I Am Mountain - Lyrics

Track List:I am Mountain Beat of Her Heart Long Way Off Wandering Let it Go Wayward and Torn God and Country Hither and Yon Yesternite The Best Part Finally Upside Down

I AM MOUNTAIN (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor)

I am mountain, I am dust Constellations made of us There’s glory in the dirt A universe within the sand Eternity within a man

We are ocean, we are mist Brilliant fools who wound and kiss There’s beauty in the dirt Wandering in skin and soul Searching, longing for a home

As the light, light Lights up the skies, up the skies We will fight, fight Fight for our lives, for our lives

I am mountain, I am dust Constellations made of us There’s mystery in the dirt The metaphors are breaking down We taste the wind and sight is sound

As the light, light Lights up the skies, up the skies We will fight, fight Fight for our lives, for our lives 2x

Momentary carbon stories From the ashes Filled with holy ghost Life is here now Breathe it all in Let it all go You are earth and wind

BEAT OF HER HEART (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor / John Arndt)

She was a tempest Her beauty a storm Oh her eyes they were filled with the sun She would dance while I played her my songs The earth stood while she danced alone

He was a tempest His craving a storm He lusted her body from deep in the grove Enraptured or captured Betrayed or betrothed She would be his She’d be his alone

So she ran, oh she ran from the satyr’s chase She ran for her love and her life She tred on a snake Venom replaced both the beat of her heart and the song in mine The beat of her heart and the song in mine

The music was morning A requiem cry I wept with my songs for the love of my life It broke all the hearts of the gods in the skies I played my guitar and the earth opened wide

How I played, oh I played in the underworld Oh, I played for my love and her life Oh, I pled with the gods Give her back Give a beat to her heart and a song to mine The beat of her heart and the song in mine

Hades responded, a glint in his eye I grant you your plea You may leave with your wife With one small request I suggest you obey You musn’t look back as you walk away

So we ran oh we ran to the dawning light Oh we ran for our love and our lives Once again I would hear the sweet sound of the beat of her heart And the song in mine The beat of her heart and the song in mine

My mind was a tempest My doubt was a storm I turned back to see She really had come Just as our eyes met She faded from sight That’s when I knew I would never find The beat of her heart or the song in mine

LONG WAY OFF (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor / John Arndt)

The smartest men, they built a rocket Aimed it at a target far, far, far away But by the time they knew they lost it It was a long way, was a long way, was a long way We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way off

The smartest men, they saw a world with Corners and endings far, far, far away But when they drew it out and searched it They were a long way, were a long way, were a long way We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way

The erudite composed a thesis Everything we see is all, all, all there is But as an apophatic mystic We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way off

When the waves of time Wash the shores stark clean Of the memories, the last of me With my castles gone to the constant sea Will you stay with me Stay with me

WANDERING (Lisa Gungor)

I’ve been wandering through this world Looking for an anchor to hold me I’ve been stumbling through this world Searching for the thread that might free me

I am looking to you I am holding on to you

I’ve been wandering through this world Looking for an anchor to hold me I’ve been stumbling through this world Searching for the thread that might free me

I am looking to you I am holding on to you I am looking to you I’ve been holding on to you

I’ve been wandering through this world Looking for a love that might free me

LET IT GO (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor / John Arndt)

You’ve been waiting there Waiting for the right time Looking for a perfect rhyme Never comes around

It is all here It is all now Open up your eyes and look around It’ll go It’ll go

If there’s anything that holds you down, just forget it Keeping your feet on the ground, don’t you let it

Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go

It is all here It is all now Open up your eyes and look around Let it go Let it go

If there’s anything that holds you down, just forget it Keeping your feet on the ground, don’t you let it

Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go

WAYWARD AND TORN (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor / John Arndt)

You walked this road a thousand times You know exactly where it ends Where it slopes and where it bends All the camps have locked their gates All the lines are drawn and clear All who are worn Wayward and torn You’re welcome here

We live in falling more than ground We are the listening more than sound We have no home You’re not alone You’re welcome here

We’ve walked this road a thousand times We know exactly where it ends Where it slopes and where it bends

GOD AND COUNTRY (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor / John Arndt / Stephen Proctor)

I was just a young girl when they sent him off to war Barely even knew what in hell he’s fighting for Told me all the stories of a world beyond the world Scaled the tallest mountains They braved a ragged sea Lost a lot of souls just to set the captives free May have lost a father but they found a lot of oil

Gathered up our gods oh we gathered up our guns For the love of country For our fathers and our sons

He was just a young man when they sent him off to war Barely even knew what in hell he’s fighting for The battle for the land with the strangers from the east Descending from the mountains and rising from the sea Monsters came with vengeance and took my son from me You can take my money, take my land, but not my son

Gathered up our God oh we gathered up our guns For the love of country For our fathers and our sons Lost a lot of souls Stained the killing ground with blood Lord knows we won’t stop the fight until the battle’s won

God we love our God Oh God we love our guns For the love of country For our fathers and our sons Lost a lot of souls Stained the killing ground with blood Lord knows we won’t stop the fight until the battle’s won

Those who live by the gun, live by the gun Die by the gun Those who live by the gun, live by the gun Die by the gun

HITHER AND YON (Michael Gungor)

YESTERNITE (Michael Gungor)

Yesterday the gods were smiling down on me Yesterday the angels graced the glassy sea The world was bathed in black and mystery Yesterday

Yesternite the gods they disappeared from sight The angels flapped their wings and took their songs to flight The shadows lift their hands and praise the light Yesternite

Yesterday your hands were home in mine Yesterday my heart was yours to find Yesternite I found some peace of mind Yesternite

And so the morning finally shed its light The mourning of the loss The sacred fight Sunbeams lift their hands and praise the night Praise the night

THE BEST PART (Lisa Gungor)

I have seen it all Oh, I have seen it all I’ve felt it all Life is running swift now Like a raging river, how it runs out Please don’t go Please don’t go

Cause this is the best part Lying awake in the dark This is the best part Hearing the beat of a heart

I have seen it all Oh, I have seen it all Have I felt it all Time is old and young Oh, glitter moments fleeting on my skin Pause in the glow Pause in the glow

Cause this is the best part Lying awake in the dark This is the best part Here in the beat of a heart This is the best part Lying awake in the dark This is the best part Here in the beat of a heart

FINALLY (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor)

Call me back into the silence Into the sunlight Every breath a standing defiance Of death and of clamor Let darkness be scattered now

Be Here in the free We could just be Finally We’ll chase the sun Naked we’ll run We could be free Finally

I’ll be here waiting in silence Waiting for sunlight To make all the world shine bright

All the stars fall in line And the seas bow their heads We remember our dead and we sing another day As the silence it grows and the worlds fade away All the sons empty their graves We will sing another day We’ll sing another day

Be Here in the free We could just be Finally We’ll chase the sun Naked we’ll run We could be free Finally We’ll chase the sun Naked we’ll run We could just be Finally We could be free Finally

UPSIDE DOWN (Michael Gungor / Lisa Gungor)

Upside down Upside down This world is upside down

Do you see Do you see us Do you hear us

Make it right Make it right Let the sun rise

Is Michael Gungor....

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My brother texted this picture to me today and said “you should write a blog about this.”  I thought that it was kind of funny that those are what John Google apparently gets asked most about me, so here’s a blog to answer those questions.

Is Michael Gungor related to Mark…?

Mark who?  Ah, I bet you are wondering if I am related to Mark Antonek!  We have very similar body shape, so that’s probably who people are asking about.  And, surprisingly, no, I am not related to him.

Mark Antonek:

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Is Michael Gungor a universalist?

Well, it depends what you mean by “universalist.”   I have a deep abiding belief that everybody is going to die.  It’s a very universal thing for me, death.  As to what (if anything) happens after that, I couldn’t speak very authoritatively about it because I, for one, haven’t actually died yet.  However, if there is an afterlife, I do hope that Mark Antonek will put some damn pants on during it.

Is Michael Gungor a catholic?

I really like Catholics.  In fact, I once tried to become Catholic.  But then the guy told me that I had to believe everything, and I am not really the sort of guy that can do that sort of thing at this time of my life. Maybe someday.

Ok, well that all went pretty quickly.  John Google should have those answers for his minions now.  Perhaps I should add a few of my own questions that I would be curious about myself if I was not, you know, myself:

Is Michael Gungor obsessed with La Croix mineral water?

Well, as a matter of fact, yes he is.  He purchased a new refrigerator recently that has a temperature controlled drawer, so he consistently obtains copious amounts of La Croix (primarily pamplemousse) mineral water to fill this drawer and keep it at a perfect 33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is Michael Gungor obsessed with sloths?

Well, of course he is, but he is not as obsessed as he used to be.  He used to constantly draw them and speak reverently of them and occasionally look up interesting facts about them on the Internet.  For example, do you know that some scientists believe that there was once a sloth so big that it would have been able to peek into a second story in a house!! Can you imagine that?!  Taking a quick glance out of your window before you go to sleep and seeing a gigantic sloth staring at you…  I think that would be wonderful.  But, no, I’m not quite as obsessed about them anymore.

This is a really enjoyable interview for me so far, so I’ll go ahead and ask one more question if I don’t mind.

Is Michael Gungor a Filipino?

I’m really quite surprised that this wasn’t the top search thread, but no, I’m not.  Like Mark Antonek, I have a fairly ambiguous racial vibe going but as far as I know, I’m only a Filipino politically and spiritually, not by blood.  But thank you for asking.

