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.

Standing on the God-Trodden Mountain

There's a monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai called St. Catherine's (its official name is "The Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai"). My Father-in-Law was vacationing in Egypt not long ago and as we were perusing his post-trip photos, this picture of a painting at St. Catherine's caught my eye.

Though I didn't know it until just then, this is exactly the scene I would have expected to see illustrated in a Christian monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai: The Mount of Transfiguration. As I stared at the photo, both the Mount of Transfiguration and Mt Sinai stood out with new clarity on the horizon of my imagination.

I don't think evangelicals really know what to do with the Transfiguration. Our doctrine of inerrancy assures us that it happened, jot-and-tittle the way it's reported; but beyond that, what it means is anyone's guess. The only sermon I can ever remember having heard about the Transfiguration focused more on the actions of Peter than Jesus.

But here's some beef-jerky for thought to chew on: besides the Mount of Transfiguration, I can only think of one other holy hill where the feet of both Elijah and Moses have walked. That's Sinai. Moses hid in the cleft of a rock and saw the back of the Lord's glory as he passed; Elijah hid in a cave as the Lord passed by with the sound of crushed silence. Moses met the Lord on Sinai and later brought the newly-created people of God there so God could cut his covenant with them. And later still, Elijah met the Lord on Sinai after he had fled there, complaining (wrongly) that the covenant had failed.

Covenant and theophany: Sinai is that sacred and imperial mountain where the Lord himself once trod in glory to establish and affirm His promise to his despondent people.

But centuries later, three men walked with Jesus up a different mountain. There, squinting suddenly in the light of his transfigured glory, they found themselves standing on a new God-trodden mountain. And wonder of wonders: history removed her veil, mysterious past kissed hopeful future, heaven caressed earth for a breathtaking moment--and the two men of faith who had once come within touching distance of the glory of the Lord on Sinai now stepped into the present and spoke with him face to face.

"They spoke" says Luke, "About his departure which was about to bring fulfillment at Jerusalem." But the Greek word Luke uses for "departure" is not the word we'd expect (like maybe aperchomai); he actually says, "They spoke to him about his exodus." Of course, exodus literally means "going out," but Luke has used a weighted word here, one that points his readers back to the Exodus and Sinai, even as it points them ahead to the cross-crowned hill outside Jerusalem.

Somehow, in the Transfigured Jesus we discover the one who will bring all the God-glimpsing and promise-making of Sinai to their final fulfillment.

So perhaps nothing could be more fitting for an illustration at the foot of Mt. Sinai than this painting, pointing us away from Sinai to the unnamed mountain of transfiguration. For the transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that it is no longer on Sinai, sacred as it is, that we encounter the Glory of the Lord; it is no longer to this mountain that the people of God look for the reminder of the divine covenant that binds them together.

Or any mountain, for that matter.

It is in Jesus. Because in the presence of his broken body and poured out blood we discover ourselves a covenant people once more, catching glimmers of the glory of the Lord. And whenever his nail-pierced feet stand in the midst of the people gathered together in his name, that ground becomes a God-trodden mountain all over again.

The (Lego) Man in Black

When I was in university I joined the fencing club for a semester. Fencing was an absolute blast; I've heard it described as "chess at 100 miles per hour', a description my own experience would bear out. I often think that whenever life settles down again I might try to get back into it .

But I remember my fencing instructor once raving about the fencing scene from The Princess Bride. He claimed it was the greatest fencing sequence in all of movie-dom. I'm not sure how to evaluate this claim, but fine fencing footage or not, it truly is a classic: the "I'm only waiting around to kill you," the civilized discussion of "Benniti's defense," the "I'm not left handed" revelation. Brilliant. One of my all time favorite scenes.

Anyways, this is all just prolegomena for today's feature at terra incognita: another stop-motion lego movie from my son (see other installments here and here). The other day he called me to his studio (i.e. his bedroom) for a sneak peak at his latest project. He'd created a lego model of the ruin atop the cliffs of insanity and was preparing to shoot a reenactment of the classic scene. As a huge fan of both the movie and this particular lego-director, I waited with bated breath for the release, which I am now proud to present.

Now, before we begin: Anybody want a peanut? As you wish.


A Valedictory Address

Yesterday I had the honour of giving the Valedictorian's address at my graduation ceremony for Briercrest Seminary. Still thinking back over the day, I thought I'd post my talk here. You can click below for a recording of me giving the address.

