Like many other Christians, I first heard the name John Mark McMillan when “How He Loves” exploded onto the worship scene. The song became an anthem that made its way into hearts and through churches around the world. And for good reason, John Mark is a deeply talented songwriter, penning countless CCM hits over the years.
A lot has changed since then.
I know what you’re thinking. Typically, when a prolific Christian figure like McMillan “changes”, it is immediately assumed to be a bad thing at best, and “backsliding” at worst. All without even knowing or speaking to the person in question.
I think where we Christians unintentionally fail is in our fierce loyalty to our upbringing. I’m not talking about the foundations of our faith that we know to be true, i.e. Jesus, the Son of God came in the form of man to pay the price for our sins. I’m talking about the “fringe” places in our faith. Those beliefs and opinions that were built around and on top of our core beliefs and passed down to us to become what we consider to be absolute doctrine.
Again, unintentionally, we hold on so tightly to what we’ve been taught that if anything seems to touch it, to contradict it, we rage or we defend or we guilt ourselves and others into shame, rather than opening up a deeper conversation about the tangled mess that is the human experience as a spiritual being. Searching out the mysteries together, the muck and mire of being a spirit living in a body, existing in a supernatural world that has been fed to us as something less than miraculous.
John Mark McMillan is willing to have those conversations. Willing to shed labels and look into the vast expanse of the part of the universe we are privy to and ask questions. Asking those questions within himself has taken him on a unique journey that brings him to where he is today. Still “obsessed with God and Jesus” but beautifully changed for having gone through an arduous journey of faith, belief, and “re-enchantment” as he describes it.
I had the opportunity to ask John Mark a few questions to dive a bit more into where he finds himself…
TL: Where are you on your journey as an artist right now?
JMM: As an artist I think I’m always trying to figure out what I have to say in this particular moment. And I feel that now more than ever. There’s so much music now in the world that I’m starting to realize if I don’t have something to say then it’s hard to expect people to pay attention. I think 60,000 songs a day are uploaded to the streaming platforms. Why would anyone want to listen to mine? I feel like I need to be able to answer that question.
So I’m asking myself things I’ve never really asked before like “how exactly does my music make anyone’s life any better?” or “How does my work make the world any better?”. Maybe I just serve people by simply sharing my journey with them. Maybe some can identify and will feel less alone in the world. Maybe I give them permission to think certain thoughts or dream certain dreams or feel certain feelings.
I guess more than ever though I want to be able to articulate what it is I’m trying to accomplish, or maybe I could say “articulate what the work is trying trying to accomplish through me”.
TL: How has your creative process changed since you’ve found your faith again?
I honestly don’t think it has changed. Writing has been a faith practice for me all this time. I think it is for every artist. Plus I don’t feel like my faith journey was a “lost and now I’m found” kind of thing. It’s not that simple at all. I think that it was a necessary part of my growth and development as a believer, and the music I was making was always something that was always reaching out.
I don’t feel like I ever walked away from God. It felt more like he walked away from me if I’m honest. Certainly that was just a feeling, but God just stopped making sense at one point, and then started to make sense again at another. That’s frustrating isn’t it?
Ultimately, I’ve always been obsessed with Jesus and God. In my darker days I was still obsessed with the God I didn’t believe in. So I think the process has been oddly unaffected by my transformation.
TL: Has your message changed? And if so, how?
JMM: Not sure I ever had a singular message, but in this particular moment (and remember I’m still working it out) I think It would be “understanding is overrated and it’s ok to believe”. We’ll never figure this whole thing out (life, reality, God), but we do get to experience it. That in itself is a beautiful thing, and maybe it’s enough. And maybe thats what it means to trust God.
TL: I hear you speak on the re-enchantment of life, can you tell us some of the miracles in life you are just now noticing for the first time?
JMM: Every common thing is a miracle in my opinion. We just grow dull with familiarity. My favorite miracles are the voices and faces of the people who live in my house.
TL: If you could only point a listener to one of your songs, which would it be?
JMM: The Road, The Rocks, and The Weeds. I always say I don’t have favorite songs but that song is my favorite.
TL: Is there a psalm or song in the Bible that you relate to more than others?
JMM: It’s not a psalm, but I love the poetry of John 1. Not that he was writing poetry, but it speaks to me on a higher level the way poetry does. I think it’s one of the most beautiful and meaning filled things ever written. It has sustained me through the last few years.
TL: And finally, are there any subjects you’ve wanted to write songs about, but just haven’t been able to articulate effectively yet?
JMM: I’m sure this is an odd answer, but normally when I try to write about a specific subject it turns out flat. It works kind of backwards for me most of the time. Usually I’m writing whatever is on my mind, or even just goofing around with cool words when a subject will start to emerge. Rarely is it the thing I was writing about to begin with. So, I guess in an odd way my answer would have to be… not really.
As you can see, change can be a good thing. It might benefit us as believers to open our eyes just a bit more, let a little more of that heavenly light in. Look around us to find the miraculous in the mundane, lose a little bit of understanding and believe.
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