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Thursday
Jul192012

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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    Gospel - is that not openly for everyone! Many people simply deny this belief, and hope that they will do with this record - it is useless!

Reader Comments (179)

Wow, being "secular" yet a fan of music I have never contemplated what it may be like in your position. The connotations of christianity have drastically changed in the last 18+ years and so has the music industry.

I do see your honesty as inspiring as well as your bravery to not let an industry define you. That being said, I cannot wait to hear the album.


p.s. Have you ever thought of having your brand evolve with your spirituality? Perhaps a liberation from the attachments of the Jars past you no longer identify with?

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Awesome. I have never been so excited to hear a Jars of Clay record as I am for this one.

Dan, you certainly won't be alone in your journey - there's plenty of us in the middle space who are ready to pack our things and join you on the way out the door...

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Carlson

I'll take it. I've come to the realization that most Christians wouldn't consider me in the fold at all. I can't read the Bible literally. I can't stomach even the most gentle, well-meaning opposition to homosexuals or folks of different faiths. Or no faith at all. I'm even reading heretics like Spong and Bell. My family believes that I'm stupid and blinded for not promoting an Evangelical, Republican approach to church and politics. Don't know where I'll end up. I may be much further out than even you four, but I'll take it.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmi

Mr. Haseltine, thank you so much. I am a former Christian, yet your music still speaks to me and has lifted me from the canvas so many times. I cannot wait to hear this record.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoey Mannon

I can't even begin to know how to answer this, Dan, except to say that it's a journey you don't have to walk alone. I'm eternally grateful to have such dear friends as you walking alongside me. Peace.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Dan, I love this record already, without hearing a single note. Jars of Clay has been my favorite band for many years, not just because I know your music comes from a love for Jesus (even when it doesn't mention Him), but also because it comes from a place of honesty and authenticity. I love you guys *because* you're not afraid to ask the hard questions and speak the hard truths, and because you're not locked in Christianese and Churchianity. There is enough… no; there is too much of that in the world already. I don't want it.

I want the One True God -- the God who shows up in so many unexpected places, and speaks through unexpected voices, including some secular music. All truth belongs to God; we shouldn't shy away from it if we happen to find it outside the expected church circles.

I pray that you stay rooted in the heart of God… and that you keep singing His truth, even when His name isn't on the lyric sheet. Much love to all of you, and I look forward to hearing this record!

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEirewolf

Thank you. That is all I can say.

Thank you for writing what is also on my heart...

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

It's very easy to get lost by over analysing things - spending too much time in one's own thoughts. I'm not a song-writer but I would think that song-writing is more 'heart' - about feelings, reaching into your soul, than using your head. As we get older our outlook changes, we have more life experiences, good and bad, that change us. You don't have to write 'happy clappy', evangelistic music to be a Christian and Christians shouldn't and don't expect simply to hear that type of music. That said, you shouldn't neglect that part of you that is a Christian and 'happy clappy' is just a way of showing love for God which has always been present in your writing, from 'Love Song' to 'Benediction'. You can't brush aside that part of you unless you decide you are no longer a Christian. Life isn't all doom and gloom, sometimes we have to make a conscious decision to be happy, to find/re-discover that love and not just for ourselves, but those that may be looking to you for answers as role models. So have faith! I'm sure people will love the album!

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersummer77

Thank you.

I am part of a spiritual community in New England formed from people who cannot find a place in church or in our culture. Your music has given voice to our experience, which is so often filled with more pain, beauty, and mystery than we have been given room to express.

Thank you for your courage. We need more artists like you. Jesus needs more artists like you. It seems to me that it's only when we travel to the margins - that we truly experience God. I believe that while many comfortable Christians may be alienated by your decision, you will find a place among the doubting, broken, and forgotten; which, after all, is the place where Jesus is as well.

Many blessings on your journey. Your witness gives me hope and courage.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBen Y-D

Awesome thoughts, sobering, we are all growing up, looking around and being unable to wholly connect Jesus in scripture, American Christianity and the God we meet in our prayers and dreams and the God who truly is...

