There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.

On Oaths, Vows and Spiritual Formation

Those who know me well know that early January is one of my favorite times of the year; and this is especially because I find making New Year's resolutions to be a pleasant activity.  I know I'm in a sparsely-populated boat on this one, but ever since I was young, the first few weeks of  my Januarys have always been scattered with lists of goals, drafts of reading lists, records of my aspirations for the coming year, and freshly-started journals.  It's only two weeks into the new year now, and some of my resolutions have already fallen by the wayside; but then again, some are still with me, or I with them, and if even one or two make it right through to 2014, I'll feel the effort was worth it.

A New Years Resolution, of course, is kin to making a vow or taking an oath.  Admittedly, it's not nearly as solemn, nor as binding, but the kinship is real, which is perhaps why it struck me so forcibly the other day when, right at the height of New Years Resolution season and all, I was reading this book about Christian leadership that pointed out the deep connections between spiritual bondage, spiritual formation and vow-making.

This book (Mentoring Leaders, Carson Pue) unpacked Leviticus 5:4, where it says that anyone who "thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil, in any matter one might carelessly swear about" is guilty of sin and must go to the priest with a sacrifice for atonement.  I've read this verse a few times before and, aside from deeply appreciating how Christ is the atoning sacrifice who fulfills and transforms the Old Testament Law for us, I've never really thought much about how this specific injunction against thoughtless vows might play out in a contemporary Christian context.

The book I was reading, however (and have been mulling over ever since) suggested that thoughtless vows can actually be a source of spiritual stuntedness, even bondage in our lives, and that identifying and renouncing such vows can be an important piece of our spiritual formation.

Let me be clear:  we're not talking about New Years Resolutions here, and more importantly, we're not talking about those solemn vows that Christians take in Christ's name and are actually essential to our maturity in the Faith-- baptismal vows, child dedication vows, wedding vows, ordination vows and the like.  In a different post I'd talk about how such vows as these are humanizing, how they enlarge our spirits and how they deepen our discipleship.

But that's a different post for a different kind of vow.  What we're talking about here are those hasty promises we make to ourselves in moments of fear, resentment, hurt, bitterness or pride, often without ever realizing we've done so, and usually without ever considering that we have, in fact, sworn a vow.  And we're talking about how such vows stunt our spiritual growth because they close areas of our lives off from the healing work of the Holy Spirit.

Some examples will probably help.  Who has ever heard someone say, or said perhaps themselves, something along these lines:  "I'll never to talk to them again." or "I'll never forgive him for what he did." or  "That's the last time so-and-so will get the upper hand on me." or "I swear I won't grow up to be like him (or her or them)." or  "I promised myself I wouldn't cry (or 'go there' or go back to 'that' again)."  or  "I'll get even."

It's hardly blood-oath material, to be sure, but such statements have an oath-taking ring to them, at least, and whether we realize it or not, when we make determinations like these in our hearts, whatever else is going on there, we've made a thoughtless vow. 

God's Torah says that anyone who has made a thoughtless oath "about any matter one might carelessly swear about"-- is in need (in sacrificial need) of atonement.

I won't speculate a lot on why, except to point out that when we vow such things to ourselves (I'll never forgive so-and-so ... deal with such-and-such ... become like so-and-so ...); when we make these inner self-commitments out of hurt, fear, resentment or pride, whatever else is going on when we do that, we are actually setting our wills against the possibilities of God's sanctification in our lives.  Consider it this way:  Saying "I'll never grow up to be like 'her'" (or "him" or "them" or whomever) shuts you off from the possibility that there may in fact be something in "her" (or him or them or whomever) that God wants you to grow in or learn from or redeem.

Promising myself "I won't go there," is actually closing my heart to God's healing in that particular area of my life. 

Vowing "never to speak to so-and-so again" is vowing unforgiveness.

I need to stress some things.  Forgiveness doesn't mean allowing someone to hurt us again; nor does "dealing with the past" mean accepting the dominant narrative about the past; there may be patterns of relating or cycles of behaviour in those around us that we personally want to break free from, and it's altogether appropriate to articulate that; there are times when genuine reconciliation is not possible this side of eternity.  It's not wanting things to be different or better or whole or safe that's in question here.  It's the act of exerting our wills over our lives-- taking matters into our own "emotional hands"--in such a way that it excludes or precludes the sanctifying work of God precisely there, in that area of our lives.  That's what's in question. 

And maybe it's because thoughtless vows have this dangerous edge to them that Leviticus 5:4 prescribes a sacrifice of atonement for the guilt of swearing such oaths.  Which leads me to appreciate all the more deeply still that Christ is the atoning sacrifice who fulfills and transforms the Old Testament Law for us.  Because in Christ we have a saviour who not only atones for those thoughtless acts of self-exertion that cut us off from the sanctifying work of God, but in him we also have the Spirit who can answer the fears, heal the hurts, redeem the resentment or humble the pride that led us into the vow in the first place.

In Christ we discover not only the invitation to stay fully open to the possibilities of God's redeeming work in our lives, but also the grace to answer "yes."