New Music From Jeff S: Through The Darkness
Preamble from Jeff Crippen and Barb Roberts: We are happy to congratulate Jeff S on the completion of his new album. There are a couple of songs on the album that could be the theme song for this blog and were written with that in mind. Would you, dear reader, help us decide which one to make as the ACFJ theme song?Hint: you have to listen to them both first! 🙂
Now, over to Jeff S:
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I am excited to tell ACFJ readers about the recording I recently released with talented vocalist Jenny Morse. My band is called Steady On and our new project is entitled “Through The Darkness”. My passion for this music is a hope that it will be an encouragement to those who have gone through or are going through a dark time, whether it is from abuse or something else. About half of these songs were written years before I went through my divorce and the rest after. The half that came before represent the reminders that anchored me in faith; those that came after describe what it felt like in the moment or looking back at where I’d been. But they all work together to tell of my emotional journey.
The album is available for download both in iTunes or on NoiseTrade (where you can get it for a donation of any amount, including free if you join the Steady On mailing list). I wanted to make this album available as cheaply and easily as possible for those who (like me) find their greatest emotional connection in music. When I was going through my divorce, there was no music from a faith perspective that really captured what I felt or was going through. I hope I have at least been able to provide some remedy for that with this collection of songs.
“Through The Darkness” is the emotional story of my divorce and its challenges, definitely the darkest time of my life, as well as the victory and new life I found as God restored me. The songs tell the story in order, so I want to briefly comment on each one to provide an idea of what this album is about.
I Run: I run is a song that sets the stage for the entire album, and is also the source of the title “Through The Darkness”. I wrote this song years ago about a relatively minor situation in my life at the time. The word picture in the song is a personal moment of seeing God’s light shining through the darkness. Right now we have the hope of that light, but one day our hope will be finally realized and there will be no more darkness. To this my response is to run through the darkness, because I know what is on the other side. I wanted to kick the album off with this song so that right off the bat the focus is not on the darkness, but on the light of Christ. There is a lot to say about what it feels like to be in the darkness and how to respond to it, but the end goal is always with Jesus; we must not take our eyes off that prize. I must say, when I wrote this song I did not appreciate how dark the darkness could be (or how light the light of Christ could be by contrast!)
Nothing Less: If “I Run” sets a positive stage for the album, “Nothing Less” starts describing a real problem that is at the root of the darkness I faced: Pharisees within the church. Like “I Run” this song was written years ago: it was based on an incredible sermon by a very influential pastor in my life (though I did update a lot of the lyrics before recording it to reflect some more recent ideas I’ve had about this subject). He pointed out how Jesus was harsh with the religious leaders who wielded the truth like a club, and then likened this to the the evangelical church today. The pharisees were the keepers of the truth, dedicated to every nuance, but they lacked love. Jesus did not take kindly to that and was clear that they were missing the point. The church today can get so wrapped up in apparently perfect doctrine that it can severely injure people with a lack of love. The answer is not to love instead of searching for truth, but to be people who are about love AND truth. Nothing less could ever be enough.
I Never Knew: This is the first song on the album that was written recently, and it may have been the most difficult song I’ve ever written. It was hard because I really like to write about positive, encouraging things. This song is essentially an open letter to my church; the one that I went to expecting help and instead found condemnation. I always assumed that they would have the answers and care about me enough to protect me. Instead, I realized that I never knew our real relationship and that they would be willing to watch me suffer and even tell me it was my calling.
Who I Am: A very personal look into my struggle with my identity. The more I was called to deny myself in order to save my marriage, the more I felt like I was being wiped away. That’s what I heard from my church and other Christians: that I needed to put off Jeff and take on Christ. That what Jeff wants is bad and sinful, even his desire for peace. I tried really hard to do this, but in the end I found that God values me as an individual: he made Jeff unique and didn’t want to see Jeff erased, but rather redeemed and loved. It was hard to hear that voice above all those clamoring for me to sacrifice myself, but as I moved on the voice got stronger and more passionate. I know that I am loved and God desires good things for me.
