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Jars of Clay, Labels, and Purpose

I love the band Jars of Clay. My aunt gave me their album If I Left The Zoo when it came out, but I didn’t really listen to it for a couple years. When I did actually listen to it, I loved it. The melodies are catchy, and it was different from any other Christian band I had listened to before. I have listened to everything they’ve done since on repeat for two decades. I can’t decide if I like best their first studio album (self titled) or their fifth studio album (Who We Are Instead), but I listened to both of them while writing a fair amount of my first songs. This live recording is still one of my favorite songs.

In recent years, the band, most prominently vocalist Dan Haseltine, has rejected the label “Christian rock band” in favor of just “band.” The reason for this is that they feel they are just creating music and are not held to a label. So if their music reflects their faith, then that is their art speaking about the artist. I understand the sentiment, but its something I’ve wrestled with. What do I do now that my favorite band has decided they’re not a “Christian band” anymore? What does it mean to be just an artist? What is the purpose of what I am creating?

For a long time I considered myself a subpar musician. My siblings are all supremely talented and were much more successful than I was, particularly in high school and I bounced around to different instruments a lot more than they did. When I began to write songs in 2009, I did not think they were very good, but as the years have gone by I have gotten better at writing both lyrics and music. I have more clearly understood what I do well as a musician and how I can share that with others. Now in community I get to practice the gifts God has given me, and speak to the story of God in our community. I have enjoyed sharing the experience of writing with others and the first art night in 2018 when we wrote Psalm 42 stands out in particular.

I have to practice letting go of my songs. When I share them, they sort of take on a life of their own and I sometimes get to hear about that. I practice letting them go because I understand Dan Haseltine. I understand wanting to be seen just as a good musician. I understand not wanting to be constrained by a label. I also understand that I am often driven by my ego. I want people to tell me they like a song I wrote, but I feel awkward when they do. I want to know that someone was impacted by something I wrote, but I don’t really know what to do when they are. This is because I am not a musician who happens to also be Christian. The songs I write do not sometimes reflect my faith just because art reflects the artist. I write music because it is an expression of my walk with God and a reflection of what I experience in community. I am a Christian, a child of God, a priest. My identity rests in Jesus and the things I do flow out of that. Secondary to that I am a person who loves music and God has called me to offer that to him and to my community.

So if you tell me you like a song I wrote, that’s really nice and encouraging to hear, but know that my hope is to hear how you were encouraged towards God.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the thoughts Mark, and for the work you do writing music for this community. I just wanted to share my favorite Jars of Clay song: https://youtu.be/lL0041GDsqE

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