I just got back from the Behold the Lamb of God show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, and my heart is still full of it. If you’re not familiar with Behold the Lamb of God, it’s a twelve-song concept album by Andrew Peterson that tells the story of the Incarnation through a wide lens, starting with the Passover in Exodus and running through the whole Old Testament to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. Every Advent for the last twenty-one years, Andrew and his musician friends take Behold the Lamb on the road as a stage performance. The Ryman show has been a Christmas tradition for my wife Lou Alice and me for many years.
When I speak of “Andrew and his musician friends” I don’t use that term casually. The friendships between the musicians, many of them two decades long or longer, are central to the experience of the music. I’ve heard musicians speak of chemistry between performers, but I’m actually talking about love between performers. And love produces human flourishing.
The first half of the evening, before the play-through of the above-mentioned album, is an in-the-round style show in which each of the singer-songwriters takes a turn playing a couple of his or her songs. As each of those performers came up tonight, I was keenly that each of them was doing what nobody else could do. Nobody plays guitar like Andy Osenga. Nobody sings like Jill Phillips. Nobody plays the bass like Scott Mulvahill. That is not to say that Andy is the best guitarist in the world or Scott is the best bassist in the world or Jill is the best singer in the world. That kind of hierarchical ranking isn’t even interesting. I’m saying that each of them is the only person who does what they do. And they do those things so well in large part because they are part of a loving community that promotes flourishing. It was a huge joy to see those friends rejoicing in one another’s excellence. It made me want to do my own thing(s) with more excellence.
I have written elsewhere about the importance of thinking in terms of territories rather than hierarchies. To quote my own self,
Forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground. Work hard. Be disciplined. Get better. Your patch of ground and your community are worth it.
I hope you have friends who encourage you to cultivate your little patch of ground and celebrate when it bears fruit. And I hope you’re celebrating when your friends’ little patch bears fruit. If you don’t have that kind of friend, your next best move is to start being that kind of friend for somebody else.
It’s late. As I said, I’ve been at the Ryman all evening. So I’ll leave it there. Let’s all be allies in making beautiful things and telling a truer story.
One last thing, and it’s an important one: You can watch the Ryman Behold the Lamb show online through January 1. Click here to purchase the streaming version. I commend it to you.
My 15 year old son died from a massive stroke almost one year ago. As I contemplate his life and death, I have often gotten stuck on the question, “But what about all of his potential — all the great things he could have been and done?”
Thank you for this piece; it has helped to reset my focus. Although on the cusp of manhood when he died, my son did spend 15 years deliberately cultivating his own little patch of ground. As his family, it’s good for us to remember and marvel at the fruit it bore and to realize we are all the richer for it.
He was a great fan of your books. I hold dear memories of him laughing as we listened to you read “The Wilderking” series. He especially liked to encourage his baby sister to cry out like a Feechie.
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