Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"unearth this holiness I can't earn..."

Without a doubt one of my favorite contemporary Christian albums is Jennifer Knapp's 2000 release Lay It Down. I love the entire album. It is one of two albums, the other being Glenn Kaiser's All My Days, I put on my headphones and listen to when I am having a hard time praying. Her music has a way of opening me up. This is the kind of insight into my personal spirituality I don't usually share, just as I don't blog about my marital relationship. Like almost everybody else, I think most contemporary Christian music is an affront both to Christians and to music, but there are a few great artists in the genre.

After experiencing a great deal of success with Kansas, her first album, and Lay It Down, Knapp was burned out and just quit music back in 2003, that is until recently when she recorded and released Letting Go. Knapp was something of a darling of Christian music for a few years. She was born and raised in Kansas in what she describes as an irreligious home. She became a Christian in college, before starting her music career. But back then, there were rumors that she was a lesbian.

Last month she sat for an interview with Mark Moring of Christianity Today. I came away from reading it loving Jennifer Knapp more than before. When asked directly about being gay and having a woman partner, she responded, "For whatever reason the rumor mill [about me being gay] has persisted for so long, I wanted to acknowledge; I don't want to come off as somebody who's shirking the truth in my life. At the same time, I'm intensely private. Even if I were married to a man and had six children, it would be my personal choice to not get that kind of conversation rolling."

The thing I find most disheartening about the way we deal with homosexuality in the church, even as one who believes deeply that the church speaks the truth about sexuality across-the-board, is both that very often we reduce people to their sexuality and allow them to reduce themselves. For example, I am not wholly defined by my attraction to women, this does not constitute who I am at my deepest level. Like everybody, I need grace and mercy in this aspect of life, an area where, like most of us, I am very vulnerable because I am broken. As Dr. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in his essay many years ago, The Body's Grace:

"in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures."
Knapp is very honest and authentic about herself. It is refreshing that she chooses not to be defensive or militant, for example when she says: "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" (underlining emphasis mine).

Finally, I think she speaks the truth for many Christians when she says, "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." I write from my own experience when I state it feels pretty damn good to stop faking. Don't get me wrong, I catch myself every now and again and it is something I am all too eager to correct. Actually, blogging is one of the things that keeps me grounded, which is the primary reason I continue doing it.

I encourage you to read Jennifer Knapp Comes Out. In her words and in her attitude she seems to be grasping the fundamental truth, which is that first and foremost she is loved by that person of grace, Who is grace itself, the One she correctly identifies as her hope. On my reading it seems that her experience has taught her that reducing faith to morality is the dead end Jesus teaches us it is. I find it very sad that she doesn't go to church, but I certainly understand why she doesn't and that makes me even sadder. As the old Russian proverb puts it, "Life is not a walk across an open field," the truth of this is intensified when it comes to living a Christian life. To pretend it is otherwise is simply to ignore reality.

While my favorite song off Lay It Down is When Nothing Satisfies, it is not available on YouTube, at least not a version that is sung by Jennifer. Just in case you have never heard her, here is my next favorite song off her album, A Little More, which I also posted back in 2007. It is a song that reminds me of the great pity with which God looks upon me, which moves Him to save me, not once, but over and again, usually from myself, and at great cost.


  1. Thanks for enlightening me to Knapp. I'd not heard of her, because I have a very similar opinion of "Christian Rock." But I also realize I must be open not only to reality, but to also the witness of another. So, I bought Kansas and Lay It Down. Her music is organic--it comes from her lived experience and does not stem from an ideology fitted to a musical type. Nor does she reduce the music to fit an ideology.
    Her music is palatable not because it is watered down, but precisely because it remains glued to the truth of her experience.

    I may comment on the article you provided after I read it. Once again, thank you.

  2. Nice. Thanks for the recommendation. :)


God's love for us is tireless

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