Writing Worship Music While Deconstructing Christianity with Sam Hedrick


The final episode of the Worship series, with Sam Hedrick – a worship leader at Cascade Church in Portland, Oregon and songwriter who has been going through a process of deconstruction while continuing to write music for the church. Sam shares his experience of grappling with doubts and difficult questions while also feeling a sense of responsibility to provide a space for worship and connection for others. They discuss the tension between authenticity and the expectations of the church, as well as the ways that music can help us process complex emotions and ideas. Sam also shares about his creative process and the inspiration behind some of his recent songs, which speak to the experiences of those who have left or are questioning their faith. Ultimately, this conversation offers a perspective on the ways that art and faith can intersect and how we can find meaning and community even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.

Listen to Sam’s music on Spotify.


Nate: This is part three of the worship series, so welcome in another interview today. This one is a really fun interview we got to do with our friend Sam Hedrick, who is the worship leader at Cascade Church here in Portland, Oregon and is recording worship songs and writing worship songs for people in this deconstructed faith, evolution, changing what they believe, changing what they think, space. And so it’s really exciting. In fact, the intro music that you hear at the beginning of the show and the song at the end of the show, that’s all Sam’s stuff. And Sam’s going to play some stuff for us today on this interview and so really excited to get to invite you in on this.

Shelby: Yeah, Sam has just a really valuable perspective as someone who’s not just looking back and criticizing the worship of our past, but who’s writing songs for where we are now. And just the intentionality that he does that with made us feel incredibly comfortable and welcomed at the church when we first started going there. And I didn’t expect to feel that at all in a worship context and I kind of didn’t expect to connect. And so I’m really excited for you guys to hear about some of his songs more in depth and the lyrics that have come to mean a lot to me.

Nate: And this conversation spilled over. So this was a really fun conversation. And then towards the end, we turned the recording off and we stopped, but we actually kept going. We talked for another 2030 minutes and that episode, that extra episode is going to be one of our utterly heretical episodes that we’re going to give to patrons of this show. So you can go to Almost Heretical.com and click one of the banners around there to become a patron and get that episode. It’s also available on itunes as well, if you subscribe on there. And I want to thank all of those of you who have become a patron just over the last week.

Sam Hedrick: Here.

Nate: Lisa amanda Cassidy. Cody loretta jonathan victoria jeremy Starla nicole McKinsey kim and others. Thank you so much for your contribution to help keep this show going and so other people can hear this as well and be helped as well. So thank you so much. Encourage you to check out all of Sam’s links in the show notes. Go listen to these songs and get in touch with Sam if you want to as well. All right, here’s our chat with Sam Hedrick. Well, Sam, I’m so glad we’re having you on the show finally. And if if you don’t know listener out there, the the songs you’ve been hearing at the beginning and the end of this, it’s the same song, but that that song you’ve been hearing is is sam’s music. And sam’s the worship leader at the church we’ve been going to here in portland, and we just felt like we have to have sam on, because the music that you’re creating is unlike, really anything that I’ve seen out there. And I’m in these reddit groups for kind of progressive Christianity and deconstruction and all this stuff. And this is, like, one of the most common questions I see out there is I don’t feel like I can sing some of the songs that I’ve been singing in the past, but I still want to sing. Like, what do I do? And so the music that you’re creating is just wonderful, and we’ll probably have you play some later on the episode, so stick around. But, yeah, I guess just want to thank you for doing that and then, yeah, welcome to the show.

Sam Hedrick: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here. I appreciate you saying that. Worship feels, in a lot of ways, kind of like the last pillar of deconstruction that for some reason hasn’t just fully crumbled. And it’s been one of the most, like, fulfilling times of my life to feel like my creative energy is kind of meeting this moment in a place, a specialist cascade to be writing songs that people seem to be really enjoying and yeah, so I’m excited to be here and talk about them.

Shelby: I think that one of the reasons just you said it’s kind of this last pillar of deconstruction. We probably kind of touched on that in some of the other episodes, too, but just it’s such an emotional, like, engagement of worship is and so I think because so much of deconstruction is just kind of piecing apart what we believe and, like, this logical progression of, okay, I’m going to take that out. I’m going to take that out. So I think worship just doesn’t fit in that same process for a lot of people, which makes it both really meaningful and also really vulnerable, I think. Nate and I really haven’t engaged in any kind of worship for years until we started going to this church and you were leading. And I’d say that you really were the inspiration behind this series because it just made us realize that worship can go a different direction. It doesn’t have to just be, wow, hits 2004 stuff. There can be things that are nuanced and that don’t gender god and things that acknowledge uncertainty and are still meaningful. So, yeah, really excited to talk about it all.

Sam Hedrick: One of the things that kind of constantly reverberates in my head as I think about this and as I write and have conversations with folks is everything that feels old to us now was once new and was felt and shared and became the standards that we acknowledge as such today. And so why can’t we create that for now that feels new now, but will feel like foundational and standard in.

Shelby: The decorative, especially considering any song that we’re singing now is in English, which means it obviously hasn’t been around for like well, it’s been centuries maybe, but like at best centuries, probably just decades.

Nate: I love that idea of get used to changing stuff. Right. That’s what we need to do. I think hopefully this deconstruction movement that’s been going on for, I don’t know what, 510 years now. Hopefully what this is doing is and I don’t want basically I get afraid that in 30 years, am I going to be the guy that’s like, hey, no, we need to get young people are going off the rail 20 years ago. I don’t want to be that guy. And how do you do that? I think it’s you get used to changing things and holding things with an open hand to where I expect that the next generation, my kids or whatever, that they’re going to come along and be like, thanks, dad, thanks for moving things forward. And also we’re going to take it from here and we’re going to change some stuff and be comfortable with that and be open to that. Anyways, that’s going like a whole different direction. But that was what I thought of when you were talking about the things that used to feel or that feel old now, used to feel new. And some of those things maybe were like revolutionary right in their time. And they, we needed those things that it’s like be respectful of the past and that’s also move things forward and make things better and then like, at some point happening or something like that.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah, just keep learning and growing from I mean, I feel like and you all are more the historians than I am, but I just think about the history of the church. There has always been these revolutionary moments where someone or some movement has come along and then everything has flipped on its head and then the church will split in a million different directions. And we’re absolutely existing in one of those moments. I feel like in creating this idea of what we to get closer and closer to what we feel more aligned just in terms of how we acknowledge humanity through these lenses that we’re using in this context, like Christianity. And so it feels very electric to be a part of these moments and this particular conversation and then just knowing that there are conversations like this happening all the time and that we’re living in one of those moments in church history where people will look back and go, oh yeah, that’s when this period of time reformation.

