I’ve been a student of all sorts of things over the years. Most recently, I finished a Ph.D. in theology at the Toronto School of Theology, blending Dallas Willard’s thought on emotion with neuroscientific research on the brain’s processing of emotion and what this means for Christians and for the church. Prior to that, I finished an MA in Spiritual Formation from Talbot School of Theology and The Institute for Spiritual Formation with a thesis on suffering and growth and a design for a 5 week course in a right relationship with pain. I’ve noticed there hasn’t been a lot of call for that course; I can’t imagine why.
Along the way, I’ve also studied and taught mathematics, spirituality, physics, and psychology. I’ve dabbled in art, neurobiology, and astronomy, and various other topics. I still have a love for science documentaries and spiritual formation books alike, but perhaps one of the most important things I have learned is that what is lived is more important than what is learned, and this is crucial when it comes to one’s relationships with God and other people.
I serve on the council for Grafted Life Ministries, a non-profit organization that desires to practically guide churches, small groups, and individual Christians into deeper awareness of God’s relational invitation through small group studies, reflective exercises, and devotional guides. I also at times have mentored people in person as well as via email and Skype. I spent six years teaching high school calculus and physics as well as several years searching for fundraising opportunities, testing satellite circuitry, and managing computer networks. I’m either well rounded or indecisive; I can’t tell which.
In moments between academic reading and writing, I dabble in paper sculpture, gemology, and glass etching; reminisce about the fir trees of the Pacific Northwest; and engage in a love-hate relationship with my laptop. My wife and I live in Southern California where she offers spiritual direction and supervision and leads Pray thru Play retreats both locally and internationally, introducing Christians to use play as a means of interacting with God and others in a safe, joyful environment.
I grew up the second son of a Baptist pastor and learned the church game well, though it wasn’t until I began struggling with depression that I began engaging with God on a personal level. God, through Scripture, seemed to very directly pull me out of my first spell with despair, and what was impersonal knowledge suddenly became real.
God became more real years later when I was shown the destructive potential for sin and how that same sin was present in my own soul. I was not only cut to the heart, but in a panic, not understanding why God hadn’t obliterated me, let alone the rest of humanity. It was then that He said, perhaps audibly, “It’s because I love you.” Until that time, the love of God had been distant and rational – a concept, but not one that affected me in any real way. Since that time, I have become convinced that not just the idea but the acceptance and perhaps experience of His love is the root of all spiritual growth and healthy relationship.
In time, God began the process of opening me further to the sin, fear, and distortion in my heart through my time at Talbot and beyond. This journey was and is at times painful and at times heavenly. The more He reveals to me the sin I carry, the more I am able to offer to Him the parts of myself that I hide, even from myself, and the more this allows me to receive His love, mercy, and grace. A failed engagement brought much of this into sharp focus for a time, along with a three week guided but solitary retreat. Trapsing through the most chaotic portions of yourself, the very portions you work hardest to deny and defend against, is difficult to say the least, but when done wisely in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and with the guidance of skilled friends and teachers, it can bring great freedom and joy in its time.
Since then, I have continued to grow through God’s providence as I have been stretched and challenged and opened up to His love and the reality of the good and bad I carry. He is not finished, and I don’t always appreciate His methods, but I pray I am ever willing to keep moving where He is leading.
My Ph.D. work culminated in my thesis, “An Analysis of Dallas Willard’s Theology of Emotion in Light of Contemporary Neuropsychology”, a look at how Willard understood emotion to work, how it had become distorted and how we abuse it, and God’s plan for its redemption and restoration, integrated with the research of A. and H. Damasio, Jaak Panksepp, and Joseph LeDoux. I’ve also looked significantly at spirituality and spiritual development from the perspective of d’Aquili and Newberg and various relational psychologies and theological perspectives, including Daniel Stern’s interpersonal psychology and attachment theory.
My Masters thesis was specifically a look at the manners in which pain and suffering can help develop different senses of self. I concentrated on the ideas in Daniel Stern’s core self, Louis Dupre’s transcendent self, and true and false selves as characterized by D. W. Winnicott and others. These I explored through the lens of biblical perspectives on suffering and the psychology of post-traumatic growth.