Michael Gungor, writer of songs and melter of faces behind the umlauted liturgical post-rock musical collective Gungor, just put his arm around my shoulder and reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Figuratively, sure, through his just-released book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse: A Book for Creators — but the truth is no less real simply for the fact that I can’t name-drop him as a friend friend.
I suppose I was already predisposed to like The Crowd, given my fondness for banjos, harmonized guitar solos, and swelling strings (all of which Gungor has in spades), but I was not prepared for the gut-level response I would have from the opening pages in which Michael describes his burnout and the pain it caused the people he loved the most.
Before I go any further, let me recommend this book — for creatives of all stripes (musicians, visual artists, graphic designers), pastors, and church leaders — not for its ability to teach you how to write a killer worship anthem (although Michael could help you with that) or how to get your song onto Christian radio playlists (see Appendix 3: A Snapshot of American Christian Music for help with that), but for the way it ushers in the hope that comes alive when our eyes are opened and we realize our God is here.
We are all creators. Those of us engaged in church work must be reminded of this again & again: We are called to build, rebuild, restore, redeem, and reconcile — to create, not destroy — in partnership with the living Christ all that sin has broken.
The common idea that there are some people who are creative and some who are not is a myth. So on some level, we are all artists. We are all creators.
In our little church community, we try to cultivate the God-given creativity in each of us for the cause of redemption. We believe that when we dream alongside our Creator, restoration becomes reality.
While “art” is notoriously difficult to define, Michael’s words sound a call to the Church to reclaim the God-given power behind it.
Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope. Art, along with all work is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the creator.
Throughout The Crowd, Michael injects these potentially heavy topics with humor and joy. From his first robot-crafted guitar to his description of the (I’m still not convinced he’s real) stylings of The Emotron, Michael demonstrates a self-deprecating humor that is often missing from conversations about Art, Purpose, and Meaning.
The Christian music industry might play by “safe for the whole family” formulas but followers of Christ are driven by something much greater than fear:
In this story, my imagination is set free as it envisions the earth as part of the creation that will someday be set free from its bondage to decay. This is a framework in which one can anticipate the arrival of Beauty’s fullness. It is the anticipatory painting of a room that will eventually be lived in. It is the present feeding and clothing of those who are to eventually be clothed and fed. Art is not a distraction from human meaninglessness, but part of the burgeoning newness that gives our existence a hopeful and sacred meaningfulness. It speaks of incarnation. It is a future hope taking root in the present. It is a view that the Creator has not given up on his creation and an invitation to join the sculpting of creation’s dirt into something that God might breathe his very breath into.
Sounds a lot like something John wrote many years ago: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:18-19
As we seek to love God and God’s people — particularly those of us who are called into various forms of church leadership — we must hold fast to hope. Otherwise, we will burn out, becoming jaded & cynical.
The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse is a gift to those of us who believe this is not the end, that God has not given up on the world, and that we’re called to reflect His boundless, creative joy in all of life.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free as part of a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”