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.

More Prayers for the Offering

Jesus, that day when you were teaching the crowds
On the mountainside and night was coming and
They were all getting hungry,
Your disciples said:
“Where on earth could we get enough bread
that everyone could have a bite?”

Then one little boy came forward and offered you his lunch:
Five small loaves and two little fish.
That’s all he had; but you took it
And gave thanks and handed it around—
and everyone ate as much as they wanted, with
Twelve baskets-full left over.

Jesus, we know that that day you showed us that
There are no limits to what you might accomplish through us
For your glory, if we’ll simply offer what we have.

Give us the grace to do that here, and now, in this moment of offering.
Make it like that little boy’s lunch, we pray, for your sake alone.
Amen.

*****

Jesus,
We remember that time you pointed to the birds of the air and the lilies growing in the field, how they don’t labor or work or spin or toil, and yet the Father in Heaven provides for them from his wisdom and love.

And then you told us that we ought not chase after wealth and material possessions like those who don’t know God, but that we should seek his kingdom first, and trust in him to provide these things to us in the same way: according to his wisdom and love.

God, please give us the grace to trust in you like that; and may this act of offering today be a sign to us that we’re starting to get it, what Jesus meant when he said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Amen.

*****

It seems pretty presumptuous, God,
that we would call what we’re about to do
“An offering,”
when everything we have and are and own
is really yours.

We remember that place where you said it in the Psalms:
“If I were hungry, would ask you for a hand out?
The whole world is mine and everything in it.”

So we realize that we’re not really “offering” you anything here, God.

But we love Jesus.
And we want to be involved in his work in the World.
And so we ask that in this moment of offering you would offer us that:
A heart for you; the guts to follow you where ever you lead;
And a passion for the things you’re passionate about.

And then use this offering—
both the money and the time we’re taking to give it—
For your purposes for us.

We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Preaching Jonah (Part I)

This fall we went through a verse-by-verse preaching series on the Book of Jonah.  I picked it mostly because I like to do one Old Testament and one New Testament book each year in my preaching ministry, and I figured this story itself was well enough known on the surface that it would be engaging for the church to go a bit deeper with it.  I didn't really see it coming how vividly it would come to life and how clearly it would speak.  I'll post some excerpts here over the next little while, in the hopes of extending the conversation.  Here's the opening thoughts from the first sermon.  You can download the whole sermon here.

Well: fish stories always inspire bigger fish stories, don’t they? So let me tell you about the time my brother and I were fishing on a lake in the Rockies.

My dad took us fishing every summer, and this particular summer Shane and I were out on the water in an aluminum rowboat, way over at the other end of the lake. And we were drifting around not paying much attention, watching our bobbers and not really watching the sky, so we didn’t notice the storm clouds piling up around the mountains.

Thunderstorms in the Rockies can sweep in pretty suddenly, so when Shane happened to look up and see black clouds scowling down all around us, he didn’t waste much time suggesting that we go in. We started rowing for the dock, but like I say, thunderstorms in the Rockies can sweep in pretty suddenly, and we were like, right in the dead centre of the lake when “the Lord sent a great storm upon the sea” (so to speak).

I’m sure I’ve been more scared in my life, but it’s hard to remember when; because the sky exploded like a Myth-Buster’s experiment gone wrong, and lightening flashed like the strobe light in a bad disco ... and the rain. It was pummelling the lake so hard it seemed like the water was boiling ... and we were drenched .... and Shane was shouting something in the bow that sounded like “Dale you gotta row! You gotta row!” or maybe it was “I don’t wanna go! I don’t wanna go!” it was hard to hear over the roar of the water.

Well. We made it back in one piece, and the minute we were standing on solid ground we started laughing our heads off; but I’ll tell you, to this day when I think of the last time I was “prepared to meet my maker,” that storm in the Rockies comes first to mind.

And I’m telling you this story not just because it’s a good fish story, but because I need you to think of the last time you were terrified, like that. I don’t mean creeped out, or startled, I mean, like: get-ready-to-meet-your-maker kind of fear.

At least, that’s what Jonah wants us to think about. It doesn’t quite come through in translation, but the Hebrew word for “fear,” actually, shows up six times in this opening segment. It’s there in verse 5, and again in verse 9, twice in verse 10 and twice again in verse 16.

