The conversations I’ve had around Franklin, TN, where I live near Nashville, with people that work in racial reconciliation where most of the population wouldn’t even know that this stuff is going on. It’s something that has changed me. I think what I’ve gleaned from the Beatitudes Project as I’ve been creating it is that there are certain things that I’m now walking through with friends that I’ve made through this project, things like racial reconciliation and interfaith dialogues with our Muslim neighbors, and stuff like that. It’s an ongoing “project” for me, for sure.

CCM: Let’s address that for a moment… The song “I Will Be Your Home” features a musician you have befriended from the Nashville Islamic Center in addition to someone we already know—the daughter of a Syrian immigrant—Audrey Assad. Tell us more about this collaboration.
As part of this journey, I conducted a lot of researched into refugees. Like, those who are currently displaced by war on the planet—that’s something I really ache for. As I was researching for the book, I came across this video from The Guardian, who is in the UK. They were interviewing two families in this Zaatari Refugee Camp—Syrian refugees. The women didn’t know where their husbands were, and they said, “Our husbands can’t look after themselves, let alone look after their families. So we’re here, we have our children with us in the refugee camp, and I find myself having to be higher than a mother; stronger than a mother.” And that phrase, seeing these people who didn’t know where their husbands were, looking after their families—they just want to go home, but they can’t. That phrase, “Higher than a mother,” completely stuck in my gut.

Knowing that Audrey Assad is a daughter of a first generation Syrian refugee, and also her being one of my favorite songwriters in town here, I reached out to her and said, “On one of the ‘meek’ themes, I want to look at refugees—would you consider writing a song with me?” And I told her about that video. We wrote that song in a day. Once it got past the second chorus, we wanted to have this Middle Eastern influence on the track through to the end of the song. We had some options, but right up until the last minute, I was always hoping for a real authentic kind-of voice to come into that song.

Stu G, John Mark McMillan, Stu Garrard, CCM Magazine - image

L-R: Stu G, John Mark McMillan

As it turns out, also in the course of my book research, I had spoken to a religious Muslim man named Riyad Al-Kasem from Hendersonville, TN. He works with the Islamic Center of Nashville. I had lots of conversations with him about how being a Muslim, he had real experiences becoming “the other” in America, especially after 9/11. Three days before I was to record with Audrey, I reached out to the Islamic Center along with my friend Riyadh asking if they knew anyone who played drums or that was recently here from the Middle East. They put me in touch with this family, and just two days before we went into the studio, I was sitting in a Syrian refugee’s home in Nashville. They had been here for just two months and they didn’t speak any English. We played some music together and the father, who is blind, played the lute, and his son Hassan played the drum, the tabla. He is a really gifted musician, and so I invited him to come into the studio with Audrey and I and record on the song. That’s how, “I Will Be Your Home” got recorded. Hassan came into the studio and it’s one of those amazing stories of how God’s hand is in there.

The Muslim conversation could be a buzz or hot-topic right now, in terms of immigration and everything that’s happening with the government. All kinds-of misunderstandings, the violence and terrorism that’s going on around the world… But the question I’m asking is, “Who is my neighbor?” And, “How do we inhabit the same space?” The kind of space I want to inhabit with this project is encouraging us to see other people as our neighbors—our literal next-door neighbors. So, when they move in, do we say, “I can’t agree with you, so I’m not going to hang out.” Or, “You’re going to hell, so we’re not going to be friends.” It should be like, “Would you like a cup of tea—is there anything I can do to help?” To want for them what you want for yourself, which is to live in peace and harmony.


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