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.

Programming and Fatherhood

When I was a boy, the closest thing we had to the world wide inter-web was The Rainbow, a monthly computer magazine for our TRS-80 Color Computer 3 (a.k.a the Co Co 3). The Rainbow published the printed code for a variety programs and applications, which you "downloaded" into your machine by typing them out, line by painstaking line. Hours (sometimes days) later, you'd finally run the program, hoping beyond hope that you hadn't made an error in the transfer from print to screen...and inevitably you had, and inevitably you'd spend hours (sometimes days) going back through it again, line by painstaking line, looking for the proverbial "needle of error" in the proverbial "haystack of code."

But at 14, I loved my Co Co 3.

Pardon the maudlin moment of nostalgia here, but I logged untold hours on this little 128K wonder (yes, that's a "K," as in kilobyte. That was it: 128 of 'em. And you had to save your programs using cassette tape. Those were the days). Some of those untold hours were spent entering code from the pages of The Rainbow Magazine, but more of them were spent working on code of my own.

I programmed exclusively in the Co Co 3's Extended Basic language, and, though I did develop a clunky-but-working word processor that I used to type up homework assignments, my primary interests were in the far less practical field of Game Development. I tried my hand at writing just about anything playable I could think of: text-based adventure games, first-person maze exploration games, shoot-em-up arcade-style games, Tolkien-inspired role playing games, weird versions of chess, flight simulators and battleship-type strategy games. And I learned first-hand about things like algorithms and symbolic logic and applied algebra, and Cartesian geometry and matrices and multi-dimensional arrays and animation and visual story telling and literary narrative devices and graphic design and systematic problem solving and who knows what else as I did so.

I even submitted one of my programs to The Rainbow. It was a game called "Karate," where two stickmen squared off in a joy-stick-controlled melee to the bitter death. The game was actually accepted and printed (I think they paid me $25.00 for it), and almost a full year later I got a letter from some 14-year-old boy somewhere who had typed it in, line by painstaking line, and was now wondering if I could help him figure out where the needle of error was in his haystack of code...

I was reminiscing about my Co Co 3 the other day because my son's been working lately with some game development software called Game-Maker that he downloaded from the internet . As I've watched him become impressively proficient with Game Maker's drag-and-drop interface, programming his own versions of pong, and dodge ball and shoot 'em up arcade style platform games, I've been thinking a lot about apples falling close to trees and chips off old blocks and stuff like that.

After my son had taught me the basics, I thought for old time's sake I'd try my hand at programming a game, which brings me at last to the point of today's post. Because part way into the project, I hit this wall where I wanted the little man to follow a path and slash at the bad guy with a sword, but it just wouldn't do it. I tried everything I could think of, but the little man just wouldn't follow the path.

And in a moment of desperation I called out to my son, who was playing Wii in the basement: "Son! I need you."

"What is it Dad?"

"I can't make the little man follow the path..."

"Be right there." He thumped confidently up the stairs. Looked for about 30 seconds at my code. Found the needle. A few clicks as he explained in patient tones what I'd done wrong, and suddenly the man followed the path as faithfully as a prize winning terrier graduating from obedience school.

And as he went back to the basement and his Wii, having helped his Dad in his moment of need, I thought back to that day when the issue of The Rainbow hit the shelves with my karate game in it, and my Dad took me down to the local Radio Shack and bought every issue in the store. And I thought about how he told the clerk as he paid that his son had a program published in that issue. I'd looked away shyly, but deep down inside I stood up a bit taller, because here was this man that I most admired in the whole world telling a stranger: my son has what it takes.

I wonder if this isn't one of the richest gifts a father can give his son: to call on him in a moment of need, to turn to him for help, to buy out the local Radio Shack when his accomplishment is on display, boasting on him to the clerk as he does so. Because when we, as men most admired by these boys who look up to us, assure them that they really do have what it takes, in these modest but potent ways, we invite them, too, to become men.

