Magazine article The Christian Century

A Shadow of Doubt. (Arts)

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Shadow of Doubt. (Arts)

Article excerpt

WHEN JARS OF CLAY, a band of earnest 20-somethings, broke out in 1995, with the hit single "Flood," it was at the forefront of a wave of Christian alternative rock that reached secular audiences. Its first CD was widely acclaimed, and since then the band has established itself as the first name in Christian rock. Its second and third albums, Much Afraid and If I Left the Zoo, both won Grammy Awards for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel album. Heavily influenced by early-'90s alternative rock, the band has recorded both contemplative pop and edgy, experimental hard rock.

With Eleventh Hour, released in March, the band has returned to its roots, singing soulful lyrics of faith and love supported by hard-driving guitars that occasionally lapse into acoustic melancholy. The album debuted at number 35 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums, and its first single, "Fly," appears poised to also make an appearance on mainstream charts. The song, written for the cancer-stricken wife of one of singer-songwriter Dan Haseltine's friends, steers clear of sentimentality while holding out the promise of an afterlife: "I saw the host of silent angels waiting on their own. / Knowing all the promises of life come alive when you see home." This promise, however, does not mitigate the genuine grief of the bereaved, and the singer ends by repeating, "I won't let you go, I'm not letting go ..."

Haseltine is at his best at moments like these: when wrenching doubt wars with his faith. "Silence," in keeping with the dark psalms of David, reaches out for a God who seems to be absent. "I thought you left me for the wreckage and the waste, / On an empty beach of faith ... I want to believe but all I pray is wrong and all I claim is gone." Unlike much contemporary Christian music, which tends to deny the presence of suffering or doubt in Christian life, Jars of Clay is on a quest for truth--a quest that can lead the band into challenging territory.

The richness of this quest may be the reason that so-called gospel music has become popular with mainstream listeners, especially given the barren world of popular music, which tends toward either empty bubblegum pop or songs of nihilistic hate. Though not pigeonholed as gospel, mainstream rock bands like Creed and U2 have successfully tapped into their Christian backgrounds. …

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