[photo: the blogger & his spouse with Michael Gungor after a show back in 2013]
“Am I Okay” -- too many notes on my latest Apocalypse-Scrolling of Christian Twitter, on Sleepless Podcast-Listening, on Getting Canceled, & on Defending Michael Gungor
“Am I a ghost
Am I an animal
Am I an angel
Am I God
Am I meaningless
Am I anything at all
Am I a spirit
Am I the chaos
Am I the light
Am I alright
Am I loved
Am I an alien
Am I a sight
Am I alright
Am I a dream
Am I a memory
Am I a wave
Am I okay” - Michael Gungor, “Am I”
How do you get canceled? What is canceling? If you have already been canceled, can you get canceled again?
Apparently for mystic musical artist (Gungor, Weiwu, Liturgists) & podcaster (The Liturgists, Loving This), Michael Gungor (MG), the case is that you can get canceled again & again.
MG’s recent re-canceling came around July 24th, over a mostly beautiful, well-intentioned tweet; this tagged my attention so poignantly, & has haunted me since, so much that I want to throw him & his family some real solidarity & love.
The whole furious flap was over these words:
Jesus was Christ. Buddha was Christ. Muhammad was Christ.
Christ is a word for the Universe seeing itself. You are Christ. We are the body of Christ.
More on the actual tweet in a moment, but first, these asides. Keep in mind, now, that MG has almost 60 thousand Twitter followers. By comparison, in my recent year of trauma-drama & sort-of-canceling at my church (where I resigned) & university (where I still work), the notoriety of the situation barely pushed me past 1000 followers on my main account, a milestone I had been trying to reach so slowly & haphazardly, since first joining the platform in 2010. (Shameless plug: follow @teacheronradio & @presbyhippy on-the-Twitter.)
But should there at least be some guidelines here, like you don’t get to “cancel” someone, but still keep following them all the socials, for the sheer sake of trolling, gaslighting, & just generally cyber-bullying them? I mean how helpful is it to say, “I hate your heresy & you are leading yourself & others to hell, bruh, but we will definitely still use your alt-CCM hits in worship as a tool in our evangelistic efforts to bring every white alienated hipster teen to Jesus.”
Really, it seems strange on the soapbox hype-chamber of Twitter to scold someone for “centering themselves” when, if you are on Twitter, you oh-hyper-critical-you, have already centered yourself when you signed up for Twitter.
Why am I currently feeling so compelled to take up for Michael Gungor?
As a fellow mystical interspiritual traveler, I guess I really identify with Michael Gungor’s journey, because his spiritual journey, like mine, has included everything & the kitchen sink of theological exploration: evangelical fervor & radical rejection, rock-n-roll traveling & psychedelic tripping, accepting & rejecting “the church,” seeking & losing community, loving & wrestling with Jesus (or Josh, as he was called on a recent Liturgists podcast, if you prefer).
About that tweet: not unlike a “was-there-a-literal-Noah-or-flood”-controversy of some years ago, so-called “orthodox evangelicals” really doubled down. I remember that time about the Noah thing, but this somehow seems worse, maybe because everything seems worse now. The haters really piled on this time with vigor & venom, almost in unison, with virtual blood in the eyes & drool on the lips, from the religious right & the religious left.
The critique from my fellow religious lefties seemed to flow around the same essence of: universalism is too vague, too white, a version of what Stephen Prothero promoted with his book: God Is Not One.
On the one side, people viewed MG as a serious Christian (this is up for grabs) who was imposing a majority-white version of Christ on other traditions that are not seen as majority-white streams. In other words, did MG procure explicit consent from the prophet (peace be upon him) & Siddharta before making that tweet?
This is the cultural imperialism flaw, which may have some merit, except most everyone knows that this is not how MG meant it at all. On an adjacent hollering, the criticism goes like this: “it’s all Christ” probably means that nothing is Christ, so this is not universalism but a bland & ubiquitous dulling of the spirit’s sharper edges.
On that last criticism, we get one of the funnier clap backs, which has a thousand more “likes” than the parent-tweet: “Michael you can't keep pointing at things in your room and saying they're Christ.” Oh really? What about that time the apostle Paul brings up a random rock from the Hebrew scriptures & calls that Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:4)
This reminds me of the furious & confused objections my students sometimes have to the “Footnote to Howl” by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, where he says everything, even especially body parts & typewriters, are holy.
The problem, of course, for the Christians, with “you can’t say everything is Christ” is that the Bible basically says this on a few mystical occasions, a favorite being Colossians 3:11.
Now from the left cultural objections, what about Universalism is so bad? It is its own valid tradition. In an effort to protect the particulars of Islam & Buddhism from an alleged affront, aren’t you making an equally problematic attack against all Unitarian Universalists, a new religious movement founded in 1961 & with at least a half million adherents in the US & Canada?
From an almost obvious angle, many of the ideas that MG talks about on Twitter & on The Liturgists podcast are also explored in great depth by reputable spiritual thinkers like Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, Andrew Harvey, & Rami Shapiro, to name only a few. There’s actually nothing that novel or wrong about MG’s tweet, & the main difference I can glean from the short list of above authors, is that they are much older or deceased & are not exvangelical Grammy-nominated musicians who are really active on Twitter.
MG may have mis-paraphrased Richard Rohr but most of his haters on that thread & its thousands of comments, have never really read Rohr. Bonus: maybe there was some unintended cultural imperialism in that tweet, but universalism itself is not always inherently so.
The core of universalism is a beautiful, needed concept in both spirituality & politics, worth so little of the scorn getting thrown around. It makes me think this was all about a pre-occupation with folks disliking MG's personality, like "we can't believe inclusive Universalism if it includes this guy."
In addition to all of this, there have been other recent controversies concerning the public face & management style, if you will, of The Liturgists. Is it a collaborative collective or just MG’s personal cottage industry or what? What about the departure of former collaborator Science Mike & the charges he has sent out on Twitter?
The Liturgists website definitely promotes itself as a community. It’s been many, many years since I attended a Liturgists event, which I did as they were transitioning to that platform, after doing things primarily under the Gungor band’s banner. I am not currently a “member,” so I cannot vouch for their online community culture.
They claim: “The mission of the Liturgists is to help others love more and suffer less, and we do that by providing these spiritual technologies and creating a radically inclusive and non-judgmental space where people can have room to doubt, to wrestle with questions and to be fully themselves so that this work can truly become ‘the work of the people.’”
This blog started in my head, when I could not sleep, & started to listen to recent episodes of The Liturgists podcast, a whole recent season where Michael & many collaborators wrestle with their fractured yet full feelings about Christianity. After a far journey away from church, even full-on rejection, giving the religion the finger as MG put it, this latest season seems to be about taking baby steps back into the wading pool side of the vast sea that we call Christendom.
As someone going through a spiritual-but-not-religious phase at the edges of church, I actually need to dip my toes in the shallow end too, not just diving back into the deep end, like I did when reconverting from drunken heathenism back in 2009.
As I discovered right away & I am discovering, this metaphor of depth-perception falls apart, when I realize how infinite & interlocking everything is, how deep everything is.
Hey, maybe “Josh” (Jesus) & Christ are infinite & interlocking, too, with all & everything, even with MG & even with me.
One thing all this did was get me to listen to Gungor again. In 2019, they officially retired Gungor as a band name, & they released an archive album of outtakes & unreleased material called Archives. It is two hours well-spent, & I would recommend that as well as all their previous albums.