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.

Commentaries on the Book of Lamentations

Like I usually do after a preaching series at the FreeWay, I thought I'd post some information and/or reviews of some of the secondary resources I consulted in preparing my series on the Book of Lamentations.  It is a very telling thing, that, while scholarly commentaries on Lamentations were readily available, I found almost no commentaries that focused specifically on preaching Lamentations, like, perhaps, Sydney Gredainus did with Ecclesiastes (telling in so far as it illustrates some of the things I said in this series about our hesitancy to make real space for lament in our corporate worship).  That said, here are two of the main resources I worked with:

Paul R. House, Lamentations (Word Biblical Commentary Series, Thomas Nelson)
I have always appreciated the WBC series for its thorough work with the original languages and the historical provenance of the text, and for its ability to engage a wide range of critical perspectives while maintaining a clearly Evangelical hermeneutic.  Paul House's work with Lamentations in this series, it turns out, is no exception to the rule; I found his analysis insightfu and helpful.  He draws out a number of critical isues over things like authorship, genre/form, historical dating and so on.  What I didn't quite expect, having sloughed through some pretty technical stuff in the WBC in the past, was the profound pastoral sensibility with which he handled this difficult book, a sensitivity that shone especially in his thoughts on "why study Lamentations" and in his handling of the theodicy questions that echo in the background of the most difficult passages of Lamentations.

Robin Parry, Lamentations (Two Horizons Series, Eerdmans)
Robin Parry's commentary on Lamentations reflects a genuine sensitivity to the poetic form of the book (much of his translations, for instance, try to convey the acrostic "feel" of the original), and his insightful readings often draw out subtleties of the text that might otherwise have been missed. (That the word translated "The man" in 3:1 is actually ha gibor (the valiant one/warrior). Stuff like that.) His work was especially helpful for sermon prep. because, where the House commentary presented each chapter as a whole, Parry broke each chapter down into smaller units of thought that lent themselves more readily to "sermonization," and helped to parse out the inner logic of each chapter more clearly.


Learning to Lament (4)

Here's our final sermon in our series on Lamentations. It has been a challenging but rewarding job this Lent season, preparing this material.  In a few days, I hope to post some more summative thoughts on lament, it's role in the Christian life, and the Book of Lamentations specifically, but in the meantime, here's Learning to Lament #4:

Lamentations 3:40-51 "Coming Back"



Learning to Lament (3)

Lamentations 3:1-24 "Remembering the Gall"


Learning to Lament (2)

Here's the second sermon in our lenten journey with the Book of Lamentations.  I'm still working on some more extended thoughts on this beautiful, sad, haunting book, but for now, here's sermon 2:


Lamentations 2:11-22  "Poured Out"

The Five (Smooth) Rocks were also Christ

As regular visitors to terra incognita will probably have gathered, I've been spending a lot of time in 1 Samuel these days.  The other day it was Chapter 17, the most famous giant-bout in recorded history, immortalized in monumental marble masterpieces and children's coloring pages alike.  I lingered for a moment over the scene where David selects five smooth stones from the stream, and I was reminded of this post over at Richard Beck's very good blog called Experimental Theology.

The question here is quite simple: if David was indeed trusting YHWH in his square-off against Goliath, why did he take five stones.  Wouldn't one stone have been a far more dramatic gesture of faith?  Moralistic Sunday School lessons, of course have a ready, allegorical answer:  the stones are symbolic of the disciplines of the godly life (by turns, "courage, humility, prayer, effort, love of duty" (this is one I found online this morning), or "spiritual renewal, kingdom generosity, church revitalization, church planting, authentic evangelism" (this is a more elaborate (and grown up) one I found at a random on  a church website)).

But then, these "answers" just illustrate the problem. If we are indeed trusting YHWH to win the battle for us, why do we so quickly and easily point to our own efforts--our courage, our duty, our giving, our church planting-- as the deciding factor.

But here's the intriguing thing (and again, credit where credit's due: Richard Beck first put me on the scent of this trail).  In 2 Samuel 21:15-22, it describes the on-going skirmishes with the Philistines under David's rule.  Here we meet four imposingly large "descendants of Rapha in Gath":  Ishbi-Benob (Abishai, the son of Zeruiah took him out), Saph (Sibbekai, the Hushathite took him down), a "huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot"  (Jonathan son of Shimeah killed him), and "the brother of Goliath the Gittite" (Elhanan Son of Jair got him (see 1 Chron 20:5)).

Of course, if one of these four sons of Rapha was the brother of Goliath, then that would make Goliath himself the fifth son of Rapha.  There were, it turns out, five giants in Gath:  Goliath and his four goliathine brothers. 

After reading 2 Samuel 21:15-22, it doesn't take much speculation (Richard Beck points out) to figure out why David would have taken five stones; it just takes some simple math.  David took five stones because there were five giants in Gath, and he was gearing up to whip the whole lot of them.  So confident was David in YHWH's salvation, that he before the battle with Goliath even began he was already looking past it to God's victory over all the giants in Gath. 

Suddenly these five stones have become a profound reminder to us, whenever we stand in Goliath's shadow, that not only does the battle belong to the Lord; so too the entire war. 

And, at the risk of wringing hermenutical blood out of exegetical stone here, they have become a little cairn, marking out the ultimate battleground of God's victory: the cross of Christ.  Because whatever else it means, a pouch-full of pebbles in a battle against a crew of gigantic Philistine champions reminds us that when God does win the victory, it will be on his impossible terms, our best efforts be damned: a smooth stone, a small still voice, a pregnant virgin, a crucified Messiah.

In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul reminds the Church how God saved Israel in the desert by bringing water from the Rock. "That Rock" he says, setting the precedent for all subsequent Christological readings of the Old Testament, "That Rock was Christ."  Without wanting to put words in his mouth, I would hasten to add:  "So too were the five smooth stones."

On the Naming of Kings

In a previous post, I mentioned the irony implicit in the name of Israel's first King-- Saul, the "one we asked for."  As a further thought on the naming of kings in 1 Samuel, I can't help but notice that later, when David arrives on the scene, how compelling and attractive his character is. 

In chapter 18, after his infamous melee with the giant from Gath, David comes to stay in Saul's house; and you don't have to look too closely to realize that everyone (and inparticular Saul's family) is falling in love with the guy.  First Jonathan becomes "one in spirit" with David and "loves him as himself." Then, as David's sphere of influence swells, we're told that "all Israel and Judah loved David because he led them in their campaigns."  And by the end of the chapter, Saul's daughter Michal has fallen in love wih this archtypal giant slayer.

Perhaps none of this should come as any surprise.  YHWH told Saul he would strip the kingdom from him and give it to his reyah (companion). And if we pause to remember what David's own name means, it would probably come as even less a surprise, that this charismatic and good-looking lad is literally stealing the hearts of the whole kingdom, right down to Saul's own children.

"David," of course, means "beloved."