Stolen Wisdom – Zombies, Wine, and Christian Music

Zombies, Wine, & Christian Music (stolen wisdom - SamuelJohn.co)

Zombies, Wine, & Christian Music (stolen wisdom - SamuelJohn.co)

Michael Gungor is one of those people you just want to sit down with, enjoy a cup of coffee, and talk about all the deep issues we face in life.  For those of you (probably nobody that currently reads this blog) unfamiliar with Michael, he is one of the most innovative and cutting-edge Christian artists out there today.  His fame started early in his career, co-writing songs such as ‘Friend of God’ and ‘Wrap Me In Your Arms,’ and being a mainstay on Acquire the Fire stages all across the U.S. for multiple years.  But recently, he has taken more of a personally intimate journey with his music.

If there is one thing Michael is known for in Christian circles, it’s his bold statements.  Writing a song about God’s love seems simple, and probably generic… unless you’re Gungor (see THIS video).  Recently, Gungor wrote a post on his blog that ruffled quite  a few feathers, not only in his fan base, but in the Christian music industry in general.  He made some bold statements, and the post has (as of this post’s publish time) 738 comments full of everything from resounding agreements to outright rebuke.

The problem is… the post is super long, takes a good 15 minutes to read through, and another 2 hours to really digest what Gungor is trying to say.  Don’t have a few hours to spare?  No sweat.  I am going to take the meat from the post, re-post it here, and offer my thoughts on the matters at hand.  The post, as the title suggests, tackles three essential issues: Zombies, Wine, and Christian Music.  I will try to break each issue down into bite-size pieces.  I hope you enjoy this conversation, and PLEASE JOIN IN… I’d love to hear what you have to say about these issues.  Just write a comment below.

Enter Michael… (quotes directly from Michael’s article will appear in the block quote sections)

Zombies

Oh, I love this metaphorical idea. But, what is he talking about?

There are emotions and attitudes of different genres of music that are the soul of the music.  You can’t remove the anger from scream-o and have it still be screamo.  It’s the soul of that music, whether that soul is good or evil is not the point, simply that it is the soul.  So when you remove the soul from music and transplant the body parts (chord changes, instrumentation, dress, lights, and everything but the soul…) and parade it around with some more “positive” lyrics posing as Christian music, then what you have is a musical zombie.

It looks like a human..  It eats like a human…  It still walks and makes noise and resembles a human, but it’s not.  It’s a zombie.  It has no soul.  It just uses it’s human body for its own purposes.

Later in the post he says this, which I think summarizes the thought:

…it does make me sad that the idea of creativity is so foreign to our industry that we have to actually point it out when someone actually sees the art as art and not zombie propaganda.

Michael Gungor is a Christian artist who primarily functions within the Christian music industry, and essentially what he is saying here is, in my opinion, that Christian music has become so generic, so predictable, so market-driven that it has lost most of its creativity… so much so that you have to point out when someone is actually creative!  He explains it this way:

Nobody goes to an art gallery and says, “boy, that painting is so creative.” Why? Because it’s art! Of course it’s creative! Why else would it be there? It’s very nature is creativity. Or like Lisa pointed out to me today, “that would be like saying, I love your house, it’s so architectural.”

But when someone in the Christian industry actually takes their art seriously, everybody is like “holy crap, listen to how creative it is!”

It’s funny… but true.  Music, in and of itself, is deeply rooted in being an emotional artistic release of our inner creative.  For some of us, music is the way we engage the creative within us.

Side Note:

I’ve often struggled with the idea that only “artists” are creative.

The fact is, we are all creative, and we all have an inner creative being.

Simply put, creativity manifests itself differently for every person.

Music, painting, architecture, mathematical algorithms – creativity.

Okay.  Whether or not his statements hold any truth to the real state of the Christian music industry, I think it’s safe to say that there are a lot of people (and, by people, I mean American Evangelicals) who seem rather disinterested in Christian music, especially when it comes to the radio… but more on the industry when we get to the third point.

Wine

Yep… he went there.

The discussion of alcohol always provokes heated discussion.  This discussion usually revolves around one of two topics: ‘is drinking a sin’ -and- ‘how much is too much.’  I don’t think Michael is necessarily speaking to either argument specifically, but definitely has some strong opinions in the matter:

I bet you if you took all of those Christians that [go to Christian concerts] and split them up and had them go to “secular” shows, A LOT of them would have bought a drink. It’s the fact that there is this assumption among all of the Christians there that having a drink at a Christian event is sort of a questionable thing to do.

