There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

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

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

Screwtape Proposes a Toast, C. S. Lewis

Notes from the Ashes, Part IV: Been There, Done That


When I was studying biblical Greek in Seminary, I made a commitment at one point to read through the entire Greek New Testament in a year.  I figured out the number of pages I’d have to cover each day to get through the whole book in 365, and just started slugging.

Matthew was agonizingly slow.  Mark a bit better.  Luke a bit worse.   After Luke, John was a breeze.  Acts was more agony, but by the time I was done it, I felt like I could tackle anything.  Romans: check.  1 Corinthians: check.

And then I hit 2 Corinthians. 

I was light-years away from being an expert, of course, but even so, here was Greek unlike anything I’d come across in the New Testament to date.  Mark was raw but concrete.  John was simple but stunning.  Acts was convoluted but sophisticated.  2 Corinthians was all of those first things—raw and simple and convoluted—and none of the other—concrete and stunning and sophisticated.  I would read sentences over and over and try as I might, I just couldn’t make sense of them.  The grammar was so clipped, the constructions so terse, the language so allusive that for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out.  I’d consult English translations and sometimes they’d help, but sometimes, too, it looked like they were having as much difficulty as I was.

My Greek prof knew about my read-it-though-in-a-year project and he’d check in on me periodically.  One morning when I was right in the middle of 2 Corinthians he asked how it was going.  When I explained how different, and difficult, the Greek in 2 Corinthians seemed, he kind of smiled knowingly.

And he said: “You’re not the first to notice that.  Many scholars think it’s because Paul’s just so worked up—so exasperated with the situation in Corinth—that he can barely get his thoughts out coherently.”  (Remember, of course, that this is the second letter he’s written to this imploding congregation, and from what we can tell things have been going from bad to worse and somewhere before the writing of 2 Corinthians, it had gotten personal).

I’ve since come back to 2 Corinthians a number of times.  With a bunch of years experience in reading Greek behind me now, it doesn’t seem as bad as it did that first time through, but still, there are exposed nerves all over the place in this letter, and it really does bleed through in the Greek.  It reads more like a hurting, hurried, harried Dear John letter than it does a theological treatise (although, interestingly, it happens to include some of the most theologically verdant texts in the whole entire New Testament.  2 Corinthians 5, anyone?). 

I’m not saying that the Paul who wrote 2 Corinthians was necessarily burned-out when he penned this letter; but I am saying this: as far as I can tell, it sounds in places a whole lot like the kind of letter a burned-out pastor might write, if he were writing to his church in Koine Greek.

Biblical scholar N. T. Wright puts it like this: “[Paul’s] tone, even his writing style, indicates ... that something has happened [at Corinth] which has changed him, and that he and the Corinthians have been through something that has changed their relationship.  ... [He] does not say what, precisely has happened, but he tells the Corinthians the effect it had on him: he was so utterly overwhelmed, beyond any capacity to cope, that he despaired of life itself.”

And then in his analysis, N. T. Wright adds this: “Paul's talk about internalizing a death sentence sounds close to what we might call a nervous breakdown, and certainly indicates severe depression.”  (Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 297-9).

Ok, maybe I am saying that the Paul who wrote 2 Corinthians was burned-out.  Sort of.   And perhaps my hesitancy to put it that starkly indicates some of the lingering stigma that I still carry about burn-out itself.  Could it really be that the author of one of the books of the Bible actually burned out in ministry?  And that he made one of his major contributions to the Canon in that emotional state?

I’ll let you read it and decide for yourself.

For my part, I have come to see 2 Corinthians as one of God’s great gifts to pastors, and especially to burned-out pastors.  Because it’s the letter where God not only told me, but showed me, that He gets it.  He really gets it and in his book he acknowledges it: the despair, the distress, the discouragement, the darkness that can sometimes be part of this high and glorious calling.  He neither condemns it, nor sweeps it under the rug, but tenderly embraces it.

Having been through burn-out and come through better on the other side, I take a lot of encouragement from the fact that God included 2 Corinthians in his book.  But I also take a few practical lessons from it.  And if anything I’m saying is resonating with you today, let me offer them in closing.

First:  There is great power in the words “Been there.”  Part of what Paul is saying to burned out pastors in 2 Corinthians, is simply, “I’ve been there.”  And there is healing and hope and help in those three simple words, in knowing that you are not alone. 

The second lesson is related:  If you have been there, then be there for someone who is there.  One of the reasons I’ve been doing this series, in fact, is because I’m trying to learn the very same lesson that Paul’s burn-out (if that’s really what it was) taught him: “That God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble, with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor 1:4).  If you’ve come through a burn-out, understand that it wasn’t for your sake that you came through; it was for God’s glory and the sake of others.

Third—and this, I think, is the most important lesson of all—burn-out does not, and will not disqualify you from ministry.  One of the lies that makes it so hard, I think, for pastors to get help or make changes, is this one: “If people knew how much you’re struggling right now, you’d lose all credibility as a pastor.”  We could stretch this out if we wanted to include all Christians: “If people knew how much you’re struggling, you’d lose all credibility as a Christian.”

Whatever else 2 Corinthians is, it’s evidence that this lie is just that: a lie.  Paul’s transparency did not disqualify him as a pastor.  Second Corinthians’ emotional rawness did not disqualify it from the Good Book.  Neither will honesty and humility about how heavy the burden is right now disqualify a hurting pastor from God’s calling on his or her life.

The sooner we call out the lie that says it will, the better.


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