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.

Three Minute Theology 1.4: It's Not What You Know, It's Who



There are different ways a person can know someone. You can know objective facts about them—what colour their eyes are, whether or not they’ve had their appendix out. Stuff like that.

Or you can know them personally: what their passions are, what makes them tick, what that funny look they sometimes get on their face means, without them having to tell you. You can know a lot about a person in that first way, without ever coming to know them in this second way.

Theologians sometimes differentiate between two different ways of understanding the Trinity, too. We can use the Trinity as a way of describing what God is like in his inner life, or we can use the Trinity to describe how God relates to us in a personal way.

The word “ontological” describes this first way of understanding the Trinity. “Ontological” means “having to do with one’s essence or being,” and the “Ontological Trinity” is a way of trying to describe what you might see if you could open a window on heaven and peak into God’s throne-room: God as God is in and of God’s-self.

The phrase “economic Trinity” describes this second way of understanding the Trinity. The “economic Trinity” is a way of describing how God is at work and has been at work in history—in creation, in world history and in our own personal lives: God in relationship with us.

Think about it like this: as the Son of God, Jesus taught his followers to pray to God as “our Father in Heaven”; and if we take him at his word and do pray like this, it’s only because the Holy Spirit has confirmed the truth of Jesus’ words in our hearts.

In other words, we come to know God as the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit.

The story of Jesus’ baptism shows us the same thing from a slightly different angle. John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and then it says, as he was coming up out of the water, the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Again: God reveals himself as Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit.

Our relationship with God has this same Trinitarian “shape” going the other direction.

Take prayer, for instance. Often when people pray they feel alone and kind of inadequate, like their words are just bouncing off the ceiling.

Yet the Bible teaches that when Christians pray, the Holy Spirit actually puts the prayer of Jesus in our hearts, who mediates for us as our Great High Priest, bringing our prayers before the Father in Heaven.

It’s never just us praying to God on our own. We pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit.

Or take our worship. Because we’re flesh-and-blood human beings, we never really give God the love, honor and glory he deserves; yet Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, poured out his sinless life, as a perfect act of worship on our behalf. And when we believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit unites our lives with his life, so that our worship, as imperfect as it is, is offered with his perfect worship: to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit.

A lot of Christians don’t get especially excited about the Church’s teaching about the Trinity, because they tend to think of it in terms of that first way of knowing God: cold, objective facts about what God is like, in and of himself; and they don’t think about it in this second way, as the very bedrock for our whole relationship with God.

But that’s what it is. It’s how we know God—how we’re able to know God—and it’s how we live with God. For a Christian—prayer, worship, ministry, service, discipleship—all of it is only possible because we know God, as Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit.

Faithfulness Big and Small: A Devotional Thought

In 2 Kings 5:11-20, we find some well-worn Sunday-School flannel graph material that raises some poignant questions about faithfulness, obedience and the life of a disciple. The back story goes like this: Naaman, a wealthy, influential and powerful Syrian Warrior, was suffering from leprosy and went to the Hebrew prophet Elisha for healing. Elisha sends a message that Naaman must wash 7 times in the Jordan river and he'll be miraculously healed. Naaman is deeply offended. He expected Elisha to come out and do some grand gesture befitting a general of his stature: laying on of hands, elaborate incantations, bells and whistles. Instead he gets a simple directive to wash in the Jordan. Naaman leaves in a huff, but his servants ask him a very obvious, but very profound question: "If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, you'd have done it, why, then will you not do this small thing he's asked you to do?" (v. 13). Why, indeed, except that the small act of obedience-- the simple thing-- doesn't appeal to his pride, as much as the grand gesture of spiritual super-heroism might have. Naaman can't prove how deserving he is of God's mercy and blessing, in the small act of obedience; he can't show God justified in choosing to heal the likes of him, through a simple act of straight-forward and relatively easy obedience. Can he? And that, I think, is Elisha's point.

It gets me thinking about the ways I neglect the small acts of obedience-- the simple, straight-forward stuff that God asks me to do-- because they don't appeal to my spiritual pride (even as I tell myself that, if God were to ask for some grand act of surrender or sacrifice, surely I'd do it). And it reminds me of Jesus' words about how those who are unfaithful in the small things won't be faithful in the big. And it leaves me praying God would give me deeper and truer faithfulness in the little things, that my discipleship would turn on that.

The Most Excellent Way: A Theological Reading of The Princess Bride


One of my favorite movies is Rob Reiner’s cult classic, The Princess Bride.  I have long held that this campy, swashbuckling fairytale, for all its silliness and slapstick, actually deals very sensitively with a distinctly biblical theme:  That love is the most excellent way (see 1 Corinthians 12:31).

