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

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

Three Hands Clapping

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

Ghost Notes

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


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


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


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


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


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

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random reads

Book Reviews

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

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

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

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

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

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

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the?

Once when I was teaching I happened to overhear a girl at the back of the room talking about her ex-boyfriend. This jilted lover was expressing her bitterness over the cause of the jilting, and then drew a somewhat crass parallel between her anger and sexual intercourse, using an expletive that started with the 6th letter of the alphabet.

In short: she dropped the "f-bomb." And then she likened her ex to an unmentionable part of the human body.

Of course, a teacher's ears are finely tuned to this kind of "inappropriate verbiage," and I called her on it. But rather than eating her words, as most students would have done, she stood by her work: "What's the big deal, anyways?" she demanded. "It's just a word."

I didn't really have an answer for her, except to appeal to rules made by higher authorities that I knew she wouldn't have acknowledged anyways (the school board, society, a dusty old book with gilt lettering on its cover). So instead I tried to explain that using taboo words like these were actually an indication of ignorance-- a sign that the speaker is either too lazy or too stupid to find more accurate, more witty, more creative ways to express himself. And then I added (for good measure) that because I knew she was neither lazy nor stupid, it was unbecoming of her to leave others with the impression that she was.

That answer got me through to the bell. But I've thought about that question off and on ever since: What is the big deal about these shocking words?

Even appeals to the highest authority will only get you so far. To be sure, in Ephesians 5:4 the Good Book warns us not to let "obscenity" sully our lips. But then, back in Ezekiel 23, God's own prophet likens Israel's political aliance with Egypt to "adultery"-- and then describes her Egyptian "lovers" in terms that I might blush to repeat in a locker-room, let alone behind the pulpit.

So the question lingers: what is the big deal?

If my student were to ask me that same question today-- why does it matter if I swear?-- I think I'd take a different tack. "It's because you're created in the Image of God," I'd say.

And when she looked at me sideways, I'd explain: there's this ancient story from the cradle of humanity that says when the Creator made the world, he made it by speaking. He spoke things into existence. And then when he made humans, he said: "I'm going to make you in my 'Image,'" which basically means we're given a special role by the Creator to carry on (in small ways) the work that he began.

And then I'd point out that, if God creates the World by speaking, and we are made in his image; then it sort of follows that, to a lesser degree, humans "create worlds" by speaking, too. And it's true: human speech is always "world-creating" because our words create the realities we inhabit.

So when we take a word, for instance, that literally describes sexual intercourse, and use it in ways that are shocking, violent, degrading or empty; then, like it or not, in that spoken word we're actually creating a world where sex itself is shocking, violent, degrading, and empty for us. At the same time, we're destroying that world the Creator is after, where sexuality is affirming and tender and life-giving.

So the question is not: "did you utter any of the phonemes found on this arbitrary list of taboo words?" The question really is: are you using speech to create, or to destroy? Are you Imaging God in your talk?

That's a better answer, I think. And when we ask the question like that, interestingly, we find that there may actually be times when using words that are shocking, even taboo, can actually be a creative act, a step towards answering our calling as creatures made in the image of the creator.

Ezekiel, I think, got this.

So did the author of the Hebrews. In one place he's talking to people who are experiencing God's "discipline" and asking why, and he says (according to the NIV): "If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons." But the word translated "illegitimate children" there is actually a rather shocking term in the Greek, a word not necessarily suited to polite society (it's not for nothing the KJV renders it: "If ye be without chastisement ... then ye are bastards and not sons"). Because perhaps it's only in the shock of this scandalous speech that we actually feel the scandal of wanting to enjoy the Christian life without without the sometimes difficult but always loving discipline of God.

Even the author of Ephesians 5:4, I think, understood this power of speech. In Philippians 3:8, after listing all the religious accolades and spiritual accomplishments he's accrued in life, he says: but I consider all that "rubbish" compared to the goal of winning Christ. That's how the NIV renders the verse, but "rubbish," it turns out, is not near earthy enough. The word in Greek--skubala-- though not quite an "s-word" itself--certainly would have raised more eyebrows in the Philippian church than mere "rubbish" does today. The KJV renders it "dung," but for dynamic equivalence, I've heard that "crap" (or its scatological synonyms) might not be too far off.

And if we could hear that shocking skubala with the ears of the Philippian Christians Paul's writing to here, we might actually discover ourselves standing in a fresh-made world where there really is no crown in heaven or on earth that looks gold, compared to the all-surpassing riches of Christ.

And that's a big deal. It's never "just a word."


Jon Coutts said...

Hey Dale, great post, now that you are back I'm finding it hard to keep up with you!

I've wondered about "swearing" for a while now, and this gives a good way to think about it. I wonder:

Is "human speech" really "always "world-creating"? Isn't it also world-expressing and perception-creating? We don't actually ever create anything with it do we? Aren't we more reflecting on it, or aspects of it? Does it not then become the question whether our speech is true, and then if true, whether it loves?

Is the girl with her F-word really dragging the beauty of sexual intercourse through the mud or is she using that word because it makes crass something beautiful, and, well, this occasion calls for a descriptive word that expresses just that.

She may not be "actually creating a world where sex itself is shocking, violent, degrading, and empty for us" but is speaking out of a world where it is those things, and lumping the current experience in with all that crap (pardon my language).

She didn't create this world. She may not be redeeming it, mind you. In fact she may be only adding to its downward spiral. And so I guess that brings us around to your call to let our speech image the Creator.

But aren't her words true? The world is f'ed up, or at least our experience is... I wonder if we could answer such language by responding to the truth it speaks and following through to questions of better hopes, and whether she meant it that way or not, take the appearance of the swear word as a distant and unknowing echo of Ezekiel and Hebrews.

I guess that brings me around to agreeing with you. The question is indeed not a matter of taboo words, but direction of speech and whether it wants to stop at expressing the f'ed up nature of the world or whether it wants to have a share in the redemption coming to it? I don't know if we can say we create that new world with our speech, but our speech can be pulled into its creation. More words can be said.

Am I disagreeing with you or agreeing with you here?

I guess if we're taking this back to your moment with that girl, I'd say why challenge her language at all? Why not inquire into what it means?

I'm reminded of the YFC worker who told me that one of the most God-resistant students he'd been trying to love for a long time came to him and confessed he had told God to f off. The YFC worker's response was to say with a smile "hey so you've decided to start talking to Him"! And proceeded to talk about whatever the problem was.

Maybe there are problems with that, only the one in the situation can really discern that I suppose. But I liked that.