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 Crucible of Love (The Meaning of Marriage, Part II)

In metallurgy, a crucible is a heat-resistant container that’s used to melt down and purify metal—copper, iron, gold or what have you. It's made of material that can withstand the extreme heat necessary to melt whatever's placed in it.  The metal melts, the impurities are burned off, and the crucible is left intact.

Inasmuch as it is a vessel designed to withstand high temperatures so that its contents can be purified and/or transformed, the crucible is, I think, a powerful analogy for Christian marriage.  For a Christian, marriage is meant to be a crucible for discipleship—a vessel, of sorts, designed to withstand extreme conditions, so that its contents—the man and woman who have covenanted together before God—can be purified and transformed as followers of Jesus.

Let me get extremely concrete here.  I remember one of the first “heated discussions” my wife and I had as newly-weds.   She was expecting me home at a certain time, and I wasn’t going to be home then but didn’t call to let her know.   She expressed to me her concern, and I (I confess) countered with indignation—I never had to “check in” with anyone before—and a while later we were cooling off and apologizing.   This, on the surface, sounds like a pretty ho-hum, mundane thing, the kind of domestic “sorting-out-of-expectations” that every newly-wed couple needs to work through. 

Hardly gold-smelting material. 

Unless you’re working with the definition of discipleship that I’m working with: that being a disciple of Jesus is about being increasingly “Christ-centred” and “others-oriented,” so that the “self” makes room for Jesus, and he, once he’s at the centre, turns the heart out towards others.  Sin, as Augustine said, is the self curved in on itself.  Discipleship, I’d add, is about having that curve turned inside out.

To the extent that I was learning to surrender the freedom I once had to come and go at whim without regard to how it might impact others; and to the further extent that I had no choice but to learn this, because the “vessel” that held my wife and I together wasn’t about to dissolve, just because the heat had turned up—to that extent—our argument over the call I’d neglected to make was, in fact, a profound discipleship moment. 

So are the disagreements about how to spend money, or how to parent the kids, or who ought to take care of the vacuuming, that every married couple will have in different ways at different times.  None of these things, on the surface, seem like profound discipleship moments, but these domestic, day-to-day, ho-hum activities present us continually with the choice to keep the self as the axis of life, or to allow Jesus to be there and have him turn us out towards others.   And perhaps it’s because these mundane, terribly “unsexy” things have such power to shape us spiritually, that they also happen to be the things that most often cause the most melt-downs in marriage:  money, parenting styles, housework.  The warp and woof of life together.

As a crucible for discipleship, then, marriage is meant to shape us into “Christ-centred,” “others-oriented” men and women, because it holds us together when the heat heats up—the argument over the cost of that golf game, the spat over indulging the kids too much, the frustration over the unvacuumed floor, whatever it is—so that the impurities of selfishness can burn off and the gold of an "others-oriented life" can be refined.  This particular crucible was especially designed to withstand the heat of the soul-smelting process.

If it feels like I’m beating this metaphor to death, it’s only because, once you imagine marriage as a crucible for discipleship, some very important points come into focus that start to challenge some cultural assumptions about marriage, even assumptions held by the Christian sub-culture.

For starters:  marriage is not about me, or for me.  Culturally, our view of marriage is increasingly self-centred.  It’s about fulfilling the felt-needs of the individual and only worth working on so long as it does.  I’ve blogged about this before, but the thing is: marriage is actually about Jesus and for Jesus.  Of course, I’d argue that a marriage which genuinely brings glory to Jesus will be the most fulfilling kind of marriage, in the long run; but self-fulfillment, itself, isn’t the goal. 

Secondly (and here’s where the “crucible” image starts to speak to the Christian sub-culture):  Marriage itself is not the highest ideal of the Christian life.  It is, actually, a crucible for discipleship, not the crucible for discipleship.  In fact, if you read the Scriptures closely (like in Matthew 19:10-12, or 1 Corinthians 7:8-31) it sort of looks like marriage is not even the best crucible.  But that’s a blog post for another day.  The point for today is just that:  God’s goal is not, necessarily, “married Christians”; His goal is disciples.  Marriage is a framework he provided for achieving that goal—a vital one, a beautiful one, a sacred one, an indispensable one—but not the only one.

Sometimes churches, in their well-intentioned urgency to keep marriage vital and beautiful and sacred, can elevate it to a place the Bible never puts it, making it sort of the ideal expression of a Christian lifestyle.  As a pastor, my concern is that, if we do this, a church can unintentionally marginalize the unmarried Christians in their community—the single Christian who for whatever reason never married, the divorced Christian who’s picking up the pieces, the widowed Christian in grief, the Christian who’s chosen the path of celibacy—telling them, in effect, that they are somehow or other “incomplete” in Christ because of their singleness.

It is possible to put the family into such sharp focus that the other crucibles for discipleship that God has given us—celibacy, spiritual friendship, singleness lived out in the context of Christian community and so on—can blur out of focus, creating a sadly distorted depth of field.  Viewing marriage as one among other crucibles for discipleship helps us bring the picture back into proper focus.

I am a pastor, but I’m not naive.  I realize that there are times when the crucible may be cracked irreparably, and there are other times when the heat that’s there is not at all purifying but only destructive.  Marital abuse or spousal abandonment, for instance, is not a purifying fire, but a sign of something gone wrong deep down in the heart of things, and it needs to be addressed as such.  But even in recognizing all that, I still see in this image—marriage as a crucible for discipleship—something compelling, and inspiring and worth the effort.  

If nothing else, it's challenging me to rethink my prayers when it comes to my marriage.  Am I asking God simply to give me "a happy marriage"?  Or am I asking him to make me a serious disciple of Jesus, and then giving him my roles as a husband, a father, my wife's best friend, to use in the process?

1 comments:

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