10 Questions with ... Jason Gray
March 3, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 1997 The Singer & The Song
- 1999 Postcard
- 2001 A Place Called Hope
- 2001 Live Vol. 1: Hoping
- 2005 The Better Part Of Me
- 2007 All The Lovely Losers
- 2007 Bethlehem Skyline
- 2008 Acoustic Storytime
- 2009 Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue
- 2010 Bethlehem Skyline Vol. 2
- 2011 Song Cycles: From Work Tapes To Remixes
- 2011 A Way To See In The Dark
- 2012 Christmas Stories: Repeat The Sounding Joy
- 2013 Nothing Is Wasted
- 2014 Love Will Have The Final Word
1. Brief history / synopsis
I was born and raised in the small town of Lynd, Minnesota, near Marshall (home to Schwans ice cream truck!) before moving to Mankato (near the Little House On The Prairie!) in my junior year of high school. I still live in this area and over the years I've worked as a short order cook, a youth pastor, and a factory worker, as well as a musician.
2. What does a normal day at home look like for you?
That depends. This lifestyle is wildly varying! Mostly, I try to do most of my work while I'm on the road so that when I'm home I can be present to my family. (I'm answering these questions on a plane)! Some days that works out better than others, but as a rule that's what I aim for. So, in a given week I try to spend relational time with each of my sons--either playing games with Gus, going to get a coffee with Jacob, or working out with Kipper. When I'm on the road it's kind of all-consuming and most weekends mean late nights and early morning flights with a lot of travel, conversation, and performances in between! I get pretty exhausted and have learned to sleep pretty good on planes. Most of my schedule is oriented around trying to be available to my sons as much as I can, while also doing what's necessary as a provider and trying my best to be tuned into being obedient to what I believe God is asking of me.
3. WhatÂ¹s the song that you just canÂ¹t get out of your head right now?
I'm kind of hooked on the new U2 song, "Invisible," right now. That closing refrain, there is no them, there is no them... There's only us, there's only us. Man. That's just so good. U2 is obviously a remarkable band and consistently write songs that have heart, are intelligent, and are true. The production is fresh, too.
4. How do you juggle life on the road with wanting to be home? How much do you travel, what are the challenges?
That is the hardest part. I question my vocation every week. I love what I do and I'm so grateful I get to do it, but it's still painful to have to leave even if it's only for a few days. But for now, it does seem to be where God has me and I still feel like there's some life in it. Frederick Buechner says that the place God calls you to is where the world's deep hunger and your deep gladness meet. This still seems to be that place for me. But yes, it is hard. I try to limit how many days I'm on the road each month. Having some radio success the past year helps me to be able to work a little less, so I'm grateful.
5. WhatÂ¹s the biggest "God moment" that youÂ¹ve ever experienced, personal or professional?
To me the biggest moments are in the small moments. I have been working with a mentor for about 4 years now and so many of the things I've learned from him came together in a single moment recently. I have a beautiful hearted son who, like his dad, doesn't like conflict and so stuffs his feelings until they heat up enough to boil over. He had a boil over moment with me the other day and said some very harsh things. But I was able, by the grace of God, in that moment to not demand accuracy from him, to listen for the heart behind his words, to not get defensive or corrective, and to thank him for sharing his feelings with me. I got to listen to him and tell him I loved him. I think God kept the boil-over from happening until the precise moment when I was better equipped to be a good dad! God knows I've gotten it wrong so many times, but this time the tools were all in place when I needed them most. It felt like a miracle of grace.
6. WhatÂ¹s the last book you read?
One of the most compelling books I've read recently was M. Scott Peck's People Of The Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil. Peck was a psychiatrist who wrote this fascinating book not long after his conversion to Christianity in the early 80's. He proposes that the root of human evil is the narcissism that manifests itself as self-centeredness, a lack of empathy for others, and the inability of a person to allow him or herself to know their own imperfections and sin, leading them to blame others for their own problems. Great, great book. It changed the way I understand myself and others.
