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.

Inspiration, Imagination, and the Image of God

There's a story from the cradle of humanity that describes God creating human beings by the power of his speech, and it says that he created them in his image, "male and female, in the image of God made he them." There's far more going on in these few simple words from Genesis 1:27 than could ever fit into a 500 word blog post (indeed, they've inspired theological words-in-response at a ratio of something like 1,000,000:1) but what I'm thinking about today is the fact that, in the ancient world, a king who had conquered a land would then set up his image (zelem) in that land, the idea being that the image would effect, extend and continue the King's reign even when the King himself was not physically present.   And in the ancient world's framework for cosmogony (stories to explain how the cosmos came to be), creation always happened through an act of conquering and subduing chaos.  So in Genesis 1:  God conquers the formless-and-void chaos of the world-in-the-beginning, and, once the wild and waste world is formed and filed with verdant life, he sets humanity as his kingly "image" in the newly-conquered-Creation.  The implication here (among other things) is that humanity is called to extend, effect and continue the creative work he has begun.  And the implication here is that one of the ways we "image God" is through the exercise of our own forms of creativity.

And with this all in mind, I can't help but notice that the words we most often use to describe the human act of "singing/drawing/carving/writing/making original things that didn't exist before" link it to divine things.  There's "creativity" itself, but there's also "inspiration" (to be "breathed" into), and there's "imagination" and "visionary" and "musical" (connected, of course, to the Greek Muses).  All of these words seem to be feeling around the etymological edges of that spiritual "thing" that happens when human beings act creatively.

I mentioned before that I started doing some songwriting this summer after a three year dry spell.  What I didn't mention then is how the dry spell broke.  It was the morning I sat down on the edge of the bed in the basement of my father in law's house with my wife's mom's old nylon string guitar (which I always dig out of the storage room whenever I visit).  I was lamenting the fact that it had been so long since I'd even felt like really singing, that in three years I'd had neither the time nor heart nor inspiration to say something musically, and that whenever I tried, the words always escaped or the tune eluded me. 

I was just kind of strumming over this sadness, and I started muttering some stuff about inspiration having walked out on me.  I happened to remember that in Greek myth, Calliope is the muse of epic poetry, and suddenly this image sprang up in my mind of a melancholy lover waiting for his girlfriend (Calliope) to come back to him.  Slowly the ice began to thaw.

Here's the song that eventually came out of that morning.


Hey, Calliope

Previously on terra incognita...

I'd mentioned that I am working on a number of new writing projects that are taking up time otherwise dedicated to blogging.  Among these is a collaborative theology blog with a couple of other FMCiC pastors that I hope to have up and running in a few months-- stay tuned for that. 

Another writing project I've had on the go since August is a new album of music.  This summer, as I dragged myself across the finish line and out west for a three week furlough from the ministry, I found myself sitting in the middle of one of those dark nights of the soul that the spiritually wise sometimes talk about. This isn't the best forum to unpack everything that was going through my head and heart then, except to say that in the middle of it, as God graciously and patiently sat there in the darkness with me, he started to give me some new songs.  I haven't had a rendezvous with "sister inspiration" in almost three years, and while many of these songs were darker and raw-er than any I've written in the past, this unexpected return of an old friend was a restorative to my soul.

I've been arranging and recording and generaly polishing them up in the last few months, and hope to "release" my new album, called Bridges, very soon. In the meantime, and by way of a sneak-peak, I offer this one here, based (loosely) on the darkest Psalm in the book:

nadir


By the banks of Babylon, that's where we hung our song
Cursed if we forget the tune, cursed if we sing along
     They said: when you reach the nadir of the heart, will he be there?
      There at the apex of the hurt and the despair?

Trying to write the final page of this tale of emptied hells
Vacant masks and leering laughs, this lie I know so well
     And when I reach the nadir of the heart, will you be there?
     There at the apex of the hurt and the despair?

Nothing left to hold on to, nothing left to say
Staring down the barrel of night, praying for the day
     He said:  When you reach the nadir of the heart, I'll be there
      There at the apex of the hurt and the despair



Never thought I'd be that guy...

When I first launched myself into the blogosphere two years and a bit ago, one of the things I noticed was the high number of blogs making apologies for "infrequent blogging of late," vowing to do better in the future (often these were stale dated, ironically, by a few months), and/or explaining why they hadn't (usually these included variations on the expression: "busier than a rented mule"). I remember, in those optimistic early days of blogging, committing to never being that guy; and yet, to my chagrin, I notice that a month has gone by since my last meaningful post. Not that I lack for blogging ideas-- I am replete with life-observations that need a good blogging-- but I've also taken on a number of new writing projects in the last few months (some of which I hope to share here at terra incognita in the near future), while the ministry at the FreeWay has entered a whole new chapter that has required much more of my spiritual and creative energy than it has in the past. All of this is my way of acknowledging that this fall terra incognita has been pretty quiet, and my way of predicting that this trend will probably continue for a few more months. I'll still post my sermons from week to week, and I'm not shutting things down altogether-- God willing, a perfect combination of "something to say" and "the time to say it in" will still coalesce-- but I feel I need to ease off the pressure of regular posting for the next few months.

In the meantime, here's the fifth sermon in our series on the Book of Philippians:

Philippians 2:19-30 "Making it Work"

The Book of Philippians (4)

Here's our fourth sermon in our voyage through the book of Philippians:

Philippians 2:-1-11 "The Mark of the Cross"