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.

Tidings of Great Joy (or: why I'm not "incarnational")

I've been thinking quite a bit these days about the incarnation. And not just because 'tis the season; it's because I've been working on a course about "the missional church" for my denominational ordination, and one of the recurring themes in the material I'm reading is the idea that because "the Word became Flesh," in the remarkable way that he did, the church is called by implication to be "incarnational." This logical move, from "incarnation" to "incarnational," is so common among missional-church literature these days that it goes almost unexamined: because God became flesh in Jesus, we're supposed to "enflesh" our message.

For those of you who don't spend a lot of time perusing missional-church literature, let me explain a bit more: when they say "incarnational," what books like this mean is that we can't just "tell" people that God loves them, we need to give that message "flesh," by loving them ourselves (and it has to be in concrete ways, feeding those who are hungry, clothing those who are shivering, embracing those who are outcast). When they say "incarnational," they mean that it's not enough for us just to "believe" in inward-looking, isolated ways and places, but we have to give our faith "flesh" by "getting out there" with the message, going where the people are (and again it has to be in concrete ways, usually (at least in the books I've been reading) in conveniently cool ways like opening a cafe where people can talk about spirituality, or visiting the local pub to talk about Jesus, or hosting rock concerts and poetry readings for secular people).

Before I say what I'm about to say, let me say that I agree with books like these when they say that if what we believe about Jesus stays in the abstract and we don't live it out in concrete ways, then we aren't experiencing biblical Christianity. I hold as much to the authority of James 2:20 as to the authority of Romans 10:9. And so I'm all for feeding people who are hungry, rubbing spiritual shoulders with people who don't know Jesus, even poetry readings (see here and here). In this, at least, they have my ear.

But the other day it occurred to me that, when we call all this "being incarnational," or when we use the doctrine of the "incarnation" as a foundation for this, we're probably not experiencing biblical Christianity, either. My friend David has some thoughts on this subject that are worth reflection (he actually uses the "b" word). But since some of us will sing the words "Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel" more than once this month, let me offer a few more reasons why, theologically speaking, I'm not "incarnational," at least not the way the books I've been reading tell me I should be.

First: When we talk about "being incarnational" we reduce to death-dealing Law one of the most profound declarations of life-giving Gospel ever announced to the world ("Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord") Put differently: the Incarnation is about what God has done for the world in Emmanuel, not what we must do for the world as followers of Emmanuel; and when we move from the doctrine of the Incarnation over into "Incarnational mission," we just throw people back on themselves, telling them to do for themselves what only God can do, instead of offering them the unquenchable grace of God, who comes to us in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Put differently again: the Historic Faith has always understood the incarnation as a fundamental piece in the puzzle of soteriology (so Gregory of Nyssa on the incarnation: "What God has not assumed, God has not saved"); and maybe only in the utilitarian, semi-Pelagian, materialistic paradigm of late Evangelicalism, where salvation is strictly limited to a transaction made (so quickly) at the cross, could anyone talk with any seriousness about the Incarnation as work we're called to do (so Hybels: "the local church is the hope of the world.") Put differently one last time: Incarnation is about God's act to save us; Incarnationality is about our act, in essence, to save ourselves (and if that sounds over-blown, note how most missional church talk ties our need to be "incarnational" with the fact that the church is in serious decline in the west-- i.e.: if we don't "get out there," our thing won't survive).

Okay, that's First. Now Second: The Bible already has a pretty clear and direct way of talking about how we are supposed to live in response to the Gospel, and it's not "incarnational," it's "cruciform." We're explicitly called to take up our cross (Matthew 16:24), to share in the sufferings of Christ (Romans 7:18), or as Paul so audaciously puts it, to fill up the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Biblically speaking, the mould for the Christian life is shaped like a cross, not a manger; and only if we let the Incarnation be the good news that it really is (instead of turning it into cheap Law) could we ever talk about answering the call to the cruciform life with any seriousness (i.e. only if we are fully assured that God really is with us in the muck and mire of our deepest suffering can we have any hope in taking up our cross and following the suffering Christ). And this distinction matters, because I can be "incarnational" by doing what I already enjoy doing (say: going to the pub or the rock concert), I just need to tag Jesus onto it to make it somehow "missional"; but I can't be "cruciform" without a radical and fundamental realignment of how I see the world and what I care about in the world. And as I say this, I wonder: could this relatively new reading of the Incarnation be Modern Evangelicalism's subconscious effort to salve it's throbbing conscience over the fact that, by and large, it's returned a vacillating "I cannot come" to Christ's invitation to the cruciform life?


Anonymous said...

Fantastic stuff!