The Album Confessions—an Interview with Artist Haley Montgomery
Have you tried to reach out to God but ended up feeling like you’re never good enough? Have you been hurt by the church in some way? You’re not alone. Pastor Rob Novak of Resurrection Presbyterian Church San Diego recently interviewed artist Haley Montgomery about her album, Confessions, and her personal journey of trying to be good enough for God, only to find disillusionment and brokenness, and discovering that all the while she was instead being pursued, found, and kept secure in her heavenly Father’s loving embrace.
Haley, Confessions is about your journey from the bondage of pop culture religion into the freedom of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. How did the album take shape?
In the last five to seven years, the Lord started to introduce more gospel-centered preaching and liturgy into my life. It sounds silly to say it, but that was kind of new. I'd grown up in an era of very prevalent and popular topical teaching. Seeing all of Scripture through the lens of the gospel and to see the Bible succinctly from beginning to end all pointing to Jesus affected me radically as an artist. It was like throwing out an old pair of glasses and putting on a new pair—suddenly, the world had color.
In 2017 I started working with Brian Eichelberger, my producer. He performs in Citizens and Saints, helps out with King's Kaleidoscope, and is the front person of The Sing Team. All of the guys from these bands were originally from Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which many readers know closed in the last couple of years. The church fell apart in an awful way, and these guys had really gone through a lot. I had the privilege of getting to meet these guys a couple of years ago and building a relationship. This concept of honesty and authenticity are buzzwords in our culture, and we realized that God was leading us to paint a picture musically of the process of confession.
We have to start in the darkness you know, and I was really nervous. It felt like a risk musically. This is not what is popular. The group went ahead anyway, and God brought me a lot of support in making that decision. And I didn't make it alone.
There's tons of pressure on artists to produce things that are popular to survive.
I think God just kept reminding me that I've tried the other way. And he kept reminding me that I didn't find anything there—it only killed me. And I couldn't shake it. I couldn't sleep. It was the stirring and conviction from the Spirit that really pulled me out of the charismatic movement. I realized that the culture I was immersed in—whether people knew it or not, whether they were doing it consciously or unconsciously—willfully or not, was really preying upon that desire to belong and offering up to me counterfeit things that were filling that space. I was given every opportunity in that culture to be celebrated and have meaning and purpose, and somehow I knew that I would die if I said yes to it. And I've never wanted to run harder and run faster away from something.
And I went to the first cave I found, and I kind of did die there in a sense for a while. And like Elijah in the cave where the angel came to him three times with bread and water, God just brought people into my life who gave me Jesus, and for the first time I had clarity. I never thought I'd write again. I'd never thought I'd sing again.
Can you share about the story of the album and its concept, structure, and flow?
The album paints a picture of the process that we go through in the Christian life not only on a daily basis but also on a weekly, monthly, and lifelong one. We're calling the album Confessions because the songs as a whole embody the two sides of confession. In Scripture, we know that it's not just one-dimensional. Our faith is not just always talking about our sin; it is also about our confession of faith—who we've come to believe or understand God to be. And I really wanted to show that it's not just one or the other. And I wanted to create something that shows the process that we go through, connecting theology to practice as humans.
The songs flow from one to another. I asked myself, what's the lowest place from where we start? An appropriate starting place is Psalm 88 where the psalmist says that his “companions have become darkness,” and the album ends with our doxology.
Can you run us through the record quickly on how the songs progress from the despair of feeling lost to hope, peace, and joy?
The first song is called “Dark.” It's a taste of my disappointment with God—a feeling of abandonment and uncertainty that a lot of people face who have experienced abuse and a sense of loss of innocence, and don't have a real hope yet for the future.
You're talking about abuse in the church.
After my husband and I left the church, we went for therapy and counseling. My counselor likened what I experienced to sexual abuse, and I was able to identify with that from my own experience in a previous abusive relationship.
Can you share in a gentle way about the abuse you experienced in the church, in order to ground the ideas behind the songs?
