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.

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 2012 Literary Awards

Reading forms a pretty major piece of the spiritual jigsaw puzzle that is my life.  I read for work; I read for leisure; I read for spiritual formation; I read for recreation.  My habit of recording the books I read each year started sometime back in 1999, when I was teaching High School English and trying to catch up on "the classics."  The habit stuck, and 13 years later I still find it satisfying to look over the year's reading list and reflect on what I found and who I met there. 

The habit of awarding "literary awards" to the good, the bad and the ugly reads of the year started three years ago, as a bit of an experimental blog post.  In the hopes of nurturing this habit into a tradition, I am pleased to present here the third annual terra incognita literary awards.  You can check out previous awards ceremonies here and here.

Most Annoying Read:  Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

Judging almost entirely by the cover, I bought this book thinking it would be a refreshing change from the more typical "purpose driven" books on leadership I'd read.  In awarding it the "most annoying" honours, I don't mean to imply that I disagreed with Allender's main thesis-- that godly leaders must be authentic and transparent when it comes to their weakness, flaws and mistakes.  It's just that his style was so rambling and unfocused that it often left me wondering where he was going, or where he had been with his point.  This confusion at times bubbled over into annoyance.

Most Traumatic Read:  Dragonslippers, Rosalind B. Penfold

This was one of the required texts for a course in "the dynamics of abuse" which I audited this spring.  Presenting her book as the "illustrated diary" of a woman who has escaped a sexually and emotionally abusive relationship, Rosalind B. Penfold (pseudonym) tells her story in a series of deceptively simple, but haunting cartoon drawings. Although it was indeed a traumatic read, it was also one of the most vivid and compelling illustrations of the dynamics of abuse I have ever encountered.

Most Disappointing Read:  Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Wolf.

I first read this ground-breaking stream-of-consciousness novel for a University course on the English Novel, back in my undergrad days.  Some 20 years later, I remembered little of it, except that the account of Septimus Warren Smith's suicide had deeply moved me back then.  I reread it last winter for old times sake, and, while I still found Septimus Warren Smith a sympathetic character, the rest of the book was far more tedious than I ever remembered.  Since it's unlikely the novel itself has changed, I can only assume my reading tastes have; that, or the many shots of espresso I consumed before reading the novel the first time, at 3 am the night before the big final exam, gave Mrs. Dalloway's quest for the flowers (which she said she would buy herself) a certain je ne sais pas which I will never recapture. 

Most Rewarding Re-Read:  The Power and the Glory,  Graham Greene

Another re-read, though this one was satisfying in every way Mrs. Dalloway was not.  Graham Greene's story of a failed Catholic priest on the run from the communist government in revolutionary Mexico is one part redemption story, one part spiritual odyssey, one part spy-thriller.  I love this book, and the longer I do ministry, the more sense it makes to me.  It helps, perhaps, that this time I read it while on vacation in Mexico.
 
Most Enraptured Read:  Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson uses the megaloth--the five traditional books read on the five feast days of the Jewish Calendar (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther)--as thematic entry-points for the five practices of pastoral work (prayer-directing, story-making, pain-sharing, nay-saying and community-building).  This book was food for the head and balm for the heart.  I read it as much for Eugene Peterson's whimsical style as for the deep insights he offers into the real nature of pastoral ministry.  A must-read for any fledgling pastor.

Most Willing Required Read:  From Darkness to Light:  How One Became a Christian in the Early Church, Anne Fields

This one was required reading for a seminar on the "theology of conversion" our ministry network hosted this year.  It's essentially an anthology of readings, sermons and liturgy excerpts from the early church's catechism for baptismal candidates, peppered through with a bit of commentary from Ms. Fields herself.  It showed, essentially, what a third Century prosylete would undergo if he or she wanted to become a member of the Christian community.  The forty-day ordeal of daily sermons, scripture lessons and exorcisms which culminated in a public baptism on Easter Night (a naked, public baptism, mind you), makes the "ask Jesus into your heart" fare of now-a-days look like the TV dinner of conversion experiences.

Most Unexpectedly Interesting Read:  Evoking Change,  Anna Christie

The reasons why my expectations were so low when I started this one are complicated, but among other things, let me say that the dust-cover's claim that this book will "put you on a foolproof path that will positively impact all aspects of your life and eventually improve the world" seemed a bit grandiose for my taste.  There was much I disagreed with here, both theologically and psychologically, but its overall thesis resonated with me: that leaders can only effect outward change in the systems they are called to lead when they are willing to do the painful work of inward transformation.  And, important theological quibbles notwithstanding, Anna Christie offers some very helpful and challenging insights into human psychology and systems theory in her unpacking of this thesis.

Most Edifying Read:  The New Testament and the People of God,  N. T. Wright.

I've blogged before (and effusively) about N. T. Wright.  I have been waiting for a while now for the fourth installment in his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, breath bated ever since The Resurrection of the Son of God heralded for me the end of the world as I knew it (but I feel fine).  Anyways, rumour has it that part four, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, is due any day now, and to brace myself (or while away the time, as the case may be) I started re-reading the first three books in the series.  I finished The New Testament and the People of God this week and found it as edifying as before, and perhaps twice as rich, academically speaking, coming as it did after a couple of years in the ministry trenches.  What can I say:  I'm a Bible Geek.

1 comments:

o1mnikent said...

Just a heads up... Paul and the Faithfulness of God will be out later this year. It's now available for pre-order:

http://www.logos.com/product/29160/paul-and-the-faithfulness-of-god