Shelby: Round two, I’d like to think things.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah.

Nate: I have a question. I want to know why did you not just go? Because I think this was more my direction was like, I think I’m just done with the worship music for a while, but also I used to write stuff. But why did you go? I’m going to reengage. I’m going to actually write stuff for my new way forward here and for the people that are going through deconstruction or are changing what they believe. Why was it not just like, I’m out, maybe go to church, I don’t know. But why did you choose to read? That’s a pretty deep way to reengage, right? And feel like that’s a lot to do that right. Why did you go that way and not just like, I’m going to kind of step out here for a while.

Sam Hedrick: Well, I think I kind of did both. So I left the church kind of my initial exodus was in 2016.

Nate: That was a big year.

Sam Hedrick: Kind of a lot of things happening, if we remember. Yeah, personally in my life, there was.

Shelby: A lot of things happening.

Sam Hedrick: I know we’ll probably get into this a lot more, but I came out as trans that year and went through a very just tumultuous season of learning about myself, kind of for the first time in a lot of ways and realizing and kind of being met with the reality that that version of myself was not welcome in the spaces that I had grown up in. And I was 25 when that happened. So I had lived and existed and built all of these identities in church life and family life. I was raised Southern Baptist in Oklahoma City and so very deep, deep roots in those spaces. And then at the age of 25, realizing that that was all very conditional, temporary in a lot of ways, based on exactly that was kind of my first exodus and it was devastating. One of the ways that I feel like I can describe it is like leading worship and being engaged in worship was the thing that I felt like I was the best at. I can do other things. I’ve worked in sales, I’ve worked a lot of different jobs and career paths. But for me, growing up, I started leading worship when I was like 13 and then all through college and up until 25. And it just felt like the thing that I was created for, I don’t know how to say that. And so I think it was one of the reasons that I stayed in the closet for so long, because there was this awareness that if I was honest with myself about who I am, that I was going to lose this thing. That was the thing that I was the best at, the thing that I had built so much of my identity and confidence inside of. And what’s interesting is I wasn’t writing songs then. I tried and I would write a song every year or so and kind of push it to the places that I was leading at, and nothing ever really caught. And I just kind of felt like, well, I’m just not a very good writer, so I’ll just keep leading other people’s things. Yeah, so I have some interesting stories from that time, but 2016, all of that kind of got flipped on its head when I came out and started pursuing medical transition. And then my wife and I got married in 2019, and then she started a PhD program, which got us up here to Portland, which has pretty radically changed my life in so many ways because we eventually started having conversations about reengaging in faith spaces because her PhD program is at George Fox University. So faith integration in her studies was like a pillar. And so she was wanting to reengage. I was wanting to partner with her, but then also kind of figure out where I fit in and what I was wanting from those spaces. I knew that I missed being in the space, but I didn’t know what was out there that would include me and include us and honor us and our relationship. Like so many people, you meet a person, you meet a person, you wind up that cascade, and that’s kind of how it happened. And then when the pandemic happened, I saw this glimmer of not through the pandemic. The pandemic was like there was that period where we were all at home, obviously, and the pandemic really forced me to look at myself and acknowledge that this aspect of my life might not be over, that there’s something bubbling here that I want to be a part of. So that’s kind of when I started writing was was kind of early in the pandemic and fleshing out a couple of songs. And then when we started meeting back in person at the beginning of 2022 was when Kurt approached me and just asked about my interest level at Cascade, how interested I was in a position of really just coordinating worship, getting back to a place where there was like, regular rotations of people. And I think it just gave the opportunity through conversations with him and Sarah, that there was some music I was writing. I would love to share it, and the rest is kind of what you’re seeing. So I think it wasn’t really a conscious decision to I mean, obviously there was consciousness around it but I didn’t think there was a place to return to. To get back to your question, Nate. Like, I didn’t know that it existed until until really? Cascade and then seeing kind of this kind of emptiness just like this lull in how worship was aligning with spaces like cascade feeling like the timing was right and that the songs were right to start sharing them with people. And fortunately, they’ve been enjoying them. So it’s been wild.

Shelby: I’m curious. What are some of the like, when you go at I mean, you obviously lead a lot of songs that you’ve written, but a lot of people around the country, around the world who are maybe trying to figure out how to lead worship in an evolving faith context, they may not have the same song writing abilities. What’s your process for looking at songs that have already been written and deciding, is this something that I want to lead other people in or is this something that no longer is valuable or helpful? What are some of your criteria or process for that?

Sam Hedrick: I love this question. I think about the people at Cascade when I’m doing research, which is often like, I used to just be on Spotify for my own fun and finding music that I wanted to listen to, but now I’m doing these, like, very intense and critical deep dives in. Who is who is writing, who is leading worship in, you know, churches around the country. They may or may not be well known. Have they released anything? Do they have a YouTube page? Like, I’m doing all these deep dives, trying to find anything that feels aligned to the space at Cascade. And when I find something that sounds interesting in a lot of ways, I literally put myself in this place where I’m imagining myself and the band that day being on stage singing this song back to Cascade and imagining y’all’s faces. All of our other friends that are there, like, how are they going to respond to this song? What lyrics are popping out at me as either sparking, like, some deep curiosity and thought or, oh, that kind of hit me in a strange way. I need to think about that a little bit more. So there’s just a lot of curiosity that goes into the research aspect. I think there are some base level like no, no’s. That I’m always on the hunt for. So I think the best way to summarize it is anything sin, shame, like self deprecating. I stay. Like, those are pretty big. No, no’s.

