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 V: Busy-ness, Pride and Responsibility

One of the hard truths that I learned about pastoral burnout—and this is one of those truths, I think, that only those who have been through it can really say—is that, while my burnout was not my fault, it was my responsibility.  What I mean by that is, on the one hand, burn out is a consequence of an over-loaded or unhealthy system, not a weak or a failed pastor; and inasmuch as the pastor is not solely responsible for the system, burnout is not his or her fault.  The whole system, not just the pastor, needs to change.

On the other hand, however, as a leader in community, as a follower of Jesus, as a freely choosing agent in the system, I was hardly a mere victim of circumstances beyond my control.  I chose how I would be in the system, what I would say yes to, what I would say no to, what disciplines of self-care I would or would not practice; and, while I couldn’t necessarily choose how certain events or people might impact me emotionally, I could choose how I would process those emotions, what space I would give them in my life.   In this regard, I was responsible for my burnout.

This distinction between fault and responsibility is crucial for understanding and recovering from burnout.  Fault is debilitating.  It has at its root the idea of failure, and as such it’s a judgement of incompetence.  Responsibility, by contrast, is empowering.  It has at its root the idea of “ability,” and as such presupposes one’s competence.  It was only as I came to see my own agency in the system—my “response-ability”—that I was able to see how I could, in fact, be differently in the system, and heal.

Let me flesh this out in relation to one of the key factors at play in any burnout: business.  I’ve shared in a previous post that business, in and of itself, is not the reason people burnout.  People can have a lot to do without burning out, so long as other crucial work-place conditions are in place (the 4 Rs, anyone?).  So it’s not simply a matter of burning out because one’s too busy.

At the same time, however, it is true that I was extremely “busy”—busier than I’d ever been before—in the months leading up to my final crash.   And when I was finally able to look at things with the kind of clarity you can only get after a three month leave and some honest sessions with a trained counselor, I came to see that being un-busy was actually my responsibility.  I was choosing to be busy and I could, with much self-discipline and emotional-maturity, choose not to be busy.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that I was choosing to have a lot to do at work.  The demands of the job were not necessarily my fault.  And I’m not saying that I could have neglected those demands with any integrity.   The system needed to change.

But when I looked at it objectively, I came to see that my business was more a function of my inner life than it was a function of my to-do list.  Wanting to be certain things for others so that I could feel good about myself, I emotionally “owned” every crisis, every conflict, every project, every problem, basking in people’s approval like a cold-blooded snake stretched out on the asphalt of the Inter-State.  Having attached my emotional well-being to the circumstances of my ministry, and having neglected the spiritual disciplines that by their very nature teach us to attach our emotional well-being to God, I was as vulnerable to business,  as that snake is to the on-coming tires of a careening SUV.

Early on in my recovery time I read the chapter on “business” in Eugene Peterson’s The Contempletive Pastor, and it went down for me like a spoonful of Buckley’s: it tasted terrible, but it worked.  Peterson points out how much of our busy-ness is really a function of our emotional insecurities and immaturities.  Because we fear the rejection and feed off the praise of others, we won’t say “no,” or “not now,” or “not me,” when we should, choosing, in effect, to be busy.  And here comes the tough medicine: we are busy, he says, either because A) we are too lazy to set our own schedule and it's easier to have others set it for us, or because B) we are too proud, and believe that our business makes us look important; our complaints about being busy are really, deep down at the core, boasts. 

Peterson goes so far as to suggest that the busy pastor is in dereliction of duty, because the pastor’s primary job is to pastor— to listen, pray, reflect on the scriptures, and to guide others in doing the same—and these activities absolutely require that we be un-busy to do them well.

Like I say, there was no spoonful of sugar to help his medicine go down, but it helped me to see what was really going on for me.  The pastor who is busy because he is too proud to say things like “I can’t,” who believes, even if subconsciously, that business is a sign of importance, who gets an emotional fix every time he hears someone say, “that pastor so-and-so, he sacrifices so much for his flock,” and so on, that pastor is a prime candidate for burnout.  And responsible for it.

So how do we take back our response-ability in overloaded, maxed-out or demanding work conditions?

Two things come immediately to mind.  It’s possible they may sound like so much more Buckley’s to swallow, but they are things that have made, and are making the difference for me, so let me offer them here.

The first is to take responsibility for your inner life.  If we’re saying “I can” when we should be saying “I can’t” because somehow or other it meets an emotional need for us, if we’re letting our insecurities dictate what gets added to or left off the to-do list, if we’re emotionally owning the well-being of the system, these are all signs of emotional immaturity and spiritual unhealth that we need to take responsibility for.  Honest introspection, wise spiritual direction, trust-worthy accountability, disciplined prayer, ruthless self-awareness, and some difficult but necessary conversations, all of these things can help us mature in our spiritual lives.  They are things that only we can do, and things the we must do, if we want to pursue a spiritually-mature, emotionally-centred, un-busy way of being a pastor.

The second is—and I realize I risk sounding like a Sunday School kid here—but the second is: Jesus.  In another place in Contemplative Pastor, Peterson points out that many (maybe most) pastors are not especially good at getting people to take their problems, questions, queries and requests to Jesus, because of their tendency to try to solve the problem, answer the question, field the query and mee the request themselves instead.  Peterson’s still doling out the Buckley’s here, so he goes so far as to suggest that many (maybe most) pastors suffer from an identity crisis, and we actually think it’s our job to solve the problems or answer the questions ourselves, instead of getting people to take them to Jesus Could it be, he wonders, with a grimace as bitter as any 10-year-old swallowing cough syrup, could it be that we, as pastors, do this, because really, deep down inside, we’d rather people came to us with their problems, than go to God themselves?

I don’t know about that, but I do know that it was a major shift for me, to acknowledge that I am really only an under-shepherd, that Jesus himself is the Chief Shepherd, and that I haven’t really done my job until my people have actually gone to Him with their pastoral needs.  It’s helped me find a different way of being a pastor, a way of choosing to have a lot to do, without being, necessarily, busy.

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