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.

House of Bread, a Christmas Poem

O little humble House of Bread
how still we see thee
rise--
where once they buried
long ago his father's father's father's
father's one true love,
whose ancient tears his coming will
unwittingly awake--
(Rachel, weeping, because her innocents are no more)

O little simple house of bread:
in whose heart of mystery
is born today
the Christ child's hidden presence:
stolen away by dreams and night
and brought back to us the same--
(that out of Egypt Rachel's innocents might find their way back home)

O little broken house of bread,
soaked that day, and now today,
in wine-red blood
(that she, at last, might find God's solace for her tears)--
at your table we discover it again:
the hopes and fears of all the years
are truly met in thee
tonight.

Fine Wine and the Third Day Sign, a poem

Fine wine (and the third day sign)

And while we lolled about,
crooning our raucous requiems
to lost innocence and
leaping gazelles,
toasting a tipsy epithalamion
and humming our homesick
hymeneal
till no eye in the place, nor throat was dry
but every cup
as dust, was empty,
He asked for water.

Then raised a glass
to life
breaking beautiful, full-bodied
against the palette
with a lingering bouquet of
earth, and smoke, and fresh new spice
in the nose and
at the veins and
to the coursing heart--
he set it down (the toast)
brimming with bright red wine.

We marveled, all, of course
and three days later marveled all the more
when like a cork sliding sharp
from a gaping bottle's mouth
the stone rolled back and first-born feet
stepped out
(with the faintest pop, perhaps?):
the grave like a sea of water splashing open
that the wine-red blood within
at last might breathe.


On Gratitude and Awesomeness

This year for father’s day I was taking the kids off to the local Chapters store so they could spend some gift cards that had been burning a hole in their pockets, when my wife, on the way out, suggested I buy myself a book. It’s a bit of a long story. We’d agreed not to do father’s/mother’s day gifts this year, but at this last minute she thought a little something couldn’t hurt, and told me to treat myself. So my kids came home with the next installment in the Warrior Cats series (or some such), and I came home with The Book of Awesome, a book I stumbled across on the “staff picks” table.

It was a serendipitous stumble. The Book of Awesome is the book edition of a blog called 1000 Awesome Things which author Neil Pasricha launched back in 2008, after a divorce and the tragic loss of a good friend left him in a dark place and he felt he needed to nurture a more positive outlook on life. 1000 Awesome Things is just that, a running list of simple pleasures and overlooked blessings we tend to take for granted, but when you actually stop to think about them they turn out to be awesome. The smell of rain on a hot sidewalk, giving a baby a high-five, peeling an orange in one shot, arriving at your destination just as a great song on the radio ends, all get their turn in the spotlight, along with your first shower after not showering for a long time, and hitting a bunch of green lights in a row. By turns hilarious, thoughtful, heart-warming and wise, The Book of Awesome was (wait for it) awesome.

No, really. His entry on the colon had me laughing so hard I thought I was going to split mine; and I was reading it in public, at the Swiss Chalet, with the kids wondering what had happened to their Dad.

The reason I’m talking about it today, though, is because it struck me while reading The Book of Awesome, just how much I take for granted, how many profound pleasures pass me by every day without my notice, how big a sense of entitlement I really carry around with me, and how much it all sucks the life out of things, my ingratitude. Before The Book of Awesome, I wouldn’t have thought of myself as an ungrateful wretch, but then again, before The Book of Awesome, it never occurred to me just how awesome photosynthesis is, or laughing so hard you make no sound at all, or gym pain, or salt.

I remember a theology prof of mine once pointing out how thankfulness is the fundamental posture of the Christian life. He was preaching on Ephesians 5:20 at the time (“always give thanks to God the Father for everything”), and he had grander things in mind than illegal naps and high tens (both entries in the book). But then again, maybe gratitude for the lofty things, the weighty things, the deep things, grows in our gratitude for the simple things, the light things, the surface things: dancing with your children and weeping with good friends and a well written poem and the smell of a Russian olive tree off in the distance.  (I’ve been working on my own list).

In 1 Timothy 4:4, Paul tells us that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I wonder if the reverse is also true, that nothing should be received without thanksgiving. And perhaps the strongest evidence of our commitment to the doctrine of creation (even more, maybe than what we say about the best way to interpret Genesis 1) is the degree to which we move through this creation with deep gratitude for everything the creator has made.

At any rate, I’m working on gratitude this fall. It is, after all, a very good world; even marred by the worst of human ingratitude, it still bears the fingerprints of a perfectly wise, breathtakingly artistic and even, at times, beautifully playful Creator who deserves only praise and thanksgiving. Adrenaline (#934) and and the sun (#66) and the smell of freshly cut grass(#838) were all in his mind before any of them came to be, and are each awesome if for no other reason than that.

The Luxury of the Gospel (or, What Would Jesus Drive?)

A couple of years ago I read a book called Shopping for God by James B. Twitchell. It was, essentially, an analysis of American church culture by a self-professed outsider (Twitchell is a professor of English Lit., and a self-described "apa-theist," which is to say: he's relatively apathetic about the question of god). It wasn't what I was expecting-- less a critique of the rampant consumerism that plagues modern evangelicalism and more of a "market analysis" of religion in general. But there was one section of the book that stuck with me. Twitchell was comparing religions in America that were growing to those that were in decline, and he pointed out that generally speaking, the movements that expected a high degree of buy-in and sacrifice from participants were the ones that were growing. I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't cite any of his stats or sources for this, but let's take his suggestion at face value.

How to explain this? Twitchell wondered. Denominations, churches, and movements that place the bar high tend to grow, whereas those that place few or no demands on their adherents don't. Twitchell, you have to remember, is not a believer. He was just looking at what he took to be "market data." To make sense of it, he suggested the analogy of a luxury car. The high cost of a Jaguar, he argued, is actually, ironically, one of the reasons people who drive Jags are willing to pay the cost for one in the first place. A Honda Civic may get you to work just as easily and reliably, but it's hardly a luxury item, and there's nothing about it that sets you apart for driving one. To be sure, the Jag has all-leather interior and precision engineering and what not, to make it, arguably, worth the $100,000 (plus) you gotta shell out for one, but the real selling point, for the aficionado, is that only those who can shell out for it, do. There's something about luxury items--the way they only belong to those who really recognize their value and are actually able to make the sacrifice to acquire them-- that triggers something deep in human nature. Perhaps, Twitchell mused, the same psychology is at work when people, counter-intuitively, sign up for churches that require so much commitment of them. Could "high-cost churches" (in the spiritual sense) be the "luxury item of the faith"? he wondered.

