Let me tell you a quick story about something cool that happened to me over the course of about twenty years. I promise it has to do with Hutchmoot 2012. It all started at church camp. I was working as a counselor at North Florida Christian Service Camp in the 1990′s—the same camp where as a guilt-ridden kid I rededicated my life to Jesus every year—when one night, while everyone was hanging in the gym playing carpetball or foursquare or Audio Adrenaline songs, the high schoolers suddenly went crazy over a video that featured talking vegetables. It was the first time I had ever seen Bob and Larry, and I was delighted that whoever had put the film together seemed to take the Gospel very seriously while not taking themselves seriously at all. (This is something I would love to be said about me behind my back or at my funeral.) I laughed and I learned, and I was proud that the folks behind this video were Christians and genuinely funny.
Fast forward to when Aedan and Asher were toddlers. We fed them a steady diet of VeggieTales and bought every episode when it came out. I looked forward to the “Silly Songs with Larry” segment every time, thinking how fun it would be to write one of those songs. (I was also thinking how fun it would be to pay some bills by writing one of those songs.) One night in Estes Park, Colorado I was performing a short set for Compassion International (along with Phil Keaggy, of all people), and after I finished playing I bumped into a guy wearing a VeggieTales cap. I mean, come on! First, Keaggy and now VeggieTales? I introduced myself to the guy (who turned out to be Kurt Heinecke, the brains behind the Big Idea music for years), and told him my kids loved the videos. He gave me his card and told me that if I was ever in Chicago I should come by and play some songs for the employees at Big Idea.
That’s exactly what we did. A few months later we got a tour of the studio, and because I spent several years as a kid dreaming of being either a Disney animator or a Batman penciller I was more or less flipping out over all the work being done on the upcoming film Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. They even gave me a page of concept art, which I framed and hung on my wall when I got home (for my kids, of course). I say all that to say this: when Big Idea Productions went bankrupt and was bought by a company that moved the operation to Franklin, Tennessee, I figured it must have been a bummer for somebody—but it was cool for Nashville! We had a legit animation studio right down the road, and I kinda knew one of the guys. We got another family tour, and once again I geeked out.
Well, not long after that we needed a penny whistle player for the Behold the Lamb of God Christmas show at the Ryman, and Kurt agreed to get all Irishy with us. Not long after that, Randall Goodgame and I recorded Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies and we gave Kurt a few copies to pass around at Big Idea. Not long after that, Chris Wall, who was then producing The Wizard of Ha’s (still one of my favorite of the Veggie films, directed by Brian Roberts), gave the Slugs CD a listen. He thought “You Can Always Come Home” would be a good fit for the end of the movie. (Actually, I have to thank his wife Heather for forcing him to listen to it.) At the time, they still didn’t have a Silly Song for the video and they gave Randall and I a shot at pitching one.
We were ecstatic. Goodgame and I put our heads together and wrote three ideas that we thought might work. Then came the scary part where we had to sit in a conference room at Big Idea headquarters with Chris, Brian Roberts, Mike Nawrocki (the voice of Larry and songwriter of “Oh Where is My Hairbrush?”) and try to make this crew laugh with our songs. I reminded myself that God is bigger than the boogeyman and headed into the meeting to face the music, so to speak. To make a long story short, they liked a song called “If It Doesn’t Have a Tail It’s Not a Monkey.” Next thing you know, Goodgame and I recorded a demo of it (which you can hear on The Wizard of Ha’s as a bonus feature), then a few months later the Peterson and Goodgame families headed to Franklin to view a screening of the finished movie. To say that it was surreal watching the iconic vegetables singing something Goodgame and I wrote is an understatement. We had a blast. The two of us went on to write two more Silly Songs (“The Biscuit of Zazzamarandabo” and “Sneeze if You Need To“), and I was recently informed by Chris Wall that in a viewers’ poll for the favorite Silly Song of the last ten years, “Monkey” won. High five, Goodgame.
Since our delightful relationship with the Big Idea gang here in Tennessee began, even though there have continued to be big changes at the company, they keep putting out well-executed and biblically sound stories that teach thousands of kids and parents—and even some high school campers, I bet—that God made them special and loves them very much.
“Get to the point,” you say? Okay, okay. A few years ago I read a book called Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs to my sons, and I cried. I closed the book thinking, “I wish someone had told me this story when I was a little boy.” It might have saved me from the burden of shame that I shouldered nearly every step of junior high and high school. Like the Jesus Storybook Bible, it managed to tell me the gospel story in a way that the little boy in me understood. Justin Gerard (who’ll be joining us at Hutchmoot again this year!) illustrated the book, and I can tell you that his pigs are as good as his dragons. Who wrote this deeply moving picture book, you ask? Who used the story of two pigs to give moralism a wallop in favor of the grace of the Gospel? The same guy who dreamed up Bob and Larry: Phil Vischer.
Phil started Big Idea with almost nothing and in just a few years it became a multi-million dollar company—then it all fell apart. Me, Myself, and Bob, Phil’s memoir about the rise and heartbreaking collapse of his dream, is not only funny and fascinating, but like most of what Phil does it conveys something true and beautiful about the gospel of Christ. Now that Phil is no longer directly involved with Big Idea, he’s the brains behind yet another creative endeavor called What’s in the Bible?, a show that teaches our kids, well, what’s in the Bible. I just had a conversation last night with our own Russ Ramsey and Randall Goodgame about how much they and their kids love it.
But the following quote illustrates what I appreciate most about Phil’s philosophy, theology, and humility—especially regarding a flaw with the show that he created:
I looked back at the previous ten years and realized I had spent ten years trying to convince kids to behave “Christianly” without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.
American Christian[s]… are drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.
As you can see, Phil has good things to say. Even though he graciously wrote a review of The Wingfeather Saga, sang Silly Songs that Goodgame and I wrote, and has worked for years with friends of mine, somehow we’ve never met. That’s just one more reason I’m looking forward to Hutchmoot this year, because (as I’m sure you guessed), he’s our special guest/keynote speaker. I can’t wait. Whether or not you agree with everything he has to say in Me, Myself, and Bob, I dare you to not be fascinated and challenged by his story and what he continues to do with the head full of big ideas that God gave him.