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Not Right Now, The Story Behind The Song

March 6, 2014

Following is the piece I wrote as an essay for the special edition of my new record, Love Will Have The Final Word, available in both the standard and special edition at http://www.jasongraymusic.com.

The suffering of others can make us talkative, loosening the tongues of even the most timid among us. We mean well, we want to help, but more often than not we end up being like Job’s comforters: doing more harm than good by offering half-baked answers, which are no comfort at all and leave the hearer feeling even more alone. When we do this we are asking the suffering person to be okay, to cheer up, and in doing so we are rejecting their pain.

The loneliness of our own suffering can make us introspective. It can lead us into the shame and regret buried deep in our hearts, warranted or not (a friend of mine who had a miscarriage told me that all she wanted to say over and over again was, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” though she had done nothing for which she needed to apologize). In this we see how pain has the power to unearth our deepest wounds, driving them to the surface where perhaps God can begin to heal them.

Several years ago, I experienced one of the most healing moments of my life. It happened in the back lounge of a tour bus. I had just poured out my broken heart to my friend, Andy Gullahorn, when I recognized in the silence that fell between us that I was bracing myself for what he would say next. Would he try to fix me? Correct me? Would he reject my pain by offering answers?

After a moment Andy said, “Jason, I want you to stand up with me. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to hug you, and you need to let me hold you for at least two minutes. And I’m going to time it,” he said as he took off his watch, “so you’re not going anywhere.”

I’m not afraid of male bonding, but two minutes is a long time to hug anyone, let alone in the back lounge of a tour bus. I laughed nervously at first because I felt awkward. But then I found myself crying, and not long after that I started ugly crying. And then, as the last bit of strength I had been clinging to gave itself up, I felt like I sort of went limp and mostly just hung there, held up in the arms of my friend. He didn’t ask me to be okay. He didn’t offer answers. He just offered himself.

Pain is holy, and in the presence of holiness it’s often best to keep quiet. No words passed between us, but what Andy was saying, and what God was saying through him, was clear: “You are loved. You are not alone.”

The Story Behind “With Every Act Of Love”

March 3, 2014

“With Every Act of Love” was the last song to be written for my new record. Knowing I didn’t really have a song that felt like the lead single, I turned to N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hopefor inspiration in a writing session with my friend Jason Ingram. I enjoy the idea of taking a compelling theologian’s idea and shaping it into a pop song that might extend the idea’s reach. What follows is the essay I wrote that is included in the Special Edition of my new record.

With Every Act Of Love

A doorway placed on a set or in a scene is often a sign of new possibilities. A wall divides worlds, and the door is a portal between them, a passageway through which change can enter from one world into another.

In his book, Surprised By Hope, N. T. Wright reminds us that though we live in the world of men, the Kingdom of God is always at hand. Statements such as “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through” are meant to affirm a deeper reality beyond reality, but they may tempt us to imagine Christianity as an ideology of evacuation and abandonment.

However, the hope of the Gospel is as earthy as it is eternal, marked by a Love that pursues, engages, renews, and is fulfilled in the marriage of Heaven and Earth—when the Kingdom that was launched through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ comes to fruition in the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:2 NIV).

The hope laid out for us in Scripture is that this world will not be abandoned! It is being redeemed as part of God’s new creation. The Kingdom of God is not for “someday when” but is an eternal reality that we are invited to participate in here and now.

“Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness;” says Wright, “Every act of care and nurture, comfort and support . . . every deed that embraces holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. . . . What we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world.”

This means that all that we do with love—whether mission work in a foreign land or doing laundry in our own home, feeding the poor or feeding our kids—advances the Kingdom of God and will last forever. Or in the words of one of my favorite songs by David Wilcox, “You will always have what you gave to love.”

The outlandish beauty of all this is that God doesn’t need us to build his Kingdom—he is God after all—but for reasons of his own, he’s decided he wants us. And in the wildness of his wisdom, and as unlikely as it seems, he has put us where we are and asked us to be a portal between worlds, a doorway through which he arrives to redeem and renew. “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”

Watch the “With Every Act Of Love” lyric video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4bB7BUxBbY

Nothing Is Wasted EP releases

March 26, 2013

ImageToday Centricity released the Nothing Is Wasted EP as an iTunes exclusive (you can get it here!). It features the radio remix of “Nothing Is Wasted” as well as 4 tracks that were originally part of the Special Edition of A Way To See In The Dark: “Nothing Is Wasted (solo piano version),” “Before I’ve Done Anything,” “Love Is Rebuilding Us,” and “The Angel Of Your Presence”.

