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.

Wind in the Belly, a devotional thought

One of the things that makes Hosea stand out among the prophets is the poignancy and vividness of his imagery. Take, for instance this strange but poignant image from Hosea 12: "Ephraim feeds on the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence" (12:1).

In the context here, "feeding on the wind" is Hosea's way of describing Israel's secular and ultimately futile foreign policy. They've cut a treaty with the ruthless Empire of Assyria (12:1b) and they've brokered trade deals with Egypt (12:1c). These efforts to establish peace and security for themselves are empty at best and idolatrous at worst (Egypt, after all, is the tyrannous nation God delivered them out of; and the Emperor of Assyria is a despotic megalomaniac, strutting around like he's the Lord of Heaven and Earth); trusting in deals with the likes of these guys to prosper and protect them really is like chowing down on a plate of "wind" and expecting that to fill you.

But it's more than great poetry (though it is that), it's also rich food for thought: in what ways I might be "feasting on the wind" in my life? I mean, sure, I haven't made any treaties with any ruthless, idolatrous super powers to protect and prosper me, lately, but at the same time, when you think about "the powers" in the Ephesians 6:12 sense of the term-- that is, describing the spiritual dynamic that's sort of always present in every and any aspect of human society and culture-- technology, political structures, media, economics, entertainment, the world-wide-web-- when you think about "the powers" from that angle, well, let's just say there's a lot of "wind" on the menu in the restaurant that is modern North American Society.

May God would give his people a craving for the good, solid, wholesome food that is life with him, and keep us from consuming all those empty calories.

Time Being, a song



I know you, I didn’t think so
But your light came shining through my window
If believing comes only by seeing
I’m watching for the time being

What could I do? Sometimes you sink so
Low your sight plays tricks on you, the shadows
Make believe it’s true. I’m not disagreeing
Just asking for the time being

And for the time being my anchor and my wind
And for the time being you (and me together)
And for the time being I hope it never ends
Until then we can start again, I don’t mind déjà vu

I don’t know you. I used to think so
But tonight it’s all brand new. We don’t know
If we’re leaving soon. There’s no guaranteeing
So hold me for the time being.

Teaching the Gospel of John

I am just wrapping up a great week bible teaching at Arlington Beach Camp in Saskatchewan. We've worked our way through the Gospel of John, using what I call the "helicopter approach" (i.e. touching down on key texts, looking at them closely, and then "lifting off" to see how the same themes/ideas fit into the bigger picture of John's Gospel). I wanted to make the material for this study available in digital form, and figured the blog would be the quickest way.

If you're interested in downloading the Gospel of John material, you can download it by clicking here.

Learning to Walk, a devotional thought

There's this very tender, very poignant passage in Hosea 11, where the prophet is talking about how much God loves his people (Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom of Israel), and he pictures it as a mother or father "taking their child by the arms" and teaching them how to walk. I remember back when my children were learning to walk, how thrilling that was for me, as their parent: holding them by both hands while they wobbled ahead tentatively, and speaking all sorts of encouragement and affirmation over them, as they took every next step. And God says to Ephraim-- and through Ephraim, to us-- "I was like that with you, as you learned to walk in the spiritual life, holding you lovingly and calling you on in those next teetering steps, and the next, and the next, till you could do it on your own (and even then, I didn't let you go)."

I've been walking for a while now-- so long that I can't really remember a time when I couldn't--but Hosea 11:3 prompts me to remember those times when it was all wobbly and brand new-- life as a Christian-- and every spiritual step was a milestone and a triumph and an adventure all at once.

We must remember how he held us by the hands while we learned to walk, like that, because the problem in Hosea, is that God's People have forgotten. They figure they learned to walk on their own. "You did not realize" God goes on to say in verse 3, "that it was I who healed you." Suddenly, learning to walk has transformed into deep spiritual healing (because, after all, that's what was really happening when you were learning to walk with Jesus: you were being healed, even if you didn't realize it).  May God will keep us all from falling into Ephraim's trap, the trap of thinking I'm a self-taught walker when it comes to spiritual things, instead of acknowledging myself as a God-healed toddler.