Again, Twitchell was not writing from a perspective of faith. He was actually a bit sardonic about the whole thing. He didn't tell any stories about pearls of great price or treasures buried in fields. He didn't quote any first century Jewish holy men about entering in by the narrow gate, or counting costs before building a tower. He didn't reference Mark 8:34 or Matthew 10:38. But still, I couldn't help thinking that Jesus had beaten him to the punch: following him is, in fact, the most luxurious thing of all, an extravagance that costs nothing and yet demands everything.

Dancing with the Wind, a song

Not that I think I'm necessarily the best judge, but I feel this is one of the best songs I ever wrote. I wrote it about 7 or 8 years ago for my daughters, two of the loveliest "children of the prairies" I know. We don't live on the prairies anymore, but just being with them still reminds me sometimes of bright blue skies all dappled with white and swaying yellow canola fields laughing in the sunshine. But I wax poetic...

When I first wrote sang it for my wife she asked me about the chorus: what does "loving is knowing and knowing is leaving" mean? And I said, "I'm not really sure" (any song-writers out there will understand) "but I think it means that, to really love someone, you have to be willing to know them for who they really are, not who you think they are or want them to be. And to do that, you have to be willing to leave behind the false impressions or assumptions you've made about who they are so you can discover their true selves... loving is knowing and knowing is leaving (and leaving is coming back again)."

I'm posting it here today because I'm missing them immensely (they're out on the prairies even as I write, probably dancing with the wind right now, while I'm home alone in Oshawa, waiting for the family to get back from vacation). May it remind you, too, of people you love, and miss, and are waiting to be reunited with.

PS. If you listen to the last chorus, you'll hear my girls singing back-up (they're a lot older now).

PPS. if you listen to the very end you'll hear some audio of all three kids jumping on the trampoline when they were 3, 5, & 7 (or so) which I recorded surreptitiously one afternoon. Good times, good memories.

Dancing with the Wind

[listen]


Being a child of the prairies, she seemed to me
A stalk of swaying wheat
Earth born and golden
Burned brown before the coming frost
Like all the summers I had lost,
And dancing with the wind

Gilded with auburn,
with winter’s white expectancy
When keeping is impossible,
But time is rich and lingering
Eyes wide, blue and wondering,
and dancing with the wind

      ‘Cause loving is knowing and knowing is leaving
      And leaving is coming back again
      Until then I’ll take your hand,
      I’ll hold you till you understand
      Until then keep dancing with the wind

Being a child of the prairies, you are to me
A stalk of summer wheat
Earth-green and growing
Face turned towards the summer sun
A taste of seasons yet to come,
are dancing in the wind

      ‘Cause loving is knowing and knowing is leaving
      And leaving is coming back again
      Until then I’ll take your hand,
      I’ll hold you till you understand
      Until then keep dancing with the wind

First Song, a poem

Speak to me softly with voices ancestral,
        Whisper tongues ancient and dripping in mead:
The smoke-pop, and sap-hiss of hall hearth your hymnal--
        Shield clash and lute wind and snorting of steed.

Unlayer the dank earth of archetypal digging:
        Marsh mist and peat moss and thyme-mottled wolds
Chant drumlins of darkness, shift dolems in singing
        And wend with the oak-root through Earth's clinging folds.

Or flutter a whisper by ancestral moon-light
        With air-tremor, wing-shudder, heron ascends
The soul-mousing owl and thrush-knock and rook-flight,
        From distant horizons the merlin descends.

And older than all, the seeping of water:
        The scarring deep fissures through granite of time.
The wave pound, the rain-tap, a well spring of wonder
        The hoar weight in winter, a burden of rime.

So come: with the rhythms of three-in-one dancing
        To earth-songs, and star-hymns, laments of the sea.
With trees clapping hands and hearts rising on eagle-wing,
        Carry me there to the hall of the First King,
Who chants me the lay of the hill, cup and tree--
        A very First Song for our very first mem’ry:
To hear it and know it and join it and sing.

In Ordinary Time, a poem

But nothing I've discovered
is ordinary in life with you--
the depths that you've uncovered
reveal the hope of all things new.
So as we count the weeks
after that fleeting glimpse of Triune Love
may everything my spirit seeks:
wings & flame & voice & dove
be but the waiting penult of your perfect rhyme--
You make nothing ordinary in its time.

Lift Up Your Head, a song

A gidjak is a musical instrument from Central Asia that is a little bit like a violin (inasmuch as you play it with a bow), a little bit like a cello (inasmuch as you play it upright) and a little bit like a banjo (inasmuch as it has a skin that vibrates with the strings). It's hard to describe, but here's some YouTube footage of someone playing a gidjak.



My Aunt and Uncle worked as missionaries in Tajikistan for a number of years, and, knowing my penchant for exotic musical instruments, they brought me back a traditional gidjak. Mine actually looks almost identical to the one in the video above. Of course, I had no clue how to tune it or play it, but thanks to the wonders of YouTube technology, I was soon underway. I won't be playing Carnegie Hall anytime soon, but I did write a song (2005) with a couple of parts in it for the gidjak, and even a gidjak lead break. I posted a rough recording of it a couple of years ago, along with some theological musings about ethnodoxology and the travesty of musical homogeneity in the church. You can read all that here. Last fall I re-worked the song and made a new recording of it, which I'll post here for your listening pleasure. See if you can't pick out the gidjak in the arrangement.

Lift Up Your Head (prayer for Persia)

[listen]

Brown land, like a cracked and calloused hand
Dry land, flesh of stone and bone of sand
Lift up your head

Long night, like the ash of phoenix flight
Dark night, red the dawn the longing light
Lift up your head

Lift up your head and see, the lamb was slain to set you free
The phoenix flame will rise again and perch upon the holy tree
Lift up your head behold, the child you welcomed once of old
With myrrh and frankincense and gold
Is now the resurrected Lord
He comes to heal your land
Lift up your head

Ancient place, like a lined and noble face
Antique place, mist of myrrh and tear of grace
Lift up your head


Night skies like the gleam of veiled eyes
Eastern skies, see afar his star arise
Lift up your head

Lift up your head and see, the lamb was slain to set you free
The phoenix flame will rise again and perch upon the holy tree
Lift up your head behold, the child you welcomed once of old
With myrrh and frankincense and gold
Is now the resurrected Lord
He comes to heal your land
Lift up your head

Will One Thing, a song

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existential philosopher, wrote an essay back in the 1840s about spiritual simplicity called, "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing." Rob Bell riffed on this idea-- that the path to spiritual maturity lies in spiritual simplicity-- in his Nooma video "Shells." I riffed on the idea in this song, "Will One Thing." I wrote it a while back, but this is a brand new arrangement and recording. Enjoy.


