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.

Living like the Evidence (4)

Acts 17:22-32. Naming the Unknown

DNTO and Cultural Exegesis

A while back I shared some thoughts on the Top 10 Reasons I Listen to CBC Radio. A reason I might add to the list if I were to update it today is the Saturday afternoon program called Definitely Not the Opera (so called, I found out recently, because it airs opposite the CBC Radio 2 program, Saturday Afternoon at the Opera).


If you've never heard it before, let me explain. In concept, the show takes a broad theme related to contemporary culture-- last week's theme was "small gestures"-- and then puts together a meandering itinerary of stories, songs and interviews all related to said theme. Over the course of two hours, it covers a lot of ground, from the inane, to the academic, to the curious, to the profound. The host, Sook-Yin Lee, has a warm way with interviews and an unpretentious knack for storytelling.


As a pastor, I find DNTO so compelling because it challenges me to think about the spiritual dimensions of everyday things ("the power of story" for instance, or "the place of small talk") and it gives me a chance to hear how people in our culture are experiencing things that the Christian Faith actually speaks to in a meaningful way ("the motivating power of guilt" perhaps, or "gain through personal sacrifice"). It's a 2 hour exercise in what they sometimes called "cultural exegesis" when I was in Seminary: listening to the deepest questions of culture and reflecting on what Word the Christian Faith might add to the conversation.


You can check the show out here, and you can download podcasts here. But in the meantime, here are some direct links to a few of my favorite episodes. If you're a Christian in a reflective mode today, and curious about doing a bit of "cultural exegesis," perhaps one of the following might give you some food for thought:


The episode on "forgiving and forgetting."


The "getting kicked out" episode.


The "listening" episode.

Living like the Evidence (3)

Acts 16:11-15. Standing at the Crossroads

The Medicine (or: where have you been all my life Mr. McMillan?)

About a month ago a friend of mine suggested I check out John Mark McMillan's latest CD called The Medicine. I've been pretty disillusioned with the "Worship Music" genre generally these days (my glowing review of Downhere last August not withstanding), so I have to say I put it in my stereo with not a little skepticism.

But somewhere around the middle of track 2, I knew I'd found a keeper. Lines that stopped me dead in my tracks tumbled out of the speakers with a pathos and humility and honesty that spoke to the the heart and the gut and the head all at once. Lines like: "We want your blood to flow inside our bodies / We want your wind inside our lungs."

Or: "When you walk into the room you know we can't resist / Every bottle of perfume always ends up on the floor in a mess"

Or:

"Cause I'm a dead man now
With a ghost who lives
Within the confines of
These carbon ribs
And one day when I'm free
I will sit
The cripple at your table
The cripple by your side"

They once asked the poet Philip Larkin why he wrote poetry, and he said something like: "Because no one's writing the kind of poems I most want to read." I always felt that answer explained why I tried to write songs-- no one was writing the kind of songs I most wanted to hear. I guess I'll have to find a different answer, maybe, now, because there's something happening on this disc I've been looking for, musically and lyrically speaking, for a while now.

And if your curiosity's not yet piqued, I'll leave you with this small sample:

Top Ten Books I Never Finished

Usually when I post book lists, I have formative or compelling reads in mind. But yesterday I was thinking wistfully about books I started with high hopes and good literary intentions but, through the vicissitudes of time or machinations of fate, somehow never finished. As an avid reader, it was a humbling exercise.

So here's my list of the top ten literary ghosts of my past, rattling their unfinished chains at me from the dusty corners of my bookshelf. What about you? Any books back there that you started with the best of intentions only to get bogged down and abandon somewhere between "Once upon a time" and "happily ever after"?


10. The Imitation of Christ,Thomas a Kempis.
I've tried twice to wade through this medieval masterpiece of Catholic piety, and something about it always escapes me.




