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 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.


0 comments: