Questions for Reflection
Each episode we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. You might pause the podcast and answer them right then and there, but if you keep a journal (Steph and Beth both do), you might find one of these PDFs useful. Choose the orientation that fits best in your journal.
Beth Demme (00:04):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars Podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:06):
Where we have honest conversations about things that make us different.
Beth Demme (00:10):
Our mission is to talk about things you might relate to, but that you don't hear being discussed in other places.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:15):
Our hope is that you are encouraged to have honest conversations with people in your own life. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:19):
And I'm Beth. And on today's show, we are going to have an honest conversation titled "I Was THAT Christian" with our special guest,
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:30):
Then we will invite you to reflect on the conversation in your own life with Questions for Reflection. And the show will close with Slice of Life. And if you wonder what that is, stay tuned til the end.
Beth Demme (00:39):
So we do have Jamie with us today. Jamie is actually somebody who Stephanie and I have sort of been in circles with for a long time. And now the church where I'm serving is the church where Jamie and her husband [Drew 00:00:52] attend. And Jamie has just published her first book, and I loved it. And so I invited Steph to read it, and she loved it. So we're really excited to have Jamie on the podcast today. She's an administrative assistant by day, but a writer, singer, songwriter, now published author by night. So we're really glad to have you with us today. And the book that you wrote is called ...
Jamie Kocur (01:16):
It's called My CCM Soundtracked Life: How I Became Disillusioned With The Music That Once Captivated Me.
Beth Demme (01:23):
And what is CCM?
Jamie Kocur (01:25):
So CCM is short for contemporary Christian music. It's often tied into praise and worship music. Basically just Jesus music with a little bit of a beat.
Beth Demme (01:37):
Right. So not hymnal music.
Jamie Kocur (01:38):
Beth Demme (01:39):
Not out of the church hymnal. Something more modern, contemporary, fresh than that, right?
Jamie Kocur (01:43):
Yeah. Yeah. Yes.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:46):
I think it's what people think of when you think of Christian music.
Beth Demme (01:47):
So for a period in your life, CCM really was the soundtrack of your life. That's why you titled the book that way.
Jamie Kocur (01:53):
Beth Demme (01:54):
And share with us some of your background, because you attended Florida State University, and you majored in music, right?
Jamie Kocur (02:03):
Beth Demme (02:04):
And tell us where that went. Where did you go after Florida State?
Jamie Kocur (02:09):
So I attended Florida State because through most of my late teenage years and early 20s I became obsessed with CCM music, and I decided I wanted to be a Christian singer/songwriter. And so I decided, "I need to get a music degree. I need a degree, and so I might as well go ahead and major in music, and study it, and learn a little bit more about it."
Jamie Kocur (02:30):
And what I didn't realize when I auditioned to get into the Florida State School of Music was that they are a very prestigious music school, very focused on classical singing, operatic style singing, which is not at all what CCM music is. And so I had a bit of a rude awakening when I started, and started doing my voice lessons, and was just kind of struggling to fit into their mold and what they wanted. But I made it through, fought through. I'm really stubborn, and I kept at it, and I graduated with that music degree.
Jamie Kocur (03:02):
And I figured when I graduated, I would maybe get a job as a worship pastor or worship leader somewhere at a church. Applied a few places, and didn't get any answers. And shortly after that, I heard the African Children's Choir perform at my church, and they spoke of needing volunteers. And so, long story short, I volunteered to be a chaperone with them, traveled to Uganda for a few weeks, and then was on the road with the choir for almost three years.
Beth Demme (03:30):
Did you hear the African Children's Choir at Killearn United Methodist?
Jamie Kocur (03:34):
I did, yes.
Beth Demme (03:35):
Okay, because we've talked about Killearn on the podcast, a few times. So that was where you actually heard the choir perform for the first time?
Jamie Kocur (03:41):
Beth Demme (03:41):
And that was where you felt that tug on you, the "Oh, this is something I could do?"
Jamie Kocur (03:45):
Beth Demme (03:46):
When you told your professors at Florida State about your motivation for wanting to get a degree in music, that you wanted to be a worship leader, you wanted to provide contemporary Christian music to a congregation, how did they react?
Jamie Kocur (04:01):
So this is honestly probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. This was in my first audition-
Beth Demme (04:07):
Oh, good. I'm glad we're starting there. That's excellent.
Jamie Kocur (04:08):
Yes, it's great. So because the school is so difficult to get into, it actually took me two auditions to make it in. My first audition, they just were like, "Nope." Because at that audition, they ask you, "What are your career wishes? What do you want to do after college?" And so in all of my boldness as a 19-year-old, I was like, "I want to be a Christian singer/songwriter."
Jamie Kocur (04:31):
And they were just mortified. They were like, "What?" And I remember they were muttering things like, "Microphones," and just shameful, like, "You don't need to amplify your voice." So yeah, they were not impressed. And yeah, so my second audition, when they asked that question, I just told them I was undecided. I just wanted to do something with music. But yeah, that was kind of my first realization that, "Hey, not everyone thinks this genre is so great."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:02):
So I want to rewind a little bit, because your book actually starts when you are younger, and kind of talks about your journey growing up. You went to church as a child, would you say? You went pretty regularly?