Wilderman

I have a younger brother named Robert that is one of the smartest, fun, and talented guys you will ever meet. He also released a pretty great album today under the name “Wilderman”, but chances are, you probably haven’t heard of him. And, while I hope the album does well, it’s not very likely to be played on top 40 stations. And I think he’s pretty ok with that. But, here’s the deal… I think there are people out there that need to hear this music, and especially if they knew the story behind this record. Rob is not really the kind of guy that is going to start some blog and tell you some kind of story to get you to buy his record. So I will.

To be clear, the music doesn’t NEED a story. It can stand on its own. It’s based almost entirely on the 12 bar blues form, and Rob actually manages to innovate within that. That’s not an easy thing to do. Also the songs are good. The lyrics and melodies are interesting and they’ll get in your head. But there’s something behind this music that not a lot of people know about that I think makes it really special.

In short, this music (at least in my opinion) is the sound of Rob’s rebirth after a really tough decade of life. Rob hasn’t had the easiest go of it in the last several years. Lots of pain, betrayal and struggle that in many ways had left him pretty devastated. Talking to Rob a few years ago, he had become a shell of the person that I knew him to be growing up. Carefree, creative, funny, Rob had become bitter, shamed, and angry Rob.

But then, last year, Rob was freed from a very long-term and toxic relationship, and he started making some changes in his life. He started believing that his life was worth more than some people had led him to believe. He started taking care of himself better. He started writing songs again. And he decided to make an album. I actually wrote about it in my book. Here’s a little snippet of a letter he sent me and the rest of the Wilderman band last year:

Dear bros, I want to make my record with you guys. I don't know how it's going to happen, but I really want it to.

I want to go to somewhere in the wilderness bring some analog gear and really pour out our hearts onto tape.

I want you guys on the record because I feel safest with you, and know I can just be totally me and be completely unrestrained.

You guys all understand the "anointing" and what it's like to play together and connect and reach something spiritual.

I'm hoping for seven days (two days setup/fun/connection/spiritual retreat stuff, five days tracking), with all of us there totally engaged, connected, hearts out, sharing fears and doubts and stuff we never feel comfortable enough to talk about with total freedom, only love, no judgment, in the wilderness. As men.

With no ego or want for success, only love and connection and beauty and spirituality. I think you get the point. love, Rob

Hearing Rob, who we all knew had gone through so much shit, speak like this was inspiring. We all immediately said “yes”, and the recording process really was pretty incredible.

Ok, so honestly, the whole all analog, no ego, “no judgment” thing probably isn’t a great formula for fame and fortune in the music industry. We live in a society that seems to prefer hearing everything perfectly timed and tuned and sung by a 150 pound, 20-year-old boy with amazing hair. This project was not aspiring to that end. Here’s an example of how this music went to tape:

David, my other little brother, is a bass player that has often played for Gungor and also has a band called “The Brilliance.” He was part of the Wilderman band as well. David has always joked about bass solos while we are recording. He is always playfully wanting to throw bass solos in, because, well, that’s ridiculous. So we are in this cabin in the desert, and recording this song. We are all just set up in the same room with all of our mics bleeding into each other and all through only analog gear right to tape. (So what that means is that what happens in that room is what you will hear on the record. You don’t get to go fix everything like everybody else does with today’s technology. What happens is what happens.)

So David starts joking about putting a bass solo down. And Rob, whose manifesto for this record is “no judgement”, “no ego”, says “Dave, if you want to play a bass solo, then play a bass solo.” We all laugh, but Rob doesn’t find it that funny. “Bro, there’s no ego here, if you feel like playing a bass solo here, you totally should.”

David, overjoyed, begins to work out a solo. David moves from light and childlike to serious as he dips his head and starts trying to figure out some cool lines to play.

“Whoa! No, Dave. If you are going to do a bass solo, you just need to feel it in the moment. No rehearsing that.” And that’s how this project was made. I had never played slide guitar before. For this album, that’s pretty much all I played. Rob never used standard tunings. In fact, we all tuned to these weird chakra frequencies that meant something to Rob, so we weren’t even ever in standard A=440. (That’s pretty much all you ever hear) From beginning to end, the project was all about heart and freedom and there was no room for plastic or ego. And if you could know Rob and where he has come from, you would know why that is so beautiful.

Rob is a very talented musician. He studied jazz piano at North Texas University. He is a great producer and songwriter. He COULD make a record that sounds pristine and perfect.

But Rob, at least at the time, had spent far too much time trying to work to make himself acceptable to other people. In his toxic relationship, he had constantly been belittled and made to feel that he was not good enough. Rob finally had decided to stop listening to those lies and to be free. Part of that process was this music. This music is the sound of a man coming out of his prison cell and saying “I don’t care whether you ‘accept’ me or not, this is who I am, and I’m going to live my life.” I love that.

The way this record was made is very rare and very bold. And while the production is certainly more raw and spontaneous than many people are used to hearing, I think if you really listen to the songs, you will be able to feel the sounds of love, hope, and joy that this album came from. I’m really proud of Rob for spending so much of his own time and money on this project, and I hope some of you will support the work as well. You can check it out here:

http://wilderman.us http://wilderman.bandcamp.com/ https://www.facebook.com/wildermanmusic

Overcooking The Turkey

How do you know you are finished when creating something? Is "overcooking" your work a possibility, and if so, how do you avoid it?

I sometimes get asked these types of questions, and as we are finishing up this new album, I am, once again, having to answer these questions for my own work.

"Is this thing done yet?"

Answering this question is one of the most important parts of cooking a turkey. Or an album.  Or a book.  Or any other thing.

Have you ever seen the Tay Zonday performance of  "Chocolate Rain" on YouTube?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwTZ2xpQwpA

Now to me, that is a quintessential example of something that has been "overcooked."

While Tay's performance is enjoyable to watch; it is, of course enjoyable in a way that he probably did not intend or would not prefer...  It's funny.  And why is it funny?  Because it is ridiculously calculated and sterile.  Just listen to the keyboard.  Every note is perfectly quantized to the grid.  There is no dynamic range or human imperfections in anything throughout the song.  He doesn't even want to breathe in the microphone, lest, God forbid, we figure out that he is actually human!

Still, I think there is something about Tay that ought to be admired. He seems to care enough about his work to actually work.  In a world where everybody now has a stage and a microphone because of things like YouTube and social media, Tay Zonday is actually a rare find.  There are millions of lazy hacks out there posting unworked, uncared about, trite, out of tune, out of time crap and thinking it's worth something because they "feel" it.

So how do you find a good balance between Chocolate Rain and Tifffany YouTube who forgets the lyrics in the second verse but posts the video anyway?

For me, it once again comes down to the whole fear/love thing that I have written extensively about in the book.

Am I backing away from this microphone every time I breathe because I am afraid of something or because I love something?  Ok, that might be a bit too abstract, but do you see my point?  When I look at Tay sing, I don't get the feeling that he really LOVES or enjoys what he is doing.  Instead, he looks kind of freaked out, like he thinks if he doesn't get everything exactly perfect, he is going to be severely punished.

While "Chocolate Rain" is fun to watch, and seems to have worked out well for Tay…  Fear is not something one should normally build their work on. In fact, I think fear is the most dangerous ingredient in art.  I believe that it is fear that lies at the root of all bad and destructive art in the world.

So if you are AFRAID of "overcooking", you aren't starting in a good place. If you are AFRAID of it being imperfect, you aren't starting in a good place.

Start with love.  Work the process with love.  Finish with love.

Is this thing done?

I think you can know you are done when you can't think of anything else to do to make you love it more.

An Open Letter To Ricky Gervais (And Atheists Everywhere)

First, let me say... I love Ricky Gervais. He is a very funny and intelligent man that often does incredible work that I think makes this world a better place. He is also a very outspoken "atheist." Here is a tweet he just posted: Tweet

I wanted to respond to the tweet, but I saw no way of doing so within 140 characters. Of course, I don't really expect him to hear or care about my response. But I have some thoughts about it that I feel like expressing. So here we go.

That statement that Ricky tweeted is, I guess, a way of saying something like "I don't BELIEVE that there is no Santa Clause, I just don't believe in Santa Clause."

I think that's fair to a certain extent. The lack of belief in a specific concept is not necessarily belief in another one. But the concept of "God" is a little trickier than your typical concept because there is no universally agreed on definition of "God".

Not believing in Santa Clause is not necessarily a belief system in itself because there is a pretty universally agreed upon concept that is elicited with the name "Santa Clause", i.e. a fat guy in a red suit that flies around the world giving Christmas presents to children. To not believe in Santa Clause, I don't necessarily have to have a robust belief system in place to fill in the gaps. All I really have to believe is that the presents that children received were actually provided by other sources than the aforementioned fat, flying man.

But when you talk about “God”, things get quite a bit more complicated. As soon as you bring up the word “God”, you are now playing on the existential playing field. Now you are talking about metaphysics and the meaning or lack of meaning of life and so on. I think a lot of modern day atheists like Ricky don’t often acknowledge this complexity. They don’t acknowledge that they do operate within a system of beliefs just like everyone else does. They do BELIEVE in a system that allows them to think they have a level of understanding about the nature of reality. They BELIEVE in an actual universe, and one that has the ability to give rise to itself (not a small leap of faith). They BELIEVE that their senses and rational mind are able to accurately perceive that universe. They BELIEVE that science can potentially make accurate and complete descriptions of the universe. On and on these beliefs go. Most, if not all, of these beliefs are generally considered to be “reasonable”, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t beliefs. There are possible other ways of seeing. One has to choose how he or she will interpret the sensory input that he or she experiences. That is what belief is.

I think this is why theists often posit that atheism is a belief system. It's not so much that the absence of a belief in "God" is a belief as much as the other beliefs that must exist in order to replace the existential hole that is left when a theist removes "God" from the equation.

