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?

Hosanna – Andrew Peterson (2008, Resurrection Letters Vol. 2)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Continuing the opening theme of confession within our focus on the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Andrew Peterson, once again, steps up to the plate for this week’s selection.

Today’s song takes the question of “Why did God have to die in the first place?” and the answer that Page CXVI gave us last week (“You bled by our hands…”) and brings all of it further in and all the way through to the ultimate conclusion: God died.  We put Him there.  But God did it anyway, because He is King of our lives and our hearts!  The “further in” part has to do with Peterson’s humbling and cutting confession as a fallen child of God that we could/should all claim for ourselves.  But listen also to the hinting and foreshadowing of victory that this song offers:

I am tangled up in contradiction. I am strangled by my own two hands.                                 I am hunted by the hounds of addiction. Hosanna!                                                                 I have lied to everyone who trusts me. I have tried to fall when I could stand.                        I have only loved the ones who loves me. Hosanna!

O Hosanna! See the long awaited king come to set his people free. We cry O Hosanna! Come and tear the temple down. Raise it up on holy ground. Hosanna!

I have struggled to remove this raiment, tried to hide every shimmering strand.                   I contend with these ghosts and these hosts of bright angels. Hosanna!                               I have cursed the man that you have made me,                                                                   as I have nursed the beast that bays for my blood.                                                            Oh, I have run from the one who would save me. Save me, Hosanna!

We cry for blood, and we take your life. Hosanna!                                                                 It is blood, it is life that you have given.

You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent.                                                       You have carried to the grave the black stain.                                                                   You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain.                                                                   You have beaten Death at Death’s own game. Hosanna!

O Hosanna! Hail the long awaited king, come to set his people free. We cry O Hosanna! Won’t you tear this temple down, raise it up on holy ground. O Hosanna!                              I will lift my voice and sing: you have come and washed me clean. Hosanna.

This song is set primarily within the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey and being hailed as King of the Jews by the people (Matthew 21).  This triumphal entry occurs only a week before the same masses would cry out, “Crucify Him!”

The irony that the Gospel authors allude to (and Peterson picks up on in this tune) is that Christ is indeed Israel’s “Saving King” but not in the way that they expected.  The Jews hoped for a physical saving from Roman oppressors, but God meant His Son to be a spiritual savior.  Nevertheless, Christ will reign over all realms in the end and the cry of “Hosanna!” is and will be completely answered.

The other beautiful symbolism in this story is Jesus clearing out the Temple shortly after His regal welcome to the city.  Again, Jesus drives the point towards the spiritual focus that His mission was always centered on.  The Temple is symbolic for our bodies and our man-made religious efforts.  And so the lyrics of our song today rightly call us to plea with God, saying “Come and tear this temple down. Raise it up on holy ground. Hosanna!

In order for Jesus to do this, He had to die.  This song captures the riveting defiance that we pit against the immeasurable offer of sacrificial love given to us by God through Christ.

The word Hosanna in the Greek literally means, “save now!”  What a succinct way of defining both our great need and the great hope that Jesus Christ is exactly the One who can save us.  May we continue to better understand exactly what we are to be saved from (ourselves, the wrath of a holy God, etc.) and Who is doing the saving.  May the cry of “Hosanna!” be written on our hearts over this Lent season more and more.

Tree to Grow – The Lone Bellow (2013, The Lone Bellow)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

I have inadvertently pursued a theme so far this month of songs that demonstrate the power of redemption in the context of both faith and marriage, or faith and life at least.  In other words, January’s songs are much closer to earth than perhaps many of our good Christian musicians tend to be.  Growing our faith is always about building that bridge between where we are at and where God is waiting for us.  Of course, Christ has already done all the leg work, but manifesting what we have become in Christ in our everyday lives is sometimes another story.  That is where everyday stories about redemption in real people can really help.  Even better when it comes in the form of a dazzling new tune!

Today’s song is technically our first 2013 selection, since all other songs had been released before the new year (some well before).  And I predict by the end of this year that many people will remember and know about The Lone Bellow.  Their debut album isn’t expected to be out until the 22nd of this month, but it is already receiving a lot of buzz nationally.  NPR is streaming their entire album on their website right now (which is where the link above takes you); Paste, Relevant and Billboard have already reviewed and/or interviewed them; and iTunes already has them on their pre-order list.  Plus, they will be celebrating their album debut by appearing on the Conan show.  So much for the quiet, indie route for these folks.

This trio hails from Brooklyn via some southern route south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Their sound is New Englandish folk/country and their story is quite amazing – full of sorrow and redemption.  I’ve only gathered bits and pieces, but enough to be hooked and refreshed by their creativity and authenticity.  The lead man, Zach Williams, never intended to write songs or be in a band.  But, at some point, his wife was in a horrific accident that almost left her paralyzed for life.  As he reflected about this event and journaled, one thing led to another and eventually The Lone Bellow was born.

Hence we return to our song of the day and the aforementioned theme of redemption in everyday life, especially married life.  “Tree to Grow” is a song for his wife apparently about a time when he almost walked away amidst a rocky season in their relationship.  The transparency of the lyrics reveal that something changed in him and his commitment to his bride was renewed.

These lyrics are not official.  Since the album has not been released yet, this was the best I could do by ear.  I hope I got it mostly right:

And you told me you were sorry and you did not want to pray,                                          you looked outside your window as I went outside away,                                                     the street it was much warmer on my bare feet than the rain,                                            that fell out of the sky just like my thoughts fell from that day,

I poured out one more handful of the rain that fell that day,                                                     I collected it in my spare time as I walked back home that day,                                           In the night you said you’re sorry, on the night my colors changed,                                       I waved at you from outside as you screamed of all my shame,

I’ll never leave, I’ll always stay,                                                                                                 I swear on all that I keep safe,                                                                                                A tree I’ll grow to let you know,                                                                                             my love is older than my soul,

? don’t smile your well-known face, your tapping shoes, your wicked grace,                   your precious time, your darker days, the days I left you with no space,                             to breathe or even think of me without the weary that I always leave,

I’ll never leave, I’ll always stay                                                                                                  I swear on all that I keep safe,                                                                                                  I swear,                                                                                                                                 but it gets harder and harder,                                                                                               but my love is older than my soul.

A tree I’ll grow to let you know                                                                                              my love is older than my soul. 

Such a beautiful and honest declaration of a devoted husband.  It’s not easy.  Marriage never is; but instead of leaving, he renewed his vow with “love that is older than my soul.”  When I got married, my wife and I wrote our vows together with several common lines.  One of those lines reads, “I love you with a love only Christ Himself could give me.”  This is the core of the song, I believe.

I have good reason to believe that The Lone Bellow are Christian artists, even though it is not spelled out in their songs.  Also, the well-known Christian producer and songwriter, Charlie Peacock, produced their album.  In any case, the ability of us as listeners to take a song like this and see the power of the Gospel in it towards our marriages and homes is appropriate and exhilarating.

God instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  Yet this instruction has always implied that it would take Christ to accomplish this.  My wife and I try to repeat our vows to each other each year on our anniversary; but the reality is we have both had several days like the one in this song where we almost walked away from it all.

Commitment and unconditional love is really hard.  Doing these things passionately, genuinely and consistently is impossible.  Humans are too selfish, stubborn and evil-centered to be good partners on our own.  Christ has made a way for us to be together with Him and with each other through His strength and grace.  And remember that His power to love is older than your soul.  You can do this, because He has already done the work for you.  When you depend on Jesus to love other people, especially the ones that you are closest to, then you will receive the joy of having your loved ones see Jesus in you!  And you’ll have your own tree to grow.