Nate: Yeah, yeah.

Sam Hedrick: And then oftentimes based on conversation with Kurt and Sarah, who are the leaders, kind of the general. Yes. Copassers at Cascade, we all kind of mutually agreed that it just feels very inauthentic to propel music that is also written by people that would oppress me and would oppress my wife and would oppress anybody in that space. And so it’s kind of a blanket rule that we’re not going to play music by organizations that are actively working against our existence. So not going to play Bethel, not going to play Hill song. There’s a lot of music that probably could find a place in the curiosity. Like the lyrics are known for worship at Cascade. Exactly. Yeah. They might not be explicitly full of toxic theology and they might be inviting more curiosity, but the people who popularize those songs are not people that I want to be associated with. So I have people sometimes ask about this song or this song and I kind of have to have that conversation like, hey, that song is really great. Sometimes I do listen to that song where I listen to a cover of that song on YouTube, not by that person. And it reminds me of a time where that felt very good, but I can’t help but to think about this person that wrote it and popularized it and how they don’t value me and my existence and that feels incongruent with what I would like to create in the space. So there’s a lot that goes into kind of the research aspect, which unfortunately takes this very wide net and this very big genre, if you will, of worship music and kind of dwindles it down.

Shelby: Yeah, I was going to say, can you think of any songs that you think an average listener would probably know or have grown up with that do kind of still work and fit the criteria? As I know we don’t sing a lot. I think there was a week a couple of months ago where I actually don’t remember if it was you leading or someone else, but we sang like a hymn or two and we were like, this is different. We haven’t done this in a while. And honestly, I’m not sure how it’s sitting because some of this yeah, I.

Nate: Think it was a guest leader. Yeah.

Shelby: But it was how deep the father’s love, I think, or something like that.

Sam Hedrick: And I was like, yes, believe so. Yeah. There are moments where if there’s schedule conflict and I can’t be at church, we’ll have some folks come in which I think offers up some diversity for the people at Cascade. I also recognize that not every single person at Cascade might be triggered or wounded by the same things that have wounded me. And so there’s this concept I like to consider, how gatekeeping in this space can actually be healing and helpful and then what things am I gatekeeping that are just like my own personal connection to this concept? And so in this space of worship, what feels like protection or healing or pastoral care from me to the congregation and then what is me maybe letting my ego get in the way of something. So personally, I don’t have anything in the set right now that would have been a popular worship song. I keep about a twelve to 14 song like rotation in our Cascade set list, and I don’t have anything right now that was popularized. Well, I guess I have one. Simple Gospel by Will Regan, United Pursuit Band, which was a 20. I think he wrote that in 2015 or something like that. So that’s probably the oldest song that we have in rotation. But even Simple Gospel was not an incredibly popular song back in the day. People definitely know it. But a throwback to 2015, so long ago.

Nate: Yeah, it’s interesting, too, because similar, the church that we all go to, and then also this audience is all over the place, right. I just have a lot of compassion for you in trying to decide these songs sometimes, because it’s so to topics we’ll cover on this show. If we cover it this way and we’re a little too liberal on it, then we get emails. If we’re a little too conservative on it, then we get emails from these people. So it’s tough. We have people on this that listen to the show, that they’ve left Christianity altogether, and they listen to kind of understand their past a bit better. Right. We have people that are still married to people. They’re on the mission field, right. And they’re married to a missionary, and they’re like, I don’t know, I just don’t believe some of this stuff anymore. But this is my life and I’m locked in and I’m committed, so I don’t know what to do. That’s the whole spectrum of deconstructed people, and I resonate with that, with trying to figure out I mean, there’s literally no song you could lead. I think this is probably true, where someone isn’t going to feel like.

Sam Hedrick: That.

Nate: Doesn’T describe my experience. Right. Like, you’ve talked about God like a person, and that’s not how I view God anymore. Right?

Sam Hedrick: Yes.

Nate: God’s a force. God’s this energy behind everything, right. God’s the universe. And now we’re talking about God. Like, I can have a personal relationship with God and that’s not how I view it anymore, or someone’s going to be like the other. How do you think about that?

Shelby: Worship was, and I think we’d probably touch on this in the first episode in the series, but worship was very divisive in a lot of churches, even just in the evangelical fundamentalist days. I mean, our church essentially split over worship, the worship leader over just the different styles.

Nate: I remember people writing in when I was leading, and they’re like the drums, the older people in the church, the drums sound like rockets. I remember that one that was on one of the comment cards. The drums sound like rockets.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah, we ordered these drums from NASA.

Shelby: But I mean, we had the whole like the drums were completely covered by this big plastic thing because yeah, the older people and then, I mean, the older people slowly moved from the front to the back because they didn’t want to be near the drums. But then it was a mess.

Sam Hedrick: Did you have two services? Because one of the churches that I contemporary service, yeah, you have your classic, traditional and then contemporary to appease everyone.

Nate: I remember thinking, like, is this what heaven is going to be like? Are there going to be two?

Sam Hedrick: We have the nine and then the 1045.

Nate: We can’t be together. This is not going to work out.

Sam Hedrick: That is so funny.

Shelby: So, yeah, worship was often very divisive, and yet now you’re in this context with probably a way bigger spectrum of people than we would have been dealing with at the Evangelical Free Church I grew up in, we were essentially all the same. I mean, that was the goal, was for us to be all the same. And now in a growing, evolving faith context, our goal is not to be all the same. And so that puts you in a really difficult position as a worship leader, to be trying to lead everyone in the same song and yet let it be an experience that people in completely different walks of life can all connect to.

