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.

A Bottle of Pop for Eddy Bearnaise

I can still remember that day standing in front of the pop cooler at the local Mac’s store when I realized I’d been had. I was around 14, and reaching for a bottle of 7-Up, when right in mid-reach it suddenly dawned on me that I hated the taste of 7-Up. I’d only started drinking it a couple of months ago, but in those last few months I’d bought 7-Up regularly and exclusively and I couldn’t for the life of me say how it had become my soft-drink of choice.

It was mystery enough to freeze me for a moment in front of the cooler, trying to figure it out. And in that brief moment of soul-searching, the sudden knowledge that I’d been duped hit me on the noggin like the rear-end of a south bound bumble-bee meeting a north-bound wind-shield at 100 clicks.

That summer, 7-Up had started a new advertising campaign, which those of you who were teens in the 80s may remember as well as I do. There were 4 or 5 different spots, but the storyline was always essentially the same. A young, free-spirited, and gorgeous (I can only assume from the way girls threw themselves at him) dude driving around in a green convertible finds himself in a spot of trouble, which resolves itself through some ironic twist or other that leaves him with a pretty girl on his arm and a can of celebratory 7-Up in his hand.

In one spot, for instance, he pulls up to a crossroads next to a guy and his girlfriend riding “two up” on a racing bike. The biker gestures ominously that he wants to race, and our hero gives his engine an aggressive roar or two to accept the challenge. The girl, a pretty read-head, we learn when she gets off the bike and removes her helmet, pulls a bandana from her back pocket to serve as a starting flag. Engines roar, the flag drops, and when the dust clears we discover: the green car sitting unmoved at the crossroads and the biker nowhere to be seen. Our hero grins rakishly at the girl, who smiles knowingly in return and sidles into the passenger seat. As they share a 7 up in the closing frame, the tag line is heard over a rocked-up 80s theme song: “Are you up for it?”

In case this isn’t jarring any memories, I did track down one of the spots on YouTube, which I offer here for posterity’s sake (and for the sake of the cringing it’s likely to induce):



The semiotic associations here are so blunt they barely merit the term “subliminal”: irresistible chick-magnets who are too-cool-for-words drink 7-Up; ergo, to become one yourself, make 7-Up your soft-drink of choice. To a 38 year-old, the message is laughably transparent, but to a 14 year-old boy—a relatively new and terribly self-conscious immigrant to that strange land called Pubescence—a fourteen year-old boy for whom the idea (let alone the possibility) of being an irresistible chick-magnet had only just appeared on the horizon of consciousness, for a fourteen year-old boy, like I say, the implications were almost mythopoeic. What separates you from stunning sexual success is simply a matter of the soft-drink you consume.

So drink 7-Up.

And I did, for about 4 months, even though I hated it and didn’t know why, until that day I caught myself in the act and understood: I was trying to buy the sexual self-assuredness that those ads had promised me in 7-Up. I didn’t use those words at 14, of course, but I realized that I was trying (vainly) to become the man in those commercials by drinking the soft-drink he was hawking.

Now, it’s not just because of the undertones in the commercial’s tag line (“Are you up for it?”) that I’m thinking about 7-Up and Freud today. I watched a documentary called “Century of the Self” a while ago, which was about the work of Sigmund Freud’s nephew back in the 1920s. Though Edward Bearnaise’s name is not nearly as household a word as his uncle’s, he was the first person to take uncle Sigmund’s psychological theories about our subconscious impulses and apply them in an intentional way to manipulate the masses. In particular, he was the guy who showed corporations that they could get people to want things they didn’t need by linking products to their unconscious desires. Those 7-Up spots are the direct heirs of Eddy Bearnaise’s legacy.

But here’s the really fascinating part of this story, and the reason for my little stroll down memory lane to the local Mac’s store. Besides the obvious benefit of making money, one of Bearnaise’s motives in bringing depth psychology to bear on marketing the way he did was to control the masses. He believed (and many politicians of the time believed along with him) that the mass of society was fundamentally irrational and volatile; and in 1924, they had, of course, the evidence of the First World War to prove it. According to Bearnaise, the best way to manage the “irrational force of the masses was to stimulate people’s inner desires through advertising and then sate them with consumer products.” This would keep them happy, docile and, consequently, cooperative. He called it “the engineering of consent.”

In layman’s terms: if subconsciously I believe a can of 7-Up will satisfy my “natural impulse” to be a rebellious, self-asserting rakehell, then I am far less likely actually to be rebellious, self-asserting or rakish. And as long as we all sublimate our impulses like this, society holds together and we all get along.

Not to put it too bluntly, but Bearnaise was one of the first people to propose the idea that we could save ourselves by buying stuff. Quite literally, in the Bearnaisian ideology, consumerism is salvation, products are saviour, and advertising the divine vision that mediates it to us.

Here’s the whole movie, if you’re interested (or skeptical):



Well: I don’t drink 7 Up anymore—too sharp for that old trick—but the other day I was in a local Christian mega-store, and I caught myself in mid-reach for the latest DVD Curriculum produced by some miraculously-huge mega church in the States, offering a “spiritual experience” that would “revolutionize my church’s ministry.”

At 38, of course, I wasn’t taken in by the promises, but the thing is, I don’t really have to be. I live in a world that has believed (sometimes quite explicitly and earnestly) for almost a century now that salvation—the saving of our society, our sex-lives or our churches—is simply a matter of buying the right product. And whether I like it or not, I am so steeped in this worldview that it’s become subliminal, in the Freudian sense: the solution is as simple as a purchase.

Of course, buying the latest book on prayer, or the next big purpose-driven media campaign, or the new small-group “experience guide,” or attending the next big worship event, or whatever it is won’t save anyone’s church, anymore than 7-Up made me an irresistible super-stud. And when we reach for these things thinking they will, whether we articulate the belief or not we are reaching for an idol.

Sometimes when preachers get going on the old epic struggle between Baalism and Yahwehism as it’s recorded in the Old Testament, they say a lot about materialism: the condo in Florida, the unnecessary mid-life- cruise, and so on. But I’ve almost never heard anyone draw a line between Baal and, say, the Prayer of Jabez (TM), the Passion of the Christ (TM), Courageous: The Movie (TM) or the next big what-have-you out of Willow Creek. Of course, ministry resources are often just a matter of practicality, I realize that, but I also realized, that day in the bloated Christian marketplace, that the idols of our day are far more comfortable in our churches than we want to admit.

Lord have mercy.

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