Series 15: For the Love of Music | Episode 02
Jennifer Knapp on Music, God, and Speaking Her Truth
When Jennifer Knapp broke into Christian music in the 90s, we’d never heard anyone quite like her before. A soulful voice with lyrics to match, Jennifer took the CCM scene by storm—until she stepped out of the spotlight just a few years into her career, after an unrelenting schedule left her body exhausted and her creative well drained. After a seven-year hiatus, Jennifer came back in full force with a powerful, courageous confession: she is gay and had been in a relationship with a woman since 2002. With unapologetic honesty, Jennifer has kept exploring her faith publicly in a memoir called Facing the Music, and and even started an organization called Inside Out Faith, which advocates for the affirmation of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in our faith communities. Today she and Jen talk about how she found faith in her college years and started weaving it into her music, and after she returned from her extended break—where she engaged in a fight for her own belovedness and belonging—she is now helping others find theirs.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, guys. Jen Hatmaker is here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. I’m so glad you’re here today. Welcome to the show.
We are in a series now called For the Love of Music, which is a series you guys have asked for many times. And I’m so glad that you did, because I actually love talking to these artists who help us tap into emotions we don’t know we have, or we have blocked, or just help us pour it all out. There’s just, to me, no more cathartic experience than music. It’s just such a gift to the world, and I cannot tell you how glad I am that you are here today. You are going to be so happy that you are listening to this podcast.
My next guest is a real force, I mean honestly, of talent and of courage—and wait until you hear the interview—of wisdom and depth. She is one heck of an artist. She is a beautiful writer. She has a really important story. If you don’t already know her, I’m so excited that you are about to get to know her better.
So today, my guest is Jennifer Knapp. She is a GRAMMY nominated, Dove award-winning singer/songwriter, author, advocate.
If you knew, if you were paying attention when she broke on the scene in the late ’90s, you may know her initial records, Kansas, Lay It Down, The Way I Am. They sold more than a million copies, which is insane. Jennifer Knapp was one of my very favorite artists. She was just everywhere back then. We literally could not get enough of her. We had never heard anything like her music. She was so new and so special.
So, after her enormous success—and really young, in her early 20s—she walked away from CCM music in 2002, literally at the height of her career. We’re going to talk a lot about that decision and why, as well as her return to music in 2010 with sort of her very honest, and sincere, and courageous confession, that she just told the world in clear terms that she was gay, that she had been in a relationship since 2002. Of course, now, she’s married.
At the time, I think she was one of the very first Christian artists who’d come out in such a public way. And of course, with that confession just came waves of reactions, and yet her faith is so beautiful and sturdy today. I can’t wait for you to hear her talk about it. In fact, she founded an organization called Inside Out Faith, which is an advocacy organization for LGBTQ folks of faith and their allies.
Add to all this, she recently completed a master’s degree from Vanderbilt Divinity, so all the hand claps for her. She’s smart, and talented, and beautiful, and funny. I just really loved this conversation. I’ve been moved by her for a really long time, and so I will forever count this hour discussion with her as a real poignant and beautiful gift.
So, I know that you’re going to love her, and I’m so glad that you’re here today, and I’m so pleased to share my conversation with the brilliant and talented Jennifer Knapp.
Jen: Okay. So guys, it is definitely my thrill to welcome Jennifer Knapp to the podcast. Thanks for coming on the show today.
Jennifer: My pleasure.
Jen: I mean, you guys, she’s in Australia right now. It’s breakfast. She’s got her coffee, or was that tea?
Jennifer: I have a cup of tea. It’s usually like a 17 hour difference, something like that, so I already lived the day that you’re living now and I can tell you things.
Jen: How did it turn out? Was it good?
Jennifer: It was a good day.
Jen: Yeah. Good. Thank you.
Jennifer: Yeah. It was a pretty good day.
Jen: I appreciate your prophecy. That’s fantastic.
I want you to know that I have, I mean sincerely loved your work for years and years, and have followed you since your first album. So, I’m really grateful for everything you’ve ever put into the world to this very day, and so glad that you’re on the show today. I can’t wait for my listeners who don’t know you to get to know you today.
I’ve told them a little bit about you, a little bit about your story. If you don’t mind, if you would indulge me for just a minute, I’d like to roll us back to the beginning for people who are just meeting you, when you were just a girl in Kansas, where I also grew up.
You know, like a lot of us actually, for you, music just provided this way to say things and to express things that you couldn’t find with just talking words. So, I wonder if you could just talk for a minute about your growing up years, and when specifically you discovered that music had the power to start healing you, even in a rocky household?
Jennifer: I think the shortest version of that is kind of skipping ahead to when I got into college, and the faith and music kind of all combined in this one moment.
One of my friends was saying, “You know, why don’t . . . ” Because I’d been writing poetry for years. I’d been playing music for years. I was a trumpet player. I didn’t really play guitar very well at that point, but it was an encouragement to kind of link my mind with my spirit.
The songwriting that I started to do at that time, and particularly with the faith-based music that I’ve done over the years, was a really deliberate attempt to try and talk about this newfound faith experience that I was having.
It was kind of a weird thing. Getting into the church, it was something I’ve talked about as maybe being a double-edged sword, or two sides of the coin, to be a little bit more gentler, was the encouragement of my faith community at that time to start writing about what this experience was in my music, and start talking about the spiritual process that I was going through.
