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.

A Song for Valentine's Day

As part of my theological analysis of the themes of St. Valentines Day, I share this song somewhat hesitantly. The hesitancy has to do with the fact that I wrote the words as a much younger man, and the sentiment seems a bit naive to me today; but it's also because I recognize that the themes of sexuality that the song deals with are far more complex than a 5:10 ditty could handle well, and I don't want to appear flippant or trite when it comes to these matters. I will refer you to this insightful discussion of the "psychology of sexual purity" over at Experimental Theology, if you'd like to do some "deep-sea" fishing with the can of worms I've opened here (so to speak).

In the meantime, I'm still posting "New Song of Solomon" today, the above disclaimers notwithstanding, because like I say: we're theologically analysing the themes of St. Valentine's Day this February at terra incognita, and whatever else it is, this song is about the Bible's vision for sexual wholeness, and how we humans have so often distorted that vision (verse 3 quotes Ophelia from Hamlet, as if to say: this problem is no modern one). Confession songs are rare in the praise-and-worship ethos of modern evangelicalism, but "New Song of Solomon" is actually meant as a prayer of confession, acknowledging the many ways North American Evangelicalism has simply acquiesced to the sexual ethic of the modern world.

Click here to download the song

Revisiting A Lesson from St. Valentine

In keeping with the Theological Analysis of Valentine's Day I introduced yesterday, I thought I'd re-post this Valentine's Day reflection I posted back in 2009.

I went through a phase where I was really intrigued with the lives of the saints. I'm not big-C Catholic, of course, but the strange mix of legend and biography, adventure and romance, faith and fiction that is the church's hagiography fascinated me. St. Patrick lighting the paschal fire on Slane hill, St. Brendan saying the mass to the fish in his little skiff on the Atlantic, St. Francis preaching the gospel to his "brother birds": there's some really mysterious and magnificent stuff in there.

I'm saying this because today is the Feast of St. Valentine; or, as we would say in our iconoclastic tradition of Hallmarkangelicalism: Valentine's Day.

There are actually a few saints by the name of Valentinus, but there's general agreement that the Valentinus of Valentine's Day fame was martyred under Emperor Claudius II. A number of stories surrounding Valentine might explain how his name became synonymous with waxy chocolate hearts and timid 3rd Grade card-exchanges. While in prison he sent notes of encouragement and love to his parishioners. He also restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer, who would later fall in love with him. As legend has it, his last note to her before his execution was signed: "From your Valentine."

But there's one story in this strange mix of legend and history that has always stuck with me. They say that Valentine was martyred because Emperor Claudius had made it illegal for soldiers in his Imperial army to marry. Apparently Claudius was having a tough time recruiting males. Believing it was because married men were reluctant to leave their wives and families, he annulled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine continued to perform Christian marriages in secret, convinced that there was a Lord of marriage whose authority transcended the Emperor's. He was caught, and brought before the Emperor. When he refused to renounce his Faith in the true Lord of marriage, Valentine was condemned to be executed by clubbing, stoning and beheading.

Now here's a little Valentine's Day chocolate food for thought: Valentine died convinced that marriage is not just an end in itself. He was not martyred for marriage, he was martyred for Christ. He stood before Claudius convinced that Christian marriage served a living Lord whose redemptive reign could not be renounced. Marriage is but one of the many human goods that God has given us to bear witness to His loving lordship in Christ.

I'm not big-C Catholic. But in the Evangelical tradition I call home, I think we might learn a small lesson from St. Valentine. Because here the family is an institution of special focus; and I sometimes wonder if, in all our focus on marriage, we inadvertently make it an end in itself. Do we stand convinced that our marriages have meaning-- not because they satisfy our romantic desires-- not because they fulfill our domestic needs-- not because they make us happy-- but because they bear witness to the loving lordship of Christ? Some of the stronger Evangelical rhetoric I've heard defending marriage has seemed more about what's politically or socially expedient than about the good news of Jesus.

The word martyr itself means "a witness." As I reflect on the martyrdom Valentine, I wonder: what would my marriage look like if it were transformed by a spirit of martyrdom-- if I could see my life together with my wife as bearing loving witness to the redemptive reign of Jesus?

On St. Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday

In case you've yet to purchase a bouquet of roses or some such similar gesture of appreciation for the object of your affection, let me remind you that today is St. Valentine's Day Eve.  It's also, incidentally, Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, but I try as I might, I couldn't find any "Happy Ash Wednesday" cards at the local Walmart.  Another case of Hallmark commercialism trumping the sacred calendar in our collective reckoning of the year. 

In different post, I'd  maybe tackle the themes of Lent, and lament, perhaps, how little air-time they get in the modern evangelical church; but then, my favorite blogger over at Experimental Theology beat me to it, and with much more ease than I could have done, so I will simply refer you to his "Ash Wednesday" reflection here and turn my attention to our forthcoming celebration of love, passion, affection and eros happening tomorrow. Owing to the unexpected popularity of my theological analysis of Halloween last October, I am planning to do a similar treatment of the themes St. Valentine's Day over the next few days, exploring the theological significance of this red-letter day and especially that most potent of human bonds it celebrates.

To start things off, let me share a sermon on modern love that I preached at the FreeWay a few months ago.  Happy listening, and Happy St. Valentine's Day Eve everybody.


Song of Solomon 4:15-5:1  "A Love Song of Love Songs"


Click here to download the sermon.


Musical Mondays (XIV)

Here's another song from "echoes" to start your week off. By way of explanation, let me say that Zoe is the Greek word for "life" and the lyrics are meant as an ode to life in Christ. By way of credit-where-credit's due, let me say that the mandolin solo towards the end is a medley of two traditional Irish jigs (St. Patrick's Day, and The Priest's Leap). And in the spirit of Ephesian 5:18, let me say that the song (and my performance thereof) is my best effort at writing a worship song that sounds for all the word like an Irish drinking song. Cheers.



Download the song here.

Zoe

Zoe is dancing again in the daylight
She comes to me lovely and full of delight
Skipping and spinning with all of her might
She sets my heart free
Richer than milk and sweeter than honey
Stronger than wine, more precious than money
A blue sky divine, all brilliant and sunny
She dances lovely

Life!  Springing up from the
Ground, like nothing that I've ever
Found, on this sweet earth
Joy! Filling my heart like
Wine! Now that I know that you're
Mine, I'm filled with mirth

Zoe is shining again in the twilight
She's burning like stars in the darkness of night
She's casting off blindness and putting on new sight
To make my heart see
Flowing like water, burning like fire
Sent from the father to like me higher
Anointed with laughter, delight and desire
By Christ my master

Love!  Bubbling up in my
Soul!  Your mercy has made me
Whole, and gave me new birth
Zoe!  Foaming out like a spring
You teach my spirit to sing
To sing your worth

Zoe is running again in the rain
She is leaping and falling and rising again
She's there in the joy and there in the pain
The life Christ gave me
Richer than milk and sweeter than honey
Stronger than wine, more precious than money
A blue sky divine all brilliant and sunny
She dances, lovely

Life! Springing up from the
Ground, like nothing that I've ever
Found, on this sweet earth
Joy! Filling my heart like
Wine! Now that I know that you're
Mine, I'm filled with mirth
Love! Bubbling up in my
Soul! Your mercy has made me
Whole, and gave me new birth
Zoe! Foaming out like a spring
You teach my spirit to sing
To sing your worth