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

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

Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.


Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.


click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.


Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.


Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.


This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

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random reads

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr
In this very readable, very thought provoking analysis of electronic communciations technology and its impact on our brains and culture, Nicholas Carr brings together media theory (think Marshall McLuhan), history (think Gutenberg) and neuroscience (think discoveries in brain plasticity) to show how computer technology is shaping us in ways of which we are only dimly aware. He argues that such technologies reduce our capacity for deep, creative and sustained linear thought (or at least have the potential to do so) and predispose us to the fragmented, the cursive and the superficial. Worth the read.

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, Edith Humphrey
A fascinating and engaging introduction to spiritual theology-- or the theology of spirituality, as the case may be. This book is a very scholarly, devotional, christo-centric, ecumenical and trinitarian overview of what it means for Christians to live in the Spirit and with the Spirit within. Bracing and enlightening.

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

From Darkness to Light: How One Became a Christian in the Early Church, Anne Fields

Life in the Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell
Snell's Life in the Ancient Near East offers a social history of the ANE, tracing the earliest settlement of Mesopotamia, the development of agriculture, first cities, ancient economy and the emergence of empire. Bringing together a rich variety of data gleaned both from the archaeological record and extant historical texts, he tells the history of this cradle of civilization with a special eye for the "human" element - focusing on the forces and factors that would have directly affected the daily life of the various strata of society. Worth a read generally, but all the more for someone with a particular interest in the biblical stories that find their setting and draw their characters and themes from the same provenience.

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard Davidson
Davidson's Old Testament theology of human sexuality is stunning in its achievement, challenging in its content, and edifying in its conclusions. Davidson addresses every-- and I do mean every-- Old Testament text that deals (even obliquely) with human sexuality, and, through detailed exegesis, careful synthesis, and deep interaction with the scholarly research, develops a detailed picture of the Old Testament's vision for redeemed human sexuality. 700 pages of Biblical scholarship at its best.

Eaarth, Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's Eaarth, is a call for us to wake up smell the ecological coffee...while we can still brew it. Unlike his previous work, or any writing on ecology I've yet read, however, Eaarth does not argue that catastrophe is pending. Instead, he argues that catastrophe has arrived, and that our all talk about "going green to avert disaster," "and "saving the planet" is woefully obsolete. In ecological terms, the planet as we once knew it is gone, he argues, and rather than trying to "avert" disaster, we need to start figuring out how to live in the disaster that's happened. Key themes he identifies as important for life on planet Eaarth resonnated with me as profoundly Christian ways of being (disaster or no). We must stop assuming that "bigger" is better; we must acknowledge limits on economic and technological growth; we must get reacquainted with the land; we need eschew self-sufficency and nurture community.

Love Wins, Rob Bell
So fast and furious has the furor over this book been, that any review will inevitably feel redundant or tardy. Given the crowd on the band wagon by now, I actually had no intention of hopping on myself, but my kids got it for me for Father's Day. About 15 pages in, I realized that I could probably finish it in on good push, so I got it over with. My thoughts: probably the most over-hyped book I ever read; I loved it and found it frustratingly under-developed at the same time; while he raises some important issues, his handling of them reads like a yoda-meets-Tom-Wright account of salvation; nothing C. S. Lewis hasn't already said more clearly and more cleverly; I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad the Evangelical world has errupted over it the way it has, and I hope a much more spirited and generous and optimistic understanding of soteriology and eschatology will infuse the evangelical church's mission as a result.

Rediscovering Paul, David Capes et. al.
Rediscovering Paul is a hepful overview of Paul's life, times and theology. While at times I felt it might have gone deeper, or expressed its ideas more clearly, it provides some interesting and inspiring insights into the man behind the letters. Among these is its discussion of the communal aspect of first century letter writing, and the influence of one's community on one's personal sense of identity, and how those issues might have played out in Paul's writings. Another challenging issue that it tackles is the whole process of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world, especially as regards the role a scribe often played in shaping the text, smoothing out the langugae or providing stock phrases, etc.

Lavondyss, Robert Holdstock
If you've read George MacDonald's Lilith, then think of Lavondyss as sort of a Lilith-for-Non-Christians. It's the convoluted labyrinth of a story about a young girl called Tallis and her adventures in a magical wood that brings the Jungian archetypes buried deep in our subconscious to life. Dense with questions about Jungian psychology, and the spiritually-thin-places of the world, and death and myth and magic and story, it's pretty tough slugging at times, but thought provoking and challenging. At times I felt like I was reading the Narnia book C. S. Lewis might have written if he had pursued the "stab of northerness" in directions other than the Christian Faith where he found it eternally satisfied.

Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington III
My friend John Vlainic once ranked Ben Witheringon as one of the strongest Biblical scholars in the Wesleyan tradtion working today. This thin but powerful volume is evidence to support such an accolade. I opened it expecting (judging by the cover) either a how-to book on Christian finances, or (judging by the other books I've read on Christ and Money) a hodge-podge of Bible verses taken out of context and mushed together as proof texts about the tithe. I got neither; instead, Ben Witherington walks slowly, thoughtful and exegetically through the breadth of Biblical teaching, with special sensitivity to the cultural context of the various texts, the tension between Old and New Testament teaching on the topic, and the differences between modern and ancient economies. If I were to recommend one book to develop a biblical theology of money, it would be this one.