So, I think that, because I didn’t know the long-term traditions, I didn’t grow up in a family, an evangelical family. We’re good Midwestern Christians. We went to church on Easter and Christmas. I had a concept of God, and everyone around me believed in God, but the concept of evangelical Christianity from the way that I grew up was a whole other gear. Those were people that lived in a different part of town.
Jennifer: This is looking back 20 years ago and going, “What made the contribution that I had to contemporary Christian music unique?” That’s what I would tell you, is I didn’t know the culture. So, when the culture was weird, or foreign, or alien, or difficult for me to put on, that showed up in the questions that I asked, not just about my community, but about my faith as a whole. Because my community would tell me, “This is what faith is. This is who God is.” I go, “Well, wait a second, because I didn’t grow up with that. I’m experiencing God by myself apart from your interpretation,” and being able to put all of those things kind of really quickly into that space.
So, long story short, I think music was a vital part of that process for me, very pivotal in the way that I experienced learning about my faith in a practical application, the same way that anyone would go to a monastery and pray. Music was a part of that, and at the same time, because of the nature of what music was, and because I shared it, it’s now out there for everybody to kind of track and follow along with. If I’d have known that then, that this had been this very public working out of my faith . . . I sometimes say that God tricked me.
Jen: Yeah, I get this.
Jennifer: I think sometimes, we’re led into these spaces that, if we knew the whole story, it would just be so overwhelming to us that we would say, “No, I can’t.”
Jen: Oh my gosh, totally.
In the long term, I think that’s the strange thing about music. It’s allowed me to be in a space that’s a gift. It’s been unique to me, and throughout the history of my life and the participation that I’ve had with my faith tradition of Christianity that I participate today has been a vital component. It gives me something to do. It gives me something that’s personal, but it also gives me a gift to be able to share with other people.
When we talk about this in faith communities, you go, what is that thing that I have in my life that is both . . . that each of us have, that is both our anchor unique to us, and a privilege to have, and a right to protect, solitude and individuality, but at the same time is desperately waiting for us in the whole community to be able to share. That is unique gift for us to be able to have.
Jen: It is.
Jen: It is. As you’re talking, I’m just nodding my head in recognition. That sort of art is a risk, and we are left with the terrible conundrum of just writing what we know at the time, and what’s true at the time. But then, of course, it’s like breadcrumbs. It’s this trail of our own faith community on display for everybody, which is really vulnerable.
I want to get into that. You and I are going to unpack that in a minute. I’m curious. I’m curious about your faith journey, because I wonder if we could go back just a minute. I’d love for you to sort of unpack a little portion of it a little bit more, because you sort of grew up in this Easter/Christmas household, and then what we know of you is literally a CCM star, so I’m curious how Christianity found you. You went to college on a music scholarship, right?
Jen: Is that really where it took roots for you, and did it come to you when you were in a dark place? How did you find that in such a real way?
Jennifer: Well, yeah, I tend to think that there was a SWAT team of Christians that evangelized to me in college.
Jen: I know about this. Yes. Oh, man, a SWAT team.
Jennifer: Again, it’s one of those weird stories for me that’s the two-sided coin. There’s a really amazing upside to it, and there’s also a really weird and uncomfortable dark side to it, that on one hand of it, I had amazing friends in college that were really good friends, and for strangely enough, were a gaggle of fairly diverse Christians. I was in and around a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting that was largely evangelical, but had a ton of Catholic kids in it, some good old-fashioned mainline students, as well as just this pretty vibrant and interactive evangelical community of kids. There was probably half a dozen girls who just made a mission out of me.
They were people who saw me in a place of . . . I was definitely vulnerable, and I was lost, and I was definitely in a space where I was dangerously flirting with letting go of my own life, by choice or by accident.
I didn’t see the value of that in that, and there were half a dozen young women who just absolutely did, and in their own amazing way, just wanted me to know and see the beauty of my life and the gift of my life. However, at that time, I was not a musician of any note or anything like that. I was just their friend and hurting, and I think they saw that. They definitely wanted me to know liberation, and healing, and safety, and the character of God that made them see that life was worth living. I think that’s an amazing thing, and I wouldn’t undercut that for a second, because I’ll tell you that I’m here today because of that type of moment, and epiphany, and going, “Wow. Okay, fine. I got nothing left. Sure.”
Jennifer: “Okay, you nutty Christians,” you know?
Jen: “Fine. I surrender.”
Jennifer: “Fine.” Yeah.
Jennifer: I had no idea what that meant, give your life to Christ. “Okay, great.”
Jen: Right. That’s Christian lingo. That’s evangelical lingo.
Jennifer: I don’t want to undercut . . . When I talk sometimes today, it’s like, “Yeah, I drank the Kool-Aid.” The part of that that was challenging was being immersed into a culture that sometimes forgot . . . I learned I would say probably within the first couple of years, being immersed in a culture that took for granted what liberation and what it meant to be saved, who made conquest out of, “This is what we do. We save our friends. We save our friends,” versus, “No, we love our friends. We love our friends. We love our friends, and by that love, we save them.”
It’s a pretty hardcore critique of people who did something really genuine. Not to take anything away from that, but I think 20 years down the track, and talking about what gets infused in the way that I participate with Christianity in the public today, the message that I have in the music, and even talking about the LGBTQ advocacy I have, it’s part of that narrative of understanding, from the very beginning, of this is a foreign experience to me, and I’m not just here because I want to buy into religion. I’m here because I found out something that I actually believe to be a true. The truest part of that experience was not that somebody said, “Become a Christian and your life will be better.” The true part of that experience was finding out that the Good News was actually true.