Christ Child Lullaby


Little perfect newborn hands
so tiny and pure
Reaching for your mother’ s face,
clutching at her hair
One day they will clutch the cross
and bear it to the hill
Reach out to embrace the nails
Let them pierce that perfect palm
O little tiny newborn hands,
born to do the father’ s will


Little perfect newborn feet
so gentle and warm
Kicking on your mother’ s knee,
swaddled safe from harm
One day they will walk the waves
and make them calm and still
And stand in that forsaken place
And let them pierce that holy hand
O little tiny newborn feet, born to do the father’ s will

You were born to live, born to die
Three days later your would leap up on high
O little hands of God, born to beckon me
Rest now on your mother’ s knee, rest now on your mother’ s knee

Little wrinkled newborn brow crowned with a wisp of hair
Cradled in your mother’ s arms, quiet and fair
One day they will sweat forth blood and bear a crown of thorns
Twisted out of sin and shame
To break and mock your holy name
O little wrinkled newborn brow, born to bear our sin alone

Little crying newborn eyes so dark and so deep
Seeking for your mother’ s breast for comfort and sleep
One day they will see the grave and weep on that morn
Weep for our helplessness
Weep in your love for us
O little crying newborn eyes, born to bear our sin alone

You were born to live, born to die
Three days later you would leap up on high
O little eyes of God, born to seek for me
Sleep now on your mother’ s knee, Sleep now on your mother’ s knee

Unexpected Fruit (The Director's Cut)

After I was done preaching this Sunday, one of my friends said to me: "Okay: did you make a bet in Seminary that you could preach a sermon on one of the genealogies in the Bible or something?"

The answer was no; but I do believe there's something important about standing under the whole word of God, all of it, even the strange or obscure corners of it, and letting it all address us as the word of God. To do this means hearing from its genealogies (and temple inventories, and tables of nations, and bizarre oracles and terrifying apocalyptic visions) as much as from its nice, neat, orderly Pauline discourses. And as ancient documents, genealogies are actually pretty fascinating texts-- theologically rich and spiritually verdant and imaginatively fertile-- or at least they can become so when you start meditating on them deeply.

All this is to introduce this Sunday's Sermon:

Matthew 1:1-17
Unexpected Fruit on the Family Tree


And speaking of theologically rich, spiritually verdant texts, here's a fascinating thought about the Matthean Genealogy that was a bit too esoteric for my sermon, but I thought I'd post here (the following comes primarily from W. D. Davies and D. C. Alison's 1988 commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, as reiterated in John Noland's 2005 commentary).

Matthew lists 42 generations in all from Abraham to Jesus; then he takes careful pains to note that there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Exile, and 14 from the Exlie to Jesus. All of which is, in one sense, just plain wrong ... or put a different way, sure there were at least 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus, so technically Matthew's not wrong, but there were a lot more that don't get mentioned. Matthew's trimmed out a few generations here, and he's compressed a few others there, and sometimes seems to be using the term "begat" much more loosely to mean "was the ancestor of."

None of this, it seems, is all that unusual for ancient genealogies, but the thing is: Matthew's taken pretty intent care to fit Jesus' genealogy into exactly 3 groups of 14. Almost as if the 3 x 14 schema was more important to him than any mere biological/biographical accuracy.

As moderns, this might seem pretty fishy to us, until we remember that Matthew thought like an ancient, and probably an ancient Semite at that. And of course, for an anceint Semite, there is power in numbers (7,3,12,40 being among the more famous ones). Not only is there power in numbers, but names themselves also have numbers (it wasn't just the Beast whose name had a number after all). Every word had a "number" that mysteriously related to the word itself, a number that could be determined through various numerological systems known generally today as "gematria."

In Hebrew, the name David has three letters, dalit, waw, dalit, whose respective numerical values are: 4, 6, 4, making the number of David's name 14 (note that David's name comes 14th in Matthew's genealogy). According to at least one system of gematria, the mispar misafi, you also added the number of letters in the word to the "number" of the word, which would give us (loosely speaking), the numbers 3 & 14.
This may get us to the bottom of Matthew's 3 x 14 schema for presenting the geneaology. Has he shaped Jesus' geneaology so that, in a strange way, it all "adds up" to the name "David"? Almost as if he were saying: not only is this Little Lord Jesus the legal descendant of David, but his whole family tree is actually "Christ-shaped"?

Maybe not pulpit material yet, but it sure makes you think.