But that's not even my primary problem with Mr. Gervais' tweet… The bigger issue here is that "atheism" is an essentially meaningless term and the kind of invective that many of its adherents commonly spew (like this tweet) actually fosters and strengthens fundamentalist thinking on both sides of the theism/atheism divide, and therefore it is destructive for humanity.

Let me explain.

I don't believe in Bob.

"Well," one might ask, "what the hell does that mean?" Who, after all, is this "Bob" that you don't believe in?

Well, let's say that in my mind, Bob is a supernatural being that flies through space and makes planets with his thoughts. And I don't believe in him.

Fair enough. The problem is… To many other people, the name Bob elicits many other things…like people that they know named Bob.

Here's my point. You can't meaningfully say you don't believe in "Bob" if there is no universally agreed upon concept connected to the word that you are saying. For some people, "God" is a really powerful guy "up" in some place in space called "Heaven" that looks down on us and sometimes interacts with us depending on what sort of mood he is in or whatever. For some, there are lots of gods that do all sorts of things like send rain or make the crops grow. For some people, God is not any sort of being at all, but simply a word for the central essence of reality. For some, God is a word that they use to recognize the beauty of everything that they see. Love, infinity, the creative life force that holds the universe together…..The viewpoints and definitions are endless. The point is, the word "God" doesn't universally mean anything.

So when you, Mr. Gervais, say that atheism is simply a result of thinking, what does that actually mean, for instance, to the person that would define "God" as "existence" itself? To this person, saying "God does not exist" is the equivalent of saying "existence does not exist." That is, of course, a meaningless thing to say.

This may sound like semantic games to the atheist. It is not. "God" is not as simple of a concept to be dismissed as many of these "new atheists" seem to think. There have been plenty of theologians through the centuries who have argued that God does not "exist." This is why you can't say that "atheism is not a belief system", but is simply "the result of thinking" as though you are talking about not believing in Santa Clause. If there were thousands of different definitions and interpretations of "Santa Clause", it would be equally as difficult to dismiss the existence of "Santa Clause".

So what are we talking about when we talk about God?

This is a more interesting conversation, in my opinion, than arguing about whether or not God "exists".

It is very easy to set up straw men arguments about a silly being in the sky who created the world six thousand years ago and then tweet from your ivory tower that "God" obviously does not exist. Well, if you have any belief in science, which I do, then of course that God does not exist. But that's as meaningful as a statement as "Bob does not exist."

The problem is that this sort of talk creates strong emotions in everyone and we all fight about it. "Of course God exists!" "Of course he doesn't!" Blah, blah, blah. And everyone digs in their heels and simple, dogmatic, fundamentalist, black and white thinking is strengthened on both sides of the fence. And we don't even know what the hell we are actually fighting about. The atheist feels he is fighting against ignorant thinking about some flying spaghetti monster, and the theist feels he is fighting about all that is good and beautiful in existence. And it's because we are fighting about the wrong question. Fighting about whether Bob exists or not is a meaningless conversation. Fighting about what the nature of reality is, whether love is worth it or not, whether we should follow the cue of evolution and fight for the survival of the fittest, or whether we should fight against that impulse…those are more interesting conversations. "Who or what is God in your perspective and experience?" is a far more interesting and meaningful question than "Does God exist?"

So, Mr. Gervais, I love your work. I think you are brilliant, but I would love to challenge you to take a moment of thoughtful reflection about what you think you are saying when you tweet things like that. Not everyone defines God the same way that you do, and while this may not bother you, perhaps the truth that you are actually strengthening the arrogant, ignorant fundamentalism that you rail against should give you pause. "God" bless. ;)

Updates

Hey everybody, just wanted to post a quick update about what Gungor has been up to. First, the DVD…

Wow, it has taken a long time!

We are very sorry for that. The big issue has been that we tried to produce a film that probably should have cost at least a hundred grand with about a 15 thousand dollar budget.  The crazy part is… We actually succeeded.  (Thanks primarily to Andy Catarisano and his young, crazy talented team.) The film is just finishing up final touches, and it shouldn't be all that much longer until you can get it.  The good news is that the film is pretty amazing, and I can't wait for you to see it.

The second piece of news. If you follow us on social media, you probably have seen us posting pics from the studio.  We are currently recording our third studio album, and I have to say… I'm very excited about it as well.

Of course, it couldn't be a Gungor album if it didn't make some sort of giant departure from the last one.  :)  But this departure is particularly interesting to me.  I have been talking for years about the problems of boxing some music into "sacred" or "secular" categories. I believe good theology would point to all of life and work being "sacred."  So our writing has actually finally been catching up to those ideals.  We have been writing all of these songs that are about all sorts of things. Love songs. Songs about our lives. Songs that tell stories.  And yes, even songs about God.  It's been ridiculously fun taking some of the boundaries off and seeing all of life as part of the "sacred" music that we make. In fact, we think that opening up those boxes is a move towards the sacred for us.

That being said, we still like writing "church music."   And while there probably won't be much of it on the new Gungor album, we are actually talking about releasing a new album under the title "The Liturgists."  That would be Gungor's new primariy outlet for the music that we write specifically for the Church to sing.  Please don't misunderstand this. Our aim here is not to seek fame and fortune in the mainstream world or to escape from the Church in some way. We simply want to practice what we preach and try to make good art that isn't limited to what is traditionally thought of as "religious" content.  We think everything is religious, and we want our music to reflect that.

We'll let you know more about all of this in the upcoming months, but I just wanted to let you all in on what's been going on behind the scenes and in these ol' noggins and hearts of ours.  Our plan is to release the new album in September and then tour the new Gungor album starting late October.  (And perhaps throw in a few Liturgist events here and there as well.)  Keep your eye on the website for further updates.  Much love to all of you!

Michael

For the Doubters

First, a word of warning… This blog is NOT intended for everyone.  It is written for a very specific group of people—those who would like to have some sort of intellectually honest faith but have experienced crippling existential doubt that makes faith difficult or impossible for them.  If that phrase means nothing to your own experience, I’d suggest you move on to a different blog because this probably won’t be all that helpful to you.

I guess I could start this with the image of me weeping on my knees in a bathrobe in a spa.  I’ll save the (fairly entertaining) details for another time, but basically I lost my metaphysic.  I lost the ability to “believe” anything.

I’m not talking about the “Why didn’t God do this for me?” kind of doubt here.

I’m talking about a complete lack of ability to hold any sort of metaphysic. Is this universe “real” or an illusion or some kind…a software simulation, perhaps?  I don’t know.

Some of you are scratching your head or furrowing your brow at this point.  I told you this blog is not for everyone.

Is there a God, an afterlife, a direction to the universe?  I don’t know.

I suddenly found myself for the first time in my life with no actual metaphysical beliefs.

This kind of doubt is not some postmodern, hipster trendy sort of “doubt.”  It is a very real and painful loss of the ground beneath your feet.  This can be a very depressing and horrifying experience for people.  Some of you know what I’m talking about, and it’s you that I’m writing this blog to.

Through this experience (“dark night of the soul”, or whatever you would like to call it), I’ve had a few things that have really helped me “spiritually”.  (Community, ritual, apophatic theology, meditation…etc) But I came across something this week that really helped me cerebrally.

The philosophy and science of the day have left us with very little certainty about the universe we inhabit. (“I think therefore I am” really doesn’t get you very far.) We are subjective creatures that have very limited and flawed receptors. There is really no way to objectively “know” anything.  It all comes through our subjective lenses. In reality, it all comes down to faith. And faith is not something one can force.

Nearly everything can be philosophically deconstructed.  So those of us who lack the faith to believe even in our subjective senses or reasoning can have a very hard time finding things to be “true.”  This can lead to paralyzing doubt. The kind that keeps one from living the kind of life that he would like to live.

Ok, so now to the helpful part.

I had a conversation the other night with this brilliant guy that everybody kept calling “Science Mike.”  Mike grew up in Christianity but then became an atheist, and has recently come back to his faith.   I was startled at the similarities in his experience and thought world to my own.  And when I shared with him about some of my experience, he shared with me a set of axioms that he has come up with that has allowed him to continue to practice his Christianity in an intellectually honest way, even during seasons of extreme doubt.  These axioms, he explained to me, act as a sort of ground floor upon which he can deconstruct no further.  They are built on the idea of “at least”.  So, while these axioms may be extremely unhelpful to a person who has no metaphysical dilemmas, they can be EXTREMELY helpful to a person who sometimes dips into deep, debilitating existential doubt.

You ready?  I hope you’re ready for this, because this is freaking brilliant.  I asked him to write it down and send it to me, and this is his email:

OK, my little system is AT LEAST, EVEN IF. I provide definitions for religious concepts in the form of axioms in a manner that is compatible with naturalism (falsifiable and provable). Even in the sciences, we must admit we don't have a complete understanding of most concepts, so AT LEAST could be applied to natural concepts too (the Universe, gravity, etc.)

Basically, this is a ground floor which doubt can dip no further. It allows us to always feel intellectually honest about pursuing God, religious ritual, fellowship and even Jesus himself.

God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial construct rooted in evolved neurologic features in humans. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace and empathy for others and is warranted.

Prayer is AT LEAST a form of mediation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.

The Bible is AT LEAST a set of writings where a people group describes their experience with and understanding of God over thousands of years. EVN IF that is a comprehensive definition of God, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.

Jesus is AT LEAST the idea of a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings; he was very likely a real person. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.

HOLY @#$#!!

This is amazing.  Every word in this is very intentionally crafted, and I really can’t see any way to reasonably deconstruct this argument.

Of course, for most Christians, these axioms fall woefully short of any robust orthodoxy. Still, the beautiful part of this is that it provides some sort of framework upon which you can continue to live the kind of faithful life that you’d like to live even when doubt takes over and drives you to the absolute depth of uncertainty.  This argument basically “proves” that even when everything gets deconstructed to the very least (God as a word for our subjective experience of the natural forces that create and sustain the universe), Christianity is still worth LIVING.

