There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

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

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

random reads

On Biblical Inerrancy and Mission (Or why every Good Creationist should handle a Snake now and then)

The Gospel of Mark ends with one of the more controversial passages of the New Testament. If you recall, the Risen Jesus summons the disciples to “preach the good news to all creation,” and assures them that, “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

I call this passage controversial because, as any good translation of the scriptures takes pains to point out, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witness do not have Mark 16:9-20.” The controversy here is whether this epilogue is original to Mark, appended by an inspired scribe later on, or just out of place altogether.

But that’s not the controversy I want to tackle in particular. I’m going to follow N. T. Wright’s lead and assume that Mark himself “wrote a fuller ending which is now lost, and for which 8 – 20 are replacements by later scribes not altogether out of tune with Mark’s intentions.” And then I want to drill down for a moment on Jesus’ promise that believers will “handle snakes unharmed.”

Because there are, of course, some extreme branches on the Christian family tree (fundamentalist sects or charismatic cults, depending on your theological perspective) where they take Jesus as seriously as possible here. Among the Holiness Churches of rural Appalachia, for instance, a Mark-16-inspired ritual of snake handling (copperheads and rattlers, mostly) is a traditional part of worship and accepted expression of faith. The 1967 documentary, Holy Ghost People is one of the first and perhaps most objective treatments of this phenomenon:



Now in sharing this documentary I am not in any way endorsing snake handling as a legitimate form of Christian worship. (Though, if you’re like me and you prefer to follow St. Francis of Assissi in seeking not so much to be understood as to understand, I would recommend you read Dr. Richard Beck’s insightful analysis of “Snake Handling as Religious Phenomenon”, over at Experimental Theology.)

The whole thing, however, has me thinking about the mission of the church and inerrancy of the Scriptures. I’ve heard some preachers, for instance, hold up a “literal 6-day creation” as a litmus test of one’s position on biblical inerrancy. In some contexts this was presented almost as a test of saving faith: do you really believe God literally created the world the way God said he did in Genesis 1 (and are you prepared to accept any number of extra-biblical speculations and elaborations that would make the story seem more scientifically tenable)?

But intellectual assent to a counter-cultural explanation of cosmic origins seems to me a pretty safe (even whimpy) way to prove one’s faith in a literal interpretation of scripture, next to picking up a lethally-envenomed serpent in an ecstatic moment of worship. It seems to me, further, that if you really wanna show you’re committed to biblical inerrancy, you probably can’t put your money much closer to your mouth than it gets when you grab a deadly copperhead by the tail. (It’s like that old joke about the bacon and the eggs when it comes to breakfast: the chicken is invested, but the pig is committed. Next to the “bacon” of snake-handling, the 6-Day Creationist looks like the chicken of Biblical Fundamentalism.)

For the record: I’m not at all endorsing the practice of snake handling.  I'm simply observing that there’s a religious consistency here that none of the 6-Day Creationists I ever met could match.  (And for the other record, this is not meant as a comment on my own position regarding the Doctrine of Creation.  I'm not an evolutionist, theistic or otherwise, and though I hold details like the means and moment and timeline of "the creation event" rather loosely, I believe quite firmly that we're only here because God said it should be so in the beginning, and it was so.)

But more to the point, I want to confess that in some ways, I take a profound missional challenge from the Snake Handlers of Appalachia.

Because I don’t believe that Mark 16:18 requires the truly faithful to handle serpents literally, but I do believe it's describing something literally true for followers of the Resurrected Lord. It’s assuring us that in Jesus, now, the Kingdom of Shalom has come that Isaiah foresaw, when he looked ahead to Christ and said: "[On that day] the child will put his hand into the viper’s nest and they will neither harm nor destroy on [God’s Holy Mountain]."  And it's a sign that Jesus himself was speaking true over in Luke 11:19, when he said, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” The snakes in these passages, of course, are prophetic ciphers for those very real things in the world that stand contrary to God's Shalom:  spiritual bondage, emotional oppression, physical exploitation, sin, death, the devil.  And that's what Mark 16:18 is about, too.  It's God’s promise that under the authority of Christ’s reign, we will find ourselves “handling deadly things”—spiritually speaking—and we will not be harmed.

And this is a trustworthy saying.

So rather than mocking the Appalachian Snake Handlers for their hermeneutical naiveté, I find myself asking myself some gut-check questions these days: am I as willing to put my money where my mouth is with my “spiritualized” reading of Mark 16:18 (and Luke 11:19 and Isaiah 11:8), as those Appalachian snake handlers do with their “literal interpretation”? That is to say, do I believe that the Bible really meant it when it says that God in Christ has crushed the head of the “old serpent, the Devil,” that followers of Christ are now living on the Resurrection side of evil, and that in following him they will discover at work among them the spiritual resources to handle “deadly things” safely?

These are must-ask questions for anyone serious about following Jesus: because if we’re really walking after the One who defeated the powers and principalities of this world with his own life’s blood, we’re likely to find ourselves in situations with all the potential in the world to “rear up and bite us.” I’m talking here about ministry at the margins, ministry among the scandalous or the scandalized, ministry to those who have been deeply wounded by real evil. Because these are places, I think, where the church will find itself handling spiritual “snakes,” so to speak—the scorn of the “centre” and the disdain of the “powerful”, the risk of naming evil, the shame of identifying with the scandalized—things that might make us wish Jesus had simply asked us pick up a cobra.

I don’t handle real rattlesnakes as an expression of my faith in Christ’s authority over sin and death. But then again, I’ve been in churches where, however much their statements of faith insisted they believed in “biblical inerrancy,” there wasn’t much spiritual snake-handling going on, either. Things were kept emotionally superficial and spiritually tidy and above all, safe.

But when the church shows itself willing to put its hand into the viper's nest—handling emotionally difficult or spiritually messy or socially risky stuff for Christ’s sake—I think that’s where we'll show how willing we really are to take the Bible at its word.

0 comments: