known and seen by God. The pain in my life shapes me. I need to be present. I need to be me.

Looking back, I remember the horrendous year I had had leading up to my second Hutchmoot. I had started this blog in 2011, I think, but by mid-2012, I had acquired a most un-welcome follower. The verbal attacks caused me to really question who I was and ask myself if anybody could possibly love me. I had stopped writing in this blog.

The ego is a person’s sense of self-worth or self-importance. Mine was beaten down.

Yet, there were the words spoken by a variety of people that were a balm to my soul.

Yes, Hutchmoot met me where I was that year. And it was good.

Dish Duty

Hutchmoot has grown substantially.

For the first few years, it was limited to 100 attendees. Then, through a weird glitch in 2012 or 2013, it expanded to 130 attendees. In 2017, it moved from Church of the Redeemer in Nashville to Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN where, I think, they could accommodate 300. Last year, when COVID forced Hutchmoot to go virtual, they had over 3000 people “attend.”

But, back in the old days, when it was small, the meals were coordinated by a multi-talented woman named Evie Coates. She is an art teacher and a visual artist. Her Hutchmoot food was delicious and beautiful.

On the first day, a sign-up was available to help in the kitchen. There was absolutely no pressure, just a quiet here’s-an-opportunity-to-serve.

I pounced on it.

On my schedule, I wrote “dish duty” next to lunch on Saturday.

I remember going down to the bustle of that kitchen and trying to help in whatever way I could. I wanted to give back in some way. I wanted them to know how grateful I was (and am) for what they do.

Since growing and moving to Franklin, the kitchen crew became a well-oiled machine. They turned out amazing meals. But they didn’t ask for volunteers from the general riff-raff. I couldn’t volunteer there.

Not that they would want me, of course. I don’t remember being especially helpful when I volunteered for dish duty. I wanted to be helpful — but, you know, sometimes lost people just get in the way.

Don’t get me wrong — no one made me feel like that at all. I remember feeling lost, though, in that unfamiliar kitchen, and wishing I knew my way around it better. I see now how it makes so much more sense to have an actual kitchen crew.

Still — I’m glad I had the opportunity that I did in 2012.

Conversation

Good conversation is a hallmark of Hutchmoot.

We eat our meals together. At my first Hutchmoot, we ate in the basement of The Church of the Redeemer at long tables lined with metal folding chairs.

I actually wrote a cheesy poem about my experience that year.

In a metal folding chair
At the end of table two
I met some friendly people —
Could one of them be you?

For every single meal
My chair was there for me
Always just the same
At table two, not table three.

’cause a moot of hungry rabbits
Can be a daunting sight
For one who’s always awkward
And never fits quite right.

For a timid little bunny —
Oh dear! What will I say?
My chair at table two
Gave me comfort every day.

So if I didn’t meet you —
And there were quite a few —
It may be that you never sat
And dined at table two.

As hungry as I am for good conversation, I’m also terrified of saying something stupid that reveals the fool that I am. That first year, I chose to sit at the same chair for every meal. It gave me comfort. It was a decision I didn’t have to make again. I just got my food and headed to “my” chair.

The food was amazing. I should write a post on that. Maybe I will.

But what I loved most about the meal times was the conversation. Even when I wasn’t engaged in conversation, I was listening to the buzz of fascinating talk going on around me.

Sometimes friendships begin with a commonality of something that both people love, and sometimes they begin with a common dislike or pet peeve. CS Lewis’ quote — “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!'” — is oft repeated at Hutchmoot. When conversations — really respectful conversations — occur between people with different viewpoints, each person leaves better and wiser. Sometimes friendship is born of that, too.

That first year, I didn’t know it was what I was looking for, but I found the conversations to be a highlight. It’s been that way every year since. The conversation is substantive. It feeds me. While the food is nourishing my body, those words are filling my soul.

I think it was at Hutchmoot that I learned to be a true lover of good conversation.

From my Hutchmoot 2011 notebook

Beach Boys

Malcolm Gladwell did a fascinating two-part episode on memory in Season 3 of his Revisionist History podcast. He began with memories of 9/11 and how, if you ask someone today where they were and what they were doing, they can recount precise details of that morning. However, sometimes those memories are incorrect. When shown written evidence — a journal entry or an email that they wrote that day — saying that they were actually in a different place or with different people when the planes hit the towers, people will say, “I don’t know why I wrote that. I remember that morning so clearly.”

I had one of those moments this morning when I was getting ready to write this. I have a few crystal clear memories from that first Hutchmoot, one of them involves a session Ben Shive gave called “How to Smile: the Fine Art of Loving Brian Wilson.” Brian Wilson, the creative genius behind the Beach Boys, struggled with mental illness. As soon as I saw the write-up about the session, I knew it was one I wanted to attend.

When I opened my notebook to read what I had written during the session, I thought, That’s not right.

There on the page, in my scrawly handwriting, it said, “- walked with one hand covering his soul.”

For nearly ten years now, I’ve thought of it as one hand covering his heart. I thought he was afraid his heart would fall out.

