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.

Summer Reruns

As our time in Saskatchewan draws quickly to a close and the move looms large on the horizon, I'll be away from blogging for the next three weeks. For those of you who are new to terra incognita and might appreciate a bit of an introduction to my blog, and for those of you who still check in out of habit and might appreciate something to read when you do, I thought I'd put together this line-up of summer reruns. I'll be back around the third of August, but in the mean-time and in-between-time, here's the best of terra incognita over the last five months of blogging (click on the links to read).




4. Genesis 18:1-15


7. The Transfiguration

8. Worship, culture and eschatology

The Prairie Noah

About ten minutes outside Moose Jaw there's this obscure little museum called the Sukanen Ship Museum. It tells one of the most interesting pioneer stories I've heard in Saskatchewan.

Tom Sukanen was a Finnish sailor/ship-builder who immigrated to Minnesota in 1898. In 1911, he came to Saskatchewan to homestead a land claim, leaving his family behind in Minnesota and making the 600 mile trek by foot with all his belongings on his back. He filed a homestead near the town of Birsay.

Over six feet tall and weighing some 280 pounds, Tom was a man of almost legendary strength (he once clean-and-jerked the axle and wheels of a car at a town fair), infinite resourcefulness (he once knitted a suit out of bailer twine) and amazing inventiveness (he once designed and built his own threshing machine).

After the farm was well established, Tom walked back to Minnesota to retrieve his family and bring them out to Saskatchewan. When he arrived, however, he discovered that his wife had died in a flu epidemic and the state had adopted out his children to foster families. Twice the authorities apprehended him trying to bring his son into Canada, and when they finally threatened him with jail-time, Tom was forced to return to Saskatchewan alone.

And here's where the story gets almost surreal.

Dejected and isolated on his farm, Tom became obsessed with the idea of building a boat and returning to Finland. His plan was to follow local waterways to the Saskatchewan River, follow it to Hudson Bay (he'd already made this trip once by rowboat) and from there sail home to Finland. As large shipments of steel and sheet metal were delivered out to his farm, and as he completely abandoned his farming to work on his land-locked ship-building project, Tom became something of a curiosity among the gossips and scoffers of Birsay. Days they could hear his hammer pounding tirelessly, nights they could see the glow of his forge, as he built the steel hull and shaped the boiler for his ship.

From the Museum's description of the boat:

Tom's plan was to build the ship in three sections. The keel and hull would be water tight and could be floated on some very shallow water. The cabins could be loaded onto a large raft, along with other odds and ends. This raft would be powered with a motor and rudder, and by towing the keel and hull, he could catch the high water of the Saskatchewan River.... He planned to reach the deep water mouth of the Nelson River and then on to the Hudson Bay. There he would quickly have the various parts assembled and the steam engine and boiler installed.

Tom worked through the Great Depression on this unlikely project, forging and shaping the metal boiler, smokestack, pulleys and gears, all by hand. His status among the locals was upgraded from curiosity to eccentric and eventually to "That Crazy Finn," as he poured all his energy and resources into his strange obsession. When asked, "Why are you building a ship on the prairie?" he would reply with a stone-set face, "There's a great flood coming and I want to be ready to sail out of it home to Finland."

By 1940, Tom had finished his ship, but after a local farmer refused to tow the finished sections to the water, and after vandals looted and stripped the boat one night, and after townspeople began petitioning the RCMP to remove him from the area because his "junk" was a hazard, he had to abandon his dream a broken man. In the end, Tom was institutionalized in a North Battleford hospital, where he eventually died (April 3, 1943). His last words to a friend were: "Don't ever let that ship go. Don't let them tear it down."

But the ship lay derelict and nearly forgotten for almost thirty years. Much of it was wrecked by vandals and pillaged by scavengers, but the bulk of the remains were hidden on a farm in Whitebear, SK. In 1972, a Pioneer Village Museum outside Moose Jaw purchased and restored the ship, raising it as a monument to the indefatigable spirit that pioneers like Tom Sukanen brought with them to the often merciless Saskatchewan prairie.

