What Matters More – Derek Webb (2009, Stockholm Syndrome)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Today’s post marks the beginning of a new series (throughout the month of May) for Truth In Tunes entitled: Hot Topic Songs.  The goal will be to explore music that covers important social/spiritual issues of today.  And our first entry comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders – even addressing two hot topics at once: cursing & homosexuality.

A brief reintroduction of the artist – Derek Webb (who I’ve blogged about before) is a pioneer among Christian artists today.  He continues his involvement in the popular band, Caedmon’s Call.  His work with Noisetrade is also worth mentioning, as it serves as one of the best ways for artists and listeners to connect directly and appropriately.  He has been writing music for a long time, including solo projects for the last decade.

“Stockholm Syndrome” was indeed a controversial album, both in content and style.  Webb explored a more techno-based sound, which was a departure from his folk music orientation. But the real “Daniel” moment came when he included a song on the album that was so polarizing, the record label took it off the album.

The song includes what I would consider some mild curse words, so use your own discretion as you read/listen to “What Matters More” by Derek Webb:

you say you always treat people like you’d like to be
i guess you love being hated for your sexuality
you love when people put words in your mouth
about what you believe
make you sound like a freak

‘cause if you really believed what you say you believe
you wouldn’t be so damned reckless with the words you speak
you wouldn’t silently consent when the liars speak
denying all the dying of the remedy

tell me, brother what matters more to you
tell me, sister what matters more to you

if i can see what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about
yeah it looks like being hated for all the wrong things
like chasing the wind while the pendulum swings

‘cause we can talk and debate till we’re blue in the face
about the language and tradition that he’s coming to save
and meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit about
fifty thousand people who are dying today

There is much to say here about this song and the topic of homosexuality, so please bear with me.  First, about Derek Webb and the song, here is a helpful interview that he did explaining the song and the album.  It would be important to consider his own words before making any judgments.  The bottom line is that Webb felt strongly about saying something to the Christian community about how many of us have been treating the gay/lesbian community in recent times.  The song is a challenge to ask ourselves what we value more: being right or being Christ-like?  As Webb has stated many times, he is not commenting on the morality/theology of the issue of homosexuality, but rather he is expressing his frustration with the lack of compassion and love that homosexual people have received from the Christian community.

The response to his song from the Christian world proved his perception on the matter.  The blogosphere ripped him for using curse words in a “Christian” song.  Christian leaders criticized him for not clearly stating the biblical stance on homosexuality being a sin.  Meanwhile, the last verse of “What Matters More” proves itself over and over again by the general response the Christian world gave to Webb’s controversial tune.

Here we are, only three or four years later, and the state of affairs in Christianity (particularly in America) as it regards homosexuality has only gotten worse.  One of our most prominent preachers, Rick Warren, has gently but clearly taken a stand against homosexuality.  Recently, when his mentally-ill son committed suicide, some members of the gay-lesbian and liberal communities lashed out against Warren with cruel criticism and heartless words amidst his time of grief and loss.

When our country passes new laws giving rights to gays, the social media outlets are flooded with Christian one-liners condemning homosexuality and people declaring that our nation is heading to hell.  Not once, have I read a Christian tweet or status offer any sort of balanced perspective on the issues with a tone of kindness and respect.

Sports stars are starting to reveal their gay status publicly and when one sports analyst simply stated the balanced, appropriate Christian response to homosexuality he was labeled as intolerant and ESPN was forced to apologize for him.

Are these examples of how evil the world is and how Christians are hated because we represent Christ and truth?  That is a difficult question to answer.  In one sense, the Bible says it will be this way for true believers, but I do not feel that this represents the whole story of what we are seeing today.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that the main reason why Christians who stand against homosexuality in America are hated so much is because we hated homosexuals first.  Maybe Rick Warren and ESPN analyst Chris Broussard aren’t personally represented in that statement, but the general Christian community certainly is and all of us have caught the fury of the world’s outcry against our lack of love.

Back to our song of the week: here is an artist expressing his frustration with his brothers and sisters in Christ for not loving sinners better and here we are, simply missing the message and continuing to draw battle lines with a dying world – as if the time to love like Christ is over and Armageddon is upon us.  The simple truth is we need to ask ourselves whether or not each of us is balancing the volume of our Christian messages of truth, love, grace and holiness.  Some voices have been too loud for too long, while other voices have only been whispers at best.

There is a big difference between denying biblical truth about sexual sins and reaching out to sinners with the grace of God without condemning them first.  It is NOT loving to just tell someone he/she is broken and condemned while we keep our distance, never learning what it is like to step into their shoes and feel their struggles.

So, did Derek Webb cross the line with this tune?  If Derek Webb were an established local church, then yah, perhaps he did.  But Webb is just a person, an artist, and one brother in Christ speaking out to the rest of us with a tone that, frankly, we needed to hear.  The real question is whether or not you and I listen to this song and become more bothered by our own lack of compassion to homosexuals rather than the song itself.  Do we care more about him saying “shit” in a song or about our own heart attitude towards that gay coworker, neighbor and relative?

The real question for all of us is: what matters more?  Who did Jesus condemn and yell at? Religious leaders.  Who did Jesus eat with, teach, heal and love into the truth of His Gospel? Sinners, of which we, brothers and sisters, are foremost – even now.