Sam Hedrick: I have kind of my first affirmation of this very recently because we released one of our songs on Spotify is like my first Spotify release, and so I was pretty stoked about it and we just did a little bit of social media pushing for it. And Haley, my wife, and I both have a lot of friends and connections that are not involved in church or spiritual like spaces, really, at all. Either they weren’t raised in it, or they are not currently involved when they had been raised in it. And they’re reaching out to us. Being like, this is a song that I feel connected to, and I haven’t been to church in 15 years, or I have no interest. I’m completely agnostic or atheist. And this song makes me feel connected to something. And that is kind of exactly what I not in an evangelicalism, like, oh, I’m getting everybody back to Christianity space. But in whatever way we acknowledge the divine or nature or creative sacred energy and spaces, whether you call it God or in whatever way you connect to that thing that is larger than us and connects us all, does that song allow that to happen? Or does it exclude people whose view of humanity or connection is different than that? And so that’s definitely one of the lenses that I’m trying to use in songwriting. Which is why sometimes when I write a song that feels more like I’m working on a song right now that I’m like, I don’t know if this song is very is open enough, not in terms of exclusion, toxic lyric, but is this song a little too god centric and not divine centric? So there’s a lot of lenses that I’m trying to use to consider whenever I write songs because really that would be my hope is that these songs are not just that they work wonderfully for spaces like Cascade and other churches who are learning and growing and want to expand their worship ministries, if you will, but that anyone could grab these songs and find themselves in some sort of meditative connective space to themselves and to the sacred. I almost said Heavenly Realm. I don’t know if that is if I was supposed to put on that’s what I wanted to say. Yeah, whatever that thing is that makes you feel like you’re important and connected to something. That’s what I would love to see these songs do for people. So a lot of different lenses to consider when you’re not barricaded in with really toxic, fundamentalist ideas for writing.

Shelby: And as you’re talking about that, you’ve partially answered this question that I have wanted to ask you at some point in here, which is just the basic, like, what is worship and how is that definition a question? We also asked William Matthews on his interview. But how would you maybe have defined worship growing up? And as you were leading in your twenty s, and has that changed? And yeah, how would you, as you’re approaching it now, what is the goal that you’re trying to accomplish as you lead people in worship?

Sam Hedrick: Yeah, I’ll start with the early life into 20s. Worship at that point, I think, was a mirroring of what I saw given to me. And in a lot of ways, the worship that I was participating in and then eventually was leading for other people was kind of based in this shame, desperation narrative that I would never be good enough without your blood.

Shelby: All over me.

Sam Hedrick: Without all the violent lyrics that we were raised with, that I would never be worthy and that the only way to acknowledge that is to pour myself out. And I think, at least for me, I started being very shy in worship experiences that I was participating in. I didn’t know how to worship. And then you spend years learning how you want to worship in those spaces, like how free I want to move my body if I’m just more rigid and that’s how I respond, or if I’m more fluid, that’s how I respond. And all of that still, I think, is based in for me, was based in this deep sense of lowliness and unworthiness that everything I was doing was an attempt to purge the bad that had just happened throughout that week and that I could restart in this worship moment and reconnect to God and then I would just do that all again for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. And so I think worship then was just not something that felt very fulfilling because at the end of the day, you kind of always had to come back for another hit the week after week experience to feel like it was working. And especially growing up as a queer person and. Growing up, not really understanding that side of myself and not having any safe place to talk to people about that. Being very aware of how the spaces I was raised in and the churches that I was raised in felt about queer folks, I think was another aspect of that. That underlying connection to worship was always this, like, begging that I could be changed because I was so terrible. And even though that was just how I was and how I am. And so the way that I connect to worship now is so much more broad than that. I think that kind of worship was always this just like, me looking up to God, being like, Help me, please. And now my connection is very like, what a beautiful thing that we get to experience this broadly looking all around me. This is so incredible. And I’m just so honored to be a part of this space and to be connected to these people and whatever this connective energy is that has brought us into this space. Worship. And I think I’ve even struggled just with the term worship because it has such even just descriptive title. When we think of worship, we think of literally, like, bowing down in front of some sort of god. And that’s just really not my connection to it anymore. It’s more of just like holding hands, like looking out onto the beauty that our lives are met with on a daily basis and saying, like, wow, what a beautiful thing that we get to experience this together. And so there’s a lot of embodiment in some of my lyrics and the ways that I’m trying to connect to that for myself. Because I think I spent just the majority of my life believing that my body was bad. Like, my physical body and my brain were just bad places to be and that I was cursed and sinful because of how I was. And so a lot of my connection to worship now is like a reclaiming or healing of my own relationship with my body in this view of a divine creator that if I’m like, there’s a song that I have. That kind of explores this concept of, like, if you created the stars and the galaxy and you created me. The lyric is, Am I the Galaxy? Am I as beautiful as that thing? Am I as vast and expansive and awe inspiring as that thing? And I think the creator would say, yes. If I’m made in the image of that, then I am that’s beautiful. So, yeah, that’s a very long winded way of answering your question. But that’s kind of where I am. And I think it’s long winded because it’s still evolving. It’s evolving every day. Every song or idea or experience I have in spiritual spaces is evolving my understanding.

Shelby: I’m really glad you brought up that point about the word worship. I was actually thinking it right before you started to say it. And that’s how I was like, yes, okay. Because I’m a linguist and just words are so important, they shape the way we think. And yeah, the word worship, I mean, I was even thinking, as I was saying right before you start to say it, that a lot of people listening. I mean, I don’t know that we get a lot of listeners from the more evangelical fundamentalist crowd on this show, but if you’ve made it this far into the episode, like people into the series, or even if someone was yeah. Even if a title one was just trying to have this conversation with one of their conservative friends. I think those people, or the people that we maybe used to be in our prior faith, would say what we’re talking and doing about here isn’t worship. They’re like, you’re not coming into this with the goal of my goal is to praise and glorify God. That was the stated goal for the most part. And I mean, that is what worship means. Like you were saying it’s to give I mean, I’m sure there’s a definition we could pull up somewhere. It’s to give laud to the one who deserves it, kind of.

Nate: It’s the king or whatever, the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration.