I wrote a piece for the Rabbit recently about the decision to do a remix (you can read that here). The gist of it is that Centricity believed in the song and wanted to release it to radio, though they were concerned that the album version didn’t feel like a radio single.

I was so grateful for their belief in this song that I was happy—with a few reservations—to explore the idea of a remix with them. When it was suggested that we bring my friend Ben Shive on board (producer for Andrew Peterson, JJ Heller, etc), my reservations were laid to rest. I think that Ben did an outstanding job of delivering a fresh vision of the song while preserving the spirit of the original.

I hope you like it.

And I’m so grateful that it appears that radio likes it! It was thought the song was a bit of a long shot as a radio single, but because of the belief in the heart of the song Centricity moved forward with it–a risk that now seems justified as more radio stations are adding it quicker than any of my previous singles. So far it’s being received enthusiastically, and I couldn’t be more grateful about all of it. This was always an important song to me, and when we made the record it was the one that I most hoped would have a chance to be heard.

We also got to make a video with my friend Doug McKelvey (who directed “Remind Me Who I Am”) that should be up really soon! (while you wait, there is a lyric video here)

Centricity decided to take the bonus songs from the Special Edition and make them a part of this EP—An idea I liked, hoping it will give songs like “The Angel Of Your Presence” (written with Doug McKelvey) more chances to get heard.

Meanwhile, I’m hard at work writing new songs and trying to get ready for making a new record this summer! So far, it seems like the theme of “Nothing Is Wasted” will carry over into the next family of songs. I spent time finishing a song today called “Love Will Have The Final Word”–kind of a sister song to “Nothing Is Wasted.” I’m excited to sing some new songs and am so grateful that you’re listening.

If your station is playing “Nothing Is Wasted,” I’d be grateful if you let them know that you appreciate it!

Nothing Is Wasted EP available here

Nothing Is Wasted, the Remix

February 12, 2013

NIWcover

(Originally posted in the Rabbit Room. Join the conversation here: http://www.rabbitroom.com/2013/02/song-of-the-week-jason-gray-nothing-is-wasted-remix/)

When Centricity (my record label) is considering which song should be the next single to promote to radio, they will do “pre-testing”, which means they hire a service who plays a portion of the song (sometimes only 8 to 16 seconds of it) for the target demographic of radio listeners. If it scores poorly, it’s not a single. If it scores well, then that becomes part of the case they’ll build when talking with radio about the song.

If you’re anything like me, this whole business of pre-testing 8 to 16 seconds of a song is . . . discouraging. What happened to listening to a song? And what happened to the romantic image of DJs who played music because they believed in it? Well, that still happens, too. And while it’s tempting to feel “pre-testing” lacks soul and conviction . . . well, I guess I just don’t want to give any more energy to judging it (or anything else for that matter).

I bring it up, though, to highlight one of the reasons I’m so grateful for my label, Centricity Music. As they wondered about what the next single would be, pre-testing revealed a clear front-runner. However, as we talked about it (and please understand what a remarkable thing it is that I get to be a part of the conversation!), their conviction was that, though it wasn’t the obvious choice, “Nothing Is Wasted” is the song they think people need to hear most. I’m beyond grateful for their belief and willingness to go with their heart on this rather than the numbers.

We recorded two versions of the song—the album version and then the solo piano alternate version for the Special Edition—but neither were deemed radio ready, so a remix was proposed. I get a little nervous about that kind of thing because it’s often the best way to ruin a perfectly good song. But when they decided to hire Ben Shive (producer of Andrew Peterson’s last four records), I got excited.

Ben worked hard to preserve the heart of the song while also reshaping the track to help it feel like the kind of song you might hear on the radio right now. Lauren Daigle, an artist in development at Centricity, lent her amazing voice for some beautiful harmonies. Ben also added cello and hammered dulcimer. He also took the two pre-existing versions and combined them, so that the song has the original bridge and final chorus that I wrote for it.

