European edition, Sunday, July 1, 2007

Whether it’s in a school, a firehouse or a clock, a ringing bell is meant to grab attention and prompt action.

Singer Derek Webb’s new album “The Ringing Bell” has similar mission. It issues a warning, but also encourages hope.

“There are things that are broken in this world and the result of this brokenness is conflict and war and violence between people,” Webb said. “… I think that what we’re seeing in our culture is very much a result of that. And I think there’s a day coming when it will no longer be that way, where we will no longer have to fight wars.”

The disc delves deeply into discord and violence, but ultimately focuses on love and peace. Along the way, it relies heavily on a ’60s pop-rock sound, which gives the album a good deal of vigor.

Webb has been called a “controversialist,” mainly because of his last album, “Mockingbird.” That folk-oriented project assertively pointed out some sticky problems with our society and government, which raised some eyebrows.

Webb said that some listeners thought, “‘He’s attacking whatever leader is in power, or he’s obviously speaking to our specific conflict or situation we’re in right now.’ Neither of those things are true about ‘Mockingbird.’ I would certainly put a short shelf life on my record if I was writing a song about a particular moment in history and a particular president.”

Instead, Webb said, the themes in “Mockingbird” reflected more persistent problems.

“The Ringing Bell” does much of the same. For example, “A Love That’s Stronger Than Our Fear” pointedly asks questions such as, “What would you do if someone would tell you the truth but only if you torture them half to death?” And “A Savior on Capitol Hill” warns against expecting too much from politicians, stating: “I’m so tired of these mortal men with their hands on their wallets and their hearts full of sin, scared of their enemies, scared of their friends, and always running for re-election.”

However, there’s also a deeper realization that each of us — including Webb himself — is afflicted with the same inclination to violence. “I Don’t Want to Fight” mentions, “I’m facing enemies on both sides of the gun,” and “I for an I” mentions, “I’ve got a killer instinct … a poison conscience telling me to go with that.”

“I think that the brokenness in our culture [leads to] global conflict and it even trickles down all the way down into my own heart and the way that I deal with my family and the way I deal with people,” Webb said. “… And it has me more likely to return even emotional violence with the same.”

The fact that “conflict and violence are instinctive” for each of us is one of the most important messages Webb offers.

“The Bible’s really clear in saying that it’s exactly the same blood running through the veins of all men, that none of us are any better or any worse than the rest of us,” Webb said. “That’s not to say that we’re all good, but to say that we’re all a wreck.”

That “levels the playing field in terms of evil and innocence,” he said, pointing out that has implications in daily life and on the international stage.

“We certainly live in a tremendous nation and we clearly are blessed in quantifiable ways — we’re very wealthy, we have tremendous freedom and that we have a rich history,” Webb said. “I understand that, but I think it’s dangerous to try to claim that we are God’s political people, political nation on the earth dealing out his just judgments around the world, when clearly there is not such people at this point in history.”

Webb recommends humble reflection before action.

“I hope the music would stir people to just maybe think again about the paradigm that they live in and maybe reconsider their position,” he said. “Maybe we would be more humble, maybe we would be humbled by the idea that we’re really no different than the worst.”

However, that doesn’t negate the need to act at times.

“Just saying that I’m evil doesn’t assume that you’re not. I mean, that’s the whole point, we’re all really bad, so evil needs to be restrained everywhere,” he said. “I do of course think that there can be a moment for a nation to restrain evil, of course. But I think that it’s a more realistic posture to go at it saying, ‘I’m going to do this in humility, though. I’m going to do this in the realization that I am ultimately no different than the worst.’”

With this realization, Webb places his hope beyond human effort.

“My ultimate hope is not in the right man in the White House or the right amount of pressure on the right person or the right amount of power wielded in the right way,” he said. “Ultimately, my hope is in the day coming when all things will be made right and we finally have the government that we actually were made for. Democracy is great. … [But] I don’t think that, ultimately, it’s the best form of government. I think that the form of government we’re made for is Jesus on the throne and his kingdom coming. And that’s the day that I hope for.”

It’s a message that carries through to the disc’s closing track, “This Too Shall Be Made Right” — a song that Webb believes can be of special comfort to members of the military community.

“I think that’s a very hopeful idea, especially for those who are in harm’s way, who are in the midst of war and conflict and whose families are in many ways supporting them in that work,” Webb said.

“… The Bible says there’s a day coming when there will no longer be time for any of these things. There will no longer be time for weeping. There will no longer be time for war. There will no longer be any time for disaster. … What a day that will be when peace is restored. Ultimately restoration comes between both God and his creation and also between men and women and their neighbors.”

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Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry.

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