Derek Webb is an artist whom I greatly respect and admire. Not only does his “raw” music (i.e. his unique voice, direct acoustic guitar or banjo playing, and conventional tap piano playing) resonate with my life and tastes, but his lyrics are honest and forthright, speaking out against Christian clichés and passivity (i.e. marginalization or luk-warmness).
As a side note for those of you less familiar with Derek Webb, he has more or less been with Caedmon’s Call (another favorite artist) since the band’s creation, returning to the band after an absence in their recent Overdressed album. He has recently recorded with his wife and fellow musician Sandra McCracken, some of whose writing has also been used by Caedmon’s Call, which as an EP is also fantastic. Most of his work, lately, has been in the form of “solo” albums (some main titles being She Must and Shall Go Free, I See Things Upside Down, Mockingbird, and recently The Ringing Bell).
It’s upon Webb’s insightful lyrics that I wish to reflect today. I will quote some of his songs, or part of songs, particularly from Mockingbird (the album that I’m most familiar with at this point, though all his albums that I’ve heard contain such meaningful and challenging writing), and then perhaps add a small thought or reflection between them. Overall, however, my desire is that his lyrics stand alone and can speak for themselves. They should cause one, whether you agree with them or not, to pause and reflect. . . .
I quoted part of the following quote to my high small group last night during a discussion on the film “Hotel Rwanda,” and generally the Rwandan genocide of 1994. I asked the students: What should we come away with from such a film? What can or should we do? I have no real solutions, but I do have responses to certain answers that others may give to these questions (a topic for another time and place). Regarding war and violence, however, especially in light of Jesus Christ, I believe Webb has some chilling statements against the common Christian American worldview . . .
“How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love? My enemies are men like me. I will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well. My enemies are men like me. Peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication. It’s like telling someone murder is wrong, and then showing them by way of execution . . . When justice is bought and sold just like weapons of war, the ones that always pay are the poorest of the poor . . . ‘Non-violence is the crucial moral and political question of our time—the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression’ (a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.).”
(Mockingbird, “My Enemies are Men like Me”)
“Poverty is so hard to see when it’s only on your TV and twenty miles across town. When we’re all living so good, that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood where he’s hungry and not feeling so good from going through our trash. He says, ‘more than just your cash and coin I want your time I want your voice; I want the things you just can’t give me.’ So what must we do, here in the West we want to follow you. We speak the language and we keep all the rules, even a few we made up. ‘Come on and follow me, but sell your house, sell your SUV, sell your stocks, sell your security and give it to the poor.’ What is this, he what’s the deal? I don’t sleep around and I don’t steal. ‘I want the things you just can’t give me.’”
(Mockingbird, “Rich Young Ruler”)
Further, regarding our perspectives on national politics, and foreign diplomacy, as Christians (I’ve heard it said that various Christians, whether individuals or groups, have responded negatively to Webb’s artistry—surely not everyone will agree, but I wonder if their response is in part due to the fact that they fit perfectly into what he’s saying) . . .
“There are two great lies that I’ve heard: the day you eat of the fruit of that tree you will not surely die, and that Jesus Christ was a white middle-class republican, and if you want to be saved you have to learn to be like Him. My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood, but to a King and a Kingdom. But nothing unifies like a common enemy, but we have one sure as Hell—but he may be living in your house, he may be raising up your kids, he may be sleeping with your wife; oh no, he may not look like you think.”
(Mockingbird, “A King and a Kingdom”)
Ultimately, when thinking of our political views, etc. we should always remember The Gospel. What is the root of the Gospel, of Christ? Did not Jesus say that the greatest commandment is love? It is a simple concept on paper, naturally more difficult in practice, but is it truly so hard to apply to all domains of our lives?
“Politics or love can make you blind or make you see, make you a slave or make you free, but only one does it all. And it’s giving up your life for the ones you hate the most; it’s giving them your gown when they’ve taken your clothes. . . . Love is not against the law. . . . Are we defending life when we just pick and choose lives acceptable to lose and which ones to defend? ‘Cause you cannot choose your friends, but you choose your enemies—and what if they were one, one and the same? Could you find a way to love them both the same to give them your name? Love is not against the law.”
(Mockingbird, “Love is Not Against the Law”)
This fundamental Truth is where I have seen and heard account of the Church falling short time and time again. We must return to the source of the Gospel, which is Christ, who is Love. Who do we ultimately turn to in the face of difficulties, in our own daily lives or regarding the problems of this world? Too often people seem to expect the governments to fix all their “surface” problems.
“We’ll never have a savior on Capital Hill”
(The Ringing Bell, “A Savior on Capital Hill”)
Governments have a purpose and a responsibility, surely, and God is in some way over them (another topic), but perhaps we should shift our expectations, or more appropriately shift our hope (after all, God never promised an easy life; read the words of Jesus recorded by the Apostle John) to the LORD. Again, perhaps it can be simplified (though, again, is it so simple?) down to the Truth of Love (especially, in this case, the agape expression). “Love is not against the law” . . .