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 V: And Nothing but the Truth

Early on in my ministry as a pastor, one of the things I really struggled with was the idea of spiritual warfare.  This is not because I doubted Peter, when he warns us that our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour; and it’s not because I didn’t take Paul seriously, either, when he insists that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  I’d read the Book of Revelation in all seriousness.  And I’d read The Screwtape Letters with all earnest. 

But I’d also read one too many books by Frank Peretti, and I’d heard one too many episodes of Bob Larson’s Talk Back, to embrace popular evangelical teaching about “Spiritual Warfare” unreflectively.   I’d seen how speculative, fanciful, and demonstrably unbiblical some of this stuff can become; and, indeed, how manipulative and exploitative and controlling.  So I was cautious in how I spoke about spiritual warfare, and hesitant to give it much emphasis in my ministry.

And, then, by God’s grace, I came across the writings of Dr. Neil Anderson, the author of books like The Bondage Breaker and Victory over Darkness.  I don’t embrace his teaching without careful reflection, either, but I believe he’s a got some very godly, very biblical, very wise things to say on the matter, and I know that he’s helped many believers experience deeper levels of spiritual freedom in Christ. 

In The Bondage Breaker in particular, I came across something that shed clear, bright light on what spiritual warfare is really all about, and has radically transformed the way I think about it, and understand it, and approach it in my ministry.  It has to do with the difference between “power” and “truth.”

In the popular imagination, he says, spiritual warfare is a power struggle between some “demonic stronghold” and some outside agent, external to the person in bondage.  But it’s not power that sets the captive free, it’s truth.  “Living in defeat,” he writes, “believers often falsely conclude that they need power, so they look for some religious experience that promise power.  ... But the power of the Christian lies in the truth.  ... In contrast, the power of Satan is in the lie, and once you expose the lie, you break his power” (emphasis mine).

This has been a very clarifying thought for me, and theologically it resonates deeply.  In one sense, Satan is already defeated (Heb 2:14).  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus God has triumphed over him (Col  2:15).  He’s still prowling around, of course, like a roaring lion, but the true Lion of Judah has powerfully crushed his head for us.  Resisting him now is not a power struggle as much as it is a truth struggle: a struggle to appropriate and live out of this truth.

This brings us, at last, to Gravity Falls.  Because, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, whatever else this show is about, it is very much about spiritual warfare.  It’s a secular version of it, of course, one in which all of the lines that Christians would want to draw between good and evil, light and dark, angel and demon, are pretty hazy, but still, the conflict of the show is quite literally a spiritual conflict.  From episode to episode, the Pines twins find themselves confronting no end of spectres and spirits, ghosts and ghouls, most often defeating them with secrets gleaned from that mysterious journal.

There are two characters, in particular, that exemplify this spiritual conflict.  One is a diabolically mischievous “dream demon” named Bill Cipher, and the other a phony child psychic named L’il Gideon.  We'll tackle Bill Cipher in another post; for today I’d like to talk about L’il Gideon, who is, in many ways, an easier first target in our theological analysis of the show.

We first meet L’il Gideon early on in Season 1, when his “Tent of Telepathy” rolls into town and everyone is taken in by his supernatural psychic powers.  Everyone, of course, except Dipper and Mabel Pines.  They will eventually expose him as a fraud, but not before he becomes one of Gravity Fall's central villains, Dipper’s arch-nemesis and Grunkle Stan’s greatest adversary.  As a character, his resemblance to the worst kind of televangelist, complete with flashy suit and perfectly coiffed hair, is a bit too close for comfort, and his show at the “Tent of Telepathy” is more like an old time gospel hour revival meeting than it is like anything else.  Add to this the one-eyed-inverted-star that is his insignia, and the pact he signs with Bill Cipher, and you’ve got the makings for one epic spiritual showdown.

But if there is something spiritual about Dipper and Mabel’s conflict with L’il Gideon, it’s notable to me that it’s not power that eventually defeats him.  They will try all sorts of power-plays to outwit him in the course of Season 1, but it’s not, like I say, power that wins this spiritual battle.  It’s truth.  The truth, namely, that L’il Gideon’s so-called psychic powers are really a sham, and he’s actually been spying on Gravity Falls via thousands of close-circuit tv cameras hidden around town, discovering secrets about people that he can then “discern,” “predict,” or “intuit” in his phoney-baloney psychic act.

The details aren’t especially important.  What is important is that, for all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo that L’il Gideon dabbles in, in the end it’s the truth, quite literally that wins the spiritual battle against him.

There are, like I said, many things about the spiritual conflict in Gravity Falls that Christians, biblicaly, would find difficult to swallow without a big old spoonful of sugar.   And unlike Gravity Falls, a fully biblical understanding of the Truth doesn’t, in the end, lead us to data, or evidence, or facts, or concepts, but to a Living Person, to the Christ, that is, who said he was himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  So there’s probably a lot Alex Hirsch and I would beg to differ on.  But in this one thing, I think, we would agree: that in the end it’s the Truth (not power) that sets us free.



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