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Pat Barrett on How Tragedy Can Push Us to Grow

Pat Barrett on How Tragedy Can Push Us to Grow

Pat Barrett, singer-songwriter and worship leader, is well-known in the Christian worship world. He’s released four albums and been featured on numerous worship songs, including his latest collaboration with Maverick City Music’s Dante Bowe.

Pat recently sat down with RELEVANT to discuss the inspiration behind his latest album, Nothing/Something, how we can use and learn tragedy to grow and how being a musician is just as important as being a worship leader. You can listen to the interview on this week’s podcast or read below.

Tell me the origin story. How did your collaboration with Dante Bowe come together?

So Bethel was doing a writing camp in California. It wasn’t even specifically like, “Hey, we’re doing this album.” It was just kind of whoever was there, was there type of thing. We broke into groups and then… there’s a part of songwriting where it becomes like a big question mark to me. You can come in with loaded ideas and something in your pocket that you want to share. And sometimes that’s amazing.

And then there’s also the moments where you just see what happens. You talk, catch up with a bunch of people that you may have not seen in a long time and then whatever transpires out of that conversation kind of happens. And one of the things that was happening was there was a Casio keyboard up there and it’s got an organ setting on it. I sat down and just started playing. And in the room it was me, Dante, Cody Carnes, and Chris Quilala. And it’s not like our conversation was driven in that direction, but it just kind of started. 

I think after the last year and a half of people, myself included, experiencing pretty severe change and you name it, whatever happens in your own life. You stop caring about all the things you get overly hyped up about and you go back to this foundational ground-level question of what actually matters in my life. Which I think is always a beautiful question to ask, because you don’t always ask it. You’re usually forced to ask it when something else happens and kind of brings you to that place. For full transparency that happened to me this week. I had a friend die of COVID out of nowhere.

I’m really sorry, Pat.

No, I know. Me too. It’s unbelievably sad and it’s not just my own experience. Some people have had that experience and some people haven’t. Some families have felt that way closer than others. Tragedy has this miraculous ability to cut through the noise. Tragedy can do that, and love can do that.

I think it’s because I’m a preacher’s kid, I grew up with the Scriptures. I’ve gone through periods of my life where I’ve tried to avoid that. And I just can’t. It’s in me. Things that meant something to me at one time, or rather didn’t mean something to me because I was overly familiar with them, have come back around to mean the most to me now. And that passage is one of them where: “Let me show you the most excellent way by speaking tongues of angels.

If I do this and that, if I take every step I can to accomplish every spiritual thing, but I don’t have love, then at the end of your life, what does it actually mean? And I’m thinking about my friend who passed away and I know at the end of his life: he had love. This song connects with me even more right now than when we were writing it.

When we were writing, it felt like the awareness of, it’s easy for all of us to get caught up in things that truly don’t matter at the end of the day. It may feel like the most important thing and it doesn’t mean that they don’t need tending to, but at the end of your life, you’re not going to take your last breath and be like, “I’m so glad I held that grudge. I’m so glad I never forgave that person. Oh man, I’m so glad I hate that group of people.” You’re not going to do that. And there’s some eternal lens that you get the opportunity to have when there’s love there.

That’s why I keep like, during the collaboration of that, and then the singing of it with Dante, I remember having the same feeling, singing together that we had when we were writing it, which was like, “Gosh, we’re actually dealing with forever things right now.” You can go as far as to say, when you have that perspective, then everything matters. When that’s your primary lens then everything is actually beautiful and meaningful. When you don’t have that lens, you can get lost and meander through without guidance. For me it’s like a compass. For all the parables Jesus told there are a lot of little compass things. Like, “Hey, if you have this, it may not feel like a lot all the time, but it’s actually more than you need.” You know? And that’s what this song felt like.

We live in a culture that pushes the idea that love is the most important thing away and says, “No, clout is the most important thing. Status is the most important thing.” And it’s really, really hard to escape that. And I’m wondering if that’s something that you’ve found to be true in your own life.

Heck yeah. It’s not unavoidably true, but I actually think that’s why we all have a tendency to cherry pick scriptures. Because the ones that actually deal with that specific tendency are the disciplines where you actually choose to starve. You choose to go to a lonely place. Jesus did that all the time. He left, he chose to starve himself of attention from people. He did that on purpose.

Fasting. You choose to limit your intake of food on purpose so that when moments come and you feel like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have enough right now.” You remember, “No, I’ve already had everything I need. I’ve known this before it happened.” Man doesn’t live on bread alone. He lives on the words of God, communion, oneness, connection with God.

So the spiritual disciplines I used to cherry pick were, because I feel like the Sermon on the Mount is filled with very practitioning things that none of us want to do. Inconvenience yourself for someone else. So that your whole life, every time you’re inconvenienced, you’re not just mad. Because you do it to yourself all the time. Oh yeah, I’ll go out of my way for this person. Someone I know, someone I don’t know. Yeah, sure. I’ll lend without expecting it in return. So that when something’s stolen you’re like, “Oh, it’s fine. I didn’t really own it anyway. I already know what it feels like to hold life open handed.”

So that’s what I mean by that, the spiritual disciplines and practices that Jesus prescribed taught this. Then when someone takes something out of it, you’re like, “Oh, I wasn’t really holding onto it that way anyways.” And honestly, no one’s making us do this. No one’s making you follow Jesus. I mean, I think you’d hate your job right now if you did. No one’s forcing you. You can get another job. And I think there are very powerful, perspective-setting, life-orienting practices that if you choose to do them, when you have viewership, that’s amazing. And when you don’t viewership, that’s okay. 

And I think we often avoid the prescription. I would love to follow Jesus, but I would love to not have to inconvenience myself in love with someone else. And gosh, there’s nothing like flashy or viral about kindness, but it is the most lasting. And you realize that if generosity or silence and solitude and prayer and fasting to a certain degree, many different things, honestly, if I was practitioning that as often as I would want to, to receive the full benefit of it, I think it would be amazing how free we would realize we actually are and how enslaved we have kept ourselves.

I want to ask you about something. It’s a different track a little bit, but I was impressed with the production on the song. I’m wondering, does it ever bother you, that you get asked these questions about God and spirituality — big, important questions that we care about — but the actual creative, your talent and your skill that you bring into all of this feels very secondary to a lot of those conversations in a way that maybe it isn’t for people like Bruce Springsteen or Kanye West?

Gosh, what a great question. And my answer to that personally is like, it actually does not bother me. However, I think traditionally that’s been one of the biggest criticisms about this space that I’m in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the generalized viewpoint or assumption and opinion too. Like even held opinions of people that like, “Ah, just kind of doesn’t creatively artistically…”

It’s funny, when I think about songwriting, my permanent image of that song is always me at a piano or at a guitar or in the moment it was kind of being written.  And I think there’s part of what still inspires me, especially when I think about people coming together, like Kanye or the Sunday Service choir, it’s shocking to me. And what I’ve been most excited, even creatively, are trends of bigger, louder, more stuff, more tracks. It’s almost like a washed wall of sound. When I hear things and experience things, or I’m a part of a song that has minimalistic presentation, it feels like a breath of fresh air to me.

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