"Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed." -- Wikipedia
Reviewing Derek Webb's new release, "Stockholm Syndrome" is one of he most daunting tasks I've undertaken. In fact, I'm leading off with the clinical definition because I feel I am already walking a tightrope between objectivity and possibly being "co-opted" by the powerful ideas in this work.
Let me start off by saying I'm no fan of the techno/electronic music genre that Webb embraces here. I'm not remotely qualified to tell savvy listeners what this compares with or whether it is technically "good." But listen to it two or three times and, like me, I think you will be enthralled.
I confess I got caught up in the hype surrounding the artist's use of profanity here; even participated in the internet "scavenger hunt" where hundreds of fans pieced together the offending song. (Briefly, in the song "What Matters More," Webb takes a page from evangelist Tony Campolo when he says: "Meanwhile we just sit, like we don't give a s*** about 50,000 people who are dying today.")
But I'm trying to take a 30,000-foot view of "Stockholm Syndrome" that embraces more than a squabble over language; that makes room for questions about Christian complacency, misplaced political agendas, superficial faith, nonviolence, materialism and a God whose extreme love, Webb says, can be "a noose around my neck."
A haunting instrumental guides you into the first cut, "Black Eye," which weaves themes of captivity with homophobia and complacency. One line says, "Stockholm Syndrome comes to where they're keeping you. You never know what time it is." I'm reminded of Matthew 24:36, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
The refrain says:
"Time is no friend to the ones who wait for daylight to come.
"Time looks the same to the ones who hate, and the ones that do nothing."
I find myself thinking, as a Christian, who is holding me hostage? Who or what is keeping me from the freedom Christ purchased for me on the cross? Is it society? Or is it the modern church that winks and turns a blind (black) eye to the parts of the Gospel that are hard to sell?
The next cut, "Cobra Con," combines an exhilarating backdrop of street protestors hurling Molotov cocktails with the underlying issue of our attempts to draw God into our violent conflicts. The bridge of the song prays, "God bless these bombs, baptize these ropes, lie with us in this bed we made." But the challenging nonviolent alternative comes in the refrain:
"It is harder to stay
"It is harder to wait
"To outlove, to outsuffer them."
"The Spirit vs. the Kick Drum" is a lively tune that spotlights the Christian tendency to take the easiest paths to God. In choosing a kick drum over the Holy Spirit, we prefer being transported by contemporary worship music to being transformed by God.
The song goes on to say:
"I don't want the Son I want a jury of peers," and "I don't want the Father, want a vending machine."
We want to be judged on a scale we understand, and we want a God who delivers what we want, at a price we can afford.
Then we come to "What Matters More," a song that makes it very easy to be pulled into a debate over profanity and homosexuality. But there is much more going on here -- treating others as we want to be treated, avoiding hipocrisy, then another slap at complacency:
"'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 consent when the liars speak
"Denying all the dying of the remedy."
The remedy, of course, is Christ, who is not coming to save a specific "language and tradition" but the world.
Forget about the profanity is this song and ask yourself, am I really more interested in debating theology than I am in expressing the love of Christ to a hurting world?
"The State" is a slow-paced, thoughtful look at a Christianity that has been slowly neutered by its adoption of political and legal agendas over the Gospel. What happened to a faith that was once strong enough to rise above secular concerns and rest securely on God?
"Right and wrong written on my heart
"And not just in the laws that condemn me
"But now with Caesar satisfied
"I can even do the things that should offend me."
Once I have "married my conscience to the state," the danger is that I become more of a worker bee for a political solution than the embodiment of Christ.
The song that follows, "I Love You/Hate You," throws into sharp relief the real difference between those who hate and those who love -- How close are they to God? Change "baby" to "God" and the meaning steps up a notch:
"Baby when I put my hands on you, I feel like I'm touching the earth ...
"Baby when I set my eyes on you, I follow the curves of the moon ...
"Baby, when I listen to your words, they whisper to me like the wind.
"They're strong enough to blow me down, destroy my house."
Reaching out to God, looking for God, listening to God's word can be difficult, but the alternative is to lose our identity to the world.
"But your love love is a noose around my neck
"I give up, and I know I will regret it
"Your love is a weight around my legs
"I don't know who I am unless you're holding me."
The next few songs speak to greed, materialism and some of the past sins brought on in the name of progress.
"Becoming a Slave" starts out with the American Indians being stripped of their heritage and ends with America's adopted mantra:
"To love vision. To love action. To be what you want."
The funky "Jena and Jimmy" provides a concrete example of how the world can derail even the best intentions with the help of sex and drugs.
"Heaven" characterizes paradise as a "parking lot" where "a spot up front is your reward." And Jesus has to drive around in a bullet-proof car -- not to protect Him, but to protect the inhabitants from the truth.
"What You Give Up to Get It" fires another salvo at how easily we are willing to sell out for things that don't really matter:
"Like sex, when you're too young
"Like youth, when you've got none
"Like home, when you're too drunk
"Getting everything you wanted with a lot of bad credit, oh it's never quite worth what you give up to get it."
The album wraps up with a prayerful tune called "American Flag Umbrella" that seems to encapsulate what Webb is trying to do.
"I'm building a house on the limb
"I need something that could stop the war
"I'm assailed on all sides
"By extremists with eyes on my heart."
After one more tour down a memory lane of abuse, oppression, racial segregation and war, Webb ends on an up note:
"And in the end it will all be OK
"That's what the wise men tell us
"So if it's not OK, then it's not the end oh my friends
"There's hope for everyone."
Here's hoping he's right.
Al Boyce is a former writer and reporter for The Associated Press. He lives in Raleigh, NC, where he now writes for God.
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