I’m nothing but grateful: that Centricity went with their heart and picked this song, that Ben remixed it, and that early response from radio has been really positive. But more than anything I’m grateful that of all the things I could be talking about at this time in my life, I get to talk about the goodness of God, the way that he works all things—all things—together for the good of those who love him. Pain, loss, even failure . . . these things don’t get to have the last say over our lives. God has the final word, and his word over our lives is love.

I hope you like the song, thanks for listening.

Lyric video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvnBhtbATag

[The new mix of "Nothing Is Wasted" will be available soon in the iTunes store ]

Nothing Is Wasted
Jason Gray/Jason Ingram/Doug McKelvey

The hurt that broke your heart
And left you trembling in the dark
Feeling lost and alone
Will tell you hope’s a lie
But what if every tear you cry
Will seed the ground where joy will grow

Nothing is wasted
Nothing is wasted
In the hands of our redeemer
Nothing is wasted

It’s from the deepest wounds
That beauty finds a place to bloom
And you will see before the end
That every broken piece is
Gathered in the heart of Jesus
And what’s lost will be found again

Nothing is wasted
Nothing is wasted
In the hands of our redeemer
Nothing is wasted

When hope is more than you can bear
And it’s too hard to believe it could be true
And your strength fails you half way there
You can lean on me and I’ll believe for you
Give it time, you will believe it too

Nothing is wasted
Nothing is wasted
Sometimes we are waiting
In the sorrow we have tasted
But joy will replace it
Nothing is wasted
In the hands of our redeemer
Nothing is wasted

Caring For The Right Thing At The Right Time

January 24, 2013

Originally posted in The Rabbit Room

The other night while we were washing dishes, my son Jacob said he’d seen a trailer for a movie he wanted to see. “Oh yeah? Which one?” I asked.

“The new Red Dawn.”

“Ugh.” I said. “Why would you want to see that one? You know they’ve been sitting on it for a couple of years because they knew it was a stinker. I think they’re only releasing it now because it’s got Thor and Peeta in it and they’re hoping they can cash in on their popularity and at least get something back for their poor investment.”

Jacob continued, unfazed. “It’s also got an actor in it who I used to love when I was a kid—Josh from Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh. I’d really like to see what he’s doing now.”

Undeterred, I continued my diatribe. “Well, I loved the original when I was a kid in the ’80s, but this one got TERRIBLE reviews. It’s going to be bad. I’m just telling you because I don’t want you to waste your money.”

About the time these last words came out of my mouth, I began to realize how much of a self-righteous jerk I was being. Unfortunately this is not uncommon for me—I can be oppressively opinionated and uppity. By God’s grace, however, I am learning to recognize it better and quicker. I’m so grateful for growing conviction, the evidence that God is still at work in my life.

A part of my problem is that sometimes I care about the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes I care about fairness instead of generosity. Sometimes I care about someone else’s theological accuracy when quiet listening would be better. In this particular instance I was caring more about the quality of a film than I was caring about the quality of a conversation with my son. (In fact, I think he knew that I wouldn’t care for this movie but brought it up anyway, risking my scorn. Brave.)

Of course it’s good to care about things, and I do care about well-crafted films and good storytelling. I care, too, about nuanced and cathartic performances that are as delicious to the soul as a fine meal is to the palette. I am grateful for my capacity to enjoy these and other forms of art-making: books, music, painting, and on down the list. I care about these things because I’m convinced that beauty matters and is both a grace to be enjoyed and a calling to participate in.

But in that moment with Jacob, my care for a certain kind of beauty turned ugly and it was because I was picking the wrong thing to care about. Consequently I failed to recognize a more subtle and significant beauty that was being offered to me: the beauty of my son sharing his simple desire to see a movie—one that reminded him of fond memories of his childhood.

In that moment I had also been offered a chance to create something beautiful myself: a generous response with the power to foster a culture of kindness, grace, and intimacy in our home. What work of art—be it a song, a book, or a film—can compare to this?

By God’s grace I recognized what I’d done early enough to maybe do something about it. “Ah Jacob. I’m sorry. What a jerk I am sometimes. Can we try this again, would you let me? Let’s start over. Tell me again what movie you want to see.”

He laughed, but played along.  “Dad, there’s this movie I really want to see. It’s calledRed Dawn.”

