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.

The Second Shortest Verse in the Bible

A little Bible trivia for you today. Contrary to what you might have learned at Bible Camp, John 11:35 ("Jesus wept") is not the shortest verse of the Bible. Not quite, anyway.

In the original Greek, John 11:35 clocks in at a whopping 16 letters (εδακρυσεν ο Ιησους), while 1 Thessalonians 5:16 ("Rejoice continually") is a mere 14 letters (παντοτε χαιρετε).

If five years of Seminary hadn't so thoroughly conditioned me to be wary of making theological mountains out of exegetical molehills like this, I'd be tempted to wonder out loud over the fact that the two most succinct words the Bible has to speak are so seemingly contradictory.

Rejoice continually.

But Jesus wept.

I'd be tempted to reiterate something I've said before about "true contradictions" in the Bible.

Rejoice continually.

And Jesus wept.

I'd be tempted to say something about how these two contradictory words frame a paradox that pulses (or should pulse) at the heart of genuine Christian community: We are a people called to rejoice continually; But our founder and leader and Lord wept.

I'd be tempted to say something about Churches I've seen where one of these two brief words was allowed to drown out the other: Churches rejoicing so continually that they couldn't hear Jesus weeping in their midst, and wouldn't have known what to do if they did; or Churches so intent on hearing his tears that they'd forgotten his call to rejoice, and might not know what to do if they remembered.

Rejoice continually; Jesus wept.

I might even be tempted to make outrageous and entirely unsubstantiate-able speculations about the weight of the irony here: that the verse we remember as the most concise- "Jesus wept"- actually has a more concise word underlying it- "Rejoice continually." And maybe wonder about how our joy must fundamentally depend on those tears; how those tears were for our joy; how our joy must be mingled with those tears, because those tears alone make possible a deeper joy.

Rejoice continually. Jesus wept.

Then again, maybe sometimes the exegetical molehill is the theological mountain.

Rodos, or Where have all the Salmon gone?

The other day I heard a report about the disastrous failure of this summer's sockeye salmon run in BC. In what is being described as an ecological catastrophe, more than 9 million sockeye failed to return to their spawning grounds on the Fraser River this July.

For what they're worth, I've shared some words before about how followers of Jesus might let their faith inform their response to ecological isues like these. For what they're worth. Our words alone won't recreate 9 million sockeye salmon ex nihilio. (Though my faith assures me that there's One whose Word can. Come Lord Jesus, come.)


How do 9 million fish simply vanish? No one really knows, though all the usual suspects- water contamination, global warming, human encroachment- are standing in the police line up.


But I think I've seen the perpetrator. I can point it out.

It was about 12 years ago. My wife and I were backpacking through Europe and we were waiting for a ferry in Rodos, Greece. While we waited I watched these two guys fish a squid out of the water kind of kick it back and forth between them. For no particular reason. A game. Bored. And bored, they wandered off leaving the squid drying out to die in the sun.

Human indiffence.

It was one of those weird (in the Anglo-Saxon sense) moments that somehow sear themselves into your imagination. A glimpse behind the veil of the every-day at the ache deep down in things that we're a part of. Years later I wrote this poem about that day. Thinking today about 9 million fish gone without a trace, I thought I'd post it here.


For what it's worth.


Rodos


And shining in our innocence we strolled among
That ancient Grecian heat and down
Along the chalky crusade walls that glower
Spiked and shaded on the greasy water
Of the bay at Rodos Town:

Saw wide-eyed tourists, fresh from yesterday
The ebony Santorini slopes, tomorrow then
Onto that monumental monastery,
At John of Patmos' prison--
Today they tumble groggy from the ferry:

Along the antique walls they wander,
Cameras shutter through the shaded labyrinth
Of ivied green and purple flowers,
Narrow cobbled streets and arching bowers
Snapping blushing postcard scenes of plunder.


I watch two night-eyed Grecians laughing
Plunge their hands into the greasy slick--
Still laughing fling from bay to cobbles,
A bulbous, rock-hued squid whose bubbles
Clear to black with fearful ink grow thick:

Vain clots of tar spread oozing
Fearful from the flitting gills--
In sport they nudge it through the dust, till loosing
Interest, leave it wheezing liquid spouts of night
To find another victim of their choosing:

The puddle of its dying flowing
Black across the cobbles from the blinking gills--
While winking camera eyes intent on seeing
Orange sunsets blushing the Aegean
Miss a gasping squid beneath their going.


And yet one lonely white clad tourist stops,
The eye of Helios, that ancient heat
Bright on his pristine shirt, he fingering
A hat in nervous hands, reaches lingering
Towards the dying squid beneath his feet:

A furtive glance along the pier,
His shiny, sunburned head dips down--
Oblivious the crowds rush on to leer
About the ancient sights at Rodos Town --
He plucks it from the stones with nervous fear:

And he: precarious between his thumb
And index finger hangs the squid, its ink
Like tears of oil shining through the air--
His squeamish arm extended, flings it where
The tender water lulls its death to numb.


