The Christian songwriter Derek Webb is fascinating. My ex-husband’s best friend introduced me to his music in college, and the first album I listened to was The House Show. Webb wasn’t a Jars of Clay or Third Day. He doesn’t write worship songs. His music is challenging. He covers Bob Dylan and calls the church a whore in his lyrics. He preaches salvation, to Christians, between songs.
It’s not even so much that I liked him. But I have always been fascinated. Perhaps it’s because, as my friend JB said, no matter what he is, he’s authentic.
I haven’t read an in-depth interview with Webb since I began writing publicly. But in this one, again and again I was astounded at the level with which I empathize.
Webb isn’t the most talented singer or guitarist. But you get the sense, listening to him, that he’s just compelled to write and sing. I also will never let a lack of talent keep me from doing what I love.
I’m not sure I could empathize with this more:
I started to write songs that really were going after what I was seeing, thinking, “Why is nobody talking about this? Everybody knows about this and nobody’s talking about this. Why?”
As I’ve talked and written, I’ve found the people who are talking about and writing about what I talk and write about. Which has been wonderful beyond words. But there still aren’t enough. My thinking is that if I do it long enough, I’ll inspire someone with actual talent to do it, and they’ll make real change.
My job is not to be perceived correctly by some anonymous group of people on the Internet who demand answers from me and want me to clarify my beliefs on things to justify statements that I made. I am not beholden to them. It’s not that I don’t care in a way that’s unfeeling; it just does not influence the decisions I make when I know what the important decisions are.
There’s obviously a balance here. The best way to be understood is to say what people already understand and believe an expect you to say. I’ve done a lot of that, and it’s nice. But the interesting stuff, ya know, change, happens when you say something new and unexpected. The newer and less expected, the more opportunity for misunderstanding. I have been and will be misunderstood. That won’t make me stop saying new and unexpected things. But it does remind me to get better at speaking and writing, because changing people’s minds requires that they comprehend your ideas.
I’m not interested in drawing lines and speaking in categories, but if people are going to do it, I want to find myself standing where I believe Jesus would have stood. That is on the side of the disenfranchised, the alienated, the oppressed, the under-loved, the complicated.
Jesus recklessly over-loved people with no regard for His reputation. That is a model I’m trying to follow.
If what you believe about God and about people does not eventually inform how you love and treat people in God, then it’s doing you a real disservice.
I’m into markets and freedom because I think they’re the best (secular) way to help the disenfranchised, the alienated, the oppressed, the under-loved and the complicated. If what I’m doing conflicts with that goal, I’m not right.
I used to really have an eye for those points of division. I wanted to get all into that, get all into the history of it, and get into why I know more about what you’re saying than you do. Now I have a lot of grief and regret about who I was for a lot of years and how I treated people and what an unbelievably confusing witness it was to the things that I was trying to convince them of at the time.
I don’t believe the things that I’m saying, but I wish to. It’s no wonder they’re the songs that I have to sing. You might have to listen to them a couple times. You might have friends that make you listen to them, or you might spend a few weeks with my record and listen to it and then not listen to it. I have to sing these songs every night, so apparently I need it more than anybody else does. That’s where I’ve been grateful. They provide language to confess things that I wish to believe.
I would not try to tell you that you could listen to any of my records and find my system of beliefs holding steady, even at this moment, as much as you will find the things that I long to believe.
Webb and I both criticize our communities. Webb eviscerates the church, and I criticize libertarianism and conservatism. One thing I don’t think I can emphasize enough is that I am aware, at some times more than others, but always at a fundamental level, that I do not come even close to meeting my own standards.
When I began the Libertarienne Show, I wanted to talk to young, politically moderate and socially liberal women. But beginning then, and consistently since, the majority of my audience has been libertarian men. I am a failure. And everything I say about libertarians, that we only talk to ourselves, that we don’t show enough empathy, that we focus too much on economics and not enough on people, that we infight too much, is true of me.
But my time in Christianity taught me that if I wait until my shit is in order to speak the truth, I’ll never get it out there. Sure, I need to spend time becoming a better person. And I do. But I’ll never be good enough. I’ve got to get going now anyway, because I have work to do.