In fact, when I’ve been near the bottom, my hand finds its way there, over my heart, feeling its rhythm, reminding me that I’m still alive. I first remember doing it after that session.

Because there were times over that weekend when I thought my heart was falling out.

If it fell out, and I fell apart, everyone would know.

And that couldn’t happen because it wasn’t my story.

It turns out, though, that it wasn’t my heart after all. Or rather, it wasn’t Brian Wilson’s heart. It really was his soul that he held in — confirmed by my notes and by the handout Ben Shive had given us. Ben had been doing some serious research on Brian Wilson.

I probably changed it in my head because I was less worried about my soul — I knew it was in safe hands — and more worried about my heart that weekend.

On another page of notes, I had written short summaries of each of the sessions I attended. For How to Smile, I wrote three words — “Grace, grace, grace.”

Grace for those with mental health struggles.

Grace for myself.

Grace for all.

Hutchmoot planners don’t come up with a theme and tell their presenters to focus on it. The theme comes on its own, and may be different for each attendee. Grace was my theme that year. It began with Ben Shive talking about Brian Wilson.

Then, either Russ Ramsey or Justin Gerard, in a session called “Interview with a Dragon Maker,” said, “I called you to your story. I didn’t call you to perfection in your story. My grace is sufficient for you.”

And finally, Thomas McKenzie, in morning chapel, said, “Grace flows from the hard places.”

Apprehension

I really shouldn’t be here.

That thought ran through my head over and over during my first Hutchmoot in 2011. It was a two-pronged accusation:

  1. I wasn’t like most of the attendees. They were accomplished creators of music and/or books and/or art (or so I thought). I was just a mom with a blog.
  2. A member of my family had just gone through a serious mental health crisis. I knew I should be home. First and foremost, I was (and am) a mom.

My first fear was quickly laid to rest. Hutchmoot is put together and attracts a very warm, friendly, accepting group of people. I felt encouraged. I felt challenged (in a good way). I felt like my cup was filled just by virtue of being there, hearing the music, sitting in the sessions, eating delicious meals in a church basement on a metal folding chair, being surrounded for a whole weekend by loving people who longed for substantive conversation the same way that I did.

My second apprehension was a little harder to allay. Mental health issues are tough. They are private. They are scary. They are misunderstood. They carry a stigma. They hit too close to home sometimes.

But I think that I’m getting ahead of myself. Some of you are probably wondering what a Hutchmoot is. The short answer is that it’s a conference.

From my notes from that first Hutchmoot: “Hutchmoot is the intersection of faith and folks.” And that’s about as good a definition as any of them, but go ahead and google it. Hutchmoot is famously hard to explain. That’s partly why I decided to do my A-to-Z Challenge on it. Maybe enough little stories will help someone understand it in a bigger way.

So, back to September 2011. Early in the month, I had gotten one of those phone calls that parents dread. I had a child in crisis. It upended my life. Most of that story isn’t my story so I won’t tell it, but about two weeks before my flights to Nashville, I was sitting in a counselor’s office and had this conversation:

Counselor: What do you have going on for the next few weeks?

Me: When I get home, I need to cancel some flights for a trip I was planning.

Counselor: What was the trip?

Me: I was supposed to go to this thing in Nashville, but I don’t feel like I can go now. [I think I fumbled around with words trying to explain Hutchmoot.]

Counselor: Why aren’t you going?

Me: Ummm. I can’t. I need to be here.

Counselor: No. You need to go. You need [child’s name] to see that life still goes on.

And, with that, the decision was made.

Sometimes, what looks like a selfish decision — going off to a conference — is actually a selfless decision. Honestly, I didn’t really want to be there. At the counselor’s insistence, and against my own heart, I went.

It was the best thing ever.

More on that tomorrow, when B is for the Beach Boys. Aren’t you curious how they play into Hutchmoot?

(not) Insignificant

A few weeks ago, when Texas had their devastating freeze, I listened to a news story about all the people impacted by the loss of crops. The farmers suffered the most obvious loss. The consumers would feel it, without their leafy greens in the grocery store or on their dinner table. I hadn’t thought about the migrant workers who now had no crop to harvest, or the people who work in the processing plants where the produce would have been cleaned and packaged, and the truckers who would have transported it.

Unseen does not mean insignificant.

My Lenten reading brought me to Luke 22 — the story of the disciples getting the room ready for that last Passover meal.

So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room…’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.”

Luke 22:8-12

I followed Peter and John into the city where they met the man carrying a jar of water. I found myself wondering about that man. Why was he there? Was he sent there specifically to watch for Jesus’ followers? Or, was this one of his daily tasks, fetching water, and Jesus knew he would be there? Was he waiting? Or, as always, was God’s timing just so very perfect?

The master of the house had the room ready. What did he know? Did he always have that room ready for guests? Had God impressed something specific on his heart that morning? Or that week? Or, was it years before, so that he always had his guest room ready because, who knows, perhaps God would have need of it? Had he graciously let the room out to others who asked or had need? Had he grown weary of hospitality?Or was it his calling and he found it fulfilling even if he didn’t always receive the gratitude he may have been due?

