My Former Self

I picked up the new Derek Webb album, Stockholm Syndrome, this past weekend. I absolutely love Derek Webb and have ever since he left Caedmon's Call; his lyrics are so passionate, so challenging and, musically speaking, he has been a bit of a chameleon with every album. There was the jangly roots music of She Must and Shall Go Free, the stark, atmospheric darkness of I See Things Upside Down, the stripped-down acoustic guitar work on Mockingbird and a bit of 1960's Brit-pop revival on The Ringing Bell. For his latest release, he has left the majority of his instruments at home, save for an acoustic guitar on a couple tracks, and opted for a more digital approach. The entire album is dominated by drums, keyboards and computers. It's actually kind of reminiscent of if Moby were doing more upbeat stuff.

There's been a lot of controversy surrounding Stockholm Syndrome in the music industry since the time it was supposed to be released (in May) up until now. Of course, Derek Webb always stirs things up with every release and I've always wondered just how long it would take for his record label to say "enough is enough." Apparently, he's finally done it.

The original statement the record label, INO, released stated that the lyrics on the new album were too harsh and too risque for Christian audiences, so they wouldn't be releasing it unless he changed the lyrics (particularly for one song). Now, Derek Webb is a man who will not back down when he believes in something and so he refused to change the lyrics. According to him, that one song that is getting the most heat is the most important song on the album, so he was even more adamant about keeping it as is. Deliberation ensued over the entire summer and the compromise reached was INO agreed to release a censored version of the album that didn't include that one song. However, Webb could make an uncensored version of the album available to his fans on his website.

"That one song" is entitled "What Matters More."

So I downloaded the uncensored version (obviously) and wasn't surprised when I felt that I had been slapped in the face many, many times over with each song (some songs even slapped me more than once!). And it wasn't an offensive slap in the face, I don't think. A lot of Christians will be listening to the lyrics on this album and they will be incredibly offended (and they should be -- Webb is ruthless this time around!), but I wasn't. My slaps in the face were more like wake-up slaps; like "get with the program" slaps.

The song "What Matters More" was the biggest slap of all.

This song has served in my life as a call to arms. It awakened ancient feelings inside of me, stirred up emotions and passions that have been docile for a long, long time. But, before I continue, perhaps I should write down the lyrics for all of you so you can have perspective of what I'm talking about here...

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
'Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak

'Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
You wouldn't be so damn reckless with the words you speak
Wouldn't silently conceal when the liars speak
Denyin' all the dyin' of the remedy

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

If I can tell 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
It looks like being hated for all the wrong things
Like chasin' the wind while the pendulum swings

'Cause we can talk and debate until we're blue in the face
About the language and tradition that he's comin' to save
Meanwhile we sit just like we don't give a shit
About 50,000 people who are dyin' today

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

Intense, right? Especially for a Christian artist! I applaud Derek Webb for his ability to step up to the microphone and let it fly. It takes a lot of courage to be able to preach Truth to a bunch of Christians who definitely don't have their hearts in the right place.

It is an undeniable fact that for the past, let's say 30, years, the two main issues on the average evangelical's agenda have been abortion and homosexuality. If there's one thing I can say about evangelicals over the past couple decades, it's that we have our eyes on the wrong things. Not only that, but we're proud of it! We flaunt it! There's another Derek Webb song that spoofs the old hymn, "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" -- his version is called "They'll Know Us By Our T-Shirts." We hold up big signs, form picket lines, firebomb abortion clinics, wear t-shirts with outrageously cheesy things written on them (like "My boss is a Jewish carpenter" or "In case of rapture, you may have this shirt").

But where is the LOVE?

That's the point Derek Webb is driving at in this song -- he's not just trying to ruffle feathers, he's asking "Why are you so concerned with condemning homosexuals and forsaking LOVE?"

