Visionary Vapor: Starting Lent with Michael Gungor and The Liturgists

By Andrew William Smith 03-10-2014
Photo by Andrew William Smith

Guests received eucharist at The Liturgists concert. Photo by Andrew William Smith

It was a busy weekend on the eve of Lent for fans of spirited singer and spiritually-minded musician Michael Gungor. If you were not on the Gungor or Michael Gungor Twitter feed over the first two days of March, you might have missed the news about a new band, a new record, and a new mini-tour.

As the band called Gungor takes a short break from touring in support of its sonically and lyrically adventurous album I Am Mountain, the family business has reinvented itself with the proverbial “side project” so common with musical visionaries who cannot contain their creative output to just one brand name or band name.

But The Liturgists — a collective that includes Michael’s wife Lisa, brother David, and a host of other supporting musicians and collaborators — are not just another band, and the brand is “the work of the people.” The band’s Vapor EP is a warm and experimental worship text that includes a song, a spoken-word invocation and incantation, and a guided centering prayer meditation. On the group’s Ash Wednesday-week mini-tour, all the shows are free by RSVP and are not really shows as at all — not as indie-consumers even in the contemporary Christian scene have come to expect.

The Liturgists are bringing something entirely different, defying expectations and redefining everything along the way. While we could say they are just instigating an interactive praise and worship experience on the road, what the Liturgists are up to is all that but so much more. The work of the people is reinventing or rediscovering how we interact inside the arts and culture angle of the Body of Christ. The Liturgists intentionally break through artificial walls and artfully involve all of us, creating a performance and preaching Happening, inviting us into a participatory Eucharistic epiphany.  

Since the speaker-on-tour is the self-defined evangelical and science nerd Mike McHargue and since the spirit of what The Liturgists are doing seems shockingly out-of-this-world cosmic, fans expecting either a Gungor concert or a pre-approved doctrinal message may feel denied, while the adventurous among us will be absolutely delighted.

At the core of The Liturgists’ traveling revival and recent EP we discover hope in our interconnectedness and humility in our infinite smallness, in our fleeting and vaporous vanity. The sing-along scenario of the events hits the perfect valleys and crescendos to evoke an emotional and spiritual response.

To fully enjoy this new experiment requires something of us, shedding any assumptions of religion or rock ‘n’ roll in order to get a joyful jolt of both. I know I have been to concerts where I have felt the spirit of communion, but here, I was offered the actual elements of bread and wine, shared sacramentally amid what only resembled a concert and clearly affirmed our resurrection.

Andrew William Smith is an English professor by day and DJ by night who works as the Faculty Head of the Tree House environmental living and learning village at Tennessee Tech. He’s an activist, poet, blogger, ruling elder in the PCUSA, Vanderbilt seminarian, and aspiring preacher. He blogs at http://unlikelysundayschool.blogspot.com/ and teacherontheradio.blogspot.com. Follow Andrew on Twitter @teacheronradio.

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