Steve Schallert INTERVIEW | Part One

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of our friend Steve Schallert’s new album, Songs of Sorrow | Songs of Hope. As I mentioned in the review, the album has been easily one of the most played records this year for me, and so questions have been coming up as I’ve listened and I asked Steve whether he would answer some on here. He agreed, and this is the first part of that interview;

LIAM: So last time you recorded you were unmarried and had no kids, right? How do you think that dynamic impacted the song writing and your style as a musician in general?

STEVE: “That’s true, the last record I did was nearly a decade ago and the dynamics of life have totally shifted since then. I would’t say that having a family has deeply changed my style or voice or direction as much as it has the writing process itself. It’s tough after all to pull all nighters as I used to with little ones in toe… I’ve grown a lot as a human-being over the past ten years. Becoming a husband and then a father times three has certainly tuned me in to new emotional head spaces and insights and struggles as I’ve tried and often failed miserably to love my wife and kids well. But if anything, I would say the new dynamic has just brought more honestly and maturity to the content and craft.”

LIAM: I know some folks in your family were dealing with serious health problems during the season of writing, what influence do you feel the season you were in had on the songs?

STEVE:“Writing kind of became a coping mechanism for me to deal with that reality. I’m not sure if the record would have even gotten started if it weren’t for that struggle instigating it. Living in Southern Africa, half a world a way from my family who were all facing that kind of physical suffering head on affected me more than I think I ever let on. The distance brought an ambiguity to the pain for me and so I often felt removed from their reality. But the music in many ways kept me grounded and connected to the pain my family was going through… and yes I think it seeped it’s way into the content of the record a lot. I would say the record is rather “raw” and certainly writing in the midst of what was going on in my family elevated that honesty… Which in turn is what I believe the modern worship community really needs more and more of… more honestly, more vulnerability, more humanity… It’s the stuff that fosters community and togetherness… worship ought to be a gathering force in that regard.”

LIAM: Do you have a favourite song on the album?

STEVE: “I can locate and connect stories to a lot of the songs. The whole record is rather personal, maybe even biographical in that way, so it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. But if I had to pick one at the moment I would say “In Lumine Tuo Videbimus De Lumen” (which means “In Thy light we shall see the light” by the way). It just wraps up the whole heartbeat of the album to me, which is why I wanted to finish with it. Thomas Merton always said it was his favorite phrase in Latin and I can see why. The phase is such a good recognition that revelation, more often then not, comes not in waiting but in motion. That hits the worship/protest heartbeat right on the head.

LIAM: You’re pioneering an idea (or at least renewing an idea), that Worship is Protest; How does protest look like for you in daily life outside of music and how would you direct those who have heard this album and want to take steps in their lives towards the kind of protest you are singing about?

STEVE:“This is a huge question with huge implications. The interconnection of worship and protest (or more aptly engaging in worship AS protest) has been a natural development in my own life and spirituality. A little over a decade ago I was rather wrapped up in the protest scene. During the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 I had just started university which provided an outlet for all of my angst and anger and dismay along side folks who were actively engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience work in protest of the war. My faith at that point was rather shaky… rather nominal and cultural more than anything honest… But, maybe kind of backwards, it was actually these movement folks who “saved me.” I remember watching one evening from the back of the protest line as two priests from Grand Rapids, MI (my old stomping grounds) were handcuffed for blocking the entrance way to an army recruitment center via kneeling in prayer and thinking… “Wait… what the?! Who is THIS Jesus?” It really rocked my world and sent me down a rabbit trail that would reignite this passion for the person of Jesus in me that is all consuming at this point. That passion is more alive today than ever before and certainly is the foundation of my new musical journey.

It’s been over ten years since then and life with Jesus has brought all kinds of mischief along with it. Today my family continues to work with an international missions “organism” called Youth With A Mission (YWAM) where we help train and promote active peacemaking, works of justice and compassion for the poor within the global YWAM network.

For folks looking to move beyond the record and engage more fully in a life of theological and political imagination, here are a few quick thoughts of what I would say are important starting point (at least they were important for my own journey):

  1. Begin with relationship, not theory. Actively engage in fostering friendship with the poor and marginalized among you. Conversion which leads to a life of worshipful protest really only comes from relationship and proximity to those who suffer. So we must stop treating the poor like objects and engage them instead as fellow subjects, peers, or better yet teachers. I would tie into this the need for healthy mentorship, especially for us young folk.

  2. That said, read…. read a lot. Especially authors, theologians and activists FROM marginalized communities. Meditate and memorize their words! The beautiful thing about being baptized into to this thing called Church is that we have a new family to learn from. There is so much wisdom in the generations who have struggled before us for a better world, so let’s not reinvent the wheel. I heard someone once say that if you want to innovate with integrity you have to be rooted in tradition. That really resonates with me and I think it’s a timely word for our generation’s tendency to want to distance themselves from basically anything that has come before us.

  3. Finally I would say to organize your life around people instead of projects. In the long run community is the only thing that will sustain a worshipful life of protest. So gravitate towards folks who sustain your growing heartbeat for the works of mercy. Projects are great (I run some), training schools are needed (I run those as well), media advocacy is important (hit me up on facebook ;-), but at the end of the day when the projects have flopped and the schools have run their course and the “like buttons” aren’t getting as much love as they used to it is friendship and fellowship that will keep your soul alive. So, run after community.”

Thanks Steve, the second part of the interview to be posted soon! If you want to make sure you catch it, sign up to receive this blog by email

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