I mean: Sunday School flannel graphs and singing Asparaguses have sort of tamed this one down for us, made it feel more like a nursery rhyme than a psychological thriller ... but when you peel back the layers, what you’re left with is one scary story.

When I was a kid I caught about 30 seconds of the movie “Jaws.” I was probably five or six, and I wandered into the room one night when it was on TV. Before any of the grownups realized I was there, I saw that scene where the girl’s swimming out in the deep water and something brushes her leg? Remember? She panics. She goes down once, splashes to the surface screaming, and then... she’s gone.

That was all I saw, but I’ll tell you, for years after there was this niggling fear in the back of my mind every time I went for a swim. That I’d turn around and there’d be some huge mouth coming up to swallow me.

Anyone know what I’m talking about?

If you do, then you’re closer to “getting” Jonah than Larry the cucumber could ever bring you. Because this is a fearful story. It’s about our fear. And it’s especially about how the turning point—in our spiritual lives, let’s say, our goals, our ambitions, our life direction—how the turning point begins with the fear of the Lord.

A further thought on Snake Handling... and a sermon

In case the previous post was a bit too abstract for you, I thought I'd add this as a concrete example of what "snake handling" in ministry might look like. 

A few weeks ago a sermon at our church dealt with the very sensitive theme of sexual abuse.  My wife (who is part of our preaching team) spoke, and her sermon was very biblical, christocentric, expository, and real.

Her text was 2 Samuel 13, Amnon's rape of Tamar.  Realizing the potential for such an emotionally sensitive topic to "rear up and bite us" (so to speak), the leadership of our church had a number of discussions in the week leading up to the service, about whether or not we were ready "to go there."  No one referrenced Mark 16:18 in so many words, but if Mark's epilogist were to have summed up our conversation, he might have said something like this: "these sign will accompany those who belive:  they will pick up (unharmed) snakes with their hands."

So we went there; and whether or not we were ready, Jesus was. God moved in remarkable ways that Sunday morning, with a real offer of healing and hope. 

But here's the curious thing.  As the scripture lesson was being read, I saw something in 2 Samuel 13 I'd never noticed before.  2 Samuel 13:3 points out quite explicitly that that Jonadab, Tamar's cousin and Amnon's counsellor-- the one who planned the terrible trap that allowed Amnon to sexually abuse Tamar-- Jonadab, it says, was "a very shrewd man."

When I heard it I thought immediately and intuitively of that other place where the Bible tells us about someone else who was "very shrewd."

"Now the Serpent,"  Genesis 3:1 points out, "was more shrewd than any of the creatures the Lord God had made."  Maybe we were handling snakes more literally than we thought that day.

Here's the sermon if you're interested in one of the ways we're living out the promise of Mark 16:18 at the FreeWay:  "2 Samuel 13:1-22.  For Tamar"

On Biblical Inerrancy and Mission (Or why every Good Creationist should handle a Snake now and then)

The Gospel of Mark ends with one of the more controversial passages of the New Testament. If you recall, the Risen Jesus summons the disciples to “preach the good news to all creation,” and assures them that, “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

I call this passage controversial because, as any good translation of the scriptures takes pains to point out, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witness do not have Mark 16:9-20.” The controversy here is whether this epilogue is original to Mark, appended by an inspired scribe later on, or just out of place altogether.

But that’s not the controversy I want to tackle in particular. I’m going to follow N. T. Wright’s lead and assume that Mark himself “wrote a fuller ending which is now lost, and for which 8 – 20 are replacements by later scribes not altogether out of tune with Mark’s intentions.” And then I want to drill down for a moment on Jesus’ promise that believers will “handle snakes unharmed.”

