For their third major release, Gungor
composed a concept album called Ghosts Upon The Earth
that celebrates the beauty of life even in the midst of darkness and pain. Starting with a startling musical imagining of the creation of the universe and traversing subjects like the "fall of man" and the imperfection of our religious systems, this album leads the listener through a roller coaster of emotion that eventually leads us back to wonder and thankfulness for this beautiful gift of life.
The title, Ghosts Upon The Earth was somewhat inspired by the allegory by C.S. Lewis titled The Great Divorce, in which the "ghosts" of a grey town encounter a heaven that is astonishingly, even painfully, real.
"Sometimes it seems like the most real thing is what we can see and experience with our senses around us--this life, the tangible," explains Michael Gungor. "Ideas like love, like God, these things sometimes feel more disconnected and ethereal, like that's the ghostly realm. But what if that's wrong and God and love is actually what is most real, and we are more like ghosts walking upon the earth, hoping to become more real?"
This is a group that believes listeners are intelligent enough to appreciate lyrical metaphor and allegory along with intricate time signatures and somewhat uncommonly paired instruments in pop or rock music. Ghosts Upon The Earth paints a hauntingly beautiful soundscape that emotionally conveys both the intricacy and wonder of the universe that we live in, as well as the tension and dissonance that we all experience. From sweeping string lines and soaring falsetto vocal melodies to distorted flute riffs and five part dissonant harmonies, this album explores quite a wide emotional and musical gamut.
And according to Michael Gungor--the namesake, producer, and leader of the collective--it's all very purposeful and full of subtle meaning. From fast violin arpeggios that represent vibrating "strings" in a primordial universe, to the sacred sound of the first heartbeats that Michael and his wife Lisa ever heard of their baby girl reminding us of the fragility and preciousness of life, nothing is haphazard about this album.
Most of the songs on the album are written by Michael and Lisa together and there are several songs that feature her as the primary vocalist. Her voice is used as an instrument in itself, in an album that includes credits for things like a six-person string section, horns, glockenspiels, banjos and a boys choir.
A Creation Liturgy
is a collection of songs recorded live throughout Gungor's 2012 Spring tour. Whether playing bluegrass in a small, sold-out club in Texas or singing a hymn with a string trio in a beautiful cathedral on the East Coast, there is an energy to these shows that remains consistent and true to Gungor's unique take on liturgical music.
I had the great opportunity to interview Lisa and Michael Gungor about "This Is Not The End."
Please share the message behind the song "This Is Not The End."
Lisa: When I started writing that song, I was in this tension and I'm sure many musicians feel this way, but I felt like I was beating my head against the wall in this industry. There's certain things that are really wonderful, and then there are things--like any job--that are extremely frustrating.
In this instance, I felt like we were running into a wall in the industry. A day before something we'd been pursuing for awhile didn't work out, and it was one of those days where I just felt like giving up. I was just going to stop because it wasn't worth the hassle with all the turmoil we were going through. We have a little baby girl and we bring her on the road with us, and as a mother I wasn't sure what I was doing was best for her.
Then I came back to knowing that I believed in what Michael and I are doing. I was going back and forth, and wondering if we were just adding to the noise of it all in our lives, and wondering if our hearts were completely pure in our concerns. It's amazing how many emotions a person can feel at the same time.
I sat down at the piano and felt kind of defeated and angry out of the frustration that I was feeling. What came out was this song, that "this is not the end." This is not all there is. I believe there's beauty in the art that we are creating and that's it's meaningful. Also, I was realizing that the thing I was frustrated about was not that big of a deal in the grand scope of life. These things I was frustrated about are vapors and there are much bigger things to be concerned about than my own petty concerns. The song came out of that moment.
Please tell me about the Bible verses you used to write the song.
"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing."
...2 Corinthians 5:17:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"
…and Revelation 21:4-5:
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' And He said to me, 'Write, for these words are true and faithful.'"
How can listeners apply that message in their walks as Christians when they listen to the song?
Lisa: We can make life here and now better. We talk about how heaven can come to earth now. Heaven is coming and it's also not quite here yet. Both of those ideas are part of the lyrics of the song: "We will shine like the stars, brighter," and I believe that love can make our lives better here and now, and "this is not the end." Christ will return and another better life is coming. I wasn't quite finished with the song, and I was recording the song and our friend John added the bridge, "and you know you'll be alright."
Michael: To me, this song made the album on the concept album Ghosts Upon The Earth, and this album A Creation Liturgy isn't as much a concept album, but the idea of this new live album was to tie the messages of all the songs together. We end the live album the way we end our services at our local church, with "The Doxology." Our liturgical space centers around the communion table and that's the pinnacle of our gathering. In the middle of the album, we put "Spotless" which is a song about the Cross.
As a liturgy, what ties it all together is that Christ is the anchor and it's Creation to and from there--Creation and New Creation. I see Creation as something that's constantly happening; stars are being born right now. And, Creation using Paul's language of being a "new creation in Christ" is centered by Christ's crucifixion and us being born again. "This Is Not The End" is part of the hope for where we end up. A song about being a "New Creation."
This is not the end
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider
This is not our last
This is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider
And you know you'll be alright
Oh and you know you'll be alright
This is not the end
This is not the end of us
We will shine like the stars bright, brighter
Matt Redman says: "Philippians 2:14-16 says that in this generation we, as the church, 'shine like stars in the universe'. If you know anything about stars, that's a pretty amazing thought. Seeing them from such unfathomable distances away, we can be unaware of just how outrageous these stars are. Take the Sun as an example. They says it's about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit in its unfathomably hot core. Or, check out the star Sirius. This one is about twice the mass and diameter of the sun, and 23 times as luminous.
"So when the Bible tells us 'we shine like stars' in this generation, that's some pretty intense stuff. What I love most about this verse though is how affirming it is. It doesn't say 'go and try your best and if you're an expert at Christianity one day you might even shine'. No, it says 'you DO shine' - we already shine - even on our bad days. That's good news for the lady who's showing up at the office every day wondering if her being there really makes a difference. Or the guy at college living on campus and losing confidence in his ability to shine because of how full-on an environment it is. It's so easy to lose our confidence in this area - and this verse is so helpful and encouraging. I'll end with an old line from Charles Spurgeon, which sums it all up for me: 'Never lose heart in the power of the Gospel.'"
This song is an amazing reminder of how we are called to be a light for Jesus, everyday, "without complaining or arguing." I love how Lisa Gungor interprets this Scripture in a way that we can identify with and calls us to know the confidence of living in Christ. I often feel like a dull person that isn't showing God's light in my life and it is very affirming to know that my life shines for Christ, even on my bad days. I love knowing that in my brokenness, I am actually closer to God. Jesus really loves us just as we are, not who we pretend to be. Not only does He love our weaknesses, he blesses us because of them. This song helps me pray to live every day for God's glory!
From the first time I heard this song, I was hooked by the urgency and hope of the message. We all need to remember that Earth isn't our permanent home and our freedom from the restlessness of this world will come when we enter the true rest that can only come from living eternally with Jesus Christ. As we begin this liturgical season of Advent leading up to Christmas, this song has become a personal worship anthem for me to sing daily and remember that this life is "meaningless." As St. Augustine put it so perfectly, "our hearts are restless until they rest in You." Amen.
(You can listen to this amazing song here