Another thing I appreciate about the song (and this is a subtle thing) is his use of the words "damn" and "shit." Here are some of the comments people had about it on YouTube. First, the negativity:

AMP27890: I find it interesting how people try to excuse his use of vulgar words. If this is the state that Christian music is sinking to, I don't want it.

funglu: Derek Webb is becoming synonymous with cheap publicity stunt. This is creative? Really? He needs to credit his sources. He isn't the first nor the last to cuss for affect and try to appear clever.

swiftyguitar: First of all, "let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth", and "everything you do, do for the glory of God". Will these word choices profit the church? Not for me to judge.... But sidenote, weird style for Derek Webb.

cropfield77: in my opinion...derek webb was wrong when he used two vulgar words that are labeled as foul words by our culture...because..as JESUS commands it...we should not cause anyone to stumble from their christian faith...but i have no problem with derek webb's message of love towards everyone...no matter how 'sinful' they are...because in the end...we are all sinful...in need of saving grace

TheCartercrew: "hate what is evil; love what is good"...if we are going to hate the evil that exists in our churches regarding the selective loving...then we must also hate the use of profanity as well. both evils get thrown into the same pot. love d.w. just think that we shouldn't put sins on a scale. unholiness is unholiness! "be innocent in evil and wise in what is good." innocent in ALL evil...wise in all things that are good...the Lord doesn't even want us to know those words, much less use them.

Now, the positivity:

brahimdrunk: I love the fact that so many Christians are taking the bait that Derek Webb sets. What matters more to you: the fact that 50,000 people are dying every day due to malnutrition/starvation or the fact that I said shit?

coconut888: AMP27890 and sportzguy1984 have missed the point... completely. it would seem they care more about using "shit" over tens of thousands of people dying without Christ. and that's exactly what he wants us to think about. just as believers would "love our neighbors" in treating gays by harassing them for their sin instead of grieving over their own. is it not God who changes people through the gospel? let the message do its work. btw, the bible has even more controversial words than the song.

xkerchx: I enjoy the Tony Campolo allusion: "I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night." - Tony Campolo

parksj1: Paul used a lot of language that some considered offensive. Jesus did too, even if it was the truth behind the words and not the words themselves that offended people. What's funny is that he juxtaposed the word "shit" with 50,000 people dying just to make the point that "shit" would be more controversial than 50,000 people dying. And he was right. I haven't heard one person say "What?! Why are all those people dying??" But tons have talked about the use of the word "shit."

And my personal favorite...

jw1453: I don't believe D.W. was wrong in his choice of words. I actually believe he was right on. I've been in ministry for 13yrs. and I see what he talks about in this song everyday. Granted, his approach is extreme, but these are extreme times. As christians, we've become so apathetic in our faith that it sometimes takes an extreme point of view to stir our souls again. If this song causes you to stumble, ask yourself why. Just because something is labeled socially taboo doesn't make it wrong.

I'd like to personally thank jw1453 for saying, "As Christians, we've become so apathetic in our faith that it sometimes takes an extreme point of view to stir our souls again." I never thought my personal walk with God would come to this, but I've been very, very apathetic in my faith. I've become selfish, self-centered and stagnant in my faith.

The reason I love this song so much is that it stirs up a memory of my former self. This song reminds me of a time when I cared about something, when I was passionate about something. I used to live for change and social justice. I used to go to protests and volunteer at soup kitchens and blog about my ideals and opinions and hold signs in Chicago that said "FREE HUGS!" and pray with random people walking around NIU. There was a time when I watched the news and saw reports of starving people, and terrorist attacks, and wars, and famines, and natural disasters and I would WEEP -- just break down in tears in front of the television screen -- because my heart was so broken for those people. There was a time when I loved people passionately.

And I was very outward with my love and passion. This wasn't just an internal thing for me, the externals definitely displayed my zeal as well. In high school, I was voted by my peers as "Most Likely to Impact the World." In college, I was president of a ministry group on campus that generated a lot of heat for things we said and did. Everyone around me knew I was ready to help change the world. I wanted to be put on the front lines.

Now, people are surprised when I say, "Hey, I'm Christian too!" Their eyes open wide and they ask, "Really!? I had no idea!" What a sad state my walk with God has sunk to. If the hymn is right (and I believe it to be so), everyone should know I am a Christian by my love. So, why is it so surprising when people find out that I'm Christian?


  1. I liked this blog. A lot.

    What made you stop caring? What made you stop being so passionate?

  2. This was a really great post. If you lived that way once, it's inside of you despite how repressed it may have become. Sometimes we get so caught up in living life that we lose sight of the most central parts of who we are. Hopefully, with this revelation you have the motivation to reach deep and grab ahold of that passion because passion for change is a beautiful thing and is a dire necessity to our faith. We need more people on this page.

    Again - thanks for a great post.