[listen]


Purity of heart is to will one thing
Want one thing, need one thing
Purify my will that I may seek one thing
Let that thing be you

Wandering the heat of the desert sun
Parched for you till my course is run
Slaking my thirst with a stone beneath my tongue
Until I’m quenched in you

A servant of two masters, trading one for another
Not knowing what I am after, loving one despising the other
Purity of heart is to seek one thing
Let that thing be you


You have set eternity in my heart,
Burning there in the secret part
You have set me seeking right from the start
Let me seek for you

A servant of two masters, trading one for another
Not knowing what I am after, loving one despising the other
Purity of heart is to seek one thing
Let that thing be you

When Shasta meets Narnia and the World meets the Way

There's a scene in the third Narnia book, The Horse and His Boy, that has always sort of spoken to me. 

To set the stage, let me explain that Shasta is a young orphan boy who grew up in Calormen, a proud and cruel Empire across the desert south of Narnia.  All his life he has believed he's the only son of a hard-handed fisherman named Arsheesh.  At the start of the story, however, he happens to meet Bree, a talking horse from Narnia who was raised in captivity in Calormen.  Bree points out to Shasta that he is obviously northern-born, too, and convinces him help him escape to Narnia.

Tashbaan is the capital city of the Calormene Empire, and they must pass through it on their way across the desert and home to Narnia.  Shasta, you must remember as you read this scene, has grown up surrounded by the sombre and arrogant Calormenes, and is completely acculturated to their ways.  Aside from Bree, he has never encountered a true Narnian before.  But while they are wending their way through the crowded, labyrinthine streets of Tashbaan, this happens:

It was in a splendid street very near the top of the city (the Tisroc's palace was the only thing above it) that the most disastrous of these stoppages occurred.

"Way! Way! Way!" came the voice. "Way for the Barbarian King, the guest of the Tisroc (may he live for ever)! Way for the Narnian lords."

Shasta tried to get out of the way and to make Bree go back. But no horse, not even a Talking Horse from Narnia, backs easily. And a woman with a very edgy basket in her hands, who was just behind Shasta, pushed the basket hard against his shoulders, and said, "Now then! Who are you shoving!" And then someone else jostled him from the side and in the confusion of the moment he lost hold of Bree. And then the whole crowd behind him became so stiffened and packed tight that he couldn't move at all. So he found himself, unintentionally, in the first row and had a fine sight of the party that was coming down the street.

It was quite unlike any other party they had seen that day. The crier who went before it shouting "Way, way!" was the only Calormene in it. And there was no litter; everyone was on foot. There were about half a dozen men and Shasta had never seen anyone like them before. For one thing, they were all as fair-skinned as himself, and most of them had fair hair. And they were not dressed like men of Calormen. Most of them had legs bare to the kneee. Their tunics were of fine, bright, hardy colours -woodland green, or gay yellow, or fresh blue. Instead of turbans they wore steel or silver caps, some of them set with jewels, and one with little wings on each side of it. A few were bare-headed. The swords at their sides were long and straight, not curved like Calormene scimitars. And instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly and didn't give a fig for anyone who wasn't. Shasta thought he had never seen anything so lovely in his life.

A bit of background might help here.  In C. S. Lewis' books, Narnia (and the North) is, in a general way, symbolic of the Life of Faith-- the Christian Life, the Christian Community, the Christian Church.  Tashbaan, by contrast, grave and noble and mysterious as it is, is roughly speaking a symbol of the World.  Shasta, as a refugee from the World, is encountering here, for the first time, authentic Christians living in authentic Christian community.

And now, hopefully, you'll understand you why this description of Shasta's first encounter with the "Narnian Lords" is so compelling to me.  The bright colours and sparkling joy, the easy gait and springing step, free camaraderie and open-armed peace with the world that radiates from this band of brothers and sisters is one of the most poetic pictures of Christian community I know of. 

A friend once said, in passing, that he felt Christians should be the most interesting people in the world.  I've mulled that over a lot since then. He wasn't speaking about holiness, per se, when he said that, or Bible knowledge, or any of the typical stuff we associate with the Christian life.  He just meant that, if we really are the Redeemed of the Lord--set free from the power of sin and death and experiencing the on-going renewal of the Image of God in us--if all that's really true, our lives ought to be more fully engaged, more filled with wonder and creativity, more curious about the Creator's world, more free with our friendship and more spendthrift with our love than any other way of living on offer.

We ought to be moving through this world together like a band of Narnian Lords through the crowds of Tashbaan.  And if we did, I think, more than just Shasta would be left wondering if they'd ever seen anything so lovely.

A Father's Prayer (a poem)

Be Thou her beauty
     (O Lord of my heart)
be graceful and radiant
      in every part.
While the world tries to teach her
      to trade it for lies
may naught be so fair
      as your light in her eyes.

taken/blessed/broken/given, a song

In Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen uses the communion table as the central image for the Christian life. In the same way that the Communion Bread-- which is the Body of Christ-- is taken and blessed by the minister, then broken and given to feed the faithful, so too Christians-- who are the Body of Christ--are taken and blessed by God, then broken and given to feed the world. I have always loved this image and it has become a central theme for my understanding of Holy Communion.

I wrote this song a number of years ago, but re-recorded last fall. It sort of riffs on this idea from Nouwen. I hope it takes you and blesses you this morning.