Because there are, of course, some extreme branches on the Christian family tree (fundamentalist sects or charismatic cults, depending on your theological perspective) where they take Jesus as seriously as possible here. Among the Holiness Churches of rural Appalachia, for instance, a Mark-16-inspired ritual of snake handling (copperheads and rattlers, mostly) is a traditional part of worship and accepted expression of faith. The 1967 documentary, Holy Ghost People is one of the first and perhaps most objective treatments of this phenomenon:



Now in sharing this documentary I am not in any way endorsing snake handling as a legitimate form of Christian worship. (Though, if you’re like me and you prefer to follow St. Francis of Assissi in seeking not so much to be understood as to understand, I would recommend you read Dr. Richard Beck’s insightful analysis of “Snake Handling as Religious Phenomenon”, over at Experimental Theology.)

The whole thing, however, has me thinking about the mission of the church and inerrancy of the Scriptures. I’ve heard some preachers, for instance, hold up a “literal 6-day creation” as a litmus test of one’s position on biblical inerrancy. In some contexts this was presented almost as a test of saving faith: do you really believe God literally created the world the way God said he did in Genesis 1 (and are you prepared to accept any number of extra-biblical speculations and elaborations that would make the story seem more scientifically tenable)?

But intellectual assent to a counter-cultural explanation of cosmic origins seems to me a pretty safe (even whimpy) way to prove one’s faith in a literal interpretation of scripture, next to picking up a lethally-envenomed serpent in an ecstatic moment of worship. It seems to me, further, that if you really wanna show you’re committed to biblical inerrancy, you probably can’t put your money much closer to your mouth than it gets when you grab a deadly copperhead by the tail. (It’s like that old joke about the bacon and the eggs when it comes to breakfast: the chicken is invested, but the pig is committed. Next to the “bacon” of snake-handling, the 6-Day Creationist looks like the chicken of Biblical Fundamentalism.)

For the record: I’m not at all endorsing the practice of snake handling.  I'm simply observing that there’s a religious consistency here that none of the 6-Day Creationists I ever met could match.  (And for the other record, this is not meant as a comment on my own position regarding the Doctrine of Creation.  I'm not an evolutionist, theistic or otherwise, and though I hold details like the means and moment and timeline of "the creation event" rather loosely, I believe quite firmly that we're only here because God said it should be so in the beginning, and it was so.)

But more to the point, I want to confess that in some ways, I take a profound missional challenge from the Snake Handlers of Appalachia.

Because I don’t believe that Mark 16:18 requires the truly faithful to handle serpents literally, but I do believe it's describing something literally true for followers of the Resurrected Lord. It’s assuring us that in Jesus, now, the Kingdom of Shalom has come that Isaiah foresaw, when he looked ahead to Christ and said: "[On that day] the child will put his hand into the viper’s nest and they will neither harm nor destroy on [God’s Holy Mountain]."  And it's a sign that Jesus himself was speaking true over in Luke 11:19, when he said, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” The snakes in these passages, of course, are prophetic ciphers for those very real things in the world that stand contrary to God's Shalom:  spiritual bondage, emotional oppression, physical exploitation, sin, death, the devil.  And that's what Mark 16:18 is about, too.  It's God’s promise that under the authority of Christ’s reign, we will find ourselves “handling deadly things”—spiritually speaking—and we will not be harmed.

And this is a trustworthy saying.

So rather than mocking the Appalachian Snake Handlers for their hermeneutical naiveté, I find myself asking myself some gut-check questions these days: am I as willing to put my money where my mouth is with my “spiritualized” reading of Mark 16:18 (and Luke 11:19 and Isaiah 11:8), as those Appalachian snake handlers do with their “literal interpretation”? That is to say, do I believe that the Bible really meant it when it says that God in Christ has crushed the head of the “old serpent, the Devil,” that followers of Christ are now living on the Resurrection side of evil, and that in following him they will discover at work among them the spiritual resources to handle “deadly things” safely?

These are must-ask questions for anyone serious about following Jesus: because if we’re really walking after the One who defeated the powers and principalities of this world with his own life’s blood, we’re likely to find ourselves in situations with all the potential in the world to “rear up and bite us.” I’m talking here about ministry at the margins, ministry among the scandalous or the scandalized, ministry to those who have been deeply wounded by real evil. Because these are places, I think, where the church will find itself handling spiritual “snakes,” so to speak—the scorn of the “centre” and the disdain of the “powerful”, the risk of naming evil, the shame of identifying with the scandalized—things that might make us wish Jesus had simply asked us pick up a cobra.

