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.

Notes from the Ashes, Part III: The 4 R's of Burnout


In a previous post on pastoral burnout, I suggested in passing that burnout is sort of an occupational hazard in ministry.  I don’t have empirical evidence that this is so, but anecdotally, I can say that the number of pastors I met during my own burnout time who quietly admitted, “I’ve been there, too” when I shared what I was going through, was kind of surprising to me.

As I say, I’m not sure if burnout is a special risk in pastoral-work, over and above other kinds of people-leading-people-helping sorts of jobs, but early on in my recovery I came across some teaching that helped me understand, if it is, why that might be the case.

It has to do with what this article calls "The 4 R’s of Burnout."  The whole article is worth a read, but here’s the idea in a nutshell.  Burnout is not simply a function of one’s work load.  That is to say, one can work under a high degree of responsibility, demands and stress, without approaching burnout, so long as the work is meeting certain other, necessary conditions; and conversely, if these conditions are not being met, then even relatively low demands can put someone at risk of burn-out.  We can think of these “necessary conditions” as the “4-R’s,” and the point is: most people can shoulder a relatively high work load without the risk of burnout, so long as the 4 R’s are in place; and by implication, simply adjusting the workload, without addressing the 4 R’s, won’t, in and of itself, mitigate the risk.

The 4 R's are:  Recognition, Rewards, Results and Relief.

According to the article I cited above, “If, no matter what you say or do, results, rewards, recognition and relief are not forthcoming ... the groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness and despair.”

In practical terms, what this means is that someone can work long, hard hours without burning out if they know that there is an end in sight, if it’s possible to see the tangible results of their work, if they are receiving compensation commensurate to the demands of their work, and if they are duly recognized for what they are doing.  If, on the other hand, they are working in demanding conditions, but not seeing results, receiving recognition or being rewarded in ways commensurate to their work, and there’s no end in sight, that’s when the perfect-storm clouds start brewing.

Now: what I am about to say is simply an observation.  I have worked through these things in my own experience and do not make this observation out of a spirit of resentment or grudge at all.  I love the work that Jesus has called me to do and as best I can I do it “with all my heart, as working for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).  I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even a world of recognition and rewards.  That said, still, it’s my observation that there are things about pastoral ministry that make "the 4 R’s" hard to come by.

We are conditioned by our faith, for instance, not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, to humble ourselves under God’s hand, to become, as Jesus was, the servant of all.  And, while this is certainly a biblical spirit for pastors to adopt, it makes the idea that we may need or want recognition for our work difficult to accept, let alone admit, or ask for.

Or take results.  I am convinced that of all the kinds of work people do, the work of proclaiming the Word of God is one of the few that will genuinely have eternal significance.  At the same time, however, pastors can put in 20 hours or more on a sermon (and many of the best preachers I know do), and yet they have to sit down in the study Monday morning, and start all over again as if last Sunday’s sermon hadn’t even happened.  The Bible teaches us, in fact, that we’ll have to wait until the other side of Heaven to see the real results of our work (1 Corinthians 3:11-15); and, while I believe that the results on that day will make every drop of blood, sweat or tears worth all the effort, still it makes it hard sometimes to see the more immediate results that keep burnout at bay in other kinds of work.

We’d see similar things if we thought about the rewards—the actual compensation for pastoral work—or the potential for relief—time off and time away from the demands of the work.  The unique nature of ministry as work—the steady pace of it, the spiritual nature of it, the ambiguity of so much of it—all these things make it difficult for pastors consistently to find the relief, results, rewards and recognition they need for what they do.  If burnout is a special occupational hazard of being a pastor, this is probably why.

Again, I share these things as an observation, not a complaint.  But if you are a pastor and this observation is resonating with you today, let me suggest a few lessons I've learned to help deal with the missing R's of pastoral work.

First:  do not under-estimate, low-ball or lose sight of the eternal significance of what you do.  This is not pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die kind of thinking, it's simply a matter of reminding yourself daily that the faithful, disciplined, ongoing proclamation of the Word of God in a well-led community of faith is of eternal importance, and we have Jesus' own word that he will reward it well (see Mark 10:29-30; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:1-8).  The results may not always be evident but, unlike any other work, they are guaranteed.

Second: overcome the ingrained hesitancy to advocate for yourself. We are not being "super-spiritual" or "servant-hearted" when we pretend that we do not actually have the very natural needs that other human beings have.  Often that hesitancy to say "I need..." is not spiritual at all, but simply pride or fear or both; and to be blunt, if we kill ourselves because we're not willing to advocate for ourselves, we haven't served anybody in the end.  This does not mean we approach our work with a demanding self-interest, but it does mean we practice humble self-care; and part of self care is being honest about our own needs.

Third: develop rhythms of rest and retreat.  I'm still learning on this one, but the more consistently you can work sabbath, retreat and rest into your daily, weekly and yearly routines, the more likely you'll be getting at least one of those 4 R's—relief—on a regular basis.

These weren't the only lessons I learned about pastoral burnout, or even the most important, but I've found the 4 R's very useful as a practical framework for understanding why it happens.  And, while I don't think this was exactly what Paul had in mind when he said he'd "fought the good fight and finished the course" in his ministry (2 Timothy 4:7); still, we're more likely to be able to say the same when we reach the end of our ministries, if we're mindful of the 4 R's.


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