Ghost Notes

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

inversions

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

soundings

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

bridges

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

echoes

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

Accidentals

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

blogs I follow

random reads

Book Reviews

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

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

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

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

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

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


The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

The Stuff List

Maybe a short example from The Year of Living Biblically will help to clarify, and perhaps justify some of my previous raving about this book (and at the same time, it may offer some food for though in its own right).

On Day 270 of his journey of following the Bible as literally as possible, A. J. Jacobs tackles 1 Corinthians 13:4-5: "love keeps no record of wrongs." In this case, he has to tackle things quite literally, because he violates this commandment quite literally. He keeps, as he humbly confesses, a file on his Palm Pilot innocently labelled "stuff," where he keeps a running record of times when he remembered something correctly and his wife remembered it wrong. Apparently his wife is always accusing him of having a poor memory, to which he responds that he has a decent enough memory and that she remembers things wrong a lot, too. But when she asks for an example he can never think of one-- hence the mnemonic list of "stuff" his wife got wrong. The story of the only time he ever put his list "into action," during an unsavory dispute over "who left the microwave door open," was quite hilarious and involved him sneaking into the bathroom to consult his list in secrecy (Julie, until Day 270, knew nothing about "the list"). He reemerged with an example of a time she locked the keys in the car.

Freely admitting the irony of needing to consult a list to prove he has a good memory, he also freely admits that this is probably the exact thing Paul was preaching against in 1 Corinthians. So in keeping with his "literalist" project, Jacobs deletes the stuff list, but not before showing it to his wife, who just laughs at him: "How could I be angry?" she says, "It's just so heartbreaking that you need this."

And as I'm reading, I'm laughing, too; but I'm also convicted about my own "stuff" list. It's not on my Palm Pilot, perhaps, and maybe not as literal as his, nor as specific to marital disputes, but I know about that "list" that I keep filed away somewhere in the corner of my heart, that record of times I was in the right and "they" were in the wrong. And I realize that, for all the seriousness with which I take the Pauline authorship and canonical authority of 1 Corinthians 13, I have yet to wipe that record completely clean.

If only it were as easy as clicking the delete button.

Jacobs says this about following 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 as literally as possible: "I know it may seem like a small thing, but the 'Stuff' incident made me realize my worldview is too much about quantification. It consists of thousands of little ledgers. ... When I forgive, I file away the other person's wrongs for possible future use. It's forgiveness with an asterisk."

Wow. May God grant his church a reading of the Bible so literal that we discover what it really is to love without the asterisk.

Who died and left you judge?

I've blogged before about how I don't really watch TV anymore, which I only mention here to explain why, on a recent flight to Alberta, I spent almost the full four hours staring blankly at that tiny little screen on the back of the seat in front of me. I just wanted to see what's been happening in TV land since I last watched.

So I watched a show about some dancers who think they can dance, but find out from three well-dressed and articulate judges who know better, that they really can't in the end.

A show where people who sing ballads or juggle flaming chainsaws or some such stand under the scrutiny of their fellow Americans so that three discerning judges can tell them if their nation has any talent after all.

And a show about some people who think they know what to wear, but find out from well-meaning experts that, when it's all said and done, they don't really.

And I have to say: four hours later, I left the plane feeling really judged. Really. I can't dance anywhere near as well as the worst of those dancers who thought they could; and if they can't then where does that leave me? And I sing way worse than that guy who just got "x"ed off the stage; and if he sucks, then how long would I have lasted? I thought I knew what to wear, too, but now I'm not so sure, because I sure don't dress as sharp as that guy. And, of course, I use none of the gadgets, products, services or media that any of those 30-second narratives peppered between shows kept insisting I needed if I wanted to fit in.

For a fleeting flashback of a moment, I felt like I was in junior high all over again, standing, like I always did, in the wrong jeans with the wrong coloured school bag on the wrong side of the hall. I almost slunk off the plane.

But today, having recovered from all the gawking and name calling and finger-pointing, I'm left wondering: does our media-bombarded world walk collectively under a looming shadow of judgment like this all the time? Is this why shows like these are so popular after all, because they confirm for us what we always suspected about ourselves anyways: no one's good enough, but if I'm not, then at least I know they aren't either.

Do we judge because we feel judged?

But I'm also wondering about Romans 8:34. There Paul asks a question I always thought was little more than a rhetorical lead-in to the gospel, but after four hours of reality TV I'm hearing with new ears.

"Who is the one who condemns?"

Because if "reality TV" is a glimpse of anything real at all, then it's a glimpse of that system of social condemnation that we all participate in, and stand under, and perpetuate, and that is, perhaps, as old as civilization itself.

And that's where Paul's answer shines out as the Good News it really is. There really is only one who's in any position to condemn, because only he stands apart from this whole system of social condemnation, and thus is himself the only Righteous Judge: Christ Jesus.

And as Paul reminds us, the Good News is that this Judge has already passed his judgement on us. The verdict is delivered: in the cross we are found guilty of the worst godlessness and at the same time loved beyond all reckoning ("Forgive them Father they know not what they do" is a judgment on our ignorance as much as it is a plea for our forgiveness.) And in his resurrection victory over sin and death, Jesus judges all our hypocrisies and self-judgments and condemnation of others as the idolatrous systems of human power that they really are, unable to speak the final word on the value of human life.

