Derek Webb said a bad word. And the chaos has ensued.
Of course, chaos is relative, so that might be overstating it a bit. But the blogosphere, if you will, certainly has picked up on the “controversy” and laid out its thoughts on one side or the other. Various sites post their reviews, their essays, their op-eds weighing in on both Derek’s use of the word s— on his new disc, Stockholm Syndrome, and its overarching themes of the church’s position on race and sexual orientation.
This will be termed as “Nothing New” for those familiar with Webb’s proclivity to discuss the elephant in the religious room. Previous releases jumped from the church to politics to materialism, so he’s honestly running out of precious, uncharted waters through which to navigate. We had a recent conversation in which Webb told me that he continues to split his audience with each album – that half of the listeners of each new disc are former fans and half are new. The reason? He simply makes the other half too mad to continue buying his music.
As for me? I couldn’t care less.
Let’s break this down quickly, because Webb’s formula is quite simple. As someone easily bored with a rebellious streak, he’s bound to create the music that he does. The inner child he describes as constantly getting into trouble, even into high school, is naturally geared to bring up the topic that everyone’s avoiding. And the evaporating musical interests lead him to jump from bluegrass to art rock to plaintive acoustics to lap-pop on Stockholm. And THAT is the beauty of Webb’s artistry.
There’s no fancy flow chart in Webb’s house lining his home studio walls with himself on one side and the church on the other – with keen war-like strategies to take down the religious establishment. There’s no glorious campaigning to expose the wrongs of society. There’s no representative, six-foot-long spoon on the wall, reminding him to daily “stir the pot.” (That’s a bit ridiculous, I know). Instead, Derek Webb is a guy who has followed his heart and his talents without allowing fear to keep him from movement. And that’s taken him to this very place.
If you think about things this way, that means Derek Webb is simply doing what he was created to do. And it’s not some self-prescribed notion of “changing the world” or some righteous quest to overturn the tables in the modern temple. It really is just about following the interior interests and passions and seeing what comes out – and then being unafraid to release those results because “someone might be offended.”
Our churches are full of people afraid of that very last line. And instead of following Webb’s example and doing the same thing (not mimicking his artistry, but being unafraid ourselves to release what’s inside), it’s easier to stand and scoff or mock or start a debate. After all, if everyone is looking at Derek Webb then that distracts me from having to look at my own self. And, by default, we usually choose the safer, more secure option.
But who really wants to think about all of that. After all, Derek Webb just said a bad word.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.