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 Wisdom of Qohelet (V)

Here's my fifth sermon in our series on the Book of Ecclesisastes.


Ecclesiastes 4:1-3. Tears


A Few Random Dispatches from the Movies

Not sure if it's because we're trapped in the late-winter doldrums, or what, but the last few weeks at the Harris household we've been watching more movies than usual; and this may be a result of the late-winter doldrums, too, but today I can think of nothing more profound for blog-fodder than to share some of my random impressions of what we've been watching.


Iron Man. This was better than many of the films I've seen in the super-hero genre, and the story of Tony Stark's redemption is not entirely without merit (even if it is a redemption-by-works-not-grace), but the idea that he created an arc-reactor-powered-battle suit out of spare parts while holed up in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan was such a big pill to swallow at the outset that my sympathy for the film was greatly diminished going forward. I'm as willing to suspend my disbelief as the next guy (usually more), but even science fiction has to set the terms of believability somewhere. But then again, lots of things blow up.

The Simpsons Movie. I stopped watching The Simpsons somewhere around Season 11, so maybe this film was just the final throes of a gradual decline that I've not been privy to, but I have to say I was pretty disappointed with this movie. I felt like all their best jokes had been told by the 25 minute mark, all their best characters were reduced to cameos and catch-phrases, and their best satire amounted to little more than obvious cheap shots at easy targets. Probably one of the biggest challenges in producing a film based on a long-running television franchise is to tell a real story that stands on its own merits while staying faithful to the series; this film, I think, did neither.

The Social Network. "Film of the Year" (Rolling Stone) seems a bit grandiose to me, but I really enjoyed this one, nonetheless. With the exception of the final exchange between Zuckerberg and the Junior Lawyer for the Defense, I appreciated how carefully they handled the (fictional) Zuckerberg as a dynamic and complex character. The lawyer's line in that final scene, "You're not an a**h*le, you're just trying too hard to be one" seemed a bit too preachy and transparent to me, as though the film didn't trust the audience to draw its own conclusions about Zuckerberg but had to force-feed us a verdict. Oh yeah, and as characters, the Winklevoss twins were almost embarrassingly flat and cliched.

The King's Speech. This was an inspiring and enjoyable movie, and Bertie was one of the most genuinely sympathetic characters I've seen in a long time: he's dynamic and complex and well-portrayed. The cinematography took creative risks that worked, and the way the film conveys the ominous uncertainty that must have overshadowed this period of history is effective. That said, it lost me (though not irredeemably) at two points: 1) Timothy Spall's Churchill seemed like he'd just stumbled out of a Monty Python sketch, or off the set of SNL (if SNL ever parodied historical British politicians, that is); 2) Bertie's "I have a voice!" assertion when Logue taunts him by sitting on St Edward's Chair seemed almost laughably contrived and transparent. This scene almost sank the movie for me. As with my critique of The Social Network above, it left me wondering: when did film-makers get the impression that audiences were so stupid that they had to club us over the head with the theme of their film at least once before the movie is done?

Sisters in Christ

I feel like I'm always the last to find out about these things, but today they announced on the radio that it's International Women's Day-- a day set aside to recognize and celebrate "the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future."

Of course, you sometimes hear the claim that the Christian Faith is one of the main reasons we need things like an "International Women's Day" to rectify years of marginalization in the first place; but my experience and general impression is that people who make this claim have actually given Christianity at best a cursive and cliched reading. Not everything the Church has always said and done when it comes to gender equality has always been above reproach, to be sure, but it's not for nothing that the (highly macho) ancient world dismissed early Christianity derisively as a religion of "women and slaves."

Be that as it may, for my part on this International Women's Day and all, I began compiling a list of sisters in Christ through whom God has left a significant Kingdom-mark on the world, women whose contributions theological, pastoral, literary or missiological have spiritually enriched the heavenly coffers of the people of God, so to speak. This list morphed into the short quiz below.

Each of the following quotes are by (or in the case of those marked with an asterisk, about) a well-known woman of the Faith, past or present. How many of these Sisters in Christ can you identify correctly?

Who said (or in the case of 5 and 6, about whom was it said):

1. ...the soul is now wounded with love for its Spouse and strives for more opportunities to be alone and, in conformity with this state, to rid itself of everything that can be an obstacle to this solitude.

2. Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see! I am resolved that in this world, contented I will be!

3. The saint in prayer, friends around the dinner table, the mother reaching out her arms for her newborn baby are in kairos. The bush, the burning bush, is in kairos, not any burning bush, but the particular burning bush before which Moses removed his shoes; the bush I pass by on my way to the brook. In kairos that part of us which is not consumed in the burning is wholly awake.

4. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.

5. O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle. *

6. For thy hands, O my God, in the hidden design of thy providence did not desert my soul; and out of the blood of my mother's heart, through the tears that she poured out by day and by night, there was a sacrifice offered to thee for me, and by marvelous ways thou didst deal with me. *

7. A great benefit of Sabbath keeping is that we learn to let God take care of us — not by becoming passive and lazy, but in the freedom of giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives.

