May 19th, 2010
09:10 AM ET
Editor's note: Christian music artist Jennifer Knapp returned to the music scene with a new album this month after walking away from a successful career seven years ago. She also revealed that she has been in a same-sex relationship for the past eight years. Read more about Knapp and watch her interview with Larry King.
By Jennifer Knapp, Special to CNN
As a young girl, I learned to read music. The scattered black dots on the page, successfully decrypted and performed, began to make more vivid the world around me. I began to discover the private, personal and strange journeys that playing music had to offer. I listened, I sang, I played, and I began to write songs of my own. For me, music has become the tool through which the meditations of my soul find deeper peace and understanding.
As a young adult, I began to pursue a purposed life of faith centered on the teachings of Jesus. Many would say that I "became" a Christian. Curious, passionate and confounded, I entered my local evangelical Protestant church with a new appreciation for my spiritual self and participated with full fervor. There too, I experienced music as a gift that could draw out the deeper cries of not just my heart, but the hearts of others as well.
More and more, my spiritual pursuit began to be reflected by the songs I was writing. I laid down the questions of my faith I was too embarrassed to share aloud, or worse, uninvited to speak of openly. The songs I wrote directly pertaining to my faith were warmly greeted and celebrated in my church. Soon I found myself with more invitations to play my little songs. Starting in local churches and humble country sanctuaries, onto summer camps, college campuses and conferences of faith; I didn’t know it, but I was becoming a “Christian artist.”
Almost exclusively, I was playing in and around churches - Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Catholic - and some churches that had no recognizable denominational affiliation other than a cross over their door. Where I began thinking that all Christians were alike, I quickly discovered that they were not. They all spoke of Jesus the same, but their practices and traditions, their “do’s and don’ts,” could be vastly different.
As confounding as this was to me, I learned to respect the houses where I was asked to play, learned to listen a bit more closely, and even more, learned to appreciate the diverse styles and methods with which many people process their spiritual journey. As the invited but alien artist, it often fell upon me to find our commonality, to sing of what we could mutually share and celebrate.
Through trial and error, offense and blessing, I learned that not even a Christian could be solely judged by his cover. Blundering assumptions about how I thought one church might believe, or even how one single congregant among them might believe, only left me an agent of offense. I began to recognize the intense personal nature of each individual’s specific spiritual journey. I began to see the powerful protection a community of faith could be for the fragile and broken. I also have seen the tragic emotional and spiritual devastation brought upon those who sought only compassion and were greeted with condemnation in times of utmost vulnerability.
All this I have seen, when I just wanted to play music. I just wanted to explore my faith. I simply wanted to meet others, converse, encourage and learn about how to be ... well, a meaningful person. I have definitely found myself in the midst of an adventure I would have never imagined or called for.
This was the world I found myself in when I realized I was gay. After years of subtle comments, wary glances and leading encouragement to get married and have babies, I was fully aware that I had a foot in the door of some houses that were about to be slammed. At the same time, I had experienced years of rich and fulfilling dialogue with many people of faith who taught me the soft landings of compassion. Still, it was hard not to respond to the fear. I questioned whether my faith had betrayed me, or I if had a betrayed my faith. I wondered if music was a ruse and could unite no one.
Like wistful balloons loosed to the wind, I was about to release both faith and music, but I could not release what I had learned.
Where music had led me to very strange lands, full of people with differing faith practices, cultural expectations, gender roles and more ... it had taught me to listen. Through the torrent of life’s confusion and seeming incongruities, there is a spirit, a song, that if we strain hard enough, we can hear. What we can hear, when we listen, is how we are much the same.
From time to time, a song catches our ear and we follow it outside of our usual haunts. We stumble out of our chosen sanctuaries and toward the source of sound that seems to reveal our heart’s longing. It is only when we get there that we can see the diversity of the many who were called by the same tune. Will we be encouraged to see we are not alone? Shamed that we do not want to share it with others differing from ourselves? Or will we simply listen?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jennifer Knapp.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.