Grace Emerges

Monday, September 17, 2012

An Unfinished Record; An Uncharted Path

You've got to see this article by Dan Haseltine, lead singer of Jars of Clay.  For one, I love Jars of Clay. For two, he's describing how I feel.

He's describing how he doesn't fit into evangelical expectations.  I love what he says about being authentic, and that if God didn't want him to be this way, God would not have led their band into basically *real life* and *real people* around him.  God is in their story.  I hope you take the time to read this...

[reposted from]

An Unfinished Record; An Uncharted Path

We have been in the studio for two weeks.  Taking a large piece of rock and chipping away to find the sculpture within.  Mostly, the songs are written.  There are lyrics to be finished, and obsessed over.  And the skin of each song has yet to be identified.  The tone of each song’s delivery will come in time.  And so I know that I am jumping the gun a bit here. But as I sit and listen to the developing songs, I am increasingly aware that there is a chance that not many people will hear this record.  Not because the songs are not good enough, or the recording less than excellent.  I think this will be a great record. The reason this record may be unheard is not musical in nature.
I fear these recordings may get dismissed because Jars of Clay has a fairly entrenched brand conception. People outside of the general church community may not seek this record out.  And since the themes of the record are very far from evangelical Christianity, the church community will most likely not embrace this record.  Which, on one hand, is a relief.  I am pretty weary from years of pretending to be more of something than I am.  I am tired of carrying evangelical expectations on my shoulders.  I have never been so sure of my faith that I was able to find a true home in the church communities where we played most of our shows.  Our particular style of writing and the perspective that we have written from has not been an easy fit into an artistic community that has such a massive agenda and only a single idea of how that agenda gets accomplished.  I don’t fit there.  I may have at one point.  I did grow up as a youth group kid wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus on it.  I did drive a car with a “Christian” bumper sticker on it.  And at one point, I was sure of who God was, and how God operated.  But I am not that way now.  And so it is impossible to write from that old version of myself. I am in the middle space. 
These songs are honest expressions of what life around us looks like.  The descriptions of love and pain, loneliness and hope are real to us.  It is what frustrates me about the general church audience.  If artistic expressions do not have an evangelical agenda, or they don’t explicitly cheer for Jesus, they tend to fail commercially.  In my experience, the music with those kinds of agendas is shallow and somehow not ultimately believable to me.  Ironically, what people probably want, and have a hard time articulating, is a description that gives voice to their experiences of doubt and faith and life, but they have been tricked into a very narrow view of where those descriptions come from.  And so they often settle for the Jesus cheerleaders or worship songs that have been loaded with sentimentality but not reality.  People set expectations that they are going to connect with real life during their worship services through the medium of worship music.  At the same time, people may forget entirely or dismiss the movie that described a portion of hard life that their soul found resonance with, because it wasn’t in a church context.  This doesn’t mean there is no space for evangelicalism.  But it is such a tiny sliver of the entire pie.  It is, “crumbs under the table. “  
I can’t begin to draw a map that leads us all into a better place.  And I wouldn’t change the path that got Jars of Clay to this point in our career.  I have to believe that God is in our story.  I have to believe that if God wanted to, we would be blissfully entrenched in a subculture, happy as clams to just rehash the same words to describe or even impose a right wing, conservative “Jesus figure.”  I imagine if God wanted us to have that kind of perspective, he could have barred us from so many enlightening conversations.  He could have kept us away from Africa or China.  He could have bent our ears away from the music of Depeche Mode, or U2, or XTC or David Bowie.  He could have kept us away from the magnificent artistic expressions of others walking this world in search of meaning.  He could have kept us away from the hard questions.  He could have blinded our eyes to the suffering of the world.  He could have never let “Blood:Water Mission,” with all its orbiting theologians and faithless figures and their coinciding conversations happen.  He could have never let us fall in love.  God could have never let us feel the weight of hard relationships.  He could have kept us from having children of our own.  He could have left us unscathed by the deaths of friends and relatives.  He could have done all of this, and we might be different.  He could have removed our longing to describe these things.  He could have removed the longing for connection that permeates every tone and syllable of a “Jars of Clay” song.  God could have kept us from asking good questions.
God gave us a story, and a space to fill.  And it isn’t really in the same neighborhood as the evangelical church.  And so our music will be disappointing to many.  People will inevitably engage us with the question, “Are you going secular?” or, “Why don’t you sing about Jesus?” or, “How come you don’t share the gospel?”   And some of those people will be angry.  Some of them won’t have the tools necessary to understand that anger, or the fear that creates it.  Some people will see our form of artistic expression as a threat.  Some will categorize us as “back-sliders.“  I wish I had more patience and time for those people.  But actually being present in my day takes a lot of energy.  Actually remembering who I am, and what my unique voice in the world is takes focus.  And I suppose I have been influenced by lots of angry people over the years until I woke up and couldn’t remember what my own perspective was. 
So, I wonder what people will do with this record.  I wonder if they will be able to get past evangelical hang-ups.  If they don’t, I have to assume that this record wasn’t for them.  I can’t wait to meet the people that this record IS for.  I bet they have lived some hard times.  I bet they have some unanswered questions.  I bet they pray a lot, without the motive of getting something, but rather, to remind them that the foundation is under their feet somewhere.  I imagine the person who appreciates this record will care about the nuance of both music and life. 
In a way, this record represents, for me,  a self-imposed eviction notice from a religious community that is unfit to live in.  I am packing up my things.  I will gather my questions, my opinions, my mistakes and confessions and start walking in search of….  Well,  lets not get too ahead of ourselves.  

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