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 VI: A Gift Wrapped in Barbed Wire

It was a dreary morning in December, only a few days after my doctor had put me on "reduced duties" because of symptoms related to work-place stress, and I was walking my then ten-year-old daughter to her bus stop.  I was miserable, with this weight of discouragement and defeat and despair hanging around my heart like a leaden albatross.  To paraphrase Augustine only a little bit: my soul was curved hopelessly in on itself.

As we walked, my daughter was saying something I was barely hearing about the song-writer's club at school. As I gradually came to and it sort of dawned on me that she was talking to me, I heard her say something about how she was looking forward to the day because the song-writer's club was happening at lunch. I asked a few questions and found out that her school had this group of kids that got together each week and, with the help of the teacher sponsors, learned how to write songs.

I write songs-- or I used to--but at that point, in the gloomy days right before Christmas 2013, it had been at least two years, maybe more, since I'd put pen to paper.  I never felt like I had the time. Or the energy.  Or the inspiration.  And anyways, what's the point?

One of the first things depression steals from you, I've since learned, is your ability to find joy in things that were, once-upon-a-time, joyful.  I've come to take this as a bit of a heart-barometer for me: when things that should be giving me joy feel like drudgery, it's time to take stock and/or a breather. But this is now, and that was then, and like I say, my daughter mentioned the songwriters club at school and I thought, "Man, it feels like ages since I've even wanted to write a song, let alone had something to write about."

And so I told my daughter that I'd be interested in volunteering at the club, if the teachers would let me.  She said she'd ask at school that day.

Things progressed for me pretty quickly from there, as far as my burnout was concerned.  My "reduced work duties" turned into a full-on stress leave. A lot of things came crashing down that I'd been clinging to, to keep me standing; some of my favorite masks to wear came off; and some of the emotional immaturity that I'd been trying hard to hide for a long time finally came out into the light.

But also: I started volunteering at the songwriter's club, where I found the energy, the time, and especially the inspiration to start writing songs again.  Not to sound too melodramatic, but in the midst of my defeat and despair--often because of my defeat and despair--I found something to sing about, and more importantly, the words to sing about it.

I didn't see it coming, but those three months, January to March, 2014, would turn out to be one of the most creative seasons of my life.  It was not a bright cheery kind of creativity, mind you.  It was often a raw, unpolished, haunted kind of creativity, but because of that, a more honest creativity than I'd ever really experienced before.  The songs didn't necessarily gush out of me--I was still very tired a lot of the time--but even so, I wrote at least twelve complete songs in three months, along with a number of arrangements that I worked on for the kids at my daughter's songwriter's club. Besides that, I also wrote a handful of poems, trying to process what I was going through, and, in the second half of my leave, as I felt my energy and optimism returning, four chapters of a novel that I'd been wanting to get to for years.

I'm sharing all this to illustrate one of the paradoxical truths I discovered about burnout.  I haven't done an quantitative study of it, of course, so I can't say if this is true for everyone who goes through it, but it was certainly true for me (and for the record, most of the books on pastoral burnout that I've read more or less bear out this simple observation):  burnout doesn't only steal; it also gives.

At least, if you take it seriously and get the help you need, it can. Burnout can be a profound gift-- a gift wrapped in barbed-wire, you might say, but a gift nonetheless.

I say this as someone who's been through it, and not at all to make light of the struggle, the darkness, the very real risk to your well-being that is burnout; but as someone who has been through it, I don't want to make light of the gift that's there, either.

What, in particular, did burnout give me?  I mentioned the renewed and deepened wells of creativity.  I'd add to that: greater authenticity and transparency in my ministry; better insight as a pastor into the spiritual and emotional struggles of others; greater wisdom in how to love and help and respond to people as they go through them; more real friendships; a deeper relationship with my wife; empirical evidence that God will be there still, on the other side of the dark night of the soul.

It may be that burnout is just a conceptual thing for you today, something you've only read about but never experienced.  It may be that you've come through burnout yourself, and what I'm saying is resonating with you here.  And, of course, it may be that you're right in the middle of something overwhelming today, like I was back in December 2013, and you're wondering if it could possibly get better.

If you're in that third place, let me say that it can.  It will mean taking it very seriously and getting the help you need, it will take honesty and discipline and, especially, God stepping in, but it can become, not just better, but, when you least expected it to be so, an unlikely and beautiful gift.



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