This week, I would like to feature an interview with Centricity Music recording artist, Jason Gray. He has released a number of CDs which can be purchased at Amazon. I asked to interview Jason because of the impact one song has had on my life (read below to find out which one) and was humbled when he accepted. While a bit lengthy, this is definitely worth reading. He just recently released a Christmas CD entitled Christmas Stories though this interview is going to center primarily on his album A Way to See in the Dark. You can read much more about Jason at his website, JasonGrayMusic.com.
Christian Book Notes (CBN): Could you share your testimony of how you came to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior?
Jason: Wow! That would probably be too long of a story to do justice here, but the shorthand of it is that though I didn’t grow up going to church, God made himself known. I was always aware of His presence in my life and I remember talking with Him as a little boy when I would walk home from school. I had no idea about any of the specifics or even who Jesus was, but God was always there. I remember hearing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for the first time and hearing God whisper in my spirit that this was His heart toward me.
My childhood was very turbulent: my parents split when I was in the first grade (an event that seems to have triggered my speech impediment), this was followed by an ugly custody battle that was very scary and confusing for me. After that my mom married an abusive man who dabbled in the occult. As I said, I was always aware of God drawing me to Him, but in high school—as I began to have a clearer idea of what giving my life to Him meant—I resisted because (among other reasons) I didn’t want to stop making out with my girlfriend! But on Christmas eve when I was 15 years old, the conflict at home escalated to the point that my mom and I were afraid for our lives. My step dad stormed out of the house making threats about what he would do to us when he returned. We packed a suitcase and weathered a long night before being whisked away in the early morning hours to Colorado for a month by some friends of my mom.
It was during that long night of fear where I had a serious conversation with God, basically telling Him if He got us through the night alive I’d see what I could do about serving Him. He did his part and then gently held me to my part of the bargain and it was during those weeks in Colorado where I finally gave my heart completely over to Him and came alive in His love.
CBN: I discovered your music through Janet Bozeman of Bozeman Media as she was requesting a review for Andrew Peterson’s book, The Monster in the Hollows, book three of the Wingfeather Saga Series (read review here). I became a fan of your music then and there when she sent me a copy of Everything Sad is Coming Untrue. Could you explain Andrew’s influence on your ministry?
Jason: Andrew and I have been friends for many years now. I was always a fan and when we met before a concert where I opened for him we hit it off. We’re both book geeks and admire a lot of the same authors. We connected over Frederick Buechner who we both quote directly in a number of our songs. When Andrew launched the Rabbit Room blog community (named after the room in the pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and contemporaries would meet and talk shop), I was grateful to be invited to be a contributor there. Being a part of that creative community of thinkers, lovers of beauty, and pursuers of truth has surely sharpened me and deepened my ministry.
CBN: According to your website, author Philip Yancey has been a major influence in your life. Which book(s) of his have been most impactful and why?
Jason: I’ve enjoyed all of his books. He’s a thoughtful, responsible, intelligent, and honest writer. I also think he beautifully condescends to his readers, taking upper shelf ideas and putting them on the lower shelf so the rest of us can reach them. I found his book on “Prayer” to be as beautiful as it was unsatisfying, but I think that’s consistent with how most of us experience prayer, and therefore one of the virtues of that book—and I think that’s a testament to his good writing. He has great respect for his subject matter and the humanity of his readers and is unwilling to pander, giving us what we need rather than what we want. One of my favorites of his was “Soul Survivor”–a surprising book where he shares mini-biographies of people who have inspired him and whose faith sustained him in times when he wasn’t sure of his own. He generously shares the hope he’s gotten from the lives of the people he writes about in that book. It’s so good.
CBN: What other authors or books have been influential in your walk with Christ?
Jason: The single most influential person in my Christian walk is author Frederick Buechner. At a time when I was deeply wounded by my experience in the church and barely hanging on by the last shreds of my faith, God brought Buechner’s books into my life. Here
was a writer who resisted pretense at every level and was daringly transparent and curious. After a season of being immersed in false expressions of religiosity, Buechner’s writing introduced me to an authentic Christianity that was big enough to hold both my faith and my doubt. He has a wonderful gift for gently asking questions that challenge and undermine our self-assured piety and the ways that we lie to ourselves with the truth.
My first Buechner book was “The Son Of Laughter”, a novel based on the Jacob and Esau narrative. It’s gritty, earthy, and very human. There were places where I thought, “Wow, Buechner is really taking some liberties with the text here!” but then when I would go look up the biblical passages I realized that, no, he wasn’t—that it really was a more human and scandalous story than I was able to see in my previous readings of it. My favorite book of his is “Telling Secrets”, a very moving memoir of his later years as a minister, a parent, a man who fights against the fear that wants to imprison us all. It’s beautiful.
Jason: Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Very early in my life I knew that music was just such a place for me.
CBN: (From my 8-year old son, Austin) What has been your inspiration in writing and singing the songs you do?
Jason: Usually it comes from some idea I love that I want to talk about. If I want to share an idea with my audience, I need to write a song about it, so it usually comes from anything that captures my imagination and makes me excited about sharing with others.
CBN: Who have been your musical influences?
Jason: The first music I really cared about when I was a little boy was Simon & Garfunkel, and Paul Simon remains a towering inspiration to me—he’s America’s greatest songwriter. His work in recent years reflects an open-hearted curiosity toward the things of God. Peter Gabriel and U2 were big early influences, and later Rich Mullins and Mark Heard. Looking at these names it seems like what’s always interested me has been passion, truth-telling, and thoughtful songwriting.
