Faith Under Fire

Criticized for taking their music into the mainstream, Jars of Clay want to keep their message clear.
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Steve Mason is concerned about being misunderstood. The Jars of Clay guitarist is talking to me about using music to reach the non-Christian world. And about Jars being criticized for what they're doing.

Some Christians have questioned the wisdom of Jars playing mainstream festivals and clubs with bands like No Doubt and Goo Goo Dolls, and with artists like Joan Osborne. And more questions were raised when Jars of Clay opened two shows for Sting last summer. And then there are those who are concerned that Jars' music is played on modern-rock radio and that the band's "Flood" video has appeared on MTV and VH1.

When I caught up with the guys in Chicago, they'd been touring with two secular rock acts-another "crossover" opportunity that's sparked criticism. Steve and I are talking about all this on the band's bus, parked outside Chicago's Riviera music club, where Jars will perform in a couple of hours.

Steve says it's hard for many people to understand what Jars of Clay are all about.

"We are bombarded with so many questions," says Steve. "I find myself spending a lot of time explaining why we are playing at a certain place or why we're playing with a certain band. It kind of wears on you."

Ironically, a few years ago Steve himself would have been very critical of the route the band has taken.

"Earlier this evening I ran into a friend from my high-school years," says Steve. "One of the first things he said to me was, 'A long time ago I asked you if you'd ever go mainstream. And you said no because it would be selling out. But now look what you're doing!'"

But, admits the guitarist, he's changed his attitude about how and where God can use him. He also says he and the rest of guys in the band have not changed in their desire to use music to let others know about Christ and their faith. And, says Steve, that's why they feel they need to take their music, and the message behind their music, beyond the Christian concert circuit.

"In the eyes of some," says Steve, "we aren't making good decisions and choices. But we are on our knees and asking the Lord to show us the best way to go. If he wants us playing in churches and using our music to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, that's really fine. But we've just seen doors open and we can't help but believe it's been God opening those doors. … "

When my conversation with Steve ends, Dan Haseltine takes his place on the green couch across from me. Dan's voice is surprisingly soft, especially for a lead singer. Fearing that I might miss some of the conversation, I scoot my tape recorder a little closer to Dan, also the band's chief songwriter. Then I ask, "Do you get tired of people asking why you're playing in clubs with non-Christian bands?

Dan smiles gently, then says, "When I'm asked that question, I'm forced to think about what this band is all about. That keeps it clear in my own mind exactly why we're doing what we're doing.

"It's like that each night when I talk to the audience and explain the meaning behind our name-that it's taken from 2 Corinthians 4:7.

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