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.

blogs I follow

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

random reads

Curious Matheology (or the Number of Reconciliation)

I've been reading this book about mathematics by Paul Hoffman called Archimedes Revenge. At the diner table today I started to tell my kids about some of the fascinating kernels of math trivia I've gleaned from it, when they told me they'd rather read about it on my blog. Around here this is generally code for "spare me, Dad," but I'm going to assume they were sincere, and offer them here.

Here's one to warm up with: the ancient mathematician Pythagoras held that any number that was the sum of its own factors (excepting the number itself) was a "perfect" number. The factors of the number 28, for instance (1, 2, 4, 7 and 14) all add up to 28. Any Creationism buffs out there want to guess what's the first perfect number?

And then there's this one: in his account of the post-resurrection miraculous catch of fish (John 21:1-14), John notes very carefully that there were precisely 153 fish in the net. The disciples are about to eat their first meal with the Resurrected Lord of Life, and someone had the time and temerity to stop and count the fishes? For millenia scholars have wondered if there isn't something more going on here.

According to the, the Tetragrammaton (the Hebrew covenant name for God) appears 153 times in the book of Genesis (this is suggestive, though when I did a search on e-sword, I only turned up 142... maybe I'm missing something). But let's add this: in Hebrew Gematria (an esoteric system of determining the "number" of various Hebrew names and phrases), the number of the Hebrew phrase "sons of God" adds up to 153 (check it out here).

This is all curious enough, but consider these mathematical tidbits. For starters, 153 is a triangular number (and it smaller components, 1 and 15, are also triangular numbers). It's also the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of the cubes of its own digits (which is to say that: 1^3 + 5^3 + 3^3= 1 + 125 + 27= 153.) What's more, they say that 153 "lies dormant" in every third number. (Take any multiple of three, sum the cubes of its digits, take the result and do the same, and do the same, and do the same, and eventually you will reach 153). What does all this have to do with Jesus and a miraculous catch of fish that proved he was the Resurrected Lord? I'm not really sure, except that there are enough 3's in there to make you go hmmm.

But that's all just brain sit-ups for this one. In Genesis 32:14, when Jacob meets Esau after a long, sordid history of sibling rivalry, Jacob gives his brother a set of 220 goats (200 female, 20 male) and 220 sheep (200 ewes, 20 rams), as a gesture of reconciliation.

Paul Hoffman points out that the sum of all the numbers that divide evenly into 220 (1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55, and 110) is 284, and the sum of all the divisors of 284 (1, 2, 4, 71, and 142) is 220. In other words, 220 and 284 are each equal to the sum of the divisors of the other.

Now: anyone want to guess what the ancient Pythagoreans called a pair of numbers where each is equal to the sum of the divisors of the other?

Friendly numbers. Go figure: 220 is the smallest known friendly number.

To be sure, Pythagoras was a Greek Mathematician and the author of Genesis was an ancient Hebrew, and who-knows-how-many centuries separated them. But there's still something, well, intruiging at least, about the fact that Jacob chose a "friendly number" in making his peace offering of sheep and goats to his brother.

Of course, the total number of livestock in Jacob's gift to Esau was actually 580, not 220, making Hoffman's whole reading of the story specious. So: anyone know any esoteria about the number 580?

A Song for the Easter Season

Death Be Not Proud (2003)

A song I wrote some seven years ago based on this sonnet by John Donne (with a nod to Dylan Thomas in there, too):

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

It seems a fitting post for both the middle of the Easter season, and for the day following Earth Day (see my last post, especially the bit about The Resurrection and the Environment).

He's got the whole world in his hands...

Happy Earth Day everyone. I'm not really all that sure how I feel about observing an "Earth Day"-- either as a red letter day (too pagan?) or as a way of addressing environmental issues themselves (too superficial?). But I do think a lot, as a Christian, about environmental issues and the way our Faith might speak to them. For my final research project at Briercrest I undertook a ministry related study on the intersections between ecology and Christian faith. 112 pages later, I was quite convinced that the Gospel speaks a powerful word of hope and healing to this issue, if Christians could but hear it and respond.

