What really happened to Jennifer Knapp

About a year and a half ago, I was listening to A Diamond in the Rough and decided to see if I could track down why Jenn disappeared so suddenly from the music scene several years ago. I couldn’t find much other than all sorts of wild rumors about contractual disputes, having kids out of wedlock, secretly being gay, giving up Christianity, etc. – although I did find one brief interview with her, and so I wrote a post with what I’d found. Since then, it’s become my second most visited post on the site, only surpassed by that one time I got instalanched. Thousands of people have found that entry thanks to Google and other sites and I allowed myself to think, “Hey, maybe some people are being disabused of all these rumors now thanks to me!”

Well, it turns out that one of the rumors was actually true, as Jen revealed today in an interview with Christianity Today that she’s been in an eight year long relationship with another woman. She says that it’s a hard decision even admitting to it publicly:

There’s some extremely volatile language and debate—on all sides—that just breaks my heart. Frankly, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be making any kind of public statement at all. But there are people I care about within the church community who would seek to throw me out simply because of who I’ve chosen to spend my life with.

I empathize with her frustrations and pain, but I have to admit I’m kind of saddened by the news. I honestly believe that what she is doing is sinful, and that her denial of it being so is a dangerous act on her part. Denying sin only ever lets it dig its talons into you deeper. I’m not going to use this space as a spot to talk about why I think homosexuality is a sin – I’ve talked about it before, and if you’re curious there’s always email or comments (or the search button).

Instead, I want to talk about what Jen’s music has meant to me.

For years, her albums have been a place for me to find some comfort, some solace when life seems to be battering my door down and the sky looks like it’s falling. A few songs in particular have really meant the world to me – Martyrs and Thieves, Hallowed, Undo Me, Refine Me and more have really been huge impacts in my life. It’s funny how when everything is going so badly, something as simple as a song can ease the burden and make it seem like maybe, just maybe, things might be okay after all.

I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, and the simple and honest pleas that Jen sings have always connected with me on some level that most music doesn’t. When I was in a dark place, I took bongos lessons and listening to that music made it seem like I wasn’t alone, like there was light to reach for even though I couldn’t see it at the time.  The words to Martyrs and Thieves remain some of my favorite ever written.  So when I read that interview, my initial reaction was one of anger and betrayal. How could one of my heroes do this? How DARE she?

How dare she sin?

How dare I hate her for it.

Jesus once said, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” While I still believe that she’s in sin, I’m in no place to think she’s any less than she was before I knew her situation. I’m just as sinful as she is, if not moreso. Why is her sin any worse? She’s heard from plenty of people already that she’s a terrible person, or that she can’t be a Christian with this out there now, and I’m not going to add to it. Christians sin just like everyone else, the difference is that we have hope to have that sin forgiven and taken away by the grace of God. The difference is that we can repent of it and have the Holy Spirit work in us to strengthen us in our weakness so that we don’t fall again.

In Refine Me, Jen sings “Lord, come with your fire, burn my desires; refine me. Lord, my will has deceived me, please come and free me, come rescue this child for I long to be reconciled to you.” If that’s truly the desire of her heart, and I really hope it is, then the Holy Spirit will work in her and convict her where she needs to be convicted. God will not leave even one sheep behind. So in the meantime, let’s just continue to support a sister and pray for her.

I’m going to keep listening to her music, and I’m going to buy her new album. I’ll keep following her on Twitter, and grinning like an idiot when she replies to a tweet. Even if this all goes south and she becomes the raving evil hedonist that the most judgmental of Southern Baptists are saying she is, she still has written some of my favorite music and she has still had a major, positive influence on my life. Nothing can change that.

So Jen, if you ever stumble across this: Thank you. Keep on honestly seeking God, and he’ll take care of you.

Hello, Switchfoot

Yeah, I’m late on this one. And I’m thinking of a few people who are going to kick me for this, but I just finally got around to checking out Switchfoot’s latest album, Hello Hurricane. Switchfoot was one of my favorite bands back in the first half of this decade, and after A Beautiful Letdown, I thought they’d remain that way for a long time. That album is still one of my first “go-tos” for a variety of situations and emotions, and the raw emotion on that album is just amazing – nearly every track on it holds a special place in my heart, and can be sung on cue from memory. There’s not a single track on the album that I don’t love.

Their next album, Nothing is Sound, was pretty good, but I thought a noticeable step down from A Beautiful Letdown. When Oh! Gravity came out, they’d drifted further from where I’d hoped, going with a less polished, more experimental feeling to the album that I really didn’t think was that great. As a result, “new Switchfoot album” wasn’t really something I was thinking about when November rolled around, and it wasn’t until I kept hearing about how good it was from everyone that I decided to hit Amazon MP3 and see if it lived up to the hype.

Let me just start by spoiling my conclusion a bit and note that the album is now repeating for the third time and I still have an idiot grin on my face.

Continue reading Hello, Switchfoot

More thoughts on Judith

I wrote last night about my thoughts after hearing the APC song Judith in the car on my way to visit my family, and upon further thinking on the songs I mentioned, along with a sermon I listened to this morning by Mark Driscoll, I had a few more thoughts that I would like to share.

I think that the picture of heaven and reward, along with God, that Keenan paints in Wings for Marie is a flawed one, but flawed in such a way that many people would not think of or even realize was flawed. In the climax of 10,000 Days, Keenan writes about his mother:

You’re the only one who can hold your head up high
Shake your fists at the gates saying:
“I’ve come home now!
Fetch me the spirit, the son, and the father
Tell them their pillar of faith has ascended
It’s time now, my time now, give me my wings!”