Jamie Kocur (05:15):
I did. Yes, we went pretty regularly when I was young. I think my earliest memory is probably when I was maybe three or four, sitting in church pews. So I remember at a very young age going to church. But then we moved around a lot. My dad's job required us to move cross-country, a couple times. And so after that first cross-country move, we just never got settled back into church. And so there was a period of about three to four years where we didn't attend church, but then we fell back into it when I was, I guess, in middle school. So yeah, I spent the majority of my youth in church, in the United Methodist Church. Grew up with hymnals, mainly. That was kind of the big thing, the music style that I was first acquainted with.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:58):
One thing I've noticed that kind of struck me is you went to church throughout your youth, but you didn't identify as being a Christian or become a Christian until later. Was that in college?
Jamie Kocur (06:11):
Yes. Yeah, it was probably my freshman year of college, I think, that I kind of made that commitment, had that mountaintop experience where I saw God and felt Jesus, and realized I needed to commit my life to him.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:24):
So did you not feel like ... At the time when you were a youth, did you think you were a Christian then, and was it not until you were older that you realized you really hadn't made that commitment yet?
Jamie Kocur (06:35):
Yeah, I think so. I think I didn't think much beyond Sunday church. I was like, "All right, you go to church on Sunday. It's what you do. I believe in God. Okay." And yeah, I guess ... Yeah, sure, I probably thought I was a Christian because I just didn't think there was much more required beyond that, didn't commit much. I was just sort of there in the congregation, just watching, but wasn't an active participant in the faith.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:58):
And it was kind of like your parents took you there. "This is just what we do."
Jamie Kocur (07:02):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:02):
But never really kind of made that commitment for yourself.
Jamie Kocur (07:07):
Correct. Yeah, not until ... Yeah, I was probably 18 or 19 when that finally happened.
Beth Demme (07:13):
Yeah. So how would you define that word, "Christian?" If somebody said, "What does it mean to be a Christian," how would you explain that? Because that sort of is at the heart of our conversation today, and it's really at the heart of your book, right? What does it mean to be a Christian?
Jamie Kocur (07:30):
I believe it's someone who is in active relationship with Jesus. They are striving to be like him in their everyday, living out his teachings and modeling his behavior, just in their everyday life.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:43):
And is that what you believed when you became a Christian, when you accepted Christ, 18, 19 years old? Is that what you believed?
Jamie Kocur (07:51):
Yes. I needed to "Walk with Jesus," be in prayer more, study his life and see the ways that I wanted it to impact mine.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:04):
So when you had that moment, what did you do to make changes in your life that you felt like needed to happen?
Jamie Kocur (08:13):
So I think the biggest thing was I became more active in church. I found some ways to volunteer. And one of those was through music. Since I was very much into music, I signed up to be in the church choir, which I was an active participant in for years. And then eventually joined the praise team, as well, as a backup vocalist. So that was kind of the biggest thing, was just trying to serve and to use my gifts that I believe God had blessed me with.
Beth Demme (08:39):
I can just imagine you walking into the choir room for the first time, and just the joy that your presence must have brought to everyone in the choir, because choirs tend to be older folks.
Jamie Kocur (08:49):
Beth Demme (08:50):
And to have someone who was young, who was interested in participating in that way and using their gifts that way, I know that that had to bring joy to that group of folks.
Jamie Kocur (08:58):
I was, for sure, the youngest by a lot of years. And our choir director was actually my high school choir director. And so when I walked in, he was so proud. And so he was introducing me as one of his former students, and just bragging on me. So yeah, it was a sweet time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:13):
So in your book, you really dig into CCM was a huge part of your life. You were, as you say, obsessed with it. Were you obsessed with it before you became a Christian, or was it kind of at that mountaintop moment that that music took over?
Jamie Kocur (09:28):
I think it was at the mountaintop moment that it took over. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the only thing I listened to. Whereas after I had that conversion experience, I realized, "I shouldn't be listening to other music. Secular music is bad. It's polluting my soul and my heart." And so that's when I literally purged my entire CD collection, and literally the only music I consumed was Christian music. And kind of started to do the same just with books I read, and sometimes movies and things. And yeah, basically just consumed all Christian products.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:00):
So you would say you almost kind of disregarded the secular world?
Jamie Kocur (10:05):
Yeah, that's a good word for it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:08):
Did you almost feel like you were trying to create a bubble around you of just Christian things because that was safe and right? What did that look like?
Jamie Kocur (10:18):
Yeah, that's what I did. I don't think that's what I set out to do. I think I just felt that it was what I was supposed to do because CCM marketing and just kind of the whole genre does a really good job of that, of just making you feel guilty if you're listening to things outside of that bubble. So yeah, it wasn't my intent, but looking back, I realize, "Yeah, I just created this safe little bubble for myself." Yeah, and it did, it felt safe, and everything outside felt dangerous. And I was just literally afraid that I was just going to damage my relationship with Jesus if I let too much of it in.
Beth Demme (10:57):
Yeah, it's interesting the words that you use, because you didn't want it to pollute your soul, as if your soul would be compromised by the world and by your participation in the world in that way.
Jamie Kocur (11:13):
Beth Demme (11:13):
That would be really scary.
Jamie Kocur (11:15):
Yeah. And I think it was honestly what I believed at the time. I just thought that if I let those things in, it was just going to do damage to my life, and to my faith, and to my witness to other people.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:27):
Did you even only hang out with Christians? Was that also part of it, where you wouldn't really associate with people that weren't Christians?
