MONEY, Part 4: Little Things Matter

By

This is the conclusion of a series of posts about money, art, commerce, and the Kingdom. It’s not so much about money, but a closing thought about the artist’s calling.

The Great Nashville Flood of 2010 was devastating. People died. Homes were lost. We watched our neighborhood street turn into a muddy river. On one of our walks down the hill from the Warren to see the flood’s progress we spotted a family of field mice who had been forced to higher ground. Then we saw two or three moles. We and a few neighbors gathered them up and moved them to safety.

Later, in the woods, we found a drowned baby rabbit, soaked through and pitiful. Their warren had flooded and it was too small and fragile to escape in time. I imagine its mother pulled it out with the others and this was the unlucky one. I have a thing for rabbits, you see, so it gave me pause. A few minutes later I heard my son Aedan screaming through the woods. I ran. Our dog, a huge Great Pyrenees named Moondog, had found another baby rabbit, this one still alive. Before Aedan could stop him, Moondog’s instincts kicked in and he attacked. Rabbits scream like humans. Aedan saw it all–and heard it all–as Moondog bit and shook the rabbit till its back broke. When I found Aedan he was weeping in the mud with the little bloody rabbit cradled in his hands. It was awful.

Later, while the rain battered Tennessee, Aedan sat on the couch and wept. He punched the cushion and cried, “I’m sorry. I feel terrible and stupid that I’m crying over a little rabbit when there are people dying all over the world. It was just a rabbit!” I was astonished, as I often am by my children. I held him and told him to cry all he wanted. “You’re mourning the same thing,” I said. “Death is death.” He wasn’t just grieving the little animal, but the Curse itself. The rabbit in the dog’s jaws only signified the presence of the serpent in the garden of his boyhood. He was grieving the slow dusk of his own death as manhood’s shadow gathered in the east. The world, the rabbit screamed, is broken. That truth intrudes and slays the days of youth. Nature, in the words of Tennyson, is “red in tooth and claw.”

So we grieve and we rejoice, like breathing in and breathing out. The little things matter, and the big things matter, and hearts far and near need hope.

Art, if it can be ascribed value, is most valuable when its beauty (and the beauty of the truth it tells) bewilders, confounds, defies evil itself; it does so by making what has been unmade; it subverts the spirit of the age; it mends the heart by whispering mysteries the mind alone can’t fathom; it fulfills its highest calling when into all the clamor of Hell it tells the unbearable, beautiful, truth that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. None of these songs and stories matter if the beauty they’re adding to isn’t the kind of beauty that redeems and reclaims.

That doesn’t mean every song and every story has to be a sermon. Not at all! But the very existence of great stories and stirring music and good art is a sermon itself. That anyone at all in the world would set their sad heart and tired hands to the work of wreaking beauty out of chaos is a monument to Grace. It reminds us of light and high beauty, and it laments the world’s great sorrow. It gives the heart language to rejoice and language to mourn.

Creation groans like a woman in labor? Even so. And we know every birth is a tight-wound cord of fear and joy, pain and pleasure, striving and surcease. Let those who can, tell that story. Let those in Christ whose hands paint worlds, whose tongues limn loveliness, whose ears hear astral strains–let them make, and make, and make. And let the made things adorn the dark and proclaim the coming Kingdom till the King himself is come.

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


49 Comments

  1. Kyle Keating

    “The rabbit in the dog’s jaws only signified the presence of the serpent in the garden of his boyhood. He was grieving the slow dusk of his own death as manhood’s shadow gathered in the east. The world, the rabbit screamed, is broken. That truth intrudes and slays the days of youth. Nature, in the words of Tennyson, is “red in tooth and claw.””

    Wow. That’s as simultaneously marvelous and tragic and poetic description of the Fall as I’ve ever seen. Tears.

  2. Kyle Carlson

    Andrew, this is so beautiful. Long-time listener and lover of your music, and first-time Rabbit Room commenter. Thank you for this little series, and for the wonderful way you’ve expressed the calling of artists and musicians in the Kingdom. May I – and we – live and create in a manner worthy of it.