CBN: My son, Isaac, first got me to listen to your song Remind Me Who I Am on the way home from Bible Study one evening. After listening to it in the care, it immediately became my favorite song and one our family regularly listens to in the evenings. Personally, I have often listened to that song in tears and have shared it with many hurting believers in Christ. While I am sure you have heard numerous testimonies of how the Lord has used that song in the lives of others, my question is how personal is this song to you?
Jason: Wow! I’m so honored to hear that!–for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it was something you got to connect to with your son.
It’s very personal, actually. I write the songs I need to hear. It was born out of my wrestling with my own issues of where I find my identity and sense of worth, and how I destroy my life in the ways I try to prove my worth to myself. My worth has already been proven and affirmed in Jesus. But it’s easy to forget.
CBN: In the video, the sign you hold says “REJECTED.” Why did you choose that as your particular sign?
Jason: I wrote the song and made the video at a time when the Lord was surfacing some deep issues of rejection in my life. When it came time for me to hold a sign, I intentionally wrote that on mine because it reflected a very real work the Lord was doing in my life at the time. Thanks for being curious about that!
CBN: You are obviously a story teller through your music. Your recent album, A Way to See in the Dark, tells a great story when listened to all at once. More importantly, you offer to your listener the greatest hope we have in Christ. You had a hand in writing every song on the album. How much of that is a reflection of your life? How important is it that you write the music you sing?
Jason: It’s foundational to my ministry. I don’t consider myself a particularly great singer or musician. I suppose I’m more of a communicator/storyteller/songwriter. So yeah, it’s a big part of the “identity” of my ministry. All the songs start with me, some idea or reflection on what God’s speaking to my heart at that time. I used to write exclusively by myself, but in recent years it’s been so meaningful for me to collaborate with other writers. The beauty of a good collaboration is that you get something together that you wouldn’t have found on your own, so it has the potential to surprise you–which is invigorating and inspiring.
I’ve been writing long enough that I guess I kind of find myself predictable I know what chords and melodies I’ll naturally reach for, and so it’s good to be in a room with someone else who helps pull me in to more uncharted territory. For me, it helps put me in touch with the Holy Spirit and be led beyond the well-worn paths that are so easy for me to follow without even thinking. Michael Card told me once that when we start finishing the bible’s sentences for it, it’s time to get a new translation—the point being that once we think we have it all figured out is probably the moment we’ve lost touch with it. Truth, God’s word, the way the Spirit moves—these should always, in some way, surprise us I think.
Collaborating helps me stay “surprised.” So these days, I only like to collaborate! I’ve been blessed to find myself in an amazing community of songwriters who I trust and am privileged to work with. It makes my ministry and my art better. But I still reserve at least one song per album that I write all by myself.
CBN: Could you speak to the song No Thief Like Fear from A Way To See in the Dark? That song has an excellent message that needs to be heard by many.
Jason: It’s all in the title—fear is a thief that robs us like no other. It distorts every relationship, every decision, and cripples our faculty to love and be loved. Fear wants to rule us and make our every decision for us: how we spend our money, how we dream, who we love, etc. In the devotionals included in the special edition of “A Way To See In The Dark” I wrote:
“…fear covets my worship and wants me as its slave. Ironically, It only has as much power as I give to it…
‘Be not afraid,’ God tells us.
But then we are also told ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.’ If He knows how inclined we are to fear, could it be a kindness that God tells us to fear Him? ‘Perfect love casts out all fear,’ we are told. But since we can’t or won’t seem to be rid of it, does He provide the one place to aim our fear that strips it of its power to rule us? Jesus willingly became the object of God’s wrath, is God perhaps willing to be the object of our fear?
Of course He is the only thing really worthy to be feared – the one who holds the whole world in His hands; the one in whose presence men cannot survive; the one dressed in a robe dipped in blood, with eyes of blazing fire and a sword for a mouth; the Lion of Judah who, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “is not a safe lion.”
“But he is good,” Lewis continues. Good is he who is strong as a lion but also gentle as a lamb, good is he who came as a baby to save the world, meek and mild and magnificent, good the one who carves our name in the palm of his hand. Yes, he is worthy to be feared. Yes, he is the perfect peace that passes all understanding.
Just as he gives idolaters a place to put their worship, perhaps he gives the fearful a place to put their fear – and then with perfect love, casts it out.”
Much of my work is aimed at dethroning the twin adversaries of shame and fear. Both of these are overthrown on Easter—our shame defeated at the cross, our fear defeated by the empty tomb. To me, knowing and then believing this is essential to our renewal and recovery.
CBN: Of your songs, which is your favorite and why?
Jason: Usually whichever one the audience most seems to connect with. Their excitement is a gift for sure. But all things considered, the song I’m most proud of is “I Will Find A Way” from A Way To See In The Dark. It’s directly inspired by Walt Wangerin’s “An Advent Monologue” and was a song that I worked on for 6 years before finally bringing it across the finish line with my friend Andy Gullahorn. It was a very important song to me, which made me afraid of failing it. That’s why it took so long! But I’m so grateful for the way it turned out and the power of it is owed to Wangerin’s beautiful telling of the incarnation.
CBN: How can we pray for you and your ministry?
Jason: Thanks for asking. The chief burden for me is always the balancing act of work and family. If I can get that right, everything else seems to fall into place. I’m praying about what’s next, and we’re starting to talk about making a new record. I’m seeking God about the songs I would write. I’m very tired, too. It’s a demanding vocation.