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: That I am a person that is loved by God, as I understand who God is, that even regardless of the religion or the things that we argue about in doctrine, and the things that we get right, and the ways that we love people well, and that ways that do ourselves an injustice by acting as Christians poorly, is that somewhere in there, that we are whole, loved and amazing, gifted, talented, wonderful human beings wherever we’re found. To be able to find that on the worst of days is an epiphany, and to be able to celebrate that on the strongest of days is absolute liberation.
That’s the part of the story that continues to kind of engage me and be a part of that, even though, like you said, we have these kind of fits and starts. I think this is where the creative community, or writers, or theologians who publish, I think that is a thing that we can lead into that, is that it’s not all written, you know? The book that I write today, or the words that I write today, or the photograph that you take of me is not set in stone. It’s ongoing, a long story. Thank God I’m not wearing stonewashed jeans from the ’80s.
Jen: Right, same.
Jennifer: And big hair, but at the same time, I don’t need to be ashamed of that.
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: It’s an ongoing growth. I will say something today that, perhaps in 10 years from now, I’ll look back and go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I said that or did that.” What I can tell you about 20 years later is I’m still honored and privileged to be able to still have hope inside of that, to feel like I’ve . . . I don’t know if I’ve gained ground. I don’t know if gained ground is that, but probably a better way I would say it is, I don’t feel like I’m better at doing anything, but I have a deeper sense of knowing and ownership of the experience that you have, right? It’s not just book knowledge.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: You’re not just repeating it. It’s in your bones.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: It’s a part of your being.
Jen: I really appreciate your generous and charitable assessment of the journey. It really is easy to look back and just want to burn it down, or recognize either sort of a rosy version of the story without allowing yourself the honesty of appropriate critique, or all the terrible parts without being able to honor what was true and good.
You’ve thread that needle really beautifully. We’ve watched you do that for years. It’s been really instructive to me personally, as my faith also has, like faith does, it turns, and it bends, and it moves, and it’s living, and it’s active, and it’s not static at all. I think having you model, in a healthy way, what it looks like to hold it, the whole clunky thing, in tender hands has really been something to watch. It’s been really inspiring.
I want to move into where you have been and where you are now, but you just have to tell us, because it’s such an interesting, and an unusual and rare jump, to go from being a girl playing the trumpet with some real earnest evangelical friends on the college campus, to cutting an album in the CCM market. I mean, that’s not normal. You’ve made a leap somewhere, and we need some more information.
Jennifer: Yeah. I think that’s a leap.
Jen: Can you talk about point A to point B?
Jennifer: I officially started kind of seriously practicing Christianity I think when I was like 18 years old, and by 20, I was doing concerts inside of two years, in and around my region and my church, and stuff like that. I can’t remember when it was exactly that I signed. It wasn’t exactly overnight, but I think my Kansas record with Gotee Records released in 1998. I think I maybe signed with them or started talking regularly with Christian labels around 1996. So, it was about three years maybe after I became a Christian.
Yeah, it was pretty quick. I don’t really know or how to explain it. I mean, I definitely had a friend of mine who was managing me at the time, and just encouraging me to actually do this. I never really sought . . . One, I had no idea there was Christian music. I had no idea what it was. I had never heard of DC Talk. I had never heard of . . . I think at the time, it was a lot of Twila Paris, Geoff Moore & The Distance, DC Talk.
Jen: Yeah, totally.
Jennifer: Big Tent Revival.
Jen: Third Day, even. Third Day was just a little bit before you, the more contemporaries.
Jennifer: We were part of that kind of ’90s generation of young and up-and-comers. I had no idea that that stuff existed. Of course, all my evangelical friends said, “No. Now, you have to stop listening to secular music, and here’s the Christian music you need to listen to.” I mean, there was some really good stuff.
Jen: Sure, yeah.
Jennifer: There was a huge independent scene, a lot of Tooth & Nail Records artists as well, coming through Kansas City where I was playing a lot. That big move of, that cultural shift in the late ’90s that I was actually really fortunate to be a part of, Caedmon’s Call, Third Day, Sarah Masen, the list goes on of those kinds of artists. I was part of that and didn’t even know it. It was just this movement.
So, that was a part of a quick overnight thing. I didn’t really aspire to be a part of it. I really loved being able to play and hang out with young people, and really dive into the real issues and the things that got us questioning. For me, faith has been at least 50% intellectual. It’s in my head. It’s something that I’ve been very fascinated and deeply engaged with mentally, and to be able to talk with other people about that was part of what drew me to other artists that were getting together and talking about stuff.
But Gotee offered me a record somewhere in there, and I remember having a meeting with . . . I think DC Talk was doing a tour in Kansas City, and somebody said, “Oh, well TobyMac wants to meet you.” I’m like, “Who’s TobyMac?”
Jen: Right. That’s awesome.
Jennifer: I was going into this arena to have this meeting with this guy named TobyMac who owns this record label called Gotee. “Okay, whatever. Okay, fine.” It ended up kind of the same way. I ended up signing with Christian music. I didn’t really see how I was going to fit in. I didn’t really aspire to do it. But at the same time, I felt like I was really fortunate. Gotee Records allowed me to be me, and I didn’t have any aspirations to necessarily be anything. I just kind of put my head down and was concentrating on still just going, “All right, if people want this music, I’ll write it, and you can have it. If there’s enough to make a record out of, good. We’ll just keep doing it.”
Jen: And there was.