Shelby: Adoration, that was a big word, too. And yeah, I think a lot of us would maybe just say like, that’s maybe not what we’re doing, or not the priority. I mean, there is an element, I guess, of adoration, but it’s not the adoration of you are just the most incredible and I am the worst and the only thing I could possibly do is just adore you. It’s more of this adoration of this is amazing and I can’t believe I get to be part of it because it’s just beautiful. I’m slowly forming this list of really crucial words that I’m like, maybe we should not use these anymore. Things like the Bible or God. It’s probably just not even going to be Christianity by the end of this. But no, I’m kidding. I don’t really know where it’s but just words matter. And yeah, maybe the word worship, we’re using it because we all know what it means. It’s kind of something that is more than what’s the phrase? More than some of its parts or something. It’s a title for a much bigger sphere. But yeah, I mean, if we were to pick a different word to okay, it’s time for this morning. We’re going to go into our time of communal singing. Yeah. Or like connection.

Nate: Communal singing.

Sam Hedrick: All right.

Nate: It’s like sober singing because it’s interesting. And we talked about this, I think it was on the first episode in this series about how kind of my realization going to or seeing concerts happen, right? Like a Coldplay concert or whatever, just insert, insert band. But these big ones, these like stadium tours, right, where you have like 80, 9100 thousand people, and you see a lot of the same types of things happen when a bunch of humans get into a space and they’re moved by this. There’s something about music, right. And we know this for thousands of years. Right? There’s something about music, but when you’re in a space with a lot of people together and it’s like a bigger than yourself type of moment, yeah, it’s powerful. Right. But what is that? Obviously it’s different in a church setting than that, but yeah, I don’t know. I didn’t necessarily add a word to the conversation there, shelby, you added a.

Sam Hedrick: Lot of words, and I liked listening to them. I 100% agree. I think that is just a deeply human experience. And I also think about the times when I was in a house show that one of my favorite artists, I happened to see that they’re coming to town, and so I buy a ticket and there’s 23 other people in the room. And we have this deeply moving experience with this person that we all have this connection to. And so it is the music. The music, in so many ways is the inertia it’s the thing that points us to the thing that connects us I don’t know the word.

Shelby: I’m trying to this is probably the word we’re trying to come up with.

Sam Hedrick: It’s exactly the word, because it’s like we’re not necessarily worshipping this person, that we’ve all come into this house or into the stadium to come watch play music. But that person is what connects us all to each other and the ways that we all have connections to the songs on that album, where they were going through that divorce or where they were, whatever the case may be. We have these connections and we look around to these other people that they’re having the same experience that I’m having, and that also feels, like, deeply divine and sacred. The music is like the tool to get to the house where we’re all having this experience of acknowledging each other’s humanity, acknowledging this thing that brought us all together, and I think just engaging in a deep care and profound love and kindness for each other and for that thing that connected us. And so worship feels like too the title of worship just feels too boxy.

Nate: It feels too small or something.

Sam Hedrick: Absolutely. Yeah. It just feels too small to accurately describe that experience.

Shelby: And it’s very unilateral, which I think it kind of gets back to what I was saying of people I think from that world would be like, it’s supposed to be unilateral, and yet that’s different than what we’re doing. Now where yes, we want to be sending our vibes to the divine, but we’re also seeking connection from the Divine and to each other. And it’s not just about, yeah, we’re here to praise you, because that’s the only thing we can or should do.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah, well, I think for me personally, that’s kind of connected to the way that I think God in this context, does God need me to do that all the time to feel good about themselves? I don’t know that I believe that anymore. And so I definitely was raised in that environment where it’s like, god is this man asking for constant affirmation, but I very rarely hear from him because he’s busy receiving it all. But now, that’s not my experience at all. I think there’s, like a divine confidence that that person has now. Whatever this creator sacred God is that is connecting us all, they don’t need me to constantly be telling them how cool and great they are, and they’re more interested in me feeling safe and secure in my body and in my life and with the people around me. And that feels just much more holistic. Exactly. Yeah, that’s the exact word I was trying to find. Like, it feels more reciprocal that there is a satisfaction that God gets seeing me enjoy my life and my body and my experiences and be connected to other people in those.

Shelby: I think, as we’ve hinted at through this episode, relating to God as another person is maybe a little difficult for a lot of us. But even though the language obviously a father that has been used all throughout the New Testament and then more recently, we’re trying to emphasize that you can use mother as well and that kind of thing. But even those if we use the analogy of God as a parent, what kind of parent would be constantly what kind of parent would find joy from their child just constantly praising them? And that’s all their child does. That’s so unnatural. No one does that. Any healthy parent, what they want is to see their child thriving. Even if their child doesn’t even look back at them, if their child’s running down the soccer field, having a blast, makes a goal and hugging their team, the parent doesn’t care about their role. They’re not like, why isn’t my kid coming up and telling me this is all because of you? That’s not what they need.

Sam Hedrick: It’s very insecure. That kind of relationship to the thing that you are above, that very hierarchical lens is very insecure to me. And, yeah, I’m right there with you. I just don’t believe that whatever divinity God is going to be that secure or, like, insecure.

Nate: Yeah. Would you play something? I know you’ve written so many songs, and we have the one that we play on here, and maybe we’ll get to another one later too. But yeah, I don’t know what you feel like is a song you want to share. I know you’re in the process of recording a bunch of stuff, and Sam has one song on Spotify right now called Middle of It, and you should definitely go check it out and follow along there.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah, I was actually thinking about doing just a quick version of that just to kind of introduce people, because I think this was one of the first songs that I wrote that really felt like it really accurately described my experience and hope. And it kind of sits in a very, like, meditative frame in terms of, like, song structure. It’s just two stanzas and the tool of repetition is meant to kind of allow the lyrics to settle and to sink. I know there’s a lot of differing relationships to repetitive worship songs for all of us, but I feel like repetition can be a tool often misused in modern worship culture, but a tool nonetheless. Even a tool in scripture, you see repetition happening often. This was kind of the first song that I felt like opened the door for this project that I’m working on to get this album out.