You guys will hold this middle place and God's grace will suffice. Continue the love and good works.

Grace and Peace
Adam

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Janes

One thing I've learnt from listening to the music you make is to never expect anything before listening,because at most times it's a huge mistake and just being unfair to the experience I'm about to go through.Though right now in my life is considered a "harvest" season and I'm very thankful to God for the circumstances surrounding me,I'm not turned away by the description you just gave your new record,simply because there are times when I too have questions and I'm not so secure anymore.
And though I don't relate to some specific songs now, it doesn't mean that i never will. Life is never the same and regarding my young age I am yet to discover more and experience more of it later.So, I say God bless your questions and your search for answers,and I can only hope that some of the songs speak to me and help me in my relationship with God and with the world.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica Bahaa

Since I feel you helped me in this way years ago, "fading black to grey," I'm really looking forward to the album. I grew up in the Church, but the only contemporary music I've kept all along even remotedly ecclesiastically-related was written by your pens or D-Webb's. Sing away, modern psalmist...For the Psalmist that preceded you resounds with life as you've described it.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy D. Scott

Dan, I honestly thank God every day that there are people like you in the world. It gives me hope that there are better Christians out there that see through the fluff of the Christian Community.

The reason I like your music is that it IS on that edge. It thrives on that edge. The edge that most people don't want to think about, or hear, or deal with. That edge that people just want to pretend does not exist. But it's a scarred edge, and it scrapes you and wrecks you. But when you come through it, it can be the defining moment of your life.

People want to get over their depression and be happy and all that. And that's something that I want to. But at the same time, these people want to forget that it happened. I do not. That depression, which has happened quite a bit in my life for various reasons, molds me into who I long to be. And honestly I feel that to truly understand God's love for us, we have to hit that emptiness. I don't want to forget that depression. Yes, the hole in my heart after my divorce was so empty and painful, it sucked the breath right out of my lungs. But I don't want to forget that. It was in that instant that the U2 song finally hit me... "I can't live... with or without you." I never really got that song, since I had not experienced heartbreak of this magnitude before. I don't want to forget that dawn of realization as I heard the song the first time after the divorce. That depression, born out of anger and heartache, lasted for quite awhile. And to be honest, the start of it happened long before the divorce. I suffered with continuous depression for years. I write about it a lot in my music... most of which is not put up on YouTube, or hidden because it was written at a VERY angry point in my life, and not very Christian-like. I also kept a separate blog for that period, or as you call it, season of my life. I could delete the songs and blog, but I choose to keep it up to show some people to remind me and them of where I was and where I am now. I'll read the lyrics of some of those bitter songs and think back to when I wrote it. Then I think as to how I came out of it... with music. By writing those songs down I got the chance to heal and deal with it. By listening to bands like Mumford & Sons, I got the chance to see that I'm not the only one to feel that pain. By listening to you, I get to realize that someone else just might feel the same way I feel about the hypocrisy of it all.

The things you mention... are the many reasons why I stopped going to church. I didn't fit in. I was so alone amongst thousands of people. I went to a church for a few years, and not one person would come up to me and talk to me. They wanted to show up to church, pay the obligatory tithe, and get the hell out of there. And trust me... they would screech their tires getting out of the parking lot. Nobody welcomed me there, except when you were told to shake your neighbors hand in the pew. Nobody invited me out to do any churchy things, except my family that went there.

After listening to your Shelter CD, I got the urge to try again. But I wanted something different. I'd been a Baptist for my whole life. And several years ago I'd tried a Catholic church. But God led me to a non-denominational church, and from the first day I've been greeted every time I've gone. I've met some awesome people. Heard some great sermons, and honestly, for the first time in my life I am EXCITED and can't wait for Sundays. And... they play Christian rock music... it's not the fuddy duddy worship stuff that is just SO rampant on the Christian radio and one of the many reasons why I stopped listening to Christian radio in the first place. So ya see... not all of us want that. Honestly, I understand God more from YOUR music, than any of those worshipy bands.