Jamie Kocur (11:35):
Not really, and I think that's because I'm a major introvert, and I'm also pretty shy. In my younger years especially, I was very shy. And so I kind of hung out with my core group of friends anyway, and a couple of them were Christians. I did have a couple of really close Christian friends that were great. But then I had another group that were not. But I think I felt okay in that because I thought, "Well, I'm here to share Jesus with them and bring them to Christ." And so I would definitely judge some of their conversations and some of the things they would say, or maybe movies they were watching, or TV shows, or that kind of thing. So yeah, I was very quietly judgmental. But yeah, I still hung out with them.
Beth Demme (12:17):
So there are two things about that. One, I love that you are a shy person, and I have experienced that, that I know you to be a shy person. But to be a shy person who feels called to be a worship leader, to be this person who's going to stand on stage and direct worship, and not just sing, and not just do your part, but actively engage the congregation in the worship of God, that's such an interesting contrast.
Jamie Kocur (12:45):
I know. Yeah, they don't really mix well. And I actually discovered worship leading was not really my thing. I love to sing, and I do like to perform, because as an introvert, it's actually a great way for me to communicate. Because I struggle often in large groups or even small groups trying to speak up. I just don't speak up very well. But I've found when I'm on stage and performing, people shut up and listen to me. And that was kind of a high for me.
Jamie Kocur (13:14):
But I found worship leading was just a whole different animal, because yeah, like you said, you have to engage the people. And there's this expectation to be energetic, and to be peppy, and that's not really me. So yeah, I struggled a lot with that as a worship leader, trying to find my place, that it's very different from singing special music on Sunday morning.
Beth Demme (13:40):
Well, and particularly in CCM music, there is that peppy, upbeat expectation. Whereas your style of leading might be more reflective, and contemplative, and equally worshipful, right?
Jamie Kocur (13:54):
Beth Demme (13:54):
Just not maybe what people have in mind when they think of the CCM type of music.
Jamie Kocur (14:00):
Beth Demme (14:00):
The other thing that you said that just made me smile was you were talking about having a couple of friends who didn't think exactly the way you thought, and that you were quietly judgmental. What you say in your book, you talk about [Tim 00:14:14], and you say, "Tim was the first-
Jamie Kocur (14:16):
Bless his heart.
Beth Demme (14:18):
You say, "Tim was the first agnostic I had ever met. I took agnostic to mean, 'I haven't yet been convinced of how I need Jesus.' Challenge accepted." And I love that, because I've met so many people like that, in terms of Christian people like that, where it's, "I don't need to hear your story or hear what you really think about God. I just have to convince you that what I think about God is right."
Jamie Kocur (14:41):
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, Tim was very patient. He was my college boyfriend, which funny enough, me being the super Jesus freak, I ended up dating this agnostic. But I honestly believed, "I'm going to lead him to Jesus. I'm going to save him." And it did not happen. But yeah, he was very patient through all of my trying to shove Jesus down his throat. And I played a lot of Christian music around him because I figured that's what brought me to Jesus, so that's what's going to bring him to Jesus. But yeah, he's a very patient person.
Beth Demme (15:17):
Are you still friends with him?
Jamie Kocur (15:18):
Yeah. We're not close friends, but we're Facebook friends. So we've chatted a few times through Messenger. But yeah, we're both married now and very, very happy. And yeah, we both ended up with the right person.
Beth Demme (15:30):
Nice. And he didn't turn out to go to seminary or anything, huh?
Jamie Kocur (15:33):
No, he did not. No, he's definitely still agnostic. And what's funny is, on the other side, I'm like, "I totally see his point." Yeah.
Beth Demme (15:42):
Wow. Well, I wanted to talk to you about that. Tell us about the realization that you could be a Christian without segregating yourself, that those influences wouldn't necessarily pollute your soul, that you weren't less of a Christian if you listened to something that wasn't CCM. Tell us about that part of your journey.
Jamie Kocur (16:02):
Sure. So I think I had started to become a bit disillusioned with CCM. The more life experience I had and the more different people I met, I just kind of was exposed to some different ways of thinking. And so I started listening to CCM with a little more discerning ear, and I just realized, "Wow, this is really repetitive. It's kind of trite. The lyrics almost feel like they're talking down to me."
Jamie Kocur (16:30):
And so then I just slowly started exploring, specifically music, since that's kind of what really speaks to me. And I started listening to some of the secular music, and I found some of it so incredibly moving. And I really felt like I just found pieces of God in these songs that weren't specifically talking about him. But just these honest, and beautiful, and vulnerable songs, and these lyrics where people are just pouring out their soul.
Jamie Kocur (16:56):
And I just realized, "This can't be bad. How can there be evil in this when you've just got this person just pouring their heart and soul into this piece of art?" And so, yeah, it was just kind of this realization of, "This isn't as terrible as I made it out to be. And it's not evil, it's not trying to cause me harm. It's just this person sharing a bit of themselves." And if you can't see God in that, then I don't know what to tell you.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:24):
So was it a slow process, or was there one "Pop the bubble" moment when you realized, "There's nothing wrong with the secular world, and it's important for me to be in there?" Was there a moment, or was it just kind of, over time, you just started listening to these songs and realized, "Huh."
Jamie Kocur (17:41):
It was definitely over time. I don't think there was one dramatic moment. I mean, I think there was definitely a moment where I just decided I was done with CCM, just stopped listening to all the music. I tool all the stations off my presets. So yeah, I think there was that moment. But yeah, just kind of exposing myself to the secular music, it was definitely just kind of a gradual thing. And I would listen to one genre, and then try another one, and just kind of from there, it just snowballed.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:08):
When you talk about CCM, that transition, it almost sounds like it was almost brainwashing, the way-
Jamie Kocur (18:17):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:17):
Would you refer to it in that way?