9. Don Quixote, Cervantes.
I made it to the end of Book 1 and at page 450 or so, I was still only half way through. I sat for a moment in a staring contest with Book 2, until Book 2 won. (Later I sat through all 3.27 hours of the Man of La Mancha, so maybe in that I'm redeemed).

8. Middlemarch, George Eliot.
They told me this was a masterpiece of an English Novel but I could only get down the first 90 of its 800 or so pages before it lost me. Later I read Silas Marner and loved it, so maybe Middlemarch is worth a second attempt.



7. Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche.
Maybe if I were a nineteenth century German existentialist, this book might have seemed far less pompous, angry, and ridiculous; as it was I'd lost all ability to take him seriously after the first 50 or so pages.



6. Hard Times, Charles Dickens. For the record, Tale of Two Cities ranks high on my list of favorite novels, so it's not Dickens himself, but somehow the times in Hard Times were a bit too hard for my patience. I think I reshelved it after chapter 1.



5. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens.
See the disclaimer about Dickens on #6 above, but to be honest, while I could recognize the genius of this novel, I never quite made it to the end.





4. Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy.
Tess (of the d'Urbervilles) is one of my all time favorite heroines of English fiction, so I tackled Jude with quite high hopes. I'm not sure where or how, but at some point the whole plot seemed to unravel for me and I couldn`t muster up the sympathy to read Jude's sad tale to its (by all accounts) pathetic end.



3. The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis.
Funny enough, I really love this early Lewis book, and I've read it all the way to the last few chapters something like three times; but somehow it derails for me in its final throes, and I can't track the allegory through to the end of its last 20 pages.



2. The Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan.
And speaking of allegorical pilgrims, to my great chagrin I confess here that I never finished The Pilgrim's Progress. Moment of silence. I read Book I dutifully (and it was dutifully) but somehow I couldn't find the energy to do it all over again with Book II.



1. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Because people I respect deeply deeply respect this novel I did my best, but somewhere in the Russian Monk's life history, I trailed off and have never (yet) found my way back.

Prayer for the Offering (5)

God, as we prepare to worship through this act of offering today, we invite your Holy Spirit to remind us that really, we all come to you empty handed.

We have nothing to offer the Creator of the Universe that isn’t yours already. We have nothing to give a perfectly pure God that isn’t somehow muddied up with our human ambition and agendas. Nothing to do for the Lord of the whole Earth that you couldn’t do for yourself.

We’re empty handed.

And yet by your beautiful and mysterious grace, God, you invite us—empty handed though we are—you invite us to be part of your plan to heal and renew and bless this world through the unconquerable love of your Son Jesus Christ.

Thank you for that invitation, God. And as we give back to you now a portion of what is yours to begin with, Lord will you transform this offering into just one of the many ways we say “yes” to your gracious call on our lives?

Purify our motives, transform our agendas, and bring our ambitions into perfect alignment with Jesus, because it’s in his name and for your Glory that we pray. Amen.

***


Loving God, in Jesus we’ve discovered that you are generous beyond our ability to imagine.

So as we prepare to give back to you a portion of the money that you’ve entrusted into our care, we remember what he taught us.

He said: whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much… and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much… And he said: If we’ve not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can we expect God to trust us with true riches?

God, we invite your Spirit now to show us the true riches that you want to entrust into our care: riches like the grace, hope and love that is ours in Jesus Christ; riches like the good news about his immeasurable love for this aching world that is ours to share so generously; riches like the real life-purpose, the meaningful mission in the world, the beautiful destiny as His people that is ours to spend so freely.

O God, help us to see those riches today.

And then God, can you make us faithful in handling this worldly wealth here, today, so that we might learn in a small way what it means to be faithful in handling of the invaluable things of God?

Can you teach us, in this act of offering today, what it means to be trustworthy with the small things like money… so that we will grow more and more trustworthy with the big things… the good news of Jesus and the generous gifts of his Spirit. Make us trustworthy with those things, we pray, in his name, and for his sake. Amen.