Nate: Awesome.

Sam Hedrick:

We are leaving crumbling buildings full of dust and full of judgment. We are leaving violent teaching from those who refuse to learn from the best of us. We are seeking it holy healing. It’s full of hope and it’s full of justice and I’ve got a feeling that we’re in the middle of it. And I’ve got a feeling she’ll see us to the end of it. We are seeking holy healing full of hope and full of justice and I’ve got a feeling that we’re in the middle of it. And I’ve got a feeling she’ll see us to the end of it.

Shelby: Oh, I love that one.

Nate: Yeah, love it. I think that was probably the first time, I think, singing that song, months back, half a year ago, whatever, when we first started coming that I had ever sang she the words she yeah. For God, which was I remember just feeling like, wow. I didn’t think that just saying that pronoun for God would do so much to me in my brain and in my heart. But it really did open up, I think, just like a space that it’s not like I had been sitting around thinking of God as a male. I’ve been deconstructing and changing, evolving in my faith for the last seven, eight years now. Nine years, but I just hadn’t really done that. I knew that God wasn’t a male in the way that we think about that, but I just hadn’t opened that up yet. And so I think that was really powerful for me.

Shelby: Yeah. And I loved it. I remember when you first sing or when I first heard it, and it’s not like a big in your face, it’s not necessarily even the point of the song, but it’s just we can talk about God this way, so why not?

Sam Hedrick: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I didn’t want to make it the central focus of the song. I wanted it to be this very subtle, like, oh, you didn’t see that coming, did you? Because I think really the most, like, in your face lyrics of the song are really in the beginning, this acknowledgment that we’re leaving these crumbling buildings. That is just a descriptor for all these places that we’ve come from. And they’re full of judgment and of hypocrisy and harmfulness and violence and power, misused power and toxic theology and specifically calling out violent teaching felt very like it felt like a tough lyric to write because I was like, oh, is this, like, too far? And I’m like, no, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about these, like, whether their theology is violent and the thing that you think about is, like, you know, the death of Jesus or it’s like, toxic theology that leads to people harming themselves and the theology is violent or.

Shelby: The theology of hell.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah.

Shelby: Yes.

Sam Hedrick: And exactly that. Like, this these concepts of eternal damnation. Like, it’s a very violent way to engage with what is supposedly like a very kind and loving and generous and caring God. And so having this very descriptive exodus from that, we’re leaving these places to walk into a holy healing and whether that’s holy W-O-H-L-Y or holy as in sacred that we’re going to experience by leaving those places, like a physical and emotional and spiritual healing from them and move into justice lenses. And then at the very end, you have that she pronoun that just kind of goes, oh, okay. Wasn’t expecting that. Love that. Oh, that hit me kind of weird. I need to think about that, like, exactly what you’re saying, Nate. I love that people are having that experience with the song because I’ve had people ask me, like, who exactly are you talking to when you talk about she? And I’m like, I guess I thought it was obvious, but I am talking about, like, God or the Creator, whoever that is for you. And so, yeah, I have been loving hearing people’s response to that song since we put it out on Spotify. And props to Cascade friend Tyler Hader for doing the production on that. It sounds awesome.

Shelby: And I do like how the first verse is, you know what? You’re leaving, but the second verse isn’t like, what we’ve arrived at. It’s like, what we’re finding. I mean, the title of song is The Middle of It. And I appreciate that. It’s not like this victorious and we found the answers and everybody else is losers. It’s just like now we’re all on a journey and I think the journey is actually where we’re supposed to be. And that’s the whole idea.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah, I love that visual of just like, we’re not in that building anymore, but we don’t really know where it is we’re at. And so we’re kind of all walking together on this trail and just kind of collecting people as they find us, us being these movements. And we don’t know where we’re going, but we believe that or we hope that there is something at the end of this, but I think it also just opens up curiosity, like, is there an end to this in a world like such as ours? Is there a final resting place or are we always going to be walking and hiking but doing it together and that being enough and beautiful?

Shelby: Yeah, I don’t know.

Sam Hedrick: Who knows? That’s why we’re asking these questions. Questions are like a foundational aspect of my writing, which kind of ties back to what we were talking about earlier. That my hope and desire is to be able to write songs that most anyone at any part of their journey, even inside or outside of the journey, would be able to take a question and either say, oh, that question is not a question that I have right now or oh, I have had that question that leads me down, like, a path of curiosity. I think it’s a different, like way of engaging with worship versus this kind of historical experience we’ve had where we’ve often been told how to feel or told what we are feeling or told how to connect with God or told who God is. Instead of engaging with wonder and curiosity and letting people have their own experience, just like having the courage to ask questions that we wouldn’t have necessarily been allowed to ask in the past, and then letting people have their own experience.

Shelby: Yeah, I mean, I was thinking the song probably my favorite song of yours and the one that we’ve co opted for the intro of our show now, no, thank you for collaborating with us on that. But the very first line is, who are you? Some days I think I don’t. I know. And other days I don’t. And then the bridge, which isn’t actually in listeners of the show haven’t heard the bridge, but I think it’s I mean, it’s mostly questions like, what if it is not your nature to separate your love from me?

Sam Hedrick: I would love to play just the brief. Yeah, if you guys want to, since we have the kind of the intro on the I’ll play the song.

Nate: Play the intro, too. Come on. Come on.

Shelby: Yeah, it’s beautiful.

Sam Hedrick: Okay. You twisted.

Who are you? There’s some days I think I know and other days I don’t. So I’ll continue the necessary shifting to find what I’ve been missing in life. A whisper. Like a whisper. While I’m sleeping, I hear you like a feeling. A holy, open invitation. That sounds more like truth to me. And what if it is not your nature to separate your love from me? You have never known a stranger so why would you begin with me? And what if it is not your nature to stay within a boundary? And I might never know the answers but you still feel like home to me a holy open invitation you have always welcome to me a holy open invitation I’m arriving endlessly.

