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 2010 terra incognita Literary Awards

For the last two years at terra incognita, I've taken a moment in January to list the top ten reads of the previous year. As I worked on my list for 2010, I found my selections more eclectic than usual, so I thought I'd put a slightly different spin on things. Rather than a generic "Top Ten," I offer here the 2010 terra incognita literary awards (drum-roll, please):

1. Most annoying read: Shopping for God, James B. Twitchell.

A self-described "apatheist," James Twitchell offers a secular market analysis of American Christianity that examines it strictly as a phenomenon of Western capitalism. His thesis: in the saturated market of American Christendom, those denominations that best "market" their "product" will thrive, while those that have lost touch with the market will soon be going into receivership. I call it annoying because, even though he confused evangelism with advertising in a way that made me want to scream "you just don't get it!" at the same time he kept putting his finger on things wrong in the church with a clarity and wit that kept shutting me up.

2. Most traumatic read: Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges argues that North American culture is on the brink of moral, political and economic collapse, and that in the triumph of spectacle over literacy that we see in every venue of social discourse-- politics, business, entertainment, news media, higher education (nothing escapes his levelled critique)-- we are actually witnessing the final throes of a debauched culture, medicating itself with fantasy and illusion in the face of its own demise. He then offers an unflinching, if graphic description of the culture's worst debauches to prove his point. Please note: I do not recommend this book to the faint of spirit. I was quite literally shaken for a week after reading it.

3. Most bombastic read: Shake-Down, Ezra Levant.

Ezra Levant writes with the tenacity of a bulldog, the alacrity an injury lawyer and the tact of a town-crier. Shake-Down is the chronicle of his legal contest with the Canadian Human Rights Commission after a Calgary Imam charged him with hate-speech for re-printing the notorious Danish political cartoons about Mohamed back in 2005; it is also his scalding critique of the HRC and the poorly-checked legal clout that it wields; it is also his call for a drastic over-haul (if not complete disbanding) of the HRC as an unnecessary and unCanadian institution.

4. Most disappointing read: Hey Nostradamus, Douglas Coupland.

I started reading this multi-layered story about some survivors of a school shooting when I was a sub back in the Moose Jaw days, because the remedial English class I was teaching was studying it. The gig ended before we finished the novel, and I never got to hear how Jason's bizarre story finished. So when I saw it in the library this summer, I thought I'd give it a re-try. Those first fifty pages in Moose Jaw, it turns out, were the best of the book. Especially disappointing was his depiction of the religious nut, Reg. Not that I have a problem with caricatures of religious nuts in literature, but Coupland writes about religious fanaticism like someone who has no clue what religious fanaticism really looks or sounds like, and thinks he can just drop lame lines like "all I ever wanted for you was the kingdom" (fanatic Reg to his estranged son), wink knowingly at the audience, and we'll just let our anti-religion prejudice do the work of characterization for him.

5. Most rewarding re-read: A Wizard of Earthsea,Ursual Le Guin

The beauty of A Wizard of Earthsea wasn't entirely lost on me when I read it back in Grade 7, but re-reading this gem 24 years later, I was caught off guard with its depth, lyricism and wisdom. Earthsea is as compelling a world as Middle-Earth and more vivid than Narnia, but its Ged's journey to name his shadow that works away at you long after the book is closed. I wonder how it will be reading it again when I'm 70?

6. Most enraptured read: A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin

I've had Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War sitting unread on my bookshelf for almost 15 years; I bought it at a used book store because I'd read his Winter's Tale and loved it. This fall I finally decided it was time to justify lugging this 700+ pager with me on 5 consecutive moves, so I made the time to read it. I'm glad I did: one of the purest works of fiction I've read in a long time.

7. Most edifying read: Theology for the Community of God, Stan Grenz.

Stan Grenz has renewed my appreciation for systematic theology and has convinced me that more than any practical church-growth books or ministry manuals, what pastors most need to read is theology. He is irenic, erudite, lucid and reverent in this book, and there were times when reading his work led me into a profound experience of worship-- and he never even picked up a guitar. My wife and I are contemplating reading it together as a devotional book this year.

8. Most willing required read: The New Creation, Theodore Runyon
Required reading for a Wesleyan Theology course I took this spring as part of my ordination in the FMCiC, Runyon's study of "The Image of God" in Wesley's soteriology was inspring and challenging. (The "Most Willing" in the award title is also my indication that there were some required reads this year that I read somewhat begrudgingly).

9. Most unexpectedly interesting read: How Soccer Explains the World,Franklin Foer
Unexpectedly interesting because I am not a soccer fan-- I'm so not a soccer fan that I didn't even know I'd started reading it the same time the FIFA World Cup was about to begin in South Africa. Foer's thesis is that soccer offers us a vivid microcosm of the global economy, and he travels the world to show how beautifully soccer illustrates the ironic effect of globalism, which entrenches us in ever tightening tribes even as it homogenizes us as global consumers. By the time I was done the book, I had become fascinated enough with "the beautiful game" to watch the World Cup final with enthusiasm and appreciation.

10.Best all-round read: The Year of Living Biblically, A. J. Jacobs
I've written about this book here and here, so I won't repeat myself now, except to say that of all the good books I read about the Good Book this year, I'm glad this was one of them.

0 comments: