Steve Schallert INTERVIEW | Part Two

Earlier this week I posted part one of the interview with Steve Schallert about his album “Songs of Sorrow | Songs of Hope”, be sure to read that, and my earlier review before picking up here.

LIAM: It’s clear your reflections which get expressed in your training role also found a voice in the songs, what were the cross overs and what makes song writing different to teaching/preaching/training?

STEVE:“There is indeed a lot of crossover, but there certainly are huge differences between the mediums. Songwriting (particularly when writing songs that are intended to be sung in community for the purpose of spiritual and political formation) just taps into a different part of the mind. There is much more freedom in songwriting than in teaching because I find it to be less academic… there is just less script. I still find myself teaching a lot more than song-writing these day. Fact is, however, I probably teach, preach and train more as a songwriter than I song-write as a teacher, preacher or trainer. I would call music my core instigator from which everything else flows. I mean when I’m cranking 15-20 hours worth of lectures there is just a natural rhythm and stomp that forms. I can’t help it. So I end up treating my teaching role more as a song… Which I think helps content land in interesting ways.

As far as content crossover, that is of course true. I’ve spent the last number of years teaching and training so much and in the process deepening many convictions and finding language to communicate those convictions. That language provided the backdrop for basically all of SoS/SoH.”

LIAM:There is an extraordinary breadth of implicit theology I could ask about all throughout the album, so I’ll pick one song and focus in; The phrase ‘The cross I see, looks more like a lynching tree’. In mainstream christianity, the cross is often held up as a symbol of salvation and redemption. What are you trying evoke as you make this comparison between atrocities in america’s recent past and the cross?

STEVE:“Let me first say that I am endlessly indebted to the work of James Cone when it comes to the comparison of ‘the cross and the lynching tree’. When I first read his book by the same title it was one of those mind exploding revelation moments. One of those moments where language is finally put to what you feel deeply but can’t articulate. Cone’s contribution to ‘black theology’ as a whole, coupled with Howard Thurman’s work in “Jesus and the Disinherited” reoriented so much of my theology of the cross towards a God who suffers with us.

The truth is the cross is (paradoxically) a symbol (or more fully an event) of salvation and redemption. But the real question is from what and for what and in what way? There are obviously mountains of atonement theories that have developed over the past two thousand years of Church experience… some which have become more entrenched than others… but honestly we need them ALL if we are to develop a healthy theology of the cross. A lot of our struggle as a Church, I believe, comes directly from our lack of willingness or ability to foster real “unity in diversity” (which is another way to talk about the work of reconciliation) in both our theology and praxis. I think in a modern western Church context that is especially true when we start to talk about the cross.

But before the cross is anything else, I would say it is a catastrophe. It is the unjust lynching of an innocent man by a mob of politically and religiously motivated folk… and it is precisely here, at this catastrophe, where we witness simultaneously the full extent of our human capacity to inflict violence and God’s willingness (in His mercy) to endure it, absorb it and overcome it through suffering love. At the cross we witness the God who suffers with us and that cross will forever live not only as a symbol of divine redemption and salvation, but divine solidarity.

In an American context, I agree whole heartedly with Cone, who asserts that if you want understand the cross you have to understand the lynching tree. It is right there where you will find Jesus dangling from a rope.”

LIAM:You are in for a big change soon in location, what are your hopes for the next step for the album and you as an artist?

STEVE:I’m not totally sure yet. When I started writing again it was a personal project and I had very little expectation of anyone ever listening to it. But I really think it’s hit a chord with a lot of folks in the worship/missions world and I’m happy about that. I wrote it with Christian communities in mind and am kind of blown away with the amount of positive feedback I’ve received. If this music can be of value to anyone else’s journey than I’m overjoyed and humbled.

I have a ton of speaking and music invitations in response to the record on top of my normal speaking stuff. I’ve accepted a few and it’s been fun to explore the rhythm of worship & protest in community contexts directly. So I’m excited to do more of that. I’m also feeling the push to incorporate music more and more into my normal rhythms of life and ministry, but I’m really not sure what shape that will take yet. A new environment will be good for exploration.

Beyond that (and this is still very early and rather uncommon knowledge) I’m starting to plan for a follow up record to SoS/SoH that I’m hoping to record in 2016 sometime.”

LIAM: Thanks Steve! and thanks for all the study, musing and writing it took to put this album out, as I said in my original review, I’m hoping it contributes to a widening of the current worship music scene in its focus, language and style.

You can Buy Steve’s album on Bandcamp here, which, in case you haven’t guessed yet, I heartily recommend!

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