  3. Leigh McLeroy

    SO, so beautiful. And true. Would it be possible to link these four posts together in the intro to each, so that you could quickly access them in (or out) of sequence? They belong together, and need to read over, and over again. (And would you please tell Aedan that this grown up cried harder when Old Yeller, Bambi’s mother and my own dog Chester died than I ever have at the nightly news or Saving Private Ryan? You’re right. Death is death. And even the smallest, weakest things can open wide the ancient wound.)

  4. Will Livingston

    Must go listen to Sara Groves sing her fitting companion to this one, Why It Matters.

    As I told your brother at the Ryman last year, your parents must have had some amazing creative and artistic genes to yield the great wealth of talent that is revealed in their children.

  5. John

    The fact that Christ has died, Chris has risen, Christ has come again shouts to the Powers-that-be that this world matters. This. World. Matters. We matter. Everything matters. And the pain of a baby rabbit (or a best friend dog) is still pain. They are not made in the Image, but they matter.

    And I almost hate to do this, Andrew, after such a beautiful series of posts, but I disagree with you. Every song is a sermon. Every act is a sermon. Or maybe I should say “should be a sermon.” That doesn’t mean that it has to be “preachy” in the way that we often understand it – but it is and should be something that speaks to the heart, to the soul. I’m a pastor; I preach almost every Sunday, and I try to preach every day in between. I am not always successful because I am a broken human being who nevertheless is made in the Image of God. But – every song can and should be a sermon telling us about the Truth, the Story, of the One that came for us to tell us just how much we matter.

    “Preach the gosel always, and if necessary, use words.” – often attributed to St. Francis of Assissi

  6. Paula Shaw

    Ok. I’ve cried enough for the week, let alone the day! “It gives the heart language to rejoice and language to mourn.” I love the fact that one of the most endearing and cherished things I find about you, Andrew Peterson, is your ability to articulate what my heart is trying to say. I just don’t have the ability to “limn”. I’m really glad you do! God is good!
    🙂

  7. Tony from Pandora

    John,

    Andrew states, “That doesn’t mean every song and every story has to be a sermon. Not at all! But the very existence of great stories and stirring music and good art is a sermon itself.”

    So he does say that every song “is a sermon itself.” But not the “preachy” kind (as you put it). So he does agree with you, but just worded it in a way that might have confused you.

    I think of AP’s song “Rocket” It’s not a sermon, but displays a wonderful truth:
    We stood among the multitude, we saw the rocket rise in a fiery hue.
    It defied destruction to ride the eruption.
    I have found this much is true:
    that love alone can carry you up and away to the great wide open,
    Adrift in an endless ocean, in a bliss of mystical motion.
    I have found this much is true: love alone can carry you.

  8. Profile photo of Evie Coates

    Evie Coates

    @eviecoates

    oh AP. i can barely see to read to the end — i’ve got these big tears, pausing on the lower lid before their fast fall down my cheeks, that are making it nigh on impossible. just pure, God-breathed beauty. thanks.
    and here’s where i managed to collect my emo self and share the love…..

  9. Jonathan Rogers

    Well, AP, I been thinking on how to respond to this outlandishly beautiful essay–how best to congratulate you and thank you. I’m thinking the most appropriate response is to go make something. So, Rabbit Room people, I challenge you: make something beautiful today to adorn the darkness. The kingdoms of the world are becoming the kingdom of God and of his Christ…and one way is through his people’s willingness to make things that tell the truth about this world we find ourselves in.

  10. Dan Kulp

    One of my fav AP songs is “The Boy Who Was Bored” from Slugs & Bugs. Very far from a sermon; but very funny. It gets stuck in my head for days on end to the point of people thinking I’m an idiot humming this tune. I am an idiot, but that song is still funny. I’m glad AP & RG made that album.