In keeping with the tenor of the day, I offer here some of the more erudite moments from my project.

On Gospel and Ecology:
...the over-arching Christological themes of incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension each address us with God’s fundamental claim on and affirmation of his creation. In these leitmotifs we hear strains of hope for the groanings of the creation: the Creator has indeed pitched his tent in the mire of its dust and clay (John 1:1-14); he has staked his reconciling claim on its most broken, man-forsaken sufferings (Col 1:20); he has comforted it with a fore-taste of its renewal (1 Cor 15:20ff); and he has given it an earnest pledge of consummation (Acts 1:8-11). There is no room at the stable for dualism—nor at the cross, nor in the empty-tomb, nor on the Mount of Olives—for to say that Jesus is truly “God-with-us” in any of these places is to say also that our matter fundamentally matters to God (1 Tim 4:1-6). Second, and further to this, we pause to hear again the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the good news about the Creator’s immanent reign through him over a newly-constituted humanity, about a reconciliation with God completed in his obedient life and atoning death, about the new-creation shalom and healing made possible through his poured-out Spirit—for in the rays of light refracted by the multi-faceted gem of the Apostolic kerygma, we find the motive, the impetus and the spiritual resources for a healed and healing relationship with the rest of the creation. To quote Francis Schaeffer: “[On] the basis of the work of Christ, Christianity… has in it the possibility of substantial healings now in every area where there are divisions because of the Fall. … God’s calling to the Christian now, and to the Christian community, in the area of nature—just as it is in the area of personal Christian living in true spirituality—is that we should exhibit a substantial healing here and now, between man and nature and nature and itself, as far as Christians can bring it to pass.”

On Ecology and the Kingdom Ethic:
‘Blessed are the meek,’ Jesus said, ‘for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matt. 5:5).” Resisting the tendency to over-spiritualize the earth-inheritance that Jesus promises his meek followers here, we listen instead for 5:5’s allusive reference to Psalm 37, with its promise that the hopeful, the meek and the righteous will inherit Israel’s promised land of covenant blessing. And in sympathetic harmony with these echoes, we hear the reverberating strains of Israel’s ancient prophetic tradition, which insisted that when Israel dwells in the land of her inheritance, the whole creation will flourish as the Creator intends (e.g. Lev 26:1-13; Amos 9:11-15, Joel 2:20-27, esp. Isaiah 41:17-20, 51:1-4, etc.). Thus the call of loving, neighbourly meekness that echoes throughout the Sermon on the Mount brings with it an implied promise of blessing on the land. And by our authentic, humble response to that call, as it is extended, perfected and made available to us in the life of Jesus Christ, we truly become future heirs of a healed earth, participating now with Christ in the Creator’s covenant promise to bless and renew it. is here—in the concrete Kingdom ethic of neighborly shalom—that Christology speaks most practically to ecology. Indeed, this summons to neighbourliness both implies and requires a transformed environmental responsibility, for, as Stephen Rand points out—and this cannot be over-stressed—“Concern for the environment is inseparable from true and authentic love for our neighbours.” I cannot genuinely love my neighbors, local or global, without seriously considering the impact of my actions on the environment which supports their way of life: “We read of global warming, then turn up the thermostat and drive to the supermarket … Meanwhile, millions build their homes on land vulnerable to flooding, work in an atmosphere filled with chemical pollution, or stare at the sky searching for the sign of rain that will bring life back to their land and their families.” Here we observe, too, the cyclical relationship between poverty and the environmental crisis, where poverty is caused by environmental degradation, and environmental degradation is exacerbated by poverty. Thus, whatever else our response to Jesus’ call for mercy to the poor includes (cf. Matt 6:2-4; Luke 6:20=Matt 5:3), it must include an environmental ethic. In this regard we might recall the very Law that Jesus claims to have radically fulfilled: Deuteronomy 24:19-21 prohibits overtaxing and exploiting the land precisely because it is un-neighbourly to the poor, the oppressed and the alien. Likewise the Sermon on the Mount: we answer the call of 7:12 (in part) by being environmentally responsible, and in answering its call we will inevitably become environmentally responsible.