If you’re unfamiliar with this 1987 masterpiece, stop what you’re doing right now and go watch it; we’ll wait.  If you’re like the members of my family, however, and you can quote long sections of the script by heart (No more rhyming now, I mean it...), allow me to connect some dots for you.

On the surface, of course, one of the main themes this film deals with is the power of True Love.   As Westley tells Princess Buttercup, “Death cannot stop True Love, all it can do is delay it for a while.”  Or, as she will tell Prince Humperdinck latter on, “Westley and I are joined by the bond of love, and you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords.”

So far, so obvious; but there is an important motif running alongside Westley and Buttercup’s romance that brings the whole theme into sharp and profound focus, namely: the quest for excellence.  If you’re familiar with the characters, you may recall that each of them are striving for, or have achieved, superlative excellence in some field of human endeavor or other.  Buttercup’s the most beautiful girl in the land, of course, but that’s an easy one.  Prince Humperdinck is the greatest hunter ever to live (he can track a falcon on a cloudy day).   Fezzik is the strongest man alive (only Fezzik is strong enough to climb the Cliffs of Insanity).  Inigo studied all his life to become the world’s greatest swordsman (and his sword, of course is a peerless work of craftsmanship).  Vizzini is the world’s smartest man (Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are morons next to him).  Count Rugen is writing the “definitive work” on the subject of pain (and spent a lifetime perfecting the greatest torture device ever invented).  Ranged against the power of True Love, in other words, is a host of superlatives that True Love will have either to subdue (as in the case of Fezzik and  Inigo) or defeat (as in the case of Humperdinck and Rugen).  In a world suffuse with “excellence,” that is, True Love proves itself “the most excellent way.”
                   
This all ties up rather neatly, but there is a layer to this that isn’t immediately obvious, but is so important: it is not romantic love, exclusively, that is the most excellent thing.  The film, in fact, presents us with a whole range of human loves that together combine to contribute to the victory of True Love. Inigo’s filial love for his murdered father (“I loved my father, so naturally I challenged his murderer to a duel”); Fezzik’s fraternal love for his friend Inigo (“Fezzik took great care in nursing his inebriated friend to life”); and, of course, the Grandfather’s paternal love for his sick Grandson, which he demonstrates by reading the book to him in the first place.  We’re invited to connect all these loves together in the closing line of the film.  As the Grandpa's leaving, the boy asks him to come back and read the book again tomorrow, to which the the Grandpa replies, “As you wish.”  These are, of course, the same words Westley spoke to Buttercup when what he really meant was “I love you.”  "As you wish," it turns out, can apply to more than mere romantic love.

Because in The Princess Bride, the “True Love” that is the most excellent way is not simply the romantic passion that binds Westley and Buttercup together.  It is, in fact, that profound and complicated network of human affections and loyalties and commitments and longings that binds human hearts to human hearts, parent to child, friend to friend, man and wife (that most bwessed of awangments...).  Westley’s and Buttercup's romance is, of course, the centerpiece of the story, but the point is to see how their romantic love both compliments and draws life from these other, equally important kinds of love that together point out the “most excellent way.”

In his classic book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis notes that the ancients identified at least four distinct types of human bonding that today we would call “love.”  Storge, refers to warm affection between companions and family members; Philia describes deep, spiritual love between friends; Eros describes romantic or sexual love; and Caritas (charity) describes the kind of unconditional brotherly/sisterly love that the early Christians referred to with the Greek word agape.  And it was not eros specifically that was “the most excellent way,” but agape, the Love of God which the Spirit has poured out in our hearts.

I think there is something to regain in this more wholistic vision of love; because we live in a culture where sexual love is increasingly disconnected from the other types of loving relationships it was meant to encourage and compliment and draw life from. But biblically, I think, sexual love is supposed to fit in to a larger picture of shalom-ordered living: nurtured families and wholesome friendships and vibrant communities that taken together give us a taste of True Love; and we do violence to True Love when we wrench it from that setting. Perhaps if we could put eros back in its place among the other loves, it would start pointing us again to that thing which, all by itself, it is not: the most excellent way.

Three Minute Theology 1.3, Sounds Like the Trinity


One of the implications the Trinity is that God exists in eternal, loving community within God’s-self.  The Father begets the Son, the Son does the Father’s will, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as a bond of love between them. 