    There is a sermon in the fact that we create. Man unlike any other creature, creates. We seek to make beauty. Whether singing, instrumental, storytelling, writing, poetry, pictures paintings, woodworking, welding, movies, gardening, cooking, etc. Sometimes our fuzzy eyes twist our definition of beauty and how that comes out, but that doesn’t remove the internal stirring to create; it actually makes you sad for how distorted and broken it is.

    Ants & bees may be a well-organized society but there is not a single statue on an anthill, or a teen-age bee with an “artistic temperament” that makes one cell black instead of yellow.

    There is a truth in our creating nature. It is the same spirit that pushes us to create and lets us enjoy. Before realizing this, I was shocked how many engineers dwell around the rabbitroom. I do see beauty in drafts, nice designs, schematics; and have joy when it works together. They don’t make me weepy, but there is a beauty to it. Then I understood, engineers are still answering the artist call; and still appreciating others that do as well. And do it so well.

  11. Charles

    I like what the sum of these money discussions conveys: what the Gospel and Kingdom mean for the present world, for the nature around us (Berry does this wonderfully). Too often I see Christian thinkers stuck in the historical period of the early Judeo-Christian world, that of the late BCE/early CE Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula (and, for reasons I can’t explain, not Africa–see Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind). What I mean by this is that all of their exempla (for what the Gospel looks like lived out) come from a certain period of history, far distant and foreign to us (I’m not bashing the use of ‘bible stories’). But what does the Gospel story look like in the southern Appalachians, and what do rural, mountain communities say about the coming Kingdom? What does capitalism, industrialization, and destruction of fields, streams, and hills say about it?

    For me, your reflections on art, community, and nature tap into a profound reality in Christ’s words and life that we too often miss. As Jonathan Edwards observed, there is more truth (and Christ-story) in the natural landscape than we often see, and as Rich Mullins noted, Christians rarely feel like they’re ‘in church’ when they’re walking in the fields (we’d rather make our own ‘buildings’), and what a shame that is.

    Recent work by literary historian/critic Terry Eagleton resonates here (Reason, Faith, and Revolution). Whether you agree with all of his philosophy, he’s done a wonderful job of conveying the temporal influence/consequence of the Gospels.

  12. Leanore

    I could add nothing by way of affirmation and admiration of all that you’ve set forth for us, Andrew. It’s a high privilege to read these thoughts, share in the community, and be challenged by the insights of others.

    But I would like to suggest that another fitting response, besides creating something beautiful to light the darkness, is to give practical help to someone who is in desperate need. Today. It’s not hard to find at least one person in your own church who has a need that is beyond his or her own ability to meet. It might be a neighbor, a mother, or an older person.

    In many cases this doesn’t take any money. It might require a dearer investment: time, resourcefulness, personal attention, perhaps a sharing of a meal. A cup of cold water.

    I love creating, but I must confess that there is quite a bit of introspection and self-love that are part of the process. Lighting the darkness by stepping into someone else’s need – which I don’t do often enough – takes me off my own little pedestal. Do I love doing that? No, not usually…at first. But afterward, it makes the heart glad.

  13. Ben Ward

    I have two blogs. I am not faithful about regularly posting to either, but my intent was to dedicate one to worldly issues like economics and politics and the other for “spiritual” things. On the occasion I do post, it often seems that I begin in one blog and by the end of my writing I realize that the post fits just as naturally in the other. I suppose I’m learning that everything is sacred and that temporal shadows are cast by Eternal Truth.

    Thank you, Andrew and Rabbitheads, for contributing to my continuing education. 🙂

  14. Breann

    Thanks, AP. What a holy and humbling calling it is to “look into that darkness and speak.” Today, however I can, I’m going to better what I can.

  15. sally apokedak

    Great post.

    I also feel a need to say that anyone who owns a Great White Pyrenees is very cool. They are wonderful big beasts. I know it’s heartbreaking to have a beloved dog kill a helpless creature for no other reason than for the joy of killing. But, as you say, it’s because of the Fall and one day, praise God, the dog will lie down with the rabbit.

    But, even as we wait there is much beauty. Last year I was driving down the road and saw, off to the side, a small grove of trees dressed in rich fall colors. The sun was just breaking through from behind, setting fire to the trees and turning the morning mist into a golden pool at their feet.

    This is how extravagant the Lord is. Even decaying leaves must be beautiful in the world he created. Fallen nature is his servant, declaring his glory, and he takes what is evil and turns it into a good gift to men.

    And today he takes the death of a rabbit and the tears of a boy and uses them for his glory. As long as there is compassion in man, there is the testimony that our compassionate God still lives.

  16. Felicity

    For this writer married to a musician, this series is my introduction to you after discovering your wonderful song “Dancing in Minefields.” Thank you for your attention to these important matters. My husband and I feel we are just waking up to this artistic calling, and these posts have been both a balm and a fire.

  17. Meg Moseley

    Wow. I’m new here, but Sally A., above, just emailed me to say I had to read this post. It had me crying, too, and it reminded me of Rien Poortvliet’s huge, wonderful “Noah’s Ark” book, a collection of his artwork celebrating God’s animals.

    Poortvliet included a page of sketches of an orphaned wild hare that was adopted and bottle-fed by a tenderhearted six-year-old girl in Austria. The hare didn’t pull through, and she wrote in his honor: “Oh my darling, I loved you and love you still, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Some people might roll their eyes at that and call it silliness, but I think it’s beautiful, like the compassion and grief that Aedan knew over the death of a rabbit in Nashville. This world is both beautiful and fallen, full of life and full of death. These everyday tragedies give us glimpses of the Fall, and if we don’t sometimes stop and weep, there’s something wrong with us.

    Now I’ll have to go back and read the rest of the series. Thank you.

  18. Chris Hodges

    A dear friend of mine sent me this link. As a 30 y/o musician/composer with a young family, I struggle with God’s calling for my life. I truly feel that I am supposed to make music and my desire to be a full time musician is, at times, overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I should give up and accept my office job and stop pouring time and money into playing and writing but then I think about my life without making music… These posts are blessings for me. I really appreciate them and want you to know that. Thank you.

  19. carrie luke

    exactly.

    Sometimes, i think we can get distracted by the (seemingly) differences in our ‘pews’ that we hide under. We think that some are more acceptable than others, or better justified. But, it doesn’t change the fact that we all ‘hide’ because we are afraid to be seen.

    It takes real courage to pursue tilling a field that we don’t recognize, understand, or can’t relate to, but it doesn’t take long before we see that underneath the surface, the soil is the same.

    We all need pieces of the redemption story in our lives, and they don’t fully take root in us until the heart is pursued in love, plowed up, and planted with seeds of grace and mercy.

    Sin and wounds(what makes us run for covering) usually takes place in relationships, and it is ironic that it is in relationships where we find healing and rest in the company of others. For the ‘glorious ruins’ that we are. But, it is not with out its risks. But, neither is there not risk prior to the reaping of a harvest.

    it’s a gift from the Lord that we get to be part of the greater story in the lives of others whatever our chosen ‘medium’ or craft. “The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love one another.” Van gogh.

    and i love that we are now back where we started…which for you I guess…is book 3?:)

    oh, and just sayin’
    http://journeysofaprodigaldaughter.wordpress.com/2010/05/31/watership-down-by-richard-adams/

  20. Joe

    Andrew, thanks for all of these posts, and this fitting conclusion. It’s no wonder that the Nazis sought to round up all of the artists: they’re “dangerous.” As the seed of the serpent, they were acting just like their father the devil. The battle for truth, beauty and goodness continues on. Thanks for holding the line where the Lord has placed you, and encouraging us to do the the same, and thank you (and your fellow artists) for inspiring us to this end.