And yet a stain of ink is left, a greasy blot--
Of spreading night, of human brutishness--
A dark and creeping stain of ink unseen--

Not over cobbles, dust or dirt
Alone but on the very stony knot
Of greed, indifference and hurt
That is our coursing heart-- a stain of brokenness
No single act compassionate could scour clean.

The Teacher's Tale (A lost chapter from Chaucer...)

In a comment to my previous post, my friend Jon wondered out loud about how "commedians have such an ability to preach at times. " It reminded me of this little skeleton in my closet: my most woefully failed attempt to use comedy to make a pedagogical point.

A High School English class I was subbing for was studying Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and in his absence, the teacher had left a film production of the Pardoner's Tale for them to view. I dutifully dusted off the two-decades layer of dust from the jacket and popped it into the VCR.

Remember those rickety old English-teacher documentaries they used to make you watch, where some BBC narrator flat-lines his way through a description of "Merry Olde England," while details of stained glass windows and tapestries from the period pan across the screen?

This made those look like Oscar material.

When the film ended and the lights went on, there was more glaze in the eyes of the crowd than there is behind the counter of any Tim Horton's in the country. One student managed a pathetic "Mr. Harris-- that was awful--" otherwise, the apathy was underwhelming.

And the injustice of it all hit me: that these students should go home today thinking that Geoffry Chaucer-- merry olde Chaucer-- Geoffry "father of English poetry" Chaucer-- that Chaucer's boring? If English Lit was religion it would be blasphemy of the worst kind.

My mind raced back to my Chaucer days in university and returned with the one tale from the Canterbury Tales I vaguely remembered. "Chaucer told some better ones than that," I volunteered. "If you want, I'll tell you one you might find funny..."

They accepted my fateful offer, and I started telling them the Miller's Tale.

Now, for those of you who know the Miller's Tale, let me say this in my defense: it had been about 10 years since I'd read it, and I'd truly forgotten how.. err.. risqué... it was (pardon my French). For those who don't know the Miller's Tale, let me say this: part way through the telling, I heard this strange voice explaining to a room full of 16-and-17-year-olds how "hende Nicholas" tricked John the carpenter into spending the night in a barrel on his roof, so that Nicholas could spend the night with John's wife Alison--

And I realized the voice was mine.

Chagrin crept up my spine as I explained how Absolon happened to come to Alison's window that same night to confess his love for her and ask for a kiss-And with it crept this niggling thought: "I should have thought this through before I started..."

Suddenly, to my great relief, the bell rang. But before the chagrin could drain out of me, I realized that no one had bolted for the door and freedom, like they usually do at the bell. They sat where they were. They wanted to know how the story ended.

Nor would they accept my feeble attempts to turn it into a teachable moment: "Oops, there's the bell... guess you'll just have to read it for yourself..." (Which you'll have to do.)

They were prepared to wait as long as I could.

So, swallowing great gulps of mortification, that strange voice told the tale to the end: how "nicholas is scalded in the towte," till the "tale was doon, God save al the rowte!"

There was some laughter, but more astonishment (not least of all mine): did the teacher really just tell that story in school? No one went home that day thinking Chaucer is boring; but I went home wishing with all my heart I could call a mulligan on that attempt to bring English Lit to life.

The Fine Art of Listening

I've been thinking a bit about about this comedy routine by Brian Regan I saw a couple of months ago.

Funny and incisive.

True.



In his book Humiliation of the Word, Jaques Ellul suggests that it's only through the concrete act of listening (as opposed to merely seeing) that humans find themselves situated in the universe of truth, for "nothing beside language can establish the order of truth." In this sense, listening-- real active, receptive listening--is one of the most spiritually profound acts we can do.

Spiritually profound, and entirely counter-intuitive.

More intuitive is the impatient waiting for the other's lips to stop moving. "You? ME! See the difference?" Because to listen-- to listen well-- means assuming an entirely receptive posture, a posture of not-knowing, of genuine curiosity and generosity and self-awareness-- it means refusing to use others' stories as merely means to our own ends.

All of this, again, is counter intuitive; but it's there, in this risky openness to the other, that we find ourselves "truthing one another," as St. Paul put it for the Ephesians. And in that truthing, I think, there is the potential for real healing and spiritual growth together as Christian community.

All Things New

And pondering Christian restlessness, I was reminded of this video I made for a New Years Eve service in our church a couple of years ago. The text is adapted from a liturgical reading I found in a book I got for 25 cents at a used book sale (on my short list for the Best 25 Cents I Ever Spent award). Looking back now, it feels a bit contrived to me, but at the time it said something I thought was really important about the tension we must maintain between the old and the new; and still there's some poignant words in there: "Let us rejoice in the power of Christ to rereate our humanity, to give us a new status before God, to bring forth powers we never suspected within ourselves and to redeem us from the drag of the past." But it also turns around and prays for his power to save us from seeking what is novel.