On Resurrection and Ecology:
The implications of the resurrection become clear as we trace the “groaning in travail” motif that haunts this text [Romans 8:18-30]. The creation travails (sustenazō), Paul tells us in v. 22, because its own redemption from decay is dependent on the full redemption of the human creature (the glory of the children of God, v. 21); and the human creature, having glimpsed its inheritance in the resurrected body of Jesus, and having received the living pledge of the Holy Spirit, travails (stenazō, v.23) in anticipation of its own bodily redemption; but where our endurance in travail fails, the Spirit itself travails unspeakably (stenagmois alalētois) on our behalf, longing in us, through us and with us (vv. 24-27) for our transformation into the likeness of the resurrected Son, “labouring” for the full restoration of the image of God (eikonos tou huiou autou v. 29) and thus for the full liberation of the decaying creation. And here—in the promise of a liberated creation that God makes us in the resurrected Christ—we discover the necessary spiritual resources for a genuine response to the groanings of the earth, for the Spirit that leads us and “groans” in us, groans not just for our own redemption, but for the redemption of the whole creation. To the extent that Romans 8:18-30 binds the ultimate redemption of creation to our own redemption in the resurrected Christ, our present (albeit limited) experience of that redemption must translate into hope and healing for the creation.

A blog by any other name

Terra Incognita was actually my second choice as a title for this blog. Originally I'd planned to call it "One Hand Clapping," because I thought that sounded all tongue-in-cheek-zen and esoteric and what not; it seemed like a good name for a blog about faith, words and spirituality. But when I googled "one hand clapping" I discovered that the name was already taken... and this by a po-mo-emergent-Christian-blogger-type whose theological interests included things like the intersections between ecology and faith and guys like N. T. Wright. Go figure. I followed Onehandclapping for a while, just to see if fools seldom differed, after all. We differed once in a while, but it is an interesting blog: I'd recommend it.

So I settled on terra incognita, a title that came from what was one of my favorite D. H. Lawrence poems, back in the pre-fully-devoted-follower-of-Jesus days. But I was curious today about who else might be using terra incognita as a label for their paricular creative endeavors, and, a few google searches later, I had a sizeable list of organizations and individuals exploring the "unknown regions" of their own areas of interest, passion or enthusiasm. For the curious (and for lack of better post-fodder) I offer my top ten here:

10. Terra Incognita (the album)-- the title of a 2009 album by rocker Juliette Lewis.

9. Terra Incognita (the RPG)-- a "roleplaying games [sic] of exploration, intrigue, and mystery, featuring adventurer-scholars whose exploits span the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries."

8. Terra Incognita (the novel)-- a novel by Ruth Downie about the Roman Empire in the time of Emperor Hadrian.

7. Terra Incgonita (the travelogue)-- Sara Wheeler's account of her 7-month journey to Antarctica.

6. Terra Incognita (the (other) blog)-- a blog about "Spirituality, shamanism, ethnobotany, visionary art, images & photos, roots reggae and other good listenings, bizarre & interesting things, cult movies, trips & travels, underground & counterculture..."

5. Terra Incognita (the documentary film company)-- a company that makes documentary films that "map the unknown territories of our current knowledge."

4. terra incognita (the arts organisation)-- "a British, not for profit, visual arts and curatorial organisation, that tries to challenge both the London art world and wider society with their proposals for other ways of doing things."

3. Terra Incognita (the museum exhibit production studio)-- an "interpretive design studio that produces interactive educational experiences for museums."

2. Terra Incognita (the eco-tourism outfit)-- a tourism company that promotes "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people"

1. Terra Incognita (the screenplay (that James Cameron alegedly ripped off for the film Avatar))-- apparently James Cameron is being sued by a Vancouver reseranteur named Emil Malak, who claims he sent the screenplay of his 1995 novel Terra Incognita to James Cameron, and heard nothing from him. But when he saw the movie Avatar, he noted uncanny similarities to his work that couldn't be mere coincidence.