The ancient theologians used the Greek word “perichoresis” to describe this relationship.  Perichoresis is difficult to translate.  Literally, it sort of means “rotating-forward-around,” and it’s trying to get at the way the Persons of the Trinity move in and through and around each other.  Any activity of one is always an action of all three; and yet whenever God is at work, it’s still possible to differentiate between the unique work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The word did not originally have the connotation of “a dance,” but in popular theology, “perichoresis” is often translated as “a dancing around,” and is used to suggest that there is a joyful “dancing around each other” going on between the Persons of the Trinity.

This is difficult to visualize, but perhaps a non-visual metaphor may help. 

In music, a chord is made up of three notes, played together at the same time.  A major chord, for instance, is made up of the first, the third, and the fifth notes of a given scale.  If you took the C scale, let’s say, and played the ‘C,’ the ‘E’ and the ‘G,’ you would have a C Major chord.

Now: a C chord is a single auditory experience—that is:  you hear it as a single thing.  Yet at the same time, the Chord is made up of three distinct, individual notes—C, E and G.  And each of these notes completely fills up the sound-space.  There is no ‘part’ of the chord where one of these three notes isn’t fully present, and you can always distinguish each individual note within the chord.

The notes of a C Major chord, we might say, inter-penetrate each other in a “perichoretic dance.”  That is to say, whenever you hear a C major chord, you are always hearing three individual notes, and yet at the same time, you’re hearing a single chord.

This musical analogy helps us get at the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in ways that visual metaphors simply can’t. 

For instance, in a chord, there is no hierarchy between the notes—you can play them in any order, and yet it’s always the “First” or “Tonic” note that determines the Nature of the Chord. 

The “Fifth” note, or the “Dominant” is always directly determined by the Tonic note.  Whatever your tonic note is, the next note is going to be a perfect fifth above it, in this case “G.” 

The third note, while seemingly third in importance, actually determines the tonal quality of the whole chord: if we play a perfect third, we get a major chord, if we drop it a half step, we get a minor chord, even though the other two notes stay the same.

In a similar way, the Father begets the Son—like the tonic note determines the dominant—and the Holy Spirit flows out from the Father and Son, expressing the bond of love between them—like the perfect third harmonizes between the first and the fifth, making  it a major chord and not a minor.  

And like the Persons of the Trinity, each of these notes completely “interpenetrates” the other, making an indivisible sound without losing their unique, individual identity.


While this is difficult to wrap our heads around, the way the Persons of the Trinity exist in a perfect relationship with each other, where each is fully One with the other and yet maintains their unique Personhood, is crucial to the Christian Faith, because Jesus said that he wanted this same kind of unity for us.  “That you may all be One,” is how he said it, “just as the Father is in Me and I in him, and that you may also be in us.”

On Coming Second Last, a devotional thought

There's this interesting story in 2 Kings 2, where the prophet Elijah passes on his prophetic mantle to his successor, Elisha, just before he's taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. I call it interesting because this "passing on" of the spiritual baton reflects a consistent, if somewhat mysterious pattern in the Old Testament. There always seems to be a "leader yet to come" who will accomplish for God's servants what they cannot accomplish on their own. Moses was not able to lead the people into the Promised Land; Joshua came after him to do that. Saul was not able to rule as king in Israel; David came after him. But David was unable to build the temple; Solomon came after him for that. And then there's Elijah and Elisha. None of God's servants, it seems, are ever "ultimate" (the final word). They are only ever "penultimate" (i.e. the second last word).

None, of course, but one.

Because John the Baptist was pretty clear that he fit the pattern of "being second last."  "One is coming after me," he said, "whose sandals I am unfit to untie." But the one who came after him--the Ultimate Elisha to his penultimate Elijah--was Jesus Christ, and after him we are no longer waiting for one yet to come, only for one to come yet again.

Once you see this pattern, it raises some soul-searching questions.  Am I living as though I get the final word on the matter (you name the matter) in my life, or am I living as though I were penultimate? That is to say: am I letting Jesus have the final word on everything, and acknowledging, with Moses, David, Elijah and John the Baptist, that I just can't do it on my own?

My 2014 in Books

So, every new year I take some time to look back on the reading I did in the year gone by.  Reading is one of those weird things for me: it's a hobby, on the one hand, and I do it for pleasure, but at the same time, it's a crucial piece of staying sharp for ministry.  It's sort of like a "wobby" for me; or "hork" (get it, hobby + work?).  In the past I usually try to trim my readings from the year down to a top ten list of some sort or other, but this year, for the fun and the challenge of it, I thought I'd haiku (yes, haiku) my way through all the books I read in 2014.


Ready?

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor:  Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

A message so wise
on the lost arts pastoral
came when most needed.


C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet

A trip to the place
where Truth and Beauty's disguised
as science fiction.


Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

Humble reminder:
that ministry's not the same
as false relevance.