Women that I've met who are in abusive relationships often seem to be tangled up in the lie that if they love that person—or if they want to be loved, period—they'll endure what they're going through. And somewhere along the line they actually start to believe that there's no other way. There's actually nothing outside that. They really believe that. That's what started to happen to me in the church. If I wanted a sense of meaning, if I wanted my gifts to be used by God, to have value to God, not to waste my life, to be loved by God, even to be loved by people, I had to give them what they wanted—regardless of what that felt like, regardless of what that meant for my life. It was the pain of being enslaved to something or to someone, and in this case, it was an ideology that was an inaccurate picture of God. I was being told that God was waiting for me to do something, to be someone, to bring him something, and my worth was dictated by what I did. I realized that I was being used as a tool to manipulate people for someone else's personal gain.
And all of it had the shell, the veneer of Christianity and the gospel.
And that made it freaking confusing. It's so hard to leave these movements; and a question I have heard so many times is, why was it so hard for me to leave? The answer is that you get stuck in this lie that there's nothing else for you outside of this. You're afraid that there's nothing else, for you will never belong more than you belong here, you'll never be loved more than you're loved here, you'll never have more value. You'll never be higher than you are here at the platform that's given to you here. Everything else will be less. So you cling to it until you just can't cling anymore because you're so bloody and beaten. And then, God delivers you. And you leave.
So finally you broke and you ran to the cave.
Yeah. I felt stupid, and then I felt angry. I was frantic with the Lord, wondering, “Where are you? Where are you?” I worshiped a god that would give me what I want if I did enough of the right things. It was a transaction that was promised to me, and when he didn't give the return after I had done all the things that were in front of me, all I was left with was hating him and my own disappointment.
Like Tim Keller says, isn't that what our idols do to us? They are merciless, and only God is merciful. An idol in your life will never show you mercy or give you what you're waiting for them to give you. I had started to study Romans with a group of women here in San Diego from different churches. The first three chapters were so beautiful, the way Paul writes and his arguments describing both who we are and who God is.
So I wrote a song. That's what artists do—they create something that reminds them of something that they've learned. The song “Guilty” says we wade in the water of sin and blood. It brings me down a notch to an appropriate view of myself and an appropriate view of God.
That is painful, but also beautiful and hopeful. “Wake Up” is my favorite song on the record and the one I think should be the single.
All of my closest friends and family know that I'm a white girl who wishes she were a black African-American gospel singer. They all know that about me, and I have been tiptoeing my way artistically towards soul music and gospel music for years. Musically, it's the first thing I've let myself record that nods anywhere toward Lauryn Hill. Thematically this song really is written in the form of a prayer. But it's really talking about this heady concept of regeneration and being born again by the miracle of the Holy Spirit that doesn't make sense to our natural mind.
“You Got Me”
It came out of studying John at my church, especially John 14-17. I just love these chapters. There's certain reassurance. And I also had Romans 9 in mind, which is a very unpopular chapter that I learned some churches skip over. I actually wrote the song in a very angry place with God's covenant. And while that doesn't make a lot of sense, the truth is that God refuses to let me go, because he's made this covenant with me and it's his character. It made me mad because I wanted to go my own way, and I felt like I could not escape. That’s the kind of love that God has toward me and has for me still. When I stop reaching for him, he keeps reaching for me. When I throw in the towel and I'm no longer interested in pursuing a relationship with him, he keeps pursuing a relationship with me.
That is such an antithetical idea from the teaching that you need to watch your step or God will drop you like a hot rod.
He is not afraid to break us.
Yes, and he will mend our bones back together. Okay, so side A is the dark side. Now side B, the light side: the gateway into life and peace. We've moved from confession to sin and into our confession of faith. Theologically, those two ideas go together because repentance and faith are inseparable. They are two sides to the same coin. We turn from sin, our own ego, our own self-worship, and we turn towards Jesus.
The longer we stare at our confession of faith, these immovable attributes, these invisible attributes, these things that can't change about God, we’re eventually led back to repentance. It's a realistic picture of the Christian life.
The song “Confession”
This was a collaboration with Zach Bolen. He's the lead singer of Citizens and Saints. He is just an incredible songwriter, and I asked him if we should write together something for the record. He sent over this song in its completed form, and I heard it and just wept because it was such an accurate snapshot of Psalm 51, which really embodies confession. The song acts as a beautiful bridge right in the middle of the record with its “Have mercy on me, Oh God” statements and the chorus saying, “Create in me a clean heart.”