That’s they key to this to me. Living.  Doubt has its benefits. It asks questions that can lead to progress and growth. But the dark side of doubt is when it stops the person from actually living the kind of life she wants to live.  It’s one thing to have cerebral doubts about whether love is anything more than a set of chemical reactions in the brain; it’s much more severe problem to let those doubts actually stop you from living a life of love.

It’s one thing to doubt the dogmas and ideas about Jesus. It’s another thing to let those doubts keep you from living the “abundant life” that he invited people into in the Gospels.

So, there you go. Mike is a genius.  If you want to know more about him or contact him, you can find him at http://mikemchargue.com or @mikemchargue on Twitter.

Ps.  As far as blog comments go, I would love to ask the Christians that don’t struggle with this sort of doubt to please refrain from speaking too quickly here. There are many people that believe the answer to this sort of doubt is “Come on, just believe! The Bible says…” Regardless of how good the intention in that sort of statement may be, please trust me when I say that this sort of response is not at all helpful in these situations. It actually can be quite destructive and can lead the doubter to push away even farther from what you are saying. Thanks!

Catholicism

Last night, I had one of the most beautiful worship experiences I have had in a long time. We played at a Catholic youth festival in Louisiana, and afterwards we stayed for "adoration." Wasn't quite sure what that was, but we ended up kneeling in silence in a field for like 20 minutes with thousands of young Catholics, all holding candles. It was amazing. A procession of priests came walking through the candlelit masses holding a big golden cross and then they put this other golden thingy in the altar (forgive me for my ignorance of any of the proper terms, and for my use of the word "thingy"), and we all just sat there and adored Christ together in silent reverence for a long time. Honestly, it made me want to be Catholic again.

I say again, because I tried to become a Catholic a couple of years ago. I failed. The priest I was talking to at the time told me that I had to believe in everything if I was to convert, and I was like, "Whoa, man, come on now. I don't believe 'everything' of 'anything.'"

Still, I sat there in the candlelight last night wishing that I had the faith to believe in everything. Because it is all so beautiful. It really is. I grew up Protestant. More specifically: evangelical. I don't feel that that word accurately describes me now, but it is my heritage.

The thing about evangelicals is that they tend to take everything so literally. I can just imagine the evangelical, 17 year old me sitting there in that field and praying in tongues because I was afraid that some sort of Catholic idolatry demons would possess me. I would have been freaked out that all of them were staring at those golden thingys because I had no mystery or metaphor in my faith. God was a big powerful guy "up" there. So a bunch of people bowing down before a golden image… Well, that sounds like idolatry.

I didn't really understand everything that was happening last night, but that was part of the beauty of it. That heavy and intoxicating aroma of the incense. The bending flickering flames of the candles in the wind. The bold colors of robes and crosses and crucibles. The use of different languages. It was Heaven crashing into earth.

A lot of Protestants don't think of the first 1500 years of Church history as part of their story. They seem to think that the disciples wrote the Bible and then the Catholic church just worshiped idols and killed people for 15 centuries until Martin Luther and Calvin came along and the Church got back to Christianity.

I'm sorry to tell you this, Mr. Evangelical, but without Rome, you have no Christianity. You have no Bible. You have no theology. You have no story.

The Church today is severely splintered and fragmented, and that should break our hearts. But healing needs to start somewhere. That's why I wanted to tell you about my experience. Because perhaps for a few of you, you can think about your relationship with the "other", no matter who that might be. But most of the time, the "other" is exactly who has the most to offer us. And any loving movement towards the other is a movement towards healing, unity, and peace--all things we desperately need.

ps. I will be deleting any foolish, ignorant, or divisive comments about Catholic theology. Protestants would do well to actually study the theology before speaking about it (ie. idolatry, Mary...etc)

Being Found

Noise, noise, noise.  Mr Loud Talker behind me on his cell,  one to my right is talking, plugging his left ear to avoid Loud Talker, Italian accent is in heated debate about a piece of paper…I gather that he is referring to a college diploma or something. Yes, I listened to his conversation, but so did 7 other people…unavoidable.   Light chit chat and laughs wander down the hallway while another voice echoes through the terminal. Any spare second of voicelessness is filled with the chiming in of TVs.  13 people stream out of the jet-way, 11 looking at phones while walking…more like swerving. Remember back in the day when we would just walk? Staggering concept. I feel old as I write that, like it's something my Dad would say to 12-year-old me at dinner: "when I was a kid, we had rocks for video games!" All the noise and distraction is just so real in this moment.  I notice it more now because I have been on a silent retreat for the past four days. I'm sure I'll get used to the racket again, and I'm sure in a few days I'll join the swerving walkers.  But I hope, no, I'm determined to resist the constant distraction and revisit silence again and again. Because this peace, this peace. It's too good to forget. Like going on the most romantic date, surprisingly being swept off of your feet because he showed you the world in a different way than all the rest. The "I could do this for the rest of my life" feeling. I feel my eyes are more open, a gift every adult should receive - seeing the world for the first time.  We are born into this space and don't remember most of the "firsts" - first breath, bird, spider web, sunrise, thunder storm, hearing crickets song at night.  First picture of our world hundreds of miles away.   It's all so…normal.  The brilliance is normal because we grow up in it, thus we look for and yearn for something more amazing to happen. This vibrant world, a sphere of earth and water suspended, spinning through a vastness of rocks, planets, fire balls. Things that fly, actually fly, wings and all - from grand eagles to the tiny things that land on my skin and I don't even notice.  Creatures that have horns, feathers, fins, change color to hide, live beneath feet, build homes in trees. And it all is formed by tinier things like atoms and subatomic particles such as leptons and quarks.  This grand Earth. All things come from this soil that is spattered on my shoe. We've built worlds out of the world.  Creation ongoing.  It's a wonderland that passes me by. Still, I look for the incredible to break through that fire ball in the sky.  Because I have a habit at looking at the lack.  No! I prefer seas parting at my very voice and mountains floating into the clouds! Then! Then I will believe in the miraculous! I want my own body to fly, I want the gravity that keeps me alive in this moment to defy itself when my child is dangling at it's mercy.  I want millions of firey orbs as far as the eye can see!  …oh yes, we have that one.

Something incredible to break through the incredible. I have seen it, taken in the beauty before, been in awe.  But a film has clouded the retina of my soul.  Now, the days of silence, meditation, just staring off into the wonderland, unlatched a new sight.

I was a bit nervous about this silent retreat. It's been well, just about my whole life since I was silent for an hour, let alone 4 days.  Ask anyone who has known me for longer than 10 seconds, and you'll probably hear the same thing - "she's a talker." It's embarrassing really.  Because with that comes the things you wish you didn't say out loud.

Anyway, silent retreat: Day 1

To self: "Open your heart, open your mind, don't try, just let go. Open, open, open."

Okay, I'm open, beautiful.  Then thoughts come…Amelie, what is she eating - nutritious veggies or tops of iced donuts? Is she cold at night? Is she clean? Is that mass of hair a tangled mess or is Daddy softly brushing each morning? Is Michael succumbing to his hermit-ways? Is he locking the studio and front and back door at night? Has he lost the keys? Oh frickin' crap, they're locked out.  I should call. No. I'll call.

Thoughts, thoughts.  I throw them out and they hurdle toward, wrestling my open-ness, winning.

I'll try it again - "Open your heart, mind, soul, let go and open."

Intentional slow breath - breathing out the worry, stress, agenda, breathing in a thing that makes my body live.  And slowly…I unravel.  I am not a singer, songwriter, artist, friend, wife, mother, less-than, more-than. I, well…I just am. And I hear His ancient words echo "I am." I am a creature of the earth, fully here, fully alive.  I am not here to accomplish something, discover, write lists and plan, create or find. I am not here to find. A strange thing for a retreat.  Loads of brain space is spent on finding ourselves, finding friends, finding work, finding God, and most of all - finding purpose.  But this time, I'm not here to find. I lift my eyes and finally see where I am.  I take it in -  rolling hills, an orchestra of animals, crisp air in lungs, beauty rolled out for a most elaborate play. Fully in the moment, I live.

I am a human being, and I begin to feel a current pulling me into the earth in a way I have not yet felt. I am part of this good earth.  This good earth. I suddenly believe it.  All my eyes are beholding is a gift and somehow I've rushed by this truth.  I have been beholding the pain far too long: famine, broken families, shootings, death, hurricanes, tornadoes, lack.  A hope can break under the weight. I believe it a good thing to have open eyes toward the pain of the world.  We morn with those who morn. They say God is found there.  But too often I haven't found God there, I've mostly found what I fear.   So my heart is surprised with this good earth. The good has been right here all along -  moss beneath feet, spider web with painted dew; in cobalt skies strewn with fleeting white. In fat cows freckling the green, cracking twigs, puffy trees like puffy clouds cascading down peaks of earth, crisp air making watery eyes. Light surging, gleaming, glowing everything gold -  it's then that I feel it…I am being found.

No, I do not have to strive, con jour up, just open. I am not here to find, something is finding me.

The Gun God

I don’t claim to be a pacifist. If I would have been at that school the other day, and I had a gun, I would have shot that man in a second to stop him.

What I’m not going to say is that this response would have been the Christian one. I’m not going to say that I know that this is what Christ would have done.

Jesus, the one who taught us to turn our cheek when our enemies strike us. Jesus, the one who taught us to pray for our enemies, love them, give them more than they ask for when they rob us… Jesus, the one who rebuked his disciple when he drew his sword to try to protect Jesus. Jesus, who did not resist being cruficied. Who looked at the people who were torturing him and muttered “Father, forgive them…” The one who causes lions to lay with lambs and beats our swords into plowshares.

