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 IV: Jesus and the Participatory Fandom

Last week, Alex Hirsch, the creative mind behind the Gravity Falls series, did an AMA on Reddit in the persona of Bill Cipher.

I wouldn’t have even known what sentence meant a year ago, let alone the significance of the event, except that I have three kids at home I can consult to keep from being a total internet ignoramus. 

Reddit is a social media site that allows users to post content to categories of interest (known as “subreddits”), and vote other users’ submissions “up” or “down,” determining their position in the feed (in any given subreddit, more popular posts appear higher and less popular posts appear lower).  An AMA (Ask Me Anything) is a subreddit—a special interest page—where users can invite and answer questions from other reddit users about, well, anything.  Astronaut Chris Haddfield has done an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, as have Madonna, Woody Harelson, David Copperfield, Al Gore, Bill Gates, and, like I say, Alex Hirsh, the creator of Gravity Falls.

Piqued curiosity can be settled in one fell swoop by visiting the sureddit in question, here.  

Alex Hirsch has done AMAs on Reddit before, but in this particular AMA he answered the “anythings” he was asked in the persona of Bill Cipher, the arch-villain of the Gravity Falls series, whose true nature, identity, background and motives have generated no end of speculation on the internet.   The uninitiated can find out more about Bill over at the Gravity Falls Wiki (see here), along with a virtual Encyclopedia Britannica’s worth of info on the Gravity Falls universe.  For those in the know, an AMA with Bill Cipher was a pretty big deal, inasmuch as he ostensibly gave away all sorts of clues about what’s to come on future episodes, and generally added gasoline to the bonfire of theories blazing about Gravity Falls.  You can see one enthusiastic reviewer’s analysis of the event here, on one of the many Youtube channels devoted (in both senses of that word) to the show:



And if this hasn’t yet satisfied your curiosity about all things Gravity Falls, you can also visit the show’s official YouTube channel, “The Mystery of Gravity Falls.”  Or you could browse the veritable library’s worth of fan fiction—amateur short fiction written by fans, cast with characters and set in the universe of the show—over at https://www.fanfiction.net/cartoon/Gravity-Falls/.  Of course, if you’re really old school, you can check out the Gravity Falls Facebook wall, or simply visit one of the thousands of fan blogs about the show (of which, I suppose, this blog is one).

But don’t do any of that until I make my point here.  Because I’m not just trying to be an internet tour guide for all things Gravity Falls today, I’m trying to draw attention to a fascinating, and, I think, important cultural shift that occurred sometime between my childhood and the childhood of my kids.

When I was a kid, being a fan of something was, primarily, an act of reception.  That is to say, you received, passively, if enthusiastically whatever it was, the object of your fanaticism: the show, the movie, the book, the comic or what have you.  To be sure, there were ways to engage actively as a fan back then—you could play at being Spider-man, for instance, or purchase books about the Star Wars movies, let’s say; you could buy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys or argue with your friends over who’d win in a fight between Vader and Spock—but all this active engagement happened externally to the creative sphere of the thing in question.  It was engagement, but it wasn't creative participation

This is the crucial difference, and the reason I’m blogging about it today.  Because whatever else the glut of internet access points to the universe of Gravity Falls signifies, I think it points out how being a fan of something in the internet age is much more a participatory act than it has ever been before.  A fan-hosted YouTube channel attempting to decipher all the mysteries of Gravity Falls, fan-produced fiction expanding the world of the show, fan-edited wikis, an AMA on Reddit—these things are more than simply active engagement.  Inasmuch as they exist in and contribute to the same sphere of influence that the show itself inhabits (namely, the World Wide Inter-Web), they are, in fact, a kind of creative participation in the Gravity Falls Story.

If this cultural shift in what it means to be “a fan” of something—from active engagement with to creative participation in—is making sense to you, then let me wonder out loud if the up-and-coming generation, my kids’ generation, that is, aren't being conditioned to evaluate things—stories, ideas, concepts,  Truth—based not simply on rational criteria, or even on intuitive “gut-level” reactions, but on the degree to which they allow creative participation in the story telling, the idea generating, the conceptualizing, and so on.  While staunch modernists may balk at such a slippery statement, let me put it like this:  I wonder if, for “kids these days,” those things are “truest” which offer us something we can collaboratively participate in, rather than simply accept, receive, assent to or consume.

That was genuine wondering.  I’m not sure if this is how the up-and-coming generation will, in fact, make epistemological evaluations.  I have my hunches, but they’re just that: hunches. 

But even on the basis of a hunch, let me offer two inter-locking points as we continue our theological analysis of Gravity Falls.  First: in the modern era, much hay was made out of the deeply rational co-inherence of the Christian Faith—it is, in fact, a very satisfying way of looking at the world, logically speaking.  And in the post-modern era, much was made of its aesthetic qualities—it is a lovely story to live by.  But in the era of the social network—the era that gave us Gravity Falls, and the kids who enjoy it—in this era, what will shine especially is Christianity’s participatory nature.

The Christian Faith is not just a Truth we are invited to accept or assent to, or consume.  It is a Living Story we are invited collaboratively to participate in: to find our lives by losing them in this beautiful, compelling, logical, but especially collaborative life with the Creator.

And even on the chance that I might be on to something here, let me offer the second point.  Ministries that seek genuinely to introduce young people to Jesus—the kids of the kids of the boomers—kids like my son and daughters, that is—kids of the as-yet unnamed post-postmodern era—will do well to find ways to show them and remind them, and convince them, that Christianity is not just a truth to be believed, it is a Story to be lived.

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