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 View of the World from Gravity Falls, Part II: Re-Enchanted Worldview, Where are You?

Last week I started a new series here at terra incognita, intending to give a cultural and/or theological analysis of Gravity Falls, an animated Disney series about the mysterious and the unexplained that my kids really like.  The idea for this series came to me when I started noticing some curious parallels between Gravity Falls, and that other cartoon about the mysterious and unexplained-the one you grew up with. I’m talking, of course, about Scooby Doo.

Just in case you didn’t grow up with it, let me set the scene.  Scooby Doo was an animated series by Hanna-Barbera that originally ran from 1969-1975, with a number of spin-off and follow-up series from '76-'91, and reruns and revivals right up to the present day.

The show followed the mystery-solving misadventures of four teenagers—Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy—along with their talking Great Dane, Scooby Doo.  They drove around in a green van, The Mystery Machine, exposing paranormal activity and solving crimes.   Every episode followed the same basic plot.  The teens stumble across some mystery or other that involves a spooky legend or a supernatural creature, mostly ghosts, vampires, werewolves and the like.  With some careful sleuthing and a few zoinks!-inducing monster-chases, they inevitably discover that the particular paranormal oddity of the week is really just an elaborate hoax, concocted by a local criminal using the ghost-story to cover up his crimes.

Those who grew up with the show will remember the iconic “unmasking scene” at the end of every episode, where the kids finally catch the ghoul in question, and reveal that it was really ... the town mayor, or the local professor, or the museum’s curator, or some other flesh-and-blood character who seemed innocent enough when we met him earlier on in the episode.  He’s subsequently taken off to jail, muttering some variation on “And I would have gotten away with it, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!”

If this little stroll down amnesia lane has triggered any memories for you, let me draw some lines between Scooby Doo then and Gravity Falls now.

There are, of course the obvious parallels.  Both Scooby Doo and Gravity Falls is about four young people sleuthing their way to the bottom of a bunch of paranormal mysteries.  In Scooby Doo they use the Mystery Machine as their base of operations; in Gravity Falls it’s the Mystery Shack, but mystery-solving is the order of the day in both.

Then there are the more subtle parallels.  In Scooby-Doo, comic relief was provided especially by Shaggy, a bungling man-boy with a voracious appetite and a scruffy goatee, who used 1960s teenage slang like “man” and “like.”  In Gravity Falls it’s Soos, a bungling man-boy with a voracious appetite and a scruffy goatee, who uses slang like “dudes” and “totally.”  In Scooby Doo, Daphne was an attractive, red-headed teen, the love interest for Fred (we all assumed, though this was never made explicit); in Gravity Falls, it’s Wendy, an attractive red-head who works at the Mystery Shack and is quite clearly Dipper’s crush.  Velma was the brainiac in Scooby Doo, the one who usually got them to the bottom of every mystery; in Gravity Falls, this role is taken up by Dipper.

These coincidences may all be just that—a coincidence—or it may be that the makers of Gravity Falls were as influenced by Scooby Doo’s antics as I was growing up.  There is, of course, no anthropomorphic dog to parallel Scooby Doo himself, but then, Mabel does have her pet pig Waddles, who achieves a similar comic effect.

I’ll leave more seasoned fans of either show to speculate about these similarities.  What I’m more interested in today—what gets us, actually, closer to the theological meaning of Gravity Falls as a cultural phenomenon—is their differences.

Because despite the parallels, there is one very significant difference between Scooby Doo and Gravity Falls, a difference that helps us put our finger on one of the deep down longings of our post-modern world.  In Scooby Doo, the ghost, ghoul or supernatural oddity in question always turns out to be a flesh-and-blood human being perpetrating an elaborate hoax, with the express purpose of hiding a crime.   Superstitious townsfolk and back-woods hillbillies were always taken in by the ruse, but logical, skeptical Velma and her friends were able to follow the evidence to a natural cause. Science writer Carl Sagan actually praised the show for precisely this narrative format—young people unmasking the superstitions of the older generation, to reveal a manipulative, even criminal puppet master pulling the strings behind the mask.  In so far as it underlined his conviction that all things supernatural must have a rational explanation, he went so far as to suggest that “an adult analogue to Scooby-Doo would be a great public service.”

Theologians have a name for this way of looking at the world—the skeptical assumption that every paranormal odditiy has an altogether normal explanation,  that we’ll get to if we’ll just follow the evidence with enough determination not to be taken in.  They sometimes call it a “disenchanted worldview.”  “Worldview,” because it’s a way of viewing the world.  “Disenchanted,” because it has rationally explained away—unmasked, as it were—things that in earlier eras or other cultures we’d chalk up to enchantment: spirits, ghosts, demons, magic, the supernatural.

In a fascinating blog post on the Scooby Doo cartoons, psychologist Richard Beck interprets the show as a parable for the disenchanted world view of our modern world.  In his words:  “The episodes begin with enchantment, with a supernatural monster ...  But as the kids investigate they get suspicious, reason asserts itself and the monster--the agent of the occult--is eventually revealed to be Mr. Jenkins the greedy banker. The story ends with disenchantment. The supernatural was simply a ‘cover’ for workaday greed, theft and corruption"

If Richard Beck’s on to anything, then you can’t help but notice that some 40 years after Scooby Doo, Gravity Falls has radically reversed the narrative.  The story line of every Gravity Falls episode involves Dipper and his friends tracking down a very real supernatural entity, something or other in the woods that the older generation (those raised on Scooby Doo, presumably) have dismissed as an urban legend, explained away as irrational, or just plain don't know about.  Armed with his enigmatic journal (written by who-knows-who?) and a determination not to be taken in by mere reason, Dipper is able to unmask the supernatural mysteries lurking beneath and behind the everyday, using everyday reason as a guide.

In short: if Scooby Doo was about the disenchantment of the world, Gravity Falls is about the world’s re-enchantment.  The heroes of Gravity Falls explain the supernatural, but they don’t explain it away.

Social theorists tell us that we live in something called the post-modern era, a western cultural epoch where people are less and less satisfied with the logic and reason that characterized the modern era, and are increasingly open to things like mystery, wonder and spirituality.  If this is true, we might hold a popular Disney Show like Gravity Falls up against a 1969 classic like Scooby Doo, as ground-level evidence.

Could that be a deep-down longing for re-enchantment that we’re actually hearing, in all those accolades to Gravity Falls floating around on internet?

Could the popularity of Gravity Falls really be voicing our culture’s profound dissatisfaction with the disenchanted worldview of the modern era?

Maybe, maybe not.  But if it is—even if it might be—then this might be a good place to point it out, that whatever else is true about a Christian Worldview, it is an enchanted worldview, in the very best sense of that term.  Christians believe that the Creator has been, and is now at work in the world in ways that are invisible, mysterious, miraculous, and not necessarily beholden the rules of systematic logic as we perceive them; he makes his angels spirits and his ministers flames of fire; the heavens declare in every speech the glory of the Lord.

There is more going on in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy, Shaggy.

We’d probably have different things to say than the makers of Gravity Falls about how and why this is so, but in this one thing, I think, we’d agree: our contemporary Western worldview would’t suffer from a little re-enchantment, after all; and a little healthy skepticism about our all-too-rational skepticism is probably as good a place as any to start.

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