Some Words on Baptism

Colossians 2:11-14: Baptised Body, Circumcised Heart

We had a baptism service this Sunday (my second one as a pastor). Fitting perhaps to have a baptism service on the Sunday after Easter, inasmuch as baptism represents our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Here's the sermon from this Sunday, for anyone interested. Also for anyone interested, here're some thoughts about baptism that I read at the start of the baptism service:

As we prepare our hearts to witness the baptism of these believers, I’d like to invite you to reflect on your own baptism, and what it meant for you to receive this sign of your union with Christ.

See: our God is the covenanting God.

He promised Noah never to flood the earth again—and gave the promise-sign of the rainbow. He promised Abraham to make his people into a blessing for the whole earth—and gave the promise-sign of circumcision. He promised Moses to deliver his people—and gave the promise-sign of Passover.

But in Jesus he promised to fulfill all these promises, and more.

And he gave us the promise-sign of baptism.

Because water baptism is a sign that declares to the world that we belong to this Jesus, and that through our faith in this Jesus, we know are included in all God’s promises to save, and renew and deliver.

Baptized followers of Jesus: that’s what you received when you received the sign of water baptism.

You were buried in waters and raised up again, to show that through faith in Jesus, you are united with Him in his death and resurrection.

You were soaked in water to show that your heart is drenched with his Holy Spirit, who cleanses you from sin and pours new life over you.
You were marked with water to show that you are included in His sacred family, and you have been received as one of His own.

You stepped obediently into the waters of baptism to show that by faith in Jesus, you want to follow him in full obedience all your life.

Death of the Old Life. Birth of the New. Hope for eternity. Cleansing from sin. Filling with the Spirit. Belonging. A path now for the journey.

This is what we have in Jesus. And our baptism reminds us of all these things.

I’m going to invite all those who have received the sign of water baptism to stand now with these candidates. Let’s take a moment together to pause and remember the day of our own baptism, and be thankful.

Words from the Cross

It's only a bit after the fact, but I thought I'd post this Good Friday confession I wrote for our Tenebre service last weekend. It's a confessional meditation based on the seven words of Christ from the cross.

The Seven Words of Christ
from the Cross:

The gospels tell us of seven things that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke from the cross as they crucified him. Let’s use his seven words from the cross to teach us true righteousness and to direct us in confessing our sin to him:

1. When they came to the place called the skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
God, we confess that we have sinned against you. We’ve walked roads that led to death instead of to life with you. We sinned in ignorance: we really didn’t know what we were doing.
Please show us our sin today, so that we might turn to you and discover that we are included in Christ’s prayer for our forgiveness.

2. One of the criminals hurled insults at him... but the other said: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise.”
God, we confess that so often we’ve lived like that first criminal: we’ve spurned your grace, we’ve rejected your love, we’ve made light of your salvation. We heaped insults upon you.
Remind us today that you promise the joy of paradise to the repentant. Enable us now to repent and receive your grace in this world, and in the world to come.

 3. When Jesus saw his mother standing there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said: “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
God, in his hour of greatest suffering Jesus showed compassion for the sufferings of others. He made arrangements for his grieving mother’s care. We confess that so often we’ve not lived like that. Instead we’ve let the burdens of our own petty crosses turn us inward, and harden us, and blind us to the need of those around us.
Lead us out of ourselves. Turn our eyes outward. Enlarge our hearts and give us the compassion of Jesus.

4. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which means: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
God, we confess that it was our own God-forsakenness, that Jesus tasted in that moment.
We confess those times we when we were blind You, because our grief and despair was so heavy. We thought you’d abandoned us.
We confess those times we’ve tried to pretend that things were all shiny and happy with you, when in truth our hearts were breaking. We didn’t believe you could handle our hurts.
We confess those times when we wallowed in our feelings of God-forsakenness, out of pride. Because what we really wanted was to have things our own way, even if that led us away from you.

 5. Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
God, Jesus taught us to quench his thirst by quenching the thirst of those around us. We confess that we have not been faithful in this: we have seen people hurt and not helped. We have seen people on the outside and not welcomed them in. We have seen people persecuted and not prayed. We’ve turned Jesus away thirsty.
O blessed saviour, who thirsted for our forgiveness, give us the water of life. Relieve our deepest spiritual thirst now. And lead us to bring this relief to others.

