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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.

Polishing Up My Proverbs 16 Crown of Glory (Part VI): Johnny Cash and the Gifts of Old Age

I am not a huge Johnny Cash fan (though after reading this blog series on the theology of Johnny Cash, I gotta say: my esteem and curiosity both have been piqued).  There is a Johnny Cash song, however, that I think about a fair bit.  It was the last song he ever recorded, after some 50 years as a performer, and all the volatile victories and hard losses that “the Man in Black” lived through in that time.  It’s a cover of the Trent Reznor song, “Hurt.”

I am not a huge Trent Reznor fan, either, but I do know that he was the controversial front man for a hard-rock act named Nine Inch Nails, and the song “Hurt” was the last song on their 1994 album The Downward Spiral.  Whole album is a painful record of Reznor’s despairing life-reflections, shot through with themes of violence, nihilism and social deviance.  In Reznor’s own words, it’s about “somebody systematically throwing off every layer of what he’s surrounded with ... from personal relationships, to religion to questioning the whole situation.”

And like I say, this exploration of the end of all things good and bright culminates with a song called “Hurt,” a transparent lament that confesses all Reznor’s spiritual failings: deceit, drugs, destruction, self-injury.  It opens with the line, “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel / I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.”  Later in the song he says: “And you could have it all / my empire of dirt / I will let you down / I will make you hurt.”

It’s all very dark stuff, but the very last line—the album’s final word after spiraling downward for a full 65 minutes and 2 seconds—is this haunting phrase: “If I could start again / a million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way.” Now: I admit it’s pretty faint, barely audible maybe, and I doubt Reznor himself would put this word to it, but in this final breath at the end of the album, he seems to be asking about “redemption.”

And this is where, interestingly, Johnny Cash comes in.  Because in 2003, at the age of 71, Johnny Cash covered “Hurt.”  And, while he did it in classic Johnny Cash style, still he stayed faithful to the original, with the exception of just one word. There’s a line in the song that uses a synonym for human excrement that rhymes with “spit.”  It goes: “I wear my crown of (rhymes with spit) upon my liar’s chair / full of broken thoughts / I cannot repair.”  Cash took that obscene, filthy “crown” and replaced it with this phrase:  “I wear my crown of thorns upon my liar’s chair.”  A crown of thorns for a crown of s**t.

Here’s Johnny Cash’s video for “Hurt.”  It’s interspersed with footage from his life and career: his own empire of dirt.  The video ends, poignantly, tellingly, soberly, with a scene of the crucifixion of Christ:  Cash offers that name as the answer to this hurting cry for redemption.

Cash’s one-word edit to “Hurt” becomes especially poignant, telling and sobering, if you know anything about the downward spiral that was part of his own journey (and even though I’m not a huge fan, still, I’ve heard the legends).   My friend John Coutts puts it like this: “In his version of ‘Hurt,’ Cash isn’t sugar-coating the gospel ... He simply offered his life on the public stage, called it an empire of dirt ... changed one word and pointed instead to the crown of thorns and to the Christ who gave himself to us, and for us.”

There is something really powerful going on here, I think, in Cash’s choice to make Reznor’s “Hurt” his final act.   At the MTV music video awards, “Hurt” received 6 nominations, including “video of the year.”  When Reznor himself saw it, he said: “the song isn't mine anymore. .. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone.  [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era...”

As I continue to develop a biblical theology of aging, I find Reznor’s words especially haunting and compelling.  Could this be, in the end, one of the great gifts of the old to the community of faith—offering up their stories in a way that helps the young reinterpret the music of their lives, by seeing it through the eyes of a radically different era?


It was certainly Johnny Cash’s gift to his community.

In an article about Cash’s musical legacy among the young, Touchstone Magazine said this about the “Hurt” video and its impact at the MTV Video Awards: “The face of Johnny Cash reminded this generation that he has tasted everything the youth cultures of multiple decades has to offer—and found there a way that leads to death. ... Nine Inch Nails delivered ‘Hurt’ as straight nihilism, but Cash gives it a twist—ending the video at the cross.  Because for him, the cross is the only answer to the inevitability of suffering and pain.”

Of course, only one who has tried the cross through a long life of faithful following, decade after uncertain decade—plumbed its depths to Hell and back over the course of many years—can say with the fullest of conviction both that pain is inevitable, and also that the cross is the only answer.  This lived-experience of the cross, too, is the blessing of the very old.

But it's not just that the cross can be trusted; Cash's "Hurt" also assures us that the cross is, in the end, needed. To put it bluntly: aging is the ultimate memento mori.

Touchstone Magazine puts it like this: “In a culture that idolizes the hormonal surges of youth, Cash reminds the young what pop culture doesn’t want them to know: ‘It is appointed to man once to die, and after this the judgement.’  His creviced face and blurring eyes remind them that there is not enough Botox in all of Hollywood to revive a corpse.”

In Psalm 90, the same one that explains how God has set the upper limits of the human life span somewhere around 80 years (90:10), it goes on to pray earnestly and humbly this prayer: "Teach us Lord to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  This prayer God answers, among other ways, by pointing us to those who have gone before us, the aged in the community of faith, and reminding us of where the passage of years inevitably brings us all.

So: whatever else was happening when Johnny Cash played the last note of "Hurt" and quietly closed the piano lid like a coffin for good, that was God, I think, teaching us again to number our days.  Like Johnny Cash, we will all, eventually, reach the end of the empire-building projects that are our lives.  May we, on that day, have the same kind of legacy to share with those who come next as he did: a long lifetime of putting the cross to the test.