By Ryan Clark
The last time I went to see Jars of Clay in concert I drove a 15 passenger van full of youth. This time I drove a Subaru. Last time my youth ran down to the front jumping to Flood in the mosh pit while I stood along the wall with the other chaperones. This time I swayed with my wife at the back of the mosh pit. And we danced a bit to songs like After the Fight, but honestly, we mostly swayed.
Then came their hipster anthem – every band needs one these days. Which, to be honest, is much better live than the track on their album. The song is Inland, with a catchy hook from John Donne’s often quoted devotional poetry, “No man is an Island.” (We’ll have to excuse John’s failure at inclusive language.)
The Jars concert was Saturday night of this year’s Wildgoose Festival, a four day Christian festival that “gathers at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and art.”
Coming from a well-organized General Assembly with my employer the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where Cynthia Clawson and Indra Thomas blessed with classic melodies done well with class, I was struck by the crossroads where I find myself these days.
It’s an intersection where my 20 year old youth minister self arrives at the same time as my 39 year old denominetwork working self, and we look at each other as if to say, “Whose turn is it to go next?” And the answer isn’t as obvious as it might seem. Because while I thought it was cute that Jars was playing Wildgoose, I only thought it was cute because the last album I’d listened to was Much Afraid (1997) and quite honestly haven’t kept up with a lot of newer faith oriented music over the past several years. After getting home we bought the last two Jars albums and they accompanied us during the 24 hours of driving we had left to do this summer.
In the 24 hours of driving, I drive to the place where I turned 20. I’m driving and I’m 20 again and I’m 39 at the same time and my family is sleeping and I feel old. Then I feel young. And I realize there’s nothing cute about Jars of Clay’s music (and there never was). While I was expecting a healthy dose of nostalgic good times at their concert, what I got was the realization that other people grow up too and so do bands and so do organizations and so do churches. Sometimes.
Some of my seasoned colleagues have assumed for years that when my generation grew up, we’d realize how trite contemporary faith music really is and make the natural transition to more level headed melodies. What many didn’t count on was how the grunge music many of us listened to in high school would inform forever how we (or at least I) experience the world and how I’d end up valuing authenticity over tradition. In a foot race, authenticity doesn’t blow tradition out of the water, but I will take a song confessing alcohol abuse and a call out of isolation over unending praises to a majestic God about 303 days a year.
Growing up is painful for those doing the growing. It is painful to love those who are growing up. And it’s also pretty wonderful. Nothing and no one grows up exactly how you hope, including us. We end up doing unexpected things, making decisions we didn’t think we’d have to make, learning, reconsidering and hoping in ways we’d not imagined a decade ago. And, at least for me, we end up depending on people we never expected to depend on.
Dunn is right. No one is an island. Neither is any church or band, or conference, or organization for that matter.
So while I believe this for myself, it’s probably time to begin living like I believe it’s true for others as well.