It's been 25 years since Amy Grant released her first album and changed Christians' notions about what music could communicate about their faith. Where Christian heavy-metal bands like Petra and Stryper had given evangelicals severe misgivings about the possibilities of Christian rock, they were largely pleased to be represented by Grant's sweetness and her credibility as a believer. From her success, a new category of pop music that we now call Contemporary Christian--half ministry, half entertainment--was born. Some more conservative Christian fans came to be wary of Grant as her popularity outside the Christian community grew, and she imported mainstream ideas and images into her albums and videos. Their doubts seemed confirmed as Grant's first marriage fell apart in 1998 and she was remarried, to country singer Vince Gill, two years ago.

But after what she calls "the toughest four years of her life," Grant is back to the business of writing and recording songs. Her new album, "Legacy," mostly her renderings of traditional hymns, celebrates her 25th anniversary as a singer. A collection of new songs is due in the fall. In a recent interview with Beliefnet about her career and Christian music today, Grant came across as a confident and seasoned artist, who seems well aware of what she's accomplished in her quarter-century as a songwriter and a Christian--even if she won't admit it.

I read recently where you said you hadn't really considered your influence in the music world. Do you really not recognize your role in creating contemporary Christian music?

My brain just doesn't go that way. One night this week, two friends who have known me since childhood call me to tell me they'd seen Lifetime Television's intimate portrait about me. Both said to me, "You were working so hard that whole time and none of us really even thought about it!" I don't sit around and think about my influence.

Are you proud of where the Christian music industry is?

[Laughs.] The people I've been exposed to have been people of amazing integrity. Do I think all contemporary Christian music is good? No. There are a lot of records I'd buy, and a lot I listen to and say, "Ugh, that's popular?" But I think that's true of country, or pop. There are records that just hit a nerve. That doesn't mean it has to hit my nerve.

You went through so much early on, with people complaining that your lyrics weren't as Jesus oriented as they had been, or about what you wore in a video. Has all the examination you endured been worth it?

It's human nature to be curious about people, and to be more curious about young people than old people. We want to cheer something on at the same time we want to tear it down. That's just so normal.

What saved me during all that heavy scrutiny is that I was never working an unrevealed agenda. If somebody said, "I didn't appreciate what you had on," I was wearing it either because I woke up, walked in the closet and asked, "What fits?" or because I thought it looked cute. I was never trying to be someone that I'm not, or I'm trying to reinvent myself.

When I was younger there were more than one or two times when I would come away from a situation thinking, Boy, am I glad that particular person is not my father! I don't read articles about myself or go in chat rooms. If I'm frustrated by something, it's my fault for exposing myself to it in the first place. The rumor mill always seemed like a grass fire to me. Why walk out in the middle of the field, it's just going to flame out and go away just like everything else does?

But there have been a couple of times when someone would really get in my face. I remember thinking, I'm trying to do something positive here and I just pictured some guy and thought okay, when your child comes home in trouble, with a drug addiction or pregnant, I hope you are a lot more merciful toward her than you have been toward me.

Do you think that that's changed in the Christian music community, since you started, that judgmentalism?

Sure. The world my children are growing up in is so much more sophisticated and exposed-emotionally, intellectually, sexually. Back then there was still kind of an innocence, even how people expressed life as a believer in public. Music took a bunch of average-Joe Christians who could play electric guitar and sing and threw them into the limelight. But we were not a bunch of Billy Grahams. The first [singers] whose lives became public, it was like, "Wait a minute, you don't know everything about the Bible. And you surely don't have all the answers!" Up to that point, if someone was a Christian and they were in the public eye, it was because they were a preacher or a teacher.

But now it's kind of a given that a 15-year-old would have a record deal and sell a quarter of a million records. No one's expecting her to answer any deep theological questions. And I'll tell you, I was asked some deep theological questions from the git-go. You know, did I believe the rapture was going to be pre-, post-, or mid-tribulation? I remember going, "Wow!" and thinking I have to be able to say I don't know. Fortunately, I was taught a lot of Bible at home and had a voracious appetite for reading the Bible. So at least I wasn't blindsided.

The new album has an original song, "What You Already Own" that's terribly sad. The whole album has a kind of contemplative, melancholy sound. Does that reflect where you are right now?

No. I wrote that song in the fall of 1998, when I was going through some pre-divorce counseling with the intention of going through a divorce, so it was a very forlorn time in life. To me, the human experience does involve a great deal of anguish. It's joyful, but it's bittersweet. I just think that's life.

Is the next album more upbeat?

Totally different. It's all new songs, written in the last year and a half.

Did you come back with a writing jag after the tough time you went through?

Well, some. At this point in life, so many things take up my time, just with being a mom and a wife, that I rarely write unless I'm writing for an album. That sounds like, "So, you're not a for-real artist until you've got a record due?" But I don't see it that way. I see it as, "Halleluia, get a babysitter, I've got to go write, it's part of my job." Having to prepare a new record justifies removing myself from my everyday life to put my thoughts down on paper. That's doesn't fit into mothering. But it took a long time for the experiences of life to simmer up into something that I felt was worth singing about. I didn't want anything to be maudlin or overly, like, walking in the sunset. Because neither one has been my experience.

Shawn Colvin has a song where she says, "At least I got a song out of it." I don't want to belittle my life experience into, "Oh, great it was just song material," but if the songs don't reflect your experience, what's the use of being a songwriter.

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