Taken/Blessed/Broken/Given


[listen]

Song for the road, give us a song for the pilgrimage
A song of healing and hope
Fill our mouths with a song for the journey
And we’ll sing it wherever we go

Chorus:
Let our lives be taken and blessed and broken and given
Like the bread that came from heaven above
Taken and blessed and broken and given, Lord
Teach these clumsy hands how to love

Dream for the road, give us a dream for the pilgrimage
A dream of healing and hope
Be our guide and our destination
And we’ll follow where ever you go

Bridge:
This bread is my Body, broken for you
This cup which I pour out is poured out
To make your lives new
Now you are my Body, alive with my grace
Go now, I'm sending you out there
To show the World my face

Chorus:
Let our lives be taken and blessed and broken and given
Like the bread that came from heaven above
Taken and blessed and broken and given, Lord
Teach these clumsy hands how to love

Snake, a poem

A snake lives
beneath the hedge on the path
to my girl's bus stop.

Often I just catch him,
shining tail tucking up
beneath the leaves as we round the bend,

though once or twice I've seen him stretched out
green and black in all his glory
across the morning-warming concrete of the walk,
too languid and too cool
to coil for cover.

And often I feel the lightning
thrill of ancient enmity when I do,
the sprouting Seed of Eve
surging suddenly in my heart:
were it not for the awful thought
of his lithe body writhing,
twisting terrified about
my heel in his death throes,
I would crush his head.

Rarely but sometimes I catch myself.

And the memory of another bruised heel,
dusty and ancient and bleeding long ago
quiets the urge in me:
this too is nephesh, it seems to say,
dust-born at the Word of the Creator.
And anyways: look at those
bright black eyes,
shrewd and burning and beautiful
with all the secret wisdom of the earth.

Brendan's Song

This song is based on a prayer attributed to the Irish Saint, Brendan the Navigator. You can find out more information about Brendan and the inspiration for the song, here.

In the meantime, happy listening.

[listen]

O King of Mysteries, shall I abandon
My home, my country, my land
Shall I place myself at the mercies
That flow from your mighty hand
Without a shield without a sword
I'm giving back all that you gave
Christ will you keep me, Christ will you guard me
Alone on the wild white waves?
Christ will you guide, Christ will you guard me
Christ will you lead, Christ will you save
Christ will you hold, Christ will you ward me
Will you help me alone on the wild white waves?

O King of Mysteries shall I surrender
With streaming tears staining my cheeks
Shall I leave the prints of my prayer
With my knees in the sand of the beach
Confessing my sins, confessing my failures
To him who conquered the grave
Christ will you keep me, Christ will you guard me
Alone on the wild white waves?
Christ will you guide, Christ will you guard me
Christ will you lead, Christ will you save
Christ will you hold, Christ will you ward me
Will you help me alone on the wild white waves?

King of Mysteries, shall I then suffer
The battering wounds of the sea?
Shall I cross the sparkling ocean
Will you steer my vessel for me?
My wandering heart is quiet within me
My heart no longer will rave
Christ will you keep me, Christ will you guard me
Alone on the wild white waves?
Christ will you guide, Christ will you guard me
Christ will you lead, Christ will you save
Christ will you hold, Christ will you ward me
Will you help me alone on the wild white waves?

White Rider, a song

I wrote this song a bunch of years ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though these days it feels, perhaps a bit intense, lyrically speaking. But then, it's pretty much taken straight out of the Book of Revelation. I recorded this particular arrangement last fall; I was happy with how the solo turned out. I thought I'd post it today in case you're tired of coming here looking for new material and going away empty handed. Cheers.


[listen]

Fear of Isaac

This is a whole new arrangement of a song I posted at this blog a number of years ago. I discussed the inspiration for the song back when I first posted it. You can check those thoughts out here. For today, I'll simply let the music speak for itself.

[listen]



Fear of Isaac


Fear of Isaac won’t you let your shadow fall
Fear of Isaac come and overshadow all
These temples made by hands, there’s so much we don’t understand
In the depths of your mystery

Fear of Isaac teach us who you are again
Burst those wineskins that we thought would hold you in
In the palm of our control, the high places of our soul
Tear them down and set us free

Somewhere behind the question
Between the thought and the conception
Breathe life into our confession
As we embrace the mystery

And we confess he was made known in the body
We confess he was approved by the Spirit
And seen by the angels, and preached among the nations
Believed on in creation and taken up in glory we confess

Fear of Isaac there so much I do not know
But fear of Isaac I just cannot let you go
Won’t you take me by the hand, a stranger in a strange land
And teach me to wonder

Somewhere behind the question
Between the thought and the conception
Breathe life into our confession
As we embrace the mystery

And we confess he was made known in the body
We confess he was approved by the Spirit
And seen by the angels, and preached among the nations
Believed on in creation and taken up in glory we confess

And all I know, is that nothing can take you away from me
And all I know, you've brought me back my dignity
And all I know, your mercy and love have purchased me
No angel or demon no power or throne
Could take from you what you've called your own
I'm yours, I'm yours, I'm yours I know it's true
I'm yours I know and nothing can ever
Take me away from you

And we confess he was made known in the body
We confess he was approved by the Spirit
And seen by the angels, and preached among the nations
Believed on in creation and taken up in glory we confess

Calling, a song

I found this song in my old song writing binder last summer. I wrote it about ten years ago and had kind of forgotten about it. Lyrically, I feel like it is one of my more sophisticated efforts. The idea is that the God's pursuit of us and our pursuit of God are both subtly reflected in the rhythms and patterns of creation. I wrote it on a classical guitar, and in its original conception it had a Spanish flamenco feel to it. I was never really satisfied with it, but like I say, this summer I came across it as I was going through old notes, and thought there was enough there to merit a second try. I completely re-harmonized it and reworked the arrangement, writing new bass and lead parts. About twice I almost gave up on the recording (my equipment and skills are pretty limited, so it's hard to get a real acoustic sounding recording of my classical guitar). Anyways, I stuck it out, and am very pleased with the final recording.


