Jars of Clay: Big Monster on Campus
- Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Simultaneous to that experience was the band members’ growing discomfort with their perceived role as spokesmen that didn’t match up with their personal spiritual processes. “I think we’ve been a band that either by self-appointment or circumstance had to be kind of the voice of the Christian community,” says Haseltine. “After enough of that, you start to feel like that’s how you have to write because you’re forced into that perspective, and you have to give a context for every statement you make. For every lyric, there has to be a sort of biblical mandate. What I’ve come to realize is that that’s not how I live my life; it’s not how any of these guys live their lives. We wrestle with stuff. We make mistakes. I make mistakes. When we’re only writing songs that can provide a context, an argument for something, we aren’t really sharing those moments.”
“We are trying to bring the full weight and authority of the gospel to the music,” declares Mason. “There’s a tendency to condense the Scriptures, and especially what David said, to just take Psalm 119, [and condense it to] a few highlights. But man, there was some serious … blues. Some serious darkness going on that he was accessing. But, for being a man after God’s own heart, he asked a lot of what would be considered by today’s standards ‘insensitive’ questions of God. I think that the gospel’s a much more frightening implication if we believe it until death – that He truly will raise us from the dead. There are far-reaching implications that we barely access and we barely allow ourselves to access.”
Those feelings reflect big-time themes of the most intimate personal struggles: self-awareness; the desire to be known; complicity in injustices both personal and global; and having the faith to ask God not just hard questions but harsh ones as well. The striking second verse of “Dead Man (Carry Me)” offers a glimpse into these themes: “I woke up from a dream about an empty funeral/ But it was better than the party full of people I don’t really know.”
Says Haseltine, “I went to a funeral, and I sat there; and it was an amazing event because person after person got up and described this person that had died, and you could tell they really knew him. And at that moment, I had this kind of crisis. ‘Who knows me? Who would get up at my funeral and say those things for me?’ I don’t know, and I couldn’t find anyone. And I went to the people who were close to me … and my perspective is kind of skewed because I have a sense that people know me less than they actually do. My own family, a lot of times, I’ll be surprised what they know about me. But, for the most part, I have the sense that I’ve lived a very protected life; and I recognize that there’s folly in that and some emptiness in that. So especially that lyric was just one way to say, ‘I don’t know which is better – not having anybody show up at my funeral or having a lot of people that don’t know me at all.’”
Mason chimes in to punctuate the point, “All set within the backdrop of a really poppy guitar song!”
There is a sense within the Jars of Clay camp that this kind of unabridged personal and spiritual revelation is very naturally striking a nerve on a large and growing scale. Evidenced by the groundswell of maverick authors and speakers such as Donald Miller ("Blue Like Jazz") or Rob Bell ("Velvet Elvis"), unhinged and unsettled faith is gaining prominence within a generation that exposes its own shortcomings to diminish their power.
Miller, in fact, toured on a series of dates with Jars last year and says with regard to the band’s process, “As they were writing many of these songs, we talked through what they encompassed. Dan said that he wasn’t afraid to bring the full weight of who he was – and that’s what he and they have done.” As to the band’s vulnerability in the context of their roles as spokesmen, Miller adds, “The Scriptures say, ‘Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, and you will be healed.’ Modern Christian culture says, ‘Hide your sins, and you will be a role model.’ If you don’t admit your humanity, then you have no place speaking into each others’ lives.”
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