Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
I’m on a plane flying home after the last date of the Behold The Lamb of God tour. I’m tired (to the point that I fear I’m not up for writing this post–forgive me if it meanders…), excited to see my family who I miss so much, and I’m filled with a gratitude that warms my heart even as I return to the cold Minnesota winter.
The common sentiment I heard night after night from countless people after the show was that they felt like “Christmas can begin now.” And it’s no wonder. Andrew Peterson’s Behold The Lamb Of God may be his masterpiece–a remarkable Christmas record that quietly defies all of the conventions of what we’ve been taught to expect from a Christmas recording, eschewing sentimental favorites in favor of a wholly original work that is a potent reminder of what happened 2000 years ago and still has the whole world talking.
If you, reader, have never heard this record, do yourself a favor: stop reading and order it right now. This isn’t just another Christmas record. Nor was it just another Christmas tour.
For those not familiar with it, Behold The Lamb Of God: The True Tall Tale of The Coming Of Christ takes us on a journey through the ages to reveal how the Old Testament is as much about the coming of Jesus as the New Testament is, from Abraham, Moses, the kings and prophets, all the way to the young girl in a shabby stable giving birth to the Hope of all mankind. That I got to be a part of the “telling” of this story night after night is one of the more meaningful things I’ve gotten to be a part of.
Each night began with an artist in the round segment where Andrew introduced us as his friends, bragging a bit on each of us individually before inviting us to play a couple of songs. This is very generous of Andrew – it’s his night, the people are there to see him, and he doesn’t have to share the evening with anyone, and yet night after night he gives most of the evening away to his friends and their songs and stories.
As a fan who often attended the show, the artist in the round segment was my favorite part of the night, though that’s not necessarily how everyone feels. Andrew told me “I know some people don’t enjoy the artist in the round part as much as others, but I feel that it’s good for them, like I’m giving them their vegetables.”
As the tour went on, the beautiful balance of it revealed itself to me.
As I said, the evening starts with each solo artist introducing and playing one of their songs before passing it to the next artist, two times through. Ben Shive kicked it off, followed by Andy Osenga, then myself, Jill Phillips, and Andy Gullahorn, before going back to Ben for another round.
You should know that these artists are my heroes and that every night I marveled at my good fortune to get to share the stage with these people whose voices have sung to me the grace of God in times when I’ve desperately needed it. None of them get much if any radio airplay and work in relative obscurity, yet they are among the best at what they do – their work marked not only by the excellence of their craft, but the generosity, courage, and humility of their spirit.
And it’s their generosity and courage that moved me most and that I want to talk about here. They sang of hope and grace, yes, but always in the face of their fear, shame, and doubt, exposing the places where their hearts have been broken. They didn’t have to do this, risking such vulnerability, returning to their wounds, but they did this night after night, naming the broken places for the healing of those who would receive it.
Andy Osenga would sing like he was opening a vein:
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
I did what I planned to do
And I feel like I knew I’d feel
But I want to come back to you…
Jesus you’ll have to come get me
Cause it’s too far to walk from here.”
Jill and Andy together singing of the lowest point in their marriage that was tested to the breaking point:
“Gaining back the trust we lost
was harder than just losing it
But if we wanted change at all
The pain was a prerequisite
Little by little, one piece at a time
We were putting back together what was left of a broken life
It wasn’t quick, it wasn’t easy
But that kind of change doesn’t happen overnight…
I wouldn’t have it any other way
No I wouldn’t have it any other way…”
I am moved to tears even in the remembering of it now as I write.
And then Ben Shive would sing what is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite songs–a song about death called “A Last Time For Everything”–which he introduced each night by talking about how he realized that one day there would be a last funeral.
“It will be like any other funeral. Nobody in attendance will know it, but it will be the last one. And I like thinking that this is how death will pass from existence: with no fanfare to dignify its passing.”
And then with a touch of his fingers to the piano that is distinctly his, he would sing one of the saddest and loveliest melodies I’ve heard.
“You need to look death in the eye, in the eye…
You need to see that he’s afraid to die, he’s afraid to die
But you my love…
You’re going to wake up soon
In your lonely room
To the sound of a singing bird
Throw the curtains back
To find your bags already packed
And the cab is at the curb
And like a bad dream
Unreal in the morning light
So will the world seem
When you see it in the mirror for the last time
There is a last time, a last time for everything”
Every night these words of my heroes, my friends would kindle the fire in my heart, to keep it warm and soft to the touch.
The artist in the round was bookended by Andrew Peterson himself singing his beautiful songs “Dancing In The Minefields” about marriage and “The Reckoning” with its longing for the return of Christ who will set all things right and make everything new.
It occurred to me toward the end of the tour how inspired the flow of the evening was–how the first part with our stories of hope, grace, and all that we long for in the face of all of our shame, fear, and doubt asks the questions that God answers so completely and kindly with the mystery and beauty of the Incarnation, God with us, breaking into the run down tenement hall of our humanity to take us to the home that we’ve never seen but that we know is real if only because of our homesickness.
The shame of our sin, the struggles we’ve known, the fear of death are all answered by: Emmanuel. “Gather round, ye children, come and listen to the old old story…”
The last night of the tour, Todd Bragg (drummer, tour manager extraordinaire, and one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of working with) prayed over our last dinner together before the show. “Lord, we thank you that we get to tell this story…” his voice cracking with emotion, halting as we waited in pregnant silence, the words we all waited on gathering weight and depth. “It’s a good one.”