I don’t handle real rattlesnakes as an expression of my faith in Christ’s authority over sin and death. But then again, I’ve been in churches where, however much their statements of faith insisted they believed in “biblical inerrancy,” there wasn’t much spiritual snake-handling going on, either. Things were kept emotionally superficial and spiritually tidy and above all, safe.

But when the church shows itself willing to put its hand into the viper's nest—handling emotionally difficult or spiritually messy or socially risky stuff for Christ’s sake—I think that’s where we'll show how willing we really are to take the Bible at its word.

Musical Mondays (XI)

Happy musical monday everyone. This is a song I wrote a while back, about creativity and inspiration and looking for the muse. Enjoy (and again, click here to download if the audio player doesn't show up below). You can click here if you like hearing the story behind the song.

Hey, Calliope


A Powerful Song and the Power of Story

The other day this inspiring video showed up a number of times on my Facebook feed. If you don’t have the time to give it a watch, let me give you the Coles Notes here. A painfully, almost paralyzingly nervous singer auditions for X-Factor. So timorous is he in the pre-performance interview that the judges have all but written him off before he sings a note. It’s taken him five years , he explains, to overcome all the nay-sayers in his life who discouraged him from auditioning, five years to quell his self-doubt and steel up his courage to take the stage. The song he’ll be performing is one he sang at his Grand-dad’s funeral; his Nan is standing in the wings for moral support (cut to backstage shot of “Nan” looking on anxiously, squeezing the hand of the show’s tastefully attired MC). Even on the low-res medium of a laptop screen, the anxiety in the auditorium is palpable as the opening notes of Bette Midler’s “The Rose” peal out and he raises the trembling microphone to his mouth.

As might be expected, perhaps, the performance that follows is so startlingly beautiful, the voice so sonorous and the execution so passionate that the judges are compelled to sit up with new notice and the audience erupts with roars of delight. The camera pans across more than one face wiping away cathartic tears of satisfaction as this written-off “rough” suddenly sparkles with “diamond” brilliance.

If you’ve got the time, here it is for posterity’s sake:



The scene is moving, I’ll admit, and the last thing I want to do is be cynical for cynicism’s sake, but I’m not convinced. The “all-that’s-gold-does-not-glitter” theme has become too popular on these Talentj Shows—too guaranteed to go viral—for this nervous-wall-flower-turned-phenom story to be 100% All Beef, if you know what I mean.

I’ve sung nervous. And one of the unfair things I’ve noticed about singing nervous is that anxiety attacks the diaphragm, making it extremely difficult to practice the deep, regulated breathing necessary for singing. No matter how hard you’ve steeled yourself psychologically, physiologically your body betrays you. If Mr. Maloney was really as nervous as he looks at the 21 second mark, it’s highly unlikely he’d have had the breath to belt it out as passionately as he does at the 2:59 mark.

And then there’s the performance itself—from his comfortable handling of the microphone, to the careful annunciation of the consonants, to his singer’s posture, to the articulation of his mouth on the vowels, everything here looks to me like this diamond in the rough has been carefully cut by a professional voice coach. I mean, I’m not a trained singer myself, so my humble opinion is really just that, but my strong suspicion is that Mr. Maloney is neither nervous nor amateur, and that someone’s being taken in here—certainly the audience is, and possibly the judges as well (depending on how cynical you are about the staged nature of these types of shows).

But that’s not really my point today. What I’m thinking about is how compelling Mr. Maloney’s story has made his performance. He is, no doubt, a powerful singer; but powerful singers sing for audiences all the time, as well or better than Mr. Maloney, without moving crowds to tears. And if you’d watched this performance from the ### mark, without the story to set it up, you might say: “Hmmm... nice voice,” but then you’d move on. It’s not likely you’d share it on Facebook. Or cry.

It’s the story that evokes the tears; and it’s the story that gives the song context and power.