Why is this?

It’s certainly not because of the Bible. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding. And not just any wine. The kind of wine that made people think they saved the very best wine until the end. And you preachers who pervert the scriptures with your own extremely biased interpretations, here’s a news flash, people at parties don’t think the best wine is non-alcoholic grape juice. Religious people didn’t call Jesus “a glutton and a drunkard” because he ate communion loafers and grape juice all of the time.

You know what the alcohol thing is based on? You ready for this? You sure?

Money.

Old people are the people that give the most money to Christian organizations like religious media outlets. And old people grew up in a time where alcohol was seen as a taboo social reality. Just like dancing or playing cards or “mixed bathing” (swimming). It’s based in an era of prohibition. These are old American values that we’re dealing with, not Christian values. It’s the old American people that have money that the Christian organizations do not want to offend. So they create an environment where drinking is seen as evil. If you want to start a television ministry, you can’t have it known to your donors that your staff likes to go out for drinks after work. So you implement rules for them. Do you know how common this is? I have friends that have lost their jobs over crap like this.

Do you see the irony of this? If you had been a disciple of Jesus and drank some of the wine of his first recorded miracle with him, you would be fired from a lot of the churches in this country. Shame on us.

I think it’s a pretty fair statement to say that most American Christians do not have strong beliefs that alcohol consumption in and of itself is a sin.  That is a pretty hard argument to prove.  The argument becomes grey very quickly when you start asking questions like: “How much is too much?” and “Who should or shouldn’t drink?”  and “When/where/how/why should Christians drink?”

I’ll admit.  I drink.  I enjoy the taste of beer, especially with certain foods (pizza and beer, anyone?).  I also have a brother who has never once touched a drop of alcohol, and has no intentions of ever doing so in his life.

Am I wrong? No.

Is he wrong? No.

Sam, what’s the bottom line here?

In my opinion, the bottom line boils down to a few principles I like to live by:

  • Do all things unto the Lord. (Col. 3:23)
  • Do all things in moderation [gentleness, patience, kindness]. (Phil. 4:5)
  • Be a good example. (Titus 2:7)
  • Be authentic – be real with yourself. (1 John 1:7-9)
  • Live in the freedom of Christ, not the bondage of sin. (Gal. 5:13)
  • Don’t do anything if it causes another to sin. (Rom. 14:21)
  • Leaders (which pretty much means all Christians) should be held to a higher standard. (1 Tim. 3:8)

Alcohol ruins many lives, leads to addiction, and is potentially lethal.

The proper classification of alcohol consumption, either way, is not an absolute truth.  You can’t prove to me that it is right or wrong.  You just can’t.

I won’t spend any more time on this issue, but I’d LOVE to hear what you have to say.

Christian Music

In my opinion, this really isn’t its own category, but an extension of the Zombie piece.  But, there are a few more quotes from the post that I’d like to share here:

So the point? (I haven’t forgotten) The point is that the industry that labels things as Christian and sells them to you has far more to do with marketing then Christianity. They are marketing to the mixed bag of values that has created the Evangelical Christian subculture. It’s a mix of some historically Christian values, some American values, and a whole lot of cultural boundary markers that set “us” apart from “them.” This sort of system makes us feel safe and right, and it makes some of its gatekeepers very wealthy and powerful.

The effect is then the filtering down of this subculture to people that don’t necessarily want to think through the viability of every one of these boundary markers, but in their simple desire to belong to what they consider the good guys, they acquiesce to the rules handed to them. At least in public. As the joke goes, why do you take two Baptists with you when you go fishing? Because if you only bring one, he’ll drink all your beer.

Here are some of the actual effects of this subculture though.

1.  It makes us dishonest.
When the foundation of the market and music you are trying to make is pretense, it’s very hard to be honest and successful. There is an unspoken assumption from most of us that we really want the people on the stage or on the book or album cover or on the radio need to have it together more than we do. Because we are messed up, we need them to be a sort of savior and hope for us. The result of this is that it’s often the people who are really good at pretending that they have it all together that make it to the stage and the book or album cover and the radio stations.

So Christians that would normally buy a beer don’t because they are in the Christian concert. Christian bands that smoke (which a lot of them if not most of them do, including some of my players) have to duck into back alleys as to not offend anybody. I think smoking is stupid. But I think it’s stupid because it smells bad and it kills you. I don’t use my religion to judge other people about it.