The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness
My first taste of Os Guinness, and, if you don't mind a mangled metaphor, it went down like a bracing pint of... well... Guinness. Grave Digger file is sort of a "Screwtape Letters" project on a church-wide scale. In concept, the book is a series of "training files" for an undercover agent attempting to undermine and ultimately sabotage the Western Church, delivered from the pen of a seasoned saboteur to a young agent recently assigned to Los Angeles. In plot, the young agent ultimately defects, and delivers the "Gravedigger File" into the hands of a Christian, urging him to alert the Church to the operation. It is bursting with "things that make you go hmmm..." and deserves a second, careful read with pen in hand, ready to mine it for its scintillating and eminently quotable lines.

Top Ten Reads of 2009

Around this time last year I spent some time reviewing the most interesting, engaging or challenging reads of 2008. What with moving to a new province, starting a new ministry role, uprooting, re-rooting, transplanting and all, there weren't nearly as many titles to choose from this year as last, but I thought I'd spend some time looking back over the best reads of 2009.

10. Straight Talk, Daniel Wackman et. al.
Though I tend to be sceptical of books that claim the power to revolutionize relationships through simple steps, this guide to assertive communication is actually quite helpful. Concepts like "understanding control talk," "using the awareness wheel," "making I statements," and "using active listening," are poignant and effective, and when I take the time to actually employ them in my communication, I often find myself speaking the truth in love.

9. Paradise Lost, John Milton

The first time I read Paradise Lost it was as a high school AP English student; the second as a University English Major; the third as a student in a Milton seminar; the fourth as a High School English teacher; the fifth this year as a student of theology. It's interesting to see how my experience of the poem has evolved over the years: from confusion to admiration to love to frustration. I still think it's a master-piece of English literature, but somehow it left me spiritually hollow this fifth time around.

8. John Wesley: A Biography, Stephen Tomkins
When I realized I was going to be a Methodist pastor, I figured I should start exploring the story of the movement's founder. What I liked about Tomkin's biography of Wesley is that he avoids empty hagiography like the plague. The sometimes overly-honest portrait he paints of Wesley is very human and dynamic and complex, though sometimes I felt like he might have given Wesley the benefit of the doubt a bit more often.

7. The Way To Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley, J. Steven Harper
My second step in exploring Wesley's story. Where #8 avoided hagiography, this book revelled in it, though self-consciously so. At the same time, though, it does provide a helpful overview of the major tenets of Wesleyan soteriology, and challenges us to reflect on how his theology of Grace still speaks to the deepest needs of the human heart.

6. Confessions of an Amateur Believer, Patty Kirk
This was a edifying collection of meditations on Christian Spirituality. To be honest, I found Patty Kirk less "confessional" and less "amateur" in her belief than the title led me to expect, but as an English Professor, her style is thoughtful and lyrical and really illuminated that old Shakespearean proverb, "it is not enough to speak but to speak true." She takes good writing spiritually, and in that, at least, she's a believer after my own heart.

5. Satan and the Problem of Evil, Greg Boyd
Another read to help me explore the burgeoning Wesleyan in me, this theological/philosophical defence of a "Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy" was often compelling and always engaging. Though I found much of his work helpful, by the end I was left wondering if he hadn't proved too much, and attributed more risk to God than the scriptures ever dare to do.

4. Collected Short Stories, Flannery O’Conner
Fred Craddock, the well-known teacher of preachers once said that the best thing preachers can do to develop their skills and hone their craft (outside of the obvious theological, spiritual and exegetical disciplines) is to read a lot, especially fiction, particularly short stories. If this is true, I'd suggest O'Conner as a good starting place, and if it's not, I'd suggest her anyways. I'm not sure how I missed O'Conner in 5 years studying English Lit. and 7 years teaching it, but I'm glad I finally met her. Some of her stories left my heart gaping wide in their wake. Truly beautiful fiction.

3. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan
I'm surprised to rate this book as high as I have- it's not the kind of book I expected to like. However, Pollan's thesis, that nutritionism is actually a made-up, ideologically-driven science that has done more to confuse us than help us in our food choices, and his other thesis, that the modern food industry is deeply flawed and if it isn't killing us it's certainly wringing the soul out of our diets, seemed to strike chords with me. For a while there my family talked quite a bit about the Michael Pollan diet: "Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much." Lots of wisdom there.

2. From the Holy Mountain, William Dalrymple
Another unexpected gem of a read, From the Holy Mountain is the travelogue of William Dalrymple, who travels the Holy Land retracing the journey of an ancient Christian monk who wandered the Byzantine Empire back in the 7th Century. Beautiful prose, Church history, adventurous travel, politics, wry humour, art, hermits, monks (modern and ancient), sylites; this book had it all. I closed it with a deeper appreciation of the history of the Orthodox Church, the plight of Christians in the Muslim world, and the convoluted politics of the Middle East.

1. Violence, Hospitality and the Cross, Hans Boersma
Every once in a while you read a book that takes a bunch of threads already waving about loose in your mind and weaves them together into the tapestry you always knew they could form, but just didn't know how to do it. That's what this book was like for me as it invited me to think through the meaning of the cross all over again. Boersma develops the ancient idea of hospitality as a framework for discussing the Atonement, and then fleshes out the Pauline concept of the recapitulation as the dominant Atonement motif , drawing on Irenaeus and N. T. Wright for theological resources. He shows how each of the traditional models of the Atonement can be read as sub-themes of this over-arching motif. It was like one long "Ah-ha" moment to read.


Jon Coutts said...

Flannery O'Connor: Yeah there are some incredible stories in there.

I am intrigued by all these books. Wish I had time to read one!