It started with this:
it’s hard when people interpret things online to mean something other than what was intended. these are just honest thoughts, nothing more.
— derek webb (@derekwebb) October 7, 2013
And then this:
for that reason, i’m going to break from twitter. you might see management post about upcoming shows & news, but that’s it for a while.
— derek webb (@derekwebb) October 7, 2013
And that was it. Derek Webb was done with Twitter.
Many people may not know Derek Webb. But for those of us socialized into the Christian Music scene in the 1990s, Derek Webb was hard not to notice. He was a member of and primary songwriter for a band called Caedmon’s Call, the quintessential coffeehouse folk band in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) community. He later left in the early 2000s to begin a solo career, where he took on a unique role within the CCM community. He wrote and sang a number of songs that served to critique and challenge the norms of the community and the Christian church in America as a whole. Within the artistic and spiritual tradition of which he was a part, this activity was recognized as that of a prophet–not one who predicts the future, but one who tells hard truths to correct excesses of a culture.
I will be honest–I stopped listening to Webb after his second solo album, I See Things Upside Down (which is, IMHO, still his best work to date). But I have returned with gusto, and I’ve been trying to piece together everything that I missed (although I was vaguely aware of many of the issues via some of the media I read covering Christian issues). Webb started a music company called NoiseTrade. He created controversy with his music and his touring. And he started Tweeting, which led to an infamous block by @questlove.
And then he stopped.
Webb’s Tweets, like his music, stirred controversy. I’ve followed him on Facebook longer than on Twitter, and his posts often sparked long comment threads debating his points. His prophetic art was extending from his music to his use of social media.
Webb likes Twitter. It’s likely that his experience using Twitter partially led to his concept album, Ctrl. He connects with his fans, shares his experiences, and says things that make his audience think. And I think he should come back.
I shouldn’t have a dog in this fight. My relationship to the CCM community at this point is mostly academic. I’ve been doing some research on ecocritical themes in Rich Mullins’ music (whom Webb admired). But in this case, I’m making an argument. And I shouldn’t be. It’s 10:35pm on the night before a conference presentation. I’m 800 miles from home in a hotel room, clacking away in the dark by the electronic glow of my laptop (trying to let my co-presenter sleep). But I’m throwing good sense and the attempt at academic objectivity aside for a moment. I want to intervene in the arts created for the CCM community. This matters more. Here’s why.
I could give you a point-by-point list. Given my understanding of Webb’s position within the community, I think there is a case for it. An appeal to logos. My first year composition students could read the ensuing paragraphs as a model of academic argument. I even tried to crowdsource such an approach on Twitter. But I’ve been thinking about it. This is a matter about the arts. I want to make an appeal to pathos.
Derek, if you’re reading this, here’s why I think you should return to Twitter. Your art is important. You know this. Your fans tell you this at every show. You create music that is both beautiful and true, to reference both Keats and “New Law.” I don’t agree with everything you say or sing. But to the extent that you will accept the possibility of multiple definitions of the word “truth,” your music resonates as true. It speaks propositions (which I often disagree with) but also implies questions. Issues you are wrestling with. Problems you hope to resolve. Grievances that nag you. And complicated but powerful joys you are discovering. Those resonate as true for me, and for others.
Your fans have come to expect those things not only in your music but in your Tweets because you have become practiced in Tweeting and have come to extend both your artistic expertise and prophetic voice to your Tweets. You know and I know that Twitter is more than just telling people about “what kind of taco you had for lunch.” And even that is not a benign act. Twitter creates a community. You have argued that technology may have more control over us than it ought. But it also creates another force besides control–solidarity, sometimes even love–when it is used to establish and maintain relationships.
Your art, for me, has been about solidarity. Solidarity in being an intellectual in the evangelical Christian church. Solidarity in being a Christian in the U.S. Solidarity in being a part of a subculture so fraught with issues (like every culture) of tribalism, hypocrisy, and schism.
I feel the lack of your voice on Twitter means that the community you speak to is missing something.
In academia, I’m a linguist. And the linguists, for all of their objectivity, do seem to latch onto, with almost religious fervor, one particular act of intervention: we must not let languages die. When a language dies, the culture dies with it. The cultural knowledge of the world embedded within the language dies with it. And so, linguists try to save languages. They try to revive them. They try to get more people to speak it.
And I think your Tweets are a language the community you speak to can greatly benefit from. Because it wasn’t just what you Tweeted. It was about the discussions that came out of the Tweets–both digital and analog. More people joined in. The language was flourishing. And now it is not.
By the tone of the Tweet that sent you off Twitter, I would venture this was personal. And if you don’t return for personal reasons, I respect that. I support it completely. And I would imagine it has been difficult to disconnect. Because you’re right: this technology controls us–and if you returned because of the control technology has on you, that wouldn’t be good for anyone. But I’m not writing you late at night far from home because my blog controls me. I’m writing because I feel like I need to say something.
UPDATE: My blog automatically posts a link and new post title to Twitter. And Derek Webb’s account favorited the Tweet for this post. Grateful that he may have gotten a chance to read it. Thanks Twitter.