Jesus.

Prince of peace.

Now, of course, there is also the Jesus of the turned tables. There is the Jesus who ferociously deals with the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and oppression. Yet, we have no examples of where Jesus ever turns righteous indignation into actual violence against flesh and blood.

Jesus response to violence is never the sword, it is the cross.

Which is why I was so distressed yesterday when Christians responded to me about my comment about guns in the wake of the shootings.

I posted a blog that argued that it was time to examine our system to see what was making it so easy for men like that to get guns.

The response?

Outrage.

I’ve never had backlash like that, and I’ve written some pretty “out there” things…

I couldn’t even keep up with my twitter feed. Some of you were very supportive and in agreement, but others accused me all sorts of things. Arrogance. Closed-mindedness. Divisiveness. They called me names. They told me they weren’t following me anymore. They told me that I should stick to making music. They told me that they hope that I thought my judgmentalism was worth losing fans over. They laughed at me and made fun of me, consistently using examples like, “oh, what should we outlaw cars because they kill people too?”

Now, let me remind you what I said…

I didn’t say that we shouldn’t allow anyone to have a gun. I didn’t say that we should outlaw anything. I said that we should make it more difficult for people like that to get guns.

Apparently I hit a nerve.

After 9/11, one of the first responses that we as a nation had was to try to make it harder for terrorists to get airplanes. This is a reasonable course of action. When people run planes into buildings, it’s only reasonable to want to make it harder for terrorists to take control of airplanes.

Nobody said, “Hey, now’s not the time for politics! Now’s not the time to talk about regulations and debate about the security at airports!”

Because, airplanes… Well, that’s not a sacred cow.

So we all do our part and take our shoes off at the scanners now. We all empty our water bottles and sometimes even let the scanners show our nude form to some stranger in a cubicle at the airport. We don’t love it. It’s inconvenient, but we are willing to sacrifice to make it harder for someone to waltz onto an airplane with a bomb on his chest or a knife in his pocket.

When a man walks into a school full of little children and starts firing assault weapons into their little bodies… When a man waltzes into a movie theatre in military gear and starts shooting brothers and sisters, moms and dads… I mean, how many of these things are we going to have to experience before we say, “ok, maybe we should re-look at how we are distributing weapons to these people?”

Seems like a natural and reasonable response to me. A response in the direction of justice.

I make no claims to know the appropriate way of accomplishing this. I also do not mean to vilify anyone that believes that gun control would be ineffective (even though I disagree with them.) I just think the conversation is important, and it is important to have before these deaths are quickly forgotten like all of the other shootings.

Yet the response to me yesterday… It was like these Christians that on the surface are all sentimental and sweet and weepy about the tragedy suddenly turned green, bared their teeth and screamed “NOT MY PRECIOUS!!”

Their precious guns.

Don’t talk to me about my precious guns!

Red flags anyone?

Now to be clear, I never made the claim that gun control was the ONLY thing we should do. Certainly there are other important conversations that needed to be had in figuring out ways of safeguarding against this kind of violence. Mental health care, public training or security…etc But nobody is freaking out about those things. Nobody is having a seizure and shooting flames out of their eyeballs when someone says, “hey, maybe we should try to figure out a better way of identifying and treating mental illness.” But, mention the god of the gun!! “NO!!!! MY PRECIOUS!!!!

Perhaps this response has something to do with why America has at least 5 times the murder rate of other first world countries. It might have something to do with our gun laws, but I also bet it has a lot to do with that demon that a lot of people manifested yesterday. That demon that worships blood. That worships power and violence.

Ok, so that sounds a little melodramatic. But, I believe that this goes to our roots.

America has been built on blood. We worship this god of the gun. We sacrificed to it to own this land. We spilled the blood of the Native Americans to satiate it. The British. The French. The Mexicans. Anybody that stood in the way of what we wanted, we killed. Sometimes the violence may have been justified, other times, it certainly was not by any other standard but “well, we wanted this, and you didn’t give it to us, so we killed you.” We’ve killed each other on this land. People killed their brothers on this land so that they could keep their slaves. (Not surprisingly, it is still the South that is most adamant about its guns and also is the most violent region in the country)

America is a young nation, but it is drenched in blood. And oh how we treasure the power that we have received in response to our blood sacrifices. We hold our big guns and we feel pleasure coarse through our bodies. Power. It’s sexy as hell. We love it. We feel so important and powerful, like gods ourselves.

I’m sure there are some that fight for no gun laws that really do hate violence. But I also bet that a lot of us have been infected with the violence that goes so deep into our roots. We have been infected with the idea that the use of guns are a good thing, synonymous with words like “freedom” and “justice.” And as a result, we violently hold onto violence.

If having total “freedom” from governmental meddling with our firearms actually does result in at least part of the violence that we keep seeing, are we really willing to offer our own children as blood sacrifice to this god for the sake of that convenience? Are we really willing for more mothers to have to lie in bed, tossing, turning and weeping, playing the imagined scene of their baby being shot over and over so that we can keep stroking the barrel of our shotguns and feeling the pleasure of the demon shudder through our spines knowing how easily we were able to acquire it?

It should be shocking and horrifying to us that some of us are even using our “Christianity” as an excuse for this clutching to violence. We say how the problem is “sin”, and it’s only Jesus that can do something about it.

That’s convenient for us, because it frees us from responsibility. It lets us avoid actually having to be the hands and feet of God. So in other words, we use our Christianity to avoid being Christians.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world stares at us with their mouths gaping. They wonder how we can be so blind about the consequences of our obsession with guns.

There was a guy on my twitter feed yesterday that actually used the verse where Jesus said that he came to bring a sword to justify guns.

Selah.

I think gun control is important. If you are curious why that is, just read this article.

But now I’m seeing how, even though it is important, it certainly is not the ultimate cause of the violence that we have seen. That thing that made a lot of you respond to me yesterday like you did… That thing in me that made me want to respond with far more sarcasm and colorful language than I did… Perhaps, that’s the primary cause of all this violence. That American demon inside of us that probably is rearing its head right now in some of you.

“HOW DARE YOU!!!”

That demon that makes you want to protect your guns more than our children. That demon that makes you jump into the defensive at a suggestion like making it harder for evil people to acquire so much killing power. After all, again, I never said anything about prohibition. I didn’t even say that you couldn’t have your precious. But to some of you, my fingers got dangerously close to your precious yesterday, so your demon manifested and you bit my fingers.

We all go through all sorts of red tape and bureaucracy all of the time. To get our driver’s licenses. To pay our taxes. To get a permit to sell flowers, for crying out loud. Yet many of us are unwilling to even talk about having to go through some sort of complicated process to earn the right to own a firearm that could be used to blast away an elementary school. We will spend a third of our income and a bunch of our time filling out tax forms, but don’t you dare try to make me go through a process where someone decides whether I’m mentally or emotionally fit to own a firearm! Don’t you dare try to tell me that there are certain military grade weapons that are not possible for me to purchase!

I smell the demon, folks. This is not common sense at work. This is bloodlust. It’s the desire for power. Its good, old-fashioned idolatry.

If we want to stop some of the violence in our schools, mosques, churches and movie theatres, perhaps the first step is to look down and notice the white knuckles around the barrel of our guns.

I am not under the delusion that the government can fix the human heart. You cannot regulate away violence. But we can do little things to safeguard that limit the carnage when the violence comes out. Again, I don’t claim to have the answers to what those things are exactly. But I do hope that Christians will stop worrying so much about ensuring that they can acquire firearms without any inconvenience to them and start trying to figure out a way to limit the pain that our weapons allow us to inflict on each other.

Grieving the Shooting

Ok, I can’t stay quiet about it anymore. I can’t take anymore of the sentimental religious bs in the wake of these shootings. This kind of evil must be lamented, and I don’t buy it that this sort of lament must be limited to cheap little clichés about how we are so sorry and are praying for the victims families and friends. We need to pray, but we need to do more than that. We need to do our best to build a world where this sort of thing doesn’t happen to our kids.

If my neighbor has a pitbull and a fence that keeps getting unlocked, and that pitbull keeps getting out and killing kids, it does not seem inappropriate to me to get a little angry at the owner and say, “hey, either get rid of the pitbull, or get a better fence!”

It doesn’t even seem inappropriate to do that immediately after the pitbull attacks.

Is it inappropriate when a child dies to say, “well, has the killer been caught?”

Do you say, “well, today is not the time for police work… Today is the day to grieve.”

No! To grieve properly is to desire justice. To desire justice is to want the evil that caused the tragedy to cease to exist. This is not some political ideology that I’m talking about here. I don’t care whether a democrat, republican, or freaking Ross Perot does something about it. I’m talking about human life. I’m talking about little babies getting shot by guns. Guns that crazy people can just go to freaking Walmart and buy. Guns that CHRISTIANS justify and fight for. Fight for.

Before you say something like,

“Guns don’t kill people, people do…”

or

“Well, violence would still exist. If it weren’t guns, it would be knives or rocks..”

Please check the stats for how many mass knife attacks were perpetrated this year in places that don’t allow guns vs how many people died this year from shootings.

How many shootings do we have to have before we start realizing that we as a nation worship gun ownership and the violence that it is built upon?

I’m in Europe right now, and it’s been shocking to me that everyone here seems to see things in the same way that I do. They think we Americans are insane with this issue. They don’t own guns here.

I realize that gun prohibition is not ever going to be possible in America. It’s too entrenched in the culture.

