Side By Side

They’d flown in from the West Coast and central Tennessee, and now they were sitting around the patio fireplace at Laity Lodge.

Three musicians—James Paek, Jimmy Abegg, and Liz Vice—had donned cozy knit beanies to stay warm in the cool of a Hill Country January. (A fourth, Tyler Chester, braved the chill without a hat.) They were puzzling through the songwriting prompt: to create a song about peacemaking and connecting across differences.

This private retreat had pulled twenty-five artists and musicians from around the country. Convened by David Gungor of the New York church Good Shepherd, the group’s goal was to draft an album of songs themed around peacemaking and reconciliation—in just four days.

All of them had been assigned to songwriting groups of three to five, tasked with prompts relating to the broader goal of the album. Hellos were said, hands were shaken (or fists bumped), and they began their work.

Six months later, on June 2, 2023, the album’s first single was released: “Side by Side,” sung by Charles Jones and Dee Wilson. It’s a classic soul duet wrapped in soaring strings, and it’s the fruit of Liz, James, Jimmy, and Tyler’s songwriting session. What started at Laity Lodge is streaming through speakers around the world.

Liz recalled the image that haunted them all early in the process: “living parallel lives on different streets.” Why is it so hard to know our neighbors, even those just a ZIP code away? (That’s a question we’re asking, too—at

“We want to be peacemakers,” said Tyler. “We want to live the lives we haven’t lived. But it’s hard to live side by side in daily life.”

Once they found the phrase “side by side,” a chorus emerged. But it’s a tricky phrase for grounding a song. Jimmy and James both remember fruitful disagreements. How do you write a song that’s hopeful without being saccharine—something that brings new hope to old sorrows?

For Liz, these questions are central to her calling as a musician. “What is my role as an artist in this forest fire of life? How do I find the beauty without ignoring what’s happening?”

“I think songwriters can feel tempted to answer all the questions their songs ask,” said James.

Tyler noted that the language of metaphor was key to avoiding a preachy tone. Instead of spelling out of litany of ills and injustices, the musicians captured them with imagery: “Hung out on the branches / pushed out in the dirt.” It was crucial for them to speak truthfully of heaviness and sorrow, the reality of the challenges that prevent people from coming side by side.

Just a few hours later, they walked to the Cody Center to perform their new song for the broader group. Jimmy and Tyler strummed their guitars; James and Liz took out their phones to read the lyrics they’d tapped out earlier.

When they reached the chorus, Liz and James sang, “Side by side,” and those listening started to sing and clap along. There was something special about this song.

To create it, they’d flown thousands of miles and driven through the Frio to reach a remote Texas retreat center. They didn’t have to write from a place of urgency, said Liz, but a place of rest. As James said, “The place felt safe enough that we could be brave.”

Troubled and weary
Tired and Hurt
Hung out on the branches
Pushed out in the dirt

You don’t have to go it alone
I’ll walk with you if you want

Side by side

We live in the same world
Walking different streets
But I wonder if our paths will meet

Side by side

Maybe we’re different
From the outside looking in
But I know we want the same thing
We want peace and love in the end
I’m learning, you’re learning too
I want to hear it from you

Side by side

We could do nothing about it
Walk our separate ways
Or we could help one another
In this world of pain

I’d rather be, rather be
Side by side

And if I ever find my way to you
If these justice songs ever come true
We’ll watch these walls come crashing down
A victory song, we’ll sing it loud

Side by side

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