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

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.


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