Excerpted from Focus on the Family's Brio Magazine
May 2000, pages 22-25.
A Treasure in Jars of Clay
by Marty McCormack
We know. We know. A Brio interview with Jars of Clay is way overdue. (Thanks for your many letters and e-mails that told us so.) Why we waited so long to feature the guys who've given us such hits as "Flood" and "Love Song for a Savior" is beyond us. But now that we have talked with Jars members Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark, we're more than excited to share them with you!
Since many of you Jars fans are aware that Dan, Charlie, Stephen, and Matt met in the early '90's during college and found musical success soon afterward, taking the name for their band from 2 Corinthians 4:7, we thought we'd ask the foursome to think back to even earlier days. We wanted to find out what life was like for them as teens and how they come to know Christ as Savior. But don't worry. We jumped back to the present to give you the scoop on their ministry and current album, If I Left the Zoo, too. (And don't miss the little known facts Jars shares about elephants and flamingos!)
Our much-anticipated conversation with Jars of Clay took place last November at the Dallas Zoo-the spot for the band's If I Left the Zoo album premiere concert. We were able to snag an hour with the guys between their TV and radio interviews, live Internet chat and concert sound check. Here's what was said as we kicked back with Jars of Clay.
Brio: Jars of Clay became successful very quickly. How have you handled your success?
Dan: Success is so relative. Not everybody would say financial gain is the greatest success. My measure of success is with my family. I can get on stage, have a great show and hear that we've sold a ton of records this week, but when I call my wife from the road and she's crying because I haven't been home in two weeks, I'm not feeling very successful. As far as money goes, we have a lot of people holding us accountable. The four of us tend to keep each other accountable for who we are, too.
Steve: In terms of success in Christianity, success is death-dying to ourselves. That's the irony of what we do. We write songs, market ourselves, have our pictures taken and talk about ourselves in interviews, but ultimately we're called to die.
Matt: The struggle with success isn't something we can figure out with a formula, either. We haven't set up enough accountability partners or given to enough charities to avoid a struggle with success. It doesn't get fixed that way. Our only hope in the midst of all this craziness is that Christ hasn't abandoned us. We can continue to go before Him and really know who we are.
Steve, how did you first hear the gospel?
Steve: As I grew up, both my parents were Christians. I was a Sparky in Awana [a Christian club that trains children to know God's Word and serve Him] when I heard the gospel, I came home that night and talked to my mom about it, and she prayed with me to become a Christian. My folks divorced when I was a freshman, and it was really then that I put wheels on what I believed. Through high school and college I made that faith my own and not just the faith my folks told me about.
How did you deal with your parents' divorce?
Steve: It didn't make sense to me that people who shared their faith in Christ ad lived a Christian life couldn't reconcile their differences. It was a really trying time because I thought my parents were perfect. It crushed a lot of what I'd built my life on. I had to learn to run to Christ. He's the only One who is sinless. I couldn't put those expectations on my folks. The most helpful thing was that I had my youth pastor's support. It's important to know people who can field your questions and keep you on the right track.
What encouragement can you give teens dealing with their parents' divorce?
Steve: Continue to ask questions and seek older people who can instruct and mentor you. My youth pastor came from a divorced family and wrestled with a lot of issues because of the divorce. His first hand knowledge helped me when I went through a similar experience. Seek out somebody who's been through it.
So Dan, what about you? When did you become a Christian?
Dan: I was 9 years old. My brother and I were obnoxious kids, so my mom asked a youth pastor to teach us a Bible study in hopes that we would calm down. He came to our house once a week. Eventually he prayed with us, and we both accepted Christ. I can't say that's when it made sense to me. I probably had my first encounter with who Christ is and what it means to be loved by Him when I was a sophomore in high school.
What was that encounter?
Dan: I was with a youth group that had a good, solid theological foundation when I encountered the idea that I should be dead to my sin. It was with this group that I first realized that Jesus is who He said He is. As a teen, I struggled with the same things everyone else did-issues of acceptance and feeling really awkward during junior high and high school. So this message about Jesus was powerful. It really got me that there was somebody who loved me unconditionally. That was the best thing I could have heard at that time.
In what ways did you feel awkward or unaccepted as a teen?
Dan: Doesn't everybody feel like an oddball during junior high? And everybody feels like he can't quite get in with the crowd. Those feelings made me really quiet and introverted. I never wanted to let down my guard because if I did, people were going to see who I really was.
And Charlie, we'd like to hear your testimony as well.
Charlie: I grew up in a Christian home with two brothers. My older brother is still a role model for me. I always value his opinion. When I was 8 or 9, I went to a cowboy-Christian-summer-camp-type-thing. One night they did a puppet show about hell. My first memory of committing my life to Christ was at that camp.
After a few years of not growing very much, I got involved in Young Life [a Christian ministry on campus]. A Young Life leader moved into town when I was a freshman and struck up a neat accountability/discipleship relationship with me.