Jamie Kocur (18:19):
I would, yeah. And when I started to become disillusioned, I really felt manipulated. I felt lied to, and yeah, I felt really brainwashed when I started realizing that, and just all of the things that they convince you you need to feel, where it might be what I call warm fuzzies and worship, where you get that funny feeling in the pit of your stomach that feels kind of like when you first fall in love and you're just excited.
Jamie Kocur (18:46):
That's what I used to get in worship. And so I thought that was the norm and what you were supposed to feel every time. And so when I stopped feeling that, I thought there was something wrong with me. And it was because that was what I was conditioned to think was supposed to happen. So yeah, a lot of brainwashing, I think.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:00):
So it was almost manipulating our senses and our sense of security, and, this makes me comforted, and this is worship when I feel these things.
Jamie Kocur (19:12):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:12):
But I only feel them because the music is kind of drawing me into that conclusion.
Jamie Kocur (19:17):
Yes. Pushing me toward that, exactly. Yeah.
Beth Demme (19:19):
Yeah. I think it can be really tough because there is so much of that that it ends up being manufactured. It's a manufactured experience. It's orchestrated, it's produced.
Jamie Kocur (19:29):
Beth Demme (19:30):
But the key for me is what Stephanie just said, which is that it's about what I am feeling. So it reorients the worship experience to be about me, rather than me as part of a community. But even more so, rather than this worship should be about God. This shouldn't be about me. But we're so ... tend to refer back to our own feelings and our own experiences, and we do that even in worship, something that really shouldn't be about us at all.
Jamie Kocur (20:02):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly, yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:04):
Well, I think it's harder because it's human nature that we're selfish. I mean, wouldn't you say? Like, "What is in it for me?"
Beth Demme (20:12):
Survival, right? I mean, survival requires a certain amount of selfishness.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:15):
Jamie Kocur (20:16):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:16):
So it's harder to explain to someone that worship is the opposite of that. And so I think it's easier to create the environment that the CCM music kind of manufactures than to do the hard work and explain something that's complicated. I think that's something that I see in our society all the time. It's just, "Let's make it simple, easy to understand. No one's going to do the research to try to understand more, so just lay it out, even though it's not actually true."
Beth Demme (20:45):
Yeah, very true.
Jamie Kocur (20:46):
Yeah, and CCM just does a great job of that. I think, like you said, people, they don't want complicated, they don't want hard, they don't want messy. They just want easy. And that's honestly what CCM gives you. It's just very, very formulaic and just very contrived. And yeah, it's sad, but I think that's what a lot of the masses want because they just don't want that complex, and they don't want to feel. They don't want the emotions unless they're happy. Then they want those.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:15):
I hear you.
Beth Demme (21:16):
"Give me happiness."
Jamie Kocur (21:16):
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:17):
So what was your feeling of what worship was when you were that Christian, and what's your feeling of what worship is now?
Jamie Kocur (21:27):
So when I was that Christian, it was definitely worship was always in front of a stage. There was dramatic lighting, some boom stands with the microphones, and acoustic guitars, and probably a plexiglass shell around the drum set. And there's a few people in the front row with their hands raised as high as they can go. That was worship. It's like I knew in my head that worship wasn't just that, but again, that's what I was brainwashed into believing. That's what I thought was true.
Jamie Kocur (22:00):
So my worship now, again, I think that was another thing that just kind of took a slow journey. It wasn't like a dramatic thing that happened. One thing that kind of rocked my world as far as worship goes was when I was on tour with the African Children's Choir, and I participated in worship time with them, what they would call devotions. And we would start every day together as a group. It was our choir of kids. My choir had about 25 kids in it, and then we would have seven or eight chaperones, and we would gather in a big circle.
Jamie Kocur (22:32):
Sometimes the kids would bring out their drums. And then a group of about five of them would just lead a praise song, and they would dance, and clap, and drum. You haven't heard energetic until you see these kids. And it was just amazing. And then after we'd finish the praise music, they would go into worship music, and they would just shut their eyes tight, and just raise their hands as high as they could. And it was just the sweetest thing. And elements of it were similar to the CCM worship I had been in, but it felt more authentic to me. I mean, the kids were just really vulnerable as they sang.
Jamie Kocur (23:10):
And when we'd finish singing, they would pray out loud. And just hearing them pray together was just kind of gut-wrenching. So that was kind of my first realization of, "Okay, worship doesn't have to always be this performance and this staged event. It can be impromptu, and it can be fun. And we can dance, and laugh, and be silly, and it's okay."
Jamie Kocur (23:36):
And then when I got home and I tried to go back into that manufactured CCM worship experience, I just realized, "This is not working for me." And that's when I first started to write, because I was really frustrated, wondering, "Why is this not working for me anymore? What am I doing wrong? Why am I not feeling the warm fuzzies?" And I just couldn't connect in worship. I was just completely disconnected.
Jamie Kocur (24:01):
And so I found that I was more worshipful when I would take a long hike through the woods than I was on Sunday morning. And that still is one of my best worship times. I just adopted a dog, and she and I walk about five miles a day. And so we often hike through the woods, and it's just peaceful, and I just honestly feel the closest to God when I'm out in nature.
