Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Dan Haseltine

Until December of 2007 I counted myself among one of Jars of Clay's foremost proponents. I can count on one hand the number of "Christian" bands I enjoy listening to, but anytime Jars of Clay would come up -- often ripping them for only making one good album, their first -- I would defend them to the death. Their musical style has changed a dozen times, but this is a group of guys who have been together for 15 years, who never sit on their hands, who always challenge themselves musically and artistically. I even have a theory about their albums: each is divided into four parts, usually out of 12 songs. Almost without fail, each album has three classic songs, three great songs, three fine-to-good songs, and three mediocre songs. Test it; it's eerily true.

Anyway, after seven wonderful albums (including some EPs and a Live+Acoustic album), Jars of Clay released Christmas Songs in October of 2007 ... and it was bad. Actually, almost really bad. Then last year they released their Closer EP, which previewed a fearfully electric-wall-of-sound turn in their music. And now, in a few weeks, they'll release their next LP, The Long Fall Back to Earth. From a couple song previews on their website, I'm not feeling optimistic.

See, I have another theory, but about "Christian" bands in general. It's simple: Solid bands with a unique sound give in to the temptation to go "distortion" or "electric" or "hard" and lose everything that made their sound worthwhile. See: Switchfoot. See: dc Talk. See: Five Iron Frenzy. And now, me genoito, we may be witnessing Jars of Clay finally make the transition from "artistically serious, multi-instrumental, complexly layered" to "loud distorted electric guitars strummed endlessly in a mindless wall of sound."

In the meantime, while we wait and hope they haven't fallen prey to the distortion epidemic, we can enjoy their older music now. "Hymn" is one of my all-time favorite Jars of Clay songs, and the lyrics, whose form match the title, are a big reason why. I plan to use these words in a prayer or liturgy at some point in my life.

My own is a brief reflection on the pervasive defensive mechanism modern Christians have on behalf of God or Christianity. Another word for this might be apologetics. Enjoy.

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Hymn

By Dan Haseltine (of Jars of Clay)

O refuge of my hardened heart
O fast pursuing lover, come
As angels dance around your throne
My life by captured fare you own

Not silhouette of trodden faith
Nor death shall not my steps be guide
I'll pirouette upon my grave
For in your path I'll run and hide

O gaze of love, so melt my pride
That I may in your house but kneel
And in my brokenness to cry
Spring worship unto thee

When beauty breaks the spell of pain
The bludgeoned heart shall burst in vain
But not when love be pointed king
And truth shall thee forever reign

O gaze of love, so melt my pride
That I may in your house but kneel
And in my brokenness to cry
Spring worship unto thee

Sweet Jesus, carry me away
From cold of night and dust of day
In ragged hour or salt-worn eye
Be my desire, my wellspring lye

O gaze of love, so melt my pride
That I may in your house but kneel
And in my brokenness to cry
Spring worship unto thee

- - - - - - -

Cross Examination

Should I defend you?
I cannot see why.
If the one who came
in the name of the
Lord defended none—
neither himself nor
you nor his people—
should I then defend
you? No. Instead I
will speak to you on
their behalf, like your
servants before me,
knowing argument
with you, heated or
cool, pleases you more
than any righteous
witness stand, God in
the dock. You are no
stranger to the lock
snap of the chains, nor
resistant to their
latch. May we join you
there, or stay quiet.

- - - - - - -

Past Sunday Sabbath Poetry

5 comments:

  1. Didn't the Much Afraid album use a lot of distortion for many of its songs?
    (Now that I'm thinking about it, though, I rank that album lower than some of the others.)

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  2. "Almost without fail, each album has three classic songs, three great songs, three fine-to-good songs, and three mediocre songs. Test it; it's eerily true."

    I listened to JOC's Long Fall Back to Earth this month. And your theory is eerily true indeed. But you may want to give "Boys (Lesson One)" another look. I enjoyed this particularly track and the lyrics has stuck in my head for some time now.

    May I use your "Cross Examination" in one of our church small group discussions in the future?

    Press on brother.

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  3. Glad to know LFBTE, which I have yet to get to, falls into the normal trend. Hopefully I'll be able to give it a shot this month. And of course, feel free to use the poem, or anything else on the blog, for small group discussions. Thanks for the interest.

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  4. I must strongly disagree. The thing that makes Jars of Clay so appealing to me is that each album is so glaringly distinct from the next. I liked the cold, deserted wilderness feel of "Christmas Songs" personally. That may be because I spend many a Christmastime in the cold, deserted wilderness. "Long Fall" is just another iteration of the trend of JoC, which is to experiment with new styles and incorporate their old talents. I like it better in the car, whereas I prefer "Much Afraid" in the living room with the lights off.

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  5. Wow...I'm going to work on it...I'll see if I can come up with something... This is really fun. keep up the good work!

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