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Interview with Steven Curtis Chapman

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Interview with Steven Curtis Chapman What have you been doing for the last year and a half? It probably doesn't feel like time off to you, but it does to the rest of the world.

Steven Curtis Chapman: Time off. It's been so long since I can remember what that was. It's like farming -- you have your seasons, you plant and harvest and then kinda enjoy the harvest for a while and have that season where you're not having to be out there on the tractor, and then time comes to get out there and plant again. And so I kinda had that season in between, after Speechless had sort of run its course, as far as my touring and all.

And that time was really all about a huge new chapter in the Chapman family being opened up with a trip to China. All five Chapmans went to China and came home a family of six. We took our three, at the time three, kids with us and just had an amazing experience there and that was just a huge, huge lesson in faith. Going from a place of being very supportive of adoption, loving to support other families, believing that it's the most incredible picture of the gospel that you'll ever see, all of those things, but never thinking we'd be called to active duty. (Chuckles) It's kinda like we're gonna sit back and be the encouragers and the supporters financially and all that. God just really opened up our hearts and took us to a new place and did a real, true, honest-to-goodness miracle in my wife's heart to take her from going, "I could never do that" to "I could never not do this," you know, "how could I have ever said I could not do this?"

We went in March of last year, 2000, and brought Shohanna home, and she was 8 months old at the time, so the next several months of our life all revolved around Shohanna, and as a family, beginning to figure out how to love her and take care of her. How did the kids handle the transition?

Steven Curtis Chapman: It's been one of the most incredible things I have ever seen to watch how our kids have responded to it. If for no other reason than just the way it's affected our kids, we would adopt for that reason alone. Because my boys, my son Will Franklin, he's 10, he was always the little brother, he was always the little guy, and immediately he became big brother and had his little sister around. I mean, these guys are so helpful and so excited about her, and pray for her, love her. They are way less selfish because of her, to see the sacrifices they are willing to make. They wanna go do this and, all of a sudden, "Hey, guys, we can't go spend eight hours out on the boat playin' in the summer because we gotta go back and get Shohanna down for a nap."

As a parent, one of the things you're always trying to find is a way to really communicate the Gospel to your children and really get them to understand what it is in real words, because they don't understand "Christianese" and all the big words that we use. And now when they can look at Shohanna and we can say, "Ya know, this is what Christ has done for us, He has made it possible for us to be in God's family and God has adopted us and taken us in, His love has taken us in," so it's just been amazing. As the song on the record, this new record, called The Love Takes You In about that whole process of us bringing Shohanna in and then kind of a grander picture of, this is what adoption means, that we've been adopted. So it's just, it's been an amazing thing. Your new album is called Declaration. What are you most excited about on this new project?

Steven Curtis Chapman: Well, there's a lot going on in this record, a lot that went into it, because of just the real season of wrestling with control and faith and having to say, "God, you're God, and not me." I think a lot of what I've learned about faith in the process of this record is really, where is my faith and what is my faith in? Even when I started making this record, I got a call, and my mom was diagnosed with cancer. That pushed the record back, 'cause right the day I was supposed to go in and start tracking, I get this call, and she needs me. You know, my dad's not with her, they're not married, so she needs me to be with her. She's kinda scared. I'm concerned for her. I'm making trips to the doctors with her. I'm trying to ask all the right questions: Do you really need this treatment, and what's this gonna do to her?

All of a sudden ... you're thrust in the middle of it and you're trying to make decisions that are going to affect the rest of your mom's life, and so, that definitely was one more valley, a pretty dark valley to all of a sudden find myself in the middle of. And I'm supposed to be making this record. In the process of all this I prayed, "Lord, help me understand what faith really is, 'cause I just really, it's just really blowing apart so many of my ideas of what it really looks like to say, I believe." In the process, I really began to say, "Jesus, I want my faith to rest in You, be completely about you, and not faith in my understanding of things or faith in my faith," if that makes any sense at all. I think, for me, so much of the time it's been in my understanding of how this is all kinda gonna work out, you know, I can have faith 'cause now I kinda can sorta see the trail ... Exactly.