It’s a common sentiment that heaven is the reward for piety on earth, illustrated here by the wings. He tells his mother to boldly approach the gates of heaven, shake her fists in pride and demand her reward. I think that many people in our culture would think this to be an appropriate, natural action to take. Even the the Apostle Peter asked Jesus, “We have given up everything to follow you! What will we get in return?” And Jesus does respond with promises of eternal rewards and everlasting life. The idea of rewards is Biblical, and Jesus makes it quite clear that Christians can expect a reward in heaven.

There is a subtle flaw here, however, for Keenan’s suggestion to his mother is troubled by a lack of understanding of what it means to truly follow Christ. Can you spot the problem?

While it is true that God has promised us rewards, we are not to shake our fists at the gates and demand our reward. Pride and a sense of entitlement have  no place in heaven. Humility is a key point of Christian living, and if Keenan’s testimony of his mother’s faith is any indication, Judith knew this. She would not have approached the gates of heaven shaking her fists, but dancing and singing praise to her Lord. Even the angels, the sinless beings created specifically to be in the presence of God, cover their eyes and their feet as they cry “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts!” Even they know they are not worthy to gaze upon God, much less make demands of him.

No, we are not to approach our Lord with our demands. We are to approach him with open, empty hands, crying “Abba” – for we have nothing to offer but ourselves. Even our most pious works are worthless, tarnished by our sin and failures. But by the grace of God, we have hope. He has offered us not just redemption from our evil ways, but eternal life in paradise with him. We cannot demand this, because we do not deserve this. We don’t deserve anything but the fires of Hell. But the Lord, in his infinite mercy, has given us everything if only we will follow him and accept his free gift of salvation.

I hope Keenan one day accepts this gift. As my friend Scott pointed out to me earlier, Keenan’s passion and talent could be used in mighty ways for God’s kingdom – he is anything but lukewarm.

The influence of Judith

This may seem an oddball post to the few of you who read this, but it’s something that’s been on my mind occasionally for quite some time now, usually whenever I hear one of a few songs written by one Maynard James Keenan, most commonly known as the lead singer of the band Tool. Keenan is a controversial figure, known nearly as much for his odd behavior and political incorrectness as he is for his brilliant musical talent. But here I want to deal with one specific issue he has often addressed: the Church and Jesus Christ, and his mother, Judith Marie, who was a devout Christian.

Continue reading The influence of Judith

Music sharing is not A Bad Thing

Mike Masnick has pretty much been my hero lately, with a string of brilliant posts on alternative revenue models being used by various musicians, all based off the idea that giving your music out for dirt cheap or free and encouraging your fans to share it is A Good Thing. One of the artists he uses as an example, Adam Singer, goes so far as to say that the Creative Commons license is the “ultimate music promotion tool” – something with which I think Jonathan Coulton might agree.

The concept here is that punishing your fans for liking your music and wanting to share it with their friends is incredibly stupid. That seems like an obvious statement to make, but there’s more than one major industry player out there who thinks that this is exactly what the industry SHOULD be doing – which is why many bands, big and small, old and new, are abandoning “the industry” as it stands.

There are a handful of basic ideas being tossed around on his blog that have been used, in various ways and degrees, by several different musicians. Note that each of them revolves around the idea that the music is free and that sharing is good. I’ve categorized them as follows:

  1. “Just pay me whatever you think it’s worth.”  This is the strategy used to great success most famously by Radiohead and Jonathan Coulton but also numerous smaller acts. This seems to work best for artists who already have a fan base, but has worked very well for smaller acts as well.
  2. “The music is free, but please buy my merchandise!” This strategy seeks to build a fan base with free music who will then in turn buy “special edition” CDs, t-shirts, and concert tickets. This strategy is tailored for the smaller artist because it seeks first to build your fan base, and second to make a profit, but would work for an artist of any size as the profits will only increase as your fan base does. The risk here comes with the fact that you have to execute it well: your merchandise has to be worth the separate purchase. Don’t insult your fans with CafePress t-shirts. Adam Singer talks about this method at his blog.
  3. “If I get enough money in donations to cover my costs, I will release a free album.” This method carries almost no risk, because if you don’t get enough money, then you don’t make the album, and you don’t lose anything in the process (at least monetarily). The tradeoff is that your fan base who is doing the donating needs to be confident that you will produce something worth their investment, so you have to have that base before you can attempt this method. This works not just for music, but almost any medium: books, digital art, whatever. Once the album/ebook/whatever has been released, it is free to share and will build your fan base who can then purchase your other stuff (option 2) or give you more money next time you want to solicit donations for your work. Marillion succeeded using this model.
  4. “The music is free, but if you buy XYZ too, you’ll get more that you wouldn’t otherwise!” This one starts with a smaller body of work that is free to share, but rewards the buyer with extra stuff they wouldn’t get otherwise. This can take many forms – Jill Sobule had different levels you could buy at that included perks such as getting the album before its release date, a free concert at your home, or even performing on the next album. Trent Reznor offered the first CD of “Ghosts” for free, with additional content costing extra, and options to buy higher-quality recordings, vinyl record, DVDs, books of accompanying art, or autographed merchandise at different price points. This is very similar to numbers 2 and 3, but has a different enough focus that I gave it its own number.

Using these methods and combinations of them gives artists many new ways to find fans and make money while connecting with those fans on a much more personal level than they might otherwise. As Masnick said, you can’t ask your fans for favors when you’re suing them. In addition, it automatically solves the “problem” of piracy – you can’t pirate something that’s already being given out freely! Make the economics of scarcity your friend, not your enemy, and watch things just work.