Still, what better time is there to think about the systems of injustice than when the tears are still wet on our cheeks? Perhaps now, while we grieve this senseless violence is the perfect time to ask ourselves the question, “Hey, what are we doing that allows crazy people like that to so easily and affordably get guns?"

Now is not the time for political crap, but it is the time to seek justice. Not when the victims are forgotten, but while they are in our thoughts and prayers. Of course, I wouldn't be talking about this directly to the families right now. That would be inappropriate. They need to simply mourn and not worry about anything else. But that's not what we want from the police... We don't just want the police to sit around and cry and pray about this. We want them to figure out who this lunatic was and make sure all involved are brought to justice. That's what we want from the police today. Perhaps, we (the public) have a responsibility today as well. Perhaps we ought to look at how we, the public, are contributing to this sort of thing that seems to happen so easily and often. Sure, maybe the pitbull is primarily responsible for the attack, but if we have a broken fence, today is the time to recognize the importance of doing something to fix it. It is the time to both mourn with those who mourn but also to find the passion to fight for a system that doesn’t so easily allow this sort of evil, to fight for those kids who will be shot next year. Because with this system, it’s going to happen.

I think a time like this is the most appropriate time to address the broken fence and the unleashed pitbull. Not a month later when guns are some abstract idea, but today while the muzzle is still hot. What better time to face the foolishness of our beliefs and systems than when the consequences of them burn the brightest?

Christian Pizza

An excerpt from "The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse" (Appendix 2):

A typical conversation I might have on an airplane:

Stranger (upon seeing the guitar on my back): Hey, are you gonna play us something?

Michael: Ha ha! Maybe, we’ll see! (Note to jokesters: anybody who regularly carries a guitar onto a plane is tired of this joke.) 

Stranger: You know, I’m not sure that guitar is going to fit in the overhead . . .

Michael (trying to stay nice): Yeah, it does actually.

I place the guitar in the overhead bin and close it without a problem. I realize my seat is right next to the stranger and sit down.

Stranger: So, what kind of music do you play?

It is here that I have a difficult time knowing how to answer.

If you asked Bill iTunes or John Google this question about Michael Gungor, the answer that you would find would be “Christian and Gospel.” There are a number of reasons that this is not the answer I would prefer to give someone, especially a stranger on a plane. It is not because I am embarrassed about the spiritual content of our music. I’m not. It’s essentially a language problem.

It actually gets kind of complicated. So to begin, let’s take another jaunt back to my fundamentalist days.

Here’s how art worked in the religious subculture that I grew up in: If you want to be a painter, and you want God to be happy with your art, you better paint crosses or doves flying around a globe or something. If you want to be a singer, and you want to use your gift for God, you need to sing Christian music. The more JPM’s (Jesus’ Per Minute), the better.

I loved music. I loved God. So I tried to write Christian music. I wasn’t great at it.

I lost my first Christian music competition when I was eighteen. It was a big seminar held in the Rocky Mountains where the winners could win things like Christian record deals.

In the first category, instrumental music, my toughest competition was a blind guitarist. I didn’t know how to feel about that. He was a really good player, and I felt bad for him because he was blind and all; but man, there was still a big part of me that wanted to crush that visually impaired acoustic shredder into the ground. No luck there, though. I came in second. I hoped for better luck in the songwriting part of the competition.

I had submitted a song called “What a God” that was a big hit at my church. People would actually start chanting “WHAT A GOD! WHAT A GOD!” at the end of services. This would happen quite regularly. I think it may have had something to do with all of the solos in it. Acoustic guitar solos, sax solos, percussion solos, drums solos . . . it was the late 90s, and people ate solos for breakfast.

The judges told me that the song was trite.

Trite.

Stupid judges. They must not have heard the incredible solos.

In retrospect, the song was trite, but I still felt like I had been robbed, so I came back the next year. This time, I had written a song in a minor key with a 7/8 time signature, and I thought it was pretty amazing. I was confident that the judges would think so as well. They did not. They told me that odd time signatures do not work well in Christian music. They told me that people like Sting might be able to get away with it, but he is not in Christian music.

I tried for a long time to be part of the Christian music industry. I even went to the Dove Awards one time. I sat there in my nice suit, daydreaming about what it would be like to win one of those someday.

So, yeah, there would have been a day that I would have gladly told the stranger on the plane that I played Christian music. But in the years of trying to make it in the Christian music industry, I came to discover how fundamentally fraught with peril an idea like Christian music can be.

First, and least importantly, there is the problem of the idea of genre. This is my first hurdle with the stranger on the plane. He’s asking for a genre, and so much about the idea of genres drives me crazy. Genres are all about labeling, marketing, and boxing art into imaginary constructs for the purpose of making money.

Genres are arbitrary. You can’t accurately classify art into categories like you can with lizards or different species of ferns. In science, classification works well—“It’s got four limbs, some hair, milk for its babies, lungs, and warm blood. It’s a mammal.” In art, the situation is not so cut and dry.

How many jokes must be included in a screenplay before the drama becomes a comedy? How many bombs must explode before the thriller becomes an action movie? If a rock band decides to start using banjos rather than electric guitars, are they still a rock band, or have they suddenly become a country or bluegrass band?

If musical genres were based on concrete and consistent musical characteristics, the marketers would have to create new genres in the record stores for every new, innovative artist that comes along. That’s not what happens. What happens is that the marketers simply categorize the artist’s album into the alternative section or the pop section or wherever they think it will have the best chance of selling. A genre is an imagined box that marketers have found to be effective as a marketing channel to a certain type of consumer.

What, for instance, does a typical country music fan look like in your imagination? What is he wearing? How does he speak? Ok, now think of a typical hip-hop fan. Same questions. How do you imagine him?

I doubt that you are imagining both the country fan and the hip-hop fan to be two identical middle-aged Asian businessmen in suits with no discernable differences between them or their lifestyles other than what is playing on their iPods.

Both country music and hip-hop music come out of a certain type of culture. Country music originated in southern parts of the United States in the 1920s. This was the same culture that had given birth to the concept of the cowboy. Country stars often wear cowboy clothing, which is clothing designed to help a person do the job of a cowboy, not sing music on a stage. A cowboy hat is intended to help keep a rancher protected from the weather. Cowboy boots were designed to help protect a cowboy while he rides his horse.

Most country artists aren’t riding horses to and from the stage. That’s not why country singers wear this clothing. Country music is perceived to come out of a certain lifestyle. That lifestyle has all of its own boundary markers that separate it from other cultures and lifestyles. Country artists wear cowboy hats as social boundary markers for their particular subculture.

The same is true for hip-hop. Hip-hop came out of the lifestyle of poor or working class people living in crowded urban centers. Hip-hop and rap often address issues that are familiar to their urban source—economic pressures, crime, drugs, gangs, violence, and so on. What is odd is that most successful rappers or hip-hop artists do not live in “the hood” anymore. They live in the rich areas. The style of sagging pants that many of these artists wear is believed to have originated in the prisons where belts were not allowed for the fear that the inmates might hang themselves with them. These artists are not in prison, and most of them probably never have been, but crime and a perceived oppression from authority figures is part of the subculture that gives birth to the art, so they’ve come to sag their pants.

So all of this is my first problem with answering the stranger’s question—he’s asking for a genre, and I don’t want to jump into any of his boxes.

The second reason I am not comfortable telling the stranger that I make “Christian music” is because I believe that this sort of categorization is precisely the kind of destructive separation of the sacred and the secular that is the result of fundamentalism, idolatry, and remnants of Gnosticism. That sort of division between sacred and profane makes for a small and anemic faith that is only relevant to the tiny corners of existence that we allow it to inhabit.

In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell writes, “’Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.” I agree with him. When the word “Christian” is used as an adjective, the assumption is that the essence of Christianity is something that can be transferred to a lifeless object. If Christianity is simply a set of lifeless dogmas and ideas, then one can certainly copy and paste those ideas onto any other lifeless object and describe it as Christian. As far as I am aware, there is no Christian automobile industry, no Christian mathematics industry, and no Christian airline industry. Most people would probably find it odd if someone tried to start such an industry. Would painting a big red Jesus on the hood of a car make it a Christian car? Would a pizza with dove-shaped pepperonis or cross-shaped sausages be a Christian pizza?

A third reason I’m uncomfortable telling the stranger on the plane that I play Christian music is because it begs the question: What exactly is Christian music?

Is it a musical style? No. Saying that I play “Christian music” says nothing about the actual music. It could mean that I direct a large church choir, sing tenor in a southern gospel quartet, or play electric guitar in a Christian hardcore metal band.

Is it music made by Christians? No. There are plenty of Christians who aren’t categorized in the Christian genre. There are also people in the Christian music industry who are not Christians. Our road manager, Heath, recently had a conversation with an artist who is pretty well known in many parts of the world for writing Christian music. Heath was asking her about her life, and asked where she we went to church. She laughed and told him that she wasn’t into all of that stuff. She told him that she is not actually a Christian. She just knows how to write the stuff that Christians like to hear.

Most people probably assume that Christian music is categorized as such because of the content of the lyrics. This would be odd, because no other music is categorized by the content of its lyrics. There is no Buddhist or Atheist section of a record store. There is not a “gay” section or a “money” section. The only exception is Christian music, but if Christian music is categorized by the lyrical content, what does it mean for a lyric to be Christian? Singing about Jesus? But there are plenty of mainstream acts that sing about Jesus, and plenty of “Christian” songs that don’t mention Jesus at all.

David Crowder Band* was a band that was marketed as Christian, but they sometimes covered songs from different mainstream artists like Sufjan Stevens, Hank Williams or Sinead O’Connor. They didn’t change the words of the songs to make them “more Christian” or anything. They didn’t put a sermon or a prayer in front of those songs. They just sang the songs. Which leads to odd developments—the Sufjan Stevens’ song “O God, Where Are You Now?” was labeled as Alternative when Sufjan recorded it, but when David Crowder Band* recorded it, the same song became “Christian.” What’s even weirder is that Sufjan Stevens is a Christian.