“Oh yeah? Man I loved that movie when I was kid. Tell me more about it, why do you want to see it?”

“Well, it’s got Peeta from the Hunger Games in it. It’s also got Josh from Drake and Josh” and just looks kind of cool to me.”

He was creating something beautiful of his own by graciously playing along with me, giving me a chance to make amends. This is the beauty of grace. “Awesome! Well, let me know when it comes out and maybe we can watch it together.” I said, smiling.

“Okay, dad,” he said, smiling back. He had accepted my apology and offered me a way back into his world. He is a kind boy.

Later that night my youngest son Gus asked if I’d lay by him in his bed a little bit before he went to sleep. After a little reading (from The Jesus Storybook Bible—Woot!), we lay there a bit in the dark. Kipper and Jacob had come upstairs and were across the hall talking with their mom, laughing, being rambunctious and making some noise.

I sensed it was distracting Gus in the quiet of the moment we were sharing. With every word and bark of laughter he heard from across the hall his body would tense. I could tell he was about to holler down the hall for them to be quiet because he was trying to sleep. I was about to say, jokingly, “Man, your brothers are noisy!” But remembering my earlier moment with Jacob, I wondered if there was something else I might say that would be better, something that might help foster kindness, grace, and intimacy in our home. What was the right thing to care about?

“It’s nice to hear their voices, isn’t it?” I whispered to Gus in the dark.

“Yeah,” he said as his body noticeably relaxed. He was quiet for a moment, and then said, “That’s just what I was going to say.”

Christmas Is Coming… to a city near you! Will You Be There?

November 21, 2012

One week from today will be the first stop of our Christmas tour! This is a special occasion for me for many reasons. First of all, it’s the first tour that is all my own. In all the years I’ve been doing this I’ve had the good fortune of touring with amazing artists like Sara Groves, Sanctus Real, Downhere, Tobymac, The Afters, Jeremy Camp, Andrew Peterson, Todd Agnew, Third Day and others. I’ve been grateful to find myself in such fine company time and time again. But I’ve never done my very own tour and I decided that it was about time.

Second, I’m excited to bring my friends Zach, Aaron, and Steve with me—a group of guys I’ve been blessed to be making music with for years. They’re a great band and I’m a huge fan of their musicality! I can’t wait for you to hear them. Joining us on the cello is my new friend Ben Rosenbush who will also sing a few of his own songs as my guest artist  (check out his song “This Fire” here: http://benrosenbush.bandcamp.com/track/this-fire)

Most exciting for me is that this will be a family affair! We’ve never gotten to do a bus tour all together and I’m grateful we get to go on this adventure as a family with Taya representing World Vision, Jacob working his mojo behind the scenes with merch and multi-media, Kipper playing keys as part of the band, and Gus gearing up for his solo, “Christmas For Jesus”.

We’ll be bringing our telling of the story of Emmanuel to 10 cities this Christmas season, playing the songs of my new record, Christmas Stories: Repeat The Sounding Joy—a telling of the Christmas narrative through the characters who lived it. I wrote the songs with the hope that—if I told their stories as honestly and humanly as I knew how—those who listened would recognize themselves in these characters and maybe take the Christmas story personally.

I hope you can join us as we chart a course for Bethlehem, following the footprints of those who first traveled there, believing the journey is meant to lead us deep inside our own hearts to find a manger and the child who can make us all children again. Come celebrate and sing the story with us!

Here’s where the tour is coming:
11.28 – La Harpe, IL
11.29 – Hot Springs, AR
11.30 – Jackson, MO
12.1 – Aurora, IL
12.2 – Weston, WI
12.5 – Rapid City, SD
12.6 – Mankato, MN
12.7 – Waukesha, WI
12.8 – Zeeland, MI
12.9 – Zanesville, OH

Hope to see you there! For more info, go to http://www.jasongraymusic.com

Have you heard the Christmas Record yet? It’s streaming here this week: http://www.newreleasetuesday.com/albumpreview.php

Christmas Stories: Repeat The Sounding Joy should be pretty much available everywhere

The Story We Tell Ourselves Part 2: The Monster In The Mirror

September 24, 2012

I wrote a follow up piece to “The Story We Tell Ourselves” that posted in The Rabbit Room last week. For those of you who might be interested, here’s the link! “The Story We Tell Ourselves Part 2″

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