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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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.

On Being a Reject Messiah

In 1 Samuel 15:26-29, after a disastrous mission against the Amalekites in which Saul "pounces on the plunder" instead of completely destroying it, Samuel announces that God has rejected Saul.  In Samuel's words, "because you rejected the Word of the Lord, the Lord has rejected you as king."

There's a lot going on in this dark and confusing passage, but I was reading it the other day and something in particular struck me as odd.  In 1 Samuel 15:28, Samuel turns to leave Saul and Saul, afraid of the political ramifications of this public withdrawal of Samuel's support, attempts to detain him.  Now a-days we might say, "he was worried about the optics."  So he catches hold of Samuel's robe, which tears in the subsequent tussle, and in that moment he becomes his own prophetic object lesson:  just as Saul has torn the Prophet's robe in his efforts literally to seize the bearer of the Prophetic Word, so too YHWH will tear the Kingdom from him because he has metaphorically seized on the Prophetic Word and used it to his own ends (i.e. he seized on the prophetic commandment to attack the Amalekites, but used it as a license to loot and pillage for political gain). 

And here's where things get both convicting and freeing.  Samuel's precise words are:  "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to ..."

To whom?

"One of your neighbours, who is better than you" is how we translate the verse in English, and this is accurate, but the actual word is reyah, which means "friend/close companion."  I don't want to make an exegetical mountain out of a linguistic molehill here: there is a Hebrew word for "intimate friend/confidant" (côwdh) and that's not the word that's being used here, but there's also a word for neighbor (shachen) and that word's not being used either.  The word is reyah; and the nuance, I think, points us to someone of more significance than simply "one of Saul's neighbors."  Because, the reyah in question, we'll find out later, is none other than King David himself, who will indeed become Saul's close companion before he becomes Saul's replacement.   But at this point, the Prophetic Word is just left echoing ominously.  God has rejected Saul and has chosen his reyah, his close companion who "is better than him," to replace him as the Lord's Annointed.

I read this verse the other evening and as the weight of the word-choice sunk in, it seemed to me that God was saying:  "Oh yeah; I've also rejected you as Messiah, too, Dale, and given that role to a close companion of yours, who is far better than you."  And as that prophetic word sunk in, God gently started to show me ways I've been "playing Messiah," or have done in the past.  I won't share those here, except to say that they're the same kind of ways we all, I think, play Messiah -- in our churches, in our families, in our marriages, in our relationships, in our spheres of influence -- by trying to "fix," or "reign-over" or "own" or "save" ourselves and those around us.

God showed me some of my own efforts at self-Messiahship for what they were, and assured me that it's just not my job anymore.  I'm a reject Messiah.

And there is something convicting about this, but also deeply liberating:  God has rejected us all, with Saul, as Messiah, and has turned that onerous responsibility over to a close companion of ours-- a true reyah who is infinitely better at this role than us.  And he, we will discover if we will chose a path different than Saul's, he is the true "Beloved" whom David only prefigured and who delights (like he said it John 15) he delights to call us friends, rejected Messiahs though we are.

The Book of How?!

This Sunday we started a new series in the Book of Lamentations.  In the days to come, I will post some more extended thoughts on lessons I'm learning as I spend time in this, the "Wailing Wall" of the Bible; but for now, here's sermon number one.

 Lamentations 1:1-12.  How?

When God Gives Us What We Ask For

In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel is about to "retire" as judge of Israel and turn the spiritual authority of the nation over to the newly anointed King Saul. In 1 Samuel 12:17 in particular, he addresses the people with his farewell speech, and tries to impress on them how wicked a thing they have done in seeking a king who will make them "like the other nations," and so rejecting the glorious theocracy God had intended for his people all along. To drive his point home, Samuel announces that he will call on the Lord to send thunder from heaven so that the people will know just how evil it was to have "asked for a king" in the first place.

In an effort to keep my Seminary Hebrew fresh, I've been reading 1 Samuel in the Hebrew these days, so something stood out to me here that I'd never noticed before. There are a variety of verbs Samuel could have used to describe Israel's sin in "asking" for a king. But the verb he did use, it so happens, was ša’l. "To ask for." If that verb looks familiar, I think it's supposed to. It's the same verb that gives us King Saul's name-- which, loosely translated, means something like "the asked-for one," or "the desired one."

