Derek Webb’s Fingers Crossed came out a year ago. I feel like writing about it because I think it’s the most disturbed I’ve ever felt after listening to an album and I’m still processing why.
If you didn’t already know, in 2014 Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken announced that they were divorcing. He explained a couple years ago that the proximate cause of the divorce was an affair he had. Fingers Crossed is the first album he released since the divorce.
It’s an utterly painful listen. He describes the album as being about two divorces. One: the breakup of his marriage, and the album chronicles his emotions in raw, excruciating detail. Two: his apparent divorce from God, or the church, or both, about which he’s also painfully honest. I respect honesty in music. I love it, really. But the honesty in Fingers Crossed hit me differently. Something about it made me feel dark and disturbed. I read as many reviews as I could find online because I needed to see what other people thought about it. I also searched for interviews with Webb just to figure out what he might be thinking.
There’s a subculture that really praised the album. It’s a subculture I didn’t really know about before, and I don’t know how to characterize it except as fallen Christians. For example, Derek Webb had a long interview with the Inglorious Pasterds. They appear to be a few guys who left the church, “deconstructed faith,” and are reassembling it, but without organized religion (and with profanity). BadChristian is another – they describe themselves as “the largest post-Christian community in the universe.” Exvangelical is another. All of these guys (and more) have podcasts. It’s weird to me. Not the leaving of Evangelical Christianity, which I understand, and happens all the time. But it’s strange to me to define yourself in terms of what you left, what you once were and not what you currently are. I’d think you’d want to just move on to whatever’s next. I would imagine that most people find something else to identify with, be it another belief system, a cause, a hobby or passion. Continuing to define your identify as post-Christian is strange to me, but apparently there are a lot of people out there like that.
Anyway, I listened to these interviews and they were effusive of Fingers Crossed for being so honest. And that disturbed me, for the same reason the album did. The album is undeniably honest. The songs talk at length about he betrayed his wife and how it ruined his life. How he currently finds solace in alcohol. How he wishes he could turn back his relationship but he can’t. How he’s saying goodbye to faith. All real stuff. And it takes a certain amount of courage to share that.
But to me, it’s the wrong kind of honesty. Or rather, it’s incomplete honesty. I think to me, true honesty is being real about both who you are and who you want to be. If you only have the latter, it comes across as inauthentic, because none of us live up to what we aspire to. Being real about your weaknesses is a big part of honesty. But if you only have that, the being true about who you are but no sense of who you want to be, it’s just wallowing, and to me, there’s nothing noble or admirable about that.
That to me is Fingers Crossed – wallowing. It’s not self-pity, exactly. He blames himself completely for being in the place he’s at. But it’s so self-absorbed with no sense of wanting anything more. I find it sad. What’s even worse to me is that it even mocks a sense of Christian hope. One of his songs is called “The Spirit Bears The Curse” and it’s intentionally structured and sung like a worship song, until it gets to the end refrain where he reveals that “spirit” is a play on words and the song is really an ode to alcohol. That’s intentionally spiteful, even structurally dishonest, and there’s nothing noble about that.
Alcoholics Anonymous is an example to me of real honesty. It forces people to own up to their shortcomings (from the very beginning: “I’m X and I’m an alcoholic”) but for a purpose, to move towards who they want to be, while recognizing that they are likely to fail many times on the way. That’s honesty. Or David in the Bible. When he went through his own affair that could have (and partly did) ruin his life, in Psalm 51 he’s honest about his shortcomings but he doesn’t just wallow in it, he expresses a desire for more, for forgiveness and restoration. That’s real honesty, the kind I admire.
What’s sad to me is that’s the kind of honesty Derek Webb used to have. He’s always had a kind of abrasive edge to him, a kind of harsh honesty. But it was always coupled with pushing both himself and the church to something more. I liked that. That he’s gone from that to the wallowing type of confession he does now makes me sad. Yes, it’s kind of courageous to be that open about his emotional state right now. But listening to the album depressed me. And what I found disturbing is that there was a large group that extolled it for being truly honest. It’s not truly honest. It’s just sad.