Beth Demme (24:24):
Stephanie can relate to that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:25):
I can totally relate to that. My dog is actually making wonderful noise, right now.
Beth Demme (24:31):
That was right on cue. That was perfect. Way to go, Mac.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:35):
I know. I was muting my mic because she was loud. Hold on.
Jamie Kocur (24:38):
That's awesome. Yeah, my dog was standing at the back door, right before I came in here. I'm like, "You're an hour early. We don't go for our walk until 7:30, so you can just chill."
Beth Demme (24:46):
I love that when you described worship, when Stephanie asked you to kind of describe what worship was like for you, back in the CCM days, and you talked about the lights and the microphones on boom stands. And you went there. You went there with the plexiglass thing around the drum set, which is like-
Jamie Kocur (25:05):
I mean, you knew when you walked in and saw that plexiglass shell, you're like, "Oh, this is going to be a lit worship service."
Beth Demme (25:09):
Right. And nowhere in that description does a cross figure in.
Jamie Kocur (25:14):
I know. I know. Yeah, it's true. As far as the way my idea of worship has changed, I think being out in nature, and kind of being by yourself, and being close to God is important. But there's still that element of corporate worship, which I think is really important.
Jamie Kocur (25:30):
And I actually found that again in a weird way when I joined the Tallahassee Community Chorus. Because I had been singing with choirs for pretty much all my life. And then when you get to adult years, when you're no longer in college classes, you don't really have as many opportunities for that. And I have just found that I really, really missed it. And so I guess about eight years ago now, I joined that, and yeah, found a new way to worship with a large group of people. And so rehearsals became my worship time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:01):
And what kind of music do you sing in the choir?
Jamie Kocur (26:03):
So we do classical pieces, so some pretty hard stuff. We'll do Bach, and Beethoven, and Mozart, choral masterpieces. So it makes me work really hard, which I love, too. And it's not the simplistic melodies and lyrics, where you really have to work and put your mind into it, which is the other thing I love. And I think that's another way that I worship.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:22):
Beth Demme (26:23):
So how much has COVID messed that up?
Jamie Kocur (26:25):
Oh, it really messed it up. We had to cancel our spring concert, and we're not moving forward with our fall rehearsal, just because with all the news out about how singing is really probably propelling a lot of the germs toward people. We decided we can't in good conscience do that, because we have a lot of older members that are in their 80s. So we just didn't want to put their health at risk. So we're going to try and do some kind of virtual rehearsal, just to kind of keep the community aspect going. But yeah, we won't be able to do any real performances probably for a couple of years, I'm thinking.
Beth Demme (26:58):
Yeah, it's super hard to do that virtually, because of just the inherent lag that happens as information is traveling.
Jamie Kocur (27:05):
Exactly. Yeah, I think we're going to ask everyone just to mute themselves, so it's like we're not really going to be able to work on vocal quality, and vowels, and all those things that we really fine tune. But it'll just be a way for them to sing, and we might try and do a short outdoor concert, and socially distanced. So we'll see.
Beth Demme (27:24):
Tell us more about the kids who are part of the African Children's Choir, specifically the kids who were part of your choir. What kind of situations did they come from? Because I think we all sort of have this one idea of what it might mean to be in the African Children's Choir. But tell us from your firsthand experience what it was like for those kids.
Jamie Kocur (27:43):
Well, I think most people, they instantly assumed that all the kids were orphans. And we had a few that were. But yeah, people would be surprised when we'd be like, "Oh, no, their mom and dad are both living." But in some cases, they might be alive, but they just weren't financially able to take care of them, so they might be living with an aunt or a grandparent.
Jamie Kocur (28:02):
The parents just couldn't afford their schooling, and so there was just that sense of poverty, in that sense. It's like they don't have to be orphaned, physically orphaned, to be in need. So yeah, a lot of them just came from pretty poor income communities and didn't have a lot of opportunities for education outside of the choir. But yeah, really simple houses, dirt roads, that kind of thing.
Beth Demme (28:29):
Did they have exposure to Christianity before they joined the choir, or is that all kind of fundamentally connected together?
Jamie Kocur (28:41):
Most of them had. Yeah, I think all of them had been in church in some aspect. So yeah, most of them were very familiar, and their families were Christian. But yeah, they definitely, as they went into the program, the Christian faith is definitely a big part of it. So that was something that just their faith kind of grew as they were a part of it.
Beth Demme (29:02):
And when you experienced worship with them, it sounds like it was really sincere and very pure.
Jamie Kocur (29:09):
Yes, that's a very good way to describe it. Yeah.
Beth Demme (29:12):
Which maybe contrasts with some of the experiences that you then had when you came back to the U.S.
Jamie Kocur (29:18):
Correct, yeah. I think it made me realize how staged our worship is in a lot of our services. Yeah, and just kind of a lack of ... It just didn't feel genuine.
Beth Demme (29:30):
So you came back and you were having those experiences. And is that what kind of prompted you to revisit your faith in the bigger picture? Not just your worship, but your take on what it means to be a Christian?
Jamie Kocur (29:45):
My faith in general didn't really get rocked, right away. It was just more of, "Why am I not connecting in worship." So I actually wrote the book, really, as a way to process through what I was feeling. As I was writing, I think other things started to unravel. Because at first, I thought I was just going to be kind of sorting through, "Well, why is worship music not connecting? Why am I not feeling happy?" And the more I dug and the more I wrote, the more those other pieces just started to fall at my feet.
