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.

A second Psalm for Lent

We've been reading through the Psalms as part of our Lent preparations at the Freeway. Here's Sunday's sermon, on Psalm 26. Hopefully it's another exampe of how reading the Psalter as the "Prayerbook of Christ" allows it to truly blossom into good news for us.
Psalm 26: Try Me

good sport

I'm not much a fan of hockey, but they say
"We we won last night."

Yesterday my son points out to me that
when the team we're cheering for wins
we tell each other, "We won."
But when the team we're cheering for doesn't,
we tell each other, "They lost."

As in: "They lost last Sunday."

Again, I'm not much a fan of hockey,
But I wonder if there isn't some ancient seed of sin in that
unnoticed tendency to include (only when we gain from it)
those we would decisively exclude
when they can't deliver.

Praying through the Prayerbook of Christ

I've been spending a lot of time in the Psalms these days. I'm preaching through some of them as part of the Lent season at the FreeWay, and I'm discovering both how beautiful they are, and how easily mis-read. This is partly because of our ego-centric tendency to ignore that small Hebrew word that starts almost every Psalm, and jump almost immediately to make these prayers, praises, petitions and pleas our own. Of course, this "works" when the prayer is "Surely goodness and mercy will folow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." But it's a little awkward when the plea is "strike my enemies on the jaw, break the teeth of the wicked." And it is downright risky when the petition is, "examine my heart and my mind ... for I continually walk in your truth."

To be honest, I could never pray that last one and be honest. And were I to try-- to ask God to examine my heart because I've continually walked in his truth-- He would only see the depths of my self-deception there.

And that's why that one little word makes all the difference. The word is "of David." In Hebrew it's just four letters. But they're the four leters that transform this Psalm, because they remind us that these prayers, praises, petitions and pleas, they're not ours. They're David's. The Anointed's. The Christ's.

And of, course, not even David could pray them perfectly, but the Shining Christ of whom he was but the Shadow, the perfect Christ who alone walked continually in Yaweh's truth, he could. These prayers for vindication, petitions for deliverance from death, appeals to complete innocence, they belong to Jesus, who alone can pray them perfectly and purely. Only in Jesus can these prayers become ours, as the petitions of God's people (and still they're not mine before they are ours).

Bonhoeffer helped me get this. He insists that we must read the Psalms first and foremost as the “Prayerbook of Christ.” He says: “The same words that David spoke ... the future Messiah spoke. … It is none other than Christ who prayed them in Christ’s own forerunner, David.” And of course, this is how the New Testament writers read the Psalms. They continually and consistently put David’s songs of praise in Jesus’ mouth. For instance, in Romans 15:8-9, Paul applies Psalm 117:1 directly to Jesus: “I will praise you [God] among the Gentiles; / I will sing hymns to your [God’s] name.” Specifically here Christ’s “hymn of praise” is “sung” to the tune of his servanthood among the Jews, whereby the Gentiles “glorify God for his mercy” (15:9b). In a similar way, the author of Hebrews puts a psalm of praise on Christ’s lips: “I will declare your name to my brothers / in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises” (Psa 22:22). Here Christ’s “praise” takes the form of his willingness to identify as “brother” with those whom God has brought to glory through his own suffering, those who could never merit glory on their own.

This goes beyond merely reading individual psalms as messianic prophecy. The Book of Psalms as a whole gathers together in itself all the lamentations and celebrations and heart-cries, “every need, every joy, every thanksgiving, and every hope” (as Bonhoeffer would say) of God’s people; and Jesus, the Messianic “Son of David,” gathers them together in himself and offers them in his own perfect self-offering on the cross, on behalf of his brothers and sisters. This is why Hebrews 13:15 insists that our “sacrifice of praise” can only be offered “through him,” and must always be an acknowledgement of his name, for as with all our responses to God, our praise must participate in the perfect praise of Christ, our mediator.

Okay. Maybe that's all just so much Ivory Tower Theology.

But watch what happens when we read the Psalms as the prayer book of Christ. Psalm One insists that the way of the wicked perishes and the way of the righteous prospers. And if I read this as my own personal prayer, then I wonder: my "way" has been prospering of late, does that "prove" my "righteousness"? Or maybe: my way has not been propsering of late, does that "prove" my "wickedness?" And suddenly I'm spiralling in this snare of works-righteous, health-and-wealth theology that's so disconected from the gospel of Jesus it would be laughable if it weren't so tragic and so real for so many people.

But if I read Psalm One as Christ's own prayer, then I discover the beauty of its promise: the "way" of the righteous Christ will prosper; he will become a tree planted by water, bearing beautiful, life-giving fruit in season. And Christ's way is to take broken, weak, guilty sinners like me an make them forgiven, heart-strong and whole in him. And as Psalm one assures me: he will propser in this way. Because he alone has not walked, stood or sat in the Way of sinners, He can't fail in this.

I'm not the righteous Tree. I'm just the fruit of Its righteousness.

And that's really good news.

Sunday's Sermon

Psalm 1: Two Roads, One Way

Lenten Prayer

God, in the righteousness of Jesus, we discover the depth our unrighteousness.

In the wholeness of Jesus, we discover the extent of our brokenness.

In Jesus’ oneness with you, we discover the great chasm of our alienation from you.

I mean: we’ve fit you in to our lives, but we haven’t loved you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We’ve tolerated our neighbours, but we haven’t loved them as ourselves. We pray, but usually it’s for our own will to be done, not yours on earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, God: we’ve judged specks in the eyes of those around us, specks we could barely see through the plank in our own eye.