And bear with me, but I’m thinking about that as it relates to faith and theology. A lot of times, when we talk about the deep truths of Christianity they are disconnected from the story that makes them compelling. Take theological doctrines for instance. Often people have a hard time swallowing the doctrine of the Trinity because it’s presented like an abstract “blueprint” for some faceless Three-in-One God “out there” somewhere. But when it gets connected the Story of the early Christians, and their attempt to explain why, on the one hand, they worshipped a first Century Jewish Holy Man named Jesus, but on the other hand, they kept insisting that they were right in line with the Jewish Monotheism that Jesus himself taught and adhered to... that story makes the Trinitarian “song” compelling.

The Message of the Cross is like this. An a-historical doctrine about an a-historical “Christ” who died for my sins (in the abstract) can evoke assent, but is unlikely to evoke tears and more likely to evoke a lot of questions—how, exactly does a dying Jewish Rabbi atone for sins? But when it is connected to The Story—the story of a creator God who refused to turn his back on his creation even when they rejected him—who chose Israel to be a people who would draw the creation back to its maker by showing the world what life with him was supposed to look like—who agonized over this people as they failed in their calling, even to the point of their exile at the hands of a pagan Empire—who promised them return and restoration and renewal (and that their restoration would translate into restoration for the whole creation)—and who raised up from them a Messiah, his Son, our Lord, who lived out both the story of the creator’s rejection and the exile of the creator’s people through his death on the cross (and then inaugurated the promised restoration through his glorious resurrection)—when it’s connected to this story, that’s when the doctrine of Atonement really starts to sing.

And when that story is connected to my own story: of seeking and failure and longing for shalom, and of discovering through Jesus redemption from the ashes of sin—that, I think, is when the song has the power to evoke real tears of catharsis and delight.

On Creation and Covenant

In case I was pitching over heads in my last post about the theological connections between Creation and Covenant as related acts of God, I thought I'd post an extended treatment of the topic that I wrote a few years ago.

Here's the paper in a nutshell: "The Book of Genesis uses the creation imagery and themes developed through the so-called Primeaval History of chapters 1-11 to interpret the subsequent Abrahamic covenant theologically as a creative act of God, a further forming and filling by the Lord God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth."

Here's the paper in a much larger shell (from a much larger nut...):  All the Families of the Earth:  Creation and Covenant in Geneis

Musical Mondays (X)

Still continuing with our musical Mondays.  This song (Kafka Dreams) has probably generated more hits for this blog than anything else I've written. Mostly because Hobbes uses the line in a Calvin and Hobbes strips, and it's obscure, and this partcular post  turns up pretty often when you Google "what is a Kafka Dream?"
 
Anyway, you can read the post if you want the story behind the song. Or you can simply listen below and enjoy. (If the audio player doesn't show up, click here to download the song).
 
Kafka Dreams
 

Covenant, Creation and Ecology in Hosea

And while I’m thinking about creation, brotherhood and covenant, there’s a text in the book of Hosea that has been on my mind for a long time that I’d like to share.

In Hosea 4:1-3, we read these heart–breaking lines: “There is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land ... therefore the land mourns and everyone who lives in it languishes, along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky, and also the fish of the sea.” With words that wouldn’t stand out too starkly at the next UNEP summit, Hosea describes the land itself withering as a direct result of human faithlessness.

This would be ominous enough to give us pause, but later in the book, Hosea details the sins of the people by saying: “Like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously with me” (6:7).

Like it did in Amos 1:9, the question of covenant arises again, this time in a way that connects environmental degradation with human sin. Among the other consequences of our covenant infidelity, we find, curiously, that the land itself is languishing. And more curious still, in violating the covenant like this, we are, Hosea declares, “like Adam.”

My Zondervan Study Bible is stumped. “The allusion is uncertain,” it explains, “since Scripture records no covenant with Adam.” This particular reference to a covenant with Adam, I suppose, doesn’t count as record of a covenant with Adam... but even if Hosea 6 here didn’t count, the creation story in Genesis is so packed with covenant imagery that, short of a post-it label on every verse saying “I’m making a covenant here!” God makes it pretty clear that when he created everything in the beginning, he was also covenanting to uphold it all by his life-giving spirit (see also Psalm 104:24-30). It’s not for nothing that in Genesis 9:9, when God “establishes” his covenant with Noah, he uses a word (qûm) which suggests a pre-existing covenant that God is simply now extending to Noah (i.e. if God had meant, “I’m creating a new covenant with you, Noah,” he would have used the verb kârat or natan). The Noahic covenant (that God will keep the creation going, summer and winter, springtime and harvest) is actually an extension of the covenant with all creation that God made in the beginning.

