Andrew Peterson: Fueling Your Kids’ Imagination
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Andrew PetersonAndrew Peterson is the bestselling author of the Wingfeather Saga, a singer/songwriter, and the founder of The Rabbit Room, which fosters community through story, art, and music. He and his wife, Jamie, live in Nashville
Musician and author Andrew Peterson chats about fueling kids’ imagination and creativity to open doors for the Kingdom of God.
Andrew Peterson: Fueling Your Kids’ Imagination
Andrew: The church has produced the best and most beautiful works of art that the world has ever known. I think that’s actually still happening now; it’s just not what people always know about in America. It’s like there’s this undercurrent of amazing novelists and writers that don’t broadcast the fact that they’re Christians necessarily, but they are; and they’re sowing really good and beautiful seeds.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We have Andrew Peterson in the FamilyLife studio with us today. Welcome to FamilyLife, Andrew.
Andrew: Thanks for having me.
Dave: I don’t even know this: how many times have you been on FamilyLife?
Andrew: I don’t know either. It’s been a long time/it’s been a while. I feel like we did the cruise a few years back; and before that, I don’t know. I’ve been doing music for 20-some-odd years, so I’m sure I’ve popped in quite a bit over the years.
Ann: We’re excited to have you.
Andrew: Thank you.
Dave: Yes, a lot of our listeners know you as an artist: a writer, a song writer, a singer. We’ve been listening to your music all day—it’s been filling our house—which is—
Dave: —has been awesome—and an author. But most importantly, you’re a husband and a dad. How many years you’ve been married and how many kids?
Andrew: Twenty-six years now/about to be twenty-seven. We have three kids—who are 23, almost 22, and 19—two boys and a girl. Both boys got married within a month of each other this past summer.
Andrew: So we have two new daughters-in-law, who we love dearly.
Ann: That’s fun.
Andrew: Kind of just hit empty nester phase about in the last year or so, which is weird; because they keep coming home. [Laughter] So I don’t know—
Ann: It’s because they love you guys.
Andrew: Yes; we figured out that, if we offer them free food, then they show up. [Laughter] And that’s all good.
But it’s been so fun to see Jamie, who—we homeschooled the kids; I say “we”/she homeschooled the kids—worked really hard for many, many years; and this is her first year to not to have to do lesson planning. We were in a co-op, so she had to go and teach other people’s kids sometimes. She has just flowered into my/I’ve told people: “Empty-nester Jamie is my favorite Jamie.” [Laughter] She’s just having the best time, not having to do all that stuff; so we’re really loving this season.
Ann: That’s really fun.
It’s interesting, too, because we’ve been listening to your story. I didn’t know that you guys got married so young: you were 19 and Jamie was 21.
Andrew: We got engaged when I was 19; she was 21. We got married when I was 20; she was 22. We were still in college: she was a senior; I was a sophomore. We just liked each other a whole lot/loved each other. We were like, “Why would we wait?”
I don’t think it was a bad thing for us at all—we loved it—and no regrets. It’s really fun, because we had kids fairly young too. To be 47, and to have the potential of grandchildren coming down the line, is pretty awesome.
Ann: Yes, we want to talk today about just imagination.
Dave: Obviously, what you do as a songwriter/an author comes from this past and this journey—which is something I resonated with—as you were influenced, early in your life, by The Dark Side of the Moon.
Andrew: Oh, man! [Laughter]
Dave: Some people don’t even know what I’m talking about: Pink Floyd, and Skynyrd, and Journey. I found that fascinating—because I’m a guitar player; I’ve played in bands—I’ve played all those songs, growing up. I also had this tension, as I was listening to that: my mom was telling me I shouldn’t be listening to that.
Talk about that, because you’ve also got this Rich Mullins influence. You talk about an interesting combination; walk us through that.
Ann: Yes, let’s go back to that; because you even talked about, Andrew—in college—you went to a Bible college, thinking that you needed to learn how to argue to be a good Christian.
Andrew: Yes. [Laughter]
Ann: But you had this artistic side—that’s what I mean—that took you into the arts. You had that dilemma that Dave was talking about.