Seminary Valedictory Address, 2009

President Uglem, Chairman Werner, faculty, staff, honoured guests, family, friends, and fellow students: Today hours of reading and writing and talking and thinking about the things of God comes to its culmination in this—this day of celebrating God’s good work in our lives.

And I’m thinking about spiritual gifts.

I actually opened mine last week: It was a nice wooden cross that my family gave me for graduation, inscribed with the words: “I am the resurrection and the life."

A nice gift, very spiritual.

But I’m thinking about spiritual gifts in the biblical sense, too. Because today’s about celebration, and like every celebration, there’s going to be a lot of giving. People giving degrees. People giving recognition for achievement. People giving words of congratulation and challenge.

So maybe it’s fitting for us to pause in the midst of all this giving to reflect a moment on God’s gifts. Every good and perfect gift, after all, comes from him.

In the book of Ephesians, Saint Paul reminds us that in Christ, God has given his church all the spiritual gifts they need so that the body of Christ might be built up. “It was he,” says Paul, “Who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.”

This verse is probably familiar to many of us.

And if you’re at all like me, you grew up with the impression that the gifts Paul’s talking about here—the spiritual gifts—are the abilities required to do the different tasks he’s listed. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered at some point: “Is my spiritual gift evangelism? Or teaching? Or preaching? Or what?”

But one day I was reading Ephesians 4:11 and it hit me like a new-washed window pane on the noggin of a spring sparrow: Paul’s not talking about the skills here. He’s talking about the people. Paul says: “God gave his church apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors.”

He gave people.

People who would go on his missions, speak his messages, join in his ministry in the world.

Not the skills or the talents or the abilities, but the people are the gifts.

Graduating class of 2009, you- we- all of us- we are spiritual gifts. And today God is giving us again to his church.

In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Noewen says that one of the best pictures you can ever get of the Christian life is at the Lord’s Table, at the Eucharist, the communion meal. Because just like the communion bread is the body of Christ, taken and blessed by the celebrant and then broken so it can be given to nourish all who partake, so too the Christian: in the life of faith we are the body of Christ, taken by God, and deeply blessed, then broken so we can be given to others.

Taken, blessed, broken, given.

As we reflect today on what it means to be a spiritual gift, I’d like to invite you to ponder that image with me a moment.

Because men and women of faith, we are part of the body of Christ. And only a few years ago, we were taken. Taken from thriving careers, maybe, or burdened ministries, or safe homes and families, we were taken, and brought to this prairie landscape to be shaped for Christian leadership. And here we really were blessed and broken. Blessed with loving friends and rich community, supportive mentors and faithful instructors who spoke the challenge of God’s word into our lives.

But we were broken, too. And not just those of you who slugged your way through Greek Exegesis II; we were all broken. In those times of loneliness or doubt—when that one right book, or right lecture, or right research assignment at the right time forced us to ask that one question of God we most feared to ask—when God gently embraced us, saying, “I don’t want pat answers or rote responses or easy-believism”-- we were broken.

But today we acknowledge that all this happened so that we might be given.

Remember called-out Abraham? Remember wrestling Jacob? Remember Gethsemane? And Golgatha?
The taking and blessing and breaking is always only so that God might give. And today God is gifting his church again.

He’s giving her people with hearts burning to see Jesus make hurting youth whole. He’s giving her people with ears open to help others find healing through biblical counseling. He’s giving her people with eyes open wide to see reconciliation take root where there is discord and false peace in her midst. He’s giving her people with minds keen for painstaking academic research, to challenge her to think and love more deeply.

He’s giving her men and women shaped and humbled for lives of service.

Fellow grads, family, friends, instructors, brothers and sisters in Christ: as we celebrate today, amid all the giving, may we hear God remind us that we, too, are being given. May he show us what it means to be spiritual gifts.

Amen.

Musing Art and Faith

The other day I was driving along, half-listening to the radio when this girl with a fragile voice started singing a melancholy tune about her confusing love affair with some guy named Art. And I thought: "Sweet melody, but the girl-chases-boy thing's been done before."

But by the time the second chorus came around, I was listening a bit closer, and it slowly dawned on me: She's not singing to Art-short-for-Arthur; she's singing to art itself. This is music for the muse:

Art, O Art I want you
Art, you make it pretty hard not to
And my heart is trying hard here to follow you
But I can't always tell if I ought to

And as I listened, the words fell around me like familiar rain. I'd sung this song before. Not the tune, of course, or even the lyrics, but the question. I want to do art, but I how can I tell if I ought to? This is a question my heart used to sing a lot.

