The End of Gungor

They’re gone. Gungor walks (and plays) the earth no more, and I had no idea. I didn’t even get to send flowers to the funeral.

Last night, my son informed me that one of his musical heroes, Michael Gungor (with wife Lisa), had elected to put an end to their musical project of the last several years, the cleverly named Gungor.

A couple of years ago, in 2017, Michael caused a fair stir by referring to the idea of the blood of Christ being necessary to effect atonement as “horrific.” Precisely, he tweeted this:

I simply think blood sacrifice is a very limited and less than timely metaphor for what the cross can mean in our culture.

My initial thought is that Twitter is a really poor place to lay out anything as complex and transcendent as theology, but Michael went through a series of tweets that made his non-evangelical theology pretty clear if not nuanced. The comment brought about–imagine this–a host of impassioned responses. The artist himself complained “White dudes keep retweeting this with snarky comments.” This led him to attempt to clarify:

To see it as literal and out of context- that God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It’s horrific.

According to my son, the band just couldn’t go on with all the controversy. Perhaps. Perhaps they weren’t getting some of the bookings or ticket sales in the wake of the kerfuffle. Perhaps we should take Michael Gungor at his word on the change:

Gungor feels to us like it’s done what it needed to do. Said what it needed to say.  And now it’s time for something new.

In that same blog post, Michael admits that things have changed.

For the last 4 albums, we’ve sometimes left many of our fans confused or frustrated— “What are they singing about now?” “Do they even believe in Jesus anymore?”…etc But we’ve always tried to stay true to what’s happening in our hearts at the time of recording a record.

Perhaps tellingly, he never answers that or other “belief” questions that he says were posed to him. Perhaps he noticed that nearly all the most-streamed songs on his Spotify page come from those earlier recordings when people did know what they were singing about. From what I can gather, it sounds as if his beliefs have drifted in the direction of what Serene Jones shared in that pre-Easter interview.

Back in 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson left his pastorate at Boston’s Second Church, at least partially because he could not in good faith serve communion that symbolized something in which he no longer believed. While I disagree profoundly with Emerson, I admire his integrity. If Michael Gungor is making a similar move, as I suspect, then I admire his integrity as well. He has every right to believe, to write about, and to sing about anything he likes. He’s an imaginative and talented musician, and a person with a good heart.

When it comes to the blood of Jesus, however, I just have to say that he’s wrong.

Fair winds and following seas, Gungor.

It’s Going to Rain

Recently, Penny and I heard a clatter near our new house. Going outside, we found that a twenty-foot downspout had fallen. Today, it’s raining, but so far everything in the new house is waterproof. That’s important, but the absence of leaks was far more important in Noah’s situation.

Just yesterday, I shared some gleanings from Genesis 6:14

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and outside.

Today, I’d like to look at another word, “pitch.” This English word, referring to a thick petroleum-based substance, shows up in three places in the Bible. In two of them, the Hebrew word is a noun, zepheth. We could perhaps translate it as tar or asphalt. One of those places is Isaiah 34:9, while the other takes us back to the “ark” that baby Moses was placed into.

Noahs_Ark_Italianate_mural_WEB_821x800But the pitch or kaphar in Genesis 6:14 is different. First, it is a verb. The King James says that God instructed Noah to “pitch it within and without.” “Pitch” here is the verb. Since that seems to evoke images of sales or baseball to us, modern translations usually go the route of “cover it with pitch.” The verse in question is the only one of 102 appearances of this Hebrew word in the Old Testament that means “to cover with pitch.”

So how is it used in those 101 cases? In the King James, it is translated as “atonement” 71 times. Other translations include “purge,” “reconcile,” and “forgive.” Although it abounds throughout the law chapters of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, we can find a scattering of this word in various other Old Testament books. One example will suffice, from Psalm 79:9:

God of our salvation, help us—
for the glory of your name.
Rescue us and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake.

Rescue us, God, and cover over our sins with something that the dangers cannot penetrate. Make us waterproof, Lord, or at least sin-proof. Plug our leaks.

Different words could have been used in Genesis 6, and the use of kaphar clearly means literally coating the inside and outside of the boat with some sort of sticky, waterproof stuff. However, the other uses of this word helps to accentuate the salvation story that is prefigured in Genesis.

Noah, apparently a fairly handy guy, could build a big boat, but that boat could never have remained afloat and safe for the occupants through the forty days of rain and the months of floating about if it had not been sealed, covered over, with something beyond gopher wood. Moses brought the wood, and God provided the atonement or covering. In Genesis 22, Isaac carries the wood, but God provides the atonement in the ram for the sacrifice. And in the gospels, a man carries a cross, but God provided the atonement through the sacrifice.

It’s going to rain, but we have hope to remain dry.


To Forgive Is Divine (Hebrews 5:3-4)

This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (Hebrews 5:3-4)

I saw a bumper sticker in a convenience store a few days back. I read the words and then studied the image. They didn’t seem to make any sense. Then I realized just what I was seeing and blushed. I won’t describe the sticker, thereby giving it any value, but it was crass and tacky.

The acceptable level of crass and tackiness in our society has risen dramatically over the span of my life. It wasn’t in the Middle Ages that Jack Paar faced a firestorm of outrage when he told a joke that pivoted on the definition of W.C.: water closet or wayside chapel. Compare that with any random five minutes from How I Met Your Mother or Two and a Half Men. Yes, standards have changed.

Essentially, people have decided that things that used to be “wrong” are now “okay.” At the same time, many things that used to be “okay”–telling racist jokes, for example–are now decidedly “wrong.” I quotate these words because I believe that what’s wrong has always been wrong and will always be wrong. Just because society decides that abortion is a “woman’s right to choose,” does not make it acceptable. Similarly, just because a nation decided for several hundred years that enslaving Africans was acceptable did not move slavery out of the sin column.

Only God can decide what is sin and what is not. Only God can provide the means to settle our sin problems. Only God can call the “High Priest” who will make that settlement. No government office or journalistic position can change these things. No amount of television propaganda or talk therapy can eliminate sin. That’s why the existence of Christ as our high priest is such a miracle.