Obviously, that was 20 years ago, so just as a human, as a person, as a musician, as an artist, you’ve come a long way in 20 years, but you should always be really proud of that season of your life. As you’re sort of listing that cabal of musicians that you were a part of, it really was something special. It was. For those of us who were paying attention, it was amazing to hear you and to listen to the songs that you wrote, and the sound that was really only yours. I mean, nobody had the same sound as you, at all.
That really marked a moment in Christian music, I think, that was really special, that I’ve never seen anything like it in the rest of my lifetime. So, it’s neat that you’ll kind of always have that community that you were absolutely, positively a part of. I remember when we all first heard Kansas—which by the way, should you want to, I could sing all of it to you, every song, every verse. I’m just saying, that’s available to you, if you ever need that service.
Jennifer: Well, there’s a few times I’ve had to google to remember what the lyrics of the songs were, so I should just give you a ring next time.
Jen: Just call me. Just call me. I don’t need to google anything.
We just hadn’t heard any . . . There was no Jennifer Knapp except for you, and your music mattered to so, so many of us when we needed it.
I want to talk about sort of moving forward in your life. Obviously, when any artist decides to change course in any way, whether it’s, I don’t know, creating music in a different genre, or taking time out of the spotlight, or spending time inward, it’s not a small decision. And there’s a lot of variables, and there are a lot of factors that go into that.
So, can you talk a little bit to me, and to my community, after such a really, what seemed a pretty quick shot to stardom, why you decided to take a break from the spotlight?
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s easy to talk about it now, because it’s sort of like looking back in time in history. There is now a narrative that I can put to what was a wildly jumping off a cliff experience at the time. What I would say now is, it’s actually somewhat comforting to me, even after the 10 years since coming back and doing music again, I look at, in 2002 . . . Actually, in 2001, I quit. I told everybody that I was quitting, everywhere that I went, everybody I talked to, I was done.
Jen: You were done.
Jennifer: I was a spent human being. People talk about meeting me within that year, and I go, “Really? Who did you meet, and was she nice to you?” Most people go, “No, she was terrible.”
Jen: “She was terrible.”
Jennifer: “I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. She seemed like she was on drugs and had hollow eyes.”
Jen: “It was a real low moment of 2001, meeting you.”
Jennifer: “Yeah. I’m really sorry you met her, because that was pretty awful.” But I spent a year . . . In 2001, I had had it, and I really just needed a break of some kind. I committed to finishing the contract, so it took me a year to finish the contracts that I had up. So, at the end of 2002 I just, I still see the moment in my eyes where I put my guitars back in their case. I was on the side of the stage. I just put my guitars back in the case, shut them, and I’m like, “That’s it. Done.”
Jen: Wow. Gosh.
Jennifer: And it hurt. Man, it was just . . .
Jen: I bet it did.
Jennifer: Even today, when I talk about it, it’s like ugh, it was so awful, just to feel like that I couldn’t proceed with . . . So, loaded up, and I wasn’t . . . I know there’s a narrative that includes my sexual orientation in that, and I’ve got to be honest. I would just say it was just so far down, it seemed inconsequential at the time. I didn’t know that that was in the suitcase.
I did then, and I do now, take very seriously this responsibility of what it means to talk about this way of life.
At that time, in seeing the trend of where we were going and spending my, “my entire life,” the entire time I was a CCM, there was always this dark cloud of hypocrisy, a dark cloud of, there was . . . I was frustrated with the pay gap, at some days up to 50% plus.
Then, my male counterparts would get to things that I was allowed to say and not allowed to say, and white male authority to the things that . . . At the time, I was a 27 year old adult female woman who had been a Christian for some years, and had the ability, clearly, to be able to deeply engage, respectfully and authoritatively engage with my faith on a public level, and then to consistently be undermined and told that I didn’t matter, and that what I had to say was suspect, and that the character of my soul was in question, because I was willing to challenge the status quo.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: Early on I think in my career, I was learning and sucking up everything, and being a sponge, and being a disciple. The gift of that discipleship and taking that seriously was like, “Man, I’ve got some muscles here. I want to use them. I want to run. I want to test what I’ve learned about God’s nature.” Then, when I went out to do it, I was just getting my arms just slapped.
Jennifer: It was just this terrible, excruciating experience that was bound up in the very gifts that I had to offer, and in a very public way. Like I said, sexual orientation, what? We’re not talking about a doctrinal issue or a traditional issue. We’re talking about something fundamentally about whether or not I even want to participate in this community at all, because I knew somewhere in there, whatever the qualities of me, tomboy, girl from Kansas, singer/songwriter, theologian, whatever those things that were going to be on the buffet that there were, at any given time, a community who would absolutely try to erase and blot out, or punish me for any one of those qualities was just something that I really was like, “I can’t. ”
At that time, I didn’t have the physical ability to withstand it anymore. I had to go heal. I just couldn’t do it one more day. Part of that was rage and anger, but also, it was a real loss. I wept for probably every day for close to a year, just bone-rattling, death rattle kind of stuff, and never had I been at the same time so glad to feel like I could wash my hands of it.
Fast forwarding ahead, it took seven years to recover and even contemplate whether or not I would be willing for anyone to share . . . that I would ever be willing to publicly share anything about who I was as a human being. I’m not even talking on a massive scale. I was living in Australia at the time. Some friends of mine were saying, “We’ve got this artist group in our church that’s getting together, and we’re working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.”
It was a massive decision for me to even walk into a room with six other people in a quiet place that nobody ever knew about, and to be able to begin to start in an intimate environment and be trusting just four or five people, and to think that that was a worthwhile exchange. That took several years, but the rest is history, I guess, so to speak.
Jen: Of course now, at this point in your life, you know now that you were . . . I can only imagine how lonely that felt in that season of your life, but that you actually weren’t alone, that there were hundreds of thousands of people asking the same questions and experiencing the same tension inside their faith communities, the same sort of rules and rejections. So, you were a little bit of a front runner. I see you as a little bit of a lead blocker for a lot of people who came behind you with very similar questions, a lot of the similar tug of war in their own hearts. You gave some language, ultimately, I think to a spiritual development that a lot of people in our generation have gone through, including myself.
Jen: I’m curious about, if you . . . Maybe it’s fuzzy, I’m not sure, but when you look back over those seven or so years of healing and sort of having peeled back from your incredibly successful career, which speaks to the sincerity of your story and of your heart. But what would you say, or could you point to a couple, or however many there are, factors that really played into your healing? What was it? Can you think back to some of the elements in your life that really delivered some healing to you?
Jennifer: Particularly talking about what’s now labeled as my seven year hiatus.
Jen: How lovely.
Jennifer: I rediscovered, and claimed, and became familiar with my own voice. What I mean by that is, it’s pretty simple. We all have this running dialog in our head, right? Well, maybe we don’t. Maybe I’m just insane. You ask me what I want, and I will tell you what I want, without worrying about the consequences of that, or worrying about what people are going to judge when I say, “I want. I need. I dream,” but fill in the blank of whatever that verb is. That’s my own voice. That’s not because I’m trying to keep up with the crowd. I’m not saying, “I want this because everyone’ll like me if . . . ” or maybe you are, but being able to know that it’s my voice.
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: That I’m not imagining what God wants me to think, or I’m not imagining what you want me to think. It’s my voice, and to know that.
The reason why I point that out, and why it was so difficult, and at the same time so liberating to be able to say, “Listen, I know my voice. And I need to hear from it.”
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: Because this is particular true, especially when I talk to a lot of women who have come up through evangelical Christianity, as well, we’re trained to distrust our own selves.
Jen: Of course.
Jennifer: It’s written in our theology, that we’re supposed to want the will of God and not our own will.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: We’ve had centuries of Christian theology and thought that has tried to undermine the value of who we are as human beings, that we are starting from a beginning place of corruption, and that to listen to a voice from a corrupted human being is a really terrible, awful idea.
Jennifer: At some point, I’m like . . . I couldn’t survive. I was like, “Well, I can’t listen to that anymore. If I don’t listen to myself, at least for a little while, I’m going . . . This is untenable.”
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: I was like, “Well, I have to, then. I have to test this. I’m not testing this because I want to be a rebel, or that I don’t believe you. I am testing this out of survival. The struggle for truly open LGBTQ affirmation in our faith community is that we deny . . . What we’re saying that we deny is somebody’s authentic voice inside of our own spaces. We say that that authentic voice is corrupt.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: That’s a shocking thing. That’s a shocking thing to say to another human being, that the core of who you are is broken and a black seed is an evil thing, is a horrendous blow to the truth of where we begin.
So fundamentally, yeah, finding my own voice in that, but here’s the caveat in that. I’ll wrap it up with this. Finding that own voice was the most redemptive experience of that seven years, because what I found out was breaking, testing that truth that I didn’t start as fundamentally flawed. That, when I understood that, I was no longer my enemy, that God wasn’t trying to change me into something. God was trying to water me and grow me, that this faith experience could be something that was a ray of sunshine and not handcuffs, not a cell, but an open world of liberation.
To me, that was one of the fundamental things, just to start from that.
I think we have to really seriously look at how we talk about what it means to be a human being again, and to not necessarily talk about transformation as from just a brokenness, but no, we’re broken when we’re not growing. We’re broken when we’re not creating. We’re broken when we don’t believe that our fundamental goodness begins with absolute joy, wonderment, and liberation. I’m done.
Jen: End scene.
Jennifer: I’m done preaching now.
Jen: I really love that. I identify with what you’re saying so very much. I know for me, when I put my first foot on the first step of the path toward reevaluating what I had been taught and thought I understand about just the LGBTQ community and the community of God, it was because the spirit in me, which I had always considered precious and nurtured by God, and protected, and very just sort of nourished, was telling me something different. It was just telling me a different story than my brain was telling me, where all this sort of sterile information lived.
It was this real break, and this sort of tug between what my spirit was saying, “There is no way that this is right. There is no way, because look at the horrible fruit of it.” Then, my brain, just the narratives that I grew up in, same as you, were at war for one of the first times. So, I really appreciate your leadership on teaching us that, I think that internal voice, that spirit of God inside of us is really powerful and good. It’s good, and it’s true, and it leads us well.
So, I wonder, I know you’ve talked a lot about this, and so thanks for going into it one more time for the podcast. I wonder if we could talk a little bit about your coming out and what that experience was like for you. I can only imagine the weight of it, when you realize that your own internal convictions, and then you’re going to say those out loud, are going to conflict with people that, well, you probably love, and people that love you, and your community at large.
I wonder if you could talk about that season a little bit. I wonder if you could tell my listeners a little bit about Karen, who helped you realize it’s not who, but how. We watched that, a lot of us watched that, and I would just love to hear it from your mouth, kind of what that season was like, and where you drew your courage from, and what was hard and what was good. That’s a lot. I think I gave you 12 questions. Just pick one.
Jennifer: Yeah. Where should I?
