A Different Kind of Neighbor

Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken embrace the streets of inner-city Nashville.
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Derek Webb rarely does anything conventionally. In 2003, he left a steady paycheck as a member of Caedmon's Call to launch a solo career. He promptly offended many with his debut album, whose lyrics include words like bastard and whore.

For his third album, Webb bucked convention again by giving it away online for free. Blunt in his lyrics and everyday conversation, Webb has criticized churches for a lack of compassion for the poor and slammed the Christian music industry for greed. But although some resent Webb's outspokenness, few doubt his commitment to love God and neighbor.

Webb and his wife, Sandra McCracken, also a musician, channel much of their energy into their church, Nashville's City Church East. The Presbyterian congregation has a number of outreach programs for the urban poor. Four years ago, Webb and McCracken sold their suburban home to move into a modest house in a racially and economically diverse East Nashville neighborhood.

Local drug abuse and crime rates worry the couple, who are raising two young children. "We feel pretty safe now, but not when we first moved in," said Webb. "It was a real struggle at first, sacrificing our idol of comfort and deciding to make neighbors of people who are not like us. Some of them have been dealt a really hard hand of cards."

One man dealt a particularly hard hand is David, a homeless Vietnam veteran whom Webb met in 2008. When he learned that David wanted a radio, Webb took David to a dollar store and bought him a radio and a few other things, spending about $60. What Webb most remembers is the vibes they got inside the store.

"I could feel what David feels when he goes into places. ...

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