I've written a few blogs about exactly what you're talking about, and have my own problems with Christian radio myself.

Reading some of what you're saying, I seem to feel you're having a crisis of faith right now. Not so much faith in God, but faith in everything. Faith in your life, faith in your career, faith in humanity. I'm working on that. My faith in humanity was below zero last year. And I was so tired of everything and everyone, that I absolutely hated people. I wasn't close to God, and that affected everything. I'm working on that. And one of my biggest problems is loving people. Slowly, ever so slowly, my love for humanity is coming. But the one thing I pray the most for is for me to see humans how He sees them.

"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…"

Maybe instead of saying it's unfit to live in, instead say, it needs a change. And it's bands like Jars of Clay that can affect that change. Don't give up on the Christian community... there are those of us that see through the BS.

By the way... at your concert at the Polk Theatre... I was glad you didn't get preachy. I feel awkward when that kinda stuff happens. I know if it were me, I'd feel like a hypocrite up there telling people to pray for whatever reason, when I am so far from perfect. And I honestly believe that prayer should be between you and God... not you and 10,000 other people and God. So don't ever feel awkward about not doing that. Please don't. I know your songs are about God, I don't need a preach-fest at a concert to tell me that. What would I rather listen to, your amazing voice singing to me, or somebody getting preachy? That's what Sundays are for.

Dan, I commend you on your honesty. I sense some bitterness in this post, and I want you to know that you are not alone in your journey. You have such a talent for spilling your guts!

I just turned 55. Dan.... I, too, am on a journey that has taken many different paths. I acknowledged my need for a Savior at the age of 20. I was brought up in church, and can never recall anytime as a child, not believing in God. I have never doubted that God existed, or that Jesus died for my sins. However, it wasn't until I got down on my knees to humble myself before my Father, and ask for forgiveness, that I saw any evidence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I was pregnant and unmarried at the time. Before then, I had 2 abortions. I partied and smoked pot . My dad was a drunk. I was an unstable, immature girl who needed the Lord desperately. God's Word enabled me to grow in His knowledge, and make wiser choices. That was the beginning of my new life. I got married, became a mother to a beautiful son, and a few years later, a beautiful daughter. I was able to finished college, then I worked as a social worker in Child Protective Services, got a divorce, raised the children alone, had an affair with a married man, moved out of state, put my kids through college, got diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and was unable to continue working, moved back to my hometown, became a mother in law, became a grandmother, started taking care of my elderly parents, as well as an older brother with cancer...

Throughout the last 35 years, I can tell you that I have seen God bless me amazingly! I have made mistakes, but never fallen beyond God's reach. As I have matured, I have learned that God's way is ALWAYS the best. He is my Father, I know that He loves me. I have attended some fantastic churches and have been blessed by my church family. On the other hand, I have attended unloving churches that are nothing more than social clubs. Presently, I am not attending church regularly due to my health. I learned that I should not judge anyone, at all! There is nothing special about me, except my identity as His Child.

Dan, if you read this, I just want you to know that I think of you and JOC with such love in my heart. I would hope that you would not consider me to be unfit company. I am just a sinner saved by grace. Nothing more, and nothing less. I guess that is my middle space.
I have been legalistic in my time as a new believer. Its just a matter of growth, in my opinion.