C. S. Lewis, Voyage to Venus

A paradise won
in fantastical places
with everyday love.


Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts:  Close Encounters with Addiction

Peering down the well
of addiction and seeing
My face staring back.


N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God Vol. 1

One pond'rous prologue
to a man I thought I knew
and can't wait to meet.


Rikky Rookby, How to Write Songs for Guitar

I'll help you write songs
said the man with the guitar
and oh, how he did.


Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting:  Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality
Its not as simple
or as complicated as
we think.  There's the rub.


Jennell Williams Paris, The End of Sexual Identity:  Why Sex is too Important to Define who we are

Could it really be,
that identity in Christ
isn't gay or straight?


Richard Beck, The Slavery of Death

A view of the cross
from an angle so ancient
it sort of sounds new.


Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are
A better cover
than a book; but then again,
who am I to judge?


Neil Pasricha, The Book of Awesome

Ingratitude grows,
stalactites in the heart's cave,
till awe leads us out.


C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:  The Shape of My Early Life

One man's life story:
haunted by joy and yearning.
It aches in us all.


Elaine Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism:  A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach

If God's not in it,
and it's not done on our knees,
it isn't good news.

Jewel, A Night Without Armor

Young Adult chick-lit
but the poems led me on.
A man of forty.


Kevin G. Harney, Organic Outreach for Churches:  Infusing Evangelistic Passion into Your Congregation

You make it sound
so easy and compelling.
Now for the hard part.


Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life with Christ

Opened it as an
emotional teenager
wanting to grow up.


Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God:  Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath

"Sabbath for the man"
is how the Master said it.
Now I think I see.


Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality

Prayers and poetry
can turn the world on its head.
This one had them both.


Samuel Miller, The Life of the Soul

The life of the soul?
Perhaps: I closed the book with
no clue what it meant.


Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Coincidence and
mystery combined to thrill.
Welcome reading change.


C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

An old fashioned book
That saw something coming soon.
Now it's at the door.

Three Minute Theology 1.2, The Trinity in 3D



Christians sometimes use the word “mystery” to describe certain aspects of their faith. God coming to us as a human being in the Incarnation is a mystery; so is the way Jesus could be both fully God and fully human.

When Christians use the term Mystery, they don’t mean it in the Sherlock Holmes sense of the word—as in, a puzzle to be solved, or a secret to be discovered. A “mystery” is a truth about God that is apparently contradictory, which human reason could never arrive at on its own, and we could only know because God revealed it to us.

The Trinity is a Mystery in this sense of the word. Like all Mysteries of our Faith, there is no perfect “analogy” for the Trinity—no perfect way to represent humanly how God is One single God and at the same time, three distinct Persons.

Sometimes people will compare the Trinity to an egg, which is a single thing, and yet it has three parts—a shell, a yolk and a white. This analogy fails, however, in that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not just three “parts” of one God, they are three distinct persons.

Sometimes people use the analogy of water, which is one single substance but can appear in three distinct forms—ice, liquid and steam. This analogy fails, too, in that the same water can’t be ice, liquid and steam, at the same time, whereas the three Persons of the Trinity are not just three different “forms” of the same God, but three distinct Persons existing at the same time.

All analogies are bound to fail, but there is a way to imagine how something could be both three distinct things and at the same time, one single thing.

Imagine a world that only exists in two dimensions. There is backwards and forwards, left and right, but there is no up or down. The inhabitants of this world are all flat, two dimensional shapes—circles, squares and so on. They have no knowledge of the third dimension, and no frame of reference for conceiving of “up” or “down.”

Now imagine that a three-dimensional being like myself entered this flat world—maybe I reached three fingers of my hand in, for instance.

My hand, of course, is one single thing, but as it enters into the 2-dimensional world, what will all those 2 dimensional creatures experience?

Won’t they perceive it as three separate circles?

Three 2-dimensional shapes that are completely separate and distinct, and, as far as they can tell, not attached in any way? You can go around each of them, and each of them can move separately.

But what if you or I, who exist in three-dimensional space, were explain to our 2-D friends that what these three distinct circles are really one single hand—and if they could only get “up” above their two-dimensional world, they would understand how these three circles are, at the exact same time, One?

Wouldn’t they say, “What’s ‘Up?’”

Would they even have a frame of reference for making sense of a statement like this, that the three circles they very clearly see are separate, are, at the same time, one single Thing?

This is not really an analogy for the Trinity itself, as much as it is an analogy for how the Trinity is a Mystery. God, if he is indeed the Creator of the Universe, must exist in dimensions further beyond us than the third dimension is beyond our imaginary 2-dimensional world.

