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 VI: Bill Cipher among the Powers

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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 half 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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