Nearly two decades into his youth ministry, Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall recalls the humble roots of his artistry that led his Grammy-winning Christian rock band to their ninth studio album. . Slated for release in early 2022, the seven-song collection will serve as the first half of a two-part project that cultivates unlikely seeds of growth.
As a young teacher desperately trying to reach his young audience, Hall would sing Christian songs to his students to introduce applicable Bible verses. That practice turned into creating her own songs on her 45-minute ride to and from Bible College. “I didn’t even know I was writing songs,” Hall says over the phone. “I was just whining in the car to God.”
Diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD, it took Hall six years to complete his four-year degree. Most of the time, he filled his car with pleas: “God, give me a good reason to stay here.”
From a place of fear, Hall forged a path that made sense of a weighty past, and an honest and articulate storyteller emerged. “Writers, we normally come out of dark caves with our songs,” he says. Hall drags his etchings – written in darkness – into the revealing light of day.
“Any lesson I teach is not something I learned; It’s something I’m learning,” Hall said. “I look at myself in the mirror, and it gives me hope because if Jesus is going to love me, He can love anyone. Because I don’t know many lessons that he only had to teach me once.
Learning to read the scriptures with dyslexia presented a lesson that shook her foundation of faith. A young Hall believed that his destiny was wavering to a point he later realized did not exist.
“When I was a kid, I thought I was trying to be part of God’s team, hoping to make it,” he shares. Hall was surprised to find the Bible filled with characters he described as “much worse than me.”
“I thought, ‘these are all wrecks,’ but I noticed that none of them scared Jesus. He always spoke to people and loved them where they were. This is the difference between Jesus’ love and ours. We believe that to love someone, you have to tell them they’re really okay, even if they’re falling off a cliff. Jesus said, ‘I love you, but you are going in the wrong direction.’ He would truly love you.
Casting Crowns’ new album begins on “Desert Road”. The cinematic structure evokes an alluring soundscape. Like a trance, the lyrics trace a path obstructed by a melodic mirage. Unable to see the end from here, the listener must rely on blind faith to continue.
Based on Book of Acts, “Desert Road” alludes to Philip following God’s command to walk an unknown road. He walked for an indefinite time before discovering the purpose of his journey. Had Philip succumbed to doubting God’s enigmatic guidance, he would not have shared God’s good news with an unaware traveler he stumbled upon on his way.
After years of struggling with learning disabilities and bullies and praying for help, Hall now understands that God was not absent from his journey. “Now I spend so much time with kids who are slower than others and wondering if God is going to help them,” Hall says. “But because I walked this road and trusted God, I can walk with them now.”
“Healer” resonates with the polarization that has seemingly fractured a nation that once prided itself on being united. Hall recalls a devotion of the Book of James that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.
Hiding behind computer screens and handfuls of users instilled the confidence to spit hate. Media algorithms allow us to stand firm in our beliefs, constantly reinforced on a positive feedback loop of like-minded timelines.
“After burning bridges passive-aggressively, we’re back together and now remembering what we said when we felt ‘good’,” says Hall. “We felt a bit weak, so we looked for the causes that cost us the least. It’s so easy to be passionate about something that costs you nothing.
Hall thanks God for his gift of “taking every possible opportunity to shut up.” Rather than speaking his mind, he hopes to cut through the clouded chatter of rage-based responses to unveil a common wound that requires all hands and hearts to align to heal.
“Our country’s healing won’t be elected, and it won’t come through a hashtag,” Hall adds. “The healer has already come; He’s there. Our problem is that we want comfort, but we don’t want a king.
The lyrics describe the dilemma that if Jesus is “the healer”, we must love like him, with the truth. “Obviously we love our friendships more than we love our friends,” Hall says. “We love having our friends so much that we’re not willing to tell them something they need to hear because we don’t want to lose them. But love is going to cost you dearly and healing must come through us.
“Crazy People” explores how people must have perceived biblical characters like Noah when he was building an ark. The album ends in a similar vein and humor with “Second Opinions”. For years, Hall joked about The Book of Second Opinions this includes sayings like “God won’t give you anything you can’t bear” – and other sentiments that are close enough to scripture to be twisted in translation. Hall, admittedly a victim of this, calls on his audience to ask themselves if God has let them down or if they are simply let down by a misinterpretation of his promises.
Like stepping stones, the listener rides each song on their journey to become whole again. To pave the way, Hall does not write from a tower of justice. Casting Crowns’ best-selling strength is their frank imperfection and humble efforts to reach weary hearts through open ears.
“It’s very important that people understand that I disagree,” Hall concludes. “I think love gives you the right to tell the truth. But also, transparency gives you the right to tell the truth. I’m not a believer because I am Well. I am a believer because God is good. And he saved me”
Photos by Robby Klein.