10 Questions with ... Jason Gray
May 30, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 1997 The Singer & The Song
- 1999 Postcard
- 2001 A Place Called Hope
- 2002 Live Vol. 1: Hoping
- 2005 The Better Part Of Me
- 2007 All The Lovely Losers
- 2008 Acoustic Storytime
- 2009 Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue
- 2011 A Way To See In The Dark
- 2011 Song Cycles: From Work Tapes To Remixes
- 2012 Christmas Stories: Repeat The Sounding Joy
- 2013 Nothing Is Wasted
- 2014 Love Will Have The Final Word
- 2015 Love Will Have The Final Word: Postscript
- 2016 Where The Light Gets In
1. Introduction/brief history
I was born in Marshall, MN, and grew up on the road with my mom's bar band. I lived in a town of about 300 people, 8 people in my class at school! It was like living in a Norman Rockwell painting.
My first jobs were rock picking and weed spraying over the summer. After high school, I worked at a restaurant while I was taking college classes. Eventually, I got married and we worked as the youth ministers at our church. We were in youth ministry for six years. During that time, I recorded my first record and began playing around southwest Minnesota. That grew into a full time music career, with many years spent as an independent artist before Centricity partnered with me. Current hometown...well, I just sold my house last week and do not have a house yet to move into, so I'm in transition. I hope to be in Nashville soon.
2. What does a normal day at home look like for you?
Ha! There really isn't a normal, but I would say the rhythm of life looks like spending 9-12 days a month on the road. I try to do all of my work while I'm on the road (writing, responding to emails, interviews, etc.) so that when I'm home I can be present to those I love and give very focused attention to them. Time on the road almost always does damage to any relationship, so I try to be very intentional about repairing that damage when I'm home.
3. What's the song that you just can't get out of your head right now?
I'm pretty hooked on Paul Simon's new song, "Wristband." He's one of my favorite songwriters and "Wristband" is so many things I love about Simon's writing-It's whimsical, funny, and then really meaningful and full of insight. He sings a story about accidentally getting locked out of the venue during a concert break and then having to enter through the main entrance, only to be blocked by the big security guy who says, "if you don't have a wristband, you can't get in the door..." He takes this funny story and then turns it into social commentary about entitlement and the anger of the lower/middle class who feel like they'll never get a wristband, "and if you don't have a wristband, you can't get in the door." Brilliant. Funny. Meaningful. And you can dance to it. :)
4. How much do you travel, what are the challenges? How do you juggle life on the road with wanting to be home?
It's very difficult. It's painful and there's no way around that, but it helps me if I remember that I get to choose. I can go home any day I want. Sometimes it doesn't feel like I have a choice, because it's how I make a living and there are a lot of people I am responsible to as a provider. But, at the end of the day I do have a choice. The world won't end if I cancel everything and go home. Knowing that I have a choice also helps me choose to be present wherever I am-whether I'm on the road or at home.
5. What Artist or Pastor has had the greatest impact on you?
Wow, great question. In terms of pastors, the three who have most directly shaped my understanding of my faith are Frederick Buechner, Tim Keller, and most recently Richard Rohr. In terms of artists, I've learned so much from Bono about authenticity and Rich Mullins made a big mark in my life, too. I suppose each of these pastor/authors and artists have this thing in common; they have stayed in touch with their humanity and their failings. Their work is continually defying my expectations. They challenge my thinking instead of affirming it. Do you know what I mean? They aren't interested in telling me something I already know, but instead offering a new way of seeing the truth that challenges what I think I know and invites me into a continually transformed understanding.
6. What's the last book you read?
I'm nearly finished with a book about leadership called, "A Failure Of Nerve." A part of the book is about how our world is crippled by chronic anxiety and how we desperately look for emotional relief from our anxiety. That can lead us to over value confidence and to rally around confident people, placing unrealistic hope in them to solve the problems in our world. But change is slow and rarely happens over the course of an election cycle. There are no quick fixes, no matter how much we wish there were. A symptom of chronic anxiety is the way a society will vote out the incumbent. Every eight years or so we put either a conservative or liberal in the White House, back and forth, hoping someone new will have the answer. This has been helpful reading as I try to understand this year's election with all we've seen.
7. What's the biggest "God moment" you've ever experienced? Personally or professionally, when has God shown up in a powerful way?
The most recent was this last year when I was on tour with Big Daddy Weave. I had just barely survived a painful divorce that left me very heartbroken and barely able to function, but I still needed to pay the bills. The Big Daddy Weave tour was more like a hospital than anything else. I decided I could play my half hour each night and then go hide in my bunk. I thought that would be the mode of my recovery; physical and emotional rest by hiding away from everyone.
But Big Daddy Weave invites people to come forward for prayer at the end of their show as the artists go down to meet them and pray with them. At that point, I wasn't even sure I knew how to pray any more. All I knew was exhaustion and depression. But, I've developed a discipline of putting myself in the path of anywhere that God might be moving so that I might get hit by something good. I decided to make myself available to pray for people.
Without anybody knowing my story, the people who ended up in my line for prayer that whole first week were couples whose marriages were on the brink of falling apart. I thought, "This is the one thing I know how to pray for. I know how to pray for these people." It was very affirming and it felt as though God was telling me that I still had good work to do. It was enough to help me re-enter the land of the living, and it felt very divinely appointed.
8. Take us through a couple songs on your latest project, "Where The Light Gets In"
The heart of the record is right in the middle, a song called "The Wound Is Where The Light Gets In." I wrote it with Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay and the song led to the title of the album. We stole the idea from a quote by the Persian poet Rumi, who wrote, "the wound is where the light enters you." But maybe he stole it from Paul who wrote that God is able to "work all things together for the good of those who love Him."
It is a comforting thought that we have a place to bring all of our mess-the pain we've experienced, the pain we've caused others-and that it can become a means of transformation for us. Elizabeth Kubler Ross says that the most beautiful people we have known are those who have suffered. Their suffering has made them more loving, less judgmental, more compassionate, kinder, and better listeners. This has been a theme in all of my work. People can be very anxious during times of crisis when their world is falling apart. But it is a comfort to recognize that as much as these moments are endings, they are also new beginnings and transformative, the means by which we become who we most want to be.
The album closes with, "Thank You For Everything," a song affirming everything that comes into our life. In time, we learn to be grateful for so many of the worst things we've experienced because of how they made us who we are today. How will we learn to forgive if no one hurts us? How will we learn to love our enemies if no one betrays us? We learn by doing, and may find ourselves thankful for the wisdom and depth our experience has given us, the dark gifts that become seeds for new life.
Editors Note: Jason's current radio single is "Sparrows". Radio stations & decision makers, check it out on the AADL (All Access Download) system.
9. What organization/service group are you affiliated with?
I've been with World Vision for 12 years and my partnership with them has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. I see my work for the poor and the powerless as being my most significant worship. If the goal of our worship is to bring pleasure to the heart of God, then we can do little better than caring for the poor, who Jesus values so much that he says, "whatever you do unto the least of these you do unto me." That tells me that He takes it personally, that in some mystical way we get to minister to the broken heart of God that breaks for the poor.
10. Person you'd most like to have a discussion with, living or dead.....Deities are excused from this question
I'd do just about anything to sit at a table with Bono and C.S. Lewis.
1. Favorite Bible Verse....life verse?
Isaiah 49:16 "I drew a picture of you on my hand. You are always before my eyes."
That God would tattoo my name on the palm of his hand is a potent demonstration of committing His unfailing love to me.
2. How & When did you become a believer?
I was graced to become a believer again when I woke up this morning, but I know you're asking about a specific moment. I would say that the moment it all came together for me was when I was 16. My stepdad was abusive and became violent on Christmas Eve, leading my mom and I to go hide out in Colorado for a month with some friends of hers. It was in that dramatic season that God made himself known to me in a way that broke through my resistance.
3. Funniest or most embarrassing moment on the road?
I played more than half of a show with my fly open. Horrifying. But not as horrifying as realizing it and then having to zip it up in front of everyone.