And though there is no way for 3-dimensional beings like us to conceive of how God could be Three distinct Persons and at the same time One Single God, it’s certainly not a blind leap of Faith to accept it that he is.

At any rate, after their encounter with Jesus, whom they worshipped as God, and after their filling with the Holy Spirit, whom they experienced as God, this what the first Christians came to believe: that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.

A Tale of Two Kings: A Devotional Thought

In 1 Kings 22:41-53, the Bible presents us with the death of two kings, the King of Judah and the King of Israel, juxtaposed against each other in a thought-provoking way. It describes the death of King Ahab of Israel first, who died in battle when a stray arrow pierced a seam of his armour, and then the death of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, who died at the ripe old age of 60. But by worldly standards, Ahab appears to have been the more successful king-- wealthier, more accomplished, and more powerful. Notice the palace of ivory and the huge cities mentioned in v. 39. And yet for all his wealth and influence, what 1 Kings emphasizes about his reign is that he set a new standard for doing evil in the sight of the Lord (his son, for instance, "walked in all his ways," worshipping idols and inciting the Lord to anger).

Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, was less wealthy and influential than his regal cousin to the north. He didn't build any cities or ivory palaces. At least 1 Kings doesn't mention any. But what 1 Kings does mention is the fact that he walked in the way of the Lord, never turning from it and doing right in God's eyes. God, it turns out, measures our lives by a much different rubric than the world does. He doesn't count the degrees on the wall or the number of rooms in the "ivory palace" or the numbers in the retirement fund; he measures success according to one simple standard: "Did you do right in my eyes?"

Not to sound morbid, but it leaves me thinking about the end of my own life, and how I want to go. Will I be a success in the eyes of the world but a failure in the eyes of the Lord, or a success in the eyes of the Lord, come what may?

Looking back on some God moments: 2014 in Review

Yesterday we did a church service at the local long term care facility that our church, The FreeWay, partners with.  I spoke about Psalm 105:5, where it says, "Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered"; and I said something about how there is strength for the here-and-now, in remembering the ways God's been at work in our lives in the past.  Today, the day after, I'm having one of those preacher moments where you sort of hear the words coming out of your own mouth as you said them, and it's like they're being preached directly at you (any preachers in the room will know what I'm talking about).  Anyways, I thought it wouldn't hurt to put my money where my mouth is a bit, and spend some time reflecting on the unique and particular ways God met me, and ministered to me this last year.

Here, then, is a brief look back on some of the important God-moments of my 2014:

January 5:  A three-month medical leave from ministry begins.  In what would mark one of the lowest points of my life in ministry, but also one of the most formative, I went through a period of burn-out and emotional exhaustion at the start of 2014.  I've shared a bit about it before, and intend to talk more specifically about it in the coming months, but for now I'll just say that this was one of those walking-through-the-valley-of-the-shadow kind of experiences where sometimes it felt like God was the only strong thing in a violent storm of instability, and other times I couldn't see him for trying.

April 1:  My first official day back at work.  So, after 3 months of finding out that I wasn't really who I thought I was, and discovering who I was after all, 3 months of healing and rebuilding and self-discovery, it was time to get back in the saddle.  The first day back at the FreeWay after such a dark time, and the embrace and encouragement and care of God's people that I felt that day, was an object lesson in all the best things about Christian community.

April 10: S.A.S.S. Club Recital:  One of God's big gifts to me in 2014 was the opportunity to get involved as a parent volunteer in a song-writer's club at my daughter's elementary school.  I'd go and listen to these talented kids sing songs they wrote, then help them set them to music.  The April 10th recital was where the kids invited friends and family to hear their work.  They say that volunteering will increase your life expectancy and lower your risk for a whole slough of diseases.  I expect this is true.  If my experience can be taken as a case study, it will also broaden your heart and open your mind and take you outside of yourself in profoundly healing ways.

May 18:  Participating as a Speaker at the FMCiC General Conference.  I had the honour of speaking this year at our denomination's General Conference, at a session called "Love is an Orientation."  I won't say much about it here, except that it was a deeply moving experience, one of those times speaking where you become profoundly aware of the Holy Spirit's presence, in the moment, saying through you what you could never say on your own,.  If you're interested, you can read the paper I presented here.

June 6:  The 20/40 Concert.  This year was both mine and my wife's 40th birthdays, and also our 20th anniversary (yes, we really were only 20 when we got married).  To celebrate, we held a concert of some of the songs I'd written during my leave (the inspiration to start writing songs again was another gift that came along with volunteering at the song-writing club).  Good friends, good food, good music and lots of fun.


