Pilgrimage – Steve Bell

February, 2015 Interview with Composer, Performer Steve Bell

Len: 25 years is a good career — and doing something you love! Along the way there have been plans — and surprises. Tell us about a few of the surprises.

Steve: I’m surprised to be doing this at all. The chances of a folksy, devotionally minded singer/songwriter from the Canadian prairies sustaining a long-term career in this field is fairly remote. But I’ve managed to find good people to work with me; people with different skill sets and intuition than mine who have contributed enormously to the success of this work. I’ve been very fortunate that way.

There have been more specific surprises: I didn’t expect to see as much of the world as I have (India, Philippines, Thailand, Poland, Bulgaria, Ireland, Ethiopia, Egypt…), or to experience a war zone (Israel / Palestine during the second Intifada, 2004). I never once thought I’d be given the opportunity to perform with symphony orchestras across Canada. I never thought I’d put out the volume of work that I have.

It’s all been a surprise really. Growing up, I assumed I’d be a high-school band teacher. I formally studied trumpet in my teens. Guitar playing and song writing were hobbies I never imagined would blossom into anything significant. (more…)

shrove Tuesday

I had the strongest inclination to make pancakes for lunch yesterday — but didn’t get to it. Only later did I find out it was Shrove Tuesday, which means today is Ash Wednesday. (The idea of ‘ashes to go’ is kind of appealing!)

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, and the beginning, for many, of a fast of repentance. But also strongly connected to this day is the other kind of fast — Isa. 58 — to divide our bread with the hungry. The Isaiah chapter strongly echoes Jesus words that announce his ministry in Luke 4. The good news is about God’s kingdom of shalom come to earth — so good news especially for the poor! In the presence of the king there is peace. And of course, peace is not possible apart from justice! Therefore wherever the king’s people are, justice and care for the poor should be a common practice. .

But mostly we have expected secular agencies to take that role. We outsource justice and mercy, even as we offer other goods and services for the religious club. But “these things should not be!” And coincidentally, an acquaintance of ours was injured on the job over the weekend, so that’s an opportunity for us to step in with some meals and some care. It’s a leg injury, so I’ll pick him up this afternoon and get him to the doctor’s office, as well as making sure he has enough food in his small apartment.

It’s an appropriate way to spend my time on this Ash Wednesday. We started the day with pancakes, but we’ll finish by making sure one of God’s precious sons is not lacking what he needs.

For more on justice, and how righteousness in biblical terms is restored relationship not just a legal status before God, see this excerpt from Fitch, The Great Giveaway.

ex machina

coverI’m still working my way through the collection edited by James McGrath, “Religion and Science-Fiction” (Wipf & Stock, 2011. Earlier post HERE). It’s striking how many movies are opening up the question of what it is to be human — I’m thinking in this past year of Transcendence and Lucy and Her, and now of the coming British film Ex Machina.

In previous years there have been other great entries in this exploration, including I, Robot (based on one of Asimov’s volumes), and of course we can’t miss Star Trek the Next Generation’s Data. If we subscribe to Phyllis Tickle’s axiom, then every five hundred years or so the most fundamental questions are explored again, and given the prominence of worry in the media lately as to the dangers of AI, it’s cool that we have movies that help us seriously address these issues.

It all began with Alan Turing in some ways — as seen in The Imitation Game (a great film I recommend!). The Turing Test is the subject of Ex Machina.

McGrath’s own chapter in the Wipf & Stock book happens to be, “Robots, Rights and Religion.” Would the church accept such beings into its membership? Would we allow them sacraments? Would they take faith seriously? Could androids learn to pray? What would it mean to create non-human beings “in our image?” Is that a contradiction in terms? Fascinating questions to explore. I confess I have gradually been forming a personality in my mind that would appear in Volume II of Dominion. I don’t have a name or gender for the character yet, but it would help me push some of the questions more personally, as well as offering a great foil in the ongoing plot.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

– david wagoner

capitalism and place

“History is [now] found materialized in varying spatial arrangements; history becomes a matter of how space comes to be organized. Space, in short, is now understood both as the product of social processes and as an influence upon them. Capitalism, for example, is not simply temporalizing — always revolutionizing the production process, dooming to obsolescence, and chasing the new. It is also a force for ever new spatial configurations — pushing the people out of settled agrarian existence, concentrating populations and production sites, connecting disparate regions of the world (raw materials becoming inputs for far-off production; products then shipped away for consumption elsewhere), creating and feeding off of divisions between town and country, city and suburb, developed an undeveloped regions of the world. As such a social .. product, space .. has always been a political process… The social production of space, therefore calls for an interpretive geography — a hermeneutics of suspicion…”

Kathryn Tanner, ed. Spirit in the Cities, x-xi

lead from the future

Scot McKnight comments on Simply Good News (Wright):

“If your eschatology gets skewed, your present follows along. Or, as NT Wright puts it, ‘Wrong future, wrong present.’”

We only lead truly when we lead with a memory of the future. Huh? How is that possible?

Because the future has already been given to us, and shown to us. We know where it ends: a new heaven and a new earth. Moreover, we live in the reality of that future today because the kingdom has come and is coming. And we have been given a foretaste of the coming kingdom in the present power of the Spirit.

Memories of the future keep us on track in the present. This is why anamnesis, the participation at the table in the life of the present-future body of Christ, is so important. We remember who we are by entering into the mystery of the broken and shalom body, the presence of the future kingdom.