Interview with Jennifer Knapp

Jennifer Knapp will be joining us this Thursday (7pm) at Roscoe’s (3356 N. Halsted St.) as a part of her Inside Out Faith tour, so in anticipation for the night we asked her a few questions about the tour and her journey as a Christian and a musician that you can check out below. You can check out a description for the event on May 31st and listen to some of her music here.

After taking a break from playing music publicly, what made you decide to start writing and playing again?

Overall, it was that I missed music. Since I was a kid, I’ve always participated in some sort of musically creative endeavor. It wasn’t until I had somewhat reconciled the exchange of sharing music and the public recognition that often comes with it that I was ready to start writing again. It’s not a given that being creative means that a person is prepared to be a public figure. Being a public figure doesn’t make a person an artist either. In the end, I just needed to write. I was happy if people wanted to come along and listen. I was ready to share…and let the chips fall where they may.

How has your time in the Contemporary Christian Music scene influenced your musical career today?

Professionally, I would say the biggest impact was simply having the opportunity to perform and practice my craft. I was a very busy artist. I released 3 records in 4 years (I think), performed over 100 shows a year, on the road over 200 days most years…it was obsessive, hard and highly rewarding work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those experiences were shaping me into a performing artist prepared for a career.

But I think also, it’s worth mentioning the particular religious culture that is involved with the Christian music scene. There’s a lot of work tied directly to intimate church settings. I learned very quickly that there are amazingly different approaches Christians take in practicing their faith. One day I would find myself in a charismatic church in Mississippi, the next day sipping a cold beer with a Baptist pastor in Germany, the day after being told to cover up my tattoos or not speak too much (as I am a woman). It’s crazy stuff, but all those folks connected with my music would invite me in as one of their own. I had to learn to look for how we were alike, even if I was uncomfortable. I had to learn to appreciate our differences and accept hospitality when it was offered. I had to learn to love people I didn’t always understand.

How is your music different today?

I’d contend that it’s not radically different. Stylistically, it’s all very much driven by lyric and guitar. The lyrics are about life, love, and the occasional drawing from the well of spirituality. Hopefully, what I am creating is as transparent as it has ever been.

Is there a song that you don’t get tired of playing? What is it about the song or songs?

Haha. I’m not certain that there’s any one song I’ve written that is immune from making me bored. Play anything enough times and you find that you’re fighting performance fatigue. I think that’s why it’s good to put songs away once in a while. It’s tough though, because sometimes your audience has come to hear the one song you need to rest. What I’ve learned so far is to listen. Listen to the song again, and not just simply play it. Listen to the folks who sing it back to you and why they sing it. Remember back to when you wrote the song and why you still play it today…If I can get to that place, I usually find that even a 20 year-old song can get me to shed a tear.

Why Inside Out Faith? What brought it about?

Talk to any person who once held a prejudice against another and you will discover that it was probably a direct and meaningful encounter with the “other” that radically altered their perspective. Inside Out Faith is about actively encouraging faith communities to directly encounter, foster and affirm lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people. “Coming out” in and around religious communities can be a terrifying prospect if you don’t know who your friends are. In some religious communities the costs are without limit. When I came out in 2010, the response from the religious communities was very vocal and very divided. One way to describe it is as a storm of radical affirmation and disparaging condemnation. The most challenging dynamic in these religious environments seems to be breaking the silence. Some still hold prejudices because they do not realize that some of their favorite neighbors are gay. Some people think that gay people are completely devoid of meaningful faith. Yet, when the light is shed on those who dare to share their story, most of us begin to recognize that we are not as different from each other as we think.

What responses have you received from sharing more of your story on this tour and in general?

The funny thing is, the more you talk with folks the less sexuality or gender becomes the focal point. The truth is, just about everyone I meet has had some kind of judgmental and condemning experience with the church, and yet that is often the place we go to make sense of our lives. Not many of us are willing to hang out in a place that doesn’t accept us in some measure of who we really are or who we hope to be. Sure, the topic that usually brings us all together is how the church treats gay people, but the conversation usually leaves us all scratching our heads as to how we got to be so cruel to one another. You don’t have to be a Christian to get how messed up that is. Many Christians are embarrassed by it and many others are so angry they can’t even step inside a church. The simple truth is, when we give someone permission to be who they are it often frees them to experience true joy in their spirituality. Most people are just looking for a welcome place to practice their faith.

In another interview I heard you mention that you think our sexuality is interconnected with our spirituality. Could you expand on that?

I wouldn’t presume to speak for everyone, but I would say that for myself, there is a connection. At some point in time, when I am considering who I am spiritually, I have to be willing to integrate all the different things that represent me. My faith, my doubt, my belief, my gender, my passions, my talents, my fears, my flaws…each little thing has its own life and has the opportunity to drastically shape the whole “me”. But none has the right to be imbalanced. I’m glad that you made the distinction between sexuality and sexual orientation though, because that is often the rub for most people who practice a religion. Sexuality often gets lumped into a category of shame and lust, extrication from which can be a deeply personal and spiritual journey. My body is the last boundary between myself and the rest of the world. I need to know the limits of that boundary. Where it is flexible and where it is not. Where it is safe and where it is in need of protection. For me, that’s pretty intense spiritual work.

What are you currently learning in your relationship with God?

That if I cannot find love for my neighbor, I cannot begin to fathom god.

Who is Jesus to you?

He is hope fulfilled.

What gives you joy or excites you?

I love it when I meet someone whose face lights up when it finally dawns on them that they matter. It’s a real gift to be present when someone realizes that not only are they important just for being themselves, but they are significant to the greater community around them. Being an agent of compassion, kindness and justice for others begins in realizing the significance of our opportunity as individuals to effect that change.

Much love.

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  • Tonya

    Awesome! The work Jennifer is doing is so important, and much needed. I’d love to see her come to my town, but I contacted organizations all over and barely got a nibble, even though we have 5 colleges and a very large gay population here… Very frustrating. I’m glad to see that some folks are listening.

  • I’m filled with emotion just thinking about this opportunity tomorrow night. Jennifer’s gift of music and vulnerable lyrics disciples me through high school and college. Her music helped me give expression to my most intimate moments with the Lord. I thank God for her and am heartbroken by the pain and destruction followers of Jesus heap upon each other. I am thrilled however that that Jennifer is making music again. I cannot wait to hear her spiritual journey and celebrate with her a God who chases us and holds firm.

  • Emily

    Truly blessed and grateful to have come across this interview. I wish I could have attended this event. I spent my teen years growing up listening to Jennifer Knapp, attending her concerts, and performing her music in church. The whole time, questioning God’s love for me while I questioned myself. THANK YOU for being bold enough, Jennifer. Thank you for trusting God’s process and allowing yourself to be who He made you to be.