We’ve stored up earthly treasures, all the while knowing you’ve offered us heavenly treasure—see: we were hoping we could get both.

We’ve looked at people made in your image, as though they were things.

We’ve sworn “yes” when we really meant “no” and said “no” when we really meant “yes”;

We’ve used words to hurt and tear down and kill instead of to bless and give life and create.

We’ve done these things, and more.

[pause]

We’re sorry God.

We want things to be different.

We want Jesus’ righteousness, Jesus wholeness, Jesus oneness with you to define us, and to define our life with you.

And so we come to you today praying this ancient prayer from the ancient book you gave us, because we know that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, quick to forgive and infinite in steadfast love. Jesus proved it to us:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

[Time for quiet confession]

Friends and followers of Jesus, hear his good news:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

Receive the grace of God: In Jesus Christ we are new creation.


We are forgiven.

Constantly Risking Absurdity

Lawrence Ferlinghetti has this poignant poem about being a poet that starts: "Constantly risking absurdity/and death whenever he performs / above the heads of his audience / the poet like an acrobat / climbs on rime / to a high-wire of his own making..."

It goes on to talk about how the poet's a "the super realist / who must perforce perceive /taut truth / before the taking of each stance or step /in his supposed advance / toward that still higher perch / where Beauty stands and waits /with gravity..." I won't post the whole thing, but you can read it here if you want to relive the old High School Lit. days. Really, brilliant stuff.

I hear this poem ringing in my head sometimes when I'm in the depths (or on the heights, as the case may be) of sermon preparation. With only a few very vital differences (differences that make all the difference), what Ferlinghetti says about the poet could equally be said of the preacher: "Constantly risking absurdity / and death whenever he proclaims / above the heads of his audience / the preacher like an acrobat / climbs on wind [i.e. ruach] / to a high-wire of no man's making..." And, of course it's not Beauty who waits on the other side of day, but Him from whom beauty itself derives its name.

Some times I feel very sharply the risk of absurdity, and death (though of course this, too, is absurd, for it's not physical death but a deeper death to self that is no real death at all)-- but as I was saying-- I feel that risk sharply sometimes. And sometimes I feel like I'm waving my arms frantically just to keep from slipping off the tightrope altogether. But some other times I feel the exhiliration of having taken just one more tentative step towards the "other side of day."

A City, A Garden, A Tree and a Sign

Revelation 22:1-6: A city, a garden, a tree and a sign

The densest 25 minutes of my week

A friend of mine stopped by the office when I was working on this Sunday's sermon. When he asked what I was doing, I said, "I'm trying to think of a way to describe the meaning of the hypostatic union without using that term." The hypostyatic union is the 10-dollar-theological term the Church uses to describe the union of the two natures, fully human and fully God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a very rich theological concept with a distinguished theological heritage, and I was trying, not just to explain what it means, but show why it is, after all, Good News.

Well, you can listen below and see if I was able to or not.

But in addition to theological reflections, I was also trying to flesh out the intertextual resonances between this text and the Book of First Samuel. "Intertexuality" describes the way texts draw on other texts to create layers meaning. The New Testament writers do this all the time, quoting, alluding to and evoking Old Testament texts as easily as breathing; and sometimes to really get to the bottom of a New Testament passage, we have to tune our ears to these "intertextual echoes." The definitive book on this idea, a book that truly rocked my Bible-reading world when I read it in Seminary, is Richard Hays' Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Again, however, I wasn't so much interested in explaining this as a literary device as much as unfolding why an intertextual echo of Samuels story (in this case) is Good News for us as Christians.

Again, you can decide, if I did nor no.

But after trying to weave abstract theological concepts, subtle literary interpretations, proclamation of Good News, and suggestions towards life application, together into a tapestry of language that is accessible and compelling and evocative to a wide range of listeners, it's perhaps easy to see why the Sunday morning sermon so often feels like the densest 25 minutes of my life; and I'm once again reminded of William Willimon's line, that "no one who's felt what it is to preach the Word of God will ever feel like they've done it."

Luke 2:52. Older, Wiser, Stronger, Loved

The no-TV decade



About 10 years ago or so my wife and I go rid of our TV. It wasn't a politcal or social or spiritual statement at the time, we just lived out in the country where reception was poor and cable expensive. If anything, it was (ironically) due to laziness: during a roofing project one summer we had to take down our aerial, and it just never got put back. Before long, life without TV had become so content and peaceful that it was hard to imagine wanting to put it back. (Okay: we still keep a DVD player in the basement for the occasional movie night or Corner Gas party with the kids, so I guess we're not purists.)

I read an old article by Robert MacNeil a long time ago. He extrapolated figures from the daily viewing hours of the average Canadian, to suggest that in the time saved by not watching TV over a lifetime, one could actually be reading Homer's Odyssey in its original Greek, having used those 3 hours a day to master the language. I haven't tackled Homer yet, but I have read the Greek New Testament 4 times, so maybe MacNeil was on to something. Among other projects that filled up those 21 spare hours a week (which, over the course of one TV-free decade, adds up to about 10,920 hours, or 455 days, or 1.2 years), I learned to play a passable piano and an okay saxophone, tried my hand at video editing and gardening and music recording and art and acting, read a lot of books, and even tried my hand at writing one (unpublishable), along with a musical (unperformable), and about 90 or so songs.

Now in most of these cases, "my hand" turned out to be not particularly adept, but my point is that I had a lot of fun--1.2 years worth of fun. And there's not much I'd trade those 10,920 hours for - not even for the chance to talk knowingly about all the episodes of Survivor I missed over the last ten years.