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

random reads

Thinking Theology and Technology III: Technology Among the Powers

Before examining what, exactly, a “redemptive, realistic and intentional” use of technology would look like for Christians, it is perhaps helpful here to note some of the ways it exerts a spiritual influence over us, to show why, after all, we have listed it as one of “the powers” the way we have. Though this field of study is still relatively young, a number of sociologists, psychologists and media theorists alike have begun to examine the impact of internet technologies on our culture, our society, and even our brain anatomy. Their findings suggest that technology does indeed have a significant spiritual dimension. In particular we will look at the impact of these technologies on our social interactions, on our experience of cultural diversity, and on our mind’s capacity for traditional spiritual disciplines like silence, focused prayer or meditation on Scripture.

In her 2011 book Alone Together, MIT technology specialist Sherry Turkle identifies one of the ironies of our relentless use of social media: that “[Americans] brag about how many they have ‘friended’ on Facebook, yet [they] say they have fewer friends than before” (Turkle, 280). “Technology,” she argues, “has become the architect of our intimacies. Online we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication.” In particular, her research suggest that these technologies predispose us towards interactions that are superficial (in that they encourage us to meticulously engineer our online image), inauthentic (in that they encourage us to lie about or experiment with our online identity), insecure (in that they encourage us to craft our online messages carefully, sometimes obsessively, but then to post them as though they were spontaneous), and above all, ambiguous (in that they convince us that such superficial, inauthentic and insecure interactions are actually deep, authentic and safe). Turkle notes, for instance, the way such technologies have conditioned young people to avoid or even to fear face-to-face interactions (191); or the phenomenon of “risk-free” online confessing (236); or the way “we defend connectivity as a way to be close, even as we effectively hide from each other” (281).

Turkle’s work is of special concern for a theology of technology, inasmuch as authentic, deeply connected community is central to our experience of salvation, our spiritual formation, and our ongoing sanctification. We might consider 1 John 1:5-7, as one of many examples where the Bible aligns spiritually healthy community with a deepening life with God. Though Turkle is not specifically interested in Christian spirituality, her work suggests that our growing and unreflective dependency on social media makes the kind of “fellowship with one another” envisioned in 1 John 1:7 increasingly rare and ephemeral. In Turkle’s own words: “in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. Sometimes people feel no sense of having communicated after hours of connection. And they report feelings of closeness when they are paying little attention. In all of this there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind, and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?” (12).

This brings us to a second area where we see the spiritual impact of internet technologies: their tendency to isolate us from perspectives different from our own. Again there is an irony here. Though social media promise to increase the range of our social networks, they actually shrink them, because they feed into our natural tendency to identify only with the like-minded. Sometimes called “the echo chamber,” a number of observers have noted this phenomenon: because it uses similarity as the main criteria for connecting, the internet tends simply to echo our own opinions back to us. Social activist Eli Parsier analyzes this problem extensively in his 2012 book, The Filter Bubble: How the Personalized Web is Changing What we Read and How we Think. He looks in particular at the “personalized filter algorithms” that sites like Google, Yahoo News or Facebook use to customize the information we encounter on the net. These filters draw on a variety of statistical data about individual users to predict what the user’s preferences will be, and then “tailor” their query results to fit them. As an example, Parsier describes the day he noticed that Facebook had systematically removed all the “politically conservative” links in his Facebook feed, based on the types of searches he (as a political liberal) had been making. In a 2012 TED Talk, he suggested that filter-bubbles like these are moving us “very quickly towards a world where the internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

The ethical, and subsequently the spiritual implications of the world-wide “echo chamber” deserve careful theological reflection here, because, as Paliser argues, “the structure of our media affects the character of our society.” A society that never has to encounter ideas that challenge, stretch or contradict it is likely to develop an ethically stunted character; a Christian who never has to encounter ideas that challenge, stretch or contradict him is likely to develop a spiritually stunted character. Indeed, for Christians especially, such “filter bubbles" should raise particular concerns. They feed a natural (but unbiblical) Christian tendency to retreat from the world and surround ourselves with those who think and act just like us (see 1 Cor 5:10 for warnings against such isolation). They reduce our appreciation for the radical gospel vision of unity in diversity, as people from “every nation, tribe and tongue” worship the Lamb together (see Revelation 5:9, 14:6 to catch the vision). And they limit our ability—even perhaps our desire—to genuinely speak the truth to one another in love, by pandering to the false belief that one’s own narrow, individual perspective on the truth is all the truth that needs telling (see Ephesians 4:15).

Along with the fragmentation of community and the creation of spiritual “echo chambers,” a third dimension of technology that deserves special consideration here is the physiological impact it is having on our brain-functioning . In his 2011 book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that technologies are never simply “exterior aids” but are also always “interior transformations of consciousness” (Nicholas Carr, 51). He cites a variety of neurological research which suggests that the brain is far more plastic than previously thought, continually adapting itself to the tasks it is called upon to perform; and he refers to a number of studies which suggest that the particular tasks the brain is called upon to perform while surfing the web have begun to change the way the brain learns, thinks, and process information. “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli,” he argues, “short circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again” (119). In particular, his research suggests that the internet physically reduces our capacity for deep, sustained, and focused thought; that it develops the habit of scanning superficially for easily digested data-bites while reading; that it actually hinders our ability to concentrate and remember and imagine and reason. “The mental functions that [we] are losing” he warns, “are those that support calm, linear thought—the ones we use in traversing a lengthy narrative or an involved argument, the ones we draw on we reflect on experiences or contemplate and outward or inward phenomenon” (142).

The kind of research Carr cites in The Shallows has huge implications for our theological analysis technology, because so many of the traditional spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith—lectio divina, prayer and meditation, silence, Scripture reading and so on—to say nothing of the more intellectually rigorous disciplines like theology and apologetics—require us to “traverse lengthy narratives,” to “reflect on experiences,” and to “contemplate outward and inward phenomenon”. If Carr is right when he argues that the internet actually discourages these mental functions, wiring our brain instead to be especially good at “locating, categorizing and assessing disparate bits of information in a variety of forms while we are being bombarded by stimuli,” then as ominous as it sounds to say it, it may actually be changing the way we know, and experience and relate to God.

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