  21. Rachel Walser

    First time to comment. Friend of Todd & Christie. Met you in FL a couple years ago…you gave my 4 kids a tour of your bus. : )

    Anyway, I’ve been following this money series…selfishly bc I’v been wrestling with similar truth as we are in the adoption process from Ethiopia. So I’ve been working on a post for my blog @ money, and have appreciated your insights. I was looking forward to reading this final post of the series.

    But today. I wept. My nephew and his wife, who was 7 1/2 months pregnant, just lost their baby. A 5 1/2 lb baby girl. Horrible pain and loss, I cannot escape the weight of it. I came expecting to read a conclusion @ money. Instead you put words to the grief and sorrow and pain I have been feeling–the effects of the fall on humanity and the cry of our heart for something better. A coming King, a coming Kingdom. Thank you.

  22. Jeff M

    I’m probably going to fumble this post, but I want to respond…

    First of all by thanking our Proprietor for these posts as well as everyone else here in the room for their insightful and articulate comments/discussion – this site has truly been the single most useful visit on the interwebs for me for some time now; I am grateful for it and for all involved.

    And while I agree with the main points of this “series” of posts, and realize that this is a community of artists, I am having trouble reconciling the artists’ approach to money with someone who is not into creating music or books or paintings, etc. Andrew discusses all the work that goes into making a record (and it is alot of work, I know!) as justification for why he should get paid for this work with the noble goal of supporting his family – I whole-heartedly agree with this logic. But I keep asking this question in my mind…if an important goal for you is to support your family, and if being an artist makes it somewhat difficult for you to accomplish this goal (this “series” of posts illustrates the difficulty here), then maybe a different vocation should be considered? By no means am I suggesting that Andrew or anyone here stops creating!!!! I ask this question more for myself than anyone here. You see, I play bass for Caedmon’s Call and as I type this, I’m sitting in my office at work in Austin with more work on my plate right now than I can possibly get done by the end of the year – and I honestly long to be back on the road playing music with my friends for good folks like you all. It’s more fun! It’s more rewarding personally! And in some ways, it “feels” like I’m doing more kingdom work in that venue than writing stored procedures and C# code here in this office (nerd-speak!). But I’m here in this office because I need to support my family financially and with my presence (t-ball just started this week, first game is Sunday!). Because of this, in some ways I personally feel like the artists’ persuit is a self-serving one.

    Most folks would rather spend their days creating music with friends, or at a coffee shop getting lost in the writing of a new world with new characters in a new novel over having meetings with colleagues on how you can fit a square peg into a round hole. Writing music and books is equally a job just as it is for me to build a website – and we should be paid for our toil. But I don’t go around asking my customers for financial support (at least not directly). Again, I’m not dis-agreeing with anything said here or dis-agreeing with artists asking for financial support at all! It’s just a bit of a conflict for me personally.

    As a christian, though I struggle with this topic in my life, I do know this. We should do what we are called to do. And if you are lucky enough to realize your calling, you should go after it to the best of your abilities to glorify Him. In my case, my calling is here in this office. And I’m good at what I do. I know that He is glorified in my work, I do. I think He is also glorified when I do get together with my friends to play music as well, and even though I might have more fun creating music, I know it’s not where I am supposed to be full-time. I know that Andrew and most (if not all) of the folks here on this site are living out their calling and also glorifying Him more than they could ever know with their art. And they all should be compensated for this work.

    Sometimes it’s just hard for me to accept the calling that is mine.
    JM

  23. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Jeff I think I know what you’re saying. It’s the same sort of thing I often wonder about in support raised ministry as well, and part of the reason I knew I could never do it.
    Yet, even when I was being paid by a company for the work I did, I was still doing it because some people needed our product and were willing to give money for it. Sure I was shielded from that process, but it’s still kind of icky to know your company is charging the big bucks for medicine and the whole system that has to support and that’s what is putting food in your belly.

    The art that Andrew creates, for example, is so meaningful to me, I give out of the fullness of what I’ve received (never out of guilt or obligation) and I’m fairly sure a lot of people feel that way. Sometimes it feels like you just can’t give back enough. It’s the same reason that I bought books for as long as I could instead of using the library.

    but like you, I’m trying to find a bill paying job right now to support what I wish I could really be doing and it IS a rather miserable process and reality.