Rather than just being honest about where we are at and what we all struggle with though, we look to our gatekeepers to believe and live morally vicariously for us. That way we feel better about being part of the system of good, and the moral brokenness in our own lives is repressed like the fear of a child with her security blanket.

This sort of dishonesty is at the heart of much of what I and so many others find so repulsive about much of modern American Christendom

2.  It kills creativity. (I already quoted most of this section; see above)

We as Christians should never be happy with the status quo.  That is something that’s really easy for me to say; I LOVE change.  But, this mindset is something we all need to be thinking through a little more.  We can never be happy with where we are at.  This is biblical.  Paul tells us to never stop praying (1 Thess 5:17) and Jesus instructs us to DAILY live a sacrificial life for Him (Luke 9:23).

I urge you: CHALLENGE THYSELF!  What are we if we are not constantly verifying our beliefs?  Christianity is not meant to be easy, or simple.  Michael Gungor is not living a comfortable life.  He is not saying nice things.  That’s okay.  If we are not challenged, we will not be provoked to validify our beliefs.  You need to check yourself.

I end with Michael’s last exhortations:

Consumers: I would suggest that you actively support those artists that you love that the industry hasn’t necessarily bought into. The cards are stacked against people that actually want to do honest creative art in this industry, and the people that try really need your direct help and support to have any chance. For us, we’ve had one guy for instance that has been sending us a check every month for years because he appreciates what we are trying to do. Do you know how much that one family has helped us stay encouraged? Even if it’s not a huge amount of money or anything, just having people behind you in this sort of battle is really helpful.

Industry people: Stop being so afraid. I know you want things to be different than they are as well. I know you want creativity to be valued as much as “Becky” analysis, but we need some of you to have some balls and make some decisions based on that value system. Yes money matters. But so does beauty. Art actually makes a difference in the world. Have the courage to actually make decisions on values and not simply on past numbers and trends. And for crying out loud, if it really is good, the numbers will follow eventually anyway.

Artists: Take heart. I think the tides may be turning. The recent attention and success of our band speaks to it I think. People are growing weary of the status quo. The machine and its sheen have seen its strongest days. So I encourage you as well to not be afraid. Your art is worth making even if the industry around you isn’t quite ready for it yet. Make it and let them catch up with you. Your art is sacred. Be honest. Be brave. And don’t let the markets or the industry be the final filter on your art, let your heart do that. Ok that’s all from me tonight.]

Alright, people… I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please take a moment and join the conversation!

8 Comments

  1. Charity Campbell on November 23, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    I can’t say I totally agree with him on what seems to be an encouragement of Christians drinking alcohol [though I have drunk some before I just don’t think it should be encouraged] or criticism of most Christian music, especially the “hardcore” kind. However I do agree that every Christian should be more creative in what they’re good at versus just doing things in generally the same way. I like how you pointed out that it isn’t just about creativity in music for music is not everybody’s thing. In my case it’s mostly writing, and I’d much rather write my opinion or belief in something [especially Christianity] than write a research paper or summary of a book. Hopefully other Christians will realize that they shouldn’t be “stuck” doing things the same way in their job, church, hobby, etc. for God gave us a brain not only for critical thinking and emotions but also for creativity and for a reason.

  2. Nimzter on November 23, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    Great recap. Loved the verses. Reminds me of this quote:

    In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
    -Thomas Jefferson

    • Samuel John Hodgett on November 28, 2011 at 11:01 AM

      Nimzter,
      That’s a great quote, and it’s so true – who are we to bicker about style and such, when the real issue is a matter of principle.
      Love the thoughts.

  3. Josh Timmerman on November 28, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    Man I like how you put it our there, Sam, your honest opinion!! Honesty is the glue that binds folks together! On the point of not leading your brothers and sisters astray by doing something they can’t control. It’s a good reason not to drink. Around them. I think those folks need to pipe up and admit they have a problem. A coworker of mine is a drug addict. He says so to me often. Maybe to remind me so I can help him out? I don’t do drugs. No big deal to help him out by passing drugs by. I’m addicted to some foods. It doesn’t make people stop eating them or pushing them. I think people with addictions need to help themselves out, too. The world keeps getting more impersonal. Less able to actually be able to relate to each other when out on the town. Personal responsibility is becoming of paramount importance, in my opinion. I wonder what the Bible says of that? I know of one verse that goes something like prayers are answered in direct relation to one’s faith in God. I like that one and have taken it to heart in the last couple of years.

