(RNS) — Stephen Mason’s life has been shaped by guitars, barber shears and the Bible.
And then there was the dad joke that landed him on ESPN.
Three years ago, the former Christian rocker turned barber was talking to a friend and fellow fan about the opening of the Major League Soccer season when four magical words popped into his head.
“Let My People Goal.”
Mason, a longtime member of Jars of Clay, a Grammy-winning Christian band, was cutting a fellow soccer fan’s hair in his Nashville, Tennessee, barbershop when he recalled how a musician friend had been watching a soccer game and shouted out those words when the team scored.
He joked to his friend in the chair — what if we put those words on a T-shirt for fans?
Then, in a moment of either inspiration or terrible judgment, Mason pulled out his phone mid-haircut, opened up a browser on Amazon and bought the costume that changed his life. Another customer in line, who owned a sign company, offered to make a banner.
A few days later, Soccer Moses was born.
“It’s a dad joke gone horribly right,” said Mason in a recent phone interview.
The joke might have died right after that first game. But photos of Mason at a Nashville SC game in full regalia — flowing white hair and beard, a biblical-style tunic, a purple and yellow banner with “Let My People Goal” — and a look of sheer joy on his face made their way to social media, catching the eye of a producer at ESPN.
Mason first saw that picture on TV while getting Sunday brunch and chatting up some fellow soccer fans. A profile of the former rocker published by Major League Soccer described that morning’s scene this way: “Mason screamed. His wife looked around and saw the screen. She screamed. Mason was on ESPN.”
These days, Soccer Moses is a celebrity superfan for the Nashville soccer club. His face flies on a flag outside the team’s new stadium and he’s often found in the team’s supporter section, where its most devoted fans gather. A local brewery put out a special “Let My People Gold” beer, which benefits a local soccer charity.
This past week Mason and some friends put on a “Nuns N’ Moses” fundraiser for the local Humane Society — playing covers of Guns N’ Roses in costumes — when the hard rock band was in town for a show. That show was inspired by another conversation at the Handsomizer, the shop Mason opened after being trained as a master barber in 2014 when Jars of Clay stopped touring after nearly two decades on the road.
Mason had been part of forming the band — named for a verse in 2 Corinthians — when he was 18 with some friends from Greenville University, a small Christian school in downstate Illinois. They became one of the biggest bands in Christian music in the 1990s, said Leah Payne, associate professor of American religious history at Portland Seminary and author of “God Gave Rock and Roll to You,” a new history of contemporary Christian music.
Payne said that in the 1990s, many Christian groups wanted to get mainstream success. But few were able to. Jars of Clay was one of them, with the band opening for Sting and hits like “Flood” being played on rock radio stations around the country.
“In some cases, people knew them first as a modern rock band — not as contemporary Christian music,” she said.