Do you know what you are?
This is such a darned good album that I had to write a review of it sooner or later.
Jars of Clay are an American Christian band, comprising four guys who met in college. None of them play bass or drums, and only seem to recruit said instrumentalists for recording or touring. This may seem strange, but I believe it makes for a more focussed group. Why have a permanent bassist/drummer just because every body else does?
To the album,then. Jars songs reflect a God who is not afraid to look down with compassion on this Earth. “Even Angels Cry” tackles homelessness and drug addiction in a very sensitive way, while the Elvis-like “Mirrors and Smoke” tells us the things we may not like to hear about romantic relationships. (“You always make me cry but that’s what true love is all about”)
The title track, which is on YouTube here challenges the tendency towards inertia in the Christian community:
“All the good monsters rattle their chains
And dance around the open flames
They make a lot of empty noise
While all of the bright eyes turn away
As if there wasn’t anything to say
About the justice and the mystery…... ”
is about an inward looking group who only, it seems, turn up to have a good time “worshipping” (if that’s what it is) while the difficult issues get ignored. This is the heart of the challenge “Do you know what you are?” The songs themselves are not judgmental in a holier-than-thou sense, but Jars themselves confess and repent: “We are bored with all that we know”, “We are slaves of all the things we love”.
“Light gives Heat” gives an example of another issue that the church IS addressing to a degree – globalisation and cultural imperialism, which seem to go hand in hand. (This year we are celebrating the bicentennial of the law outlawing the slave trade, at least in the UK. It took Wilberforce and his friends 20 years of overcoming discouragement, entrenched attitudes/interests and parliamentary inertia, to achieve this. Are you ready for a 20-year battle to “Make Poverty History”?)
Only in one or two songs do the Jars address more direct subject matter. “Oh my God” is a straight “How long, O Lord” cry from the heart about the state of a fallen world, while “All my tears” reminds us that no matter what, when this life is over, we will get to meet the One who loves us like no other.
You won’t find this in HMV/Virgin/Fopp, and you certainly won’t hear it on Radio One I’m afraid. Most mainstream retail outlets avoid Christian music, either because it is Christian and therefore very non-PC, or maybe they just think they can’t make any money selling it. If I wasn’t so cynical perhaps I could believe the latter, but….. At least Amazon don’t seem to be as choosy. And if you want a couple of samples, you can go to YouTube. Either way…. essential listening.