“It’s been 20 years since I rose and cleared my throat.” With that simple sentence, accompanied by a scaled down guitar riff, Derek Webb opens up his new album with the title track, “I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry and I Love You.” No surprise to anyone who is familiar with Derek’s work, but once again he has something he needs to say to the church, and to the world. Whether it’s his days with Caedmon’s Call or his solo albums like Mocking Bird and Stockholm Syndrome, Derek hasn’t been one to shy away from tackling tough subjects, and a lot of people have come to think of his more recent works as “protests” against this or that. Well, this album is no different, and totally different, at the same time. Where many people have felt like his previous works were tantamount to an indictment against the church, or a protest against attitudes and politics that he felt were counter to the Gospel, this album feels, at least to me, like Derek is protesting himself. He’s protesting his own cynicism. He’s protesting his inability to trust God to meet his needs. He’s protesting his tendency to run instead of dealing with issues. Through the past month of so, I’ve been privileged to get a glimpse into some of the thoughts behind the songs on the new album, through participating in a launch group, and listening to Derek talk about what each song is about has really given me a deeper appreciation for both Derek, as well as his song writing. Which brings me to the songs, themselves.
The first song, the title track, is really a wonderful way to open the conversation and set the tone for the album, both lyrically and musically. “I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry and I Love You” can be taken in so many ways. Is he talking to the church and apologizing for how he may have misread them? Is he speaking to the world as a Christian who may have dropped the ball in living out the Gospel? I think that’s the beauty of the song. It can be any, all of, and none of those things, depending on where you are, and who you are. There’s not a single one of us that hasn’t had to utter these words to a friend, a family member, to a group, to God. Some of the lyrics that really jumped out at me, like:
“I welcome everyone, and give them nothing when they arrive”
“Or else build a house with no way to come inside”,
“I’ve cared too much, and not enough in the same breath.”
But what I really love about this song is more than just the words, which are in and of themselves a convicting mirror, but, rather, the way the music really frames those words and showcases Derek’s vulnerability as he lays his soul bare, vocally, particularly when he lets it all go in his upper register.
Lyric video for the title Track:
The second song, “Eye of the Hurricane” is probably one of my favorites on the album. It’s a poignant picture of someone who is sure of who they are, what they’re about, and where they’re going, only to realize that the race they think they’re running is actually just them running from the reality of who they are. I love the chorus opening:
“‘Cuz, I am the man from which I am running. So even if I wanted to I can’t escape.”
Another great line is:
“Even prodigals have a good time, till the money runs out.”
Musically, again, Derek nails it. The rhythm, pace and instrumentation all are reminiscent of someone running, to me.
Video of Derek doing an acoustic performance of “Eye of the Hurricane”:
“Lover Part 3” is a continuation of themes in earlier songs from Derek’s older albums (specifically She Must and Shall Go Free and I See Things Upside Down), and deals with the idea of marriage, and love that transcends time. Not surprisingly this is another song that works on a couple different levels. It could be a simple song about a man who loves his wife, and always will, but there is a deeper meaning for those that realize this is also a love song from Christ to his Bride, the Church, and a picture of how God has pursued us from eternity past, and loves us, and continues to pursue us, even when we stray, like a prodigal son, or a wayward, unfaithful lover. It’s a truly beautiful portrait, regardless of which point of view you take on the meanings of the song. The keyboard backdrop gives it sort of a Coldplay feel, against the jangle of the guitar. The over all feeling conveyed is one of hope and love.
Derek abruptly changes gears for the next song “Closer Than You Think.” It’s much more of a rock song, and the opening salvo “What do you think you know about me?” may have some wondering if Derek is heading towards a defensive posture. But listen all the way through. This is another song that plays on several levels. It can work as Derek confronting those who may have misunderstood some of what he’s said and meant on previous albums. It can be viewed as The Church, as an entity, confronting Derek about the fact that he’s kind of taken them on, and perhaps misread some things. It can be about being angry at God, questioning His motives, and fighting Him, only to realize that even when we push Him away, or think we’re running away from Him, He still faithfully pursues us. More than anything, at least to this set of ears, it addresses the idea of each of us wanting people to really understand who we are and what we mean, and realizing that despite our differences we are really closer than we really think, if we’d just stop and look. On a deeper level, of course, the bad news being that if people were to truly know our hearts, and could understand all of our thoughts and motives, they might not like what they saw. And the Good News that God sees us as we truly are, and even so, loves us in spite of that, and seeks to redeem us for His own.
“Heavy” is a quiet song with an air of confession. In fact, in one of the acoustic videos released prior to the album, Derek actually performs the song inside a confessional, which I thought was the perfect setting to the song. Sort of a laying it all out before God, and owning up to failing to trust God with those things that are “heavy” in our hearts, minds and lives. On the most basic level, the song seems to be about sex, specifically when he says,
“I’ll stay if you can supply them, but if you can’t I’ll trade my ring.”
