Monday, October 31, 2011

An Open Letter To Andrew Peterson

Dear Andrew (forgive me for the informal greeting, as we've never properly met - but how can I not feel like I know you well enough to call you Andrew, after soaking in your words and melodies for so many hours? Plus there was that one time I saw you in person in Richmond. So that counts for something....)

I'm working from home this morning. The first part of the day was a long phone conversation with a musician friend who is working with me to lead our Christmas production this year. We spent an hour working through the specifics of instrumentation for all the songs we're doing the weekend prior to Christmas - what will, for us, be the Christmas event for our church. Usually we do something big on Christmas Eve, but this year we're doing what my pastor affectionately refers to as a "cantata" (in our contemporary church, that's one of those words that makes you gag. Just a little.) And I guess it is a cantata, sort of. But not.

Behold The Lamb of God is a collection of some of the most amazing music I've heard. I like it, for sure; but what I have discovered is that repeated listenings reveal layers and layers of stuff. Musical stuff. Lyrical stuff. Theological stuff. It never gets old. And in my line of work - leading creative arts at a contemporary church - I'm sad to confess that this is a rare thing. Too often, the awesome closing worship song of last week is forgotten in the next. Because, frankly, it is forgettable.

But not this stuff.

Yesterday at rehearsal we ran through "It Came To Pass" for the first time. The upright bass and the banjo were brilliant, and as it echoed in the room, I beamed. It was rough, for sure - it was the first time. But to hear such art come to life under your own hands, after it has become ingrained in your may be a bit of a stretch, but for me it's the same joy that comes while I play a Beethoven sonata or a Bach invention. To recreate music that has endured; this is art. And it is the highest calling we can claim, as musicians. To create - or bring new life through recreation - art.

Anyway, I am rambling. Forgive me. The point is this: as I continue my work, I realize that without thinking, an Andrew Peterson playlist is moving me through midday. "The Silence of God" begins, and I remember the very first Blue Christmas service we did, in an effort to give voice to the grief and sorrow that too often colors the holiday season. I remember how devastating that lyric proved to be - and yet how it offered such hope. And I remember the harpist in that service, and the candles, and the couple who clung to one another because their child had died four weeks prior, and the echo of hope. 

The aching may remain / but the breaking does not...

And then came "Dancing In the Minefields", and I remember stumbling upon that video and sending it to my friends, who were clinging to one another in a dark and difficult season of their lives. I remember that they watched it, together, and that they cried. And I know today that they are stronger.

And I remember, too, when we used that same video in a church service about marriage. And I remember the wild, viral fire on Facebook the week after, when people were posting the video and the song lyrics and drawing the hope and honesty of that song into their hearts. And into their marriages. And telling everybody who would listen. And how some friends now still use the phrase, "we're dancing in the minefields" as part of their adopted language of hope and faith in their marriage.

I remember seeing you and your friends in Richmond last year. Jim and Judy had told me, year after year, that I needed to see Behold the Lamb. Finally, we did; in fact, our entire church staff went last year as our Christmas party together. I remember the utter awe, the glory of God, the thrill of creation and the beauty of the music that you played, fresh, like it was the first time. Which it obviously was not. And yet it is, recreated again and again for the glory of God, fresh and new and alive. And we, the audience, were part of something remarkable. Sort of what I imagine heaven might be.

And now, we prepare more of what has flown from your heart and mind and the strings of your guitar. We are about to immerse our community in the grace of God enfolded in the story you have told through this music and these lyrics. We will paint the back of the stage wall swirling blue, with tiny stars to echo the album cover. We will watch as a musician who has been starved for community, whose instrument has been silent for two years, plays. He has fallen in love with this music, and with the joy of recreating it. And he has fallen back in love with his God. I can hear it as he plays.

We have battled the challenging rhythms of "So Long Moses" and made them our own.

We soak in the sparse beauty of "Labor of Love".

We memorized ALL of the begats! (Well, one of us did....)

This music has inspired and motivated us. We are creating something wonderful for our community to enjoy. But something has been created in us as well. Some awareness of the unique calling upon us and the ever-present, unending grace of the brave little boy who is  our Savior.

And so, Andrew - my friend I've never met, but whose heart I feel I know through his art - thank you for letting your song sing. Thank you for all the work you have done to bring light to this world. Thank you for setting your creations free. Thank you for what you've given to us because you responded to what must have been a very demanding calling at times.

Thank you for the times when even travelers get lost and the aching that remains and the minefields and the when I lose my way, find me and the gather round and the begats and the labor and the gathering and passover us and the hallelujahs. You've made a difference in our world here. And we're grateful. Your songs sing in our community and they have changed our lives.

Blessings to you,


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