For me, the uncertainty came from some vague notion I picked in the ditches of my faith-journey, that you couldn't be a Christian and an artist; it was an either-or. Somehow, growing up evangelical left me with the pretty strong impression that art was only acceptable in the church if it asked you blandly to ask Jesus into your heart when it was through with you. No ambiguous questions about ugliness or beauty, please, just solve the problem with a simple sinner's prayer. (Franky Schaeffer refers colorfully to this kind of evangelical "art" as "theological sloganeering".) In one of my more maudlin moments some ten years ago, I put it like this in an old journal: "Because something (God did you put it there? Is it sin to listen?) inside me sings of the beauty and truth of creation, and because something even deeper longs to capture, reflect and join the beauty and truth of creation, I am a poet .... I stare at the word on the page, and am flooded with questions impossible to answer: can I be a poet & serve God?"

By God's grace I happened to read a number of books that helped me answer that question with an honest and hopeful "yes." Among these were Madeline L'Engle's (insightful) Walking on Water, which suggests that all true art is Christian art, since Jesus himself is "the Truth"; and Franky Schaeffer's (sometimes bitter) Addicted to Mediocrity, which calls evangelicals to rediscover the church's rich tradition of art-making.

By God's further grace, I also meet a wise mentor who encouraged me to see my artistic passions as a calling and gift from God. He helped me believe that there really was an important role for the artist in the Christian community. He also allowed me do art in a way that served the Christian community (like the artwork I designed for the chapel space pictured above).

But I'm convinced there are other men and women besides me asking the same confusing question that the girl on the radio was singing to her lover Art: is there any place anywhere for this artistic passion of mine? And as she sang that afternoon, I started to imagine all over again: what would it be like if the community of Jesus' people sought out these wondering artists to tell them, "That place is here among us." What would it be like if Jesus' people embraced the artists in their midst without asking them merely to do some theological sloganeering for them?

What would it be like if Christians affirmed the truest work of the artists among them with the heart of Jesus, who affirms all things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable?


From the Paintbrushes of Babes

They say that, contrary to popular belief, the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was not inspired by the psychedelic drug with the same initials. Rather, John Lennon's son came home from nursery school one day with a crayon drawing of a girl in his class. When asked about it he said: "It's Lucy-- in the sky with diamonds." And rock history was born.

When she was in kindergarten, my daughter brought home some inspiring artwork of her own: a painting of a flower garden with one giant rose rising above the others, and the words "I Live God" painted across the sky. She thought she was writing "I Love God," but she got the spelling wrong.

It hasn't inspired any monumental, era-defining rock songs (yet) but her "I Live God" (tempera on newsprint) hangs in a place of prominence in our home. And whenever I see it, it gives me pause. A serendipitous orthographic error, I think, because this enigmatic phrase, "I live God," innocently expresses something mysteriously profound about the Christian life, and about incarnation, and about what "loving God" really looks like.

In his book Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it like this: one of the colossal obstacles that stands in our way as we seek to experience the reality of God is the idea that there are two conflicting spheres, "the one divine, holy, supernatural and Christian, the other worldly, profane, natural and un-Christian." He argues that this idea of "two spheres" is in profound contradiction to Biblical faith: "There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world."

A child's painting and a theologian's lofty ruminations. Both confront me with the truth that in Jesus, God has really revealed himself as Emmanuel, "God with us." In Jesus, the Creator has at last pitched his tent in the mire of our dust and clay, and staked his reconciling claim on the most broken, man-forsaken corners of our secular lives.

When I think about what makes Christian spirituality really Christian, I often think of "I live God." Because authentic Christian spirituality-- spirituality that takes the birth of Jesus as its starting place-- is convinced that life is no longer divided by sacred/secular, spirit/matter dualities. Rather our whole lives-- work and family and commerce as much as prayer and praise and preaching-- is lived in the transforming presence of God. There is no room at the stable for dualism-- nor at the cross, nor in the empty tomb. And when we discover that Jesus really is "God-with-us" in all aspects of our lives, we discover we can say "I live God" in a way that's more than just a spelling mistake.

