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 Ultimate Love Letter

For our post-Easter preaching ministry at the FreeWay we're working verse-by-verse through the book of 1 John.  Here are the first two sermons in that series:


1 John 1:1-10 "When a What and a How is a Who"

1 John 2:1-11 "But Where's the Love?"



When the North Star of Prayer is Cast into the Sea

One morning on his way to the Temple, Jesus curses a fig-tree because it didn't have out-of-season figs when he was hungry.  After this he enters Jerusalem, enacts a prophetic announcement of God's judgement on Herod's Temple, overturning the money-changer's tables and saying, in effect: "God is about to overturn this whole Temple and the worship-charade it houses, because 'my house was supposed to be a house of prayer for the nations' and you've made it into a monument to your own nationalistic agendas and revolutionary zeal."  Then, on the way back to Bethany in the evening, the disciples discover that the cursed fig-tree has withered, just like Jesus said it would.

Ok:  this would all be confusing enough, but then, when they ask him about the tree, he declares:  "Have faith in God:  truly I say to you that if one has faith, he should say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and cast into the sea' and if he does not doubt in his heart but he believes that what he says will be so, it will be so for him."  Or something like that. Then he adds:  "Because I tell you this: everything you pray and request, believe that you have received, and it will be so for you."

I've been thinking about this passage a lot over the last little while.  Because it seems to imply that the operative factor in determining whether or not we receive what we pray for is the degree of faith with which we ask-- i.e. the one who believes firmly that they will receive what they've prayed for will receive it; by implication the one who doubts won't; and by further implication, the more strongly you believe the more likely you are to receive. This is, at least, how I've often understood it.  And there are huge pastoral implications for this reading:  do we tell people, explicitly or implicitly, that when they don't receive what they're praying for, it's because they don't have enough faith?  Especially when there's a lot on the line (for a child, perhaps, praying for the healing of a loved one), this can insidiously turn the life of faith, which was meant to be liberating, into a life of bondage and guilt.

So here's what I got: when you read the whole passage (Mark 11:20-25) in context, notice that:  1) Jesus doesn't actually tell us to believe that we will receive, but that we already have received  what we're looking for (the verb tense in v. 24 is aorist, not future); 2) Jesus doesn`t say "ìf you have faith in God" in verse 22, but "have faith in God" (some early manuscripts say "if you have faith" but the most reliable say, simply, "have faith in God") The point:  this is not a "conditional statement" (i.e. you'll be answered if (and only if) you have faith); it's an imperative: "Have faith when you pray.  Believe that you have 'received' and it will be so for you."

Which brings us to note three:  this promise of having received when we pray is embedded right in the middle of Jesus' prophetic announcement that the Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed.  He acted out its destruction through the whole money-changers demonstration, and then  he symbolically predicted it with the whole fig-tree curse. Just like the fig-tree didn't have fruit when God's Messiah came looking for it, and was destroyed because of it, so too the Temple: it didn't have the "fruit" of righteousness when God's Messiah came to it, so it will be destroyed.  And in as much as the fig-tree did shrivel at a word from Jesus, so too the Temple:  its predicted destruction is assured.

Which brings me to note four.  Jesus tells us that the primary content of our prayer should be that "this" mountain be lifted up and cast into the sea.  I always used to think he was speaking generally and metaphorically; i.e. you could ask for something so impossible as a mountain to be thrown into the sea, and if you've got enough faith, it will happen.  But. Jesus has just pronounced and enacted God's judgment on the Temple-- which is situated on the Temple Mount.  He's actually standing (presumably) in the shadow of the Temple Mount when he utters verse 23. The "this" of "this mountain," it turns out, is a very literal and very specific "this."  He means the Temple Mount.  He's saying, in light of his ominous announcement that the Temple is slated for demolition:  if you have faith, you could say to this Temple (and the Mountain on which it stands) be cast into the sea, and it will be so (v.23):  and once it's so, whatever you pray for will still ascend lovingly and confidently to the gracious ears of God, by faith (v.24).

