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.

Walk on Water, a song

Another song from my new album, Accidentals, this tune, called "Walk on Water," is a song I wrote the summer my family and I sold everything and moved from Alberta to Saskatchewan so I could study to become a pastor.  It was a real "step out of the boat" moment for me, and the song was my attempt to express both the trepidation and the anticipation I had as we started this new chapter of our journey with Jesus.




I will walk on water,
if you ask me to
I will wander the white waves and
Wade through the storm to walk next to you

I know that you have sent me
Without a wallet or shoes
And though the waves crash around me
I will walk them with you

I will walk on water,
if you ask me to
I will wander the white waves and
Wade through the storm to walk next to you

I know that you have sent me
A lamb surrounded by wolves
I know that you will make
As shrewd as a snake but as pure as a dove

I will walk on water,
if you ask me to
I will wander the white waves and
Wade through the storm to walk next to you

So now, I leave my people
Turn from my home and my land
The road winds narrow and steep, o
But I’m led by your loving hand

Careful What You Ask For, a devotional thought

As we head into the Advent season, preparing for Christmas and all, I thought it might be worth spending some time looking at the opening chapters of Luke, and the stuff God was doing there and then, to get people ready for the birth of his Son.  So, for the next few weeks here at terra incognita, we'll be using the Luke's nativity material for our weekly devotional thoughts.

And it all starts with Luke 1:1-38, and a subtle warning to be careful what you ask for, when it comes to asking God for a sign.   In case you forget the story, or haven't heard it before: in the opening verses of Luke, an angel appears to Zechariah the priest, and tells him he's going to be father to John the Baptist.  Inasmuch as he and his wife are past the age of child-bearing, he finds this hard to believe and asks for a sign (literally, he asks, "how can I be sure of this?")  So Gabriel tells him that he won't be able to speak from that point on, until the child's born "because you did not believe."

Now: I always figured this was sort of a punishment, or a consequence of Zechariah's unbelief, but this morning it struck me that, at the same time, Zechariah's receiving the very thing he asked for: his supernatural muteness is in fact the sign he asked for, that the angel's words will indeed come true.

It got me thinking of times I've asked for a sign from God (recently, in fact, I've been praying this for some particular things in my life...) and it sort of occurred to me that, if and when God responds, if may not be at all what I'm expecting.  The sign may turn out to be something difficult to bear (as Zechariah's muteness must have been for him), and the way God carries me through the difficult thing (whatever it may be) may be the sign that he's up to something big, just round the corner, and his promises are right there on the cusp of being fulfilled.  This is, after all, what Zechariah's muteness was "signifying" for him, that salvation was about to break over horizon of the world.

May we all have the grace and the wisdom to receive the signs of God's good work in my life for what they are, even when they're not easy to bear.

Seven, a song

Here's another song from "Accidentals."  It started as a sort of musical experiment for me; I was trying to write a song in 7/4 time.  Then the significance of the number 7 in the scriptures sort of occurred to me, and I thought: what better topic for a song in 7/4 time, than the number 7 itself?  I posted an older recording of this song a long time ago, with some reflections on musical diversity in worship (you can read those thoughts here).  This is a brand new recording and a slightly more polished arrangement.  Enjoy.



Seven stars in your right hand
Seven lamps at your feet
Seven thunders in the heavens
Seven, the number of your majesty

Seven bowls of your judgment
Seven seals of your mystery
Seven trumpets of your justice
Seven, the number of your victory

Perfect in grace, prime in glory
Holy your name, pure your love

Seven colours in your covenant
Seven seventies your mystery
Seven feasts to remember you
Seven, the number of your love for me

Seven times in the Jordan
Seven times to deliver me
Seven the number of your purity
Seven hours on the cross for me

Perfect in grace, prime in glory
Holy your name, pure your love

Seven, the number of your purity
Seven seals to your mystery
Seven, the number of your victory
Seven hours on the cross for me

Perfect in grace, prime in glory
Holy your name, pure your love

Down to the Last Cent, a devotional thought

Warning, half-baked thoughts ahead.  

Because in my devotions this morning I read that very famous story in Mark about a widow who gives  two pennies into the Temple treasury, while all the rich are giving loonies (essentially), and Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow gave more than all the others, because they gave out of their wealth, but she gave everything she has" (Mark 12:44).