Andrew: Yes; I think a lot of it, for me, was growing up—I’m a pastor’s kid/growing up in a small community in north Florida—the typical pretty healthy southern Christian upbringing, but it was also a very cultural Christianity; right? I somehow managed to not really know Jesus terribly well, or understand some of the basic things about the gospel; namely, the fact that God loved me. I understood that in an academic sense: “Yes, God loves us,”—but I didn’t really believe it—I was mainly scared of Him.
Church, to me—and Scripture/Christianity in general—was something I just kind of accepted; it made a kind of sense to me. And God made sense to me. But then the idea that there was this actual person named Jesus—who was pursuing me; and loved me dearly; and knew me, and knew the mess that I was, and loved me anyway—that was something that hadn’t hit me yet.
Part of the disconnect for me was that the thing that was waking my heart up was all this music: it was Pink Floyd, and Skynyrd. [Laughter] Sometimes, it was classical music, or good movies, or fantasy novels I was reading. I felt this kind of butterflies in my stomach when I would read a certain kind of story.
It wasn’t until I was older that I read C.S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy, his memoir about how he came to faith really. And he talks about that same thing—that feeling that some works of art/they kind of open a door in us—right?—and sometimes, we can hear Jesus calling to us through those works of art. That’s not to say that they supplant Scripture by any stretch, but all of creation belongs to Him.
For me to grow up in a situation—where, according to our paradigm, it was like, “Well, rock and roll/that music it’s probably dangerous. We’re going to regard it with suspicion,”—there are some dangerous things about it, to be fair—but also: “That doesn’t matter nearly as much as Sunday school.” I felt, as a young man, very confused; because I was being told that I ought to feel a certain way about church, but I didn’t feel it; and that I ought not to feel a certain way about certain kinds of music or art, but I did feel it.
That journey of reconciling those two things has been/Rich Mullins was the connecting tissue for me.
Dave: What I heard you say was—a friend wanted you to learn a Rich Mullins song so he could sing it—and something happened.
Andrew: I think that the Holy Spirit used that song to help me to draw me to Himself. It was this song called If I Stand. I had never really listened to Rich Mullins before. I was very—it’s funny—in the way that my parents were suspicious of the music I liked, I was suspicious of Christian music—[Laughter]—it’s like: “This sounds dangerous; it could be really bad and cheesy.”
I took the tape into the church, late one night, and learned this song; and heard Rich’s scratchy, imperfect voice. I heard his wonderful use of language and poetry, and I heard that the way he talked about Jesus helped me believe that Jesus was really there; you know? There was something about his music that just: it was like I was in the forest, and his music kind of showed me a path through, and Jesus was at the end of that trail. Does that make sense?
Andrew: I remember, not long after that, saying to God, “If there’s any way that I could make somebody else feel that way, then if You’ll let me, I’d love to do it.” Then the same thing happened later, with C.S. Lewis. I just said, “Oh Lord, I love the way these stories help us to know You a little bit better; and if there’s a way that I can tell a story that can do that for some kid, I’d love to do it.”
Dave: How did you tap into your imagination? Obviously, hearing that journey/that was part of how God made Andrew Peterson. Even as I was listening to you, Andrew, I was thinking, “Boy, the day I came to Christ, in the middle of my college days, was at a concert.” It was a long story; but I sort of thought Christian music was not very good—sort of cheesy; it wasn’t done well—because that’s what I’d experienced at church.
I was invited to hear this Christian band. I can remember it right now, like it was yesterday. I was sitting in this gymnasium at a college, and I remember thinking, “They’re really good; they’re skilled; they’re excellent players. The songs they’re singing are very creative and very profound.” I walked forward and gave my life to Christ. Until you just said that, I never connected probably the fact that music was part of that salvation message for me/connected the dots that I wanted to give my life to Christ.
I heard a little bit of that in your story. What did that bring alive in you?—because now, you’re doing that. It’s pretty cool.
