There aren't many ways for us to make a proper introduction, the exchange of names, yours and mine, the meeting of eyes, the nod of the head, and the pressing of hands together. I'm afraid I have the advantage here of simply conveying as much as I can to you. I will simply say I'm pleased to make your acquaintance.
I, Drew Wilmesherr, was born to a family of itinerate preachers. My mother hails from West Virginia, the blue-grass fiddlin', banjo-picking type. In my youth, she taught me how to rise up like a steeple, pointing to Heaven, and signal refuge to all in need of it, preaching and teaching from the pulpit with the compassion of the communion of saints. My father comes out of Mississippi, the Delta-blues guitar-strummin', bass plucking variety. He taught me how to play guitar, the importance of three-chords-and-the-truth, and how to invite anyone into the Gospel story with all the graciousness of a servant disciple.
With those ingredients coming together over time while growing up in Atlanta (aka "Hotlanta," and where players play), conversations over faith and living and community kept turning back to musical expressions: the banjo, the guitar, the 808 and the church organ. The historic hymns sung in the congregation kept getting muddled with the confessions sung out over dimly lit bar-tops and coffee shops. The inhale in the sanctuary and the exhale from the stage became the rhythm of my living faith.
When I was getting ready to go to college, a family friend gave me a five-pound bag of candy-coated chocolates and a note that said, "You should check out MTSU." Middle-Tennessee State University, home of the Blue Raiders, features several programs revolving around Recording Industry Management. Music business, recording arts and technology, songwriting: they've got it all. I was propelled into this world of education with a higher level of optimism and confidence than my looks or talents would have validated, and I couldn't have been happier. I was going to be a pro musician!
Minutes from Nashville, visiting the downtown heart of Music City provided a masterclass for living off of songwriting. If MTSU gave me the vocabulary, the working world gave me the experience. I quickly learned that writing songs for a living is as likely as getting bit by the same shark twice. I was let down, gently as well as hard, enough times for the lesson to sink in.
In my despondent state as a hopeful young adult getting a lesson in gravity, another encouraging word came to me through the phone. A member of my parents' church called me, asking if I had met a man named John Westlund. They put me in connection with this pastor who invited me in and taught me that the stage doesn't provide you with love and acceptance; the stage gives you a platform to show love and acceptance to others. He would teach me new songs, tell me to write new music for our little community of faith, and taught me how to listen to people when they needed to be heard. John didn't merely give me a home; in those moments, I learned how to build a home. I was being salvaged, rescued, and restored.
Having seen both the good and bad in church living, seeing my parents treated well and treated poorly by the same people Jesus called, "beloved," I wasn't always convinced the church was too different from any other group of people. In those moments with John at MTSU, though, I began to believe again in an ongoing project started on a cold Sunday morning when an occupied tomb was found vacant and a group of scared and scarred people became family. I began to believe again in a God that healed the body as well as the soul. I began to believe again that loving my neighbor was a real possibility. I began to believe that the kingdom of Heaven could truly bust in at any moment if we would simply pull at the thread. I began to believe the empty grave that echoed the promises of the resurrected Jesus; the Holy Spirit removing the finality of death.
Writing the music for our people became this organic stuff that felt natural. From the stories of shared living in our little community at MTSU came these expressions of shared faith. Beyond our community, these shared expressions moved in people who felt the same thing. In sharing this music beyond ourselves, our family was revealed as bigger than we realized.
"Battered Hymns for the Public" is precisely that: hymns that are for you. It's metaphors for the life we live and a faith that is possible, a story about a God who chooses to salvage rather than abandon, and waiting for the kingdom of Heaven to bust in as we keep tugging at the threads of this world. You are my sister, you are my brother, and this story is as much for you as it is for me.