Postcards from a Ministry Quest (4)

Variations on the question "What are some of the significant thinkers/writiers/books that have influenced your ministry?" are pretty common on the candidate interview front. I find these hard questions to answer because there are so many writers and books that have impacted me for ministry, narrowing them down is a bit of a challenge. Here's a question I answered a few months ago, though there might have been other names on the list.

Question: What three authors/thinkers have most guided and directed your thinking?

My answer: N. T. Wright (The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Simply Christian, etc.); James Torrance (Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace); Francis Schaeffer (How should We Then Live, He Is There and He is Not Silent, etc.)

Postcards from a Ministry Quest (3)

When I graduated from the U of A with a teaching degree, the "philosophy of teaching" got a lot of press. Having a personal statement that summarized a well defined set of principles and convictions about the task of teaching, it was thought, was essential to a teacher's effectiveness and personal integrity.

My sense was that most philosophies of teaching I heard were just patchwork quilts of catch-phrases about good teaching, hobbled together with some high-sounding idealism. Very few really said anything that specific about the heart of the individual teacher. (My own philosophy of teaching, by the way, is: "I believe that students should be challenged, encouraged and equipped to engage the world around them for positive change, through creative, interdisciplinary teaching methods, in a classroom setting that emphasizes community, collaborative learning and diverse learning styles.")

Anyways, I was intrigued when one of the pastoral questionnaires I filled out not long ago asked me this question:

What is your philosophy of ministry?

Here's what I answered:

I believe that as a pastor I am called to use my gifts as a teacher, preacher and leader to point others to the revelation of God's grace and faithfulness in Jesus Christ, and to fully participate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the redemptive work that Christ is accomplising in my community and in the lives of those around me.

Top Ten Books of My Childhood

In his autobiography Wordstruck, Robert MacNeil talks with great fondness about the books that permeated his mind and saturated his heart as a child, books that taught him to savor rich, carefully chosen and well placed words as a grown man. C. S. Lewis, too, remembers his childhood as one simply overflowing with books. With them, I'm convinced that the stuff we read as kids sinks deep, anchoring our adult hearts in mysterious and formative ways.

As I've been reflecting a bit lately on the power of words, I thought I'd share my list of the Top Ten Books from My Childhood (from no particular era).

10. The Swiss Family Robinson.
Johann David Wyss.
I went through a phase where I was quite taken with the shipwrecked on a desert island motif. I read a few of these kind of books, but none of them were quite as compelling to my imagination as the Swiss Family Robinson (I also tried Robinson Crusoe, but didn't make it past about chapter 3).

9. The Magician's Nephew.
C. S. Lewis.
A friend of mine recently called C. S. Lewis the "evangelical patron saint of the imagination." Nice. I could probably fill up 70% of my list with the Narnia books alone, but the Magician's Nephew was the first one I read, and easily one of my favorites in the series. There is a certain texture and light to this story that sets it apart from the others, I think. More mythic, more antique, more archetypal. My Dad introduced me to Narnia, and Narnia in turn introduced me to the fascinating worlds of Greek and Norse mythology.

8. The Coral Island.
R. M. Ballantyne.
Another of my Dad's recommendations. I really only remember one scene from the book, but I remember it vividly: some cannibals execute their captives by lying them down along the beach and running their huge dug-out canoes over them. Ballantyne describes in graphic detail the victims eyes bugging out of their heads as the weight crushes them. I was intrigued to discover much later, when teaching high school English, that The Coral Island was the book William Golding was satirizing when he started the novel that would eventual evolve into the masterpiece, The Lord of the Flies.

7. The Hobbit.
J. R. R. Tolkien.
Between the two of them, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis spawned a lot of imaginary countries in my childhood. The floor of my room was often strewn with huge maps of made-up worlds, with mountain ridges that looked suspiciously like the misty mountains, and castles with names only a few phonemes off of "Cair Paravel." I had whole notebooks filled with my own versions of Middle Earth or Narnia. I read The Hobbit to my own kids a while back and I was amazed that as a 10-year-old boy I ever got through those long descriptive passages-- Tolkien spends almost ten pages just describing the desolation of Smaug.

6. I Want to Go Home.
Gordon Korman.
I wasn't a huge Gordon Korman fan, but this is a hilarious book. I loved Rudy Miller. I loved that he hated all sports and excelled nonchalantly at them all. I loved the whole "escape from summer camp" theme. This was the first book I ever read that had me genuinely laughing out loud; it gave me a real taste for funny writing.