Mighty Warrior (The Lord is With You), a song

Another song from my most recent recording project, inversions.  I actually wrote the lyrics almost 20 years ago, and stumbled across them last summer in an old note book.  The tune needed major overhauling, but here's what I was left with after more than a little re-working.  Special thanks to my daughters for lending me their flute and clarinet on the fills, and my son for his chops on the cajon!



The Lord is with you Mighty Warrior
The Lord is with you Gideon
And even though you hide your heart,
Like grain in the winepress
And even though you think yourself
The weakest and the smallest
The Lord is with you mighty Warrior

The Lord is with you restless Jacob
The Lord is with you Isaac’s Son
And even though you wrestle with him,
Striving till the daybreak
And in your brokenness you beg
A blessing for the heartache
The Lord is with you restless Jacob

Because your weakness
Is his power and your foolishness
Is his grace
The Lord is with you mighty warrior
Though you shrink from his embrace
And he will clothe you with his Spirit
He will arm you with his love
The Lord is with you mighty warrior
He will guard you from above

The Lord is with you barren Hannah
The Lord is with you empty one
And even though you whisper dreams
In the shadow of the altar
And even though you lift your prayer,
Till your voice starts to falter
The Lord is with you barren Hannah

Because your weakness
Is his power and your foolishness
Is his grace
The Lord is with you mighty warrior
Though you shrink from his embrace
And he will clothe you with his Spirit
He will arm you with his love
The Lord is with you mighty warrior
He will guard you from above

Ripe for Idol-Making, a devotional thought

There's this place in Hosea 10 that makes me wonder about the strange connection between prosperity and idolatry. In Hosea 10:1 God brings this indictment against his people: "You're like a spreading vine," he says, "and as your fruit increased, you increased your (idolatrous) altars; as your land prospered, you adorned your (idolatrous) sacred stones."

There is something counter-intuitive in all this. One would think that the more fruitful the land and the more prosperous the people, the more they would worship the God who prospered them; and yet, as far as Hosea is concerned, the exact opposite actually happens.

Idol-making, it seems, flourishes in direct proportion to the flourishing of the people, and the more "fruitful" they are, the more likely they are to fall into idolatry.

There is something very sobering in this for North American Christians. Could it really be that the more cushy our circumstances, the more likely we are to worship (give our time, money, attention, energy and heart-focus to...) things other than God? There's a warning in there, too, I think for "successful churches" (i.e. churches flourishing by human measurements). Could it be that as a church's material prosperity increases, so too does its potential for idol-making?

I'm not sure if these are rhetorical questions or not, but they are certainly the questions Hosea 10 leaves me with.

The Longing of His Heart, a devotional thought

There's this place in Hosea 7:13 where God bears his soul to us, so to speak, showing us the inner longings of his heart with a tenderness and a transparency that should stop us in our tracks. Throughout the chapter, he's been grieving the spiritual rebellion of his people. They've rejected his Way; they're counting on foreign alliances to prosper them rather than trusting in him; and they're worshipping hand-made things instead of enjoying life with him. And then in verse 13, he gives us a little glimpse of his heart for us: "I would redeem them," it says, "but they speak lies against me." The NIV's translation is even more poignant: "I long to redeem them, but they speak lies against me."

God, it turns out, is passionate about redemption, longing to be the redeemer God in our lives. And one of the things that keeps us from experiencing him like this, it seems, is holding to an untrue, inaccurate or self-deceptive view of him. To be redeemed is to be set free from God-lies--the false perceptions of God that we cling to because they're easier, because they're safer, because they're ours to control, or whatever the reason--and in order to be redeemed, Hosea would add, we must let go of these things. To let God be God as God is, our own human limitations on what a god can or can't do or be damned-- this is, perhaps, a scary way to be sometimes; but it is also, I think, a path to the deepest kind of life with him.