Andrew: Yes, the biggest thing was that—once I realized how good the good news was—and you know that’s an ongoing thing: the more we know Christ, the better He is—I just was like: “Man, if I grew up in the church, and I missed this thing, then surely other people are in the same boat; and I can’t wait to tell them about it.”
C.S. Lewis talked also about how the Narnia books were a way of smuggling the truth past people’s watchful dragons. [Laughter] I love that idea that we—especially now, a lot of people think they know what Christianity is; so they’ve written it off—it makes our job, as artists, harder and also more crucial. Because it’s like a really good movie or a really good story has a way of surprising people with the truth.
I don’t mean smuggling it in as if like—it won’t work if we’re going, “Oh, we’re just going to write a story in order to sneak past the walls,”—that’s not how it works. You’ve got to write the great story, and trust that a good story can do this thing that the Holy Spirit is in charge of, not me.
As a Christian, if we’re making art—and we’re surrendered to the mystery of what it means to make something, which it’s all thanks to the Lord that we get to do this—then you also have to come to terms with the fact that what He intends to do with your work is none of your business. You go, “I have some things that I hope He does, but it’s not up to me.” The only thing I’m in charge of is being obedient with the gifting. I can work really hard, and I can dig in and do the thing; but after that, it’s on Him.
Ann: I know, as a mom and even as a young girl—I was consumed with books, because of the same thing—just like a movie/books—it’s all a story, and it just pierces your heart.
Dave: You know what she loves to do, Andrew? She loves to read books out loud to me. [Laughter]
Ann: Now, that our kids are gone, I want to do it to Dave.
Dave: I’ll be driving the car; and she goes, “Let me read you this chapter.” [Laughter] I’m like, “No, you don’t need to read it out loud.” But she just loves to read it out loud.
Andrew: I love it too.
Ann: Like you, I read all the Narnia books to our kids. As an adult, reading them—well, let me say this—“I had never read them. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home; I had never heard about them. So I’m reading them, sobbing, at times, with the kids.” [Laughter] They’re like, “What is happening right now?”
Andrew: Dude, I had the exact same experience.
Andrew: I think the Narnia books are best experienced, as a parent, reading them to the kid; because there’s something about you kind of are hearing it through their ears, and hearing all these wonderful truths in that way.
I bet there are a lot of kids, who are confused about why mom and dad are crying. [Laughter] I just tell them, “Wait until you’ve got kids, and you’ll understand it.” It’s really tremendous what he did with those stories. That was a reminder to me of how much I love those kinds of books. We were at that age, with our kids, where we were reading aloud a lot. Some of my best memories are of our family sitting around—me doing voices—and the kids asking for one more chapter.
I think, when I read them/the Narnia books, I was like, “I’ve got to know what it’s like to do this.” I tried many times to write a novel. Once I had an audience/a captive audience in my kids, I told my wife, “I’m going to try to do this thing.” She fully supported me, and it took me about ten years. We shared the whole story with the kids as I wrote them, and it was/it’s a dream come true.
Ann: That series is a four-book series called The Wingfeather Saga.
Ann: Talk about that. How old were your kids when you started writing these?
Andrew: They were probably between five and eight, around that age/the perfect age. Kids are better listeners than grownups are, because they inhabit the story in a way that it’s taken for granted [with grown-ups]. When you’re a kid, that’s what stories do; and they dive in. Parents, we have to try a little harder to remember what it’s like to receive a story in that way. But they noticed all the inconsistencies; and if I got one accent wrong, they would tell me I had already used that voice for another guy. [Laughter]
It was crazy—we put the books out—the first one came out in ’08, I think. It took about six more years to finish the whole series. Then we released this short film as a pilot, so we could shop it: go up to LA and talk to Netflix® and all those people. Then Penguin Random House amazingly republished all four books in beautiful hardbacks. Now, when I’m on tour, I sneak into Barnes and Noble®, and sign them and post where I am.
That led to this series—we’re making a TV show—season one. Angel Studios, the people that did The Chosen, we’re partnering with them. We got the funding in 20 days, and we’re deep into it.
