So much of American Christianity is, in my mind, B.S. We pretend we believe this. We pretend we don’t have doubts about it. We pretend we’re OK. … Can we be honest with what’s going on? We’re not OK. We’re broken. It’s time to be honest. – Michael Gungor
When I was in my senior year of high school, I was an active member in the church that I had attended since I was three, but I did not believe that Jesus Christ was my Lord.
The Christian faith had always been a part of my life and beliefs, but my teenage reservations about the religion had smothered the faith of my childhood. Despite my doubts, I continued to participate in my church’s youth group, but during much of high school, the expressions of Christian faith to which I was exposed felt shallow and out-of-touch with who I was.
In this post, I want to share a bit from my journal from that year, and I want to show that without the honest, doubt-drenched art of a certain Christian musician, Michael Gungor, I may never have ended up a believer.
I saw his band, Gungor, perform at a Christian conference I went to with my church youth group during senior year. I had been to plenty of Christian conferences before, but when I heard Gungor, I heard something different than what I usually heard at these conferences. Most of the time, contemporary churches events played the sort of always-joyful, always-believing music that dominated radio stations like Joy FM. That music did not connect with me; to me, it felt fake. But Gungor’s music, on the other hand, felt real.
I heard lyrics like these, from “Please Be My Strength”:
I’ve tried to stand my ground
I’ve tried to understand
But I can’t seem to find my faith again
Like water on the sand
Grasping at the wind
I keep on falling short
So please be my strength
Please be my strength
Cause I don’t have anymore
I don’t have anymore
Finally, here was honesty. Here was reality. Here was a faith with depth. That night, I wrote in my journal.
January 21, 2012:
The Gungor concert was miraculous. All the musicians, but the front man in particular, were fantastically skilled and artistic, the songs were creatively written and featured poetic lyrics, and the delivery came from the depths of the soul. Michael Gungor’s performance of “Heaven” was the high point of the night; it was a drawn-out series of verses, choruses, and solos dripping with delectable blues and featuring amazing guitar work as well as sweet drumming. The concert was all-too-shot, ending with “Beautiful Things” before 10:00, but not before driving me close to tears with the pure beauty of its final song. …
The simple fact is that I was surprised to find, at a Christian concert, good musicians who cared about their music and seemed to express something very sincere about God, beauty, and meaning. And I was fascinated not only with the music, but with the man behind it:
I could see every expression on Michael Gungor’s face, from the almost pained contortions of the skin around his eyes to the hints of grins which crept along his scruffy face. His hair was simply a mess, and he had the appearance of a man who needs more sleep, but he was an excellent live performer.
The next day was the start of something new. It was not when I embraced Christian faith wholeheartedly, but when I started to care about it again.
January 22, 2012:
Today was an important day, and the most important aspect of this important day is that my interest in God and Christianity took a leap forward. I’ve spent a good portion of my usually tightly scheduled time today reading about various spiritual issues on the Internet, looking at my Bible, and listening to Christian music. This has been a rare occurrence in my life for the past year.
The purest source of this flood of interest was the communion and ensuing worship music at the closing session of [the conference] this morning, which filled the bowels of my spiritual reservoirs with a wonderful, sweet water of faith. I dove fully into a pool of music, community, love, and bread and juice while singing a classic worship song, though I can’t quite recall which song it was. I do remember, though, that as I sat in my second-row seat … the final song … was the perfect one: Gungor’s “Beautiful Things.” It was miraculous.
Reading that now, I cannot help but smile at the hint of spiritual beauty I encounted then. Even that small taste of faith was able to give me such joy and hope, despite so much confusion.
At the time I wrote these journal entries, I was far from being a believer, but as I write to you now, two years after that concert, I honestly believe in God. I trust God. I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I love praying to my Lord, singing songs of worship to him, and serving him through serving his Church and the people around me. Most of the time, I cannot imagine not believing in God.
Christian belief was a real thing for Gungor – a hard thing, but a real thing. During those high school years, the faiths of other Christians around me – church members, friends, family – were not actually fake, but I could not see the authenticity behind their beliefs because people did not talk about doubt. And I could not honestly talk about faith without talking about doubt.
Because of the honest music of Michael Gungor, I began to care about believing. Eventually, I joined him in his prayer to Lord, asking for strength when I had none. And at some point, I started to believe.