8. The poets began drifting away from churches as the jurists grew louder and more insistent.

9. So I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

10. People say to me. ‘What about the rich?’ They need Jesus too.’ Well, that’s fine if you’re called to them, but we’re called to the poor. The rich can look after themselves.

On Sentences and Theolo-tweets

If you're here today because you're like me and you're curious about the relationship between words and spirituality, do yourself a favor and listen to this. It's an interview Anna Maria Termonti had on CBC's The Current with acclaimed literary critic Stanley Fish, about the place and power of the sentence in our lives. He has some thought-provokingly insightful things to say about the power of a well-crafted sentence, and he says them articulately and eloquently. If nothing more, it will inspire you to try your hand at writing
a scintillating sentence.

If you don't have the 25 minutes to treat yourself today, let me offer you this sample of his musings, by way of tantalization:

"A sentence is an admission by each of us who writes a sentence, or reads one, that we are not where we want to be; that is: a sentence is a statement which indicates distance, both from the people we're talking to, and the objects we're hoping to commune about. And in a theological vision of unity with God, everyone is united, speech is not necessary, meaning is full, and sentences need not be produced. [In other words], sentences, and the need to write them, are signs of our mortality."

Later he will talk incisively about modern technologies like Twitter, and the limitations they place on our ability and willingness to express ourselves in sentences longer than 140 characters. He won't say what you might expect a literary critic to say (that Twitter has somehow irreparably "undermined" the sentence). But he will say this: "If your entire imperative or sense of obligation in relation to sentences can be summed up by words like brevity and concision, you've cut yourself off not only from the pleasures of reading other kinds of sentences, but from the pleasure of trying to produce them." (And he'll say that off the top of his head, too.)

But this brings me to the reason I haven't been able yet to shake this interview.

It's because recently, a rather well known, if controversial Evangelical Pastor from Michigan announced that he's got a new book coming out about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who ever Lived. And he made his announcement by means of a brief 3 minute promotional video that did little more than ask rhetorical questions about the traditional Christian position on our prospects in the hereafter. And true to his controversial reputation, he implied that some sacred cows may be on their way to a theological burger-joint near you; or, put less metaphorically: that he was about to give the traditional doctrine of Hell some sceptical scrutiny.

The book's slated for release March 29th.

Before the book hit the shelves, however, another well-known, if vociferously straight-laced Evangelical Pastor from Minnesota saw a brief blog post which denounced the book (and its author), unread, as "universalist" (i.e. not "believing in" Hell). This third-hand, hear-say evidence prompted the pastor from Minnesota to tweet this cursive dismissal of the pastor in question: Farewell, Rob Bell.

Rob Bell trended, briefly. The barometer of the Evangelical blog-o-sphere plunged, briefly. Bell's publishers moved the release date for the book up to March 15th. And I think I heard laughing on the way to the bank.

But here's where Stanley Fish comes in, because I'm wondering today what light he might shed on this sordid business, with all his philosophical musings about the power of carefully crafted sentences to enrich our worlds and deepen our lives and humble us with a sense of our own limitation. Because a humble, deep, and generous contribution to theological discourse "Farewell Rob Bell " is not.

To be fair, the aforementioned pastor from Minnesota has tackled pastors that he's disagreed with in book-length dissertations, too (he's sort of the Michael Strahan of the Evangelical world when it comes to tackling pastors he disagrees with). But this 4-word dismissal of a man, an (unread) book, a theological issue and all those who are willing to engage it made me feel especially sad. After all: has Twitter really reduced theology to this? Is our dialogue about God and his plan for his creation worth no more effort and grace than we might exert in vetting the Oscars?

To paraphrase Fish quite liberally: "If your entire imperative in relation to theological issues can be summed up by words like brevity and concision, you've cut yourself off from more than just the pleasure of reading a well-crafted sentence." You've cut yourself off, perhaps, from the pleasure of really truthing one another in love.

Seven Words to the Wise

As I mentioned before, I've been working through the Book of Ecclesiastes for about a month now, and finding it challenging, inspiring and poignant. At one point I said to my wife: I feel like I'm being converted, all over again. My tongue was in my cheek, of course, but what I meant was: when I read Ecclesiastes, I discover this way of being in the world that is very wise, but in many ways very different from how I've learned to be Christian over the years.

Here are some of the lessons The Teacher's been coaching me on so far:

1. Don't flatter yourself: ennui over the fact that there's nothing new under the sun is itself nothing new under the sun.

2. All we are and all we do is "under the sun": contrary to appearances, human potential-- even human wisdom--is not limitless, nor was it meant to be.

3. To accept the existential absurdities of life is a source of great wisdom: Everything is "hebel" ("vapor," KJV's vanity, NIV's meaningless) not because it's worthless, but because it refuses to line up with our human intuition of rational cause and effect; don't rage against this, but accept the Creator's prerogative.

4. Work is only good because it's not ultimate: accepting the limitations the Creator has placed on the outcomes of our work (and our ministries) sets us free to enjoy our work for what it is.

5. Savor simplicity: luxury itself is "hebel".

6. Stay in the Now: "There is a time for everything," and right now is the time for what's happening right now.

7. Hold your tongue: "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools." Full stop.