Did you struggle with anything particular through high school?
Charlie: Yeah, being bold in my faith. I learned more about Christ and read more Scripture, but I never had a lot of confidence in being able to share it. I'd say I was sort of a chameleon in high school. I could do the youth group thing real well, and the church thing, and I did my piano lessons. I would sort of change a little it for each group that I hung out with. I guess that was my way of dealing.
Okay, Matt. It's your turn. Tell us what life was like before the days of Jars of Clay.
Matt: I grew up in a Christian family that was very involved in our church. All of my earliest memories are church-related. My parents were my first practical demonstration of who Christ is. They raised me on Bible studies and introduced me to Christ. My church was involved in our area Young Life, and that was where I got a lot of spiritual mentoring during high school. My leader cared enough to walk alongside me and demonstrate the gospel. I grew a lot during those years. A defining moment was at Young Life camp. I went as a Christian but while I was there, I witnessed 75 to 80 kids giving a public confession that they had received Christ for the first time. I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom during that week. That was a turning point for me.
Since all of you were Christians in high school, did you ever find yourself in somewhat of a Christian clique?
Steve: I didn't want to be in a Christian bubble when I was in high school. It was almost an arrogant thing. My friend and I would kind of pride ourselves on being everybody's friend. Unfortunately it wasn't that we knew anyone with any great sincerity. We were just happy to be with everybody.
Still, it's not good to keep yourself so open that you don't have another friend who shares your beliefs and know where you're coming from in your faith. In high school I had one particular friend I related to really well, and we kept each other in line.
Matt: Here's a word of encouragement for Brio readers desiring to show their faith outside of their Christian group: This is a struggle that we, as Jars of Clay, haven't necessarily moved past either. We can think up neat things to try to reach others, but the bottom line is we're not very good at loving other people-especially people who are different. We really need Christ to change our hearts and to give us the ability to do that.
Is your purpose as a band to reach the world for Christ?
Steve: Yeah. That's where our heart is. One thing we've learned in our travels is that God will work in spite of us and because of us, in ways we expect and in ways we don't. We grew up with a certain type of ministry ideal-how someone should present the gospel, how people are to make a decision, pray a prayer and come to Christ. Through the past few years, I've been radically changed in terms of my worldview. God has used silly songs on a silly CD to call people to Himself. In one particular case, a guy heard our CD at a party and it provoked some questions for him. A friend ended up pulling him out of the party to explain the gospel!
Everything we do with our lives is ultimately worship of God. We pray nightly that our concert would be a venue for God to move, that His Spirit would accomplish awesome things and continue to surprise us in how He chooses to work outside of our own expectations.
What would you say to people who question your evangelistic methods-holding concerts in clubs and playing your music on secular stations?
Charlie: We take a lot of comfort in the way Christ related with people. He spent time with the gross people, the kind of people others didn't want to be around. He spoke in parables and got people to ask questions and struggle with hard issues. Christ's example is something we try to relate to and follow.
Steve: We also remember that the church is one body with many parts. We don't understand how each of us functions in terms of life with Christ, but we work together toward one goal. Ultimately, Christ is the only thing that unifies all Christians. We know a lot of people will never get what we do. We'll go to the grave and have people saying, "What were they doing? They weren't getting people into the church."
Let's talk about If I Left the Zoo. What's different about this album from your last one?
Steve: It has a lot more of our personality. With our last record, we put together a project, but it didn't speak to each of us individually in terms of who we are. The goal on this one was to give it character. This was the most enjoyable and difficult record we've made.
Dan: The concept for the album came about in Decorah, Iowa. We were there for a spiritual and writing retreat. We took our pastor with us and had a great time. We wanted to take stock in our relationships and what was going on in our spiritual lives. When we started writing, we began to see the vision for what we wanted.
Where did you get the title?
Charlie: We found a picture in a stock book of an elephant whom we have affectionately named Agnes. We bought the picture for the album cover and then had to come up with a title.
We had the name If I Ran the Zoo, but found out it was a Dr. Seuss book. We wanted something light-hearted instead of significant and deep and came up with If I Left the Zoo.
Have you ever been on an elephant?
Steve: I rode an elephant a long time ago. I remember it being really hairy. You don't think of an elephant being hairy, but they're hairy! Matt: Kinda like comb-over hair? Steve: Exactly!
Weren't you going to hold this concert at the Ft. Worth Zoo before you found out the flamingos would be bothered by the music?
Steve: Yeah. Unfortunately, flamingos are typically more of your soft rock audience.
So, there you have it. Flamingoes aren't true rock fans. Elephants have hair. And Dan, Charlie, Stephen and Matt are ordinary guys who continually offer themselves to God in hopes of showing, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "that the all-surpassing power [they have as Christians] is from Him" and not from themselves. The end.
© Copyright 2000 Focus on the Family
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"Do 'we' entertain you?" :)