June 15:  Reading The Book of Awesome.  I've already blogged about this one here, so I won't repeat myself, except to say that God really ministered to me through this (almost embarrassingly) frothy book and the repentant glimpse of my profound ungratefulness it left me with.

August 12, 2014:  Whale Watching in the Bay of Fundy.  I was surprised how awe-inspiring and serene these majestic creatures were, when you get close to them.  It had me re-thinking Jonah a bit-- perhaps the whale swallowed God's wayward prophet out of loving care, not brute hunger or blind obedience.  At the same time, the sight of those whales kept drawing my mind to the last chapters of Job, where God describes Leviathan and then says, essentially, "and he's just a guppy in a fish bowl, to me."


October 7, 2014:  A New Sign for the FreeWay.  This probably shouldn't have been as big a God-moment as it was; but then again, for all its being a spiritual temple, not a physical one, still, the church is a concrete community and these concrete signs of our life together are important. We've been trying to establish a ministry centre in Oshawa for a while now, and seeing that sign go up, it felt like a new chapter was starting for the FreeWay.


December 30, 2014:  Releasing inversions.  You can see this post for the details, but recording this project with a group of talented musicians and good friends, especially given the circumstances of the writing, ministered to me on a number of levels.  God is good, and he's able to bring all sorts of beauty out of broken things.


Three Minute Theology 1.1: Good God Talk

So, what can you do in three minutes?  Listen to your average pop song... take a commercial break...boil an egg... and now, do some theological reflection!  Allow me to invite you to check out my new project for 2015, a YouTube channel I started called "Thee Minute Theology."  It was inspired by a YouTube channel my kids really like called MinutePhysics.  The idea is to take a specific theological concept from the Christian Faith, and explain it in a creative video that is 3.5 minutes or less (I tried for three minutes even but couldn't quite cram it all it).  The goal is to do one video a week (I've already got the next 51 planned out, so stay tuned!).  Anyways, grab a coffee, take a breather, and turn your mind and your imagination towards God for a minute or three.  Today's topic: The Trinity.  (Thought I'd ease into it).

Enjoy.





When I was a kid, my Grandma would correct me if she heard me using bad grammar. For instance, if I told her something like, “My friend draws good.” She would say, “No, Dale, he doesn’t draw ‘good.’ He draws ‘well.’”

Grammar lays out the basic rules of a language, to ensure we’re speaking correctly; and if you grew up with a Grandma like mine, you’ll know that good grammar is essential to effective communication.

So: Christians believe that God is Trinitarian. The word “Trinity” mean “Three in One”; and to say that God is a Trinity means he is one single, undivided God, and yet, at the very same time, Three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This can cause a lot of confusion among non-Christians, who know as well as we do, that 1+1+1=3; so either the Christians worship three different gods or they just can’t do simple math. Even many Christians find the idea of the Trinity difficult to explain, so they don’t tend to emphasize it a lot.

This confusion comes, in part, because often we think about the Trinity as though it were sort of a “schematic” that describes what God’s inner workings look like. And because God is God and we’re not, any attempt to sketch out a “schematic” for God is bound to fail.

So: perhaps a better way to think about the Trinity is as a “Grammar for God Talk.” Just like “English Grammar” lays out the guidelines for using the English language correctly, the “Trinity” lays out the guidelines for speaking correctly about God.

You see: the very first Christians were all 1st Century Jews, and they took the teaching of the Torah very seriously when it says that “The Lord your God is One God and you shall love Him with all your heart.”

There’s only One God; that’s the most basic rule of God-grammar.

But at the same time, they had encountered the man Jesus Christ, a 1st Century Jew who taught them to pray to God as if they were talking to a loving Father. And then they saw him crucified and rise again the third day. And here’s the thing: their encounter with the living Jesus was *so profound* that they began to worship him as God.

So: Jesus is God. That’s another rule of God-grammar.

But then, if someone were to ask them: “Are you saying that Jesus is the same as God the Father?” They would have had to say, “No.” Jesus is fully God, otherwise we couldn’t worship him; but at the same time, he spoke to God as his Heavenly Father, and taught us to do the same.

So Jesus is not God the Father. To say that would be bad grammar.

Of course, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit came, and filled those first Christians up to over-flowing with his love; and the experience they had of the Holy Spirit was just like the experience they had of Jesus , so they started talking about the Holy Spirit in the same way as they did Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is God. Good God-grammar.

But: the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us, and reminds us of his teaching. So he’s not the Son or the Father; to say that would be bad grammar.

The Trinity, then, lays out the guidelines for speaking correctly about God.

There is only one God. The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. The Son is not the Father and the Holy Spirit is not the Son. All those statements are good grammar.