Shelby: Oh, yeah still my favorite. There’s just so many lines in there, especially right at the end actually, or the end of the course. I think you still feel like home to me line. I remember when you first sang that or when I first heard it. I just thought, this, I think, captures why so many of these people are here at Cascade or people even people listening to this podcast is like, so many of us have been hurt or cast out or left places that we no longer felt safe or felt like it was true or so many different reasons. But we come back because something about it still feels like home. Something about it is we don’t want to leave now. Our job is to figure out what is it that is still drawing us and is that enough to keep going on?

Nate: Yeah, I heard I think it was Mike Mccargh shared Maybe when he was on our show previously, just about how it’s like pictures of, like, a forest where we all climb different trees in order to access the divine and access God, essentially. Yeah, for better or for worse or for whatever. This is the tree that I christianity is the tree that I climbed and began climbing. And so I can change what I believe and I can get rid of parts and pieces that aren’t helpful and I feel like maybe aren’t true and whatever, but this is still the tree I’m familiar with and the one that I come back to as far as how I access this. And that’s not going to be true for someone else. For someone else. What’s home to them is something different, and maybe they have to go through a process as well. But anyways, yeah, that’s the line, too. That’s exactly what I was going to share, too. Shelby was like, that still feels like home. There’s something about even just a church space, but there’s a lot of times, even at Cascade where I’m like, I don’t I don’t believe, like, most of this. Like, I don’t believe a lot of this, right? And like, I I look around, I’m like, I think probably others are just more, you know, quote unquote Christian than I am or something. Although when I talk to people, I’m like, oh, maybe not, but it still feels like home. I can’t change that. I can’t change what feels like home.

Sam Hedrick: Thank you guys both so much also for just engaging so deeply with some of these lyrics and songs, because it just kind of keeps the fire going for me to keep writing, not being afraid to ask these questions. Or say these things, because I think that was probably what held me up way back in the day, is like, I was so afraid to say the things I actually felt. And now I don’t really have that fear in this writing. And it seems to just be the thing that is making these conversations so electric. So what I was going to say is that section of lyrics is probably one of my favorite parts of the song. I mean, that bridge section, not to be like so cliche as a worship leader, but like, the bridge, this bridge.

Shelby: It’S a good bridge.

Sam Hedrick: It’s a good bridge. And I’ll just tell you I was going to say I’ll just tell you guys this, but this is a podcast. I’m actually telling everyone this song if there was going to be like, oh, I’m having a divine moment. I wrote this song in 15 minutes and it pretty much just fell into my lap and was like almost like a spontaneous kind of song. A lot of my writing, if people want to talk to me about this more in detail, I can talk about that. But so much of my writing is very just like, grabbing a guitar and looking at my notes app for all the questions that came to me that week and then seeing what ideas kind of like pop. And this was an idea that just like that opening line, who are you? I was like, oh, this is not a question I’ve ever heard asked in a worship song. And I’m actually absolutely asking this question all the time, like, what the heck are we doing and who is uniting all of us and who are you? But that final section in the bridge, though, you still feel like home to me. The line before that is like, the package and then the home to me is the bow. That line says, I might never know the answers. It’s this whole song of questions. And then having this acknowledgment and feeling kind of at peace with that idea that I’m never going to know all the answers to these questions. And that being good enough. And that actually being more aligned with probably how we should be engaging with this, being able to open the floodgates of I know I keep talking about curiosity, but it really is kind of about that in all of these different aspects of theology and worship and church and what the heck are we doing here? And so having that admission and the admission of, like, I’m never going to know the answers to this, but I cannot describe why I still keep showing up here and it feels like home. So home is a place you keep going to. You keep returning to, like, day after day. I’m very excited about this song. I’ve been so excited just about how Cascaders responded. Would love to hear about your listeners, like, experience to it as well.

Shelby: And I just want to go back to that line one more time because I think I might never know the answers, but you still feel like home to me. I think in a lot of previous contexts, I might never know the answers would be followed up by this statement of commitment, but I will never be shaken or, But I believe you are good, or something like that. That always felt a little like I don’t know, just not satisfactory to me. But the fact that it wraps up with like, you still feel like home, it’s putting it on the person of like, this is like, do you still do I still feel this? And it gives someone permission. Like, if this doesn’t feel like home to them anymore, they don’t have to be here. The reason that you’re coming is because you want to, not because you have to. I really like that resolution. Felt healthy and true for most of the people who are there. It’s true because they’re there.

Sam Hedrick: Yeah.

Nate: Well, yeah, I mean, I’ve loved this and I hope you write a lot more, just selfishly. But also I think this is so needed now and it’s going to be so needed in the future as more and more people I mean, as we know, there’s hundreds of thousands, millions of people that are kind of picking up their faith and looking at it and saying, what parts of this fit? What parts of this don’t fit? In what ways was this just cultural? And I need to move on past that. And anyways, I think this is going to become a bigger question for people that want to still engage, for those who this does still feel like home to them and they want to engage with this. It’s like, how do I do this aspect of this singing thing? Singing together with others is like it’s an important piece of this and how do I do that? And so I think this is going to be you and hopefully many others doing this work of giving these people something to sing that feels truer, feels more open, it feels more welcoming and like, something that resonates with them. I think this is going to be really important work. So thank you for doing that work and for coming on and sharing that with this audience.

Shelby: As we’re wrapping up, I wanted to give you the opportunity. What would be something you would want to leave listeners with? As far as people who are I mean so many people I think are not as fortunate as we are to be in this cascade context where we have a really unique church that people most people like, they don’t exist in a lot of places. Although we do have a web page growing on almostretical.com of places to find churches in your area that are I mean, obviously they’re all different. But anyway, check it out. All that to say, what would you leave people with who feel very alone and you only have one song on Spotify, so they can’t just go worship to your music all day long right now, who don’t know where to go with worship, who feel like it’s all very triggering. What would you say to them?