It's a fantastic song. Every week at church we confess our sins together, and then we sing a song of confession, which fits perfectly into the liturgy. We always come to Jesus in repentance, and we're always assured of his forgiveness.
And that’s a picture of the garden. It's not a new idea. Adam and Eve fall, and the first thing they do is run and hide. They try to cover themselves with leaves that are going to die, but they can't cover them. God's first recorded question in Scripture is, “Where are you?” He's drawing out their confession. It's so beautiful that God is pursuing us and will not let us go. We can stop hiding and instead understand how deeply God loves us and has us.
And the next song logically follows: “Nothing Hidden.”
This song is very corporate. We are declaring these truths about God, putting some real perspective in front of us. He sees me in the valleys and the mountaintops. He knows me. And he's not going to leave me in any one of those places forever. It speaks to his sovereignty in a hopeful way.
“Thought I Don't See You.”
This song is based on 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” Tim Keller wrote a book on prayer, and in chapter two he brings up theologian John Murray’s point about the importance of recognizing “that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer.” It made me feel like I had permission to be the way that I was made—not only mystically but also intellectually, which was very healing for me.
Because either one on its own is dangerous: intellectualism without mysticism causes dead orthodoxy, whereas mysticism without intellectualism causes heresy. Bringing them together gives us a more fully informed picture of God in our minds that sinks into our hearts, allowing us to experience both the mystery of us living and being in his presence and him dwelling in us.
I just wanted to write a song that would be a straight-up call to believe in the gospel. There's a particular artistry to it and how it's put together. This was a heavy collaboration with Brian Eichelberger, and he’s so good at simply communicating the gospel. I would still love to release the song in the form of more of a traditional hymn, so that more traditional churches could sing it. We play it like a pop rock band, which is great. I love that.
What's the chorus?
“In the finished work of the cross, I'm at peace and rest. In a finished work of the cross, Jesus did what we cannot.”
And “To the One.”
This is a triumphant song of celebration, almost like a picture of the choruses of heaven when the Lord returns and we’re all with him. It's meant to embody the doxology that we sing in heaven but are experiencing glimpses of here in the church service or in these moments of faith where God rekindles our faith in the middle of the day. It’s very much a declaration and a celebration of praise.
Everybody reaches the point in life when we come to the startling and depressing realization that the God we want is nowhere near big enough to be the God we need. And when that happens, people become open to the possibility.
It doesn't matter where I'm on the spectrum of how I see myself or any circumstance. At any given moment, Christ has gone before me and cared for me so intricately and deeply that I'm not going to lack anything at any given moment that I walk through. He's met me in every dark crevice, and he's met me at every high place and watched me through every valley that I get lost in for years at a time. There’s no moment I will ever live in this life where the gospel is not true for me.
So what's your prayer for this record? What do you hope it's going to do?
I hope this record gives people permission—whether they're in the church and questioning everything in the church in their own right, or whether they're out of the church and they are shaking their fists at God, doing whatever they want to do—to throw their best punch at God, because he can take it. Any interaction with God is going to lead us closer to him, and I hope this is a vivid enough picture to compel them to swing.
It’s exciting to see what God has been doing with the record. Where can we find it?
Thank you, Haley, for sharing your journey. Confessions is the name of the record.
Some of you are reading this, and you are at the end of your rope of telling God who he should be and what he should expect from you, and it's not working. If you're looking for somewhere where you can find a place where you can be transparent in your sin before God and know that he has a hold on you—especially if this is the first time you've ever heard the shocking notion that God pursues us and in his grace, mercy, and sovereignty loves us—we welcome you to come join us at Resurrection SD. We meet every Sunday at 11:30 am in downtown San Diego. Find us at Resurrection SD on Facebook (@ResPresSD) and Resurrection SD on Instagram(@resurrection_sd). We hope to see you. God bless you, and thank you.
If you are interested in supporting The CONFESSIONS Project, please check out the GoFundMe page here.
 Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin Books, 2016), 16; cited from John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1955), 169.
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