****


God, in your book you tell us not to put our hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put our hope in you, because you richly provide all things for our enjoyment.

And you tell us, too, to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous, and willing to share. You said that in this way, we might take hold of the life that is life indeed.

So we ask, Lord, that you would show us where we’ve been putting our hope in uncertain wealth instead of in you. Show us where we’ve been spiritually poor, despite our material wealth. Teach us how to become truly rich in generosity and good deeds.

O God, make us want, more than anything, to take hold of the life that is life indeed. And then Lord, take this offering today, and transform it into a sign of that desire in us, the passion for heavenly things that you are kindling in us.

We pray in Christ’s name and for his sake. Amen.



***




Father in heaven,

Thousands of years ago, one of the wise teachers you inspired looked at the way people are with money and he called the whole project “a chasing after the wind.”

He said things like, “whoever loves money never has money enough and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” He said things like, “The sleep of a poor labourer is sweet, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.” He said things like, “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth is hoarded, to the harm of its owner, or lost through some misfortune.”

“This, too, is vanity.”

God, thousands of years later we still stand under those all-wise words. And if we’ve been losing sleep over our money, or hoarding money to our own harm, or never satisfied with our income, Lord, I invite your gracious, loving Spirit to convict us of that vanity today.

Set us free from chasing after the wind, and set us, instead, to chasing after the Way of Jesus. With all our heart, soul, mind and strength may we live as his servant-followers and sibling-friends.
It’s in his name and for his sake we pray, amen.

(It's not what you think)


Cover Me

Cover me, when the darkness has no answer
Cover me when the daylight can't be asked
Cover me when my words are full of chaos
Cover me, when I'm haunted by the past
In your eyes I find the child I left behind
So cover me

Cover me like the wind over the prairies
Cover me like the moon in an eclipse
Cover me like the sky over a pilgrim
Cover me like the sunlight on my steps
In your hands I find the heart I left behind
So cover me

When my thoughts were like an open wound
And my heart was like a smoky room
I found sanctuary like and empty tomb
When you came, you came
And covered me

Cover me in the haven of your heartbeat
Cover me in the shelter of your palms
Cover me in the refuge of your eyes
Cover me in the island of your arms
In your voice I find the song I left behind
So cover me

When my thoughts were like an open wound
And my heart was like a smoky room
I found sanctuary like and empty tomb
When you came, you came
And covered me

When my thoughts were like an open wound
And my heart was like a smoky room
I found sanctuary like and empty tomb
When you came, you came
And covered me

Narcissus (and other poems)

Narcissus

I gazed, once and now
again,
a Narcissus
into the soul-mirror
of a pool of ink
(once, and now a lake of level light):
Seeking an Echo
of my experience.


The asking

When asked on bended knees--
face to the floor and
heart
(I imagine) held in cupped hands heavy --
when asked, as I was saying,
to ask for anything,
Silly Solomon
(as yet unwise) asked for
open ears to sprout
on that heavy heart
of his.

We say today,
wisdom
of the request that day
because hearing hearts are so few and far
between that few would know
what to do with one
if we stumbled across it
on the street
let alone the pages of an ancient
book.


Fine wine (and the third day sign)

And while we lolled about,
crooning our raucous requiems
to lost innocence and
leaping gazelles,
toasting a tipsy epithalamion
and humming our homesick
hymeneal
till no eye in the place, nor throat was dry
but every cup
as dust, was empty,
He asked for water.

Then raised a glass
to life
breaking beautiful, full-bodied
against the palette
with a lingering bouquet of
earth, and smoke, and fresh new spice
in the nose and
at the veins and
to the coursing heart--
he set it down (the toast)
brimming with bright red wine.

We marveled, all, of course
and three days later marveled all the more
when like a cork sliding sharp
from a gaping bottle's mouth
the stone rolled back and first-born feet
stepped out
(with the faintest pop, perhaps?):
the grave like a sea of water splashing open
that the wine-red blood within
at last might breathe.