Dave: Really, you got the funding in 20 days!
Andrew: Yes, five million bucks of investors. [Laughter] For this thing to be at this point, ten or so years old, and people are just now discovering it, it’s just a dream. I spend a lot of time nowadays—I have these Zoom calls/several Zoom calls a week—because I’m one of the executive producers, I get to okay whether or not the swords are cool enough. [Laughter]
There are all these designers, making characters—and we get to make notes on the town—and “Oh, no; it’s supposed to look more like this…” And shaping the story and the scripts, and everything. It’s really a huge, huge gift to get to do this.
Ann: Talk about how that’s, not only shaped you: “Has it shaped your kids? What has that done for your kids?”
Andrew: The three main characters in The Wingfeather Saga are loosely based on my kids. All of our kids, in a weird way, grew into what the characters were kind of like. I wish that I had written them to be doctors, and lawyers, and lottery winners; [Laughter] but it’s interesting. I don’t know what it’s like for my kids, to be in their 20s, and have the characters in this book are loosely based on them. I think that they think it’s cool. [Laughter]
But I will say this: “All three of our kids are deeply involved in the arts and in the ministry.” It’s one of the coolest things. Christmas tour with my daughter—she’s out, singing; and she’s releasing EPs of songs she’s writing—she has a real heart for the gospel. My son, Asher, is a record producer: is making all these wonderful albums that are going out into the world. My son, Aedan, the oldest, is an illustrator/just illustrated a book called The Story of God with Us.
It’s so cool to see that they didn’t have that weird separation of imagination and the gospel, like the two can live in the same space for them. They grew up in this community, where it was taken for granted that, as Christians, we were meant to steward our gifting for the kingdom of God. They grew up with that as the norm; they’re like: “Why would we not paint pictures that help proclaim the truth?” “Why would we not make music that can surprise people with the beauty of the gospel?”
Dave: Talk about that; because typically, the church hasn’t embraced—maybe I’m wrong—but I know that, when we started our church 30 years ago, one of our core values was we wanted to do the arts with excellence. Our arts director even said, “If we do the arts with excellence, we will attract excellent artists. They’ll want to come to a church that says, ‘This matters.’ You don’t do it mediocre; you do it with the highest skill, because you’re doing it unto God.”
That hasn’t often been embraced by the church—it’s sort of like: “Yes, the artistic part is just not that important. It’s only the Word, the Word, the Word.” But obviously, you have embraced that—and your whole family and your kids—talk about that a little bit.
Andrew: It’s tricky to talk about that, because it’s like I can’t toot my own horn. You know what I mean?
Andrew: As soon as I think that I’m really good at what I do—I just read Tolkien, or listen to Paul Simon or James Taylor—and I’m like: “Yes, yes, yes, that’s right; I have no idea what I’m doing.” [Laughter] That’s part of it.
But I don’t know—I think that there is this tendency to try to control the ends—I think that, a lot of times in church, where people are trying to figure out: “How do we get from A to B?”—and really, like I said earlier, that’s not our business really—our business is to care for the poor, love our neighbor, love our enemies/pray for those who persecute us.
Meanwhile, of course, you try to do good work, whatever you’re doing. But it would be easy, in my mind, to almost make an idol out of the excellence of our work, as if that’s the main thing we’re meant to be doing. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all; but if you’re doing that at the expense of the very basic, simple: “This is what it means to walk in the way of Jesus/to delight in His will and to walk in His way to the glory of His name…”—that’s the thing we’re in charge of. That can include, of course, caring about beauty and excellence in craft.
I think it’s only in these last hundred years or so that—the American church, in particular; or maybe I could say the Western church—we tend to think of the art we produce as being hokey, or cheesy, or shallow, or whatever. But Bach, my goodness, he was a Christian musician.
The church has produced the best and most beautiful works of art that the world has ever known. I think that that is actually still happening now; it’s just not always what people know about in America. There’s this undercurrent of amazing novelists and writers, who don’t broadcast the fact that they’re Christians necessarily, but they are; they’re sowing really good and beautiful seeds.