    • Samuel John Hodgett on November 28, 2011 at 11:14 AM

      “Personal responsibility is becoming of paramount importance, in my opinion.”
      Josh, that is so true. As I’ve said before and will say again, the issue of sin has WAY MORE to do with where a person’s heart is and MUCH LESS to do with what they are actually doing! Certain choices, such as whether or not to drink, or entertainment of choice, is such a personal thing… how can we dictate what any amount of human population should do or think, other than our personal selves? We can’t.
      Great thoughts Josh; thanks for joining the conversation!

  4. Zach Couture on November 28, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    Gungor’s blog is always interesting, that’s for sure. While some interesting points are brought up, what jumps out to me is the sense of anger and resentment at the lack of acceptance Gungor has faced. I don’t want to have this turn into a postmodern criticism, but many of Gungor’s posts seem to be fixated on what’s wrong with the American church. I agree that there are problems in the church at large that need to be addressed, but the overarching theme I often see from Gungor is that the modern American church doesn’t accept/promote art and Gungor is artistic. Obviously there’s more that could be said on this, but this is just a comment on a blog recapping another blog, so brevity.

    I lied, there’s more words, but this time they aren’t postmodern criticisms. Christian music is such a weird thing to think about because it’s contains a vast range of styles and content, yet only a very narrow band is represented in the tradition media outlet of radio. We like to think this is somehow unique to Christian music/programming, but in reality the same arises with Top 40 stations. The masses buy the albums of a few market created superstars, while the artists and critics complain about the vapid soullessness and champion little known artists who barely scrape by but make enchanting music (which is then often cannibalized by the superstars and eaten up by the masses, while the artists continue making music for the few).

    Final thought . . . Who are we to judge what is art? Obviously, we can judge the quality of art: does it capture my attention, stir my mind, evoke some emotion, etc. But is it fair to say that something is not art because we REALLY don’t like/value it? To my mind, there’s a lot of Christian music that I don’t connect with, but it’s not because it’s soulless; it’s because it doesn’t reverberate with my soul.

    He definitely breeds discussion though, doesn’t he 😀

  5. Brenda on November 28, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    I’ve read the entire original blogpost (discovered it when Jamin posted it a few weeks ago). I’m not a musician, but I’m an artist, and I think a lot of these points apply to creativity in the church in general.

    Take drama. My theatre friends and I used to joke in college about “church drama” being a four-letter word. The vast majority of any performance art in church were stories that always had a happy, tidy ending. The stories never seemed to deal with anything very deep, especially deep pain or suffering. There are so many subjects that seem to remain taboo, especially in the more conservative circles. I have paintings that I did when I was going through some of the most horrible times in my life that I feel I should keep in a box under my bed because as a Christian, you’re not supposed to struggle through things like that. There are lots of Christians musicians that I like, but those aren’t the ones on the radio. I’ve found that there are artists who ask tough questions, who dare to write songs about a wide spectrum of emotions. Those are the songs I tend to hit repeat for. When you’re presented with a glittery, shiny version of Christianity, you can feel awfully alone (and maybe even bad) when you’re going through a rough spot.

    I grew up in a denomination that was incredibly strict and conservative in some ways, alcohol being one of them. I grew up in a culture that you’re a bad Christian if you drink because it’s sinful. My college was the same way. Now that I’m responsible for my own choices, I do enjoy drinking. I’ve made some bad decisions in the past, but I believe that as long as I’m mindful and careful, I can have a cocktail at girls’ night. I also respect people who choose not to drink, as long as they’re not pushing that onto other people. I’m mindful around whom I drink because I want to be considerate of them. It took me awhile to figure out how I really felt about alcohol, because for a long time I felt guilty. I realized after several months of not drinking that the guilt was because of other people’s opinions, not a genuine conviction of my conscious. So I proceeded with caution, and that’s served me pretty well.

    My life has been pretty crazy in the last few years. Most of these thoughts are based directly off personal experience. I love that this blog is generating discussion. It’s good for people to think critically about faith and art.

    • Samuel John Hodgett on November 28, 2011 at 10:41 PM

      Brenda,
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and opening up your heart. I think your comment only proves to me why it is so important that we really focus on the heart behind a person’s actions, and not just the action itself… and yes, it IS different for every person.

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