A few weeks ago I featured a song by Gungor for my Musical Monday selection. I was later contacted and asked if Id like to do an interview with Michael Gungor with the blog and also do a give-away for Gungors latest cd, Beautiful Things. Yesterday I had the honor of speaking with Michael and asking him a few questions about his music, about serving the poor, about doubt, and about movies.
BigMama: In reading what other people had to say about Beautiful Things one word that kept popping up was “controversial. Would you consider your lyrics to be controversial and if not, what word would you use to describe them?
Michael: Im surprised that they would think Beautiful Things was controversial! But Ive kind of been removed from the groups that would care about that so much that I kind of forget that people get offended. I guess to me theyre not controversial, theyre just honest, that would be my word for it.
BigMama: In Cannot Keep You you talk about God being uncontainable and not boxed in. What are some ways that you feel that we as Christians tend to limit God?
Michael: I could see how that one might be a little controversial! I think that any concept of God limits God. Calling him him is a metaphor. Soon that becomes a limit, it becomes an idol, thats what the song is about. Having a human idea where we think we understand God on really any level or have any concept of God. Its too small because infinity cant be understood, it cant be contained in human ideas. I think we can have reflections and glimpses of the truth of infinity. Kind of experience that infinity and be held by that infinity, but to hold it within our own concepts, with in our own ideasI think we all do it. Im sure I do it. We generally like to make God in our image. Ya know, I like to imagine God as a big, loving, hippie guy. I know hes not that because God is more than even what I think love is. I think we all probably limit God and we should all be shattering those idols as regularly as possible.
BigMama: In Please Be My Strength, which is the song that moved me most on the album, it seems to deal with doubt in the life of a believer. How would you advise someone to deal with periods of doubt in their Christian walk?
Michael: Well, I grew up in the church and was a believer and I always loved Jesus. I was in kind of a real busy season, going to a lot of different churches and sometimes when I get away from my home community for a long time, I kind of start deconstructing again. Sometimes were blessed to see a lot of beautiful things in the church, and then other times you have a run of a lot of stupid stuff, like, What is all this stuff? So this was kind of an unfortunate string of events that was pretty low. And were just at this church and Im like, God, this is ridiculous! Is this really your plan for the world? This Church?
So I wanted to get my heart right before we lead worship. So I separated from everybody and went back in this room where nobody was and for the first time in my life, there just was nothing there. There was no faith there to pray from. It was the weirdest thing. It was scary; an empty and hollow feeling. I desperately wanted faith, I wanted to have hope that love was real and that God was active in the world and that this whole storyI just wanted to believe it. I think its beautiful, but there was just nothing there. That had never happened before in my life. It was really scary and that song was what came out of that moment..
I had always heard that faith was a gift, but that was the first time I really got it. So I was praying, Give me faith. I dont have the strength to believe this right now. I dont have the faith to believe all this right now. And I was kind of there for a few days, then I felt like God kind of restored my faith. But it was scary and a low place. And out of that and toward the end, you can probably sense a little hope coming out of it, as I continued to write the song. I did feel like God gave that gift back.
To those that struggle with doubt, I feel your pain. I pray now that God just sustains my faith, because my human reason, my human logic isnt enough to keep me going. Planting myself in places where faith thrives, my home community is great, being around believers that I respect. Hearing the truth. The Scripture says faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Just being in places where my soul is being encouraged and I am able to give love to others keeps my soul healthy and keeps my faith alive. When its just me in a room alone thinking about stuff, it doesnt turn out so good, generally.
BigMama: Obviously you have a heart for the poor. My brother-in-law Justin, who turned me on to your music asked, What benefit, spiritual or otherwise, is there to working with the poor hands-on, as opposed to writing a check to an organization that serves them on a regular basis?
Michael: Yeah, I think both are good, but theres something about the poor that we need just as much, if not more so, than they need us, people who have more money than them. Jesus talked about when you do this for the least of these. When you came and saw me in prison, not just sent me a check. When you sat by my bed while I was sick. Theres something about the very presence of Jesus in the poor that we miss by only sending money. I think its good to send money, but its better to spend time with Jesus.
BigMama: It seems that your involvement in areas of social justice have lead you to plant a new church community. Could you tell us how Bloom is different from past church experiences that youve had?
Michael: Bloom just started with a friend in our living room. And its been a lot of fun. Ive had great church experiences and Ive had not so great church experiences. Its been different in that its a different story that were building the church out of than what I understood growing up. What the Good News is and how to live that out has radically grown in my own heart and mind that what it means to be the Church has changed quite a bit. Thats probably the biggest difference. Its still people gathering and having some good ideas on how to do things and some dumb ideas on how to do things. Some successes and some failures. Still a bunch of imperfect people trying to be the Church together. But the ideals of what were trying to do now have been really honest and really pure and its just been a joy. And we like Denver too. Its a cool place.
BigMama: Musically, “Beautiful Things” is one of the most diverse collections Ive heard in a long time. Who would you list as your strongest musical influence?
Michael: Thats tough. Musical influences. I grew up in a Christian home, so I wasnt allowed to listen to secular music so I listened to a lot of instrumental and jazz, and I studied jazz in college. Then when I finally got into college, I was able to stumble into the pop and rock world for the first time. Its funny, any time a song comes on that came out before the year 2000, Im like, I have no idea.
As far as musical influences, its really all across the board. You might be able to hear traces of Sigur Ros or Sufjan Stevens, maybe a little Muse, some classical influence here and there. All over!
Just for fun questions:
BigMama: What is your favorite time of day?
BigMama: What Is the last book that you read?
Michael: Im reading The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
BigMama: What is your favorite guilty pleasure movie?
Michael: Im a fan of the Harry Potter movies. Im kind of a closet nerd!
BigMama: If you were taking a friend out to lunch, where would you take them?
Michael: Probably the closest Chinese take-out.
BigMama: This is from the Pivot Questionnaire: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the Pearly Gates?
Michael: Thats a good one! I mean, the cliché answer I guess, Well done. Well done.