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.

Upon hearing that Austin Texas is renaming 2nd Street as "Willie Nelson Boulevard"

If I ever have a street named after me,
I hope it's a boulevard, too.
Because I'd feel like I was going nowhere if I was a crescent,
and I'm not even sure what a cul-de-sac really is.

Lessons for a Young Whippersnapper

Genesis 48:8-20

36 reasons I'm glad to be alive (besides the obvious)

It's the big 3-6 for me today; not to get too reflective, but I started putting together this 36-item list of simple things I love about life. Harder than it sounds, but good for the soul.

1. The first snowfall of winter
2. The feeling of thaw in the air at the start of spring
3. The way herbs like thyme and basil leave their scent on your hands when you brush them gently
4. The way our dog is always in tune to the movement of the family as a unit
5. The sound of bagpipes being played off in the distance
6. Sleeping with the fan blowing and the window open on a cooling summer night
7. The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
8. Rain
9. Hunting for four leaf clovers with my kids
10. Tolkien's description of the demise of Smaug in the The Hobbit
11. Putting on a freshly-ironed shirt
12. The way a good cup of coffee relaxes and stimulates at the same time
13. Seafood
14. Playing Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring on the piano
15. The smell of fresh-baked bread
16. Being from Saskatchewan
17. The prayer of St. Francis
18. Draining a three-pointer
19. A properly poached egg and buttered toast
20. Waking up to the sound of birds singing
21. Leading the church in communion
22. Writing
23. Reading the work of aspiring writers
24. Building a camp fire
25. Canova's Eros and Psyche
26. Elixir guitar strings
27. Used book stores
28. Staying at a nice hotel room
29. Landing that shot in squash where you hit it against the back wall
30. Playing crib (especially with my Grandma)
31. Lentil stew and rice
32. Talking to children seriously
33. Reading N. T. Wright
34. Loading a moving truck (especially when it's not mine)
35.Reading in the tub
36. A good joke

Happy Pentecost Sunday

I've fallen a bit behind posting my sermons the last little while. As I take a moment to update a few weeks worth of preaching, this might be a good spot to say a word or two about the church calendar while I'm at it. With the exception of Christmas and Easter, the church year didn't receive much emphasis in the evangelical tradition of my youth. More's the pity, perhaps, because there's something very beautiful the way the church calendar invites us to continually rehearse the story of our salvation each year, year after year, until he comes. I've not been "religious" about it (I still preached a Mother's Day sermon), but I've tried to keep the church calendar alive at the Freeway this year, making a point at the very least of noting each of the major feast days in our sacred reckoning of the year.

So, as part reigniting interest in the church calendar, here's the sermon from today, this Pentecost Sunday:

Acts 2:1-13: Tongues of Flame, Hearts on Fire


And here's my sermon from the week before, on Ascension Sunday:

Hebrews 9:13-16: The True True Meaning of Christmas

The Full Divine Panoply

I can still remember when I first learned about that famous passage in Ephesians 6, the one where Paul talks about putting on the "whole armour of God." It was Bible Camp, grade 6. I vividly recall how the speaker walked us through each item in our spiritual panoply: the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shield of Faith, and so on.

I`d been working my way through Tolkien that summer, so I guess my 12-year-old imagination was pretty fertile ground for images of spiritual warriors armed with mystical armour with arcane names like "The Helmet of Salvation" and "The Belt of the Truth." When I got home, I drew an elaborate picture of some elfin warrior who bore a striking resemblance to Aragorn (as I pictured him in my imagination; this is, remember, well before Peter Jackson), bearing a flaming"Sword of the Spirit" and warding off demonic darts with his "Shield of Faith."

A talk on "The Whole Armour of God," I'd discover later, is standard fare for Bible Camp speakers. I`ve heard the most elaborate talks explaining obscure details about the typical armour of the Roman Infantry, and relating them to intricate details about the means and methods of spiritual warfare for individual Christians. I was even at one Bible Camp where the speaker was a Christian children`s entertainer named (I`m not making this up) Fester the Clown. Fester the Clown made an entire set of the Whole Armour of God out of balloons, Sandals of Evangelism and all. One lucky camper got to take it home with him in a giant plastic bag as a reminder of his call to arm himself for spiritual warfare.

