There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.

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.


Jon Coutts said...

dawn treader and nephew. my two favs as well. just finished reading magician's nephew to my oldest and i doubt he enjoyed it more than i.

i can't WAIT for dawn treader.