Why does this context matter?  For a first Century Jew, Herod's Temple is the Spiritual North Star of your whole religious life.  You prayed toward the Temple, as a First Century Jew, because this was where God's Name dwelt.  Your prayers were heard and answered, as a First Century Jew, because God's Name and Glory still "dwelt" in the Temple of Jerusalem.  And Jesus is speaking to First Century Jews when he tells them:  because of its corruption, the Temple is about to be destroyed.

It would be like telling a devout Muslim that Mecca will soon be no more.

Can you hear the anguished reply:  But then how will we pray now?  How will our prayers be heard (let alone answered) now?  By what will we navigate, spiritually speaking, if the lode-star of our spiritual lives is cast into the sea? 

The question throbbing in this passage isn't "what does it take to get my prayers answered?" The question is:  how could we even imagine praying at all, if the Temple is destroyed (which the lesson of the fig tree, well learned, assures us it will be)? Because to pray that this particular mountain be thrown into the sea is actually to pray for a whole new way of coming to God in prayer, period.

And God says:  believe in your heart, and do not doubt, and you will receive exactly that.

Because Jesus says:  "Have Faith in God.  He's doing a new thing in me and through me.  And for those who have faith in me, and through me, the Temple can be cast into the sea, and prayer will not cease; in fact it will have just begun to thrive, because it will no longer be centred around a building made by hands, but will be empowered and filled and transformed by my resurrected and life-giving spirit.  If you believe this, then even before you pray, you will have received the hearing from God that up till now you've assumed is only possible in and through this Temple."

And in answering the question like that, Jesus has made faith, once again, the life of freedom and communion with God that it was meant to be.



Palm Sunday and History

Yesterday was Palm Sunday at the FreeWay, which, outside of "the big two" (Christmas and Easter) is probably my favorite liturgical celebration.  I've blogged before about the significant but often over-looked connections between Christmas and the Triumphal Entry, and how each of the Evangelists handle Jesus' monumental victory parade into Jerusalem slightly differently, drawing out different spiritual, theological and political threads of the story.  I've preached three of the four accounts now-- John, Matthew, and Luke-- and what strikes me is how different and yet identical the view from the Mount of Olives was for each of them.

What I'm thinking about the morning-after Palm Sunday today, however, is how vital this prophetically-loaded donkey ride into Jerusalem is for historically embedding both Jesus of Nazareth and, more significantly, God's act of salvation in and through him.  What I mean is this:  Christmas, and the Incarnation that Christmas celebrates, could have happened anywhere and anytime.  Not really, of course:  Paul says it was at just the right time Jesus came, and Gabriel told Mary that she had found unique favor among God, but even without its specific historical provenance in 1st Century Bethlehem, we could still draw from the Incarnation the theological import that we usually want to draw from it: that the Creator came to his Creation to save it by being born in flesh-and-blood and through the flesh-and-blood of a virgin. 

So too, with Easter-- again, not really: there is a historical necessity to all these events, the where, the when, the who-- but then again an a-historical story about the Creator who loved his Creation so much he willingly died for it to heal and save and forgive it would still make sense to us whether it happened in 1st Century Jerusalem or not.  (And, as a test of this, notice how often our discussions of Easter and Christmas are distinctly a-historical (sometimes almost gnostically so).)

But with the Triumphal Entry it's different.  Who cares that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, really, unless the political and spiritual and historical tensions of this time and place and allowed to shine like a spotlight on his mounted figure winding its way down the Mount of Olives?  At least: we have difficulty feeling the theological significance of this story as a story let alone as a saving act of God, until we discover the profound anti-Rome, anti-Herod, anti-Sadducean sentiment in the City, Jesus' allusion to the previous "triumphal entry" by Maccabeus in 164 BC, the historical iimportance of the Temple that Jesus purges, the ache for Shalom that echoes in the Prophetic Tradition of the Hebrew People, and the tragic fulfillment of Jesus'  own prophetic actions when Titus Vespasian demolished Jerusalem some 40 years later, in 70 AD. 

And whatever else it means, the Triumphal Entry reminds us that God's saving acts are deeply embedded in history:  Jesus' donkey is bearing him, not only into Jerusalem, but into the annals of God's salvation-history, and there he reminds us that our God is a God of history, and that an a-historical Gospel is no Gospel at all.

For the record, here's my sermon from Sunday:

Luke 19:28-44 
"A Prophet, the City, its King and his Donkey"