Jamie Kocur (30:13):
And so, yeah, at the end of it, I was like, "Oh, crap. I don't know where this is going to end." I don't think I ever stopped believing in God, but I definitely had some moments where I thought, "Well, what if this was all a scam? What if this is all made up, and these are just lies that have been shoved down my throat to get me to act certain ways or control me?" So yeah, I had a bit of a rough period where I wondered, "Is this all worth it? Is this even real?"
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:41):
Something you mentioned was, "Why don't I feel happy?" Is that something that you thought, "When I become a Christian, I should always be happy. I need to always be happy." Was that part of that?
Jamie Kocur (30:51):
Yeah, I think that was part of the CCM marketing scheme. Just when you accept Christ, you're full of joy, and people that are full of joy are happy. So that was kind of my expectation. And up until that point, I had felt pretty happy. But as I just processed and deconstructed, all that happiness kind of fell away. So yeah, it was just definitely something I was conditioned to believe should happen and that's how I should feel.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:19):
Do you still think CCM is manufactured and all the things that we've kind of been talking about today?
Jamie Kocur (31:25):
I do. I think the genre as a whole definitely is. I think it's basically just one big marketing scheme. I think there are individual artists that are still considered CCM artists, that are very genuine and that are doing it for the right reasons. So it's like I don't want to lump all of them in, but yeah, I think as a whole, the genre itself [crosstalk 00:31:44].
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:43):
Can you give us three artists that we can listen to and not feel bad, like we're being manipulated?
Jamie Kocur (31:48):
Yeah, absolutely. Some of my favorites are [Nichole Nordeman 00:31:55], [Andrew Peterson 00:31:55]. The third one that's coming to mind, he's no longer doing music, but you could find his music from back in the '90s, is [Bebo Norman 00:32:01]. I always really enjoyed him. So those are three of my favorites that I think I've carried over, that are still pretty good. Jars of Clay is good, too. I like them, as well.
Beth Demme (32:11):
I got to see Nichole Nordeman perform live, one time. She is really-
Jamie Kocur (32:15):
Beth Demme (32:15):
She's really incredible, very genuine. And when I saw her perform, it was before she and her husband divorced. But I felt like she handled all of that with a lot of integrity and authenticity, and I really appreciated that, that she didn't try to make it seem like being a Christian means you're always happy. She was just honest about the pain that she was going through.
Jamie Kocur (32:39):
Yeah, she's very honest. And I've been following her on social media, ever since I stopped listening to CCM. And I've been really impressed at the way she steps up, and she's not like the typical Christian that just kind of hides behind all the social issues and won't speak out. She speaks out, and she lets you know when something is not great. So yeah, she gets a lot of the "Just shut up and sing" responses from people, and she just comes right back at them and, yeah, lets them have it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:07):
Well, that's interesting. That's something that I've kind of noticed lately. There was definitely a time period where actors, and singers, and stuff, if they would speak out, people would say, "No one wants to hear your political views on that. Just be quiet," and whatever. I feel like the world has changed. With social media, it's not good enough to just sing anymore. And you need to, when you have any kind of platform, you need to share your voice on that platform. Is that kind of what you're saying with these artists that you're talking about, is they actually will not just sing? They're great singers, but they also share their voice, and help try to move the needle forward. Is that what you're saying?
Jamie Kocur (33:49):
Yeah, I think partly. I mean, if you have a big platform and a big following, then I think you do need to stand up for what you believe in. And if people don't like it, they can go find someone else that kind of fits more into what they believe. But yeah, it's just like that always cracks me up. It's just like, "No, this is a person with feelings, and you're asking them just to cater to you." And it's like, "They're not a jukebox. They're a person with feelings."
Beth Demme (34:13):
Yeah. And I always think if I ever got that response, if I were to put out music and someone told me to just shut up and sing if they didn't like what I was saying, it'd be like, "Well, you probably won't like the songs I'm going to sing because I'm going to channel all of that into it." So it's like, "Either way, you're going to have to hear it."
Jamie Kocur (34:28):
Exactly. Yeah. Well, and sometimes music is just fun. I talked in the book about '90s alternative music, which was what I grew up with in high school and what I listened to. But then when I started listening to CCM, I purged it out because I felt guilty, because it's a very angst-y kind of music, and a lot of depression, and drug use, and promiscuity, and all that. And just things that I didn't think I should be listening to.
Jamie Kocur (34:53):
And I specifically referenced Beck's song Loser, which, I mean, if you listen to the lyrics, it's not a great song. The chorus literally states, "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?" I mean, it's not great, but the music is just fantastic. Every time it comes on, I crank it up and just kind of bebop along. And so I think that's okay sometimes. It's like everything in moderation.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:17):
Beth Demme (35:18):
Somehow, somewhere along the way, Christianity came to be defined by what we are against or by what we exclude, what we don't do. And I don't quite understand fully the arc of that or why that happened. But I feel like in your book and the way that you share your story, we see that arc in your own life, where you had this period of, "I am going to define my faith by what I exclude from my life. So I'm a good Christian, therefore I don't do '90s alternative music," or whatever the particular thing was. But you matured beyond that, then.
