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.

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]