One of the ways that I like to think of it is somebody was talking about The Wingfeather books; and they’re like, “They’re not overtly Christian; they’re deeply Christian.” I love that idea that the work that we’re called to do is meant to be deeply Christian. Its foundation is that; then there’s all this wiggle room for expression and beauty. The overtness of it takes a back seat to what the Holy Spirit intends to do with this thing.
Ann: As you talk—you’re an artist; you’re an author; you’re a dad and a husband—but go back to that dad piece. As you reflect back, now that your kids are getting a little older, tell us a couple of things that you did right, and a couple of things that you think, “Oh, I wish I would have tweaked that; or changed that.”
Andrew: Oh, man.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Andrew Peterson on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Andrew’s response in just a minute; but first, Father’s Day is coming up this weekend. But you knew that already; right?—I hope so.
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Alright; now, back to Andrew Peterson and what he did right and what he did wrong in parenting.
Andrew: I’m sure that I traveled too much. I heard Eugene Peterson—he was kind of a hero of mine—I heard him talk one time about his life in the ministry. Someone asked him if he had any regrets; and he said, “I wish I had had more vacation.”
I grew up, a pastor’s kid; and my kids are actually amazing—they work really hard—but I look back, and I’m like, “I know there were times I could have said, ‘No,’ to some things and stayed home. But I was driven by some weird combination of fear that I wouldn’t be able to provide, or ambition/this drive to make a name for myself.” I think that that—if I could go back— I would have said, “No,” to more things and been more present.
Ann: That’s good.
Andrew: One of my friends, who’s a pastor said/he reminds me, “You’ve only ever had one Provider.” If you’re a self-employed singer songwriter, that’s a good thing to remember. That’s that [regarding regrets].
As far as the things I did right, I think we just—one of our mentors, when we first got married, said—he was talking about the fact—he was a pastor, and he was talking about the fact that his family wasn’t super good at having family devotions. He was like: “My kids are at church eight times a week. It doesn’t work for us; we just don’t do that. We’d just rather sit around, and watch Magnum PI,”—or whatever. He said, “Instead of having these formal devotional experiences as a family,” he said, “we just made it so that our Christianity was a matter of course in the home. It was just taken for granted that: ‘This is who we are,’ and ‘This is how we think and how we see the world.’”
The quote was: “Christianity ought to be as ordinary in your home as dirty laundry and corn flakes.” I love that—because I think that our kids—it’s never been weird for us to stop what we’re doing to pray for somebody; or the conversations about movies that we’re watching; or shows that we’re into are integrated, seamlessly, with: “Okay, what does that say about: ‘How is Jesus speaking through this thing?’”
I think that that’s one of the things we did right—was that we treated the gospel as if it mattered in the little things as well as the big things—and to raise our kids with this real sense of the kingdom—the presence of the kingdom—that Jesus has begun His reign, and we get to be these priests in this new creation now.
I grew up in a church tradition that didn’t talk much about the end of the world. [Laughter] It was like: “Well, we’ll figure it out when we get there. All we know is that this is all going to burn,”—or whatever. Actually, that’s not the story the Bible tells. Peter says some things like that; but the real picture we have is that God loves His creation and that, in some way, I believe that the work that we’re doing now in His name carries over into that new creation; and that there is this new earth and new heaven that we’re living into.
Our kids/we tried to help them see the good work that they’re doing now is a part of that. There’s not this hard of a dividing line between the two that I grew up, assuming. It kind of ennobles and sanctifies the small ways that we love in Christ’s name now, because they’re a part of the story that He’s telling.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Andrew Peterson on FamilyLife Today. His book series for kids is called The Wingfeather Saga. You can learn more about Andrew’s books and music, and the upcoming animated version of The Wingfeather Saga, at FamilyLifeToday.com or in today’s show notes.
If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today with Andrew Peterson, we’d love it if you’d tell them about this station.
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking with the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, as he helps us see that, as a spouse, our imperfections point to our need for grace and why that’s a good thing. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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