Names, of course, are seldom accidental in the Hebrew Scriptures, and I doubt the writer wants the irony here to be lost on us (the pun, after all, gets repeated in 12:19). Israel "saul-ed" (so to speak) for a king like all the other nations, so God gave them, quite literally, the "Saul" they asked for. The disastrous results of their "saul-ing" of course, unfold almost immediately, as their "saul" begins his reign with one debacle after another: sacrificing to the Lord as king at Gilgal, amassing loot from the battle with Amalekites, setting up a monument to himself on Mt. Carmel. To be sure, none of this would have even raised the eyebrows of a typical Ancient Near Eastern king-- for whom things like personal aggrandizement, or personal gain, or personally assuming the role of mediator for the divine, that stuff just came along with the job description of king. Put bluntly: Saul proves quite quickly that he is a king like the kings of all the other nations and that Israel has received, quite literally, the king they had "saul-ed" for.

And I'm left wondering. If the story of Saul's inauspicious reign teaches the people of God anything, it seems, it's this: there are times, it turns out, that God's most terrifying judgment on our sin is simply and finally to give us what we've asked for.

The fifth calling of Samuel

The other day I was reading the story in 1 Samuel about God's calling of Samuel.  For those of you who, like me, grew up on the flannel-graph versions of this Sunday School gem, you'll remember that the Lord calls Samuel three times and each time Samuel mistakes him for Eli.  After the third time, Eli tells Samuel that if he hears the voice again, he should reply: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."  He does, and the rest is Messianic history.

No wonder this mysterious episode has made it to so many a Sunday School coloring page.  It's vivid and compelling and charming; but as I say, I was re-reading it the other day and I realized that, though we often end the telling after the fourth call of Samuel (the "Speak Lord, your servant is listening" one), Samuel is actually called five times in the story, and the "fifth call" is essential to the boy's prophetic ministry.  Because when Samuel does recognize the Word of the Lord at last, it turns out to be a prophetic judgment against Eli and his house, one that will make "the ears of everyone who hears it tingle."  It's a message so heavy and heart-rending that Samuel, we're told, is afraid to tell the vision to Eli.

And then comes the fifth call:  the next morning Eli  himself "calls" to Samuel.  The narrative accentuates the irony here by using the same verb as before (karaw-- to call), and  by putting the same response into Samuel's mouth-- "Here I am."  Previously Samuel had mistaken God's voice for Eli's, but now, having responded to God's call, Samuel hears and recognizes Eli's call for what it is.  And what it is, in fact, is an invitation to share the terrifying word of the Lord with the very one against whom it has been uttered.  It's a call to do the very thing that young Samuel is loathe to do: to speak the prophetic Word to power.

So here's what I'm wondering as I meditate on this "fifth call" of Samuel.  If the "fifth call" is the call for ministers of the Word to share it faithfully with God's people, even when it may cause the ears of those who hear it to tingle (inasmuch as Samuel's "fifth call" was a call from Eli to share what God had spoken against him), if the "fifth call" is our invitation to speak the Word of God to "power" when we're most afraid to do so because we're most uncertain of the outcome and we have the most at stake-- if Samuel's story is in some way paradigmatic for the Ministry of the Word, then what would it take for us to speak a willing "Here I am" with Samuel when we receive this "fifth call" in our ministries?

Deuteronomy 24:17-22

Here's Sunday's Sermon, our last sermon in our four part series on the Book of Deuteronomy:

Read This... (Seeing Her)

I don't usually link to other blogs in lieu of a post, but I've always wanted to write a reflection on Judges 19 and Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology beat me to it (and he crossed the finish line far more gracefully than I could have).  Hyperbole fails me:  his is the most sensitive, insightful and beautiful reading of the most painful, opaque and ugly passages of scripture that I've ever read.

Read it.  Please.  To understand Judges 19; to understand how to read Scripture generally; to catch a glimpse of the heart of God.  Read it.

Seeds of Shalom

Deuteronomy 15:1-11