In that perfect judgment he sets us free from the glare of those televised judges who stare us down from their benches on national TV, or where ever else their eyes are watching. He sets us finally free to love our neighbours as ourselves, knowing that we ourselves have already been judged and claimed by the love of God, and no power on heaven or earth can speak a word of judgment to the contrary.

Happy Birthday Mr. Hopkins

Today is Gerard Manley Hopkins's birthday. I've written before about my deep appreciation for the poetry of this Jesuit priest: like a pint of Guinness for the soul, maybe.

He has this short poem called "Pied Beauty." Maybe the only poem where you could say something like "I read it with the ears of my eyes, and my heart heard what my imagination saw..." and not feel totally ridiculous.

See for yourself:

Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Not that I feel I ever could, or should add anything to that, but I while ago I wrote a little ditty based on the themes of this poem. It's really not much, but in celebration of the 166th birthday of my favorite poet, I thought I'd share it here. It goes like this:



And while I'm at it, I thought I'd re-post a song I'd posted before based on another Hopkins poem: Windhover.



And while I'm still at it, here's a poem I wrote about 6 years ago or so, in response to his beautiful and arresting sonnet #45, "I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day."

Logos

O! to be pierced in the soul with words, their nails burning.
Pierced hands and feet, pinned body driven down against the thought,
the bright stab of the shining logos touching to the very heart
and letting flow the mingled blood and water of my yearning.
Encompassing my brow within the twisted knot of thorny verse
to beat, break, bruise but balm my crown, let stream the wish,
your ringing, swinging phrase at once can flay and salve my flesh,
and lift against my lips a vinegar to slake and hone my thirst.

See! There! Look! Led by the heart, you've held me by the ear
brought to the root of the triumphant tree on gleaming wings.
Ah! There! In the bubble of my passion, in you passion, springs
as flotsam in the flowing fountain of His passion, pure
haloes, light, and streaming blood, doves, bells, stars and other holy things:
To praise the Word that that was the first, my broken word now sings.

Back (with a Book, a Flick and a Song (or two))

My hiatus from blogging ends today. Back at the end of June, the blog-well had almost run dry altogether, so in the last few weeks away from my posting post, I've spent some time deliberately doing other things: reading some books, watching some movies, listening to some fresh music, and generally letting the water come back up. I'm just about ready to start putting the bucket down again, but I thought, for today, I might start by sharing some of the other things I've been up to in the in-between-time.


Read a good book: The Year of Living Biblically
This book is a gem of a read, and I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone, but especially to Christians who've grown up with phrases like "inerrant" and "authoritative" tinting their faith-coloured glasses, and want to see the Good Book through an unexpectedly fresh lens. A. J. Jacobs is a self described agnostic (he's actually Jewish, though he says he's "Jewish the way the Olive Garden is an 'Italian' restaurant"); he's also a witty and insightful writer interested in issues related to religious fundamentalism and its impact on culture. The premise of his book: to spend a year following the 1700 or so commands in the Bible as literally as possible, including the most obscure ones like not wearing mixed-fibre clothing, letting his clothing be always white, not taking a mother bird along with the egg, and playing a ten-stringed lyre. He writes about the Bible with an honesty, humility, affection, sense of humour and self-awareness that a good number of "Christian" books I've read never achieve, for all their Evangelical "high view of Scripture". And along the way, the fresh insights and spiritual discoveries he makes-- about this beautiful and baffling Book that has so shaped my life as a Christian-- are sometimes arresting, often challenging and quite refreshing (even the times he left me wanting to scream: "no, you just don't get it!", it was a refreshing impulse).

Saw a summer flick: Inception
I saw the trailer for this movie when I was on holidays, and right away I thought: that looks like my kind of movie. It's the first movie in a long time whose release date I've marked on the calendar. It didn't disappoint-- or mostly didn't disappoint. Thematically, there's a lot less going on there than the premise might have made possible. A "dream thief" who specializes in infiltrating the dreams of others to steal their thoughts is hired to reverse the process and plant a thought in another man's mind through a risky procedure known as "inception." With a plot like that, I actually expected a more Salvador Dali-esque exploration of the human psyche than I got. But, if not quite so surreal as Dali, the movie is at least M. C. Escher-esque, with its contorted dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams and its labyrinthine convolutions of time and space. And as an action movie, it's original and unexpectedly riveting. (While this is not normally pointed out for special mention in a review, I also want to add that the sound production on this movie was exceptional, drawing you into the action almost like an additional character.)

Listened to an inspiring song (or Two): Ending is Beginning (Downhere)
I saw this CD in the library about a month ago, when I was there helping my kids get some reading material. The founding members of Downhere, I knew, were Briercrest alumni, and though I'd never heard them before, I'd heard a lot about them in my time studying there, and thought I'd give it a try. It's been getting a lot of play time over the last month. Eclectic musical styles, hopeful but honest lyrics, engaging songwriting with creative arrangements and top-notch production: it's a CD that rewards repeated listens. And then there's lines like these:
.
I'm so far from what I want to be / Oh I really am my own worst enemy / Please don't let me get the better of me / Take this earthly thing and make it finally something heavenly
.
It's justice and mercy the old dichotomies / all along the front lines of my heart / in both doubt and belief /the sinner and the saint, the old arch enemies / all at war in me