Did Peter and John have to go to the market to purchase the bread and the wine that we know they had that night? Did the market vendors know the great purpose of the items they were selling?

Did the one who baked the bread know about the breaking of his bread by the One who was the Bread of Life? Could the vintner have possibly imagined that his wine would represent the blood of a New Covenant?

I mentally followed the people-trail in that story trying to see the unnamed and unseen people. They’re everywhere.

During this time of mask-wearing and isolation, I think many may feel unseen and insignificant. May I encourage you today to keep carrying your water. Keep your guest room ready. Keep baking bread and growing grapes.

And if your job has been taken from you because of weather or a pandemic or some other unforeseen circumstance, be faithful with whatever is put before you.

Keep doing those daily tasks that no one sees.

Because “no one” is a misnomer.

There is One who sees and values what you do. You may be serving Him in ways you cannot imagine.

The Wrong Side

[the class of persons who had been imported as slaves] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect

Chief Justive Roger Taney in his majority decision on Scott vs Sandford, aka the Dred Scott case

A few years ago I started researching the history of Cooperstown. This meant spending delightful hours at a research library, reading book after book on the area, noticing all the historical plaques on buildings and around town, and, of course, googling and following subsequent rabbit trails.

One of the surprising things I learned was that a Supreme Court justice considered Cooperstown his home. To me, this was bigger than baseball. Bigger than the wealthy people who vacationed here. Bigger than James Fenimore Cooper’s awful books.

68 Main Street, Cooperstown

A Supreme Court justice! Holy crow, right?!

We named a street for him in the village.

His tiny lawyer’s office is now on display at the Farmers’ Museum.

Why, then, had I never heard about this man?

It took all of one Google search and I had my answer. At the end of the first paragraph of Samuel Nelson’s Wikipedia write-up, it says, “He concurred on the 1857 Dred Scott decision…”

Dred Scott is arguably one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court ever made. The majority decision held, basically, that slaves had no rights. While Justice Nelson concurred with the majority, he based his decision on the fact that he believed that the question of slavery was one that each state needed to decide for itself.

Regardless of his reasoning, Justice Nelson was on the wrong side of history. A few years later, the country was in a civil war, and some 620,000 lives later, the majority ruling in that case was irrelevant.

I thought a lot about Justice Nelson during the most recent impeachment trial.

I was reading a story about senators being censured for their votes in that impeachment and ran across this regarding Pat Toomey, senator from Pennsylvania:

“We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he’s doing,” Washington County GOP Chair Dave Ball told KDKA. “We sent him there to represent us.”

Fox News

People can be caught up in what feels like a righteous movement and still be dead wrong. Think about the Roman Catholic church and Galileo.

I wanted to write Washington County GOP Chair Dave Ball and ask him, “Did you really mean that? Is that how you feel about all trials? Don’t you want people to have consciences and make rational decisions based on the evidence they hear? Are you going to regret those words?”

I imagine that Samuel Nelson may have rued his decision. At least I like to think he would have.

I love the way The Farmers’ Museum handled it. Inside Samuel Nelson’s lawyer’s office is a display explaining Dred Scott because it was probably the most important case he heard — and his worst decision.

Whoopie Pies

I think baking is very rewarding, and if you follow a good recipe, you will get success.

Mary Berry, judge on The Great British Bake Off

One of the nicest things to happen to me recently was when I came downstairs to find the kitchen clean.

Not only clean, the coffee maker was ready to go, with a note taped to it to just push start (or play, as one of my other children used to say).

Not only clean and coffee-ready, I found whoopie pies baked and ready to be assembled.

If you aren’t familiar, a whoopie pie is a New England thing (although the Amish also claim them) made with two chocolate cake-like cookies with a sweet cream filling sandwiched between them.

“I remember you saying that Grammie used to make them for you for your birthday,” my daughter Mary said.

Yes, that’s true. My mother grew up in the Boston area and I loved her whoopie pies. I used to make them for the older kids, but I don’t think I ever made them for Mary.

“I had to look through three boxes of recipes before I found this one,” Mary said, showing me the old hand-written recipe which my mother had labeled “Whoopee Pies.”

“Then, I just thought of it as a technical challenge like on the The Great British Bake Off,” she said. “I followed the directions exactly. When it said, ‘Sift the dry ingredients,’ I sifted the dry ingredients. When it said to put them by teaspoonful on the baking sheet, I used a teaspoon.”

It’s amazing what happens when a baker carefully follows an old recipe.

Even sweeter than chocolate and cream is a person so thoughtful to find a special recipe and make it for someone who would appreciate it.


Mom’s Whoopee Pies

1/2 Cup Shortening
1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 Egg Yolks
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Sugar
2 1/2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Soda
5 Tbsp Cocoa powder
1 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Sift. dry ingredients.
Add rest and mix until smooth.
Drop by tsp on ungreased sheet.
10-12 min at 375 until set but not crisp
When cool, put together with filling.

2 Egg whites
2 Cups Confectioners sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Shortening

Mix until smooth.