It has been almost three years since Jars of Clay released Shelter, a disc which Glenn McCarty of Crosswalk.com heralded as “a clarion call to unity” relative to the Christian community. Lead singer Dan Haseltine noted, “…we were already thinking about a project that would be specific for the church.” But on Inland, their first release as an “indie” band, the central focus is a bit more existential.
In an interview with Hans Schiefelbein, keyboardist Charlie Lowell says of Inland:
It’s where we all live- caring about work, family, faith, doubt, the world around us- but really struggling to connect them and find lasting meaning out of them all. So we approached this record process with that in mind- our goal was to write in those specific moments of humanity, and to put the many voices we have accumulated over the years behind us.
Since 1995 when their debut single “Flood” further closed the gap between pop and Christian music, Jars have been a band that refused to compromise their faith nor their crossover viability. For every directly religious “Love Song for a Savior” there was a more universally accessible “Work“. Yet even amidst the brambles of praise and pop music that is their entire catalog, they always managed to present the subject matter with a poetic elegance so both believer and non-believer alike could take in the experience.
Being Agnostic allowed for a first hand appreciation of Jars’ artisanship, a sentiment which I thought peaked at their 2006 release Good Monsters. It is with great joy that I announce Inland as the new standard. Taking its theme from The Odyssey, the new disc asks the listener to reflect on their pilgrimage through life. The beauty in its presentation is that you do not need to have faith in God for the message to resonate.
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For the moment, let’s put aside any theology debates and focus on the “spirit” of the season. As Gene Eugene wrote in “Breathe Deep“:
Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords
Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics
Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists…
Breathe deep, breathe deep the breath of God.
I am not concerned with how you define God or even whether you believe. What I would like to offer up is the idea that the season represents something and that something is common amongst all of us. What is it? I believe that is for us to find out but the obvious elements of peace, joy and hope surely play a part.
One of the traditions I started a few years ago was to read a book by Jars of Clay called “Peace is Here: Christmas Reflections“. It is my contention that even if you do not find yourselves within the throes of the belief system for which the book is grounded, you can surely take from it the experiences and how important they were. It sets a tone for Christmas where we are reminded to create the atmosphere through which good memories will be reflected upon. Maybe you might even consider writing down your own experiences to bind and share at a later time.
For me Jars of Clay was the Christian Toad the Wet Sprocket. They served to speak to the human condition as opposed to preaching at you. Having seen them in concert four times I never walked away not feeling good or wanting to be a better person. Simply put, they made you feel welcome regardless of what you believed.
If you purchase the book, my wish is that your Christmas may be just a bit better. In fact, purchase two and give one to a friend or even a stranger.
And if you do not know who Gene Eugene is…well, he is a man who died too soon and who I admired greatly. Though I never knew him personally I miss his music.