Posted by Robert Sagers
This is the second installment of an interview with writer and musician Andrew Peterson. For a bit of context, see part I of the interview.
RES: In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis makes this remark: “I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least.” What role do you think that imagination plays in the life of the church? How do you seek to engage the imagination of your hearers and readers in your music and writing?
AP: I remember feeling something when I was a kid. It’s this tickle behind your bellybutton, a sense that you’re brushing up against something magical. I had it all the time when I played with my G.I. Joe toys, when I read Voyage of the Dawn Treader, whenever I drew the first line of a new picture in my sketchbook, when I traipsed through the woods and came upon a rabbit or a snake in the grass. It’s the feeling that you’re being watched, the sudden, awful realization that you’re not alone. I get the feeling sometimes when I’m at Disney with my children, and when I’m at a wedding and we stand as the bride walks the aisle. Sometimes I feel it during communion. That feeling comes less and less the older you get, if you’re not careful to keep it alive. The world is full of surprises. It’s both scarier and more wonderful than you think. All these things prepare the heart for the jarring truth that there is an invisible Other, and He’s watching you. “Believe,” Jesus said, again and again, and that’s hard to do with a dead imagination.
RES: You describe yourself first and foremost as a storyteller—that you have the listener in mind when you write your songs. What do you mean by this, and what is it about stories that so resonate with the soul?
AP: What drives me isn’t just a love of music, but of connection. I’ve never been content to write a song, put it away, and never play it for a soul. As soon as it’s finished I want to play it for someone and see if it resonates. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s thrilling when it does. Frederick Buechner said, “The story of one of us is the story of us all.” I believe that. If I can tell my story well, there’s a good chance that at least someone out there will recognize their own. And maybe they’ll be better able to believe the Gospel story when they hear it.
RES: You’ve said that you hope that people would come away from your concerts “feeling less alone.” In a world in which people have more access to others than perhaps ever before—and with mediums like email, instant messaging, and social networking (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.)—why do you think that people might still feel so alone? What hope do you wish to communicate to such men and women?
AP: I think Facebook is our culture’s answer to the disappearance of the close-knit, small town community. Finding out on Facebook that so-and-so has a cold, or stubbed their toe, or is reading a certain book is the 21st Century equivalent of strolling the town square or having pancakes in the diner. It’s small talk. And small talk is okay. You wouldn’t necessarily call your friend to find out if his toe got stubbed; it’s just nice to know. The thing is, even small towns have secrets. I know because I grew up in one. There were murders. Suicides. There was bigotry and alcoholism and despair. Beneath the surface is the same darkness you see on the news in big cities and war-torn countries. Small talk doesn’t address that secret loneliness. Neither does marriage, for that matter. Only Christ can. Only he has the power to step in and throw back the curtains.
RES: What role does pain and suffering play in your music and writing? To quote loosely your song, “Faith to Be Strong,” how can the sorrow we feel bring freedom?
AP: I hope pain and suffering play the same role as joy and peace. They’re all a part of our experience, so they deserve attention in the stories and songs we write.