Steven Curtis Chapman: ... And instead it's like, this time, God said, "Are you really still gonna believe, even when you just have no clue?" You've got all these loose ends dangling everywhere and you can't get them tied up. That's why I write songs. I'm trying to grab these loose ends and at least tie them up enough so I can say, OK, I learned something and here's what I learned. I feel like, in the process of this, God was saying, "Will you really trust Me and will your faith really rest on who Jesus is and who He says He is?" And you know, really, with Paul, just coming to that place, saying, I just really want to know Christ, I want to see the face of Christ and I want that to be the object of my faith. I wrote a song on this record called Magnificent Obsession, and I really felt like, in the process of this, that's what it's got to come down to for me. I want to see the face of Jesus, and I wanna know you Jesus, no matter how hard life gets.

I feel like, with this record, it goes all over the place, it rocks probably harder than any other record I've made. My band went to the studio with me, and some of the songs we really got crazy on. There's one called Bring It On, which I've really questioned the wisdom in even writing that song now, because basically, the song says, if these are the things that will draw me closer to you and these are the things that will make me weak so I'll know that You're strong, then bring it on, let it happen. And I was working on that song in my car when my mom called to tell me that she had cancer. I just started crying, and I said, "God, I don't know if I have the courage to just sing this song." Am I just being stupid to even say this, "bring it on"? So there's a lot about the record that I feel like God has given me, and I've said this before, but I really feel like I've just kinda got a front row seat on this. This is not MY record, these are not my songs. I feel like God is just allowing me to be the instrument that He's communicated this stuff through and it's got my experience woven into it, it's got my frailties and my stupid moments and all that woven through it. (It's) more of a record of confession than anything I've ever written before. It's still a great adventure, it's just a different adventure.

Steven Curtis Chapman: This is the dark valley segment of that great adventure, you know. ... I feel like God gave me some songs as well that are real, that are still the joy in the midst of that journey, 'cause that's celebrated, just like we talk about in Scripture, you turn the page and there's the joy - weeping lasted a night but joy comes in the morning. So I feel like God let me communicate, express the experience all of that, the full spectrum, as opposed to just the heaviness of it, but that's definitely a theme that runs through the whole record. and you know so I think there's that's challenge before us that we're relevant, but really that's not our No. 1 goal. Our No. 1 goal is to just be obedient and let God make it relevant to people's lives. Are we getting to the point in Christian music where we can actually be real with an audience? Do you feel like you can be weak in front of an audience now?

Steven Curtis Chapman: Yes, I do believe that in Christian music there's more of a reality of where we are living and the struggles. That's much more encouraged than maybe it was several years ago. It's encouraged, and you feel like maybe there's safety to do that and to be real honest. We need to be honest. Do we as followers of Christ grow more in our faith from seeing you up there talking about how good God is or do we grow more by hearing you say, you know, "I'm broken ..."?

Steven Curtis Chapman: It's interesting when you say that. I think both are so important as part of what, if we use Scripture and God's Word as our model, for how we should continue to communicate the Gospel. We realize that God historically allowed the fallings and the stumblings and the crawling of His People. Even if you look at the life of David, I mean, God recorded that for all of history, his foolishness and his stupid moments. He didn't cover that up, and yet David was known to be a man after God's own heart. I think at the same time with that comes greater responsibility to not just get up and say, "Oh, let me tell you how terrible I am or how much I'm struggling." It's real important that in the process of that we're saying, "Hey, you know, I am a lot worse than I thought, you're a lot worse off than you thought, we need a Savior, now let's turn our focus to the fact that we have a Savior. ..."

I was supposed to perform last night and I couldn't. On the way to my last day of singing vocals, backup vocals [for the new album], my voice just was not working and we couldn't figure it out and that was two weeks ago, a little over two weeks ago. I've spent the last two and half weeks back and forth to voice clinic going, What's going on here? Do I need surgery? Is it nodes? Is it, you know, what is it?

Right now, the diagnosis is some kind of an infection attacked my nervous system, which affects a muscle that controls the singing voice, and that nerve, right now, is shut down and this muscle isn't doing its job. It's not pretty what comes out when I try to sing. I don't have top end of my range, and I can't hold pitch even to sing anything. It just takes everything I've got, because that one muscle isn't doing its job, so everything else has got to work harder, and so here I sit, having finished this record, and the doctors are saying it's a four-to-six month process of healing for that. So are you a fan of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

Steven Curtis Chapman: I am ... my kids love the show. They watch it and they say, "Dad, maybe you'll get asked to be on the show 'cause you could sing Regis your song. It could happen. I'm terrible at it, and if I did I would embarrass my family. But, yeah, it's fun, it's one of the few shows on television that we can watch as a family.

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