Jamie Kocur (36:01):
Yeah. Like I said, I just started to see little bits of God in some of those things, and especially in art and music. I think when someone really honestly and poetically just shares a piece of their world, I just think that's very spiritual. And things don't have to talk about Jesus all the time. We don't have to be focused on him 100% of the time. Let's be in the world. Let's enjoy it. Let's partake of these beautiful things. They're not evil. They're not trying to kill our soul or pollute our soul. It's okay to partake in those things.
Beth Demme (36:43):
I don't like to get super into The Bible on the podcast because I don't know that this is exactly the right place for that conversation. But I will say that there were plenty of times when Jesus did not keep to a small, safe religious community, but that Jesus was meeting people where they were, which was out in the world. He went to Sumeria, a place where no good Jewish boy would have been. So I think that as much as Christianity today, and especially in the '90s and early 2000s, was really about segregating ourselves, I don't know that we really have a good model for that in our biblical examples.
Jamie Kocur (37:28):
I don't think so, either. I mean, Jesus hung out with prostitutes. Yeah, I don't think he was trying to tell us to insulate ourselves and just isolate ourselves from the world. I don't think that's a good model. But I think it's what evangelicalism forces on you. I think it's what that CCM, just that whole subculture, just kind of makes you believe. It's like we need to kind of put a fence up around us and the world, and those around us. And it's the only way we can be a healthy Christian and growing in Christ.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:01):
So one thing you mentioned is ... Oh, so when did you start writing your book?
Jamie Kocur (38:04):
So probably eight years ago. It was a pretty long process. So yeah, probably about 2012, I'd say.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:11):
Okay. And so you said you started it kind of after you got back from the African Children's Choir?
Jamie Kocur (38:16):
Yeah. I actually started writing, right after Drew and I got married. A couple of years into our marriage.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:23):
And you said it helped you kind of work out some different things. And were there things you discovered along the way that almost made you put down the book and say, "Hmm, I don't know if I want to dig into that?"
Jamie Kocur (38:35):
Yeah, and I think that's part of why ... I mean, it took me about five years to write it. The writing process took so long because there were a lot of times where I just had to stop and put it down, because I'm like, "I don't have the emotional capacity to deal with this, right now." So yeah, I would walk away for months at a time. Because, yeah, I process and I think best when I write, and so that was kind of my main intention in writing the book, was just to process through what was going through my head. I figured, "Okay, if I can share it with people, and someone else is touched by it, then great." But yeah, my main motivation was just to kind of help myself and figure out what was going on.
Jamie Kocur (39:11):
But yeah, there was quite a few scary moments where I just was like, "Nope, I've got to walk away." I struggled trying to figure out how to end it. I felt like I should just have a chapter of, "Here are the lessons that I've learned," kind of that wrap-up chapter. But the more I thought about it, the more I was just like ... I wanted closure. I kept waiting for that great moment when everything would just kind of make sense and be happy again, and it never came.
Jamie Kocur (39:36):
And I realized, "You know what? It might not come, and I need to be okay with that." And so I just figured, "All right, I'm going to just end this kind of in this waiting period, and be okay with that." And just that message that it's okay to not be okay, and it's okay to be just in this period of not knowing and just being unsure.
Beth Demme (39:54):
That was how I received it as a reader, was that you are still a work in progress, your faith is a work in progress, your relationship to worship is still a work in progress-
Jamie Kocur (40:05):
Beth Demme (40:06):
-and that I am, in that way, invited to also be a work in progress. And so I think that that's actually a very powerful way to end, rather than like you were saying, to just, "Oh, here's a neat little bow, and here are the five lessons that you've now learned from this book." It's, "No, the lesson is that this story is not finished," and that's powerful.
Jamie Kocur (40:28):
Yeah. Yeah, because I think we're all works in progress. I can't expect to just reach the happy conclusion, halfway through my life. I've got a lot of growing to do. Yeah, and I think, like we talked about, there's just that thinking, that forced thinking that you should be happy and joyful. And yeah, and I don't think that's a healthy way to go about life. And I think it's okay to embrace that tension and the feeling that things aren't resolved. And it's okay to just sit in that moment for a little bit. And there's a lot to be learned there, and there's a lot of beauty to be found there, as well.
Beth Demme (41:08):
So much of what we experience in church ... I'm a pastor now, but I haven't always been a pastor. I have a real relationship with church. But so much of what we experience in church gets tied into what I would describe as the American dream, and so it's so much about what you can achieve, and that you want to get to this place where, "Ah, I've arrived."
Jamie Kocur (41:34):
Beth Demme (41:35):
But real life isn't that way. That's not authentic. And that's the manufactured happiness that you're describing, right? It's like, "Oh yeah, I've arrived, so I'm happy, and everything is great."
Jamie Kocur (41:48):
Exactly. Yeah, I like manufactured happiness. That's the perfect way to put it. Yeah.
Beth Demme (41:54):
But our God is bigger than that.
Jamie Kocur (41:55):
I know, yeah. It's like, "Why are we trying to box him in?"
Beth Demme (41:59):
Yes. Yes. Can you imagine ... I don't even know that this is really how it works, that you get to Heaven and then you have this one-on-one conversation with God. I think it's probably way more beautiful and more mystical than that. But can you imagine you get to Heaven, and God's like, "So you thought I could only exist inside CCM, huh? Let's talk about that."
Jamie Kocur (42:21):
I think he and I are going to have some good laughs over that.
Beth Demme (42:25):
Like, "Let's sit and listen to this Pink Floyd album together, because this is where I am." Yeah.