But if we say that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all just different “appearances” the same single God, or if we talk about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as though they were three different gods, or one was not god, in each of those cases, we’re using bad grammar.

But: if we say something like: “The grace of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit be with you all.” In that case, we’re speaking good. About God.

Kicking Against the Goads: A Devotional Thought

There's a line in Acts 26:14 that I've always sort of wondered about.

Paul's explaining to the King Agrippa how he met Jesus on the way to Damascus, and he adds something that wasn't there when Luke first described the event, back in Acts 9. In this telling of the story, after asking why Paul is persecuting him, Jesus says: "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." Like I say, I've never really understood what that line meant-- to kick against the goads-- so the other day I looked it up. And whoah, it makes you think.

Apparently it's a proverb that comes from the practice of plowing with oxen. Plows would have a "spur" or a "goad" on them to poke the ox and keep it moving in the direction the plowman wanted it to go. Once in a while the ox would get a notion in its head that it didn't like being goaded, so it would kick back against the goad, injuring itself. A rebellious ox kicks against the goad, and the resulting discomfort is meant to teach it to do as the plowman says.

Paul, on the way to Damascus, is most certainly in rebellion against God-- kicking against the goad of the Christian Message, (so to speak)-- and the blinding, humbling encounter he has with Jesus-- as painful as it is, will most definitely teach him to submit to the will of the Great Plowman (if you catch my drift).

It gets me thinking about the ways and the times in times in my life, when I've "kicked against the goads"; that is to say, when I've rebelled against God's will for my life and found myself in some spiritual (or literal) discomfort because of it. It really is hard on us, spiritually, when we push back against his good, loving, perfect will for us. Thank God for his patience, and even for his goading. May it teach us all deeper submission, and fuller rest, in his will.

My Evangelical 2014 in Review

I always feel like I'm late for the party on this one. Most people do their year-end reviews in December, before the New Year starts, but who's got the time in December? So my Year-End retrospectives usually happen in the opening throes of January rather than the dying throes of December. Anyways, if you're not already too far into 2015 to look back on 2014 one last time, here are some of the headlines that stood out to me last year as telling, concerning, intriguing or otherwise noteworthy, from a Christian perspective.

February 4: Bill Nye the Science Guy debates Ken Ham, founder and president of Answers in Genesis
Creationism created controversy early in 2014, as the poster-boys for popular science and biblical literalism respectively went head to head in a much-touted debate. Debates like these generally feel like way too much barking up all the wrong trees to me, so I didn't watch the bout; but the murmuring I heard in both the "Science Only" and the "Christian is as Christian does" camps suggested to me that the stakes in this fight have really changed over the years, and both camps are unhappy with how we've traditionally drawn the battle-lines.

February 28: Mark Burnett and Rona Downey release Son of God film
2014 was the year of the Christian Cinema, it seems, with a whole slew of Faith-based, Bible-themed or otherwise religiously-inspired movies coming out. I went to a special screening of Son of God, and, while it had its moments, I didn't really think much of it as a movie. The acting was stilted, the story-telling clunky, and Jesus just way too good looking (why do they always make him a supermodel?). So I won't say much about the movie itself, but inasmuch as it was followed by God's Not Dead (March 4), Heaven is For Real (March 21) Noah (March 28) and Gods and Kings (December 3), it's hard not to wonder if Hollywood wasn't trying to woo (or lure, depending on your view) Christians to the Box Office this year.

March 28: Russell Crowe's Noah hits the big screen
Okay, just one more thought on Bible-based movies in 2014. While I struggled with many of the aforementioned made-for-Christian films, I did like this movie (if "like" is the best word). Much was made of the additions to the narrative-- the stone Watchers, for instance, or Tubal-Cain as a stow-away on the Ark--but overall, I thought the movie handled the biblical material insightfully and respectfully, and drew out some of the very profound themes in the Noah story that Christians often over-look because we're so eager to explain how and why the story is in fact plausible. I preached through the Noah story this Spring at the FreeWay, and this movie was a helpful point of contact for me.

April 30: Mayor Rob Ford takes a leave of absence from his job as Toronto's Mayor
You may wonder why the salacious saga that was the Rob Ford scandal appears on this list, but consider: 1) I live right next door to Toronto and really couldn't escape it; 2) through the worst of Rob Ford's struggles, I was dealing some mental health struggles of my own, and found the whole story mesmerizing; and 3) there are actually a ton of very significant theological themes to be studied here that, if I'd had my wits about me, I would have loved to have chronicled as they unfolded. From Rob Ford's misappropriation of Jesus' teaching that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone," to the theological problems with the cult of personality (as represented by Ford Nation), the theological difference between apology and repentance, the theological difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, the spiritual dynamics of addiction and the spiritual dimensions of the news media, from the call for Christians to pray for our leaders to the promise of Jesus that the truth will set us free ... this story had it all.