5. Who, What, When, Where Book About the Bible.
Published by David C. Cook, the Sunday School curriculum people, this was a book of Bible trivia, word games, "did-you-know" stories and last-minute-Sunday-School-activities. It was my primary reading material whenever I stayed home from school sick, and I have vivid memories sitting in bed with an "emergency pail" at my side and flipping through this book over and over again. Could be where my love for biblical esoterica started.

4. The Everything Book.
I have no idea where this book came from, but it was an anthology of craft, game, and activity ideas for kids. At age five or six, I would pour over it, mind racing with imaginative possibilities. Looking at it today, the ideas are pretty simple-- make a "tent" out of a blanket draped over a table is one-- but the illustrations make them look so exotic and antique. The only activity I remember actually doing in this book was a (rather disappointing) homemade paste recipe.

3. Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
Thornton Burgess.
Thornton Burgess' Green Forest books were probably the first chapter books I read to myself. I had a bunch of them in the series, and spent a fair bit of time keeping lists of all the different animals that lived in Burgess' world, drawing maps of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows, and listing the books in the series I hadn't yet read. Chatterer was the first Green Forest book I got, and, since it is probably one of the best, will have to stand in for all the rest.

2. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

C. S. Lewis.
Okay, Lewis gets to entries. This is, in my opinion, the best Narnia book, hands down. Everything about it sparkles. I remember finishing it for the first time and just holding it in my hand and staring at the cover for a while. I felt like the dazzling light of the sea at the end of the world was shining in my own eyes.

1. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.
Howard Pyle.
The sign-out card in my school library's copy of Howard Pyle's Robin Hood had only my name on it. About fifteen times in a row. There are a number of different versions of the Robin Hood legend, but Howard Pyle's complete, unabridged and illustrated version is by far the classic. Written in "Thee-and-Thou" English, with lots of ballads and poems and fascinating characters, this book absolutely enthralled me as a young boy. It was the first book that I shed genuine, and, in retrospect, grown-up tears over.

Postcards from a Ministry Quest (2)

Here's another question from a candidate questionnaire I filled out a few months ago that I found interesting and enjoyable to answer.

Question: Describe your ideal order of service.

My answer: An ideal order of service will have a "revelation/response" pattern: a strong emphasis on God's revelation at the start (reading of Scripture, songs with more "revelatory" content, congregational prayer/sharing times, etc) leading up to the ministry of the Word (teaching/preaching time), followed by an opportunity for meaningful and authentic response (prayer times, songs with more "responsive"/personal content, communion, etc.). An ideal order of service will also emphasize participation, encourage intergenerational worship, and maintain a balance between individual and corporate elements.

Postcards from a Ministry Quest

A big part of my life these days is taken up with the process asking, seeking and knocking for God to show me where he wants me serving as a pastor after seminary. Besides various phone interviews, conference calls and meetings with church leaders over the last six months, I've filled out quite a few "pastoral questionnaires" asking me all sorts of things about my views on ministry and leadership. The journey so far has been a good heart-check for me.

In the interest of promoting a bit of healthy dialogue, I thought it might be interesting to post some of the more challenging or thought-provoking questions I've come across, with the answers I gave. I'd welcome your own thoughts on these questions.

Anyways, here's the first:

Question: What would be your three signposts of a healthy church?

My Answer: A) Deep engagement with the Word-- people are enthusiastic about the word of God and come to it together a lot, expecting to hear Christ speak; B) Spirit-and-truth worship-- people are authentic and engaged in their corporate expressions of worship; C) Relational engagement with neighbours-- people are naturally and actively involved in the live of the non-Christians around them, not just when the church programs a "seeker event."

An Hysterical Etymology

"Hysteria" comes only a few entries after "hysterectomy" in my dictionary. No mere linguistic coincidence, this. Both words have the same root: from the Greek, hystera, the womb.

Apparently the word "hysterical" comes from the not-too-old fashioned assumption that the womb was a source of weakness, inconstancy and instability in women. Having a womb, it was supposed, made one naturally prone to hysteria; such irrational outbursts and emotional breakdowns were just the inevitable result of the woman's hystera.

Now I've been present at the birth of all three of my children. And I can say with some conviction that, far from being a source of hysteria, the hystera is a source of mysterious strength and emotional endurance. In those three hospital rooms, I watched a woman centred and strong and determined push life out into this world.

No one was hysterical.

