Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.

inversions

Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.

soundings

soundings
click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.

bridges

bridges
Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.

echoes

echoes
Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Accidentals

This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

blogs I follow

random reads

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr
In this very readable, very thought provoking analysis of electronic communciations technology and its impact on our brains and culture, Nicholas Carr brings together media theory (think Marshall McLuhan), history (think Gutenberg) and neuroscience (think discoveries in brain plasticity) to show how computer technology is shaping us in ways of which we are only dimly aware. He argues that such technologies reduce our capacity for deep, creative and sustained linear thought (or at least have the potential to do so) and predispose us to the fragmented, the cursive and the superficial. Worth the read.

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, Edith Humphrey
A fascinating and engaging introduction to spiritual theology-- or the theology of spirituality, as the case may be. This book is a very scholarly, devotional, christo-centric, ecumenical and trinitarian overview of what it means for Christians to live in the Spirit and with the Spirit within. Bracing and enlightening.

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

From Darkness to Light: How One Became a Christian in the Early Church, Anne Fields

Life in the Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell
Snell's Life in the Ancient Near East offers a social history of the ANE, tracing the earliest settlement of Mesopotamia, the development of agriculture, first cities, ancient economy and the emergence of empire. Bringing together a rich variety of data gleaned both from the archaeological record and extant historical texts, he tells the history of this cradle of civilization with a special eye for the "human" element - focusing on the forces and factors that would have directly affected the daily life of the various strata of society. Worth a read generally, but all the more for someone with a particular interest in the biblical stories that find their setting and draw their characters and themes from the same provenience.


The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard Davidson
Davidson's Old Testament theology of human sexuality is stunning in its achievement, challenging in its content, and edifying in its conclusions. Davidson addresses every-- and I do mean every-- Old Testament text that deals (even obliquely) with human sexuality, and, through detailed exegesis, careful synthesis, and deep interaction with the scholarly research, develops a detailed picture of the Old Testament's vision for redeemed human sexuality. 700 pages of Biblical scholarship at its best.


Eaarth, Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's Eaarth, is a call for us to wake up smell the ecological coffee...while we can still brew it. Unlike his previous work, or any writing on ecology I've yet read, however, Eaarth does not argue that catastrophe is pending. Instead, he argues that catastrophe has arrived, and that our all talk about "going green to avert disaster," "and "saving the planet" is woefully obsolete. In ecological terms, the planet as we once knew it is gone, he argues, and rather than trying to "avert" disaster, we need to start figuring out how to live in the disaster that's happened. Key themes he identifies as important for life on planet Eaarth resonnated with me as profoundly Christian ways of being (disaster or no). We must stop assuming that "bigger" is better; we must acknowledge limits on economic and technological growth; we must get reacquainted with the land; we need eschew self-sufficency and nurture community.

Love Wins, Rob Bell
So fast and furious has the furor over this book been, that any review will inevitably feel redundant or tardy. Given the crowd on the band wagon by now, I actually had no intention of hopping on myself, but my kids got it for me for Father's Day. About 15 pages in, I realized that I could probably finish it in on good push, so I got it over with. My thoughts: probably the most over-hyped book I ever read; I loved it and found it frustratingly under-developed at the same time; while he raises some important issues, his handling of them reads like a yoda-meets-Tom-Wright account of salvation; nothing C. S. Lewis hasn't already said more clearly and more cleverly; I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad the Evangelical world has errupted over it the way it has, and I hope a much more spirited and generous and optimistic understanding of soteriology and eschatology will infuse the evangelical church's mission as a result.

Rediscovering Paul, David Capes et. al.
Rediscovering Paul is a hepful overview of Paul's life, times and theology. While at times I felt it might have gone deeper, or expressed its ideas more clearly, it provides some interesting and inspiring insights into the man behind the letters. Among these is its discussion of the communal aspect of first century letter writing, and the influence of one's community on one's personal sense of identity, and how those issues might have played out in Paul's writings. Another challenging issue that it tackles is the whole process of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world, especially as regards the role a scribe often played in shaping the text, smoothing out the langugae or providing stock phrases, etc.


Lavondyss, Robert Holdstock
If you've read George MacDonald's Lilith, then think of Lavondyss as sort of a Lilith-for-Non-Christians. It's the convoluted labyrinth of a story about a young girl called Tallis and her adventures in a magical wood that brings the Jungian archetypes buried deep in our subconscious to life. Dense with questions about Jungian psychology, and the spiritually-thin-places of the world, and death and myth and magic and story, it's pretty tough slugging at times, but thought provoking and challenging. At times I felt like I was reading the Narnia book C. S. Lewis might have written if he had pursued the "stab of northerness" in directions other than the Christian Faith where he found it eternally satisfied.

Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington III
My friend John Vlainic once ranked Ben Witheringon as one of the strongest Biblical scholars in the Wesleyan tradtion working today. This thin but powerful volume is evidence to support such an accolade. I opened it expecting (judging by the cover) either a how-to book on Christian finances, or (judging by the other books I've read on Christ and Money) a hodge-podge of Bible verses taken out of context and mushed together as proof texts about the tithe. I got neither; instead, Ben Witherington walks slowly, thoughtful and exegetically through the breadth of Biblical teaching, with special sensitivity to the cultural context of the various texts, the tension between Old and New Testament teaching on the topic, and the differences between modern and ancient economies. If I were to recommend one book to develop a biblical theology of money, it would be this one.