This story has held a special place in my imagination ever since I first heard it. Something about Tom's dream to build an ocean going vessel in the heart of the prairies has always seemed distinctly Saskatchewanesque to me. It's that spirit of outlandish vision and bold resourcefulness and even a certain kind of creative restlessness that I've grown to love and am sure to miss about this place.

The Eyes and Ears of Saskatchewan

I only discovered him a couple of months ago, but Ken Dalgarno has become one of my favorite contemporary artists. Think Van Gogh meets Group of Seven meets Saskatchewan. His paintings have an almost startling vividness. And then the texture of them: you can almost feel the prairie wind against your ears.






There's also Yvette Moore. Sometimes her work is a little too linear for me, but at her best she has a patient, loving eye for detail and a careful hand. I read somewhere that before someone can learn to paint, they must first learn to see-- and this can take a life time. Yvette Moore is an artist who has, indeed, seen the prairies.

These two are my favorite Yvette Moores, both historic details from Moose Jaw. They're both unlike much of her work, but I find them strangely compelling. Subtle and evocative.



And while I'm noting Saskatchewan artists, I should mention one of my favorite Saskatchewan bands, The Northern Pikes. Their 1990 album Snow in June still echoes in my head once in a while, especially "Am I in Your Way." I used to sing the chorus of "Love These Hands" (hit play below) to my kids while I rocked them to sleep:

It's My Happy Place

Another thing I've grown to love about Saskatchewan is Corner Gas. One of our family traditions is the Corner Gas party, where we pop a big bowl of corn and hunker down together to laugh our faces off over three or four episodes for an evening.

Now, I realize (from the "thanks-but-no-thanks" expressions that sometimes greet my recommendations of the show) that Corner Gas is a bit of an acquired taste. But, what with it being filmed only 30 minutes down the road from us, and what with the very good chance that you might actually catch a glimpse of someone you know appearing as an extra, it was kind of hard not to be a fan. And the writing, really, was brilliant: lots of subtle word-plays and wry wit, mixed in with bizarre hyperbole and corny situational comedy. Corner Gas has added a whole repertoire of one-liners and disarming rejoinders to our family dialogue (though we've talked pretty carefully with our kids about the J-word).

But I don't think these were the things that finally cinched me as a fan: it was the way the show so effortlessly evoked a sense of place. There were times I was almost sure I could have turned off the TV and just walked out on my front porch to watch the rest of the episode. Scenes in Phil's bar, I could have sworn that if I took a deep enough inhale, I could smell the stale smoke and sour beer on the air. And I'm sure I've been in the cafe that inspired the Ruby, and a half-dozen others like it between Edmonton and Regina.

And, of course, the light. Sometimes the show so overflowed with Saskatchewan light that you were tempted to wonder if you left the curtains open.

Every place has, I think, a certain ethos, a texture you learn when you linger long enough. You don't know what it is, but you know when you're touching it-- when it's brushed against your face unexpectedly, or across your heart. In so many ways, Corner Gas evokes the texture of Saskatchewan that my time lingering here has taught me to appreciate.


Nothing to Block the View

So begins our final week in Saskatchewan. Spent the day packing boxes and waxing reflective on what I'll miss about this place. High on that list, no doubt, would have to be the living skies. Anyone who says there's nothing to see in Saskatchewan never looked up. By turns gilded, azure, silver, slate-grey, dappled, polished, cloud-brindled, wind-dancing, storm-scowling, bird-stippled, lowering, vaulted, blushing, sombre, crystalline, and blue, the Saskatchewan sky dominates my experience of the land in a way I'd expect the sea dominates the experience of many maritimers.

The perpetually changing constant.

My wife likes to take pictures of the prairie sky. From her collection, I've put together this "eight thousand word" photo essay on the beauty of Saskatchewan. In Saskatchewan, it's not so hard to take Isaiah at his word: when the Lord created the world, he indeed stretched out the heavens.