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

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

random reads

A View of the World from Gravity Falls, Part VI: Bill Cipher among the Powers

In a previous post, I shared some observations about the true nature of spiritual warfare—namely that it has to do with truth, not power—and then I suggested some ways in which Lil’ Gideon, one of the central villains in the Gravity Falls series, exemplifies this particular struggle.  In that post, I suggested that this was only half the story, however, and that the other half—the other main villain in Gravity Falls, and also the other main aspect of spiritual warfare—would have to wait until another post. 

As our final installment in this series, today’s post will have to serve as that other post; but before we get into it—what a bizarre “dream demon” named Bill Cipher, Dipper and Mabel’s arch-nemesis and Gravity Falls resident evil, has to do with spiritual warfare as the Bible understands it—before tackling him, that is, it might help to spend some time talking about something the Bible refers to as “the powers and the principalities.”

Almost like the triangle-framed eyes that dot the landscape of Gravity Falls, once you become aware of them, you’ll start to notice the “powers and principalities” all over the place in the New Testament.  They are especially prominent in Paul’s writings.  In Romans 8:38, for instance, Paul expresses his deep-down conviction that “neither angels nor demons ... nor any powers” could separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  In Ephesians 1:20, Paul envisions Christ enthroned “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.”  In Ephesians 3:10, Paul says that God’s plan was to display his wisdom, through Christ, to the powers and principalities.  In Colossians 2:15, he says that through the cross of Christ, God has disarmed and triumphed over the powers and principalities.

I could go on, but the point is, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament writers with him, seems pretty convinced that a) there is something spiritual about the systems of power and authority that we see in the world, a spiritual dimension to them that isn't immediately obvious to us but is very influential; and b) that through Christ, God has exposed, unmasked, disarmed, defeated and in all other ways overcome the Powers.

A number of contemporary theologians have spent a fair bit of time trying to understand what the New Testament is really talking about when it talks about “the powers and principalities” like this.  I’d suggest you read guys like Hendrik Berkhof, Walter Wink, William Stringfellow or Richard Beck if you’re curious.  For today, let me just say that, whatever else it means, this talk about "the Powers" is a way of describing the “invisible structures” or the “inner reality” of human life together.  As a theological category, “the powers” refer to the spiritual dimension that is inherent in any human effort to order society, from political and economic institutions, to cultural or religious ones to technological ones.   All such “organizations” of human society are, of course, useful and necessary; but they are also inevitably “spiritual,” and, owing to the fallenness of human nature itself, inevitably fallen.  In their fallenness, the powers exert unintended, often unrecognized spiritual influence over us, behaving, in Henrdik Berkhof’s words, “as though they were the ultimate ground of being and demanding from [people] an appropriate worship."  

We might point to the cult of Roman Emperor worship for an ancient example of “the Powers.”   We might point to the psychological impact of advertising media for a modern example; we might point the influence of the internet on our social interactions for a technological one; and we might point to the inexorable power of the global economy for a economic one.  In each of these examples, it is easy to see how very mundane, necessary, everyday things can indeed take on a life of their own, and begin to exert an influence over human beings that transcends any one individual person (anything that’s “too big to fail” is surely a “power” in the biblical sense).

If this isn’t making any sense to you, maybe think about that novel Lord of the Flies from your High School days, and reflect for a few minutes on how quickly the efforts of those castaway boys to order and maintain their society start to “possess them” in ways that none of the boys would have chosen on their own.  That’s about as good a picture of “the powers” at work as anything I’ve come across. 

But if it is making sense, let me turn your attention towards Gravity Fall’s central villain, Bill Cipher.

Bill is, as I mentioned before, a “dream demon.”  That is, he inhabits a spiritual dimension parallel to, but also inaccessible to ours, and is only able to affect our reality when someone conjures him and/or opens themselves to him, as Gideon does in Episode 1.19, or as Dipper does in Episode 2.4. 

Of course, Bill’s nature as a spirit-being is not in dispute.  What is disputed—hotly disputed in some corners of the world-wide-web—is who he actually is.  I've heard a number of theories, the most “out-there” of which is that he’s actually the spirit of Dipper himself, come from the future to haunt the past.

I don’t buy that one, but I do have a theory of my own.  It rests on the following facts: a) that Bill bears an uncanny likeness to the “all-seeing-eye” that can be found, among other places, on the back of the American Dollar Bill; b) that his name is actually a none-too-subtle reference to this very symbol—he is, in fact, the “bill cipher”; c) that in one episode he offers some off-hand advice to “buy gold,” and has been known to make other allusions to stuff straight out of the worst conspiracy theories; and d) that his triangle-framed eye symbol can be seen all over the place in Gravity Falls, when you start looking for it.

Who is Bill Cipher?

What if he was a quirky Disney Show’s stab at the very same thing the Bible is talking about when it talks about “the powers and principalities”: the “inner reality” or “spiritual dimension” that is a very real and inevitable part of human social institutions?  As the “bill cipher,” Bill is evocative of, if not directly symbolic of, the spiritual dimension that is inherent in our economic systems—the way the “Almighty Dollar” exerts an influence over us so pervasive that we could almost call it spiritual.  (And just in case this seems too far out there, let me point out that one of the show’s regular themes is the corrupt lengths Stan’s prepared to go to, and the whoppers he’s prepared to tell, in service of the Almighty Dollar.)

To be clear, I am not saying that Alex Hirsch had any of Paul’s writings about “The Powers” in mind when he sketched a pyramid with a single eye in it and made that the arch-villain of Gravity Falls.  I’m only suggesting that whatever Bill represents in this show, it’s the same stuff that the Bible would use the term “Powers and Principalities” to describe.

And if it’s true, then let me suggest that the Bible takes our struggle with the Powers and Principalities as seriously as Dipper and Mabel take their struggle with Bill Cipher.  More seriously, in fact.  

Our battle is not against flesh and blood, Paul said, but against the powers and principalities in the heavenly realms (cf. Eph 6:12).  Whether or not Bill is really one of “the Powers” in the biblical sense, “The Powers” themselves are very real, and for Christians the struggle to live free from them—the struggle, that is, not to put the Powers and Principalities at the centre of life, the struggle not to offer them free sway over our ambitions, motives and decisions, the struggle to submit them to the Lordship of Christ—is very real, too.

And who knows, but maybe the story of a couple of kids fighting a fiend like Bill Cipher, armed simply with their love for each other and a good book, maybe that's as good an analogy for our struggle against the Powers as any you'll find in an animated kids show.


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