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.

Polishing Up My Proverbs 16 Crown of Glory, Part II: (North) American Idol

There are, of course, a number of ways to define an “idol.” Anything that becomes the object of our religious adoration, some might say, is an idol. Anything that we “use” as a way of trying to coerce, manipulate, persuade or otherwise control the divine, others might say, is an idol. So is, possibly, that thing for which we are ultimately living (assuming, of course, that we’re not ultimately living for the True and Living God), be it wealth, leisure, nation, success or what have you.

These are all helpful definitions, and one could make a biblical case for each of them. But I heard a theologian on the radio a few months ago who suggested that an idol is any object we turn to and trust in as a source of power. While it isn’t the only thing an idol is, this definition, too, finds biblical precedence. Just read the Book of Revelation, which is, among other things, an exposé on the idolatrous nature of the power structures of the Roman Empire, and you'll get a glimpse of this dynamic at work.

People worship idols because they believe, falsely, that the things these idols represent will give them power. Or, put differently, people worship idols because the things they represent give them a certain kind of power. Either way, idolatry is about making the appropriate sacrifices and offering the appropriate worship to some thing, in order to secure power.

This aspect of idolatry is helpful to bear in mind as we try to sketch out, in broad strokes, a theology of aging. Because, if the cultural trends and spending habits of North American society are any indication, Youth is one of the great idols of our time.

In 2011, for instance, Americans spent somewhere around $80 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) dollars on anti-aging products and procedures. Something like $2.2 billion dollars was spent on anti-aging skin creams and lotions, and billions more on anti-aging drugs and hormone therapies. $330 million was spent on colouring grey hair, alone. The biggest bucks, however, went to age-masking cosmetic surgery procedures. One website I visited claimed that over $10 billion worth of cosmetic procedures were performed in 2011, including: five million Botox injections, over one million chemical facials and hundreds of thousands of face lifts.

Analysts project that this year, in 2015, Americans will spend over $114 billion dollars to hide, reverse or slow the effects of aging.

And don’t get me started on Hollywood. While everywhere else in our culture, the saying goes, “40 is the new 30,” in Hollywood it's “30 is the new 40.” According to this article, the average age of male Oscar winners has been steadily dropping, from 51 in the eighties, to 47 in the nineties, to 45 in the 2000s. At the same time, the average career-length of most actors has been steadily contracting. Few actors starting out these days expect to see much work past their 40s. It’s worst for women: according to one study, a Hollywood actress’ salary, on a per-movie basis, begins to decline rapidly after they reach the age of 34.

I could go on, and talk about the trend of marketing toys—not metaphorical toys, but real, actual children’s playthings—to adults who are still “kids at heart.”  Or I could talk about how that very expression “kid at heart,” conveys the image in our popular mythology of someone who has tapped into some deep spring of spiritual wisdom. I could go on, like I say, but I’m starting to sound like a curmudgeon.

It doesn’t take much work to connect all these dots and realize that we are a youth-obsessed culture. With only a bit more work, however, we might see how idolatrous this obsession actually is. One of the reasons we obsess with youth, I think, is because we associate it with a superficial kind of power. To be young (we believe) is to be energetic, virile, beautiful, innovative, creative, spontaneous, adventurous. And one of the reasons we deny, avoid or combat aging is because, whatever else it means, we believe (falsely, I'd argue) that aging means losing these things: our energy, our virility, our creativity, our beauty. Not to sound too melodramatic, but the god of “Youth” promises to help us retain all these things, so long, of course, as we make the appropriate sacrifices and offer him due worship.

If Youth is one of the idols of our time, or even if it’s just a cultural obsession but hasn’t quite hit the level of full on idolatry yet, either way, it’s important to note that the Bible does not share our culture’s unqualified enthusiasm for all things young. Let me be clear. I am not saying that the Bible doesn’t value youth or cherish children (Matthew 18:5-7, anyone?).  I am only saying that the Bible does not see young-ness as a source of power the way our culture seems to; or at least the Bible does not place a premium on the kinds of power that come, in particular, from being young.

A few verses here will sketch out the general picture. In Proverbs 16:31, for instance, it’s gray hair that is one’s crown of splendor (and by metonomy, an old life well lived). Leviticus 19:32 instructs the people to “stand in the presence of the elderly.” In 1 Kings 12:9, the worst indictment it has for King Rehoboam is that he ignored the counsel of his elders and followed, instead, the advice of the young men he grew up with. The Psalmists beseeches God not to remember, in particular, the sins of his youth. And in Isaiah 3:4, one of the worst consequences predicted for the apostate nation is that they will become a people governed by children.

This is a subtle but crucial difference between a Biblical worldview and our modern contemporary worldview, when it comes to aging. In terms of human character, modern North American culture places a premium on those things that come with youth, be it the playfulness or the energy or the novelty. In contrast, the Bible tends to place a premium on those things that come with age: the wisdom, the experience, the steadfastness.

To put it poetically, in a biblical world-view, the human heart is more like a bottle of fine wine than it is like the latest ipod gadget. It does not grow obsolete, rather invaluable, with age: more complex in personality and more refined in character.

At least it should become these things.  Biblically, we might say, aging was meant to be one of those processes whereby God refines the character, deepens our relationship with him, and enriches the community of his people.  But—and this is the point I really want to make to day—in order for it to be this kind of a process for us, it will mean dismantling the altars we've built to that fickle god called Youth.

In preparation for this series, I read a book called Healthy Aging, on the science and physiology of growing old, by a highly respected gerontologist named Dr. Andrew Weil.  Dr. Weil offers an extensive analysis of the modern anti-aging movement and its pseduo-scientific, or at least, semi-scientific quest for a fountain of youth.  He strongly advises us to guard our wallets from anyone who claims to have found one.

But then Dr. Weil offers this very wise medical advice when it comes to growing old.  The first step towards healthy aging, he says, is not to take a hormone supplement or apply a skin cream or undergo some medical procedure or other.  The first step, actually, towards enjoying physical, mental and emotional health well into our senior years, is to embrace—not just to accept but to embrace—aging as an altogether natural, even welcome part of human life.  (And if you're part of a community that sees aging the same way, that doesn't hurt none, either.)

Dr. Weil acknowledges how counter-cultural this position it, but he offers a good deal of evidence to back it up: generally speaking, people who embrace aging enjoy greater longevity and better health in their longevity, than those who don't.

Dr. Weil's a doctor, not a pastor, of course, so he doesn't also acknowledge how profoundly biblical this position is, but let me do so here.  Whatever theological implications there are to the Bible's perspective on old age, it turns out that when it tells us to open our eyes and see how beautiful and deep and wise and insightful people can become as they grow old, it's telling us for our own good.

<< back   -  next >>

0 comments: