Amy Grant's song on her latest album, "Tennessee Christmas." (Amy Grant)

Popular Christian artist Amy Grant’s new Christmas album was released Oct. 21. This piece is written by Jennifer Cooke, Amy Grant’s manager.

I moved to Nashville in 1989 to begin my career in Christian music. I was immediately struck by the depth of thought and the vast number of immensely talented artists and writers I had never heard on Christian radio. I soon came to understand the word “gatekeepers” — those in Christian radio and retail who decide what to play, promote and sell.

There is an odd question and reality in the Christian music business: What is a “Christian enough” song or project recorded by someone who is “Christian enough” that deems it worthy of exposure and commercial viability via Christian radio and Christian retail?

Rich Mullins was one of the first artists who wowed me with the depth of his artistic soul and his ability to paint a word picture that pierced my heart. Yet I remember sitting in marketing meetings hearing discussions that some of his songs were too focused on the human condition and not focused enough on Jesus as the answer.

It was perplexing to me as a Christian to realize that to be promoted on the radio and in retail, each song really needed to be able to be neatly wrapped up in a “Jesus is the answer” bow. Of course, I believe Jesus is the answer, but I also find Him to be engaged in the midst of our humanity and that there is also something beautiful and holy to be explored in our humanness.

But I wasn’t a gatekeeper, and my opinion carried no weight (and still doesn’t).

Then came Amy Grant’s “Heart in Motion” in 1991. It was a bona fide pop record with upbeat songs about love mixed in with some deeper songs about faith and a couple of songs about faith in the midst of real life (“Ask Me” and “How Can We See That Far”). It ended with a simple faith-based song called “Hope Set High” that reminded listeners, “When it all comes down, if anything good happens in life, it’s from Jesus.”

As “Baby Baby” skyrocketed up the Top 40 pop charts, many Christian radio and retailers decided this pop effort did not deserve their airtime, and many spoke out against Grant for “crossing over,” as if singing about love is at odds with a life of faith.

Interestingly to me, at the same time as the crossover controversy, Grant and Gary Chapman were hosting a weekly youth group in the loft of their barn. Every week, hundreds of kids came to the group, where their lives were being changed and where they were being introduced to Jesus.

I had the unique experience of being at work during the day, where in the midst of the excitement and busyness of working on a hit pop record, I would field a few angry calls about Amy Grant’s “selling out.” Then I would rush to the loft after work to do youth work with her and end my day seeing Grant praying with kids.

And here we are again, Christmas 2016. Grant has released her first (all new) Christmas record in nearly 20 years, and the debate is on again. “Is it Christian enough for Christian retail to support?” LifeWay Christian Resources, the large Southern Baptist retailer, decided it was not. It’s their choice, and it’s okay.

But I can’t help but think of the heart behind a lot of the songs that would be considered “not Christian” on this album, specifically one called “Melancholy Christmas.” It is a song about isolation and loneliness during the holidays and the need for connection.

Having toured for so many years during the Christmas season, Grant has met many people who talk about the holidays with a sense of dread and despair — knowing that they will be alone without family or close friends. She wanted there to be a song on the record that gave a place for that type of emotion and that encourages listeners to reach out and connect with one another, to set an extra place at the table, and to extend it to someone who may be alone.

Over this past weekend, one of Grant’s longtime fans started a thread on her Facebook fan page saying how listening to “Melancholy Christmas” makes her cry because, for the past few Christmases, she has sat alone in her wheelchair all day on Christmas.

Several other fans opened up and said the same was true of their lives. Some openly grieved about dysfunctional family situations, health troubles that leave them isolated, loss of loved ones and the isolation of having no one who cares enough to call. They shared each others’ pain and offered hope and encouragement to each other, all because of a song that never mentions Jesus.

And really, isn’t that what it’s all about? Aren’t we supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Does the name Jesus need to be said for his love to be shown or his message to be lived and shared?

Is it wrong to celebrate Christmas in ways that are human — love, loss, nostalgia, family, romance, fun and grief — all with the backdrop of the birth of our savior that gives meaning to it all?

Is it enough to sing?

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let Earth receive her king
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing …
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found …
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love”

Is it enough to sing?

“Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all glory given
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come let us adore Him …
Christ the Lord
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the king of angels
O come let us adore Him …
Christ the Lord.”

Is it enough to sing?

“I’m singing out this song
till every lonely soul has heard
We’re not alone
‘Cause Love has put His arms around the world
To be together at Christmastime
So every time that lonely feeling comes around again,
Listen, Love is knocking here
Wanting to come in
To be together”

Is it enough to sing?

“Mary’s in a nursing home
She puts her favorite records on
Reminds her of the years long gone
Another Merry Christmas
Billy’s home from overseas
The pride of his whole family
Still fights a war that no one sees
Another Merry Christmas
It’s happy and sad
The good and the bad
Someone’s up and someone’s barely hanging on
It’s everything all at once
And if we’re honest enough
Everybody wants to be loved
Every year on Christmas Eve
Jill hangs four stockings, now just three
Wonders if there’ll ever be
Another Merry Christmas
Our painted old nativity is fragile like the lives we lead
Silently reminding me God is with us
Another Merry Christmas”

Fact is: It is not enough for LifeWay. But it is more than enough for me.

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