I look forward to hearing your new album. I am very thankful for your music.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHischild

well i look forward to the record...the world has changed so much and christian music with it.
at least you are being honest and i'm sure some people will like it and some won't. i hope i will like it. it's too bad christian music has too much of the you a "star" i wish it was more equal with the listener... but a least you guys don't act like that so i am thankful for that.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlucy

Rather than "loaded with sentimentality but not reality", I look forward to hearing a worship album from Jars that reflects the journey you are now on. Not necessarily songs we can universally identify with, but simply your perspective of the ONE whom we travel with and at the same time seek. In my middle 30's, I've always believed I'm (still) growing up along side Jars, and someday I'd love to worship FREELY with them. Someday. Oh, and too, I seriously can't wait to hear this album as well.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKasey

Because of what you've written here, Dan, I'm afraid that you've just pushed the stakes higher. I'm going to expect the best from your upcoming album. Thank you for writing this. Come back to the Philippines, Jars of Clay. We're still waiting for you. :)

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Monty

Judging from the fact that as I read this I started crying, I think I might love it (in all fairness, the crying might have had a bit to do with the fact that it's 1am, I've had a long day, and an even longer year, but a good half of it was because of what you wrote). In fact, if your album could just come out now, I think staying up all night listening to it might be far more therapeutic than anything else. As someone who got pushed out of Christianity a lot by people who were afraid of my questions and experiences, all I can say is, I think you might be preaching the gospel in your album more than most people who would say you aren't. Thank God you have a story and are filling your space. I can't wait to hear your record. I have a feeling it might be my new favourite and I haven't even heard it yet.

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

I am super excited about this album. I am what one would label an evangelical Christian-in fact, I'm a missionary. So, I believe in sharing the Gospel. But, does EVERYTHING have to be a gospel presentation? We get so caught up in trying to say the right words that we forget to experience life with people and really love them-or even be still and know God is Who He says He is.

I cannot wait to hear your honest and thoughtful lyrics.

Even though you may feel that you were trapped under people's expectations (and I'm sure you were), I still think you guys have always been one of the most genuine, honest bands. In fact, the doubt and questioning expressed in even your first album was huge in Christ finding me. I thought Christianity was all about being good and never doubting (or at least never admitting it) but when I heard songs like, "Sinking" and "World's Apart" suddenly I found a voice for my fears, doubt and shame which ultimately led me to see my need for Christ.

But not everything has to have Jesus' name in it or even be about Jesus for God to use it for His glory. I would go as far as to say that not every piece of art has to be created by a Christian to hold truth and life-does not all truth belong to God? Is He not sovereign and beautiful and wild? Can he not use *gasp* an non-believer for His glory?

Love you guys and, again, can't wait to hear the new album.

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterApril

You never know, Dan, this record might strike a chord with a lot of people who are in the same place you are (whether they've realised it yet or not).

Just know that this Christian-turned-atheist still considers you their favorite band, and has no plans to ever stop buying your records.

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhallie

I loved this post, Dan! And I'm pretty sure I'm going to LOVE your new album. Be encouraged, there are MANY people out there who feel the same way you do. I think this is becoming more of a common journey for those who grew up in the church and love God but have been disillusioned by religion and modern day Pharisees. I will take reality over sentimentality and genuine and authentic questions, doubts and struggles over a fake "everything is roses following Jesus" any day. Can't wait to hear your new stuff!!!!!!! Blessings! :)

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLily

Thanks Dan. You will have at least one other person for who this record is for. I myself have long since abandoned my support of the evangelical music industry. Jars, Webb, and Delopoulos have been my holdouts. Thanks for asking the bigger questions and honestly pursuing life, art, and faith.

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

I think there are so many great comments here regarding this thoughtful blog written by Dan. Is there a way/place for those of us who identify with this to connect? (I'm not sure we would want to bog down Dan's blog space) I find myself disheartened on a regular basis due to a lack of thoughtful conversation concerning these subjects. If there isn't already some sort of forum, discussion board, etc. I would be happy to create a facebook page or twitter account. Please, let me know. In the mean time, I am @TealRose28 on Twitter. Thanks everyone!

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrandy

I am very excited about the new album after reading this post! Life is not clean and all packaged up in a Lifeway-friendly box, so I prefer that my music not pretend that it is.

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSherry

Jars of Clay has never been a good instructional band. The music of Jars thrives in its honesty -- and honesty, I think, will always be in the "middle space." Music that changes lives and shapes ideas will never be in top twenty radio.
-@brijjacks

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

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