But one of the things we're convinced of here at terra incognita is that words always matter. They reflect our realities, but they also shape them. They show us how we see the world, but they also determine how we see the world. And this small word, this "hysteria"-- this flotsam of an androcentric patriarchy-- is no exception. There really was a time in our not-so-distant past when having a womb was considered a liability. An inferiority, really. Made you crazy, if you must know.

I've been sharing some random thoughts on gender and the Faith these days (here, here and here). My deep hope is that as we come to Jesus again and again asking him these kinds of questions, he will faithfully help us see what it really means to be made male and female in the image of God. He'll help us see what it really means to relate as biblical men and women.

But as he does, he will inevitably ask us to name and confess and repent of the barriers to seeing we've erected in our pride, our traditions, our guilt, our suspicion of the other. The kind of exclusive language game that a word like "hysteria" represents, is, I'm convinced, one of those barriers.

May Jesus give his sibling-disciples the courage to see such language games for what they are. And may he give us the courage to repent of the ways our words have driven us apart as men and women, instead of binding us together as the children of God.

Windhovering with Gerard Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins has this wonderful gem of a sonnet called "The Windhover." The first time I read it I thought: here's a poet after my own heart. The gist of it is the poet glimpses a falcon soaring off in the distance one morning, and sees in its beauty and freedom an analogy for Christ. That's the gist, but the poem is as much about the aural experience as the cerebral: read it with the ear.


The Windhover
for Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the reign of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,-- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-break embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Speaking of aural experiences, about two years ago I was plunking away at a chord progression on my guitar with "The Windhover" floating on the horizon of my mind. Here's the song that eventually emerged out of this musical conversation with Hopkins (click here to listen).

Mary, Martha and the Good Share

Last night before we went to bed, my wife told me about this news article. It describes the recent "family law" that Afghanistan's president has reportedly approved for the Shia minority in his country. Apparently the law will, among other things, make it illegal for Shia women to refuse to have sex with their husbands, have custody of their children, or leave the house without permission. Canadians have expressed astonishment and outrage at the possibility that all our risk and expense and sacrifice in Afghanistan might unwittingly result in this kind of government-sanctioned women's-rights abuse.

Canadians are asking "was this what we were fighting for?"

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon is seeking clarification from Afghan cabinet minsters.

And I'm thinking of Mary and Martha.

Do you have a flannel-graph vision of this story haunting your childhood, too? Jesus visits two sisters. As the practical-minded Martha makes busy in the kitchen, preparing the meal, the spiritually-minded Mary sits at the Lord's feet, hearing his word. Finally fed up with doing the housework alone, Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to give her a hand. But he gently affirms Mary's choice: she has chosen "that good part which shall not be taken away from her."

If you're like me, you grew up with the impression that the point here was to contrast Martha's hustle and bustle with Mary's serene contemplation. "We need to learn to have a contemplative, Mary-spirit in a bustling, Martha-world."

Not long ago I read an article by N. T. Wright that sheds some pretty piercing light on what the "better share" that Mary chose might really have been. Wright points out that the obvious and scandalous thing here for a first-century reader (and, perhaps, a reader in places like Afghanistan today), is that rather than keeping to the back rooms with the other women, Mary is sitting at the Rabbi's feet in the male part of the house. He suggests that this is the source of Martha's indignation. Mary has cut clean across one of the most basic social conventions. To help you feel the scandal of what Mary has done, Wright asks you to imagine you'd invited him to stay the weekend at your house and, as it got around bedtime, he went and set up a camp-bed in your bedroom. In Mary's culture, there are certain places a woman just did not go. And sitting at the feet of a rabbi--the place where you trained to be a rabbi yourself-- was emphatically one of those places.

Martha isn't just asking for Mary to lend a helping hand. Mary has quite brazenly flouted a socially-coded gender role, by seeking a place as a rabbi-in-training under the Master. Martha is asking Jesus to put Mary back in the place where, as a woman, culture says she "belongs."

She's asking Jesus to ratify her society's gender code. And this is exactly what Jesus will not do: Mary has chosen the "good share" of the work, and it won't be taken from her.

Wow.

In calling Mary's choice "the good share," Jesus has spoken good news for the men and women of Afghanistan. And for the men and women of Canada, too. Because Jesus refuses to rubber-stamp a gender code that functions simply to keep women "in their place." Instead he invites them to find their place, discovering what it really means to be a "biblical" woman, sitting together with biblical men, in training at his gracious feet.