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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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 View of the World from Gravity Falls, Part I: Scratching the Cultural Surface

When I was a kid, one of the big faith questions we Christians wrestled with was not how many angels can balance on the head of a pin? or how can human free-will be compatible with God’s foreknowledge? or even what’s the nature of the hypostatic union?

It was: Should a Christian watch Star Wars? 

As a faith dilemma, this seems a bit antiquated, even quaint, I realize.  It’s been some 40 years since Luke Skywalker and his team of misfits first rebelled against the Evil Galactic Empire, and in the last four decades, the mythos and iconography of the Star Wars Universe have become so woven into the fabric of our culture that it’s hard to imagine a time when well-meaning, godly followers of Jesus once asked it in all seriousness, “What has Tatooine to do with Jerusalem?”

But they did.  I clearly remember one calmly-reasoned and humbly-offered sermon that laid it all out for us:  Yoda was really the Buddha, the Force is based on Eastern Mysticism and Pantheism, and “the Dark Side” is really just riffing on a “yin-yang” principle that has little to commend itself to a Christian world-view (and all, this, keep in mind, was before Episode I revealed that Anakin was, in fact, the result of a virgin birth... woah Nellie...)

One of my best friends in Sunday School was not allowed to watch Star Wars, read Star Wars books, or otherwise have anything to do with the franchise.  To their credit, my parents tended to see it all as harmless imaginative fun, and I got to see for myself the look of dismay on Luke’s face when he finds out that Vader is, after all, his Father.  From what I understand, their decision raised one or two pious eyebrows among the more cautious parents at church.

But I was thinking about the Star Wars controversy the other day, because the long-awaited Season 2, Episode 10 of Gravity Falls just came out, and my kids and I made a date of it the other night.

In case you don’t have a houseful of pre-teens/teenagers to keep you abreast of the latest in pop-culture phenomena, I should explain that Gravity Falls is a quirky, sometimes bizarre, but very compelling animated series by Disney that’s really big with the folks down at the Internet these days.  And it’s pretty big with my kids too.

In a nutshell, Gravity falls is about these twins, Dipper and Mabel Pines, who visit their Great Uncle Stan for the summer, in a sleepy little Oregon town called Gravity Falls.  A bit of a shyster with a sketchy past, Grunkle Stan runs a “museum of the paranormal” called the Mystery Shack, along with ‘Soos, his handyman, and Wendy, the aloof teen hired on for a summer job. 

In the pilot episode, Dipper and Mabel stumble across an enigmatic journal by an unknown author that describes the many out-of-the-ordinary things to be avoided in and around Gravity Falls.  This sets them on a series of encounters with all sorts of preternatural oddities, urban legends, mythic creatures and other cryptic things.  Think The X-Files meets the Bobbsey Twins.  For the especially attentive, the show is filled with secret codes and mysterious symbols that have generated no end of speculation and conspiracy theories on the world-wide inter-web (see here, for examples). 

Season  2, Episode 9 ended hanging off a cliff, with a broken laptop predicting the end of the world and Grunkle Stan up to something mysterious; so, like I say,  Episode 10 was eagerly awaited.

But here’s why I’m thinking about it today:  because not only is Gravity Falls original, creative, and funny, it also tends to wander into territory that’s bound to raise the eyebrow of a Christian parent or two.  There’s the surface, of course: things openly spiritual (like the dream-demon of episode 1.19), ambiguously supernatural (like the love god of episode 2.9), even vaguely cultic (like the society of the blind eye of episode 2.7) are the show’s stock and trade.  And then there’s beneath the surface: every episode is replete with secret ciphers, bizarre anagrams, backward messages and mysterious symbols that are evocative of—if not directly inspired by—the occult.   As Focus on the Family puts it: “Slippery spiritual content—every bit played for giggles and guffaws—includes magic, incantations and crystals with the power to alter the world around them.  Stan’s hat evokes the idea of Masonic headgear, and we see other such icons scattered across the landscape.”

So, besides speculation about “Who’s the author of the journal?” and “What’s up with the goat?” another big question the show raises is “Should Christians watch it?” (Here’s one of the more emphatic“no’s” I’ve come across )

Like Star Wars 40 years ago, or the Simpsons 30 years ago, Harry Potter 15 years ago, and Rock and Roll since, well, since it was just a twinkle in Churck Berry’ eye, the cultural phenomenon that is Gravity Falls forces Christians to think through and come to conclusions about what it looks like to live and move and breathe in a culture that they are inextricably part of, but, at the same time, not at home in.  The real question here seems to be: to what extent is participating in a non-Christian or un-Christian cultural phenomenon actually endorsing it? and to what extent is endorsing something unchristian a real threat to my Christian convictions?

Traditionally, Christians have taken three basic routes when it comes to this question: 1) the “Good-Christians-don’t-read-Harry-Potter” approach, which basically rejects culture as irredeemably fallen; 2) the “Harry-Potter-is-really-a-Christ-figure” approach, which basically finds an allegory for the Christian Faith behind every cultural bush; and 3) the “What’s-the-big-deal-about-Harry-Potter-anyway?” approach, that basically engages with it unreflectively as good, harmless fun.

I’d suggest that none of these approaches—blindly rejecting, blindly co-opting or blindly participating in popular culture—are ideal.  What is especially called for is something that, in high-falutin’ theological circles we call “cultural exegesis.”  The word “exegesis” means, “to draw meaning from and/or to interpret a text,” and cultural exegesis involves “reading” one’s own culture in a way that gets to its deepest meaning, and then interprets that meaning from a Christian perspective.  The best kind of cultural exegesis is actually a kind of conversation, where we think deeply about the meaning of what’s going on in popular culture, identify points of contact with, but also points of divergence from a Christian worldview, and engage with it in a way challenges us to live out our Christian convictions authentically in the public sphere.

Is it okay for a Christian to watch Gravity Falls?  Well, yes.

Especially if it can be the start of a conversation about a Christian worldview, and how it differs from a secular world view but at the same time speaks to some of the deepest questions a non-Christian culture seems to be asking.  This is what Paul did, for instance, when the Corinthian Church asked if Christians should eat meat that was sacrificed in a pagan temple, and his answer in 1 Corinthians 8 is sort of the prototype for Christian cultural exegesis. 

Well, that’s a pretty long preamble to the point of today’s post, which is to explain why the next month or so we’ll be spending some time discussing this very popular Disney show, looking at its themes and trying to understand their significance from a Christian perspective—kind of a “Christian view of the world from Gravity Falls.”

As a blog series, this is meant, on the one hand, very directly, as a way of engaging with a cultural phenomenon that the youth in my circle of influence find very compelling, but it’s also meant to model and encourage Christian cultural exegesis more generally.  After all, the work of cultural exegesis is harder work than simply rejecting or blindly co-opting, but it is, I’d argue, more rewarding, and probably, too, more Christlike.