Australian-American folk-rock artist Jennifer Knapp observes, "Sometimes you have to let go of everything to be able to come back." And come back she has.
The Grammy-nominated, Dove Award-winning singer/songwriter has returned after a seven-year hiatus from her life as a chart-topping contemporary Christian music star. Her re-debut album is titled "Letting Go."
Although she no longer labels herself under the Christian music genre, Knapp's message and personal story of reclamation through letting go underscores her deep faith tradition and Christian roots. Knapp has claimed her identity as a musician, a lesbian and a Christian. In spite of the challenge that poses to her former status with the mainstream Nashville music-making machine, she is once again writing, performing, recording and capturing the hearts and imaginations of a growing fan base.
The excitement and inspiration were palpable inside Seattle's St. Mark's Cathedral on the evening of June 21 for a Faith and Pride event that paired a "Holy Box"-rocking performance by Knapp with the wry humor of comedian Lianna Carrera. In an event made possible by the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia and the support of Bishop Greg Rickel, the cathedral, Seattle's First Baptist Church, St. Thomas' Church in Medina and the Seattle parishes of Epiphany and St. Paul's, members of Seattle's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) faith-based community were able to come together in an atmosphere of openness, questioning, exploration, conversation and artistry.
Both Knapp and Carrera expressed gratitude that a mainstream church was willing to open its doors for an evening of honest dialogue between LGBT people of faith.
"What's exciting for me is that the Episcopal Church has been having this conversation in a healthy way for a very long time now," Knapp said. "[The Episcopal Church] brings wisdom, patience, joy and even its own imperfection to the conversation, which lends an inviting authenticity to what is still a challenging dialogue in most Christian circles."
"The event was greatly rewarding for me," said Carrera. The daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, she draws on the inspiration of pulpit humor and "that good old-time religion" in her stand-up routine. "It's a great package—to make people laugh and think—that is the joy I get from what I do."
For Carrera, good humor brings people along on a journey. "The [Faith and Pride] audience was willing to come along with me. We had quite a few laughs while sharing more than a few Jesus moments. It was awesome—it was making church."
Carrera felt the Faith and Pride evening at St. Mark's was successful because it "brought all kinds of folks to the table to have a responsible and open conversation. The fact that we were able to infuse that with laughter and music brings us that much closer to the heart of what it means to live a life of integrity and faith.
Recalling a thought she still savors from her Southern Baptist upbringing, Carrera believes that "if you're going to tell people the truth, you had better make them laugh."
Carrera's comedy and Knapp's music were followed by a Q-and-A session in which everyone was invited to ask anything about their faith, their sexuality, their doubts and uncertainties and the intersection of all these things.
"There was a collective awareness that everyone present had an open, welcome invitation," Carrera said. She noted that even in the questioning and uncertainty, the conversation was honored by the sense "that where two or more are gathered together, Christ is present."
"We felt an appreciation from the audience just for showing up and listening to what had to be said," said Knapp. "The thing is, whatever we may have given the audience, we got back from them as well."
Both artists felt like they were more than performers in a celebration of faith and pride; they were participants, too.
Reflecting on lessons and milestones from her personal story, Knapp believes that whether we understand our faith experience or not is part of an honest, life-long journey. The authentic process of self-identity and discovery cannot be neatly labeled, packaged and displayed on a shelf.
"The process of claiming one's faith actually sheds light on sexual orientation and identity," she said. By that same virtue, she added, "the process of claiming one's sexuality sheds light on our faith." Knapp acknowledges that the church and society at large have more often than not gone out of their way to preach the mutual exclusivity of faith and sexual identity.