Calling


[listen]

Sun calls to the mist in the morning
Join me in the air
Doe calls for the fawn to dance
Among the fields so fair
Flame calls to the grass with a whisper
Give me up your withered chaff
Spring calls to the sleeping treebud
Let me teach you how to laugh

Like the sun to the mist like the grass to the flame
Like the spring to the tree, so the Lord calls out my name
So the Lord calls out to me, His song caused the world to be
So the Lord calls out to me, calling let me make you free


Hawk calls to the western wind
Lift me on your breath
Dawn longs for the sun to rise
And wake her from her death
Earth calls to the heavens above her
Soak me in your soothing rain
Darkness calls out for perfect light
Come and let me see again

Like the bird to the wind, like the dawn to the sun
Like the earth to the heaven’s so I call out to the one
So I cry to him for light, my song echoes in the night
So I cry to him for grace, calling let me see your face

The Second Circle, a song



The Second Circle

[listen]

Cover Me, a song



Cover Me

[listen]

Cover me, when the darkness has no answer
Cover me when the daylight can't be asked
Cover me when my words are full of chaos
Cover me, when I'm haunted by the past
In your eyes I find the child I left behind
So cover me

Cover me like the wind over the prairies
Cover me like the moon in an eclipse
Cover me like the sky over a pilgrim
Cover me like the sunlight on my steps
In your hands I find the heart I left behind
So cover me

When my thoughts were like an open wound
And my heart was like a smoky room
I found sanctuary like and empty tomb
When you came, you came
And covered me

Cover me in the haven of your heartbeat
Cover me in the shelter of your palms
Cover me in the refuge of your eyes
Cover me in the island of your arms
In your voice I find the song I left behind
So cover me

When my thoughts were like an open wound
And my heart was like a smoky room
I found sanctuary like and empty tomb
When you came, you came
And covered me

When my thoughts were like an open wound
And my heart was like a smoky room
I found sanctuary like and empty tomb
When you came, you came
And covered me

Surd, a song

In mathematics, a surd is an irrational number (the square root of an integer). In linguistics, a surd is a voiceless consonant. In theology, a surd ("surd evil") is a type of random/inexplicable evil that has no meaning. Irrationality, voice-lessness, senseless evil. In my imagination, the word surd, whether it's used in math, linguistics or theology, seems to refer to all the stuff that stands in the way of us coming to know God. That's what this song is about. Enjoy.




Surd

[listen]

Surd, in the logic of my heart,
No rhyme or reason help me please I don't know where to start
It's absurd that I don't know who I am
I fear to face the mirror see the child in the man

And I would give you my everything,
if I knew what my everything was
I'm sitting here with my dreams on a string
My heart was not for sale but it got rented for a while
And now I have to use my smile to hide my broken wings

Surd, in the silence of the night
I'm lying in the darkness and I'm trying to get it right
It's that word that you whisper in my ear
I miss it when I listen could you teach me how to hear

And I would give you my everything,
if I knew what my everything was
I'm sitting here with my dreams on a string
My heart was not for sale but it got rented for a while
And now I have to use my smile to hide my broken wings

New Clothes, a short story

Warning: long post ahead. I wrote this story almost ten years ago now, and it's just been sitting on my hard drive collecting digital dust, so I thought I'd post it here. It was inspiried by something that actually happened to me when I was travelling in Europe back in 1996.  I don't get it either. 

New Clothes

If you could somehow know, before it occurred, that this or that experience would leave an indelible mark on your imagination, I suppose you’d make a more conscious effort to absorb as many of the details as possible, for later rumination. As it is, I remember very few, and those I do drift intangibly before my mind’s eye like grains of dust suspended and illuminated only briefly in the sunlight shaft of my memory.

I remember especially the heat. It had gripped me like a humid fist all that day as I waited for the evening’s ballet. I had whiled away the sun and the time in the shade of the carefully manicured greenery of Vienna’s Stadtpark, reading the last pages of Camus’ L’Etranger. If I had not been working hard to effect that existential objectivity I so admired in its narrator, I probably would have indulged in the Bohemian something-or-other that the whole scene evoked—the drifting traveler in repose, detached and foreign, sitting and reading an existential French novel in the dappled shadows by the banks of the Donau, oblivious of the crowds rushing past him along the Schubertring. In retrospect, I must admit, the majority of Camus’ sparse prose was wasted on my ungainly schoolbook French, but the odd phrase here and there—“Do you wish my life to have no meaning?” “I had no soul, there was nothing human about me”— whet my appetite for the profound just enough to keep me engrossed. I read and reread the final paragraph somewhat tremulously, trying to absorb the essence of those last sentences. Though I did not understand his des cris de haine, I knew well enough what he meant by la tendre indifférence du monde-- a world which had ceased to concern me.

Perhaps this is why I was disappointed that evening to find that the two Americans so annoyed me. My annoyance bore witness to the failure of my contrived detachment. We were all crowded together in the dim light of the standing-room-only section of the Vienna State Opera House: these Americans behind me to my left, a stoic British couple just in front of me, to my right the Australian tourist who had chatted so affably at me in the line while we waited for our tickets. In this crowd, the heat of the day, not at all waning with the evening, swarmed oppressively. Many had already accordioned their programs into fans and were desperately trying to wave it away. My Lonely Planet had assured me that Stehplatz—standing room only admission—to the Vienna State Opera House could be purchased for a mere 20 Austrian schillings, and the cultured exoticism of it all had been irresistible to me. It may be that I was not the only pseudo-bohemian traveler looking for a taste of the exotic after spending the day reading French nihilistic literature by the banks of the Donau, for the standing-room-only section densely packed.

At any rate, these Americans annoyed me. They had struck up a conversation of the most transparent kind with the woman standing next to me. She was a girl, really, perhaps twenty, and the tone and tenor of these two young tourists was particularly grating: “Have you been to the Opera before?” “Are you from Vienna?” “We’ve been traveling through Austria for two weeks now.” Without effort the image came to me of these two college kids back home in Connecticut regaling their friends with stories of the time they had with that girl they met at the State Opera House in Vienna, like some trophy snapshot in a sordid photo album captioned with ugly words like “score” and “chick.”

That the girl spoke English with an extreme brokenness, which she tried to hide behind fluttering, averted looks, made the whole scene worse. They pressed her. “Are you Austrian?”

“No… not Austrian.” Her accent was German. “I always have wanted…to see… ballet.”

Because of the crowds, I could not help but notice her. She was quite lovely, in a timid way. Her complexion was porcelain-white, and the hair that fell in dark curls past her shoulders, together with the wide darkness of her eyes, exaggerated its fairness to pale. She smiled faintly at their conversation but something about the hint of nervousness in the gesture, the furtive movement of her eyes as she did so, suggested to me a mother bird feigning a broken wing to distract a predator from the vulnerable hatchlings in her nest.

