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 Halloween Files, Part III: Horror Movie Marathons and other Numinous Reflections

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I remember a Halloween night in my early teens, when my friends and I were too old to Trick-or-Treat anymore, but too young, yet, to give up on the festivities altogether, so we rented a movie-marathon's worth of B-grade horror flicks instead.  I've never done scary movies that well, but that night was especially terrifying.  After all my friends had gone home, I lay awake in bed, lights on and saucer-plates for eyes, while visions of zombie limbs danced through my head.

Which was kind of the point in the first place, of course. Fear is one of the central themes of Halloween; and whatever else is happening when hordes of ghoul-begarbed kids tramp around the block demanding treats at the threat of tricks-- whatever else that's all about-- it is an expression of our complicated relationship with that oldest of all human emotions:  fear.

Freud might argue that this harmless-seeming tradition is really a sublimation of our deepest cultural fears.  We are haunted by the suspicion that unseen "somethings" lurk beneath the surface--that something dreadful would happen to us if ever they did surface--that there really is more going on in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy. This suspicion is very old and very dark, and still very real, even in our clean, well lit, modernized world.  In fact, the cleanliness and good-lighting of the modern world actually exacerbates our fear, because we no longer have the old channels--myth and ritual and unexplored regions on the map--that we once used to hang it on.  And because powerful emotions, bottled up, will find expression somehow, we still observe one day a year where these fears can be put on display.  It's all in playful good fun, of course; but then, what is play, if not a distorting, funhouse mirror, held up to those things we take most seriously?

Might all this play at being scared on Halloween Night actually be a venue--one of the few venues left to us, in fact--for acting out the spiritual Fear that still haunts us?

My hunch is that it is; and this is why, as a Christian, Halloween fascinates me. 

Because I think the hauntedness of the human condition is actually an important theme of the Christian Faith, too.  As a Christian, I believe that what people are most afraid of, whether they know it or not, is God.  He is the "unseen something"-- mysterious and terrifying--lurking beneath the surface with the threat of dreadful things if ever he were to come into full view. 

The fancy word for this is "The Numinous," which is a theological way of talking about the fear evoked by the divine presence:  the dread of the holy--the awful thought of the infinite--the crushing weight of glory. As Aldus Huxley puts it, "The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. In theological language, this fear is due to the in-compatibility between man's egotism and the divine purity, between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God."

This is where C. S. Lewis starts, incidentally, in his classic case for the existence of God in The Problem of Pain:  not with reasoned philosophical syllogisms or scientific evidence that demands a verdict, but with the Numinous--the haunting fear that humans have always had, that there is something terrifyingly other, present and holy and at work in our day-to-day.

It's where God starts, too, incidentally.

Re-read how God makes his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 if you want to get a biblical glimpse of the Numinous.  If you recall, Abraham butchers a heifer, a ram, a goat and two birds. He arranges them into two piles opposite each other, and keeps this surreal vigil, scattering the vultures whenever they get to close to the carcases.  Then, the Bible says, "As the sun was setting a thick and dreadful darkness overcame him."  And there, on the edge of dream at the threshold of reality, a numinous vision engulfs him: a smoking "something-or-other" passes between the bloody pieces of the sacrifice, and from the depths of that thick darkness, the dreadful voice of God himself speaks, binding himself on oath to Abraham, swearing to be his God forever.

Not for nothing did Jacob call God "The Fear of Isaac" (Gen 31:42).  It's enough to keep a young man awake at night with lights on and saucers for eyes.

But this brings me back to Halloween and my hunch that it's a modern-day sublimation of our age-old fear of the Numinous.  Because the conclusion of Abraham's story is Christ; and in Christ we find that our fear of the Numinous has been both affirmed and transformed.  After all: when the Fear of the Lord turns us to the Cross of Christ, we discover there that atonement and purity and eternity now defines our life with God--that perfect love has indeed driven out fear--that anyone who fears the Lord in this way, has nothing, now, to fear.

That's good news.

And it may be that on Halloween, when the neighbourhood is collectively sublimating its Fear of the Numinous with candy apples and monster-masks--it may be the most wondrful time of the year to remind ourselves of this good news.

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