Jen: Just pick whatever of the 12 questions I just fired off to you.
Jennifer: Yeah. Well, I think one of the important things that I would say is that I had been in my relationship for a good five years before I was back and doing music, and so the media campaign coming out like, “This is the day Jennifer Knapp announces to the world,” was kind of a weird thing, because I had a life where I wasn’t in the closet. It was just, this is a bit of information now that needs clarification for everybody else. But that’s not to say that that wasn’t a moment. It really was. It was the declaration that nobody knew about, that I already knew and everybody important around me.
The decision that I had to make was, this is an important thing to do, because I got back to Nashville. I was doing music again. A lot of Christian retailers got really excited, because they heard I was recording.
Jennifer: I’m like, “Ah, well, I’m going to cuss a lot on this record, so you’re probably not going to like it, one. Two, I’m not talking about Christianity on this record. That’s another reason. And three, I see what you guys have done in the past. When you figure out that I’m in a same-sex relationship, you’re really not going to want to like me.”
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: And so part of it, I got to be honest. One of the things of making that decision to do it was absolutely just an integrity thing. I didn’t want anyone to be confused that I was trying to hide anything or lie about anything. I was like, “Listen, yes, I’ve been walking around Nashville for a good year holding the hand of my now wife, and I didn’t have . . . There’s nothing for me to hide here, so you might as well deal with it.”
The backside of that, and what made it possible for me to do that, in a strange way, is just going, “Listen, I will be so glad to see the backside of you people. Goodbye. Fine.” I knew that I would lose friends, and I didn’t want . . . Those people weren’t my friends, you know? If you wanted a fight, and you wanted . . . I didn’t kind of anticipate still being here 10 years later being engaged.
That would’ve been a whole other choice of me and a whole other conversation, but what I think was, part one, it was a decision of integrity. It was a decision that I made on behalf of the LGBTQ people that I knew, to say, just as people, just to go, “Listen, I do love you, and I do care about you, and I know that these things matter.” So, I am not going to hide that, and I’m going to let you share in that expression with me, and it’s going to be okay for us. There’s no sense in doing this, where we’re going to call a spade a spade.
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: In my own mind, I didn’t want anyone to have to buy something that was antithetical to them. I didn’t want them to feel like they’d been duped. I’d been duped enough in Christianity, you know?
Jen: Wow. Yeah. Great point.
Jennifer: I know what that feels like, to walk into a room and think that you’re there among people who love you and want to be your friend, and it turns out, you’ve got to buy an Amway package, or you’ve got to buy into the whole . . . It’s a scheme instead of actually people inviting you to a social place that they want you to be there. I just didn’t want to be a part of that anymore. The willingness to be able to do that was, part of me was just going, you know what? I was really comfortable with my own faith. I was deeply anticipating and hoping that it could be a private thing now.
Jen: Nice try, cutie.
Jennifer: What made that possible for me was, I was willing to lose it. I was absolutely willing and grateful to be in a position where I just understood that these people weren’t my friends.
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: Part of that was knowing seven years before, those people were toxic to me. Being in that environment and trying to live up something, I knew the standards I wasn’t going to reach. And I was actually at peace with being able to say, “I don’t need that, I don’t want it, and it’s not a loss to me.” That sounds really easy, because we’re talking that was an absolute break, seven years of being away from that toxicity to find my own voice, and then to have enough courage to be me, to know it, and claim it, and walk it, to be able to do something that seems like a huge thing, that I didn’t even know was a huge thing at the time.
Jen: Gosh, you just can’t even put a price on that sort of internal liberation. You really can’t. The cost to trying to manage the persona and the rules, spoken and unspoken, that you had left behind, it’s just so high. It’s just so high, to say nothing of the fact of what you would have to keep hidden. We don’t have to . . . Just turn a quarter of a turn anywhere, and you’ll find somebody in the LGBTQ community who’s just been so hurt and wounded from that environment.
There’s just no other way to conceive of it than this is rotten. There’s just no other way. Just at the core of what we are and how we know God has made us, and how He loves us, and how He delights in us, and just the goodness in humans, I just . . . At one point, I mean, I had to . . . I’m just this straight mom with five kids, but I walked through some of the same spaces as you and realized, “Whatever this costs, I’m glad to pay it,” and it does cost. You paid a price. I appreciate the strong way that you are describing your journey, but there was a cost to it, too. I mean, you’re human. You’re not immune to the words of people and that level of attention, which we’re just not geared for. It’s strange. It’s disorienting. But I think you weathered it with a lot of grace.
Jennifer: Well, I think talking about the cost is a really important thing to not drive by. I would say definitely, I’ve paid economically. I’ve had to learn through multiple phases of my life what it means at certain points, the cost that it takes to win your own soul, is the only way I know how to describe it, the honor and the privilege that I have right now of being just one of those innately fortunate people to have a hell of a lot of fight in them. I’m like, “This is mine. This is my life.”
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: Somewhere along the way, through the gift of my spiritual experience, that’s something that’s really a hard thing to break. It’s easier to break in a lot of other people. I don’t want to take that for granted. But the cost of that, that deeply concerns me, is yes, there are a lot of these economic things going on. There are families that get lost and broken up by these decisions that we make in our lives.