Her figure, too, though graceful, had a fragility about it that was accentuated by her unusual attire. A simple white dress hung straight from her shoulders, curvelessly to her feet. Aside from the obvious newness of the dress—its stiffness and brightness—there was nothing remarkable in it alone. Even the platform sandals she wore, though they gave the impression of a child playing at dress-up in her mother’s high heels, were not especially unusual. It was the brilliant sash bound about her straight waist that caught the eye. A bright, lime green silk, it seemed all the more green for being the only swatch of colour she wore: a brilliant star of green in a perfect night of white. On any other figure, in any other setting, this combination would have seemed eccentric, even clownish. In her it somehow gave her loveliness a bashful naiveté, pitiable perhaps, but not laughable. I could close my eyes and imagine this timid young innocent donning this plain white dress, her newest and best, for her first time at the ballet, scrutinizing herself before the mirror with a look of humble dissatisfaction, and then, with artless triumph, completing her ensemble with this garish green sash, blissfully ignorant of the glaring effect, and all the more lovely for that ignorance.

“You speak German?” one of the Americans was asking.

“Yes…German.”

“We’ve never seen ballet before.” The other was confessing. “Do you like it?”

Again the mother-bird fluttered her broken smiles: “I always have wanted…to see… ballet.”

“Well, when you’re in Vienna, you have to go to the Opera House at least once.”

“Yes. It is so… beautiful.”

“I’m Josh.”

“And I… I am… Sofia.”

The British couple ahead of me was mumbling placidly to one another about the pending performance: “It says here the show tonight, ‘L’Existence’ is an experimental modern ballet.” “Experimental and modern? I wonder what we should expect then.” “Something deep, I’d say. Interpretive, no doubt.”

Next to me the effusive Australian was imposing on my attention some anecdote he had read in his tour guide about the Emperor’s commissioning of the Staasoper. “Look here, mate,” he was saying, “it says the architects of the Opera House committed suicide after the Emperor Franz-Josef made some off-hand remark about the building being too low to the ground. Can you imagine?” Apparently the foundation had been laid before the surrounding street was finished, and the street ended up being higher than planned. In his chagrin over his role in their deaths, the Emperor sought to avoid the self-destruction of other artists by confining all subsequent aesthetic judgments to a simple: “Es war sehr schön, es hat mich sehr gefreut”—it was very nice; it pleased me very well. “Not much of an art critic, was he?” laughed the Australian as he recounted to story.

All the while I listened to him I kept the corner of my attention fixed on that strange girl and the two Americans. Before my annoyance could pin itself to a justifiable excuse, however, the ballet began.

The lights faded and the noise of the crowd dimmed to silence. For a few moments my eyes and ears gaped wide in the perfect darkness as we waited for something to happen. Then, the faintest scratch of a bow on a violin moaned distantly, and ceased. It scraped again, ceased again, and then the sound began in earnest. To call it music would somehow fall short in conveying the dark, swirling chaos of tonal textures— staccato creaks, piercing wails and guttural groans—that escaped in irrational intervals from that unseen horsehair scraping wire somewhere in the darkness. It was not unmelodic. It was deliberately and calmly antimelodic. Though no doubt these noises were all carefully contrived, the ear sought vainly for some pattern which it might cling to and call rhythm in the sinuous bursts of sound. In the back of my mind I wondered if this was what was called atonality.

Whether my eyes had begun to grow accustomed to the dark, or whether somewhere on stage a light had come up, I couldn’t tell, but peering ahead an image slowly materialized: two hunched forms occupied opposite corners of a large square platform elevated some four feet off the main stage. In the hazy but growing light it appeared to be hovering there, suspended in a void of nothingness. It was lit, I now felt certain, from above with a grim grey light, but what made the scene hazy and indistinct was a transparent veil or curtain that hung in the darkness before the stage. In the centre of the platform sat a large, white cube.

Still the sound writhed around us.

For what seemed an unbearably long time, nothing happened. Then the figures rose and began their movements. Their black leggings and the shadows along the muscles of their naked upper bodies gave them a sinister air in that gloomy light. The music having no perceptible rhythm, it was somewhat difficult to discern a dance in their gyrations, but as they moved toward one another, the most unexpected thing happened. The platform began to tilt with the shifting weight of their bodies, pitching and heaving like some enormous, two dimensional scale. As it did so, the white cube in the centre began to move and slide with it.

Once the movement started, it could not stop without threatening to dump one, the other, or the white cube off into the pit. So the two figures drifted continually through the gloom and shadow, sometimes chasing, other times grappling each other, or else twining together to form some subtly grotesque tableau before flinging apart. And every movement was somehow punctuated with that eerie, formless sound.

Gradually the randomness of the scene wore off and a story, or perhaps more accurately, a pattern, could be made out. The two men were in competition, but this was only clear from the way one would attempt to tilt the platform such that the other came precariously close to disappearing over the edge. They were also striving for control of the white box; and through manipulating the scale just so, one might cause it to slide to him, only to have it wrested from him by the machinations of the other. At times the two would lock together leaving the cube to slide dangerously close to the edge, only to be spared this just in time by further shifting of the platform’s angle. This continued through no clearly defined progression until, after a time, by some chance coincidence of vectors, friction and forces, the cube came to rest safely in the centre of the platform again, the two figures balanced on opposite corners. There they hunched again to their original positions.

The violin heaved itself to a near-rhythmic tattoo, dropped darkly to a long whispered sigh, and stopped abruptly. The faint light was snuffed out and darkness again descended. With it fell a palpable silence.

The lights rose and for the briefest glimmer of a pause, the audience digested what they had just witnessed. Then a knowing ripple of applause began. It was not enthusiastic, but neither was it was obliging. It was an ovation of assent, not an approval, as if in one voice the audience was merely saying, “Es war sehr schon, es hat mich sehr gefreut,” without passing any aesthetic evaluation on what had passed on stage. Clearly refined, the only thing the crowd seemed eager about was to prove there was not an uncultured Philistine in all their midst.

I stood there for a while after the applause had died, suspended between consternation and bemusement. “Well then,” the Australian interjected at my right, “That was unexpected.” His words brought me from my indecision and settled me squarely in bemusement.

In the row before me, the British couple had begun to ponder the performance between them, their voices quiet with a taciturn, if somewhat cadenced detachment. “But what did it all mean?” she asked him, her voice betraying not the least hint of disquiet.

“I suppose that’s entirely the wrong question,” he answered knowingly. “Or a question impossible to ask. It meant nothing. Or rather, that there is no meaning.”

