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.

1 John (II)

Here's our third sermon in our series on 1 John.

1 John 2:12-17 "War of the Worlds"


The Convert or the Outsider, an Inter-faith Dialogue

I probably would have let it go, but I was reading Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace at the time, a book that bills itself as a "Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation," so my sonar was perhaps more finely-tuned than usual to such "theological pings."

And what a poignant "ping" it was.  Here's the back story:  a few weeks earlier I happened to make a friend of a friend who happened to be a practicing Orthodox Jew.  We had a very rich and illuminating conversation about the parallels and differences between my work as a Christian pastor and his work in the local synagogue.  It was, I think, an example of inter-faith dialogue in the best sense of the term, and as I was leaving he said, "If you ever want to get the Jewish perspective on something, feel free to give me a call."

Flash forward a few weeks later and I'm working away on this sermon on Deuteronomy 24:17-22, which is all about our mandate as the people of God to "leave something" for the voiceless and the vulnerable. In a particular, Deuteronomy 24:17 says: "Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge" (NIV) or " You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge" (NASB) or "Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge" (good ol' KJV).

My Jewish friend's invitation was still ringing a bit in my ear, and, curious about his take on the passage in question, I sent him an email to take him up on his offer.  He replied very kindly with a number of interpretations from the Talmud sharing various Rabbinical reflections and applications of the text, illuminating the passage in ways I'd not yet considered.

But all the typical Christian translations of this passage use some word or other that means "the outsider" (alien, foreigner, stranger, etc.) to describe that first of the three groups of vulnerable people that deserve special consideration (so the NIV: the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow; or NASB: the alien, the widow, the orphan).  The specific Hebrew word is ger.  It's connected to a verb that means something like "to sojourn." It's used, for instance, to describe Abram when he was a sojourner (a foreigner, a "resident alien") in the land God told him to journey to, and it's used to describe Israel when they were captives in Egypt.  Hence Christians translate it as foreigner, alien, or stranger in Deuteronomy 24:17.

And here's the ping. In his response to my email, my Jewish friend included the standard Jewish translation of the verse.  In his translation, ger is translated, not as "the alien" generally but as "the convert" specifically (i.e. the non-Jew who has converted to Yahwehism).

We exchanged a few more emails about why this might be different, and he suggested that if an "outsider" was meant specifically, the term goy would have been used; and out of curiosity, I looked up the ancient Greek translation of the same verse, and they used a word that means "convert" as well; and, to be sure, the only biblical example we have of this passage being put into practice is the Book of Ruth, and there, Ruth the Moabitess is very clearly a convert to Yahwehism, besides being simply a foreigner.  So I'm not saying "convert" is necessarily a mis-translation of ger.

But the reason I'm still reflecting on this months later is because it seems to me there are profound ethical and theological implications for what we do with the ger in Deuteronomy 24. The question, as I see it, boils down to this: does God call us to take care of "the other" because they are "other" and regardless of whether or not they have made a profession of commitment to our community of Faith, or is conversion a necessary requisite for inclusion (and the hospitable helping that inclusion entails)?

Without the elaborate exposition that a careful handling of all these issues would require, let me at least suggest here that a radical inclusion-- one that translates ger as generously as possible-- is one of the themes of Jesus' preaching, who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and to discover our sonship in the kingdom by living out its radical peace-making mission in tangible and concrete ways.  In this regard, radical inclusion of the other is one of the harmony notes to the melody of the Gospel.