Conclusion: Yes, of course, the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality, along with any other sexual sin, is wrong.  Anyone who says that the Bible teaches differently is simply missing the truth.  And, yes, it’s OK for Christians to make absolute statements like that, because it is our core doctrine that the Bible is the only source of ultimate truth and wisdom.  HOWEVER, (please, please listen to this part) the WHOLE truth goes on to embrace the love and grace of Jesus who calls us to reach out to all people in relationship and mercy.

I am grateful to Webb for shaking me up in my own complacency and insensitivity towards gay-lesbian people and I pray that my brothers and sisters will also be convicted to adjust the volume of our message to better reflect the harmony of holiness and grace.

We have been too harsh for too long and it is time to ask ourselves: What matters more?

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Lover – Derek Webb (2003, She Must and Shall Go Free)

click on image to listen to song for free. (it’s #5 on the album)

February is here.  Love is in the air, perhaps.  But today’s love song is old, yet unique…romantic, yet tragic.  It is the age old story of boy meets girl, girl plays hard to get, cheats often, and cruelly disregards the treasure of the boy’s love for her.  Boy dies in order to prove love to girl.  Girl appreciates the gesture, but still wanders into other relationships and lesser pleasures, despite the boy’s epic commitment to her and her alone.  And in the end…the boy sets the girl free.  Free from a life of shame and swine, so that boy and girl can be together forever.

Wait, that doesn’t sound like a normal, healthy love relationship to you either?  Nevertheless, it is a rough summary of God’s relationship with the Church.  God always intended to have a sacred place on Earth that we could come and meet with Him.  He never had to give this kind of access to us, but He graciously offers Himself to us in so many ways.  Unfortunately, we have continually and cyclically complained about, ignored, scorned and desecrated these meeting places.

Derek Webb is a pioneer among Christian artists today.  He continues his involvement in the popular band, Caedmon’s Call.  His work with Noisetrade is also worth mentioning, as it serves as one of the best ways for artists and listeners to connect directly and appropriately.  He has been writing music for a long time, including solo projects for the last decade.  Ten years ago, he took on a project that brought a lot of attention and criticism.  A concept album about the state of the Church in America would definitely be a difficult and highly scrutinized ordeal today.  However, it was a prophetic piece and we are in greater need of its message than even last decade.  “She Must and Shall Go Free” includes a song called, “Lover” which is composed from the perspective of Christ speaking to His bride, the Church.

As you listen to the lyrics, consider how reflecting on Jesus’ attitude towards the Temple in the Gospels compares to how He might speak to us, the Church, today:

Like a man comes to an altar, I came into this town
With the world upon my shoulders
And promises passed down
And I went into the water
My father, he was pleased
I built it and I’ll tear it down so you will be set free

I found thieves and salesmen living in my father’s house
I know how they got in here and I know how to get ‘em out
I’m turning this place over from floor to balcony
And then just like these doves and sheep oh you will be set free

I’ve always been a lover from before I drew a breath
Some things I loved easy and some I’ll loved to death
Because love’s no politician, it listens carefully
So of those who come I can’t lose one, so you will be set free

But go on and take my picture, go on and make me up
I’ll still be your defender and you’ll be my missing son
And I’ll send out an army just to bring you back to me
‘Cause regardless of your brother’s lies oh you will be set free
I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s mine
So you bring all your history and I’ll bring the bread and wine
And we’ll have us a party where all drinks are on me
Then as surely as the rising sun oh you will be set free

Ever since the turn of the twenty-first century, America has come down hard on evangelical Christianity.  The younger generations are leaving the church in droves and society isn’t really respecting the Church as a meaningful and positive element of our world.  We only have ourselves to blame for these trends.  We’ve lost our way, once again, and the world is tired of us.

Now, there is no need to push the panic button yet.  There are bright spots here and there and God is certainly active and involved in His bride today.  But, in general, we are failing…we need to return to our First Love and remember the joy of our salvation that still stands strong as the cornerstone of the Church.  We exist to be a lighthouse to a dying world.  Jesus didn’t just die for you and me.  He died and rose again so that we would believe and become His ambassadors.  There is an “us” that we need to submit to and sacrifice for more than we have been willing to embrace as of late.

God knows that we need this reminder often.  Even before He sent His Son, He sent prophets to help us with remembering our place and calling.  One such prophet was Hosea.  Listen: Hosea 2:14-23:

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope…
 When that day comes,” says the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’
    instead of ‘my master…’
I will make you my wife forever,
    showing you righteousness and justice,
    unfailing love and compassion.                                                                                               I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
    and you will finally know me as the Lord…
I will show love
    to those I called ‘Not loved.’
And to those I called ‘Not my people,’
    I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’
And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’”

God loves His people!  When we actively look to His love together as one, the world will take notice once again (but, in a good way).  When we let God’s love lead us from the inside out, society will favor us once again.  When we humble ourselves, put the Gospel first in our Churches, the unchurched will want what we have.  Jesus is the greatest lover of all and we are His bride.  May He make us worthy of this title and privilege, so that others can be set free, as well!