Still treading water in a sea of newness (though the shore is getting closer), I'm wondering all over again about what our Rabbi meant when he said: Behold, I make all things new.

On Fixed and Floating Land

A month or so ago I was sitting on a quiet patio in the cool of the evening in small town Saskatchewan, talking with some friends about the ebb and flow of the Christian life. We were talking about things like finishing our studies, and our search for new ministry contexts, and friends going to distant parts of the world, and moves, and change, and newness, and this thought suddenly struck me that I'm still mulling over.

There's a kind of holy restlessness, it seems, pulsing at the heart of Christian communities.

I tried to put it into words then, and the best I could get at was that image of a "holy restlessness." Our God is a missionary God. He's a sending God. A Father who's constantly seeking; a Son who keeps making things new; a Spirit who blows wherever he wills. And this God, holy and restless, is constantly on the move, constantly sending, seeking, renewing and sending again.

I think that as Christian communities, we'll know we're really beating with the rhythm of this God's heart, because we'll find in our midst the same kind of holy restlessness: an impulse to send, and seek, and renew, and send again. An impulse that moves us to laugh with each other all the more richly, to weep with each other all the more deeply, to embrace each other all the more warmly, because we don't know when or how the sending God might send us out once again.

The tendency, of course, is rootedness. Cain wandered east and built a city; Noah was so named in the hope that he might give the harried Sons of Adam rest; Lot pitched his tent in the plain outside Sodom and settled down there.

But Abraham-- and the seed of Abraham in him-- answered God's call to become an alien and stranger in the world. Abraham, the patriarch of Faith, embraced a life of holy restlessness.

Perhaps one of the most vivid descriptions I've ever read of this is in C. S. Lewis' science fiction novel, Voyage to Venus. Lewis portrays the planet Venus as a world entirely untouched by death, inhabited by a sinless King and Queen. Aside from small spots of 'Fixed Land,' the entire surface of this perfect world is covered by ocean. The extraterrestrial Adam and Eve of this new Eden inhabit 'floating Islands' that drift wholly at the mercy of the waves. The Queen explains to Dr. Ransom, the hero of the novel, that God has forbidden them to dwell on the Fixed Lands: “We may land on them and walk on them. . . . But not stay there—not sleep there…"

As the story unfolds, a diabolical villain tempts this Eve to taste the forbidden fruit of living on the Fixed Land, arguing, “This law stands between you and settled life, all command of your own days." But after the temptation has been resisted and the evil overcome, Eve realizes the true grace of the law. In a passage that has always rung hauntingly profound for me, she explains: “The reason for not living on the Fixed Land is plain. … Why should I desire the Fixed except to make sure—to be able on one day to command where I should be the next and what should happen to me? It isto reject the wave—to take my hands out of God’s, to say to Him, ‘Not thus but thus’—to put in our own power what times should roll towards us.”


Well, these things are on my mind a lot these days, perhaps for obvious reasons. But I think it's a lesson God is calling me to learn all over again: what does it mean to choose to live on the floating island of His will? What does it mean to refuse the alluring self-determination of the Fixed Land?

What does it mean to embrace the holy restlessness of the Christian life?

Where You Hang Your Hat

So: one month, 2741 km, one u-haul with auto transport, 4 jumbo rolls of Saran Wrap, 8 rolls of packing tape, 3 weeks of unpacking and (what feels like) 232 beaurocratic forms later, we're safely settled in Oshawa. As much as you can be after this kind of major life upheaval, we're ready to begin a new chapter, in a new city, in a new province with a new ministry, new church, new neighbours, new home.

As I look back over the last month, with all its crises, decisions, challenges and adventures, it strikes me that moving is one of those rare life-events that really test your spiritual, physical and mental mettle all at once. You get a unique, cringing glimpse of your own character when you're standing at the pay phone for hours on end in a lonely truck stop in Nowhere-ville Northern Ontario, with all your worldly goods loaded into a 1600 cubic foot transport van behind you, with your children wandering the parking lot listlessly, while you try as calmly as you can to arrange some last minute mortgage details that somehow fell through the cracks-- minor details without which you may not have a home waiting for you when you arrive in Oshawa.

For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath to begin exploring some new terra incognita with me, let me assure you that I intend to have my blog up to cruising speed again starting next week. But today, still thinking about the character-refining spirituality of moving and all, I'm mulling over some of the Bible verses that seemed to take on new layers of significance during the last month. Without further comment, here's a few that have been running through my heart over the course of this adventure-- a little "U-Haul meets lectio divina" for you:

Matthew 8:19-20: A scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

1 Peter 2:11: Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

Leviticus 14:48-53 (don't ask): If the priest comes to examine [the house] and the mildew has not spread after the house has been plastered, he shall pronounce the house clean, because the mildew is gone. To purify the house he is to take two birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop. He shall kill one of the birds over fresh water in a clay pot. Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them in the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times ... Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields outside the town. In this way he will make atonement for the house and it will be clean.

Mark 10:29-31:
Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.