“LOOK WHAT I just got.”
Michael stood at the door to my office and waved a CD at me. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but the smirk pasted across his face told me that whatever was on the CD, I wanted to hear it.
“What did you get?” I asked.
“Get your butt to the conference room,” he replied. “We’re gonna have ourselves a listening party!”
I loved a good listening party. A gathering of two or more people hearing for new music from a Christian artist, listening parties were one of my favorite perks of working for CCM, a magazine covering Christian music.
I was CCM’s editor, a position I wasn’t qualified to hold. I had no proper training in editorial or writing, and the only experience I had that even remotely related to my job description was eight months as a content editor for the music and entertainment page at Crosswalk.com, a Christian website. As it turned out, my unqualified status worked in my favor, because ignorance lowers people’s expectations.
When the publisher of CCM, a fifty-something man named Gerald who only listened to Southern Gospel music, offered me the job, I was shocked. But I accepted the offer, and for the first time since graduating from Belmont, I lived in Nashville again.
“This song seems especially honest.” I turned the volume up. “Don’t you think this song has to be about the divorce? It is, right?”
He listened for a moment, and then his eyes widened. “You don’t think this song is in reference to the interview you did with her last year, do you?”
I leaned closer to the stereo’s speakers, as if that helped me concentrate on what Amy was singing.
The interview Michael referred to happened when Amy released her first record of hymns. I volunteered to write the story. A few days before the interview, I received an email from Gerald, my publisher, asking me to come to his office at my earliest convenience.
Just reading the email caused my heart to beat like a conga drum. Gerald frightened me. At least half of what came out of his mouth was meant to break somebody down.
I deleted the email and told myself to think of Gerald’s office like Daniel thought of the lion’s den. God will shut the lion’s mouth, I thought as I poked my head into his office.
“Gerald, can you talk now?”
Without looking at me, he said, “Yeah, come on in.”
He threw an old copy of CCM on his desk in front of me. It was the issue with Amy on the cover, and the interview inside focused on her divorce from Gary Chapman.
“Have you read this interview?” Gerald asked.
“Yeah, I read it.”
“Pretty pathetic, isn’t it?” He thumbed through the pages of the interview, waiting for me to agree. When I didn’t say anything, he looked up. “Well?”
“How is that interview pathetic? I loved that story.”
“She doesn’t apologize, Matthew. For getting a divorce.” Gerald shifted in his chair. “Not one time. It’s as if she’s not sorry for disobeying God’s command to stay married. She needs to apologize.”
He closed the magazine.
“Who does she need to apologize to, Gerald?”
“Her fans. Us at CCM. And everybody she failed.”
Our chat went on like this for fifteen minutes. Eventually, Gerald got to his point.
“On Wednesday, when you do the interview, get her to apologize. Ask her to apologize if you need to.”
“Are you kidding me? You’re asking me walk into Amy’s house and get her to apologize for something that happened more than three years ago? She’s remarried, Gerald.”
Gerald threw his hands in the air. “I want her to apologize.”
“Gerald, this isn’t Watergate. We cover Christian music. Can’t we do a fun story and let the stupid divorce topic remain in the past?”
“God has rules.” He spun his chair toward the laptop sitting on a table next to his desk. “Either get Amy to apologize or we won’t run the story. Period. Get out of here.”
I walked out.
Two days later, as I pulled into Vince and Amy’s U-shaped driveway, my stomach ached at what Gerald wanted me to do. I shifted the car into park and began to panic. I’m getting ready to interrogate Amy Grant. I love Amy Grant. I want her to love me.
* * * *
I rang Amy’s doorbell and stood on her front steps, trying to look casual and carefree. When that didn’t work, I checked to make sure I wasn’t sweating through my shirt and doused my mouth with mint-flavored spray. As I heard footsteps approach, I offered up a desperate prayer:
Help me to not make a fool out of myself.
Help Amy get ready to say she’s sorry to people she hasn’t sinned against.
Please make her like me.
God’s response was simple. “Uh, Matthew, Amy likes everybody.”
When Amy opened the door, I hesitated. I needed a moment to realize the experience was real and not one of the dreams I’d had so many times of meeting Amy, only to be arrested a few minutes later because I wore only my underwear. In my subconscious, Amy met me in my underwear hundreds of times.
After greeting each other and shaking hands, Amy led me from the front door into the kitchen. “I made corn chowder, and we’re having bread bowls—a nice Southern meal.”
Amy’s warmth and hospitality put me at ease. Her kind, down-to-earth spirit made interviewing her easy. It was more like having a chat with an old friend. Of course, the whole time I thought about my publisher and his mandate. I kept hearing his gruff voice in my ear.
“If she doesn’t make a public apology, then she’s not going in the magazine.”