Bonhoeffer, Mediation, Incarnation and Christmas

A few posts back I quoted Deitrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. In dredging up that quote, I went back to an old paper from Seminary that I wrote on the Chirstology of Bonhoeffer. Re-perusing what I'd written, I was struck by how Bonhoeffer's emphasis on the Mediation of Christ challenges us to reflect on the true true meaning of Christmas"--in a way that no Charlie Brown's Christmas special ever could.

Looking ahead to the celebration of God's Being With Us in the Person of Jesus, I offer a few quotes from that paper here as a little "Christmas fruit cake" for thought. (Fruit cake, that is, because of its density. What can I say: I was in my 2nd year of Seminary when I wrote it.)

In Ethics, Bonhoeffer argues that because of Jesus it is no longer possible for us to “think in terms of two spheres,” the divine and the worldly, the holy and the profane, the Christian and the un-Christian, but only the single reality of the world-reconciled-to-God-in-Christ. “Whoever professes to believe in the reality of Jesus Christ, as the revelation of God,” he writes, “must in the same breath profess his faith in both the reality of God and the reality of the world; for in Christ he finds God and the world reconciled.” Elsewhere he makes these two realities inseparable, claiming that: "In Christ we are offered the possibility of partaking in the reality of God and in the reality of the world, but not in the one without the other. The reality of God discloses itself only by setting me entirely in the reality of the world, and when I encounter the reality of the world it is always already sustained, accepted and reconciled in the reality of God.”

So it is that in his reconciliation of the whole world to God, Christ makes a claim over the whole of life: “It is as whole men, who think and act, that we are loved by God and reconciled with God in Christ. And it is as whole men, who think and act, that we love God and our brothers.” Christ’s claim over the whole of life precludes the possibility of withdrawing from the world, rather it sends us out into the single reality of the-world-reconciled-to-God-in-Christ, proclaiming this reality to the world: “The world is to be called to this, its reality in Christ ... It must be claimed for Him who has won it by His incarnation, His death and His resurrection.”

... Bonhoeffer’s claim that Christ is the one who brings the reality of the world and the reality of God together can only be understood in light of his conception of Christ as the centre, the mediator between God and humanity and between humans and the world. The centrality of Christ is a continuous theme throughout his work. For Bonhoeffer, Christ the reconciler is the mediator and centre of all reality: “The figure of the Reconciler, of the God-man Jesus Christ, comes between God and the world and fills the centre of all history. In this figure the secret of the world is laid bare, and in this figure there is revealed the secret of God.”

Reflections on Incarnation

Isaiah 7:13-14: The Baby, the Prophet, the Party and the Mess

The Weight of Choice

I heard Erwin McManus say once that the most spiritual thing we can do is to choose. I've been thinking about this these days: could choice be the most spiritual thing?

Maybe.

Or at least, it shouldn't surprise us if it were. Anyways, our culture seems to think there's something deeply important about choice. From the moment we're old enough to watch a commercial, we're told that when we have choice, we have power. Choice is freedom. Choice is the potential to define our selves.

And you can tell a lot about a person from the things they choose.

The Bible knows about the spirituality of choice, I think; and I think that's why it points out over and over again that God is a choosing God.

Because you can tell a lot about him from the things he chooses.

So4000 years ago or so, two twin babies were born to a guy named Isaac. And God chose the younger over the older, even though he was the youngest; even though he was second place, second choice. And when God’s people where in slavery in Egypt, and God wanted to bring them into freedom, he chose an exiled shepherd to call them out, even though Moses admitted he was a man of faltering lips. And when God’s people asked for a King, God chose David, even though David was the eighth son of his father, younger, weaker, less significant than all his brothers.

And when he brought Salvation to the world, he choose the things that we would have long since passed over: the lowly, the humble, the outcast.

He chose a humble Hebrew virgin who had nothing to offer but simple acceptance of her place in God’s plan, and an incredible story about a Divine Conception. And he chose a poor Hebrew carpenter who had nothing to offer but a handful of nightmares telling him to get up and do inexplicable things like marry an unwed mother and flee to Egypt for no apparent reason.

And he chose a baby—a shivering baby born into the darkness and stink of a lonely sheep pen— He chose a 1st Century homeless rabbi with a rag-tag band of followers: reformed prostitutes and delivered demoniacs and redirected zealots and failed fishermen— He chose a crucified Jew executed by the state as political revolutionary—

He chose this as his way of making peace between himself and his sin-blinded world.

