I Am Mountain, Literalism & the Christian Complex

I am Mountain

Obviously nobody likes to create art like this and immediately have to explain or defend it in the first 48 hours. – Chris McGrath

‘Liturgical post-rock collective’ Gungor released their third album, I Am Mountain, earlier this week. Received with intense praise, in its musical quality, I Am Mountain continues Gungor’s journey of innovation, trumping Beautiful Things and Ghosts Upon The Earth.

The album has received equally intense criticism, with some of the more common criticisms being: “It’s not ‘Christian’ enough”. “There’s too much mythological language”. “Where is the hope?”

As Michael Gungor writes on his own blog, “explaining poetry with prose can sometimes be counterproductive”. It’s not wrong of people to want answers. We all do. But I say this: not every art piece produced by Christians needs to be a comprehensive picture of the gospel of Jesus. Christian Contemporary Music has attempted that and runs the risk of being inauthentic: what, you’ve got it all figured out? Attempting to answer our own hard questions is overwhelming. Michael speaks more about that in his book The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse.

My dancer friend Kim Stevenson is quoted in WeMakeStuff Volume 01, saying: “We do not give God enough credit for how much He can work through our art without it being a literal story about winning souls. God is so real to me while creating that I know He is integrated throughout my work. We need to dive into work that is relevant, pushing boundaries and moving ahead. We need to maintain high standards in our craft, and God will do the rest”.

Even Jesus did not summarize the kingdom of God in one artistic composition. Further, he was famous for speaking metaphorically, not literally. He compared the kingdom of God to this and that, allowing the meanings to rise and connect from the deep places of his listeners’ subconscious.

My friend Steffen, a marketer, tells me that 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously rather than consciously. Art forms carry power in their ability to bypass the rational-logical conscious filters and speak to the “heart”.

The final song is a perfect example of art speaking to the heart: this track, which is an exquisite wordless symphony, could speak – without using words – the messages these critics are desirous to hear in this album. Unexpected. Ironic. The message is potentially left unreceived by people looking for literalism. Yet… “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

It’s upsetting that some self-professed “long-time fans” are upset with Gungor, as if they’ve let them down. Let me ask you, on what grounds do you support an artist? As long as they give you the right warm fuzzies? It’s okay for Gungor to put out an album that focuses on questions and even heavier material. Michael Gungor himself doesn’t see it as a heavy album (see video below), but if that’s what the band is experiencing, their art is how they process it. Shunning their material and criticizing them publicly for it is like ostracizing your friend because they are asking hard questions in their personal life. These criticisms reek of an inability to empathize. They stink of objectification and narrow-mindedness.

When we shut ourselves off the the artist’s process, and just expect them to deliver a product that we can consume, we’ve lost sight of the purpose of art. Art’s purpose is to ask the right questions, not deliver all the right answers.

Here’s a video about what Gungor say about it:

Review: “The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse: A Book For Creators” by Michael Gungor

Rating 4/5 – A thoughtful, honest, and decisive book, framing the contemporary artist’s dilemma and providing companionship, guidance, and fresh purpose to create.

Released October 9, 2012. Order at MissingInkShop from Gungor.

gungor book header
Click through to the book’s webpage

“We are all creators”, Michael Gungor asserts. “But only real things get to create things, not ghosts…dead souls do not produce the same stuff as living ones do.”

Inviting the reader into the thrilling, embarrassing, and downright astonishing stories that thread through his creative journey, Gungor first describes the place he has come from, as a swaying creator seeking appreciation, next realizes the paralysis brought about by disconnecting from the grounds of one’s art, and then explores the resurrection found in reconnecting with that source. Prepare to encounter the allure of the crowd and steel yourself for the tongue of the critic, but get ready to realize their ultimately inconsequential place in your creative endeavours.

While not presuming to know everything or be right about anything, Gungor has penned more than just a book. It’s a tool that allows creative people (all of us) to distinguish the roots of our culture that frames our creative processes, and to see where these roots are diseased and causing decay. Dividing the book into three parts, the first is on the nature of art and creativity, encountering the soul, the sublime, and the source. Following this is his exposition of six roots that support our cultural tree, and finally a look into the soil itself: how to cultivate the kind of landscape from which good art can grow.

As the artist turns these pages, she will encounter weighty words of caution as well as celebration. Gungor’s artistic grounding freshly recontextualizes scriptures like, “What do you profit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” As an artist who sees and has seen through, he possesses a rare ability to speak to the divergent, artistic individual wrestling with the conflicts that surround artistic integrity.

Tend the ground of the inner landscape from which the art grows, says Michael. Art is the body’s pronunciation of the soul. If the soul is dry, so too will the art be. This is his invitation to re-engage the motive for creator to create.

Listen to Michael read the Introduction to The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse here!