Mainstream pop music and music videos today are obviously a lot different than ten or fifteen years ago. What do you think about the mainstream pop industry today?
Well, I sort of feel like it's overstimulation. It's not just about pushing the envelope-it's just that what it takes to make an impact now.
It's kind of morphed into a caricature of itself. It's not even real life. Somehow our visual culture, with its bam bam bam imaging, that's not even the speed at which you live life. And of course, everyone is like, "How can I stick out above the crowd?" There's no end to that race, and it's one I never got in.
In your last interview with Beliefnet, you said not all Christian music is good, just as not all mainstream music is good. In the past couple of years, do you think Christian music has changed?
I think there's a lot of great stuff. I think there are a lot more independent acts coming along. From a business standpoint, I think that's because financially, record companies-because of downloading and all that-are less in a position to offer as many record deals and to do as much promotion. I think that it just makes for a more creative atmosphere when it's not the exclusive club-one of the 25 people that have the big record company deal.
I've read that you have a relationship with the Bush family and have performed at the White House and been to Camp David. How did that happen?
After President Bush 41 had lost the election to President Clinton, he wanted to invite people that had been really supportive of him during his four years to come up to Camp David. So I went up and took some musician friends, and my mom went with me because one of my kids was really young. We were staying in-they called them cabins, but they weren't rustic, they were just these little places-and they said, "If you're hungry, go on over to such-and-such cabin and just knock on the door and they'll have some food for you." [It was] my mom and I, and I was married to Gary Chapman at the time and we had our daughter Sarah.
I said, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving. They said we don't have to dress up, so let's just go over-it's probably like a cafeteria or something." We knock on the door and President Bush opened the door-it was his and Barbara's place. And the five of us sat down and had a 2 ½ hour meal and talked about all kinds of stuff. I said, "Tell me about your weird fans. Have you ever had any stalkers?" We talked and then afterwards they said, "Do you want to watch a movie?" And we watched that Gary Sinise and John Malkovich movie "Of Mice and Men." They kind of just pulled the screen down and we're sitting there with Millie the dog. They were just so down-to-earth. Since then, we've played golf a couple times.
What about with George W.?
He came and spoke to a group of seniors at a restaurant in Nashville. My cousin, who was going to be there, called me and she said, "You ought to come on down. I think you have to have grey hair to be here, but sneak in the back door." I had seen him in passing several times but I didn't do things with him and Laura [like I did with George H.W. and Barbara].
My college roommate wrote a book called "The Mother-Daughter Dance." I knew [Laura Bush] had two daughters and I thought, I'm just going to send her this book at Christmastime, and I did. She wrote me a really sweet note back about it.
What do you wish your evangelical critics knew about your more mainstream music?
I just think music is such a beautiful thing. It lifts the heart and buoys up your spirits-all kinds of music. I just think people should find the music that helps them through the day and enjoy that. I've never felt like, if somebody does or doesn't like what I'm doing, it's a morality issue.
It's not even like, "You've got to like what I do, I'm a believer." I don't feel that way. I've got to go, "Hey, find something you like, because not everybody is going to like this." I know that.
Interesting that you've brought up morality. While other celebrities are out doing things that may cause the public to question their morals, you don't seem to have that problem.
Because I have had a public career, a lot of times people will say to me, "Well what do you think about what ole so-and-so is doing?" I say the same thing to those questions that I say to my children when they talk about one of their friends. I just say that you have to treat people gently because we're all in a process. What might seem like a good idea to somebody at 21 is probably not going to seem like a good idea at 50, but you don't know that until you get there.
I was coming along neck-and-neck with Madonna and I remember people going, "Oh gosh, can you believe she does such-and-such?" I just thought, she's in a process of her life and, on some level, always being pursued by the whole experience. You just don't ever know the path somebody else's life is going to take.
Well, I'll just tell you one that I read this morning. Galatians 5, the back half of verse 6: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." And I thought, "The only thing that counts?!"
You do your best, you do all this stuff, but the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. I thought about the guys who wrote, "They'll Know We're Christians By Our Love." They were right!
I think about whatever that measuring stick is that we use against each other and go, "Boy, sometimes we're so far off the mark because we waste so much energy measuring."
You have three Christmas albums out. What is it about Christmas and Christmas songs that you love so much?
Well, part of that is because I've sung for so long and I love doing concerts around the holiday time. I'm kind of sneaking on up 30 years, and so I've basically done a Christmas record every decade. But especially when I was younger, I loved how open everybody was to expressing their faith at holiday time. [When I made my first Christmas record in 1983] as a young artist who's also a believer, I just thought, maybe some people would say, "I don't want to go to church or I don't want to buy a Christian record." But to make a holiday record that involves favorite American songs and then also get to sing about Jesus' birth, it just seemed like a real easy, subtle way to combine a couple of things that I love.
What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?
"O Come All Ye Faithful" is probably my favorite Christmas hymn. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" I think is beautiful. I like a lot of those songs that were written in the WW II era because they're just beautiful and romantic. And I think probably my favorite song I've ever written would have to be "Tennessee Christmas" or "Breath of Heaven."
What inspires you nowadays?
Just gratitude for life really. I'm grateful for my family. I'm not anxious to be anywhere other than where I am right now.
Where are you right now?
In the really beautiful, tender years of a family where everybody is still under one roof. My son is seventeen, my youngest is three. I'm watching these four young people become who they are, and if I do my job right, then they're going to be off and on their own. My mom and dad are still in good health and very much a part of my life. My sisters are alive and well. Life goes by really fast, and it seems that there are times when you're burying a lot of friends and family. And then there are times that feel really precious and everybody is doing okay. This is one of those times.