This article continues our review series on Derek Webb’s latest CD. Over the next two weeks, we will review and offer cultural analysis on every song from the “The Ringing Bell.” Previous posts from this series can be found under the category Derek Webb.
“The End” is the shortest song (1:24) from “The Ringing Bell.” However, its lyrical weight more than compensates for its brevity. Webb alludes to every theme in the album. Immediately he unsettles the hearer with contradictions and riddles. Consider the placement of â€œThe Endâ€ as the first track of the CD. The Ringing Bell will violate your expectations. The Ringing Bell is telling a story. The story begins with â€œThe Endâ€ and aims to expose the contradictions we all embrace in our fallen world.
The lyrics of â€œThe Endâ€ move beyond symbolism. Webbâ€™s use of riddle forces you to invent meaning. He wants you to think. You must participate in every song. You must create significance. The worldview implications of this are many. Vague lyrics force us to employ a postmodern hermeneutic. Yet, Webb remains committed to the meta-narrative of Christian theism. In this review, I will present what seems to me the most natural meaning. In seeking the intent of the author, I may be violating the real intent of the author.
hereâ€™s another story about the invisible knives
the elephant in the room trumpeting these lies
This song opens by exposing the enemies of unity and real peace. Criticism and prejudice are often invisible. They cut, they harm and they kill. Such weapons fill our absurd reality. They sever all bonds of peace. The unspoken truth is that we do not like others â€“ much less love them. We canâ€™t get along because we donâ€™t want to get along â€“ especially not with them. Webb displays our great Christian contradiction. We who preach, â€œLove thy neighbor as thyself,â€ canâ€™t even achieve unity among ourselves.
the slow hate, the hesitating voices in the dark
hereâ€™s another story about the invisible wives
Our enmity is not overt. Rather, our hearts simmer with prejudice, criticism, and a love of schism. We defend our disunity with labels, slander and hate. We are voices in the dark â€“ speaking of things that we do not know. We are ignorant yet proud. We have doubts yet are dogmatic. I assume â€˜invisible wivesâ€™ to mean believers who are alienated from cultural Christianity. These genuine followers of Christ do not fit with the Americanized Church. They are the â€˜bride of Christâ€™ yet do not belong to our subculture. As such, they are alienated and dishonored by our insistence on conformity. Our cultural preferences have demolished all visions of a spiritual union in Christ.
weâ€™ve really got to stop talking and meeting like this
thereâ€™s a better way coming and we both know what it is
When we gather with our Christianized â€˜tribeâ€™ our dialogues become narrow. We substitute gossip for cultural engagement. In our pride, we assume that others are less Christian than we are. Prejudice loves company. We prefer disunity as the easy way to peace. But such peace is cheap. Christian ethics demand more. â€œThe Ringing Bellâ€ is an exposition of Webbâ€™s better way. To move toward real peace we must abandon our self-righteousness (#2), our fears (#3), our desire to prove ourselves right (#5), labels (#6), our desire for retribution (#8) and our political hopes (#9). We must look to the coming of Christ as the final solution (#10) to the absurdity of our world. These solutions are not new. Such themes are firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
but itâ€™s a hard sell, the ringing bell and youâ€™re licking your lips
weâ€™ve really got to stop talking and thinking like kids
Even as we contemplate open dialogues, our hearts betray our real hope. I take â€˜ringing bellâ€™ as a reference to the ringing of church bells, which historically has commemorated the end of wars. Declaring an Armistice Day is a hard sell in our absurd world. While Webb is selling his vision of peace, we lust for war. We greedily consider the prospect of â€˜fixingâ€™ others. We see dialogue and unity as a way to impose our opinions. We are selfish children who fight and dissolve friendship over small matters. Our immature thinking cannot tolerate diversity. The absurdity of this world is ultimately our own making.
this is the end
this is the end
itâ€™s just the end
These are words of resignation and frustration. Webbâ€™s knows that his message will fail. Too often as Christians, we retreat to our own little tribes and settle for a cheap peace. Or we establish a rival culture and declare war on all outsiders. These things ought not to be. How can we find achieve real peace and unity? What hope remains for this stiff-necked people?
If my interpretations are on target – this short song has many valid concerns. But his choice of vague symbols has weakened his message. Or perhaps I have merely inserted what I wanted to think Derek Webb was saying.
So what do you think? Have I solved Webb’s riddles? Should we be more concerned with peace and unity among Christians?
Posted by Tony Kummer