And with this in mind, the weight of Hosea 4-6 comes crashing down with ominous force: the Adamic covenant has to do with God’s commitment to sustain his creation, and it gave Adam a special responsibility to guard the creation (shamar) and tend it (‘abad), as the “image of God” in creation. No wonder, then, that our breaking of the Adamic covenant brings desolation on the land. It did in Genesis 3, it does in Leviticus 26, and it will in Micah 7:3. This is a theme woven like a green thread throughout the Old Testament: when the people reject the covenant, the land withers.

But I’m mulling it over today because I believe very strongly that the Christian faith has meaningful and relevant answers to the current global environmental crisis, and because I seldom hear Christians talking about it in meaningful ways, and because I think that, even more than the traditional “stewardship” paradigm (which tends toward deism and moralism), a Good-News answer to environmental issues will start with a robust understanding of God’s covenant commitment to his creation and the invitation into renewed covenant with him that he extends to us in Jesus Christ.

When Solomon's Temple meets Minecraft

 My kids are pretty huge Minecraft fans.  For those of you who have never played Minecraft, think of it as a big game of  "virtual Lego."  Those of you who have played Minecraft will know that it's as much like virtual Lego as Mario Karts is like "virtual Hot Wheels" (that is to say, only a bit). 

Here's Wikipedia's description:  "Minecraft is focused on creativity and building, allowing players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. Game play in its commercial release has two principal modes: survival, which requires players to acquire resources and maintain their health and hunger; and creative, where the player has an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger."

Like I say, Minecraft is a popular pass time at our house. So watching the kids work on a project the other day I floated this idea past them:  "Hey guys, you wanna build a scale model of Solomon's Temple, from the Bible?"

They were up for the challenge, and construction continued off and on over the next couple of weeks.  We used the plans for the Temple and its furnishings as they're detailed in 1 Kings chapters 5, 6 and 7, and tried to follow them as strictly as possible (in Minecraft, each cube is supposed to be 1 metre by 1 metre, but for simplicity's sake we made each minecraft cube equal to one cubic cubit  (a cubit is approximately 0.5 metres, so our scale here is 2:1.)). 

My son, who is a wizard when it comes to all things techie helped us produce this virtual tour of our completed Minecraft Temple, which I offer here for your amusement and illumination:



I've read 1 Kings 5-7 a bunch of times over the years, but nothing brought it to life for me like this project with the kids, trying to figure out how and why they built this magnificent building the way they did. But what was especially fun about the job was the many opportunities it provided for us to talk about the things of God. Here's only a small sample of the questions we chewed over as we "built" our Temple, brick by Minecraft brick.

What's an altar? Why did they need one? What was in the Holy of Holies? Why couldn't you go in there?  What's a cherub?  What's an incense altar?  What did they keep in the Temple storerooms? What's a "bronze sea?"  What was it for?  What were the tables for the show-bread all about?  Why did they keep bread out like that? 

Fielding these questions (and much deeper ones-- Why was it only the priest who could go into the Holy of Holies?  What was sacrifice all about, anyway? And what happened to the Temple?) it occurred to me that meeting your kids where they play is perhaps the best way to mentor them in the things of God. 

Louis Mercier once said, "What we learn with pleasure we never forget"; and if that was ever true, it should be true of our formation in the Faith.

Musical Mondays (IX)

Here's another installment for our "Musical Mondays" series at terra incognita.  It's a song I wrote for my wife a while ago.  Incidentally, I've found out that some browsers haven't been properly loading the audio for these posts, and some vistors have had to leave Musical Mondays unseranaded.  My apologies.  If the audio player doesn't appear below, and the lyrics have sufficiently piqued your interest that you still want to hear the song, you can download it here:  Old with you.