At the head of the pin is our own individual experience, and . . . That kind of phrase sometimes plays in my head oftentimes, “No man is an island.” But I also think of Henri Nouwen a lot recently, and a lovely essay that he wrote called “Reaching Out.” There’s this fundamentally, I don’t want to say individual, but this fundamentally lonely or place of solitude, what he calls “inner sanctuary,” that the place that is held between us and God. It’s the challenge of knowing that place, and knowing where it is takes a lot of courage, to be able to go to that inner sanctuary knowing that we will be alone, just us and God. The challenge of that is to find a way of that being a nurturing place of solitude, and commitment, and trust that God will be there to nurture us and not leave us isolated, marginalized, or lonely.
It is a lifetime trying to understand that concept, but I know it now. There’s a knowing that I have about it, but there’s still a challenge to be able to articulate that.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: I think if there’s a challenge to us as a church, as people who raise our hands and say, “We will be responsible for the language of this and the tradition of this. We’re people who know . . . ” If we are people who know, we need to be engaged in understanding how traumatic those transitional spaces have been. Go to your inner sanctuary. We trust you to be there alone. Let us hold you and defend the boundaries. That’s a thing that we can do.
Jen: I love that. I love that imagery. That’s beautiful.
Jennifer: I had people go, “If you get off the treadmill, your career is over. You shouldn’t do that. You shouldn’t be alone, particularly as a woman. Oh, you shouldn’t be alone on a trip by yourself. You shouldn’t be thinking by yourself without the direction of a male. You shouldn’t be alone with two people, otherwise you guys are probably having sex.” I’m like, “Okay, whatever.” This kind of constant barrage for us, and it works both ways, kind of this idea that we shouldn’t be alone, we should be observed in our Christianity, or this idea that we can’t have a good thought in that, or that when we come back out, the thought that we had by ourselves is in any way contributing to our body.
There’s that space in there that I think we can get much better at, and I think you’ve touched on it. In the last 20 years, in my lifetime, in my art and my experience as well, the artists that I’ve grown up with, we are a generation of people who, even 20 years ago in my 20s, I’m understanding this rupture and this break, that we see that, not just talk about it, not just say, “Yes, it’s been costly,” but to begin to be restorative, to be able to say, “Yeah, you know what? You shouldn’t have had to pay that cost. Let’s share in the rebuilding of that.”
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: I think, in that metaphor, I’m willing to pay certain things, but there’s a certain price. It shouldn’t leave me in poverty. It shouldn’t leave me broken. It should leave us, as a community, coming together, and that’s our real challenge in this time. Where I will adamantly circle back to as an example of the LGBTQ community I think has been shining stars . . .
Jen: I agree.
Jennifer: In the last 20 years of being able to understand this concept, to just simply say that the concept of LGBTQ affirmation shortchanges the challenges that we’ve all been going through, to be able to understand that fundamentally, we can’t be parsing who is and who is not, or what voice is or what isn’t good, that God is genuinely in love with us all. To be able to get at that, the LGBTQ community has paid that, and it’s . . . I will tell you, and it’s my privilege to be able to say, we shouldn’t have to pay anymore. We have a gift to give.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: Take and receive the gift. It will cost perhaps to take that gift, but the cost is the same thing that we always have to pay any time we’re learning something new.
Jen: That’s great.
Jennifer: If I can give you a hope that there’s a fruit there, it’s not out of deception. It’s a genuine hope for a liberation that I’ve discovered in my own life, and I hope will bear fruit in the lives of others.
Jen: mean, talk about a community that has written the book on forgiveness. My husband and I look at each other sometimes and literally just shake our heads going, “I can’t believe they keep wanting to come back to church. I can’t believe they’ll still love God after all of this, and yet there is this fierce . . . It’s kind of what you described a minute ago. There’s just this fight for their own belovedness and their own belonging, and it’s really . . . Talk about an instructor to the church right now.”
Jen: Speaking of forgiveness, there’s a really powerful line from your book that loved. You wrote, “We have the power to reshape the anger we experience into acts of forgiveness.” I think that’s really moving, and actually applicable right now in our culture. We’re angry right now, and everything feels so brittle. You actually channeled that forgiveness into a foundation that you started, called Inside Out Faith, and it’s doing such great work, such good, good, good work. I think my listeners would love to know about it. Can you just talk for a minute about Inside Out Faith and what you do there?
Jennifer: Yeah. insideoutfaith.org is the website. Basically, it’s the extension of my saying yes to participating in my faith community and advocating for LGBTQ affirmation.
I go out and do a lot of speaking. Obviously, I’m willing to engage, but we’re trying to get a lot more people involved in not just talking about LGBTQ affirmation inside of specifically faith communities, but to be able to have people of faith, people who religion and their spiritual practices have been a vital component to understanding their own LGBTQ existence in the world, it’s an incredibly healing and liberating thing, and to be able to be a part of that is part of our goal.
I think one of the biggest lies that we’re obviously starting to overcome is that the LGBTQ individual is a dead spiritual human being.
Jen: Yes. Right.
Jennifer: You were talking about this astonishment that, why do LGBTQ people keep coming back to a church that has a long history of resisting and vilifying them? Because you can’t stop us. We exist.
Jen: That’s good.
Jennifer: We’re here, and we have vibrant spiritual lives. We know this, and we understand this, the church doesn’t belong to you, you know?
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: We may not go to your churches anymore, or you may not let us in, or whatever versions of that. We all kind of practice in wildly varying ways. But I think that for me, Inside Out Faith is part of that story. We want to be part of sharing those stories, giving an inside view of the fact that it’s not a question of . . . When I first started this 10 years ago, it was weird to me, because people would say, “Well, can you be gay and Christian?” I’d be like, “Well, yeah.” There’s no debate to be had.