Now, I hate to burst Fester`s balloon, but the thing that he never told me, nor did any of the other speakers I`ve ever heard expound on this passage, is that throughout Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul uses the 2nd person plural. He is not talking to or about individuals here, arming themselves for solo combat against their personal demons and temptations. He's talking to and about the group, the community of faith, the Church. Put differently: "you" are not called to put on the whole armour of God as much as "we" are called to do so together. This is a subtle point, perhaps, but a few examples will show that it's not so subtle as to be moot.

Take, for instance, the Bride of Christ imagery. While Jesus is most certainly the lover of individual souls, when the Bible says that "you" are the Bride of Christ, it means "you" plural, that is the church together, is the Bride of Christ. And we miss a vital theological point if we miss this distinction. A more obvious one, perhaps is the Body of Christ imagery, where we are each, clearly, only members of the whole Body and can't function without the others; a less obvious one is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, where the primary reference is to the community of Faith together being built up together into the Temple of God (Though it's common to hear talk about how you (sg) are the Temple of the Spirit, out of 7 references to the Temple of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, only 1 refers to individuals and all the rest are about the community together).

What difference would it make if Paul's envisioning the Community of Faith in Ephesians 6, arming itself together for spiritual combat, and not individual spiritual gladiators? Maybe a good place to start thinking through the implications would be 6:18, where he talks about the "secret weapon of prayer" (as I heard one preacher call it picturesquely). If Paul's primarily imagining corporate prayer here as a "weapon" in our battle against the powers of this dark world, then it will mean, I think, remodelling the "prayer closet" a bit. In most of the discipleship material I've ever seen, the emphasis has been almost exclusively on individual prayer.

And if Paul is calling the church corporate to take up the "Sword of the Spirit," which is the Word of God, then sharpening my personal knowledge of the Bible in my personal "quiet time with God" will certainly not do it. Instead, the call will be answered as the community of Faith itself becomes a place where together we seek out, listen for, weigh together and respond in one spirit to the utterance of God (the word there is rhema, not logos) as it is breathed by the Spirit through the Scriptures into the gathered community. Puts a little different spin on the "sword drill," that other staple of Bible Camp spirituality.

We could do the same with the rest: what if lacing up the Sandals of Evangelism was less about me personally leading individuals to the Lord (though it may include that), and more about the community of faith becoming, and being, a place where the Gospel or Peace is proclaimed, and lived out, and given room to touch and transform lives? Of course, Fester the Clown would have to do a whole lot more balloon twisting if this reading is right, but as a spiritual exercise go through Ephesians 6:10-20 and read it asking yourself: would it make any difference if this was about "us" and not "me"?

The Ineffable Line

I've been working on a song for about seven years now. The idea came to me one Sunday morning when I happened to open the Bible randomly to Isaiah 49:16, and read these lines: "Can a mother have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you. Look: I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." The imagery stuck in my imagination, and with it, this line rang in my head: "I wrote your name with the nails of the cross / on my hands and feet that it might never be lost." When I got home I sat down at the piano and plunked away until I had the seed of a song planted.

This is the song that the seed's grown up into, seven years later:

I have inscribed you

Now the song hasn't really changed that much in seven years; I only say I've been working on it ever since because of those difficult lines at 2:54: "It was broken for you / It was offered for you / It was poured out to..."


For seven years now I've been trying to find the best way to end that line. It [i.e. Christ's life] was poured out to...well... to what? How do you summarize the meaning of Christ's death in 5 syllables? (That is, 5 syllables so that the line will scan; ideally it will rhyme with "you" too)?


In theological terms, my song writing dilemma has to do with the Doctrine of the Atonement-- that is, how do you explain, primarily, why Christ's death was able to save sinners like us. There are a number of traditional answers to this question in Christian theology, various "Models of the Atonement" that we might draw on to fill in those 5 missing syllables. Let me illustrate with some examples from some contemporary worship songs:

Penal Substitution
Christ took the punishment for sin in our place: You are my King; "I'm forgiven because you were forsaken / I'm accepted, you were condemned"

Christus Victor
Christ won the victory over sin, death and the devil through his sinless death: Hope of the Nations; "In history you lived and died / you broke the chains / you rose to life" also, In Christ Alone; "Then bursting forth in glorious day / up from the grave he rose again / and as he stands in victory..."