7. Tell me about how you became a believer. What caused you to want to serve God in full time ministry?
These are such big questions! It's hard to boil these down to an answer that is a readable length, but I think I was always tempted to think of conversion or belief being the result of a moment of decision. It can feel like that's how it works, but the older I get the more I look back and see it less as a moment of decision than as a moment of waking up to a reality that in a lot of ways was already there. My experience of becoming a believer is as a journey--a road that I was led down with mile-markers along the way to help me know where I was. One of the mile-markers was the day I "trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior", but I really think that it was less of a decision than it was a surrendering to what God had been doing in my life all along.
I was always aware of God's presence in my life, though I didn't grow up in
a churched home. I remember hearing Simon & Garfunkel's, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," as a little boy and experiencing it as a song from God's heart to mine. Nobody planted that idea in my head, it was just something that the Holy Spirit did. Though I knew he was there, I didn't give my life to God, mostly because I wanted to keep making out with my girlfriend and do what I wanted. My home life was turbulent and often abusive, and it wasn't until I was 16 that things escalated enough to drive me to a place where I surrendered my heart to God. My mom and I were actually hiding from my step-father out in Colorado for a month. It was a scary season, but also a blessed season of growing in my newfound faith.
Later that year I remember I was driving home from school crying out to God because of how overwhelming everything at home and school was. I remember having a moment where I thought: 'Everybody goes to God when their heart is broken, but who does God go to?' In a moment of innocence I prayed, 'Lord, if you every need a shoulder to cry on, I'd like to be here for you.' As corny as it sounds, I believe God answered that prayer and began to break my heart with the things that break His. I think that everything in my ministry still flows from that prayer.
8. Take me thru a couple songs on your latest project, Love Will Have The Final Word.
One of the songs that I feel has the biggest impact when I play it live is a song called, "Not Right Now." It's a song about grieving. I think we tend to want to fix people or offer answers and encouragement when faced with other's pain, but it's usually better to just silently be with someone. One of the most healing moments in my life was from a few years ago when I spilled out my broken heart to my friend Andy Gullahorn (check out his music--best songwriter I know!). When I was done, I was braced for him to try to give me an answer but instead he stood me up and said, 'here's what I want you to do. I'm going to hug you, and I'm going to hold you for two minutes, and you have to let me. I'm going to time it so you aren't going anywhere.' I laughed at first because it felt awkward but as my friend held me I started crying. Then I started UGLY crying. Then I kind of lost my strength and just hung there as my friend held me up. He didn't say a word but what he was communicating was clear. You're not alone, You are loved.
The chorus of the song is:
I know someday, I know somehow
I'll be okay, but not right now...
On the other end of the spectrum is a song about laughter as worship. Comedy relies on the unexpected. The best punch lines are the ones we never saw coming. Good surprises make us laugh. And what's more surprising than the grace of God? That we should be called sons and daughters of God? That while we were still sinners Christ died for us?! In the divine comedy of the love of God our laughter is a holy offering.
When you find you've been forgiven
Laughter will rise like a holy kind of praise
So I throw my head back and offer up my thanks!
Ha ha! Don't it make you wanna laugh out loud?
Ooh ooh, and shout 'hallelujah!'...
9. What organization/service group are you affiliated with?
I work with World Vision. I believe serving the poorest of the poor is one of our most significant acts of worship and I love the God honoring way that they do it. The organization grew from its founder's prayer nearly 60 years ago, 'Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God'--which is just like the prayer I prayed as a new believer!! So our ministries line up in a really beautiful way.
10. Person youÂ¹d most like to have a discussion with, living or dead..Deities are excused from this question
I'd LOVE to meet and talk with my songwriting hero, Paul Simon. The loving curiosity he brings to the world is such an inspiring and beautiful thing to me. On his recent albums he's asking the big questions about God, the meaning of life, etc. I think he is wonderfully childlike in his wisdom and gracious in his outlook. I'd love to have a conversation with him.
1. Favorite Bible verse / life verse.
Isaiah 49:16 - That God would carve my name in the palm of his hand-(a tattoo!)--assures me of his unfailing love and commitment to me
2. Funniest or most embarrassing moment?
I played most of a show with my fly wide open. Then when I realized it, I had to zip it up in front of everyone.
3. What artist or pastor has had the greatest impact on you, and why?
The two most influential people in my life are author Frederick Buechner, whose writing has shaped the way I see the world, and my mentor George Landolt, whose guidance has helped me walk through that world as a Spirit-led believer/doubter/imperfect human/sanctified son.