Old With You



Let me grow old with you
I could tell you all the things I know
I didn't have to
You may already know them
That only goes to show that
I got here just in time
To grow old with you

Let me stay young with you
We could laugh at all the things we know
We're not supposed to
Or stop and smell the flowers
Or talk in bed for hours
While we wait around
To stay young with you

Let me grow old with you
I could tell you all the things I know
I didn't have to
You may already know them
That only goes to show that
I got here just in time
To grow old with you

On Awe

The other day I came across this fascinating talk about the “biological advantage of being awestruck.”


The Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck - by @Jason_Silva from Jason Silva on Vimeo.

It left me, if not awestruck itself, quite eager to be awestruck. And it confirmed a hunch I’ve had for a long time: that there is something about worship that enlarges us, emotionally and psychologically, and that being fully alive and fully human requires regular experiences of worship-inducing awe. And it suggests that the marginalization of worship in secular culture actually has ethical implications.

But since it also shores up Ecclesiastes 5:7 with empirical data, I’ll let my words here be few, and stand, instead, in awe of God, at the good Teacher’s advice.

The Halloween Files (Part IX): An All Saints Day Quiz for the Morning After

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You maybe thought it was over.  The candy's been counted and sorted, the costumes hung in the back closet with care, and your pumpkin survived the night unscathed.  Another Halloween's come and gone.

So why another Halloween reflection, this November 1st morning (as if a post connecting trick-or-treating to the atonement hadn't gone far enough)? 

Well: because the Christian connection in Halloween-- if there is a genuine Christian connection-- has to do with the Feast of All Saints, which is celebrated on November 1st.  As far as the Christian calendar is concerned, all is hallowed on Hallowe'en only because it's the night before All Saint's Day, that day of the year the Church sets aside to remember the Saints who have gone before (and to celebrate the things the Holy Spirit has accomplished through the faithful men and women of the past.)

Discussions of "whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween" almost never mention All Saints Day; and even among the most enthusiastic Christian supporters of Halloween festivities, I've never heard anyone follow up the question "What are you being for Halloween?" with "What are you doing for All Saints Day?"

Which is a shame.  Because celebrating Hallowe'en without celebrating All Saints Day is a bit like celebrating Christmas Eve without celebrating Christmas Morning.  Kind of anti-climactic.  But it's also a shame, because telling the Church's story through the lives of her saints is a powerful way to share the gospel (just try explaining why a Free Methodist is called a Free Methodist to someone who doesn't know Jesus; you'll see).  And it seems to me that, inasmuch as secular society still enjoys a good All's Hallowed Eve romp, the Christian Feast Day that it's leading up to is a great time to talk about Jesus.

So, in the interest of shining some light on this most over-shadowed feast day of the year, I offer you here a little "All Saint's Day Quiz." 

How many of the following saints can you name (leave your answers in the "comments" below-- first 5 respondents get an advance copy of my upcoming new CD!)

1.  This theologian's "coming clean" about a stolen pear left an indelible mark on the church's understanding of original sin.

2.  The hero of Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers asked for this Mohawk believer to be sainted years before the Catholic Church got around to doing it.

3.  The fanciful tales of this Irish monk's journey into the Atlantic have led scholars to speculate that Irish sailors knew about the New World long before Columbus got there.

4.  This medieval theologian was nicknamed "the ox".  In trying to mesh the Bible with Aristotle's philosophy, he ended up setting a course for theology that wouldn't be challenged until the Reformation.

5.  This father of the Early Church was nicknamed Adamantius-- the Man of Steel-- because of his firm commitment to the Faith; some scholars suggest that this name comes especially from the fact that he took Matthew 19:12 as literally as possible.

6.  Legend has it that this Roman priest was martyred for performing illegal marriages for Christian soldiers.

7.  This Christian writer has been called "The Evangelical Patron Saint of the Imagination"; the hero of his most popular novel is named after the Turkish word for lion.

8.  Speaking of lions, this early biographer of Jesus is thought to have been a disciple of St. Peter; his symbol is a winged lion.

9.  According to legend, this monk from Asia Minor was killed in the Roman Coliseum trying to stop a gladiator fight; his martyrdom prompted the Emperor to discontinue the Games altogether.

10.  This Christian was never sainted by the Catholic Church, but when he nailed some paper to a church door on Halloween Night, 1517, he changed the course of history.