She nodded acquiescence: “But it was experimental?” “Indeed.”

Indeed. The faintest hint of a thought glimmered in me: if it was truly so, with what could it have possibly been experimenting? Even as that revealed darkness dimmed, I stole quick glance across the crowd and seemed to see the whole mass of humanity in new light, blithely rationalizing the irrational. With mild interest they had already assented to it, uncrumpled and consulted their program for the next piece, as if to say, “Well, even so, life must go on.”

Then she began screaming.

Nein! Es ist eine Lüge!

And there is not a word sufficiently clear of cliché to convey the piercing cry. Frenzied, hysterical, lunatic, even bloodcurdling, haunted: it was all these things at once, and yet none of them. It was feral, to be sure, yet so precise, so oracular was its tenor, it came more as a clarion call than a howl of horror.

To make it worse, everything I heard in her cry was garbled with that enigmatic ecstasy of an unknown tongue. “Nein! Nein! Das kann nicht sein! Wie können Sie diese Spötterei schön nennen?

As usually happens when the unconventional shatters the nice platitudes of manners that keep the pond-water of society serene, it took a moment for the multitude to agree on an appropriate response. I could see people looking at one another with uncertainty and censure, and, concealed beneath them, that ancient terror of the weird. At first they gestured with their chins and condescending nods: “What is the matter with that one?” But like a pebble breaking pond water, a ripple spread concentrically from her, the standing crowds pressing back until there was a clearing around her of considerable radius.

And all the while she cried out: “Es ist eine Lüge! Können Sie das nicht sehen?Es ist Hässlichkeit und Leere! Eine nackte Lüge! Es ist nichts drin!” Even those in the auditorium general, down below our crowded section, had begun to turn, look up, and murmur against the commotion in the standing room only pit.

But I found myself somehow paralyzed by the cry of this strange young sibyl: I could not press back from her with the others. For a moment it seemed as if my whole consciousness had narrowed on her cry, or that somehow the radius of the clearing around her and I had stretched to infinity. I looked nervously for those two Americans, but they had disappeared completely.

Then she turned her eyes on me, and as she did so, her body collapsed against the wall and she slid slowly to the floor. The look in her eyes trembled between pleading and defeat. She was weeping now. I felt her reach up and clutch my hand. And those fingers, their strange flesh, felt like ice against my skin. Her eyes held me frozen. She was babbling now, spent, though even subdued her voice had an inexorable urgency: “Wieso? Warum können sie es nicht sehen? Das ist nicht Schönheit oder Wahrheit! Es ist ist nur eine nackte Lüge!” I could not escape the impression that her eyes were imploring something of me. Some response, some sympathy was expected of me. I stood there stupidly.

She rose up on her knees, still clutching my hand in that icy grip. She turned her voice one last time over the crowd, and shouted a final indictment: “Können Sie es nicht sehen? Das ist nicht Schönheit oder Wahrheit! Es ist nur eine nackte Lüge!” Then she collapsed again against the wall, weeping exhaustedly, her chin drooped on the breast of her new white gown.

The confused murmurs of the crowds trickled towards me; part of me longed to discretely shake my hand free of her grip and join their condescending indignation at the disturbance. But I stood there, still stupidly.

Was ist denn mit Ihnen los?” The voice of an usher broke the tension. Surely someone had summoned him to discretely usher away this impropriety.

Her face was ashen as she lifted trembling eyes to him: like one stirring from the dead.

Kommen Sie, lasst uns gehen. Sie sind wohl betrunken?” That he spoke German could not veil from me the utter contempt in his voice.

Ich bin nicht betrunken.” Her voice was subdued now, but her eyes cast about with still a hint of their previous wildness. “Aber was war denn das? Ich dachte, es sollte schön sein.”

Kommen Sie, Fräulein. Lasst uns gehen.” He reached out his hand, a menacing invitation.

She rose resignedly to her feet. Her hand was still against my fingers, but it felt now like air, not ice. She let it slip away, and my fingers were left haunted by the frozen imprint it had burned against them.

Aber es war nicht schön….”

The usher snorted. “Nein, das war Kunst.”

She left a kind of awed stillness in her wake. Slowly the crowd pushed back to fill in the void of her passing, as if in one mass they were trying to shrug off the memory of her. The hushed murmurs rose up again, but more subdued this time. “What was that all about?” they asked, expecting no real answer.

Behind me I heard one of the tourists who seemed to have a smattering of German translate for another. “She asked about the ballet… what it meant… why it was so ugly. He said it was just art.”

Her knowing “Ah” at this information crept across my spine.

The lights were dimming a second time, signaling the end of the intermission and the start of the next performance. I tried to focus my reeling concentration on the music that was now rising with the falling light.

This was a ballet in the fullest tradition of that word. Flowers, ribbons, tight silk stretched across taut bosoms and terse thighs pirouetted across the stage through a music that washed over all with a lush, fecund, somehow verdant sensuality. The gyrations and leaps of horn and flute and string were echoed and reechoed by the luxurious movement of those carefully honed bodies.

My ears rushed with it, until it became a roar. Even as I watched, I felt my body convulsing with the urge to vomit. The heat, the press of the standing-room-only crowds overwhelmed me. I groped for the exit frantically, burst almost gasping for breath into the foyer of the Opera house, and rushed out into the moist night air, swirling with the traffic on the Opernring. My hand still burned with cold.

When the convulsions finally left me, and I was able to somehow compose my self, I began making my way slowly through the pressing, hot night towards my lodgings. But every step was a labor, and those eyes—like the haunted eyes of one who has looked behind a veil, a torn veil, and seen the gaping void of nothingness behind—pleaded with me through the darkness. And in my burning ears, as if it would never leave me, rang that forlorn howl of execration.

Where No Light Shines

Waiting so much for spring, I thought I'd post this song today. The lyrics are sort of a mash-up between Ephesians 5:14 and one of my favorite Dylan Thomas poems. The mandolin solo is adapted from a traditional Irish reel. Enjoy.