Jamie Kocur (42:31):
Tim would be proud.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (42:37):
And now it's time for you to answer some questions about today's episode. Beth is going to read these questions, and you are welcome to answer them to yourself by pausing the podcast, or you can find a PDF on our website.
Beth Demme (42:48):
Questions for Reflection. Number one, whether you are a Christian or not, how would you describe what it means to be a Christian?
Beth Demme (42:57):
Number two, have you ever felt like you had to give up something good in order to be part of a group? Why was that, and what did you do with those feelings?
Beth Demme (43:07):
Number three, what is your gut reaction when you meet someone who identifies themselves as a Christian?
Beth Demme (43:14):
Number four, have you ever thought about writing a book? Do you think your story needs to be more complete or are you a work in progress?
Beth Demme (43:30):
So we heard a little bit from Stephanie's dog Mac in this episode.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:34):
I tried to mute it. I hope I did. I'll try to edit it out.
Beth Demme (43:38):
No, nobody minds hearing from Mac. But Jamie, you just got a new puppy, too. You mentioned that.
Jamie Kocur (43:43):
Beth Demme (43:43):
That you had this puppy, and you've been walking. So tell us about that. Where did you get your puppy? What's your puppy's name?
Jamie Kocur (43:49):
So my dog's name is Madison. I got her from the Jefferson County Humane Society, where she had lived for her entire life. She is five years old.
Beth Demme (43:58):
So not a puppy. I'm saying puppy, but actually she's a full-grown dog.
Jamie Kocur (44:02):
I see a 90-pound great dane, and I'm like, "Puppy!" So I'm right there with you. But yeah, she is very fearful of new people, which is why she was there for so long. And she needed someone who could just patiently work with her and visit with her a couple times until she got used to you. So my husband, Drew, and I just went over there, once a week, for about a month, and just took her on walks and let her get slowly accustomed to us.
Jamie Kocur (44:28):
And then we brought her home for a little trial run. And I told Drew, "Yep, I'm not taking her back." And so we've had her almost two months now. She's still pretty skittish and scared of a lot of things. She doesn't really know how to live in a house yet. She's still figuring that out. But she loves her memory foam bed, and she loves taking hikes. And Drew just fed her a meatball at dinner. So yeah, she's very spoiled.
Beth Demme (44:53):
And what's her name?
Jamie Kocur (44:54):
Beth Demme (44:55):
Madison. So Madison ... Well, are you working from home because of coronavirus?
Jamie Kocur (45:00):
I am, yeah.
Beth Demme (45:01):
So you guys have had a lot of time together to bond.
Jamie Kocur (45:04):
Beth Demme (45:05):
So that's probably actually been a positive of all this.
Jamie Kocur (45:07):
Yeah. She will split her time during the day between my office and Drew's office. We've got beds in there, in both rooms, so she'll sleep. And yeah, we've joked if we ever do get back to the office, she's going to not handle that well. She's used to us being around all the time.
Beth Demme (45:25):
She's going to be lonely.
Jamie Kocur (45:26):
Beth Demme (45:27):
So where can people buy your book? Where's the best place for them to find My CCM Soundtracked Life by
Jamie Kocur (45:34):
So it is currently available on Amazon, and also the e-book is available through Apple Books, as well.
Beth Demme (45:42):
Nice. I bought the Kindle version. That's why I haven't asked you to autograph it. In case you were wondering, that's why.
Jamie Kocur (45:47):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:48):
I have the physical copy. If you could, just sign it right here.
Jamie Kocur (45:50):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:51):
Sign it, sign it, sign it. By the way, we are recording this remotely. We didn't say that, but we are remote. We are all three in different locations.
Beth Demme (46:00):
Even though we're in the same city.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:02):
We're in Tallahassee, Florida, but we're all being smart and social distant, very social distant.
Jamie Kocur (46:08):
Very social distant.
Beth Demme (46:09):
As socially distant as we can be. That's right. So we can buy the book on Amazon and we can buy it through Apple Books. What if folks want to follow you on social media, how can they find you?
Jamie Kocur (46:22):
So I'm on Twitter @JamieKocur, J-A-M-I-E-K-O-C-U-R. Also on Instagram, that is @jamie_kocur. And then you can follow my author page on Facebook. It's @jamiekocurauthor.
Beth Demme (46:36):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:36):
Beth Demme (46:37):
I hope that people will go and do that. You did mention Twitter once or twice. So do you follow Toxic Theology WatchDog on Twitter?
Jamie Kocur (46:48):
Yes, I think I do.
Beth Demme (46:49):
Okay. I was going to say if you don't, you should, because it's hilarious. Because sometimes people will tweet about some of the things that we've talked about in this episode, even, about how happiness ... If you're really a Christian, you'll be happy, or something like that. And the Toxic Theology WatchDog will just tweet, "Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark."
Jamie Kocur (47:07):
Yeah. I might not follow that one. I think there's another one. It's like Racist Watchdog, where it does the same thing, and it'll retweet racist tweets. And yeah, it'll do that, too.
Beth Demme (47:15):
So it'll call them out.
Jamie Kocur (47:16):
Yeah, exactly. So I'll have to find that, because that sounds awesome.
Beth Demme (47:19):
Yeah. I love Twitter.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (47:21):
Well, Jamie, we want to thank you for being on the show today, even remotely. We are so happy we got to have you on the show today.
Jamie Kocur (47:28):
Yes, thank you for having me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (47:28):
So thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time, everybody. Bye.