Stream Of Grace: After I fled my church, I was very broken and empty. I did not know how to be a good Christian any more. I was losing my faith and uncertain where I would end up. I couldn’t listen to Christian music, I couldn’t read scripture, and I was scared to even talk to Christians. I asked myself how I could avoid losing my faith, because I NEEDED my faith. I was poking around on the internet and I read this answer (my paraphrase): “Find a stream of God’s grace and stand in it”. I realized that I couldn’t do all the trappings of the Christian life or be a giant for the Lord, but what I could do was find someplace where God was, and plug in. For me, I managed to find a church that would let me worship with them without pushing me to do more, and that’s what I did. I couldn’t always sing along in worship and I’d skip communion, but I was there, where the Lord and his people were. That was my stream of grace. It might not have looked that great, but it was honest, and God honored that. He did carry me along and built my faith back up.
Leaving It All Behind: This song is about sanctification. Like “Nothings Less” it was written years ago, but significantly updated. As God’s stream of grace carried me along, I began to work through the sin in my life and build back a stronger faith. It wasn’t easy and I made a lot of mistakes, but I was convinced of the path. In fact, I couldn’t have gotten off the path if I wanted to. My life was reclaimed and redeemed (and had been WAY before my divorce) and God was (and is) faithful to bring me to the end. My identity is in Christ, and that means that I will overcome the flesh completely some day. In the meantime, the struggle against sin is my calling card and reveals that I am with Christ. As I was growing “back” in the Lord from a very empty place, this truth was (and is) very important to me.
No Me: One of my favorite songs, this one was written years ago and has remained unchanged. It might appear to have the least to do with surviving abuse, but really this was an anchor for me. It was written based on a sermon series my former pastor did years ago on Ecclesiastes where he juxtaposed what life with and without God looks like. I address a lot of post-modern thinking in this song, but my goal was not just to refute that thinking, but to respond to the truth that God is more than just a deity that meets our needs: he is our purpose and meaning. I wanted the chorus to feel like a worship song because that is what our response to who God is ought to be. So how was this an anchor? Well, there were times I wanted to cut and run. I just wanted to wholly pursue the world and forget about God. I wasn’t convinced God’s way worked. But then this song would run through my mind and remind me that as bad as it was, a meaningless existence without God awaited if I chose that route. So in a very real way, God used one of my own songs to encourage me to stay the course and live with meaning and purpose.
Song For The Survivor: This was the first song I wrote post divorce. In fact, I remember recording it on my iPhone and sending it to Barbara in the early days of my involvement with ACFJ. I had gotten to a better place by then, but I was overcome reading all these stories on ACFJ about abused women and the incredible strength they showed standing up for themselves and choosing to live. So this part of the album really represents a turn from looking inward to looking outward and reflecting on what I saw in others who were hurting. I wanted to sing a song of empathy that understands and hears the pain in these stories, celebrates the hope, and emphasizes the strength each survivor shows as she (or he) stands up for what is good and right.
No More Sacrifices: This is another “outward” song for the commenters on ACFJ, and the title is a direct quote from a comment (I don’t remember who or when, but if you remember writing that, please let me know so I can give credit). But the idea is simple: there are many theologies out there that are leaving people out, broken and bruised, sacrificed for theological systems that do not show compassion. As a church, we must stand up and say “No More Sacrifices!”; that is our “cry for justice”. Jesus wouldn’t let one lamb out of his sight, so neither should we. One lover of God sacrificed to the idol of theology is one too many. I’m not saying we ditch theology, but we re-evaluate until our theology is compassionate and life giving to ALL believers. The church should not be satisfied with anything less than that.
It Is Well With My Soul: Now this song I did not write, but it’s fabulous. It has long been my favorite song and seemed a fitting end to an album about struggle and pain. My only complaint about this hymn is that it is often sung like a dirge, whereas I see the lyrics as soaring and triumphant, recognizing pain but also celebrating in the victory of Christ over all sin. So we recorded it that way: energetic and triumphant. I hope your heart soars at the end of this album, because it is one truth we can hold onto: no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much evil triumphs in our lives, no matter how many ungodly people assault us and harm us, we can rest in the truth that our souls are well and redeemed. This pain will one day all pass away, but our souls will live on in glorious bliss.
So that is the album and a little taste of each song. Again, I encourage you to download it for any price from NoiseTrade; please do not let money prevent you from hearing this music. I did not record this to make a buck, but to encourage anyone who is going through, or as gone through, the darkness.