For more than twenty years now, my brother, Andrew Peterson, has been baring his soul in his music, and in doing so he’s shined a ... Read More
The only way to really learn something is to screw up.
A few days ago (with the help of the good people at the Gospel Coalition) I released a music video for a song called, “Is He Worthy?” and just hours later I was sitting in my office with tears in my eyes. Not the good kind of tears. Among the very kind comments on social media were some painfully negative ones, pointing out that there was a conspicuous lack of racial diversity in the video. Someone actually said, “Man, that’s a lot of white people in one video!” Others said they wouldn’t or couldn’t share it with friends of color because it would cause them pain. The irony was that the song is based on one of the most gloriously inclusive passages in scripture, Revelation 5, which says, “From every people and tribe, every nation and tongue, he has made us a kingdom of priests to God to reign with the Son.” The camera swings past all the white faces just before I sing that line. This is the very definition of “painfully ironic.” What was meant to be a video drawing attention to the glory of Jesus, one that opened the door for all people to praise him, had become, for some, a source of grief. I immediately thought of some friends of mine and wondered if I had unintentionally hurt them. I called them and my worst fears were confirmed. They were very encouraging even as they helped me understand what it was like for them to watch the video, and in the end we cried and prayed together on the phone.
The shoot, directed by Max Hsu (who is awesome), was crazy. We relied on an open casting call for volunteers to fill the chapel, but for some reason only half of them showed. It wasn’t until the fourth of fifth chaotic take (with string players, choir members, lighting crew, camera crew and congregation rushing to and fro) that I realized there were only white people in the room (other than the director, of course!). It’s not at all unusual for people of color to come to my shows, so I was surprised that none were there that night. I mentioned it to someone, but things were so hectic that the next thing you know Hsu had called for the next take. Honestly, the lack of diversity didn’t occur to us again until the day of the release when I read the comments.
If I could go back in time I would tell the Andrew of a month ago, “Don’t assume. Make sure that this video is a true reflection of the Kingdom. Make sure it paints a glorious picture of the promise in Revelation that every people, tribe, nation, and tongue will sing (indeed, already sing) of the worthiness of Christ, the Lamb who was slain to free the captives. Think about the subtext, about what this video will say, wordlessly, to your friends of all colors.”
I didn’t, and I regret that. Because I believe God works all things for the good of his people, I have to trust that, though I’m small potatoes in the music world, my misstep with this video will lead the church to good conversations, better understanding, humility and love and forgiveness between everyone affected by it. My prayer on the morning the whole thing started was, “Please, Lord, don’t let my mistake detract from the point of the song, which is to give voice to the truth of the Gospel, to invite many into the joy of singing about the beauty of who Jesus is and what he’s done.” But really, that’s merely my intention for the song. God’s intention may be broader and better—his intention may be to use my lack of wisdom and foresight to open the doors for reconciliation, repentance, healing, and mercy. As my friend said on the phone yesterday, “A hundred deaths, a million resurrections.”
So, as a white American singer/songwriter whose only hope is Jesus, I’m asking forgiveness of the friends and listeners to whom this video brought any measure of grief. I’m also asking the good people who have come to my defense to refrain from using social media to do so. Be silent long enough to really listen. And then, if the Spirit leads, engage with love and patience and humility. As I said, the only way to learn something is to screw up. What was only a small voice in my head a few weeks ago will, I assure you, be a loud, clear voice of wisdom in the future. I’m sure I’m going to make a mountain of mistakes in the days to come, but, Lord willing, this won’t be one of them.
I’m curious to see where this story goes. In the meantime, I’m still praying that this song and the accompanying video will continue to be an instrument of peace in spite of the broken vessel through whom it came. After all, I’m not worthy of praise or glory. Only Jesus is, and it is to his strong hands that I entrust myself and my faltering work. Do I feel the world is broken? I do. Do I feel the shadows deepen? I do. And I truly believe that all the darkness—even my own—won’t stop the light from getting through. I do.
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.