If the determining factor of what falls into the Christian genre has nothing to do with the music, is not based on the content of the lyrics, and is not based on the personal beliefs of the artist, what could it possibly be? Is it simply that the music is released by labels that call themselves Christian?

Three major labels represent over eighty percent of the market’s music: Universal, Sony, and Warner. These labels own most of the other significant labels in the world, including the Christian ones. Pretty much everybody in the music industry ultimately works for the same people. Whether you buy a Michael W. Smith album or a Marilyn Manson album, you are still paying the same small group of executives at the top of the food chain. So does being in Christian music simply mean that you are signed to one of the “Christian” marketing arms of the big three labels?

No, because there are also artists like myself who are not signed to a Christian label, but are labeled as Christian artists. Our band was signed to little indie mainstream label in Atlanta called Brash Music. Brash is not a Christian label. To my knowledge, they don’t even have any Christians on staff. Yet, somehow our music is still always relegated to the Christian music industry.

So what is Christian music? I think I can finally answer the question. It’s music made for Becky.

Becky

Like all genres, Christian music is simply a category that marketers use to reach a certain type of consumer. It is a marketing channel used to reach a very specific subculture.

This is further attested to by the common separation of “Christian” and “Gospel.” While “Gospel” actually is a bit more consistent in its musical styles and sounds as a genre than “Christian” is, there is another primary difference between the two terms. For the most part, Christian music is made by white people and Gospel music is made by black people. You don’t normally hear black people on “Christian” radio, and you don’t normally hear white people on “Gospel” radio. These categories have more to do with subcultures than Christianity or the Gospel.

The subculture that buys Christian music couldn’t accurately be called the Christian subculture. A Christian music executive at one of the big labels recently told me that the entire demographic that buys Christian music is only about two million people. Two billion people in the world consider themselves Christians. So only about 0.1% of people who consider themselves Christians buy Christian music.

0.1%

Christian music is not marketed to Christians so much as it is marketed to a very narrow subculture of a certain type of Christian. For years, Christian music marketers and radio programmers have known who their target demographic is. They actually have personified this target demographic, and her name is “Becky.”

If you think I’m joking, ask any Christian radio programmer about her. A lot of stations have very specific information based on reams of market research. One station programmer told me that Becky is a forty-two-year-old soccer mom. She has three kids and she has been married twice. She is an evangelical Christian, but not a radical who watches Christian television or goes to church three times a week. She only attends church once or twice a month. They know what her favorite restaurant is. In fact, they know what restaurant she likes to eat at with her husband on a date and which restaurant she likes to take the kids to. They know the movies she watches and how she spends her money. She is the one who runs her household, the one with her finger on the radio knob, and she wants something positive to play in the minivan as she drives her kids to soccer practice.

Becky is the quintessential Christian radio listener.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone who listens to Christian radio fits this description. It simply is the bull’s-eye of their demographic. If they aim at Becky, they get the most other people along with her. When Christian radio stations target Becky, they experience a vast increase in their numbers. They get specific in their targets for a reason. For years, they didn’t target Becky, and they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t compete with the bigger mainstream stations. Now they can. This is how the entertainment industry works no matter what sort of categories they use. They target the demographic that will allow them to get the biggest numbers.

I once had a writing session with an artist who couldn’t stop talking about Becky. He told me from the beginning that he really needed a song that would resonate with Becky. I asked if maybe we could just write something that felt honest and true to us. He said okay, but he really needed Becky to be okay with it as well.

Every idea I brought up was immediately brought through the Becky filter.

What about this?

Well, that’s cool, but I’m not sure how Becky would feel about that.

Okay, what about this?

Listen, I personally like it. It’s edgy and provocative and musical, but I really don’t know what Becky would think about that.

I asked him what Becky would think if I shoved my guitar up his…well, not really—I’m not that clever when things get tense. Instead, I just start seething and retreating into my inner world. So that’s what I did, and we eventually just gave up and left.

I don’t actually have a problem with radio programmers talking about Becky. The stations know who their listeners are and program accordingly. It’s smart.

I do have a problem with artists talking about Becky.

When the artist starts talking like the marketers, you know he has stopped listening to the Voice. The Voice doesn’t speak in marketing terms, but in terms like truth, beauty, and passion.

The artist ought to listen to the voice inside, not Becky.

When the creator listens to the external voices, those voices will eventually lead her to sell out. They will lead her to put her art in the cookie cutter and cut away all of the dough that falls outside of the edges. But the edges are what make her who she is. The edges are good.

This is why there is so much soulless music in our society. Our artists are listening to the wrong voices. This seems to be especially true in the Christian music industry, which is another reason I feel uncomfortable telling the stranger on the plane that I play Christian music.

Zombie Music

Art that is laden with heavy messages can feel like soulless propaganda.

Think of corporate jingles. Would you ever walk down the aisle at your wedding to a full-length version of a McDonald’s corporate jingle? If you were to make a playlist for the birth of your first child, how many of the songs would you want to be advertising jingles? Not many? Why not? Jingles are catchy. But most people would never include them in such special occasions, because corporate jingles have no soul.

Folgers Coffee had a competition recently with a big cash prize for anyone who could write a new jingle for them. The song that ended up being chosen is actually pretty cool. It has all the elements of the laid-back indie singer-songwriter drinking a cup of coffee. Pretty melody, nice sultry vocals, warm acoustic instruments. But there’s no soul to it. Because it’s a freaking Folgers jingle. Who is going to put that on their iPod and just groove to it all day?

A song like that is what I call a musical zombie.

A zombie looks like a human. It eats like a human. It walks and makes noise and resembles a human. But it’s a zombie. It has no soul.

Christian music is filled with zombies. The message of the music is predetermined, so we just need a form of music that can carry the message to a broad group of people.

“Well, let’s see, hardcore music is pretty popular with the kids right now. Let’s insert some Jesus language in that!”

Good music has soul, and the soul matters more than the form. You can’t subtract the anger and angst from most hardcore music and still retain the essence of the music. Musical expression is not limited to just the notes and rhythms of a piece. Music is human. And if you take out the human bits and leave just the technical bits to be reproduced as carriers of whatever message you want it to carry, you no longer have a living thing. You have an un-dead thing. You have a musical zombie.

That’s why a lot of Christian music feels contrived and lifeless. It’s like a Folgers jingle because it has separated the message and the medium into two different things. This is also why much of the Christian industry is behind everybody else by five or ten years. Much of the Christian industry is like a beggar walking behind the rest of culture, picking up the crumbs of her marketing slogans and creativity to be used for our own purposes.

That seemed to work well! Let’s try it with our message! 

This can make things difficult for artists who enjoy making music about God, but would prefer not to be associated with art that has been bastardized into propaganda for the religious right.

When people hear my thoughts about these things, they sometimes ask, “Well then, why are you part of the Christian music industry?”

My answer to that question is, “What do you mean?”

It’s not like you sign up for a Christian music industry membership. I was signed to a mainstream label.

Most musical acts who are Christian have to intentionally distance themselves from the Church in order to have any success within the mainstream. As a result, there are loads of Christians in the music industry who wouldn’t dream of performing in a church because of what it would do to their reputation.

This makes it difficult for a lot of bands that work (or would like to work) in the mainstream music industry but don’t want to turn their backs on their roots. Many of us love the Church and even enjoy playing in churches sometimes. But this sometimes limits our ability to work with the people who inspire us or to find opportunity beyond the Christian music ghetto.

For our last album, “Ghosts Upon the Earth,” I wanted to try to find a producer to work with that I could respect and trust musically. I started dreaming about my ideal producer, and I found some contact info for a guy who has produced a lot of music that I really like. I sent a demo to him with a proposal and a budget, and he responded and told me that he loved it. He said that he had been listening to all sorts of stuff recently and just couldn’t find the inspiration to do any of it, but that when he heard my stuff, it just clicked for him. He said that he played it for his friends and they all felt the same. He said he was excited to do it.

The song I sent him was “When Death Dies,” which is lyrically ambiguous enough that the listener may not assume that it’s necessarily “Christian.” But as the conversation progressed, I felt that I needed to confess to him that I am often associated with the Christian industry, because I know that this can be a taboo subject in the music industry at large. So I told him that this had been the genre that our music had been classified in before, but that I really wanted to make a record that would speak to an audience outside of the one we had already reached. I explained that I wasn’t interested in trying to get him to operate within any of those confines. I just wanted to make some good art. I put this in a quick email that I thought would serve as a courtesy to avoid any awkwardness in the future.

Suddenly, he was not interested in working with me. Maybe it was coincidence; maybe it wasn’t; but that was not the only time that kind of thing has happened.

On multiple occasions, I’ve had musicians turn down work because they weren’t comfortable with the Christian music thing. For instance, we recently contacted an artist whose music I really enjoy. We asked her if she would be open to touring with us. At first, when she heard what we are offering with crowd size, number of dates, and so on, she was very interested. Then she saw the venue list, which included some churches. “Wait . . . so is this a Christian tour?” Her interest was gone.

Imagine if this was the gay music industry, and people were being turned down for work with simply because they were gay. People would be outraged. There would be protests and lawsuits and public outcry. But it’s okay not to work with someone because he is associated with the Christian music industry.

If this is the price we have to pay to make music that is meaningful to us, that’s fine. Honestly, it’s really not that heavy of a price. People have been sawn in half for staying true to their beliefs; I can deal with a few unanswered emails.