July 14: The Church of England votes to appoint women bishops
Having been Free Methodist for so long that I'd almost forgotten there were still some rooms in the big house called Christendom where they were still wrestling with the question of women in leadership, I was first surprised, and then quite pleased to see that the Holy Spirit seems to have poured some old wine into some new wineskins on this one for our Anglican brothers and sisters across the pond.

August 9: Michael Brown shot in Ferguson, Missouri
Many of the American-Christian blogs I read dealt with this tragedy in raw, honest and reflective ways, calling on American Christians to start taking more seriously the problem of racial relations in their society and their churches. While it may be tempting for Canadian Christians to look down self-righteous noses at their southern brothers and sisters in Christ, I think there is a clarion call ringing for all of us here, about our vocation to be peace-making salt and reconcilatory light in a world that is growing increasingly divided along political, cultural, racial and economic lines.

October 13: The Synod of Catholic Bishops (possibly) changes its tone on the issue of homosexuality
Some pundits thought the Catholic Church said too much on this one, others not nearly enough, and apparently the tone of hospitality and pastoral care in the original document was vetoed by a vote of the bishops a few days later; but still: that the Catholic Church is facing this issue speaks volumes about the seismic shift that is happening, or has happened, when it comes to sexual identity and the Faith.  It's no longer possible to pretend the ground hasn't moved on this one, and where ever we end up standing when we regain our balance, it won't be where we once did.

October 15: Marc Driscoll resigns as pastor of Mars Hill
I have followed Marc Driscoll's ministry over the years oscillating between concern, distaste, and ire, so when the controversial pastor resigned from his post as the lead-and-founding pastor of Mars Hill in Seatle, after a long season of accusations and counter-accusations, with tales of bullying and church-politicing and misappropriation of funds leaking out of the woodwork at every turn, I at least noted it down. I wonder if we're witnessing the beginning of the end of mega-church-celebrity-pastor-culture.  Or maybe that's too much to hope for?

November 19: Rosetta Probe lands on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Though we may not have connected the dots, 2014 sort of ended where it started: with questions of origins. The feat itself-- landing a robot on a comet, for crying out loud!-- is remarkable enough; but even more remarkable is the justification they gave for the billion-dollar, decade-long project: the hope of discovering clues about the origins of life on planet earth. Go figure. They could have saved 10 years and $999,999,990, and just bought a Bible from their local bookstore.  In the beginning, God.  'nough said?

December 9: The US Senate releases its report on CIA "enhanced interrogation methods" for suspected terrorists
There are very serious questions here that more Christians should ask, about violence and truth and what we're prepared to sacrifice for our security, and the uneasy relationship between the Christian and Empire in its modern forms. Some Christians were asking those questions when this report came out (one incredulous blogger I read pointed out the startlingly high number of American Christians polled who felt that torture was justified for the sake of national security).  Given the fact that the New Testament is shot through with counter-Imperial rhetoric, we probably all should have taken notice of this one.

inversions (or there and back again...)

I'm happy to announce the release of my latest musical project, an album of original songs, called "inversions."

Here's a bit of background. Some of you may know that this time last year, things started to unravel for me spiritually, emotionally and physically, as I went through what they call in the church-biz "a pastoral burn out." I am hoping at some point this year to do some blogging about that whole experience here at terra incognita, to share some of the things I learned about God, myself, ministry and suffering through that time. But that will have to wait until I've had a bit more time to gather my thoughts.

During that season, however, one of the things that kept me sane, helped my process what I was going through, and gave me light, was the creative and cathartic release that comes from songwriting. All of these songs were written by candle-light, so to speak, in the dark night of the soul. They all deal with various mental health issues that I was processing during that time: depression, anxiety, addiction, despair, but also the meaning of hope, and self-honesty, and finding God in our weakness. I hope you enjoy them, but I also hope they speak to you about these same things-- especially the later ones: being truthful with yourself (which is more than merely being true to yourself) and discovering God's bigness in our smallness.

Normally my recording projects are all solo efforts, but this time I had the help of some very talented musicians and good friends, who joined me on the musical journey, and in their own ways, on the emotional journey, too. I want to publicly thank Chris, Andy, Tyler, Gabe, Elaine, Erin and Rachael for lending their various musical gifts to these songs. Anyways, you can check it all out at bandcamp, or give it a listen right now:



PS. If you feel like supporting a part-time artists, please do; any proceeds from this project will go towards the next one.