By Michael Gungor
With Andrea Hunter
Lisa and Michael Gungor and the musical collective that bears their name (Gungor) have had a profound impact on worship recently. Far flung creativity, expansive themes, deep reflection, playful whimsy and a conucopia of instruments and genres characterize their delightful and compelling mash of styles. Live performance with them is a total sensory experience. Michael’s been leading worship since he was 12—twenty years, and singing with Lisa and releasing albums for more than half of that, but the album Beautiful Things, and especially its title song captured the heart and imagination of the Church. One could say, it was heaven sent, just when it was desperately needed. Both for a couple in the mountains of Colorado and a world in the midst of terrible conflict, cataclysmic disasters, economic, and emotional turmoil.
“Lisa and I had started a little church in Denver, Colorado.” Michael begins, “As all who have been part of that sort of thing know, it’s a lot of work. It can be quite emotionally draining to have all of these dreams and ideas in your heart while you also have eyes in your head. You see this gulf between what you want and the reality of what is. Aside from that, we had been trying to have a child for years, and that was quite wearing. We had also had a lot of people around us going through a lot of pain—miscarriages, divorce, and so on. Basically, we were just experiencing and witnessing a lot of pain.”
Pain in the Offering
“Lisa had this little chorus come to her: ‘You make beautiful things out of the dust.’ And at first, she didn’t quite know what to do with it. She actually had been quite affected by all the pain around us and had started doubting the goodness of God. She had a hard time even singing the phrase. She didn’t know if she believed it. So she just walked away from it for a while. A couple months I think. Then she kind of had this moment where she felt like God opened her eyes to his goodness again. Like he was saying ‘Don’t you think my love is stronger than this pain?’ She was finally ready to write the song. She brought it to me, and we finished writing it together.”
All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
Lisa and Michael tapped into the deep grief echoing in so many hearts, “Pain is as common as skin,” says Michael, “We all experience it. It unites us all.” Fortunately, that’s not the whole story. They voiced their/our need, yet didn’t leave us languishing. “In Beautiful Things,” they also unearthed shimmering hope. They reminded us of the truth. That when God made the earth, he said, “It is good.” His creation is good and beautiful around us, in us.
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
Though the song became ours, it was written in the context of Bloom, the church Michael and Lisa founded, and like most newborns, the church, was fragile, lovely and in the midst of growing pains.
Beautiful and Broken
“Our congregational songs are primarily written for our congregation in Denver, and so yes, the ‘us’ in that song is referring to this unlikely bonding of people from all sorts of situations, backgrounds and ideas. We, in our pain and brokenness, are a bit like dust. But to God, we are his vessels to bring beauty into the world. This idea should absolutely have a drastic effect on how we see and relate to every human being.”
If you ask Michael if he and Lisa had a sense of the powerful reach of this song when it was birthed, he simply says, “No. I’m not very good at telling that kind of thing. I sometimes write songs that I think are going to change the world, and nothing happens with them. And I’ve written songs that really started picking up steam that I had no idea would do anything. But I did really like ‘Beautiful Things’ from the beginning. And it really meant a lot to the people in our community as well as to Lisa and I. It’s been cool to see others inspired by the song as well.”
Taking Jesus Seriously
And just as the roots of their song began at Bloom, their music also leads back to the mission of that community of worshipers. Their website declares:
Our quest is to take Jesus—his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection—more seriously than we take any other thing. That’s pretty much how we understand what the word ‘Christian’ means. … We love to partner with God in His work, which is the healing of the world.
“Musically, we just finished a live album that we recorded throughout our spring tour. Almost all of the songs are songs we’ve already recorded, but the live thing adds an element that you can’t get in the studio to these songs. We’ve been touring a lot these last couple years, and while I’ve enjoyed it and been thankful for it, I have also felt like I need to give some of my focus back to my local congregation. It’s a beautiful group of people, and I see Gungor as an extension of them into the world. I guess we’re Bloom missionaries in a sense. I just feel like the kind of music we make needs to stay connected to an actual local congregation rather than some nameless, faceless ‘Church’”
When queried what Michael believes God is speaking to him, his church, and the church at large he answers “One thing I’ve been aware of as a church songwriter lately is that our songs can tend towards becoming band aids for our pain rather than ways of actually engaging God in honest way through our pain. I wrote a blog recently about how well over half of the Psalms are laments and how almost none of the top CCLI songs are. It seems we aren’t comfortable with that level of honesty in much of the Church today. Because of this, I’ve been trying to write some lament lately. It’s not always easy stuff to sing, but those who are sick need a doctor, not a band aid.”
However that plays out in Gungor’s music, it is irrefutable that “Beautiful Things” has been much needed medicine. And its words have proven true for Michael and Lisa: “You make me new, you are making me new.” Their struggle to have a child was rewarded with Amelie Isabelle Pearl six months after the release of the album. The new arrival has impacted (made new) almost every aspect of their life.
“It’s changed everything.” Michael reflects. “She’s absolutely incredible, and we have so much fun. Travel, schedule, practice—all of that kind of stuff has become more complicated for sure. Still, I wouldn’t trade these moments for anything in the world. Not even sleep.”
“Pain is as common as skin. We all experience it. It unites us all.”