Liturgical Music

All of that said, I do think that some Christian music has an element to it that sets it apart from other kinds of music. I do write within a tradition of music that exists for something more than entertainment or even artistic expression. In this stream, we write music that is intended to make God happen within a community of faith. It is music that is often (though not always) intended to be sung by others. It is prayer. It is a sort of sacrament that allows a community of people to brush up against the future God in present space and time. It is music that intends to become worship. This is a specific artistic function, and for that reason, I wouldn’t have a problem with this kind of music being separated into its own category or genre.

Some have called this music “Praise” or “Worship” music. For reasons similar to my disdain for the term “Christian music”, I have a problem with this language as well. It imprisons the idea of worship into a very small box. For the Christ follower, worship ought not to be limited to a genre or the singing portion of church services. Worship is a way of life. It is an offering of a person’s self in whatever capacity and condition he finds himself in. For Brother Lawrence, washing dishes was his primary method of worship. All good work can become worship. Relationship can become worship. Singing can become worship. But none of these things ought to be named worship in and of themselves for the same reason that marriage shouldn’t be named “love.” Love can happen in a marriage, but love and marriage are not always the same thing.

For this reason, I prefer terms like “Liturgical Music” or “Church Music.” Liturgical music is categorically different than other types of Christian music that are intended to be “alternatives” to mainstream music. If this were a marketing category, there could be different subcategories of actual musical genres like “Liturgical Rock”, “Liturgical Pop”, “Liturgical Classical”…etc. (Even though I don’t like the idea of genres, I realize they may be a necessary evil in the marketplace).

In my perspective, liturgy is a very broad idea. It is not limited to robes, stained glass and incense. Liturgy is simply public worship. Every church is engaged in some type of liturgy. Some use readings and Eucharist; others use fog machines and strobe lights. The liturgical space is a broad and open space for experimentation. In my opinion, there are plenty of mainstream artists that write music that would be appropriate for certain kinds of liturgical space. This space is largely unexplored right now, and there is so much room for creative experimentation.

For instance, there is a need (and plenty of room) in this space for lament. For prophetic railing against the powers that be. There is room for songs, poetry, and artwork that explores doubt, hope, joy, struggle and storytelling. The idea of liturgy is a broad idea, and if it had a category of its own, perhaps it could invite a surge of creativity into that space. I think that would be good for the Church right now.

In my opinion, the non-liturgical music that is currently labeled as Christian should be placed in the genres that are more appropriate to the actual musical style. Rock, Pop, Country…etc. Just because a song sings “Jesus” rather than “baby” doesn’t make it categorically different than its musical equivalent. Of course, there are a lot of Beckys out there that do want a positive or religiously infused alternative to the typical bawdy lyrical content of most popular music. She wants music that she can play for her family without worrying about offensive lyrical content. Also, there are a lot of these Christian bands that would not survive the transition to mainstream. Becky is their audience, and she doesn’t necessarily want to (or know how to) navigate within the huge rivers of mainstream music to find music that she feels is safe for her kids to listen to. So perhaps another category of “Positive Alternative,” “Family,” or “Religious” music could be started. Whatever the language, it should not be included in the same category with liturgical music, and it should not be called “Christian”. It is a categorically different thing. (And since when was Christianity a safe, positive alternative for the family anyway?)

Of course, iTunes, Amazon, and the three major labels haven’t been calling me to ask my opinion on all of this. Most likely, we liturgical writers will just have to grit our teeth and deal with the inappropriate and potentially harmful label of “Christian music.” But perhaps if a few more of us started making an effort to secede from the Christian music ghetto in little ways and find ways of cooperating on liturgical experimentation, something could eventually change.

So what do I tell the stranger on the plane? Well, it kind of depends on my mood. I might tell him “Liturgical Post-Rock” and smile at his confused facial expression, or I might just say, “Well, it’s kind of hard to explain.”

All of my idealistic problems with the language and categories aside, I actually do enjoy being part of the Christian music industry in a lot of ways. There are amazing people in my industry who take their art seriously and have inspired me greatly. People who believe that ordering creation is a sacred task and have acted accordingly. People I’m honored to work with.

Also, I really do love Christians. As weird as we can get, there is something really beautiful about the Church. And I am grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend singing and making music with people who love Jesus.

The reason I am so passionate about the subtleties of this idea of Christian music is that I think the idea of creating music for liturgical space and spiritual connection is so full of potential. At our best, we are able to see glimpses of what it could be, but I believe that we could be and do so much more. Like all human cultures, we have a lot of weeds to pull. A lot of underlying roots that need to be cultivated and soil that needs tending. In my opinion, that’s work worth doing.

A Worshiping Evolutionist?

I was leading a question and answer session a couple of days ago, and a young man who looked to be 12 or 13 asked me if I believed in a literal six-day creation. I suddenly felt very awkward.

Now, to be fair, I have no idea what this kid actually believed himself. But I assumed from the question that he believed in a literal six-day creation, and from how random the question was within the context of what I had been talking about, I also assumed that it really mattered to him that I believed in that version of the creation story as well.

I probably assumed this because that’s what I was like when I was younger.

In high school, I used get on Internet chat rooms and debate the evolutionists. I had all the arguments about how carbon dating methods weren’t reliable, and blah blah blah.

Basically, my relationship with science was adversarial. I was afraid of it. It threatened my faith. I assumed MY reading of Genesis was THE message of Genesis, and if Genesis was wrong, then the Bible couldn’t be trusted. How could I know that Jesus was even real then?  This is why Creationism is so important to so many people. It has very little to do with scientific concern, and everything to do wanting to keep one’s faith system in tact.

The red-faced creationist is not arguing about science. In his mind, he is arguing for the God that he loves. He feels like any view outside of the one that he believes is an attack on his faith. The faith that gives him purpose. The faith that he finds hope and life within.

So in my Christian school growing up, we’d all snort and chuckle when a scientist in a documentary would mention evolution or talk about how this sort of animal existed millions of years ago.  We needed to hear each other laugh, so we knew our whole life wasn’t a lie.

But now that I am a songwriter, I see this whole thing as absolutely absurd.

Genesis is a poem if I’ve ever seen one.

It’s full of refrain, metaphor, and rhythm.

And God said that it was good.

Over and over like the hook of a pop song, like a wave sculpting its shores…this is good, this is good.  The poetic refrain of Genesis hammers the wonder and beauty of a creator making a good creation into our hearts.

In a science book, you’d have to discredit a text like this for glaring logical errors like the creation of light before stars, or days before an earth and a sun.  In a poem, you don’t have to worry about such things.  You simply can enjoy it’s beauty and hear the voice of God as it speaks over and over.

Let there be...

It is good...

Let there be...

It is good...

As a songwriter, I see the "days" of creation not as any sort of scientific statement, but as stanzas...verses...poetic structure.

So many people have totally butchered the poetry of Genesis by treating it like a science book. It’s sad, really. It would be like a sect of really hardcore Shakespeare fans arguing that Romeo believed that Juliet really was literally the sun.

“No, look, it says it right here!  ‘It is the east and Juliet is the sun!’ See!?” 

And then someone leans over and whispers in his ear, “Hey man, you’re kind of embarrassing yourself…There’s this thing called metaphor. It’s something writers love to use. Juliet is not actually a giant ball of fire that warms the earth.”

If this is the case, and Genesis is not a scientific text but a poetic one, then how about taking Genesis off the table when talking about science?

It would be like if a bunch of scientists were sitting around discussing the properties of earth’s sun, and one of them piped up “Well, you know, Shakespeare wrote that Juliet was the sun…Maybe that big ball in the sky is actually the rich daughter of the Capulet household. Have any of you considered that?”

What would you do with such a person?

Smile uncomfortably and ask as politely as possible for the ill-informed man to leave the room, perhaps?

That’s what our culture is doing with creationists that try to bring Genesis into the scientific discussion. (Perhaps understandably so)

Maybe we shouldn't bring our religious poetry to the science lab. It doesn’t belong there. Doing so is disrespectful both to the text and to the lab.

Science doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, I’ve found that when I finally let Genesis be what is (a beautifully meaningful poem) and science what it is (science), it can all actually be tremendously awe-inspiring.  Science can actually become another testament of God--another space where the voice of God can be heard.

Why do you care whether you are made from literal dust or some guy’s rib or from chimp descendants? What does it matter? Is one really better than the other? What does that have to do with whether or not Jesus rose from the dead? What does that have to do with whether or not we ought to love God or our neighbor?

Nothing.

I’m not saying that every scientific theory that comes along ought to be believed blindly. Historically, human beings are generally wrong about a lot, and awfully confident in their wrongness.  In reality, none of us were there at the beginning of all things. We're all guessing based on the limited amount of evidence that we have. All I’m saying is that there is no reason to be afraid. Let the scientists do their work, and then look for God within that work. Why try to impose your religious views before the science is even done? That just leads to both bad religion and bad science.

Still, I feel bad for the kid in the question and answer session. Here he is (in my imagination anyway), hoping that this musician guy that he evidently respects enough to attend this session believes in a literal six-day creation theory, and instead finds out he seems to be some sort of crazy evolutionist or something. So I feel bad for that, but I also have hope for him and the rest of us that have struggled to reconcile faith and science. I hope that we will learn to grow into people with faith that isn't threatened by science, but enriched by it--a faith that is more living and active than the commonly held dead set of fundamentalist doctrines built on fear that has to stand in opposition to science like a brick wall that tries to withstand a nuclear blast. (By the way, it's no wonder so many college students leave their faith these days.)  I have hope that we will learn to find God in both the Scriptures and the testament of science, and that in letting go of our religious fear, our hearts and minds will be enriched and enlarged.

So, as to the question, I guess I'll have to come out of the closet and admit...no, sorry kid, I don’t believe in a literal six-day creation.