Sam Hedrick: I think that the experience of worship exists far outside of the genre of worship. There is a lot of artists that. I have discovered or listened to that give me a similar experience or I have a similar physical reaction to their lyrics and to their songs, and they would never be considered like worship music or in that genre. So I think I can obviously give a million recommendations. Some of Phoebe Bridger’s stuff, silicone Boone is an artist I’ve recently discovered that has a history of being raised in an Amish community and then left, his family left at a certain point. So he kind of writes about deconstruction from a different lens, but I find it to be very relevant for my experience. There’s a group called Common Hymnal that focuses a lot of their lyrics and music around racial justice and a lot of meditative ideas and music. So there is music that exists, but I think also just finding music that makes you feel things and connect to yourself, which ultimately leads to a connection to the divine and to God. And I hope that these conversations just continue to happen because until we do the work of doing the new things, we’re going to kind of keep this like, oh my gosh, I can’t find anything. This feels so lonely. And much like in the theology space, people started writing, people started having conversations. Now there’s like tons and tons of books and resources for people who are engaging in deconstruction podcasts like Y’alls, and I would love to see that happen in the music sphere. I’m friends and a part of a group called Q Worship Collective, which is kind of underneath the Q Christian network like Umbrella. And so there’s good work happening there. You can find them online. They’re doing a lot of focus around reimagining and reclaiming worship, doing a lot of rewriting for worship that might be familiar to us, but incorporating new lyrics and new theologies. And I’m happy to connect with people, especially if there’s any other musicians and worship leaders that are listening to the podcast. That my personal belief about this project is it belongs to places like Cascade, it belongs to these other churches, and I don’t want the progression to be held up by my resources, which are like, it takes time to record an album and it takes time to get that produced and schedule studio time. I have some very rough demos that I’m happy to share. I have charts I’m happy to share. So if you want to find me on Instagram, I think it’s just Sam Hedrick. I’m happy to send an email with charts and with demos to share the project with people as it’s happening because I don’t want to wait until something has a perfect bow on it to let people experience it. It’s obviously all eventually going to be on Spotify in that way, but there is a couple of demos on SoundCloud and then I’m happy to share just via email or dropbox to folks who are eager for some stuff.

Nate: Well, that’s awesome. It sounds like you’re kind of doing that work to record these things now and get these things on Spotify. So yeah, how is that project going and where do you see that going?

Sam Hedrick: Yes, it’s definitely going. I’m working on all of the kind of the roots, all the stems right now. And my wonderful, dear friend Tyler from Cascade mentioned earlier, produced middle of it is working with me right now. We’ve got five songs, like rocking and Rolling. I’ve got two other cooking in the kitchen, as the kids say. I can’t believe I’m saying this, so I’m like, working on an album, which is crazy. Yeah, it’s just like a thing that I always wanted to do and it never felt right. And to tell just a very quick story, back when I was in college, I had this quick detour to hyper charismatic Christian experience. Like a very classic freshman in college preyed on by the local charismatic church. They like, scoop up all the freshmen and go make them radicals for a little bit. I was going to school at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. We went to this conference down at Waco. People can probably start putting pieces together with that information. And I’m at the second level of the big center where we’re having this worship moment on the second level. And I look down to the center and I see this woman and she makes eye contact with me. I mean, there’s hundreds, thousands of people in this room. This random woman is making eye contact with me, looking straight in my eyes, and I’m like, okay. And this is one of those spaces where there’s people always speaking in tongues, laughing in the spirit, having these prophetic words for each other. And as I’m making eye contact with her, I watch her crawl up the stadium like seating, over the railing, through rows of chairs, and she grabs my arms. I’m a freshman in college, so pre transition, pre coming out, pre anything. She grabs my arms and she says, you are going to write songs that change the world that we know right now. And I was like, oh, my gosh, I have been waiting on this word. I’ve been trying to write so much, and I know I want to be a worship leader. I’m 19 and I was so ecstatic. And from that moment on, I have been trying to write songs that just I mean, every single song just could not have been congregations could not have been less interested in. And so to have then come out and transitioned and left church and it be like a decade and some years later to now be writing songs in the space that people are enjoying, it feels like the work that my life has been waiting on. And so it’s just such a special moment to be in community with you all and with Cascade and have people as excited as I am. And so it probably felt weird telling that story. It’s not to pat myself on the back. It’s just like also pretty story about that space that somebody could have had a prophetic word and it would mean something then to a young, confused, boyish, chubby girl who was leading worship all around the south. But it be the word for me. Like now a 32 year old trans man in Portland, Oregon is just like kind of a wild connection.

Shelby: That’s a cool story.

Sam Hedrick: So, working on an album now, hopefully we’ll start to see more singles kind of just drop continuously throughout the year into the summer, into early fall. And the last thing I want to say about the project is my hope and desire is what people can expect from me. Is curiosity kind of always going to be at the forefront. This kind of expansive view of God maybe packed in with a little bit of discomfort. Might take a minute for some songs, for you to figure out your relationship to songs. And just like from a technical lens, my hope is that the songs are playable singable that anybody at any level, at any church, with any amount of resources could grab a guitar or piano and could play the songs and sing the songs with congregations that can then participate in them as well. So that the songs would be accessible through a lens of playability and singability. And kind of like what we were saying earlier, that no matter where your church community is or where you personally are on your deconstruction or reconstruction journey, that the songs that they would find some place for you on that path no matter where it is. And so I’m just so grateful for the platform that you guys invited me to come have this conversation with you all. And I’m just excited.

Shelby: Yeah, this has been just wonderful as we knew it would be. I’m really glad that we’ve gotten to have you on and excited for the world to get to slowly experience your music and I think you’re pioneering, blazing a trail that we need. So thank you.

Nate: Yeah. And all of Sam’s links will be in the show notes, so go check it out. Go listen on repeat. That’s my favorite thing to do. Just click that little repeat button, right?

Sam Hedrick: Yes. Everyone farms a song on Spotify. Every laptop in your house.

Nate: Well, thank you, Sam. I really appreciate you coming on.

Sam Hedrick: Thank you guys. Appreciate you.

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