Satisfaction
Christ's death satisfied God's wrath and/or impinged honour: In Christ Alone; "Till on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied"

Moral Influence
Christ's death is the ultimate demonstration of God's love towards us, which turns us from sin when we discover it: Once Again; "Once again I look upon the cross where you died / I'm humbled by your mercy and I'm broken inside"


Reflecting on and learning to articulate my own understanding of the Atonement has been an important part of my journey with Christ and my formation for ministry. The various "versions" of my song reflect milestones on that journey.

I'm embarrassed to say, for instance, that the first version reflected the typical, Evangelical, "Personal(ized) Jesus" model of the Atonement that I'd unconsciously absorbed from songs like "You took the fall / and thought of me above all": "It was broken for you / it was poured out for you / It was offered only for you" (ugh)


Later I learned about the Christus Victor model of the Atonement from guys like Gustav Aulen, and I worked with versions of the line like these: "It was broken for you / it was poured out for you / It was paid as a ransom for you" or: "It was broken for you / it was poured out for you / To break death's power over you"

For a while I tried to avoid the Atonement altogether and focused on the sanctifying work of Christ instead: "It was offered to sanctify you"


But a while ago I read Han Boursma's treatment of the Atonement in his book Violence, Hospitality and the Cross, which helped me arrive at a much more robust understanding of Christ's death, and, indeed, the nature of the sin that he atoned for. With his work in mind, this is what I finally came up with:

"It was broken for you / It was offered for you / It was poured out to make all things new"

There are probably better rhymes out there still, but I'll leave it there; or maybe, as a devotional and theological exercise, it would be better to leave the line unfinished, and let the silence symbolize itself the ineffable mystery of the cross.

Words for People of the Resurrection

Colossians 3:1-10
The Real real You


Here's Sunday's sermon, and with it a few thoughts from the cutting room floor. In literary terms, Paul's ethical exhortation here, and especially the list of vices in verses 8 and 9, follows a literary form with a distinguished ancient pedigree, known as a "paraenesis." As a rhetorical device, paraenesis was pretty common among the moral philosophers of the ancient world, whereby they would exhort followers of their particular philosophical "path," by advising them on how best to follow that path. Paul seems to have co-opted the rhetoric of the moral philosophers here, though his ethical case rests not on some dead philosophy (see v. 2:8), but on the living reality that is ours through the death and resurrection of Christ.

But the thing that I wish I could have spent a whole other sermon on is the fact that the paraenetic exhortation of verses 8 and 9 focuses particularly on right speaking: slanderous talk, malicious talk, filthy talk, and deceitful talk are all listed among the dead practices of the "old self." Our everyday speech is one of the fundamental starting places where we genuinely begin to live out our new reality as people of the resurrection.

And this is not for nothing. Because Paul's paraenesis is all wrapped up in the Image of God theology that he alludes to in verse 10, the image of God theology that underlies his whole understanding of the resurrection itself and its meaning for us as Christ-followers (see 1 Corinthians 15:49). In the resurrected Jesus, we see the true Image of God, who himself fulfills the calling and reveals the destiny of humanity, in the ultimate fulfillment of what God meant when he said in Genesis 1:27-28: "Let us make man in our image." (Look at how Paul describes Jesus in Colossians 1:15ff., if you want more fodder for this canon).

Jesus is the Image of God, and in him, and through union with him by faith in him, the Image of God-- our calling and our destiny as men and women--is restored in us. This is deep stuff. But not too deep, because Paul seems to say: you want to follow this living philosophy? Then let it start with your plain, everyday, down-to-earth speech.

Because in the "Image of God" text that underlies this passage, God creates the world by speaking, and then creates humanity in his image and likeness. Without getting too technical, the idea in Genesis seems to be that somehow, as creatures made in the Image of God, we are called, in a very limited sense, to carry on and extend God's creative work in the world. And just like God created the world through speech, so too human speech has the capacity to "create worlds" -- the true or false, whole or broken, healing or hurting realities that we inhabit, and that are created for us through the everyday act of speech.

So: if the Image of God is indeed being renewed and restored in us through the creative work of Christ by his Spirit, it's no surprise that Paul says we should look for it especially in wholesome, healing, truthful and salt-seasoned speech. Because there we begin to discover our creative calling as creatures made in the Image of the Creator who brings reality into being by his flawless Word.