September 2009


Saturday I watched episode 8 of Ken Burns’ movie Jazz, a documentary that Andrea and I started 2 years ago while still living in Kentucky and somehow never finished. If you’ve never seen any of Burns’ work, his documentaries are outstanding. His three major ones are on the Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz, which he considers to be the three quintessential elements of Americana, and his newest endeavor is titled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; it premiers this Sunday at 8 eastern on PBS.

While watching this particular episode from Jazz, I was sobered by how often these amazing musicians found themselves enslaved to drugs and alcohol and saddened by the vast number of them who turned to addictions to find relief. I don’t say that with any thoughts of superiority; we all have sinful refuges we turn to besides our Creator, and, for many in that era of jazz music, drugs were the escape hatch from the pressures that surrounded them; pressures that ranged from racism to road life. It was just disheartening to hear about how their lives crumbled around them and their talent was often squandered.

In the midst of that discussion, a story about Miles Davis had clear echoes of redemption.

Inspired by [Sugar Ray] Robinson’s seriousness about his craft [of boxing] and finally weary of the life his addiction was forcing him to lead, Davis resolved to kick his habit. Characteristically, he determined to do it on his own. He had just finished an engagement with Max Roach in Hollywood. He rode the bus halfway across the continent to his father’s farm outside East St. Louis. His father told him he could do nothing for him except offer his love. “The rest of it you got to do for yourself.” Davis did. He moved into a two-room apartment on the second floor of the family guest house and locked the door. For seven days, as the craving for drugs raged, he neither ate nor drank, shivering with cold and struggling to keep from screaming with the pain that tortured his joints. Then, he remembered, “one day it was over, just like that…. I walked outside into the clean, sweet air over to my father’s house and when he saw me he had this big smile on his face and we just hugged each other and cried.”

Davis would not fully kick the habit after this instance, but it was an uplifting story amidst clouds of despair. In it, I saw parallels to the Christian life, though the correspondence does breakdown at some point, especially when considering the self-willed approach of Davis as opposed to the Spirit-empowered, community-focused sanctification of Scripture. But I can’t get over that picture of Davis emerging from the shadowlands of fighting his addiction to drink deeply of the fresh farm air and freedom he now felt. And then to see the smiling face of his father, for them to embrace, and for tears of joy and exhaustion to flow uncontrollably.

It’s what the fight of faith against sin and self often feels like; that God is near and offers his love, but we are shivering and struggling until the Spirit takes control and the struggle ends for a moment. It’s how I picture saints entering the rest of eternity: staggering in, war-torn and weary, to finally breathe in paradise and weep for joy in the arms of their Father, finally free from the struggles of life and the sins that have enslaved them for so long. It makes me want to keep fighting, remaining faithful to the end, because the fight is worth the present and future smile of the Father.

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“I don’t want to analyze a story. I don’t want to find hidden meaning. I just want to escape from the real world for a bit.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

There is something great about books with maps at the beginning – even before reading the first words, you are invited to lose yourself in a world not your own. In Andrew Peterson’s second installment in the Wingfeather Saga, North! Or Be Eaten, that world is Aerwiar. The first book in the series introduces readers to the Igilby children, Janner, Tink, and Leeli, their noble mother, their ex-pirate grandfather, the mysterious Peet the Sockman, and the lover of literature, Oskar N. Reteep. Our heroes are back in N!OBE, on the cusp of a journey to the Ice Prairies. Always close behind them are the dreaded Fangs of Dang, ravenous toothy cows, and hungry horned hounds, not to mention quill diggles, snickbuzzards, and bomnubbles.

Peterson returns with everything that worked so well in the first book: action, adventure, laugh-out-loud humor, creative footnotes, timely quotations from Oskar N. Reteep, and thought-provoking lines throughout. Yet North! Or Be Eaten takes the story of the Igilbys to a new level. I was reminded of the transition from Tolkien’s The Hobbit to his Lord of the Rings series: the truths of the wide-world were introduced in the first book, but the depths of those realities were plumbed in the series that followed. Such is the nature of the Wingfeather Saga. As the story unfolds from Janner Igilby’s perspective, we watch a young boy’s world expand from a cottage in the small town Skree to the vastness of thundering Fingap Falls, the seemingly impassable Stony Mountains, and the daunting Ice Prairies. More than the physical landscape, Janner’s eyes are opened to the realities of evil and betrayal, the value of family and courage, and the sometimes hard to grasp ways of the Maker. As Janner deals with fear, loss, and lonliness and as he grows in valor and love, the reader is able to learn the universal lessons of life that join the world of Aerwiar and our own.

North! Or Be Eaten lets the reader escape the real world for bit, yet in the midst of humor, suspense, and adventure there are truths from this other world so clear and parallel to our own that it is impossible to not be changed by them. 

 

Andrew Peterson is the author of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Book One in the Wingfeather Saga, and The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats. He’s also the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter and recording artist of ten albums, including Resurrection Letters II and my all-time favorite album, Love and Thunder. He and his wife, Jamie, live with their two sons and one daughter in a little house they call The Warren near Nashville, Tennessee. Visit his websites: www.andrew-peterson.com and www.rabbitroom.com.

I think I finally began to understand and appreciate music around Jr. High. I can remember listening to a song and finding something in it so amazing that I had to share it with someone. That someone was usually my dad, which makes sense, since he’s probably where the bulk of my love of music came from – bluegrass concerts and a modest but varied record collection had rubbed off. I would take the CD out of my Koss boombox and plop it into the downstairs Magnavox player while saying something like, “Dad, you gotta hear this song.” We’d sit and soak it in, commenting on the mix of lyrics and music, or how the artist hit on something we’d never thought of before. Or we’d revel in the fact that he’d said something we’d always thought or knew, but in an amazingly clear or profound way, coupled to an amazing guitar solo. Or we’d simply be in awe of the artist’s musical skill or the great hook that had been crafted. After the song was over, I’d skip to my other favorite tracks, or my dad would jump up and say, “Check this one out,” as he pulled a CD from his stack of alphabetized, genre-atized discs that the previous song had reminded him of. It could go on for a while.

When I went away to college, visits home always included a music-sampling time in the living room, and my sisters and mom would often join in. Christmas morning would often erupt into a music-sampling festival, each of us jockeying for the stereo, calling for everyone to pause and listen to the new copy of musical genius we had just received. My wife is now subject to my calls to stop everything and listen to 3 or 4 minutes of magic (which she gladly does), and visits back home or visits from home also serve as an outlet for playing D-J with the family.

There is something about music that begs us to share it with others, even if it is the creation of someone besides ourselves. And it’s not just music or art we love to share, but beauty in general – a sunset on a summer’s day, a culinary creation, a movie or play, a quote or book, and countless other things that just seem more enjoyable when the same joy that fills our hearts and erupts on our faces in a grin is seen in the face of a friend. When they see the beauty we have seen. When beauty is relished in, talked about, mulled over, and rejoiced in with another person. It’s more than just beauty, but truth we love to share – a fuller understanding of what is real and meaningful and right reflected in a song heard or a sight beheld. Maybe beauty and truth are virtually synonymous.

Beautiful truths are not shared out of obligation, but because we can’t hold them in and hoard the joy they bring only for ourselves. To not share beautiful truths is selfishness. To share them is love and a deep reflection of the One who went to incomprehensible lengths to show us the depths of the most Beautiful Truth in the world.