Jennifer: I’m like, “Well, I’m gay, and I’m a Christian, so what’s your problem? It’s happening. It’s happening right now.”
Jen: Right. It’s not up for debate.
Jennifer: Right. We can get into it, if you want, and we can have a theological conversation about it. We can get into doctrine and tradition. We can do all of that, but it’s pretty simple. I’m here.
Jen: But that again is part of a new, beautiful story that the community is writing into the church right now in our generation. I find it hopeful. I feel encouraged. I’m watching my community and our little church here just transform in beautiful, good, and important ways. I feel really hopeful for the next generation, and certainly the one behind them. I don’t know if you hold a lot of hope for it. You must, because you’re taking the time to do this really important work.
But I thank you for your steadfastness and your commitment to that community, to the church at large, to God. I’m just, I’m really in awe of it, and it’s instructive to me. We’re better for your gifts. I can’t tell you enough how much I respect you, and how grateful I am for your story, and that you’ve been willing to share it with us even after all this time, because I mean honestly, just sometimes, “Enough, people. Just leave me alone. I just want to eat a sandwich.”
So, thank you. Thanks for coming on today. I want to ask you, we’re actually asking everybody this in this series. Here’s the first one, just whoever comes to mind, whatever’s right there at the ready.
So, when you need it, when you need the pick-me-up, who do you play?
Jennifer: Kathleen Madigan.
Jen: Okay, nice. We’re going to link to that.
Jennifer: She’s actually a standup comedian.
Jennifer: The last couple of years, I haven’t listened to a lot of music. I’ve been listening to a lot of standup comedy, though.
Jen: I love standup comedy.
Jennifer: It’s a different kind of music to me. It’s strange.
Jen: Yeah, it’s still art. It’s still art, and it’s a really interesting form of communication. I love it, too.
This is the last one. This is actually a question we ask every guest, and Barbara Brown Taylor wrote it in one of her early books. It can be whatever you want. This can be serious. It can be not serious. It can be real. The can be funny. What is saving your life right now?
Jennifer: Extended vacations.
Jen: Oh my God, I knew you were going to say that.
Jennifer: Getting off the treadmill, making the decision to be not working, like, seriously not working.
Jen: Hear, hear.
Jennifer: Four years since I had a holiday, and I’m taking seven years off . . . or sorry, not seven years off, seven weeks off. It’s probably four weeks longer than my conscience will allow, and I’m just now two weeks into it starting to not feel guilty about not working. It’s a deliberate choice, and it’s a lifesaving choice, and it’s an okay thing to do.
Jen: Good for you.
Jennifer: Even if it’s financially taxing.
Jen: Oh my gosh. Are you spending the entire seven weeks in Australia?
Jennifer: Yeah, but all over. I’ll be from Tasmania all the way to Brisbane, like up and down the Eastern corridor of Australia.
Jen: Love it.
Jennifer: I’m really grateful to be back here and at my second home.
Jen: Good for you.
Jen: Will you just tell everybody real quick what you’re working on and where they can find you?
But come the spring, the plan is to finish up the Love Comes Back Around tour in the West Coast, so the Pacific Northwest, California, and all points west of the Mississippi. We’re going to try and add a few more dates in the spring 2019, so stay tuned for that. Then, also on this vacation, I’m going to be doing some dreaming, which is really great, on what the next few years looks like.
As a lot of people know who’ve been following me, in May, I just finished getting my master’s in theological studies. I’ve been touring a little bit madly since then, and so I want to get into the space of talking about achieving some of the mad hatting schemes that I’ve thought about. So, keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Staying connected with people is one of the driving forces of creativity, so yeah, stay plugged in.
Jen: Bravo. Love it. Love it. Thank you for being on the show today. I just have literally enjoyed every single second of this conversation with you. I’m just cheering you on, really, in every way, and proud of you, and so glad to learn from you and to follow you. I want to thank you too, just for all that you, and your music, and your career, and your story, and your honesty has meant to me in my life.
Jennifer: Thank you. I deeply appreciate it, and thank you guys for having me on.
Jen: Thanks, Jennifer.
Okay, guys. I totally loved that conversation, and I hope that you did, too. Talk about somebody with a lot of depth, and grace, and wisdom. I just loved listening to Jennifer talk. I’m grateful for her. She has just been such a big deal to me. Her music has just mattered. If you’re just now getting to know her music, I’m so jealous of you, that you’re discovering this for the first time. Go and download it, the old stuff, the new stuff. It is all good. She’s a gifted singer/songwriter. She’s got her own sound, and you’re going to love her.
I’m going to have all these links at jenhatmaker.com underneath the Podcast, we’ll have Jen’s socials and her amazing book, which she writes like an artist, so it’s a really beautiful read, and all of her music. So, follow her. Follow her, and follow along on her story and her journey. I find her leadership really important in this sort of world that we’re in right now.
So much more to come in this series, you guys. You asked For the Love of Music, and I’m so happy. I’m so glad about it, because we’re all over the map in this series. We are not just focusing on one genre. We have all kinds of guests to bring you that you’re going to love, that you already do love. You’re not going to want to miss any of it. We’re having so much fun with this one. Come back next week for sure. I have an outstanding episode for you.
And you guys, thanks for reviewing, and rating, and subscribing to podcasts. That’s so good for all podcasts, our specifically, and thanks for sharing it. If you liked this episode, share it with your folks, because we got more where that came from. So you guys, have a fabulous week. Thanks for being here, and see you next time.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!