Nashville singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken’s work at CT is driven by what she calls the “the creative mandate,” which she also believes is part of being human.
When McCracken first got an invitation to write a piece from CT’s Managing Editor Andy Olsen, she was a little intimidated.
“I didn’t feel qualified as a writer. I thought ‘I’m just a songwriter,’” she said, as her baby Sam bounced on her lap during our recent interview. One piece led to another, and she started writing her CT column, Pending Resolution, in 2017 with eighteen articles published to date.
Her most popular article for CT is “Martha, You Don’t Have to be Mary” with 16,000 readers online plus print readership. She explores how God reveals himself through music, nature, and unresolved circumstances in our lives.
McCracken’s Steadfast podcast celebrates stories of patience that display God’s steadfast love and was added to CT’s network in 2021.
In one episode, “Patience After Catastrophe,” she talks to Jay and Katherine Wolf, co-authors of Hope Heals as they share their story of redemption in the aftermath of a life altering stroke.
“CT has encouraged me to give voice to things, as a writer, as a musician, as a podcaster, and as a curriculum writer. It means a lot,” said McCracken.
Her passion for worship goes back to her early teen years in Missouri. “I would play in church, or I would sing in the choir. My piano playing is directly connected to devotional life, or singing from the hymnal, or writing new tunes from the hymnal.”
At first, she was hesitant to create Christian music for fear of being pigeonholed in that genre before people really listened.
The Builder and the Architect, her first album of hymns, was released in 2005. The track list included “Thy Mercy, My God” and “Rock of Ages.” This album marked an important shift to “facilitate, lead, and write worship songs for churches–what I would call gospel music,” said McCracken.
Do you have a memory of first reading Christianity Today, or an article that spoke to you at one point?
CT’s article “The Joyful Environmentalist,” an interview with Peter Harris and Eugene Peterson about creation care caught my attention. It’s a good example of taking an issue like creation care that could be political, but it’s a biblical idea. We’re supposed to steward the earth. You can have political opinions around it. We should be Christians first, and then citizens of a society. That article was one that expressed God’s affection for creation.
In Genesis, you see this incredible display of His power and imagination in the creation story. And then we’re right in the middle, invited to participate and to go and to do likewise. Even the smallest gestures—connecting with a neighbor, pouring a cup of coffee, hosting a dinner party—the most ordinary things are evidences that God is at work bringing renewal.
With the different roles you fill in your life as a mother, wife, and songwriter, how do you juggle everything and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus?
I was talking to a friend about the legacy of Larry Crabb, who recently passed away. One of the phrases that stayed with her about his life was his encouragement to ‘live thirsty.’ We were talking and meditating on what that might mean. There’s this sense of leaning into our weakness and our limitations, even while we’re working hard. There can be this giving over of control.
I can do a lot of things. It can be crazy. It can be like ‘Let’s do this trip. Let’s try to make this work. Let’s do this dinner, or even pursuing a project that seems risky. For me, the juggling is all fine, if I’m not white knuckling it. Whenever I’m doing that, it feels like I’m grasping for something, or trying to prove myself.
You can do a lot of things. You can do little things. One is not better than the other. We can do the things we’re called to do joyfully, and let God do his work as we put in our best effort.
Let’s talk about your Pending Resolution column in CT that explores the tension of living in the now and not yet. How does the theme of living in that tension impact your faith and creative work?
Life continues to bring new transitions and surprises. Some of them are wonderful, and some are really unpleasant. We have to live in the middle of that already and not yet and acknowledge that there are things to lament most days. But there are still things to celebrate and praise to be offered. In all circumstances, our response should be praise, even when it’s pending resolution and we don’t know how it’s going to end.
How did you start writing for Christianity Today?
That is a big part of my story. In September I have a book coming out, and I don’t think that would’ve ever happened without this CT column.
When I started, I remember thinking ‘Okay, great I can write one piece.’ Then I quickly thought I was going to run out of ideas. I started realizing the rhythm of the column was its own discipline, its own kind of training to communicate words that were ordinary life but bring them in a way that could be communal and shared with other people.
Starting out, I think my idea of it was having a cup of coffee with a friend. It has been a learning experience for me as a writer. But I’ve been so encouraged by the support from CT over the years.
What have you appreciated about CT?
My connections to CT have been largely relational. I think that says a lot about the people that are a part of CT. I have felt synergy and like mindedness with the ministry. As an observer of CT, there’s such an emphasis on culture, listening, and lifting up uncomfortable things. CT is always trying to listen and have an honest conversation around difficult topics. CT brings things to light that other people don’t want to address, but it’s not to be provocative. CT is willing to take some risks, to make culture, to talk about important issues that other people don’t know how to talk about.
Tell us about your vision for the Steadfast podcast on the CT network.
I love talking with people and hearing their stories. This new season was recorded in 2020 during the pandemic. It became even more of a touch point because I wasn’t out on the road seeing people.
I had been influenced by all these individuals, so it was a way of lifting their voices. A podcast is a unique and accessible way to do that. It’s another way that you can spend time with people and have a meaningful exchange of ideas.
Having that place where we could gather and exchange ideas and affirm things we believe and know to be true was a way to bolster my hope. When your hope falters, you need a friend to say ‘Hey, I see it, here it is.’ I think that’s what community is about. My little dream is that Steadfast would be a gesture that supports community.
You’ve released two albums of hymns, Builder and the Architect and Feast or Fallow. Do you have a favorite hymn writer? What are your favorite hymns?
My favorite hymn writer is Anne Steele. She was a peer of Isaac Watts. She has so many hymns that are down to earth and expressive. She will often take the first line of a hymn that could be affirmation of who God is and the middle verses will trace some of her doubts and questions. Then she comes back to her initial affirmation of God’s faithfulness. I appreciate having a female voice in the mix when you have a lot of male writers that are in hymnals.
“Abide with Me” and “How Firm a Foundation” are my favorite hymns. Both of those hymns remind me of Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” This is how God promises his faithfulness to us. Throughout life, I’ve gone back to those hymns and really found comfort and strength in the theology that’s underpinning those words.
What are your upcoming creative projects?
My album Patient Kingdom, is a fitting theme for this season we’re in. Both my music and writing projects have been affected by the pandemic, for better or for worse.
I’m partnering with SmallGroups.com to create a Bible study “Exploring the Psalms: Getting to Know Ourselves and God” that is released later in 2021. There’s also my new book, “Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song,” coming out on September 14, 2021.
Some of my story, in songwriting and Scripture, is what holds the book together. It’s a book about how Scripture influences our lives and invites us to speak, to recognize God gives us each a light. The light is tested. Then the light is sent out.
Kelsey Bowse is digital marketing associate at Christianity Today. Follow Kelsey on Twitter @ kelseybowse.