After discussing everything from family and music to Nashville and the theology behind the celebration of Lent, I forged into more troubling waters.
“Amy,” I said, “can I be honest?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“The next couple questions are not mine. And if I had any choice in the matter, they wouldn’t be asked.”
Amy didn’t take her eyes off me. She nodded politely and then laughed knowingly. “I wonder where this is going.”
I rolled my eyes.
Then I got blunt, though I stuttered through my question. “My publisher thinks you got off easy the last two times CCM interviewed you. He seems to think that, because you got divorced—an act that is biblically frowned upon—you failed your fans. So I’m supposed to ask you this: Are you willing to apologize to your fans and to CCM magazine for divorcing Gary?”
The question was met with a long period of silence. Awkward silence. Painful silence. I felt like I was slowly killing her. When she began to answer the question, she stopped and started several times.
“Do I feel sorry because my life hasn’t turned out like I thought it would,” she said, “and because of that, I have fans that feel disappointed or betrayed? Sure. I never make a decision without considering how it will affect the people in my life. Sometimes I do that to a fault.”
I watched her think about my question and then consider her life—how it was before her divorce and after—and it was obvious she wasn’t beyond feeling sorrowful about her divorce. But, even to someone who just met her, she clearly had found redemption for the decision, and she held onto it. My question couldn’t steal that away from her.
“The hardest part for me, Matthew, was forgiving myself. But once you do, you can’t keep going back. You accept the grace and live.”
That evening Amy invited me to visit with her at the recording studio. When I arrived she stood inside a small, soundproof room with a headset on, re-recording vocals for her hymn project. A few feet away from the couch I sat on, Vince adjusted dials on the console. Sitting next to Vince was Brown Bannister, Amy’s longtime friend and record producer.
As Vince fiddled with controls, Brown chatted with me about Amy.
“It’s a thrill for me to hear Amy sing these old hymns, Matthew. The other night Amy laid down vocals on ‘He Leadeth Me.’ What an experience. I cried. So pure, so full of life. I sat right here and had an altar call.”
Amy started singing.
“I have to get right with God nearly every time I hear that girl sing,” Brown said.
Everybody in the room stopped what they were doing and just listened. Brown closed his eyes. I laid back against the couch and soaked up the experience of hearing her sing “Softly and Tenderly.”
Come home, come home; Ye who are weary come home.
It took me two weeks to write the story. When I finished, I printed it out and slid it under my publisher’s door.
A few minutes later, Gerald called me into his office. I considered putting on a bulletproof jacket, or at the very least, wearing a wire so somebody who liked me could eavesdrop on our conversation. It was very possible I might need saving. In my opinion, Gerald was the worst kind of bully—a gruff, condescending, loud, biblical literalist.
I sat in one of the two chairs in front of his desk. Gerald’s face remained glued to his laptop as if he didn’t even know I’d entered the room. No hello. No nod. Nothing. When he finished typing, he swung his chair in my direction.
Gerald picked up my story and leaned back in his chair. “I suppose you think this is a good story, don’t you?”
I looked directly into his passive-aggressive eyes. “I love the story,” I said. “I think it reveals where Amy is. It’s an accurate portrayal of what she thinks and believes at this point in her life.”
Gerald leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk. “I don’t care where Amy is in life. And I don’t think our readers care, either.”
“I disagree. I think they do care. If they don’t, then why in the world do we print a magazine that assumes they do?”
“You’re missing the point. This story doesn’t reveal the Amy I want our readers to know. This story practically condones divorce.”
“It hardly condones divorce.”
His face turned purple, making him look like a teapot about to announce its boiling point.
“Don’t contradict me, Matthew. I know what I read. This article right here condones divorce.”
“With all due respect, Gerald, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“There’s no apology! That’s what I’m talking about. I’m not printing this trash.” Gerald folded the pages of the story in half and threw them at me. Papers fell around my feet.
As I picked up the papers, tears formed in my eyes. When I had gathered the story, I calmly placed it on the corner of Gerald’s desk. He looked at it and slid it onto the floor again.
“Get that story out of my face.”
I gathered the loose sheets of paper and walked out of Gerald’s office.
Amy’s face still graced the cover of CCM that month, but the story printed only loosely resembled the one I wrote. Gerald forced my editorial director to rewrite the story. The new story featured Amy miraculously apologizing. Her quotes were fabricated and molded into something that didn’t represent her story or my story, but rather a story that reflected the moral absolutes Gerald believed CCM hadn’t upheld until he was in charge.
According to Gerald, the truth about Amy just wasn’t Christian enough to be put in the pages of his magazine. I’m not sure anybody’s truth was worthy of Gerald’s CCM.
Excerpted from Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner. Copyright © 2010 by Matthew Paul Turner. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Names have been changed.
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