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.

The Documentarathon

And speaking of cultural exegesis, last week a visit to the local Rogers Video for some family movie-night fodder saw me leaving the store with a handful of documentaries (along with the afore-mentioned movie-night flicks). Over the last few days I've been working my way through them, and looking at the world with slightly different eyes as a result. These are some thoughts on what I watched last week:


Food Inc. This unflinching look at the industrial food industry leaves you with a creeping feeling in the pit of your gut and a lot of difficult questions about where our food comes from and how it arrives on our plate. Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and Bill McKibben's Deep Economy had already briefed me on the argument that the modern food industry has created some pretty serious moral, environmental and health crises for us, but the film's aerial shots of huge feed lots and its footage of mass-production "chicken factories" were no less disturbing for all their being expected. What Food Inc. added to the discussion was its look at how the interests of big money pretty consistently trump the interests of human well-being in policy- and law- making when it comes to the American food supply.

In Debt We Trust. One of two films I watched about the credit crisis in the United States, In Debt We Trust puts a human face on the realities of predatory lending and deregulation in the American credit card industry. Produced in 2006, mere months before the "bubble" actually burst, it makes some ominous predictions about a coming economic collapse that have turned out to be hauntingly accurate. For all the gargantuan numbers it tosses around, at times In Debt We Trust seems to over simplify the issues, painting a black-and-white picture of a Darth-Vader-esque credit card industry swallowing its innocent victims whole, who, through no fault of their own, find themselves swimming in a sea of inexplicable and inescapable debt. I don't doubt that the credit card industry is just as brutal, greedy and callous as the film makes it out to be, nor do I deny that this represents a serious moral crisis with global implications. I wonder, however, if the existence of a 926 billion dollar credit card debt in America is actually just the symptom of a deeper cultural malaise--the rampant materialism, the spiritual vacuity, the creeping shadow of ennui, the ego-centric sense of entitlement, the impulse to bury our heads in the illusory sand of the entertainment culture-- stuff like that-- stuff that we're all culpable for and capable of, not just the evil credit card industry that's willing to loan us the money (at 30% interest, of course) so that we can pay for it. To its detriment as a documentary, In Debt We Trust never asks any serious questions about this cultural malaise, preferring instead to point a single self-righteous finger at the corrupt politicians and bloated bankers.


Maxed-Out. Maxed-Out repeats the same gargantuan numbers, interviews many of the same economic analysts, and even includes some of the same footage as In Debt We Trust. Its interview of two collection agency guys is down-right creepy (like when the one compares his work of harrasing helpless debtors to a competitive athlete who's found a way to make a game he loves to play pay the bills), and some of the stories are really heart-wrenching, stories of people with the tread-marks of an unregulated credit card industry on their necks and spirits. The palette with which Maxed Out paints the picture, however, is bit less black-and-white than In Debt; and to its credit, it doesn't attempt any of the failed lunges at tongue-in-cheek satire that make In Debt feel sort of silly at times.

In the cool-down time of my little week-long documentarathon, I've been thinking a lot about St. Paul's declaration in the book of Colossians that God has triumphed over the powers and authorities in the cross. Walter Wink argues that when the Bible talks about "the powers" like this, it's referring to the invisible structures of human society, the spiritual dimmensions of the political, economic and cultural institutions that we put in place to help us control and define our life together, and that inevitably turn around and start to control and define us instead. Wink suggests (very compellingly) that when Paul says this kind of thing about God "disarming" the powers, he means that through the Cross and the Spirit of Christ, humans can be set free from these "invisible structures" in a way that allows us to see them for what they really are, and redeem them with the wisdom and love of God. If Wink is right, then the cultural malaise, the political corruption and the corporate greed illustrated in movies like Maxed Out and Food Inc are concrete examples of "the spiritual powers" in our world; and if St. Paul is right, then the Word and Spirit of Christ offers us the best, and only real solution to the deep social crises that these films are attempting to disarm.

3 comments:

Jon Coutts said...

I think what you said about "In Debt We Trust" is bang on. Thanks for these reviews.

Scott Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Harris said...

It's probably worth noting that while the credit card companies are absolutely predatory, I've not heard of a single case where a credit card company tied someone up, held a gun to their head, forced them to get a card, then rack up incalculable debt...knowing full well they couldn't pay it back. It's kind of a case where the hunter can only prey on a willing kill.

I suppose that's along the lines of what you were saying. It's just such a sad comment on where we've gotten to that the debt that *I* racked up is *Your* fault. Which is the essence of the limited regulation in the USA. They still are very much managed by a sense of personal liberty balanced with personal responsibility.

It's also probably worth noting that Americans are now saving again and paying off their debt at alarming (to credit card companies) rates. Canadians however, are increasing their debt loads, completely ignoring that tolling bell down south.