  24. Silence

    Achingly beautiful – hauntingly true. The constant search to find the place where all the beauty comes from.

    This was poetry.

  25. MainlineMom

    This may be the most beautiful piece of writing I’ve read…at least this week. What a poetic description of the fall and redemption! You’ve inspired me to keep creating.

  26. David Axberg

    Jeff, You are right on also. I do think it is correct for someone to do their calling. My calling is property management. My heart is preaching and teaching and farming, I get to do them all but put food on the table with my calling. All of them sustain me as a man. Could I be supported financially with heart love, yes but I to would be looking for assistance. I have a means to support my life and family. I do not have a problem with paying for an album or even giving to someone who the Lord blesses in their calling see (Matt. 4:14-30). On the flip side if a man does not work he does not eat.

  27. Chris Whitler

    Hokey Smokes! Alright already….I’ll get my guitar out tomorrow…geez! Maybe I’ll write some junk too. Dang.

    “I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. ” – Ps 13:6

    And thanks.

  28. Shelley

    Yes. Amen.

    “For language used truly, not mere talk, neither propaganda, nor chatter, has real power.” Kathleen Norris

    Incarnated language, very well expressed AP.

    And Jeff: “…Vocation is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet…” Frederick Buechner

    I had a college prof/pastor who shared this quote with us in a missions class–to remind us that what we get paid for may not be the vocation that God is calling us to.

  29. Adam B

    *wipes away tears*

    Magical. Thank you.

    And seriously… how do you write like that?

    “He was grieving the slow dusk of his own death as manhood’s shadow gathered in the east.”

  30. Pracades

    “Creation groans like a woman in labor? Even so. And we know every birth is a tight-wound cord of fear and joy, pain and pleasure, striving and surcease. Let those who can, tell that story.”

    This whole post made my throat sore and brought big ole tears to my eyes, but this closing really got to me. As a mother about to give birth for the third time I feel ever more closer this time around to understanding why pain in labor is a result of the fall. I can’t even put it into words right now…gulp.

    Just…seriously…thanks for your words.

  31. Robert Treskillard

    You’ve just inspired me to get back to my writing … to “make, and make, and make. And let the made things adorn the dark and proclaim the coming Kingdom till the King himself is come.”

    Amen.

  32. Amber

    I dont recall a time that I have ever been so greatly moved by a piece of writing. (well…other then the Bible) Thank You

  33. Joy C

    Andrew,

    I am so often refreshed and rekindled when I read your writings. This is such a good site to visit for encouragement in the Lord.

    Also, btw, your Counting Stars album is growing roots in me. That’s what it feels like. And the words of that song “Planting Trees” keep running thru my mind. You’ve said it well. Thank you again.

  34. Fellow Traveler

    (Now sing it with me children…) A-a-a-men!

    Amen, Amen, and Amen. What more can I say? Andrew, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to describe this profound truth to some of my more fundamentalist friends who really do think that every piece of art has to be a sermon. Congratulations for shattering my feeble attempts. As always, you put into words what I can’t find the words to say.

  35. The Rabbit Room

    […] Note: I read this last night at a February performance of Behold the Lamb of God for a conference for creative-types here in Nashville called Re:Create. It’s from the conclusion of a four-part series I wrote last year called “Money, Part 4: Little Things Matter“. […]

  36. JWitmer

    I just read this entire series in one sitting. Thank you, AP. And thank you for founding the RR to facilitate conversation like this. I’ve teared up half a dozen times, and I’m not usually THAT weepy a guy…

    I stumbled across the Rabbit Room after so many years without creative people in my life, I feel like one of my limbs was asleep and now I am suddenly feeling the pins-and-needles-pain of longing to relate to someone (besides my wife) who believes that it’s worthwhile to create in God’s honor.

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