 6. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”God, we confess that we’ve tried to add to the finished work of the cross.
Those times when thought we had to earn your acceptance by our own merit. Those times when we thought we could make things right between us and you on our own. Those times when we doubted that what you did through the cross was enough. When we wouldn’t let your grace be sufficient for us.
We confess that now and turn to you in faith.

 7. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Father, your Son Jesus Christ committed his spirit into your hands.
Through out our lives, in our joys and in our trials and at the moment of our death, grant that we too may entrust our lives into your loving hands. In the name of Jesus, who gave his life for us all we pray.

He is risen indeed

Mark 16:1-8: Rolling Stones

Preached my first Easter Sunday sermon ever yesterday. Pardon the melodrama here, but I got shivers when I said to the congregation,"He is risen" and heard the resounding "He is risen indeed!" in reply at the start of the service.

In honour of the occasion, I thought I'd re-post some thoughts on preaching and the resurrection that I'd posted before I was a pastor, almost a year ago. In a way, it feels (and I hope) all my preaching so far has been leading to yesterday's message: Jesus is Lord of Life, who through the Spirit was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.

He is risen indeed.

May 28, 2009:
I preached yesterday. Briercrest Seminary has its chapel every Thursday, and they invited me to share the Word. It was a real blessing for me: lots of people said encouraging things afterwards; edifying conversations about the text I'd chosen continued over lunch; people responded.

So I have absolutely no idea why I came home feeling kinda dejected.

There's no reason for it at all. Except that preaching is this profoundly paradoxical endeavor that can leave you emotionally energized and emotionally drained, spiritually blessed and spiritually broken, intellectually stimulated and intellectually wrung-dry, all at once. I read this preacher once (think it was William Willimon), who said something like: No one who has really felt what it is to preach the word of God will ever feel like they've really done it.

And that says it for me.

I've shared different thoughts about the nature of preaching over the last few months (like here or here). Reflecting back over yesterday, I'm wondering again: what is it that makes preaching preaching? What separates this speech-act from other kinds of public oration-- lectures, speeches, philosophical pontification, dramatic performance?

My friend David talks a lot about the radical assertion made in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), that "The preaching the word of God is the word of God." David likes to point out that what makes preaching preaching is its outrageous conviction that God himself speaks in, through and with the words of the preacher; and unless God does, preaching is one of the silliest of all human activities. That's always been helpful for me (though again it always brings me back to the above quote: No one who has really felt what it is to preach the word of God will ever feel like they've really done it.)

But today I'm remembering another word of advice a friend gave me about preaching. Preaching, he said, must be a public proclamation that depends fundamentally on the death and resurrection of Jesus to give it meaning. Put differently: would you still say what you're about to say if the cross and the empty grave had never happened? Could you still say it if Jesus was still in his grave? If the answer is yes to that question, then whatever else you're doing-- entertaining, exhorting, educating, moralizing-- whatever else it is, it's not preaching.

I think this is the vital question for the church to ask whenever there's speaking from the pulpit: Does the fact that God raised the crucified Lord from the dead matter at all to these words?

Because we could still tell each other to do more, give more, try harder, be kinder or less stressed or more self-actualized, be better parents or spouses or citizens-- all this even if Jesus was still dead. We could even still help people understand the historical context, literary conventions and grammatical structure of the biblical text, without needing a really-risen Lord.

But we wouldn't be preaching.

And until our words depend on the proclamation that God raised his crucified Messiah from the dead, and that his risen Life now beats at the heart of all our acts of Christian service, and devotion, and life together-- until our words hang with bated breath on this reality- we may always go home inexplicably dejected, feeling like we haven't preached.

Resurrection Sunday

A good Friday Night sermon for a holy Saturday morning

Matthew 27: 50-54 "What's So Good about This Friday?"

Good Friday

Maundy Thursday

Happy Maundy Thursday everyone. Today we remember how, on the night of his arrest, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, commanded his disciples to love one another, and washed his disciples feet as a sign of his servant-Lordship.