Welcome Back, Jennifer KnappFeatured, Music — By Larry Shallenberger on May 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm
Back in the ’90s, about the time I was getting tired of Christian Contemporary Music, there were a few standout exceptions that were still able to grab my attention. One of them was an earnest folk rocker who could, in one moment, break your heart with a tender vocal phrasing, and in the next song, blister the paint off your walls with a raspy anthem. Jennifer Knapp hooked many with her stripped down production and emotional intensity and then this Americana rocker disappeared for nearly a decade.
Knapp is back–rested, centered, and openly homosexual. In a recent Christianity Today article, she explains her hiatus from music, working through burnout, and coming to accept her orientation.
I decided to pick the album up, primarily to confront my own selfishness. This is horrible to say out loud, but I just don’t want to make time to think about Christians who struggle with or don’t see a struggle between their faith and their sexuality. I’m comfortable with my reading of Scripture. Whenever I’m in a conversation on the topic, it almost always sinks into a circular debate, like the free will/ determinism arguments we had in the college cafeteria. The difference, of course, is that homosexuality and faith aren’t academic issues. People, relationships, community, and love are at stake. Somehow, I’ve always managed to structure my life in a way to not have to deal with it. So, for me, taking in this album was a spiritual discipline in listening.
Here are my early impressions of the album: ”Letting Go” is art, not propaganda. Jennifer has given us a collection of well-crafted songs. She’s not trying to advance an agenda, she’s just telling her story. The opening track, “Dive In” is an anthem where she vocalizes her frustrations over being paralyzed by other’s expectations. She wants to get about the business of being herself. Every consequent song tells that story. In the bridge, she acknowledges that she might be “a fool to some/a hero to others.” Jennifer isn’t singing to the the poster girl for a cause. She continues, “But to you? I’m just a lover.”
Being “just a lover” is the central thrust of this album. Jennifer doesn’t try to reconcile her homosexuality with her relationship with God. The CT article suggests that she’s worked that out already. She sings about the difficulty of being self-conscious of the disapproval she’s receiving, but being bold enough to affirm her partner. She roars about feeling like she’s had to internalize her feelings for so long. She works out the anger over being a slave to the expectations of others. She does all this work to be emotionally present in her relationship.
“Letting Go” is a gorgeous album. It’s everything you’d expect from Knapp. The lyrics are simple and smart. Her voice: emotional and earnest. The production? Impeccable.
If you are a gay Christian, Jennifer Knapp has provided you with a soundtrack for your journey. And if you are like me, unable to affirm her journey, Jennifer has given us the gift of vulnerability. My greatest hope for this album is that it reminds the church that this issue shouldn’t be stripped of its humanity, and that if love is stronger than death, then it should be strong enough to transcend legitimate differences in theology.
This post originally appeared at www.larryshallenberger.com.