So... a little while ago, when, after some time away, I was getting back into writing here, I posted on an article talking about "Contemporary Christian Music," or CCM. In that post, I talked about the way that CCM is emblematic of "(one of) the major contradiction(s) in the Evangelical movement: it's an attempt to do something (in this case, music, but, more generally, image and brand creation) as well as the secular world does - but the image and the brand aren't supposed to be the most important aspects of what's being communicated, which means that they're always going to come up short."
I still agree with that, but I think it perhaps obscures another crisis that such an attempt creates. That is: that pushing an image, by definition, prevents you from being able to live honestly.
This is something I've been thinking about a fair bit lately, and it's come to the forefront as I've been (somewhat belatedly) reading about Jennifer Knapp.
If you don't feel like clicking through to the article (which is an interview that Christianity Today did with Knapp in April 2010): Knapp, one of the top CCM stars from the early part of the 2000s, left the business in 2003 and is just putting out a new album now. She's also coming out (has come out, now, since the article was 10 months ago). She still considers herself a Christian, still is writing Christian music - though she knows that it won't be put into the stores where her music used to be sold.
There are a few things that Knapp said in the interview that resonated deeply with me.
The struggle I've had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I've been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I've always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it's difficult for me to say that I've struggled within myself, because I haven't. I've struggled with other people. I've struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself.
Some argue that the feelings of homosexuality are not sinful, but only the act. What would you say?
Knapp: I'm not capable of fully debating that well. But I've always struggled as a Christian with various forms of external evidence that we are obligated to show that we are Christians. I've found no law that commands me in any way other than to love my neighbor as myself, and that love is the greatest commandment. At a certain point I find myself so handcuffed in my own faith by trying to get it right—to try and look like a Christian, to try to do the things that Christians should do, to be all of these things externally—to fake it until I get myself all handcuffed and tied up in knots as to what I was supposed to be doing there in the first place.
In the song's third line, you sing, "God forbid they give me grace." Do you really believe that no believers will show you grace?
Knapp: It's a much larger picture than that. I don't want anyone to think the song is targeted at the church, or at the ways we find judgment cast upon us. It's a challenge to break free of that and to own who you really are. That's my heart's cry for anyone I've ever met. It's not on my agenda to convert the world to a religion, but to convert the world to compassion and grace. I've experienced that in my life through Christianity.
"Inside" isn't about the church. It's about me, and how I struggle to be myself daily—honest and truthful to who I really am. It would break my heart if people got through this [album], especially the Christian audience, and found themselves with another artist that was just angry at the church. That's not where I'm at. If there's any anger or frustration on this record, it's the desperation to hold onto what is honest and true, and let the rest of it just burn.
While Knapp's come to a different - and, it seems, a happier - place than I have, she seems to have gotten there via some of the same questions. The first quote, especially, captures a sentiment that I've been trying to figure out for a long time. The last quote - which is from Knapp's response to the last question of a six-page interview - gets, I think, at why we've come to different places.
"It's not on my agenda to convert the world to a religion, but to convert the world to compassion and grace. I've experienced that in my life through Christianity." I don't believe I have. The compassion and grace I've experienced have come through a handful of dear friends - only a few of whom were even raised to be religious in any form - who picked me up when I fell, who talked me through bad nights, off of ledges, out of dark rooms.
If I'd had the courage to say something when I was younger, my experience would have been different. It might have been better, it might have been worse. But the fact that it would have taken courage, that it was less frightening to me to hide from my family and my church - the people who were supposed to be my support system - says something. The things I've written in this blog speak to some of my experiences with the American church; growing up, for a good while, as a preacher's kid (which... has there been any actual research done on the way that PKs relate to the church after they grow up, or why?) meant, largely, that my idea of my family was linked to my idea of the Church.
What was that idea of the Church? Image before substance, largely, or, rather, image as substance. It's less important that you be a Christian than that people know you as a Christian, that you put forth the appearance of holiness. Wear the right clothes, smile the right way, be able to quote scripture and discuss it. Talk about how moving the worship service was, how you 'felt the Spirit moving' or how 'the presence of God was in that room.' It didn't matter if you actually did or not, just that you know the words. Almost a Pascal-via-Althusser kind of situation, though I don't believe it was ever thought through that clearly by those enforcing it.
Anyways... I'm still thinking through a lot of this stuff. Y'all doubtless have different levels of attachment or closeness to me as a person, which will shape the ways that you read this; I hope the self-obsession of the last few major posts hasn't been too off-putting.
Time to get back to work.