If it's true that you can tell a lot about a person based on the things they choose, then what does it tell us about God that in Jesus Christ, he chose the things that the world rejects, that the powerful look down on, and the wise despise?

Because in Jesus Christ, he chose us, too. Ordinary, outsider, outcast, lowly, least, poor, insignificant, broken, failed, reformed, rag-tag though we were, he said: in Jesus Christ, I choose you.

And in Jesus Christ, he frees us to choose back.

He invites us to respond with the likes of Mary, who heard the Spirit choose her and answered: "I am the Lord’s servant—I am the servant of a God who chooses the humble—let it be to me according to your word.” And as we choose back like this, in response to his First Choice--we find ourselves following this Little Lord Jesus into a world where—like Gabriel promised Mary—nothing is impossible with God.

On Baptism and Philadelphia

Among the candidates to be baptized last Sunday were my two oldest children. It was a great privilege to be part of this with them, but there's something I've been thinking about ever since. While I was putting together my notes to introduce the baptism candidates, I wrote out this sentence: "It's a real honour for me to stand with my daughter and baptize her as my sister in the Lord."

And I stopped dead at the keyboard, staring (through an accumulating mist) at those words on the screen: I'm baptizing my daughter and son, as my brother and sister in Jesus.

Often when we use the brother/sister terminology in Church it becomes whimsical, farcical, satirical or just plain empty. So I get why it's fallen out of common usage. But, remembering their baptism today, I'm thinking of Bonhoeffer. He stretched the concept of the Mediation of Christ to its inevitable conclusion, holding that: "within the Christian community there is never, in any way whatsoever, an 'immediate' relationship to one another ... but ... Christ [always] stands between me and another."

And I wonder: Could it really be? Could it be that since Jesus, the God-Man, mediates all human relationships, then before they are my children, my son and daughter are first and foremost my siblings in Christ? And could it be that any claim I might make on them is always secondary to and limited by and transcended by and mediated by the claims of Christ on us, who always stands between us?

And asking, I know the answer. An answer that has the potential to break open and heal and transform all my relationships.

Before she is my mother, she is my sister in Christ.

Before he is my father, he is my brother in Christ.

Before she is my wife, she is my sister in Christ.

There is no relationship I have that Christ hasn't first laid claim to, in a way that both rebukes and purifies any talk about me actually "having" a relationship with another human being who I might call "mine." And to look at them-- mother, father, son, daughter, brother, student, friend, neighbour, wife-- I must always look through the Christ who stands between us. To speak to them--mother, father, son, daughter, brother, student, friend, neighbour, wife--I must always speak through Christ.

To really see them, I must first see the Mediating Christ who names them brother and sister.

And what would community look like if we could do that?

Preparing the Way for the Lord

This Sunday was the second week of Advent; an exciting Sunday in our church, because we had a baptism service to go with it. Especially exciting for me, inasmuch as it was my first baptism service. I've led my share of worship jingles over the years, but I've never felt so like a worship leader as I did Sunday, when I stood in the water with Christ-followers as they received the sign of God's grace and salvation that is water baptism.

Because it was the Second week of Advent, I preached Luke 1:67-81: Zechariah's song at the birth of John. John the Baptist doesn't get a lot of air time in church; I'm not sure why, but the negligence is maybe a shame. By his own admission, John the Baptist's entire reason for being was to point the world inexorably to the Coming Christ. Everything about him was a one-way arrow directing us down the made-straight path to Jesus. (In the best illustrations of John, what stands out most is his long, extended finger pointing the World adamantly to the Lamb of God who takes away Its sin.)

But as I prepared the material for Sunday, at one point it hit me: as with John the Baptist, so too with the sign of Christian Baptism. It should point us inexorably to Jesus. Sometimes I wonder if the language we normally use to describe baptism-- personal testimony, step of obedience, personal declaration of personal faith-- doesn't point us more to the candidate than to the Christ they are declaring. I get the words we use, and believe there really is something beautifully personal about being baptized that should be celebrated; but I also believe that baptism itself should always serve as a long, extended finger pointing the World adamantly to its Savior.

The sermon recording was more than a bit fuzzy this Sunday (technical difficulties), but I thought I'd post it here for anyone interested.

Luke 1:67-81 "The Right Song for the Wrong Baby"