I saw an invigorating concert tonight. I was blessed to be surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world. I sat next to Jill Phillips, Andy Gullahorn, and Don Chaffer (Waterdeep, Enter The Worship Circle) as the Art Music Justice tour unfolded before us – an artful combination of music, images, media, the Word of God, and the call to remember the poorest of the poor. The tour was the brain-child (or perhaps heart child is more appropriate here) of Troy & Sara Groves and featured guests Charlie Peacock, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Brandon Heath.
The show was in Franklin, TN at Christ Community Church and a good crowd gathered for a concert that was more than just music, but also an invitation to join in a conversation about Jesus, how he loves the poor, and how we love Jesus when we love the poor.
I could talk at length about the performances – the way that Sandra McCracken all but channeled Emmy Lou Harris, Derek’s delightful crankiness, how well newcomer Brandon Heath held his own on stage with veterans like Charlie and Sara, the wisdom and authority that Charlie brought, and of course Sara’s disarming passion that is at once humble and emphatic. I could talk at length about the artistry of the evening – the musicianship, the artwork displayed in the sanctuary and on the screen, the flow of the evening. I could even talk in depth about the effective way that the ministries of Blood Water Mission, Food For The Hungry, and International Justice Mission were presented. But it’s difficult to parse all these things out because they are all a part of the whole that made the AMJ tour so special.
When Sara was working on her last record that centered on themes of social justice, I was concerned for her – there are a lot of opportunities for that kind of material that when set to music can come off the tracks and fall either in the ditch of preachiness or the ditch of melodrama. Her album successfully avoided these pitfalls and is a richly layered exploration of hope and responsibility. These are the hardest kinds of songs to write and she pulled it off, making it sound easy.
A risky album would likely call for a risky tour, and I remember a conversation I had with Troy Groves last Spring about their Fall tour plans and how they wanted to do this thing, but they couldn’t figure out how to make it work financially. But they felt like it was right, so they were moving ahead with it, trusting that God would provide. And move ahead they did, and the hundreds gathered in Franklin tonight including myself are grateful.
I’ve been in and around the industry for a number of years, and you come to accept the business nature of the gospel music business – with it’s agendas, posturing, and bottom line mentality – though it does wear on your enthusiasm after a while. Sometimes it can look like a lot of people trying to build their own kingdom.
What was remarkable about the AMJ concert was it’s insistent focus on the Kingdom of God and what it means to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The music was amazing, the line-up of artists was incredible, the media presentations were cool, but the truth is all of these things were virtually invisible. I would venture to say that even though the emphasis was on the poor, even this was secondary in the end.
I think hope was the star of the show. Hope for the poor, yes, but also hope that we could all be a part of something bigger than ourselves (including our fears, disappointments, etc), that we are God’s craftsmanship and he has good works that he has prepared in advance for us to do. That God is on the move, as He always has been, but that maybe He is inviting us to be a part of what He’s doing in a way that will bring us alive, or bring us to His life.
I spent much of this day leading up to the concert preoccupied with worries over the economy and the gleeful onslaught of doom and gloom from the media. Tonight I felt like I could breathe again as I was reminded that God is watching over us, His Kingdom is moving forward, and that we are in His hands, and not only that but we are also called to be his hands, and that in this understanding, and in this trust, and in this obedience, there is peace.
A music gathering where we are called to trust, to give, and to cast our gaze outward to those whose troubles belittle ours at a time when all that is so counter intuitive may be just what the doctor ordered for our troubled times.
Thank you Sara and Troy for taking risks and adding to the beauty. “Your dreams inspire…”
Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".