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

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

random reads

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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