He looked out from the cliffs at the remnants of pink setting over the Pacific, noticed the birds silhouetted above the horizon and heard the seals calling back and forth on the sand below. We huddled against a railing near dozens of other tourists and couples in famously scenic La Jolla, ready for the mood-setting twilight and hoping to glimpse the elusive “green flash”. I watched as he exhaled, paused, turned toward me, and with emotion in his voice said, “You know, if this was a video game, it’d be a lot more beautiful.”
In that moment I knew, with a certainty I’ve rarely felt before or since, that I was dating a nerd. This was not exactly my first indication of that fact. The first time I met Jaron I took one look at his striking features, shook his strong, calloused hand, and thought, “Well, he won’t be an issue.”
Among these striking features was a dorm sweatshirt for “Moyer Hall”, the residence at our college where all the computer programming students lived. Next there was a pair of extremely faded jeans that tapered down to end far too many inches above a pair of furry, skinny ankles which stuck out of over-sized hiking boots that had clearly never seen a day outside. He wasn’t sagging exactly, but his sweatshirt was just short enough that each movement of his arms unintentionally exposed a bit of midriff, equally as furry as the ankles.
Despite all these warning signs the joys of working in ministry and making music together quickly drew us close and it wasn’t long before the nerdy boy came to San Diego to meet my family.
His comment on the lacking beauty of the fallen world in contrast to the embellished digital one was not the end of the conversation that night. You see, this “gamer” I had begrudgingly begun to fall for was in the middle of an internal revolution. I wish I could say that it was the inspiring time spent with me that spurred the change, but even before we met he had begun to hear whispers from the Spirit. Jaron had started down a road that he would eventually bring me along. He was learning to discern engagement from exploitation. He proceeded to explain to me that night that he had spent too many hours trying to find the feeling of climbing a mountain without ever breaking a sweat. He had spent too much conversation on fake battles and codes without ever connecting them to real conflict or confusion, on the virtual embodiment of characters motivated by winning rather than saving.
Since that time he has taken me along into these real experiences: hiking volcanoes and counting mosquito bites, singing in clubs rather than just the shower, writing essays without having an assignment due (and, of course, to our greatest playground for gritty living: marriage). Together we have taken baby steps toward the courageous involvement with art that consumption alone cannot provide.
Just a few years into our pursuit of a more artfully engaged and financially down-to-earth lifestyle we came across The Rabbit Room. In this semi-circle of artists there seemed to be no exclusivity, no specific hairstyle or ironic t-shirt required. Just support for the journey and a mutual admission that none of us is yet an expert. The lessons that I began to learn from Jaron almost ten years ago I continue to learn with him in this community. There may be nothing new under the sun, but the hard-won art of these Rabbits illuminates the same truths to new people, in a moment’s language. And when the truth is spoken, they continue on, looking for a way to say it again, for someone else.
The artists that were present this weekend have spoken my language before I knew how in ways that have changed me eternally. Their work does not promote escape, but holy entanglement. It is not numbing entertainment; it is soul distillation. And, oh, how I need it. I am so grateful to this community, to those who host it, and to each artist who shows up over and over and hollers, “Y’all come!” despite what fear, despite what interruption it brings.
* If you’ve been reading along with me for a while, the beginning of this story may seem familiar. It is. Like the choose-your-own-adventure books I loved so much when I was little, many stories start the same way. Both are true.