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 Adventures of Elroy (or: What has Nintendo to do with Jerusalem?)

A few posts ago, I shared a bit about my secret life as a computer game writer back in the Co Co 3 days. What I didn't say there was that, at 14, my game genre of choice by far was the fantasy adventure role playing game. Call me quixotic, but I loved programming magical quests set in magical kingdoms, games in the fullest D&D tradition I could accomplish, with only 128k at my disposal.

Now it wasn't the gaming itself that especially appealed to me, it was more the act of world-creation. Programming offered me the opportunity to create worlds where the diabolical machinations of necromancers could be defeated with weapons of light-- worlds where phrases like "you have discovered the Amulet of Imnodel (or some such)" were weighted with wonder-- worlds where words like "vorpal," and "arcane," and "adamantine" and "valiant" rang true, like steel from a scabbard.

And because they were games-- your games--you could not only create these worlds, you could inhabit them.

As I mentioned before, for old time's sake I've been working on a game using my son's game maker software, and, as those who knew me in those old times might expect, it's a fantasy adventure role-playing game set in a world where you can use expressions like "You have discovered the Vorpal Sword!" with perfect nonchalance. I call it "The Adventures of Elroy." Call me Tolkienesque, but it's the story of a lost elven prince, Elroy, who must journey through a magical kingdom overrun with goblins and jubjub birds, to discover the Treasure of Taran and regain his throne.

[I invite you to click here to download it. Enter the World of Elroy, if you dare! (Insert nerdy attempt at diabolical voice here.)]

But while you're waiting for it to download (or mustering up the courage...), let me add this: working on the "Adventures of Elroy," I've been wondering what it was about the fantasy game genre that so appealed to me as a kid. I didn't know at 14, but I think I might now.

It was the imagination's ache for a kind of other-worldly beauty-- the deep yearning and poignant desire for that elusive something that haunts the shadows of the best myths, and fairy-stories, and romances.

The Germans call it sehnsucht-- a joy-ward longing.

C. S. Lewis called it "the stab of northernness."

In Surprised by Joy he describes quite vividly "the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing" of an "unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other desire." It first touched his heart as a child of 5, when he was reading the story of Squirrel Nutkin in the Beatrix Potter books and was smitten by the very Idea of Autumn radiating behind its delicate watercolours. "It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a season," he writes, "but that is something like what happened...the experience was one of intense desire."

Later, as a boy of ten, the "Stab of Northernness" would pierce his heart again when, flipping through a book of poems by Longfellow, he read these lines: "I heard a voice that cried, Balder the Beautiful is dead, is dead." The ache that those lines awoke in his heart- a desire for some undefined thing, beautiful but ephemeral, other-worldly but more real than real- would haunt his imagination on its long journey through atheism and eventually to God. It was a pang for a kind of spiritual joy or ethereal beauty that he would later come to associate with the "Idea of Northerness" that he found in the Norse myths and the operas of Wagner.

This deep yearning for something beautiful, unsatisfiable, Other, would eventually turn Lewis's imagination, and later his mind, and finally his heart to God. In Mere Christianity, he puts it like this: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

This is the restless imagination's longing for that other world. The Stab of Northernness. Lewis found it in Wagner. John Keats found it in King Lear. Tolkien found it in Middle Earth (I've heard some say that the opening chapter of The Hobbit is sharp with Northernness, with it's thirteen dwarves arriving unexpectedly on the doorstep of a simple hobbit, to whisk him off in search of long forgotten gold). As a boy, I found it, among other places, in the worlds of fantasy adventure video games, which invited me to explore realms where words like "valiant" rang somehow true.

2 comments:

Jon Coutts said...

As a Chestertonian I obviously relate well to what you are saying, but the Barthian part of me is beginning to question this line of thinking somewhat.

For instance (I'm pulling these next few lines from a recent paper and I wonder what you think of this): As it regards the existence of pre-Christian incarnation and resurrection mythology Barth does not say that they foreshadow or point in some latent way to the divine. Rather, these myths simply veil humanity’s under-arching unthankfulness to God and represent an “arbitrary piety” which projects human “religious arrogance” to the usurpation of a truly transcendent God (CD IV.1, 294).

I don't know. But I'm beginning to think that myths, sparks of the divine in human experience, etc are not pointers to God except in hindsight, as lit up by Christ. After all, a Nintendo game or myth or what have you can just as easily point to human resistence to God or human self-assertion itself.

That's not to say that the fundamental goodness of something like fantasy games and adventures and myths and so on can not be affirmed and even seen later as important steps on the road to faith in God, but is to say that they aren't necessarily so.

I don't know, is that making sense, and if so what do you think, and does it even matter?

Incidentally: I can't believe you made video games. What haven't you done?!!

Luke N. Johnson said...

This game is addictive! I played it for like 3 hours yesterday!