Dove-award winning artists Michael and Lisa Gungor—whose “Dry Bones” and “Beautiful Things” became worship anthems across the country—are known for creating a supple pop-eclecticism that transcends traditional genre limitations while maintaining Christian themes. But their latest work reveals a band transcending not just musical genres but religious ones—wandering away from a biblically defined Christianity to a land twixt and tween.
In an interview with the Oakland Press, Michael Gungor explained that somewhere late in 2012, “I lost my metaphysic, if you will.” A pastor’s son from Wisconsin, Gungor began questioning long-held religious beliefs. The emerging uncertainty comes through clearly in the band’s 2013 release I Am Mountain. Amidst new heights of musical sophistication—where beautiful string and horn arrangements sweep over luxurious grooves—the lyrics reveal a new murkiness.
Gungor’s skillful classical acoustic guitar lends a haunting quality to “Yesternite,” a lament about how “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.” Gungor later explains on the band’s blog that he uses “gods” as a general mythological construct to represent the stories that “we thought were true, but no longer are. Stories that we lived by, defined ourselves with, but can no longer believe in.”
The band’s new ideas are more clearly set forth in a blog post titled, “What do we Believe?” Here the author chafes that a close friend no longer considers him a Christian: “Why? Not because my life looks like Jesus or doesn’t look like Jesus. But because of my lack of ability to nail down all the words and concepts of what I exactly BELIEVE.” Then he nails down exactly what he doesn’t believe—in Adam and Eve or the Flood. He has “no more ability to believe in these things then I do to believe in Santa Claus.”
This theological ambivalence is on display on Gungor’s latest project—a collection of EPs released under the name The Liturgists. Working with Pastor Rob Bell—author of Love Wins—and various poets, Gungor creates ambient music to accompany spoken word poems on religious themes. The first EP, Garden, is about the “movements of lament, doubt, and joy as we move through the Easter cycle.” Doubt is the emphasis in several tracks, like “Saturday,” in which Rachel Held Evans asks, “What if we made this stuff up because we were afraid of death?” But as Saturday moves to “Sunday,” doubt may not have the final word. Continuing in church or spiritual exercise is still recommended because “sometimes just showing up, spices in hand, is all it takes to witness a miracle.”
The second EP, God Our Mother, supports moving beyond the Scriptural formulation of God as Father, since that allegedly limits an appreciation of God’s fullness: “To know only God the Father would be like only knowing daytime, and never knowing night.” Apophatic Mysticism—the practice of reciting phrases that negate each other—is offered as a way to grow beyond language and gender limitations to experience God more fully. In an extended track, they meditate on the phrase “God is my father” and move on to “God is not my father.” And finally the breakthrough: “God is not, not my father.”
Gungor is clearly still animated and inspired by the person of Jesus. But it was Jesus who upheld the authority of Scripture and whose recipe for divine connection was fairly simple: “Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name …”