Better Than Eggnog

By

I told somebody that I was going to see Behold the Lamb of God, The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ with Andrew Peterson and friends. “Again?” he said. “Isn’t that the same guy you saw last year?” “Why yes, it is, as a matter of fact,” I said, avoiding the temptation to start a sermon, because how do you really explain such a thing; where would you start?

btlog.jpgI’m not sure at what point an event transitions from an annual occurrence into a full-fledged tradition, but for my family and me, Andrew Peterson’s production has clearly made that leap. From our first road trip to Nashville and the Bellcourt Theatre six years ago, to the more recent annual hostings by Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska, BTLOG has become a tradition that solemnly prepares our hearts for the Christmas season.

Like any superb legacy, the production in the December 2, 2008 version retained the sacred tenets of tradition. Equally important, there was surprise and nuance, not only from the in-the-round segment in which each artist humbly submit their own songs, but also the way in which varied aspects of the story moved us. Same words, same melody, same instruments, new revelation. Being moved in fresh ways—in  heart ways and head ways—is part of the heritage of this work. Andrew Peterson has written with such insightful depth, that despite the beautiful simplicity of the story, we routinely make new discoveries.

The Elkhorn show sold out quickly. I was fortunate to get my four tickets before the tickets were gone. I can’t claim any particular expertise in guessing audience size, but I suspect there were close to 1,000 people on hand. Tangentially, one of the particularly attractive aspects of BTLOG shows has been the evolution of community, a mish mash of message board participants, Rabbitheads, local/regional supporters, promoters, friends and relatives of band members, all of whom are bound together by a passionate devotion to the music; more relevant, by the brother and sisterhood made possible in Christ. My little satellite associations extending in and out of Omaha are just a small example of that. There are thousands of similar stories wherever the show plays.

For the first round, Andrew opened with “Hosanna,” adroitly linking the Easter story with that of Christmas. It provided the first sense of congregational worship, as the audience—with little prompting, as if its line had been fastidiously rehearsed—joined the offering of contrite praise singing, “Hosanna” with all the vigor and passion of the prodigal son. Then, it was Andrew Osenga with a track from Letter to the Editor, Volume 2 called “Canada,” followed by “The Secret,” an oldie but goodie from Andy Osenga from Room to Breathe, Jill Phillips with “A Lot Like Me” from her new record The Good Things, Bebo Norman with a song I fail to recall, and Ben Shive with “4th of July”—written about an event in Norfolk, Nebraska—in what may have been one of the first public performances from his critically acclaimed debut recording. In response to a question Ben posed from the stage about “Anybody here from Norfolk,” a surprising contingent, mostly in one area, raised their hands and shouted a good Norfolk cheer.

The next round featured “New Beginnings,” one of my favorite Andy Osenga songs, “Holy Flakes” from the Andy who’s last name starts with a “G,” the almost title track from The Good Things from Jill Phillips called “All the Good Things,” “Mary’s Prayer,” one of the first songs Bebo Norman wrote and his mother’s favorite, and in a stroke of profound synchronicity, Andrew Peterson led us into the Christmas program with what may be one of the best modern worship songs ever written, “The Good Confession (I Believe).”

eggnog.jpg

As someone else wrote (and I’m not quoting exactly because I can’t remember where I read it), “There is something about hearing ‘I believe he is the Christ, Son of the Living God,’ repeatedly that inspires awe.” With congregational voices rising and echoing celestially, it made me feel like I was ready to launch, like that rocket in cut eight from Resurrection Letters, Volume 2.

Upcoming BTLOG attendees, you are most definitely in for a treat. Indeed, you will be part of the treat. With each round of that phrase (I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God), the intensity of emotion ratchets higher and wider. And it’s not emotion for emotion’s sake; it’s emotional truth boring ever deeper into our being, and it’s one of the most profoundly moving sounds I’ve ever heard.

The season is here. Don’t miss the opportunity to sing “Silver Bells.” Drink some eggnog; eat some Christmas cookies. Kiss somebody under the mistletoe. Drive around and look at the lights. And by all means, attend and support your local Christmas pageant. But if you crave something more, something real, something that will simultaneously rock your world with truth, and cultivate peace and joy in your spirit, consider making Behold the Lamb of God, The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ, a new family tradition. It has everything to do with the real, true meaning of Christmas, and nothing to do with the paltry imitation.


34 Comments

  1. Nate

    I couldn’t agree more. The last year of BTLOG will be a sad one. I pray that it is far away. I was able to catch the show in Lexington. Wonderful.

  2. JIm A

    Curt, Goood Stuff!!
    Just a small correction. “The Secret” is the other Andy Gullahorn not Osenga and it’s hands down one of his best.