[listen]

Light Breaks (Where No Light Shines)

Light breaks where no light shines
Light breaks this heart of mine
Where no seas run, burst out the heart's tide
And broken ghosts look out through my eyes, there
Light breaks where no light shines

Dawn breaks in blackened skies
Dawn breaks through all my lies
Where coursing blood slides to the sea
Through coursing veins to the heart of me
There light breaks where no light shines

Wake, O sleeper, rise up from the grave
And Christ will shine his glory on your face
Wake, O sleeper, rise up from the grave
And Christ will shine his glory on your face
And light breaks where no light shines

Sun breaks on sleeping earth
Sun breaks to bring new birth
When logics die and answers fade
And foaming seas sweep my heart away
There sun breaks where no light shines

Happy Valentine's Day

I posted this song around this time last year, but, in the spirit of the season, and for lack of new blogging material, I thought I'd post it again today, on this day dedicated to all things romantic. It's a song I wrote a number of years ago for my sweetheart, my partner, the love of my life and my best friend. Just imagine me singing outside her windowsill by moonlight and the image would be complete. Happy Valentine's Day everybody.



[listen]

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
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
I got here just in time
To grow old with you.


Sacred Head Sore Wounded, a song



[listen]

Sacred Head Sore Wounded

O Sacred Head, sore wounded
Weighted down with grief
Crowned with thorns and bruised with
All our unbelief
But the cruel key that pierced you
And opened your side
Unlocked the mystery of heaven
And flung the doors of heaven wide

O Sacred Body broken
Lashed with all our sin
And those hands stretched open
Held salvation in
But the cruel key that locked them
And drove them to the cross
Unloosed the mystery of heaven
And offered back what we had lost

O Sacred Head sore wounded
Sacred body broken
Sacred blood and water, spilled for me

O Sacred Thirst unquenched
And parched with suffering
Mocked with vinegar
It thirsted there for me
But the cruel key that pierced you
And opened your side
Unlocked the mystery of heaven
And flung the doors of heaven wide

O Sacred Head sore wounded
Sacred body broken
Sacred blood and water, spilled for me
O Sacred Head sore wounded
Sacred body broken
Sacred blood and water, spilled for me

Feast of Trumpets, a song



Feast of Trumpets (a musical experiment)

[listen]

The Gift, a poem

Some gifts we must receive
Before they can be given us;
     passionate kisses
     and warm embraces
     number high among these.

Others seem to sort of
steal in the giving:
     a long afternoon with nothing
     important to do
     but rest or read
     is such a gift
     as this.

And the gentle but determined
prying loose of fingers, stiff
with too long clutching,
and too hard,
things unneeded and
long since unwanted, leaving nothing
but a promise in their place:
of empty hands healed
and still and blessed and graced--

this gift is a bit of each.

Corpus Christi Carol, a song



Corpus Christi Carol

text based on a 16th Century English hymn;
original setting


[listen]

Lullay, lullay, lullay, lullay
Falcon has born my mate away

He bore her up, he bore her down
He bore her to an orchard brown

And in that orchard there was a hall
It was hanged with purple and pall

And in that hall was laid a bed
That was hanged with gold so red

And on that bed there lieth a knight
His wounds a-bleeding day and night

And by that bed there kneeleth a maid
And she weepeth night and day

And by that maid there rests a stone
Corpus Christi written thereon


Jacob after Peniel, a poem

Did anyone ever tell you
your limp was beautiful
or that it's going to be?

Other men stride into
rooms with all the raw
confidence and numb vigour of
bulls in China shops
(breaking more than
dinnerware with their
untried horns).

But those tender, stumbling
tentative steps of yours--
on healing legs and broken heart--
they tell a story
more beautiful than words:
of wrestling with the un-nameable
One,
clinging in darkness desperate
till he touched you-- blessed
you on the hip--
and you walked away
transparent,
shining in the final knowledge
of who you are.

Did anyone ever tell you
the ungainly gait he
left you with
was beautiful?

They will.

I Have Inscribed You (Isaiah 49:16)




I Have Inscribed You

I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands
I have etched you here on my side
And I wrote your name with the nails of the cross
On my hands and feet that they might never be lost
In the stripes of my back
With my arms stretched wide
I inscribed you, I inscribed you
I inscribed you on the palms of my hands

Look on the hands you have pierced
Fall at the feet whose heel you bruised
Touch the flesh that you tore in your sin and pride
See the blood that poured from his riven side
I was broken for you, it was poured out for you
It was offered to make all things new

I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands
I have etched you here on my side
And I wrote your name with the nails of the cross
On my hands and feet that they might never be lost
In the stripes of my back
With my arms stretched wide
I inscribed you, I inscribed you
I inscribed you on the palms of my hands

Wish You were Here, a song

Wish You were Here




Wish you were here, it's been such a long time
Since you were here, I almost forgot
To leave the light on

I'm running out of wick
And the night is coming on
Nails bitten to the quick
I wish you were here

Wish I was there, it's been such a long time
Since I was there, I almost forgot
To find my way home

I'm running out of wick
And the night is coming on
Nails bitten to the quick
I wish you were here

Readings, 2013

Normally this time of year, I take some time to compile a top ten list of books read in the previous year.  This is partly for the sake of my own reflection, and partly for the sake of recommending good reads to others.  As per my usual practice, then, I'm reviewing my reading list from 2013.  Given the hectic pace of my year in 2013, it should maybe not come as a surprise to me, but it turns out I only read ten books in total this year, making a top ten list a slightly contrived exercise (like the time Glove and Boots did a top-ten list of their favorite single-digit numbers).  I feel only partly justified by the fact that two of these ten books were Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God, parts 2 and 3 in N. T. Wright's massive series on Christian Origins and the Question of God (They're sort of the Lord of the Rings for Bible Nerds: together they amount to approximately 1300 pages of reading).  Be that as it may, I'm not going to post a top-ten list per se, but for interest's sake, I will list the ten books I managed to digest this year.  Here they are in no particular order:

1.  The Shallows:  What the Internet is doing to our Brains,  Nicholas Carr.

2.  Mentoring Leaders, Carson Pue

3.  Dead Petals:  An Apocalypse,  Eric Ortlund

4.  Idylls of the King,  Alfred Lord Tennyson

5.  Alone Together:  Why We Expect more from Technology and Less from Each Other, Sherry Turkle

6.  Jesus and the Victory of God,  N. T. Wright

7.  The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright

8.  Connecting Christ:  How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, Paul Metzger

9.  With Wit and Wonder:  The Preacher's Use of Humour and Imagination,  Blayne Banting

10.  Lifted by Angels:  The Presence and Power of our Heavenly Guides,  Joel J. Miller