But once again, like with anything, I feel like there are a few different levels that metaphor can work on. What is sex about but relationship and intimacy? Really it seems to be pointing to the idea that God is the source for anything we need. If we truly need it, it will be provided. Maybe not in the way we want it, or in our time frame, but God is the source of this provision, and He is faithful. But it’s so easy to doubt His promises, doubt His goodness, scoff at His warnings, and so, like Adam and Eve who began to doubt God’s faithfulness, we fear He’s somehow holding out on us, and so we chase after what we want, and like Adam and Eve, we find it’s a counterfeit that only leads to brokenness. Derek lays it all out in a vulnerable honesty that I find laudable because, well, he doesn’t pack it up all nice and neat in a bow that ends with “doing the right thing.” He plainly confesses in the song that he can be quite persistent in going after what hasn’t been given, yet, and making light of sins that Chris was crushed for, on our behalf. And I think there’s something valuable in that. It’s not always “I used to struggle with this, and now I don’t anymore. Isn’t that nifty?” Sure, God does give victory, and we praise Him for those victories over sin and temptation, but what about when those struggles are daily, hourly, and last our whole lives? What then? Sometimes it’s the act of humbly confessing and admitting the whole ugly truth of the matter that is the first step to growing in grace. And that is what I love about this song – its raw honesty.
Here is Derek’s confessional performance of “Heavy”:
“Everything Will Change” is the perfect pivot from “Heavy” because it moves us from a moment of a painful honesty about sin to a song that speaks to the truth that everything that is wrong, and fallen and broken about us as individuals and the world in general is going to change. It is, as Derek put it, “a protest against cynicism” and a powerful reminder that what is right now is not the end, and so instead of either giving up, or misplacing our trust in what (and who) seems powerful now, and instead place our faith in the One who will surely bring about his Kingdom, when “Everything Will Change.” One of the things I love most about this song is the chorus of voices. Musically, I just think that’s such a great reminder that we are not in this alone. It’s not even just “me and God.” We are part of a larger, global and visible Body of Christ, and we have a Savior.
Here is Derek’s acoustic performance of “Everything Will Change”:
Derek gives a nod to the Anglican tradition with “I Measure the Days” which is a song in the style of the simplified Anglican Chant. It’s a short, but beautiful worshipful piece that builds, musically, and employs a rather interesting mixture of what sounds like ukelele, steel guitar and organ.
“A Place At Your Table” takes a stylistic about face, with an almost 50’s style rhythm and bass line. In this song he seems to be exploring the ideas of the Lord’s Supper, and how regardless of whether we’re in a “high church” setting, in a church with a drum kit in the worship team, not in a formal church building at all, and regardless of how our particular church chooses to define and serve the bread and wine, it is something of value, and those of us who know Christ always have a place at that table, where we can commune with Christ, as His Bride “in purity and peace”, and find spiritual nourishment for our souls, as well as a reminder of the debt of grace and love we can never repay.
“Nothing but a Love” is a song that explores the idea of love being the only thing that’s left during challenging times in our lives. Whether it’s our relationship with our spouse, our friends, our families, our church, or our Savior, sometimes that love is all there is left, when the storms of life strip all the other “stuff” we hide behind away. Whether it’s ideologies, labels, our pretenses and illusions about who we are, and who we think others are, our self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, health, wealth, prosperity. Whatever it is, is eventually going to get stripped away. Derek pulls no punches when he sings,
“So, when you take a mistress on the side, just to keep the marriage alive. Oh, you know it never works, especially the harder you try. It just reveals the thirst for the one thing you just can’t find”
Clearly another husband/wife – Christ/The Church metaphor as well. At some point, everything we think we can provide for ourselves, or can somehow offer God in the form of a resume gets burned up and all that is left is Christ’s self-sacrificial love for us. And once we finally reject the notion that we have anything of real value to offer God, or even another person, the only thing that is left is love offered in humility and gratitude.
“The Vow” is another song that plays on the idea of marriage as a metaphor for the Christian walk. For this one, Derek kind of chooses an almost western motif, musically. I have no idea what his thought was in that choice, but after listening to the song a few times, I kind of get a “Ring of Fire” vibe. In this song Derek speaks of wanting witnesses for the vow he’s about to make – one’s that he knows he won’t be able to keep perfectly.
“I can’t see the day after tomorrow. I don’t know the future, even still. I don’t promise ‘cuz I know I’ll always love you. I make my vow to guarantee I will.”
It’s the idea of taking vows – whether to God, the Church, or our spouses seriously, knowing that we’re not capable of doing it perfectly, and instead of avoiding it, making the vow, and relying on God to help us keep those promises.
Here’s Derek’s acoustic performance of “The Vow”:
Derek brings it back down to his acoustic roots for “Your Heart Breaks in All The Right Places.” This song puts forth the idea that our tears, and the sorrows we go through in life are not wasted, but beautiful. He explores the idea that God uses those moments where we’re at our most vulnerable to pull us closer to Him, and mold us into the people we’re meant to be, all to His Glory. It really is a beautiful song, that once I really took the time to stop and really listen, brought tears to my eyes. In a good way. But that’s kind of the point of the song isn’t it?
And how else could Derek end the journey of this album, but with a song entitled “Thy Will Be Done”? Through the album he’s explored the themes of reconciliation, forgiveness, confession, sin, brokenness, our inability to be faithful to God, and His ever-present love and faithfulness to us to use the circumstances of our lives to both humble and sanctify us, and, just as in life, it really comes back to God, Himself – seeking and submitting to His will in every aspect of our lives, and especially when it’s the most difficult. The lyrics, and Derek’s heartfelt delivery is the perfect ending to an album that really is a beautiful picture of what it is to be part of the Body of Christ.