    I was very bummed when the dates finalized and I saw that BtLOG wasn’t coming anywhere close to Houston. Last year we were lucky enough to have them at our church in Sugar Land. And a roadtrip to Nashville just wasn’t in the cards.

    However, like always, right after Thanksgiving the CD went in the truck and not a day’s gone by that I haven’t listened/sung through almost the entire 12 tracks on the way to or from work.

  3. Dieta

    Truer words were never spoken, Curt. Last year was the first year my husband and I attened this touching show, and this year I’m bringing all 3 kids and my husband gets to participate in it. (Thanks Andrew!). The show at the Ryman last year left us teary-eyed, moved, and utterlt speachless(not a word usually associated with yours truly). Andrew tells this story, as he tells so many others, with grace and an openess that is lacking around us most of the time. What a gift he and this show truly are-Merry Christmas to us!

  4. Lori

    Can you imagine what the the Ryman will be like lit up on Thursday night as swells of “I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God” ring through the pew-filled hall?
    Tears and chills right now even thinking about it.

  5. Ron Davis

    Saw BTLOG last night in Birmingham. It takes my breath away every time. And I’ve seen it many, many times.

    The Ryman show is Thursday! woohoo!

  6. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    JIm A wrote:

    Just a small correction. “The Secret” is the other Andy Gullahorn not Osenga and it’s hands down one of his best.

    Thanks, Jim. Not sure how I did that, since “The Secret” is one of my Gully favorites. But with so many Andy’s on one stage, can you blame me? 🙂

  7. Lynn

    Can’t wait to join the chorus tomorrow night in Charlotte…. “I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God….”

  8. Simon Miner

    With all the resources available in the Rabbit Room store, I wonder how many folks are presenting BTLOG at their churches, schools, or at other venues. I saw this show in Connecticut last year, and this coming weekend my church’s worship team is presenting it at our home church in Georgetown, Massachusetts. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this! To introduce my congregation, family, and friends to this setting of the Story is a dream come true!

    Does anyone know of other “local” presentations of BTLOG around the country? If you can’t make it to one of the shows on Andrew Peterson’s tour, there might be another option in your area.

  9. Jodi

    Where can I get a Rabbithead T-shirt? 🙂

    Only wish BTLOG was coming to Wisconsin this year. Maybe next year.

  10. Tony Heringer

    Curt,

    Love the Rabbithead references. BTLOG bypassed ATL, but if we can’t get it here, perhaps we can road trip up to Nashville some year. That would be a great time to gather the Rabbitheads, eh?

    We just had a similar event at our church and it is true, the story never gets old no matter how many creative ways we tell it.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  11. Josh B.

    Yeah, I’m a little disappointed there was no Wisconsin show this year, too…
    Last year in Wausau was AMAZING, though, so I guess if I have to wait another couple years to see the live show again, it will be well worth it.

  12. JIm A

    Jodi, yes! where are the Rabbithead shirts!!! I’ve been calling for a shirt for months now! 🙂

    Curt, no blame and I knew you knew what you meant. Just clarifying for whoever might be reading here that didn’t know that and was unfortunate enough not to own that album yet.

  13. Emily

    This was my 3rd BTLOG at Bethany. It never gets old. It is seriously the highlight of my year. I get chills every time. This year’s concert was no exception. Best of all “The Good Confession” and “Hosanna” are my two favorite off of Resurrection Letters.

    Our little group of square peg supporters can’t wait for the tour to be in Lincoln next year so we don’t have to drive!

  14. PaulH

    Rabbithead t-shirts? Oh, this must happen – xxl size please
    The closet the show comes to me is 1.5 hours away and not that is too far but watching the pennies. I know no excuses but if it were closer i might be able to eat macn cheese for a week or so…

  15. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Curt,

    Your friend’s comment reminded me of the unliterary reader in Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism (the term ‘unliterary’ is not a highbrow insult for Lewis, just an observation of how different people read).

    “He considers ‘I’ve read it’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.”

  16. Lauren

    I went last year and drove three hours and back in the same night. It was amazing. I teach Kindergarten and we listen to the BTLOG cd during naptime.

    Blessings.
    Lauren

  17. PaulH

    Oh, on the Rabbithead t-shirts (sorry to carry this further) I bet a certian creative artist who is a member here, named Evie would love to design them.

    I have to confess, regarding BTLOG, I just bought it this season and of course i am blown away at the album, especially with Jill singing Labor of Love. I bet it is extraordinary live.

  18. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Ron, another quote from that work by Lewis, if I remember correctly, is “The definition of an illiterate man is someone who reads a book only once.” Or something like that.

