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Getting on the roller coaster:

Steven Curtis Chapman speaks about his new book

Steven Curtis Chapman, one of the best-known artists in Christian music today, has won more Gospel Music Awards (GMA Dove Awards) than any other artist – ever. Over his 30+ year career, Chapman has sold 11 million albums, won five Grammy Awards and had 48 number one radio hits. He’s been a vocal advocate of adoption for many years.

Earlier this month Chapman released his autobiography Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story. Amid some “saddle up your horses” jokes, Chapman sat down with Christian Courier to talk about his music and new book. 

The book follows Chapman from childhood through his teen years to attending his first Grammy Award night, to rebuilding his family after the death of his daughter. For fans, many of the big moments Chapman recalls won’t be new and certainly the most heartbreaking aspect of his story is the tragic death of his five-year-old daughter Maria in 2008. Along with the stories behind many of his hit songs, Chapman shares the personal struggles that have dogged him through his life and career. 

Coming when called
When reading the book, or even when meeting him in person, Chapman’s humility is one of the most striking aspects of his personality. Chapman is no diva. This was clear even at the beginning of his career when he had to decide on a professional name. He’d always been Steve Chapman, but in Nashville at the time there was another artist by that name who was better known. “We tried everything,” Chapman says of the search. Laughing, he tells the old story: “Am I Curtis Chapman? Steven Curtis? S.C. Chapman – because M.W. Smith was on the charts then. Finally, I only heard it when I was in trouble but it always made me come when I was called, so if we use Steven Curtis Chapman, I’ll always come.” 

Chapman shares in the book about how his father was a better guitar player and his brother a better singer and that he spent most of his formative years as the backup guy. He was never the best at anything, until he started writing songs. These realities led to crippling self-doubt he still contends with on a near daily basis. “One of the things about telling my story, even in the book, is that I came to see in a clearer way the insecurity I carry into even doing what I do,” Chapman says. “I’m not trying to over-spiritualize it, but that was God’s way of preparing me, knowing me uniquely as God does. I needed that to be able to take the journey I’ve taken and not sit back and think I’m going to blow you away with my music.”

 

Upside-down kingdom
When asked if this insecurity was something he both loved and hated, like the Apostle Paul describes his thorn in the flesh, he sat forward and smiled. Yes! “Here’s this most amazing dedicated loyal follower of Jesus saying the thing I wanna do, I don’t do, and what I don’t wanna do, I do. I am weak and yet I’m gonna boast in my weakness. That’s crazy. Because guess what happens? In this upside-down Kingdom of God, when I’m weak that’s when he is strong.” 

Chapman’s resilience is apparent as he shares overcoming one obstacle after another to reach an audience with songs about his own spiritual journey. In the book, Chapman shares about an early fear of roller coasters. His response to whether he’s still afraid of roller coasters was a striking metaphor for his ability to get on stage, despite personal tragedy and self-doubt. Is he still afraid of roller coasters? 

“Now that I’m past 50, roller coasters affect me differently.” Chapman laughed and maybe blushed a little. “I got acclimated. You don’t get to be afraid of roller coasters when you have boys. You’re getting on whether you’re scared or not, so get over it.”

On several occasions in the book, Chapman references his own encounters with spiritual warfare in various spheres of his life. Not many Christians in the public eye are willing to talk openly about this. In his opinion, are North American Christians adequately aware of spiritual warfare?

Thinking for a moment, Chapman answers, “That’s a great question and a great discussion, because I think I grew up in an environment that was reluctant to talk too much about the enemy. You don’t want to give Satan more credit than he’s worth, I used to hear that.” Chapman warms up to the topic. “As I got into my adulthood, and my wife and I began to deal with some very real struggles, it became clear to me that this is not a battle against flesh and blood. This is not just you and me and our own stuff. There is an enemy that wants to destroy this family . . . . Acknowledging that in the right context has been very important in my journey.”

‘Where else are we going to go?’
The death of Chapman’s five-year-old adopted daughter Maria in 2008 was a highly publicized personal tragedy for the Chapman family. Speaking of that time still brings Chapman to tears. There is much more on how the family dealt with the tragedy behind closed doors and on stage in the book. So many people face circumstances that threaten to shatter their faith; how did Chapman choose to allow this event to bring him closer to God?

“I would love to say just our great faith, our determination, but honestly, when you ask that question I think of the place in Scripture where Jesus has all these people following him and he starts talking about dying and going to the cross and that his kingdom is going to involve that – and people just start leaving.” Chapman pauses a moment to regain his composure. “I remember the moment Jesus turns to his disciples when everybody’s leaving and he says, ‘are you guys leaving as well?’ Their response was ‘where else are we going to go?’”

Chapman nods and smiles through the tears welled up in his eyes. “I’m going to trust that you know the plans you have for me, all those things you promised in the Bible – that you’re working something for our good and your glory. I’ve got nothing else to hold on to. If I don’t have that, I’m completely done for.”  

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