Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.

inversions

Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.

soundings

soundings
click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.

bridges

bridges
Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.

echoes

echoes
Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Accidentals

This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

blogs I follow

random reads

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr
In this very readable, very thought provoking analysis of electronic communciations technology and its impact on our brains and culture, Nicholas Carr brings together media theory (think Marshall McLuhan), history (think Gutenberg) and neuroscience (think discoveries in brain plasticity) to show how computer technology is shaping us in ways of which we are only dimly aware. He argues that such technologies reduce our capacity for deep, creative and sustained linear thought (or at least have the potential to do so) and predispose us to the fragmented, the cursive and the superficial. Worth the read.

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, Edith Humphrey
A fascinating and engaging introduction to spiritual theology-- or the theology of spirituality, as the case may be. This book is a very scholarly, devotional, christo-centric, ecumenical and trinitarian overview of what it means for Christians to live in the Spirit and with the Spirit within. Bracing and enlightening.

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

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

Life in the Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell
Snell's Life in the Ancient Near East offers a social history of the ANE, tracing the earliest settlement of Mesopotamia, the development of agriculture, first cities, ancient economy and the emergence of empire. Bringing together a rich variety of data gleaned both from the archaeological record and extant historical texts, he tells the history of this cradle of civilization with a special eye for the "human" element - focusing on the forces and factors that would have directly affected the daily life of the various strata of society. Worth a read generally, but all the more for someone with a particular interest in the biblical stories that find their setting and draw their characters and themes from the same provenience.


The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard Davidson
Davidson's Old Testament theology of human sexuality is stunning in its achievement, challenging in its content, and edifying in its conclusions. Davidson addresses every-- and I do mean every-- Old Testament text that deals (even obliquely) with human sexuality, and, through detailed exegesis, careful synthesis, and deep interaction with the scholarly research, develops a detailed picture of the Old Testament's vision for redeemed human sexuality. 700 pages of Biblical scholarship at its best.


Eaarth, Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's Eaarth, is a call for us to wake up smell the ecological coffee...while we can still brew it. Unlike his previous work, or any writing on ecology I've yet read, however, Eaarth does not argue that catastrophe is pending. Instead, he argues that catastrophe has arrived, and that our all talk about "going green to avert disaster," "and "saving the planet" is woefully obsolete. In ecological terms, the planet as we once knew it is gone, he argues, and rather than trying to "avert" disaster, we need to start figuring out how to live in the disaster that's happened. Key themes he identifies as important for life on planet Eaarth resonnated with me as profoundly Christian ways of being (disaster or no). We must stop assuming that "bigger" is better; we must acknowledge limits on economic and technological growth; we must get reacquainted with the land; we need eschew self-sufficency and nurture community.

Love Wins, Rob Bell
So fast and furious has the furor over this book been, that any review will inevitably feel redundant or tardy. Given the crowd on the band wagon by now, I actually had no intention of hopping on myself, but my kids got it for me for Father's Day. About 15 pages in, I realized that I could probably finish it in on good push, so I got it over with. My thoughts: probably the most over-hyped book I ever read; I loved it and found it frustratingly under-developed at the same time; while he raises some important issues, his handling of them reads like a yoda-meets-Tom-Wright account of salvation; nothing C. S. Lewis hasn't already said more clearly and more cleverly; I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad the Evangelical world has errupted over it the way it has, and I hope a much more spirited and generous and optimistic understanding of soteriology and eschatology will infuse the evangelical church's mission as a result.

Rediscovering Paul, David Capes et. al.
Rediscovering Paul is a hepful overview of Paul's life, times and theology. While at times I felt it might have gone deeper, or expressed its ideas more clearly, it provides some interesting and inspiring insights into the man behind the letters. Among these is its discussion of the communal aspect of first century letter writing, and the influence of one's community on one's personal sense of identity, and how those issues might have played out in Paul's writings. Another challenging issue that it tackles is the whole process of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world, especially as regards the role a scribe often played in shaping the text, smoothing out the langugae or providing stock phrases, etc.


Lavondyss, Robert Holdstock
If you've read George MacDonald's Lilith, then think of Lavondyss as sort of a Lilith-for-Non-Christians. It's the convoluted labyrinth of a story about a young girl called Tallis and her adventures in a magical wood that brings the Jungian archetypes buried deep in our subconscious to life. Dense with questions about Jungian psychology, and the spiritually-thin-places of the world, and death and myth and magic and story, it's pretty tough slugging at times, but thought provoking and challenging. At times I felt like I was reading the Narnia book C. S. Lewis might have written if he had pursued the "stab of northerness" in directions other than the Christian Faith where he found it eternally satisfied.

Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington III
My friend John Vlainic once ranked Ben Witheringon as one of the strongest Biblical scholars in the Wesleyan tradtion working today. This thin but powerful volume is evidence to support such an accolade. I opened it expecting (judging by the cover) either a how-to book on Christian finances, or (judging by the other books I've read on Christ and Money) a hodge-podge of Bible verses taken out of context and mushed together as proof texts about the tithe. I got neither; instead, Ben Witherington walks slowly, thoughtful and exegetically through the breadth of Biblical teaching, with special sensitivity to the cultural context of the various texts, the tension between Old and New Testament teaching on the topic, and the differences between modern and ancient economies. If I were to recommend one book to develop a biblical theology of money, it would be this one.

The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness
My first taste of Os Guinness, and, if you don't mind a mangled metaphor, it went down like a bracing pint of... well... Guinness. Grave Digger file is sort of a "Screwtape Letters" project on a church-wide scale. In concept, the book is a series of "training files" for an undercover agent attempting to undermine and ultimately sabotage the Western Church, delivered from the pen of a seasoned saboteur to a young agent recently assigned to Los Angeles. In plot, the young agent ultimately defects, and delivers the "Gravedigger File" into the hands of a Christian, urging him to alert the Church to the operation. It is bursting with "things that make you go hmmm..." and deserves a second, careful read with pen in hand, ready to mine it for its scintillating and eminently quotable lines.

The 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