  19. Mike

    This will be the first time in four years that I won’t get to see BTLOG and I am sad. Just not close enough to where I live. I’m searching frantically for my cd. I really need to get the dvd.

  20. dave herring

    i can’t wait for the charlotte show! Simon Miner, our church did it! i haven’t uploaded all the vids, but heres one

    we’re just simple ametures trying to recreate a masterpiece. enjoy!

  21. Andrew

    Just got back from the Greensboro concert. My wife and I were pretty speechless the whole way home. It was so beautiful. Thanks Andrew and everyone else.

  22. becky

    I’ve already raved about the concert in Elkhorn in commenting on a previous post, so I won’t go on and on. But I wanted to say that as the inevitable insanity of this season has descended on me, BTLOG has been one of the things that keeps my focus on the birth of Christ. The concert ticket was one of my best Birthday presents ever! (Russ’ Advent meditations in the Virtual Advent Wreath have also been amazing focusing tools. If you haven’t read them, you should.)

  23. Neil

    Matt – I think we’ve recruited over 25 from MAC who will be at the Kokomo show, so you have to show up now or else you’ll make the rabbit room look bad!

  24. Darcyjo

    I was at the Greensboro show as well, my first time to see it. I got to be in the front row, and I was just blown away. From the opening to the audience joining in at the end……amazing. Worth the 90 minute drive.

    Wow, it would be really cool to do it here as well!

  25. T. Smith

    Thank you so very much for finally coming further east in NC to Greensboro. Last year I tried desperately to catch the show in Charlotte but the show was sold out way in advance. I’ve not encountered many other Rabbitheads in this neck of the woods, but I’m sure that last night’s concert added a large number to the pack. Normally, when I anticipate something for so long the fruition is never as bright as the dream of it in my head. Last night, however, was quite the opposite. It was well worth the wait. While my mind was blown away by the musical talent before me, my guts resonated with the honesty and the vulnerablity of each song. Dare I say it, but though I was simply an observer in the audience my soul was led to worship Christ and to gaze at the mystery that binds us together as the body.

  26. Phil

    I keep watching and waiting for a Southern California version. I may have sun and surf nearby most of the year, but come Christmas, or anytime really, I’d give it all up to see the show live.

  27. JIm A

    And while we are at it (getting Evie to create rabbithead t’s) how about some BtLOG polo’s as well??? Would that be to, i don’t know, commercial?

  28. Peter B

    Curt, my envy shines brighter with each reply to your post (but it’s a good envy). From the year I discovered BtLoG (2006) and drove 4.5 hours to south Houston for the show, I’ve been well aware that I will do what I can to make it each and every year. Unfortunately, the economic downturn has made it hard for bands to get booking (a buddy of mine who plays guitar for The Afters says nobody’s making money touring right now), and 10 hours to Nebraska was a bit more than I could bite off this year.

    The local production idea is fascinating, especially since my pastor voiced some unsolicited interest in that just last week. Just for that, he got my last copy of RL.

    Here’s to seeing all you Rabbitheads in person… this side of eternity if possible.

  29. RM Peters

    Got to see the last night of the tour in Milford, OH. I, like you Curt, have made BTLOG tour a yearly Christmas tradition. I believe this is our fifth year over the past seven? We spent a couple in North Carolina and weren’t able to catch the show. I look forward to it every year and hold my breath practically through the whole show, not wanting it to end. It’s the sweetest Christmas tradition I have been able to start in my young family and I hope it is able to continue for years to come.

    I also throughly enjoyed “In the Round” this year. As of course I do every year. I especially enjoyed the cello performance this year with David Henry. Cello may be my favorite stringed instrument, although I really don’t like to choose. It is sad and glorious and melodic and pulls at something deep inside that causes me to well up and know the imprint of the Maker on my heart. Thanks for the add this year! Although, I do admit I missed the violin intro on “Behold the Lamb of God,” but thought the cello added a beautiful sadness to “Deliver Us.”

    I especially enjoyed singing “Oh come all ye faithful” with the congregation this year. I really heard a great mixture of singing and felt the community and oneness of the Church. That was probably the moment that made me cry…there’s always at least one, beside from Jill singing “Labor of Love.”

    I also appreciated hearing the “Good Confession” at the end of the round session. It is a song that truly encompasses the fullness of my walk with Christ, through all of the messed up times, the good confession has always drawn me back home. Andy intro’d the song by saying something like, “Even when I was a dirtbag (lol, yep that’s me), I couldn’t deny the fact that I did and do believe that He is the Christ, Son of the Living God, my Lord and my Savior.”

    Thank you Andy, and all the Behold the Lamb of God tourers, for realigning my spiritual spine this Christmas and reminding me once again the purpose of Christmas and ultimately my existence.

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