The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness
My first taste of Os Guinness, and, if you don't mind a mangled metaphor, it went down like a bracing pint of... well... Guinness. Grave Digger file is sort of a "Screwtape Letters" project on a church-wide scale. In concept, the book is a series of "training files" for an undercover agent attempting to undermine and ultimately sabotage the Western Church, delivered from the pen of a seasoned saboteur to a young agent recently assigned to Los Angeles. In plot, the young agent ultimately defects, and delivers the "Gravedigger File" into the hands of a Christian, urging him to alert the Church to the operation. It is bursting with "things that make you go hmmm..." and deserves a second, careful read with pen in hand, ready to mine it for its scintillating and eminently quotable lines.

Blogging in the Echo Chamber

A while ago I began a little online social experiment: I started clicking that "next blog>>" link which Blogger so conveniently supplies in the navigation bar of my blog (see above), just to see what would come up. After all, I reasoned, if terra incognita is indeed all about exploring uncharted territory, it wouldn't hurt to meet some of my undiscovered nextdoor neighbours in that neighbourhood called "the blogosphere."

But as I did so, I started to notice that every time I asked Blogger for a "next blog>>", I was taken to a blog that contained some Christian's random musings about being Christian, with a "life verse," the name of some church somewhere, or phrases like "Journey with Jesus" in the header.

(For example, these are the blogs I discovered after five consecutive clicks just now:

1. Learning the Faith: "This blog will serve as an outlet for all of the many wonderful things that I am learning regarding Faith and Religion." (Author's life verse: 1 Peter 3:15-16)

2. Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer in Christchurch. (Blogger Father Clement is a Catholic Priest living in New Zealand)

3. The Jesus Narrative. A place where "Christians talk about Jesus."

4. Grafted by Grace. From Blogger Kim Morgan's profile: "I have been grafted by grace into the good olive tree. (Rom. 11:17) I have lived a life that was less than glorifying to God, (James 1:21), but His Word set me free to become the woman he created me to be."

5. Outside the Boxes. A blog that "contains reflections from a fellow journeyer as he reflects on some of the places his faith informs his daily experiences to help you find those places in your life where that happens as well.")

After a month or so of clicking, it slowly dawned on me that this can't be entirely coincidental, that I should always discover a blog something sort of like mine whenever I asked for a "next blog." I started to suspect that there were forces larger than me at work here. And after a bit of investigation, I discovered them. From what I understand, the "Next Blog" feature is programmed to link you to blogs that are, some way or another, like yours. Apparently it matches words or tags or something, and finds statistically similar bloggers.

In a way, I guess, this is entirely intuitive. After all, if I'm after some interesting blogs, it's only natural that I'd want to read about people interested in the things I'm interested in: people who muse randomly about Christianity, just like me, people who read the same reads I read, people who like U2 like me, too.

And that's the problem, I think. It's all too natural, too intuitive.

I heard a social commentator on the radio talk about this intuition, our natural tendency to stick to only the most familiar strands of the world-wide-web. She said something about how social networking media are actually shrinking our social networks, because they use like-mindedness as the primary currency of relating. Then she said something about irony.


And then she named it all. She called it: "The echo chamber." An "echo chamber" is a social context where we exclude difference so that all we have to hear are our own ideas and opinions echoed back to us by faceless others who are statistically most likely to be like-minded.

So, as I do the lab-report for my little social experiment, I'm wondering about some obvious questions. Like, for instance: Is this maybe what we're all looking for in life, in a way? A convenient button we can click to rest assured we'll only discover people who are pretty likely, in the end, to be just like us?

And more poignantly: How do we try to make the church into an echo chamber like this? Do we "network" (so sad a term for human relating) only with those believers who are just like us? They don't necessarily have to, but do things like youth-groups and 50+ groups, or contemporary worship movements and traditional services at 9:00, or even those standard evangelical "statements of faith" that we use to identify what "kind" of Christian we are-- do these things function to make our experience of the Faith an echo chamber? And if we had a "next pew" button like my "next blog" button, that could ensure we're only sitting next to the spiritually like-minded, would we use it?

And if we did, what kind of a cheap substitute for that diverse, dynamic, multi-layered, mission-minded, multi-cultural, multi-tongued community of faith that Jesus wants to make us into, would we be settling for? If you're like me, and you got here by clicking for a "next blog," I welcome your thoughts on this one. If you're not like me, I welcome them all the more.

5 comments:

Jon Coutts said...

I'm not sure I'd still be blogging if not for the atheists who stopped by for a couple years to give me heck, or the Christian friends who bothered to honour our commonality enough to disagree with me. Who wants to be one more self-congratulatory drop in the echo chamber? the thought is depressing. a contrived conflict would be no better, mind you.

I have to admit sometimes I'll want to take issue with one sentence out of 20 you've written but don't because I'm not the blog police and also because the other 19 are fantastic. But we better wrestle from time to time.

Anonymous said...

You guys are both wrong. You will be assimilated. You must all think the same.

The Thought Police

Kris Wessels said...

I am one of those who happened to come across your blog via "Next Blog" to see who else is out there. I am also one of those who refuses to conform to the majority so sorry Anonymous, I will never conform to think the same as others. However, isn't this also the whole point of being a believer in Christ so that we are to conform to His likeness? Which also means...yes...we will eventually all start to think alike. Would this not also be heaven? Or maybe not...

Gina said...

Hi,
I too, followed the "next blog" chain. Yours was the 3rd or 4th one I came across. My next blogs have been quite random (the one previous to yours was discussing back pain and a wary trip to the chiropractor) so I'm not sure what they're keying on with me. Good for you for not wanting to be in an echo chamber. How would we learn anything if we all think the same way.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting perspective on how churches re-create this virtual echo chamber in the real live body of believers. Definitely something for church members to be aware. But overall, regardless of what human institution or group of people one examines, one will find this sort of natural human tendency to stick with what is familiar, which thereby creates "cliques" or groups of like-minded individuals. This concept shouldn't necessarily be carried over into the virtual world by way of "next blog" buttons, but no doubt this concept increases user traffic.

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