By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
DENVER, Colorado -- Laurie Edwards watched desperately as her precocious 11 year old daughter Erin struggled to breathe. Laurie knew that Erin, who was suffering from Ewing’s Sarcoma (an aggressive form of cancer) probably wouldn’t make it through the night.
Rather than holding her mother’s hand until her last breath, Erin made a special request. She did not ask for ice cream, nor did she suggest a special visit from someone famous. Erin only wanted her mother to read to her from the Scriptures.
For the next four hours, Laurie and several other family members read aloud the Word of God as Erin fought to escape the cruelty of cancer’s grip. As the sun was about to rise, Erin slipped away into the arms of her loving Father.
What makes Erin Edwards’ story so special? Casting Crowns front man Mark Hall believes Erin speaks to the hearts of many because she lived an extraordinary life even though she was an ordinary girl. He points out her faith never wavered despite her circumstances. She had learned to praise Him through the storm.
It is in this spirit that Hall has written “Lifestories: Finding God’s ‘Voice of Truth’ Through Everyday Life” (Provident Books) with Tim Luke, a book chronicling the people, events, and life experiences that inspired many of Hall’s award-winning songs on the band’s self-titled debut album and its latest release, “Lifesong”.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with the Grammy Award winning artist to discuss this collection of true stories about real-life people and their extraordinary life experiences.
To many you are a pastor, songwriter, and singer. But at your core I believe you are a storyteller. Your book, “Lifestories” kind of reads like a VH1 Storytellers episode as you go through it – of course without the audio track. So, how did the idea come together to do a book based on the music from your first two albums?
It just never occurred to me to write books. It’s just not on my radar. Tim (Luke) came to one of our concerts and heard two or three of the stories we were telling during the concert. He said, “Man, we need to sit down and get these stories in print – where these songs came from.” I get more emails after concerts about the stories I tell than I do about our music. So, we started sitting down for about 30 minutes a day on Mondays with a tape recorder and I just started talking. Then he started transcribing. And we started thinking that this stuff might be neat for everybody to have. Another thing that kind of clued us into this thing was that I get so many emails from people just telling what God is doing in their life because of the song … it has encouraged me.
Take me through your process as a songwriter. I realize that it is different for everyone but it seems like a lot of your songs kind of rattle around in your mind for long periods of time before they come to maturation. Tell me about how you write?
Well, it’s different every time. I can honestly say I have never sat down and thought, “I’m going to write a song.” I think I almost wouldn’t even consider myself a writer. God either gives it to me or He doesn’t. It is usually just me in the car and I’m just kind of having my own little worship time and something will just start happening. I will start singing. It usually starts with the first word of the song. For me I don’t even know where the song is going. It just starts with a problem or a situation and it kind of goes from there to where the answer is. So, it’s different every time.
On your first album you probably had all sorts of ideas ready to go. But it is that second album that sometimes causes a problem creatively. You know, because you have often used up all of your ideas on the first album. Was that a challenge for you?
The songs were there, the ideas were there but suddenly there was this pressure that I had never felt before. The world knows us by ten songs. That is all they know about us and now they are going to know ten new ones. I wasn’t worried about the message because I knew what we wanted to say. But I was scared of the music because a lot of times you have a really good lyric but the arrangement doesn’t quite match up. We were so busy already with student ministry. There was no free time so we were getting up to the wire and I had like five songs out of ten were just a verse and a chorus and we were getting closer and closer to the deadline. So, that kind of pressure was there.
You make no bones about the fact you are a youth pastor first and a musician second. As your music ministry has grown does that often squeeze out your regular ministry at your church? Secondly, do you ever see a day where you will not be able to balance the two?
One thing I am learning is to say what I will never do. But I just can’t see myself out of the church. To me, the church is the point and everything else is pouring into it and a part of it. That is the body. For me not to be working with students anymore in some way seems foreign to me – so I can’t say it would never happen if God made me do something different. Right now, I am where I am supposed to be and I am doing what I am supposed to do. If anything, I would see Casting Crowns as more of a season in my life than I would see my student ministry.
Some of your songs may be a little critical of the church. I think of songs like “If We are the Body” and “What if His People Prayed”. Some of those songs are really taking the modern church to task. What is your ultimate message that you are trying to convey with those songs?
For me, I am just using the spiritual gifts that God has given me. If Barnabas made a record he would just be loving on you telling you everything was going to be ok. If John the Baptist made one, or Paul made one, they would be saying here is what you need to do. So, I think we write out of our spiritual gifts. So, for me, that is just the way it comes out. But at the same time, when you listen to the record you hear the transparency as well. Here is what we are struggling with. Here is what I am struggling with. “Stained Glass Masquerade” is probably one of the strongest messages we have had but it is me talking about me – I’m not talking about you. Here is what I am dealing with, is there anyone else out there dealing with the same problem? Being in the church like we are, people want to hear truth. Tell me the truth.
From reading this book I understand that a lot of your music is highly personal to you. And I know it is hard to pick a favorite but if you had to pick a song that you think personifies what Mark Hall and Casting Crowns are all about what would it be?
I have a new favorite every day. But the one that sets the tone would have to be “Voice of Truth”. That is the message – that could very well be the reason God let us be Casting Crowns. That is to get out there and say God has a ministry for you, not the person next to you. We all hear these get out there and live the life God has created but our hearts we are thinking, yeah, but that won’t ever be me because of this, this, and this – whatever our buttons are. I think that is where we all live. And getting up there and going, hey, I’m a big dork and God uses me. That is my goal when I am on stage – it is to totally strip away any idea you might have that we are some sort of rock stars on stage. You need to understand that we are just the people standing next to you at church that just listened. We are people that just did as we were told. This is really the life that anybody can do. We are still struggling but we put it all out there.
Final question, after people read “Life Stories” what is the one thing you want them to learn?
I guess the thing for me is that people see that this is how God talks to us. We are everyday people walking around life. This is where He is with us. And every time we are talking about the story behind this big song it funnels down into what about you? Is God talking to you about this? I want people to see that God is talking to me just like this. My songs are nothing more than a diary. I want people to walk away and ponder what God is talking to them about. Open the lines of communication.
Purchase Mark Hall's latest book Lifestories: Finding God's 'Voice of Truth' Through Everyday Life.
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