So… there’s a lot of public patting on the back in the world of popular Christianity… you get all your buds together, and whenever any of you does anything, everyone else makes sure to chirp about it. A bit of a popularity contest, or so it seems.
Whatever the motivation of all of that may be, we don’t do a lot of it around these parts (and by “we” I tend to mean “I” for the most part, with a carryover into Bloomland), preferring instead to let the work stand on its own integrity. To get straight to the point, Bloom (and Andrew) doesn’t do a ton of chirping about Gungor, and Gungor doesn’t do a ton of chirping about Bloom. And that’s a good thing.
But, good Lord, after listening to Gungor’s release of “Ghosts Upon the Earth” last night… I absolutely HAVE to say SOMETHING. So, in a moment of unembarrassed and gushing commendation, let me tell you why I love “Ghosts Upon the Earth”.
First, musically, this album is absolutely exquisite. It totally blows the category of “Christian music” to bits. It is expansive. Rich. Symphonic. Diverse. Gentle. Explosive. Eclectic. All of it. And the best part is, it is all of these things while being profoundly accessible to the “lay listener.” I can’t think of an album in the last 10 years that took me as many places emotionally and imaginatively and moved me as deeply as this one. Quite simply one of the most thrilling listening experiences I’ve ever had. And I say that without even a trace of hyperbole or exaggeration.
Second, no one – I repeat, NO ONE – captures the richness of the biblical story musically quite like Michael and Lisa… Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation… the entire narrative arc of God’s salvation from Genesis to Revelation. Christian music is so often conceptually shallow, and hence forms us in imaginatively emaciated ways. This album is the quite rare exception. It thrusts us into the “big themes” of the Story with an elegance and power that will leave you breathless. As I listened, my emotions raged between feelings of explosive joy and wonder (“Let there be light!”), incredible sorrow (“you slept with strangers, gave them all you had”) and deep gratitude (“You are the beauty…”). The generative power for eliciting such emotions comes in part from taking the richness of the Story seriously. No one does it like these guys.
Thirdly, along with that, I’m not sure that I’ve heard anyone handle the complexity of the Church’s role in this Story as well as Gungor. Being a total conceptual work that takes us through the entire sweep of the Scriptural narrative, something must be said and sung about God’s people. “Ghosts” is fully aware of the grandeur and beauty of creation… the goodness of God… and the gracious gift of life… and the will of God to defeat death and liberate the captives… to bring restoration and redemption and fullness to a world scarred by human rebellion and sin… and the fact that God’s people are ever called to be agents of that redemption and healing.
Yet “Ghosts” wonders openly whether the Church sees this. (I find myself tearing up as I write this… a subject so close to my own heart and ministry.) This theme was present if understated in Michael and Lisa’s earlier work, yet here it is blown up to prophetic proportions… we are put on trial, and hard questions are asked of us. Tracks like “Church Bells”, “Wake up O Sleeper”, and (this song crushes me), “Ezekiel” lament loudly the tendency of the people of God to be themselves the deaf and dumb and wicked, even as we accuse the world of so being. “Ghosts” takes us to some very hard places. To the profound call of God over his people, and to the turmoil that lies at the heart of the biblical story: will the Bride wake up to who and Whose she is? Ever that question rings out…
Yet, and fourthly, unlike so many, “Ghosts” does not leave us in despair over this… after dragging us to the depths of our waywardness, Gungor brings us back to the “lub dub” of relentless affection through which God will have his people, one way or another. The desperate cry of God, “come back”, gives way to moments of our fragile and sometimes hesitating return, “You Are My Heart”, through which we exhale in remembering that the Love that created and redeemed us will ever win our wayward hearts over – “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely” – and then leads us into the explosive and triumphant “This Is Not The End”… a resounding declaration that God will get his way with us and “we will shine like the sun” as we “open our eyes wider” to all that He is.
Finally, I love “Ghosts” because of where it leaves us. It leaves us with hope and gratitude… gratitude… always gratitude. But – and here’s the thing – it’s not a cheap gratitude. This is a hard-earned gratitude… a gratitude that really does come from repentance… a humbling… that we miss it so often… and yet… He is there… always calling us back… delighting to show mercy… and his Love will win us over
And so “Ghosts” soars up out of the canyons of lament and sorrow with unblushing thankfulness for the good things that come straight from the hand of the Creator… for “breath and sex and sight” declaring with EXPLOSIVE JOY that “You are the Beauty”, echoing an earlier song which in the same spirit announced “You are everything good, you are everything beautiful, you are everything, you’re everything…”
And it is from this place that the final song comes – “Every breath, every moment life beats in my chest, springs up from your hand… I will love you with all of my heart, I will love you with all of my mind, I will love you with all of my strength, I will love you with everything.” Out of the soil of God’s unremitting goodness comes the fruit of our answering devotion. And oh how sweet it is.
As a pastor and teacher, I’m constantly wondering about how this or that thing is forming us. My own opinion is that most of what passes as “Christian” in our culture (“Christian music”, “Christian books”, “Christian TV”, etc etc) actually forms us in bad ways. It forms us for selfishness. Or self-centeredness. Or narrow-minded pride.
“Ghosts” is a remarkable exception. Listen to it. Savor it. Let your heart be taken up into the high vault of the heavens, the nearly unbearable pain of our failure, and the joyful hope the Creator will have his way with us, and with all creation. And through it, may you find yourself formed for Him – all that He is and desires us to be.
Michael and Lisa – friggin proud of you guys. Love you to pieces. Thanks for reminding us all to keep opening our eyes… wider… and wider… and wider…