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 VIII): On Trick-or-Treating

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As regular readers of this blog will know, the last few weeks at terra incognita have been devoted to theologically decoding the themes of Halloween.  Halloween came on faster than I could write, so there are a few "Halloween Files" that will have to wait until next year, but one of the big issues we didn't tackle in this series is the supposed pagan origins of the festival.  As it turns out, the "Is Halloween pagan?" question is more complicated than a 500-word blog post could adequately cover anyway.  For those who want some further reading to help them settle the issue, let me recommend the following.

Here's an article about Halloween's Christian (yes, Christian) connections.

And here's my old friend Richard Beck with a psychological defense of Halloween (again I need to credit Beck with having inspired this series here at terra incognita).

And here's Steve Bell on "keeping Christ in Halloween."

I'll keep the jury sequestered on this one and let you make up your own mind.  But since your door will be ringing with cries for treats and threats of tricks in only a few hours, let me try to decode one last Halloween tradition here:  the "trick-or-treater."

Because when you strip away the pillow-cases full of candy, the symbolic narrative of trick-or-treating is as potent as it is old:  a spirit-being (who may in fact be a neighbour in disguise, but there's no way of knowing for certain) comes to your door begging hospitality and threatening mischief if it's withheld.  That is, after all, what's echoing (albeit faintly) under that mask-muffled cry:  Show hospitality (treat), or suffer the consequences (trick).

As a symbolic narrative, this story is old enough to be archetypal: a spirit-being-in-disguise came calling for hospitality, and finding none, exacted reprisal.   Just read the prologue to Beauty and the Beast, or the myth of Baucis and Philemon (in Ovid's Metamorphosis), or the story of Abraham and the destruction of Sodom (in Genesis 18-19).

What these stories all point out is that, in the ancient world at least, there was a spiritual dimension to hospitality.  It's why Abraham was so quick to welcome his guests under the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18), and why Lot's house, alone, was spared when the Lord went looking for ten righteous men in Sodom (Genesis 19).  Because graciously and generously welcoming the stranger was once a moral act, and poor hospitality was once a deep spiritual failing.

Trick-or-treating may or may not have descended from old Celtic rituals designed to appease the spirit-beings on the night when the veil between "their world" and "ours" was at its thinnest.  The jury's still out.  But where ever it came from, it is a vestige from a time gone by when we recognized hospitality as a profoundly spiritual act.  As such, it serves as a playful reminder to our world, where we have (for all intents and purposes) closed our minds to the possibility of spirit-beings, and are increasingly closing our doors to strangers:  there is something spiritual going on when we practice genuine hospitality.

And if you're still with me, then let me point you in two equal and opposite directions for reflection this Halloween night.

On the one hand, notice that the "symbolic logic" of trick-or-treating is based on the threat of retribution and the hope of appeasement: appease the spirit world or suffer its vengeance.  In this, its "inner symbolism" is decidedly pagan, whether it came from ancient Ireland or not.  It's based on the idea that "the gods" (or in this case, their cleverly-costumed representatives) threaten terrible tricks unless they are dully treated.  And in pointing that out, I hope you'll understand what I mean when I say that through the Cross, Jesus has actually unmasked the "trick-or-treating god" for us.  In biblical language:  the divine wrath is satisfied, once for all in Jesus, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

And if that seems like a bit of a theological leap (from trick-or-treating to the atonement), then let me give you the other hand.  Hospitality is still a spiritual act.  As a Christian and a pastor, I believe that the church is called to extend God's hospitality to the stranger and the outsider in our midst.  In material and spiritual ways, we're called to share with others the hospitality that we've experienced in Jesus Christ, when God invited us to his table, spiritually homeless sinners though we were. 

And  if you'll listen for it, you may hear that call echoing in the background tonight, when those masked gremlins and other assorted strangers stand outside your door, crying out for a treat.  If you'll listen for it, you may hear God say what he said in Hebrews 13:2, all over again:  "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

Happy Halloween, everybody!

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