(Sitting in the lobby at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Nashville sipping a Starbucks grande Earl Grey soy misto. Ummm. First moment of personal "down time" I've had during this very frenetic Gospel Music Week)
For the last five days, this place has been abuzz with the noise of the Gospel Music Association. It's an industry, and like anything industrial, the wheels of business churn and scrape. Some hear only the noise and curse the machine. Others drown out the noise, escaping behind their earbuds. The escapism turns gospel music into more noise. Many have tuned their ears to lift melody out of the cacophony. I am one of them.
This was the first time since 1999 that I've been here the entire week, broadcasting The Morning Cruise from the Nashville Convention Center. From our Plexiglas studio Dave, Carmen and I heard not just noise, but the hearts of passionate and thoughtful artists. Standouts included the misty-eyed meeting with Chris Tomlin and Denver Moore (Same Kind of Different as Me), the self-effacing vision of the under-appreciated, ubertalented Sara Groves taking the form of a new tour for justice and art with Brandon Heath (congrats on the Dove, bro!) and personal favorite Charlie Peacock. Topping even these notes for wow-factor was straightforward testimony of brokenness and new found transparency from Wynona Judd, speaking backstage at the Dove Awards.
(Wynona, it seemed to me, was in a good place spiritually. She credited her renewed heart to "going to church with Natalie Grant." Her words and manner backstage displayed Christ in a way that brought him glory - Colossians 1:27.)
All week, the noise was churning. And all week I've heard, even more so than a decade ago, the colorful, symphonic strains of the gospel from the mouths of sinners: broken hearts singing His praise through the sometimes-polished phrases, often-trembling lips. What an encouragement! What a confirmation that the Lordship of Christ is pervasive in the midst of human institutions! What a reward for one who wears his coat in this vocation so loosely, having often longed to walk another path.
Mostly, encouragement comes from those walking the same or similar paths. The relationships we've built over the years with a handful of Nashville insiders was something we savored (if only too briefly). Friends like Jim Houser, Amy ("Amers") Fogelman, Josh Lauritch (and team members Brian and Betsy, with whom we shared bubble tea), Andrea Kleid, Mark Giles, Kyle Fenton, James Riley and a few others make these Nashville excursions feel like family. No kidding. Fellow broadcasters fall into this category as well, but not as readily as those named. I feel like there is beyond-business friendship that I hope can be renewed and lasting.
Finally, it was great to have a few special guests that made this year's GMA week a standout. Phoebe is a character! We got to meet her and talk for about half an hour. (Our listeners will share in some of that conversation.) Denver Moore was our personal charge: he rarely travels without Ron. He made this trip not just to sing a potential vignette for Chris Tomlin's new record, but because he is our friend, he told us. Denver does not use that word lightly. I was honored and told him so.
(I told him so over tacos at SATCO. It was one of the few meals at which I didn't overeat, out of respect for Denver, who has lost weight both for health and for the sake of the homeless -- he can't fathom wasting any food.)
The lobby is buzzing again. This time the buzz is from strangers. most of us have gone home to our loving families, as I am about to do. I love Kimberly, Will, Madi, Adam, Grady and Payton more than any human beings. But while I was away, it was both professionally and spiritually boosting and personally heartwarming to be here to add the tune of my own heart to the symphony of gospel-driven praise that comes out of the noise.