Living Like the Evidence (2)

Colossians 4:2-6. The Word-Door

Some Commentaries on John

This fall I preached an eight-part series on the "I am" statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John. I posted before some general thoughts on the unique challenges and blessings of preaching John. Now that I'm through the series I thought I'd share a few words on the some of the commentaries I used-- binoculars, so to speak, in my quest to spot the eagle.

Craig Keener's two volume commentary (Hendrickson, 2004) was an extremely useful resource for preaching John, and perhaps one of the most thorough commentaries on this Gospel that I've seen. In the past, I've really appreciated Keener's balanced and historical approach to New Testament exegesis, and this tome is no exception. Here he offers a breadth and depth of research that fleshed out the most obscure of images, and always drew me deeper into the text. There were times, perhaps, when it felt like his historical references were a bit erudite, at least for the purposes of pulpit ministry; and there were other times when I was looking for a more theological reading of the text than he was prepared to give, but overall it is a veritable treasure-trove of research, and a welcome addition to my spare but slowly growing commentary library.

I used John Brown's Anchor Bible Commentary on the Gospel of John quite extensively in seminary and found it often illuminating and always stimulating. The price was a bit too prohibitive for me to purchase my own copy, so I went instead with his "concise commentary," a sort of Cole's Notes for Brown's take on the Gospel. Though it was usually thought provoking, most often I found it a bit too concise for the kind of exegesis I felt necessary to preach these complex texts in a meaningful way. That said, there were a few times when he forced me to step back and get a big picture of the text, where someone like Keener had me lost in the particulars, and in that it was helpful.

The Gift of Understanding

The other day my son said to me in passing and with all seriousness, "Dad, now I understand what you do and how hard it is."


Perhaps obviously, this stopped me in my tracks. "What do you mean?" I asked.


"Well, I realized that, basically, you have to write an essay every single week." He went on to explain that his teacher had assigned him an essay that day, and since this was the second one in as many weeks, he had groaned inwardly. He said, "I thought, 'I don't want to write another essay, we just did one last week.' And then I realized, this is what Dad has to do all the time. Now I understand."


That was it: "Now I understand." And it's hard to explain, but as we talked, it was like I could feel a belt in my chest that had been two notches too tight for too long suddenly loosen; as if those two simple words, "I understand," had spoken balm over a place in my heart I didn't even realize was itching until they touched it.

And I think I understand a bit better, now, too. I understand why the prayer of St. Francis has that bit in it about being a channel of God's peace by seeking not so much to be understood, but to understand. Because if this moment of empathy with my son is any indication, then to really understand another person, and to let them know they are really understood, this is, or can be, a profound invitation to peace.

Living like the Evidence (1)

Romans 1:14-17: The News-flash

A thought on idolatry

The other day I was praying, and Jesus exposed some idolatry in me. I'd been dragging myself along, complaining to him about how tired I was when he very gently reminded me that in Matthew's Gospel, he had invited all those who were weary and heavy laden to himself, so that he might give them rest.

He reminded me of his very words: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."


Then he pointed out to me that if the Jesus I've been serving has given me a tough yoke to carry and a heavy burden to bear-- if the Jesus I've come to can only offer more weight for the load-- if there's no rest for the weary in this Jesus-- then it's not the real Jesus.


And if it's not the real Jesus then it's an idol.


We sometimes sing that song in church with the line: "O Lord we cast down our idols." I've never stopped all that much to wonder what that really means; but, like I say, the other day I was praying and Jesus gave me a glimpse of it. Because when I'm bruttally honest, I know that the "Jesus of the tough yoke and heavy burden" is a Jesus of my own making, an idol that needs casting down, so that the real Jesus--the Jesus who is full of grace and mercy and truth, who loved me before I ever loved him, who loves me regardless of what religious good deed I have or haven't yet done for him-- so that he might give me real rest.