I've read this story before, but today I noticed that it comes right after Jesus has finished denouncing the Teachers of the Law because they "devour widow's houses..." (v.40).  So there's two references to widows back to back.  But there's also two references to Teachers of the Law back to back, because right before Mark 12:40, another Teacher of the Law asks Jesus what's the greatest commandment, and he says, "To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself."

The generous widow here, I think, is not just being held up as an example to *random* rich people (though they are implicated...) She's being held up as an example to the Teachers of the Law, in particular, who who split hairs over which commandment is greatest, and then turn around and violate the first and foremost commandment by gobbling up the homes of the likes of her.... using their wealth and their legalistic righteousness to justify their economic exploitation of others.

Back in verse 29, Jesus told a Teacher of the Law that the most important commandment is to love God and love your neighbour, and here in verse 43, he points out the self-giving of a powerless widow, sitting lowest of all on the socio-economic totem pole, as the best example of what that actually looks like.  But here are some thoughts that bob to the surface when you connect all these dots: if the Teachers of the Law really got it what the greatest commandment *was* (v. 29-3), they wouldn't "devour the homes of the widows" (v.40), would they? And then that widow's two pennies wouldn't be "everything she had to live on."  Would it?  This story is as much a condemnation of spiritual-economic exploitation as it is an exhortation to give generously (probably more so).

Loving God with all your heart is not some abstract, immaterial, touchy-feely type-thing.  It actually looks like that impoverished widow in the Temple treasury that day, literally putting it all on the line with God and trusting him to provide.  But the thing is, if *we all* got that, and did it with her, then she wouldn't be down to her last two pennies, would she?

Miriam Triumphant, a song

Another song from my latest album, "Accidentals."  A song I wrote almost a decade ago about women in ministry and leadership in the life of the church.  I wanted to save it for the International Women's Day, but that's not till March, and I want to celebrate today.  I am grateful to God for the many godly women, past and present, that he has given his church as examples of what it means to be a courageous, Spirit-fulled, fully devoted follower of Jesus.





You are, you are Miriam Triumphant,
Dancing before the congregation
Leading God’s people in a song of victory
The horse and rider fell into the sea

You are, you are Deborah the valiant
Calling God’s people to the battle
Leading his captains in a march of victory
Judging from your sea beneath the tree

Let the daughters of our Father shout Hallelujah!
Let the children of our God say amen
Let the handmaids of the master usher in his kingdom
Let His spirit on our sons and daughters
Pour out in abundance
Let His vision fill the eyes of our women and our men
Let the children of our God say amen

You are, you are Mary in the morning
Seeking the tomb with your spices
Finding him shining in the light of victory
Proclaiming the news for all to see

You are, you are Phoebe the servant
Working with the gospel of salvation
A sister, commended with the light of victory
Sent by God to set the captives

Let the daughters of our Father shout Hallelujah!
Let the children of our God say amen
Let the handmaids of the master usher in his kingdom
Let His spirit on our sons and daughters
Pour out in abundance
Let His vision fill the eyes of our women and our men

Let the children of our God say amen

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained, a devotional thought

Mark 10:29-30 is one of those verses I think about a lot: whatever sacrifices you've made for the sake of the Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, whether it be houses, property, family, friends, reputation or a secure future, God will pay you back 100 times in this life (with persecution) and with eternity in the life to come. 

The part that makes me think is how he says, they'll receive their sacrifices back one-hundred-fold in this life, not just in the life to come. I wonder what he means here. I get the idea that God will repay our sacrifices on the other side of eternity, but how in this life? Is it even right for us to expect repayment in this life? The best I can make of this verse is that, inasmuch as the sacrifices he's described have to do with one's place in community--family, friends, reputation, wealth, and so on--the 100-fold repayment he's talking about must be the alternate community that God offers us in the Gospel: the friends in Christ, the family in Christ, the reputation in Christ and the wealth in Christ that is our through our life in the Church, regardless the persecutions that come from the world.

This makes sense, but doesn't make it any easier. Because instead of wondering "how will God reward our sacrifices in this life?" it gets me wondering a deeper, even harder thing: is the community I'm part of really a 100-times-better swap for worldly friends, family, wealth and status? I mean: would people counting the cost of following Christ look at what's going on in my community of faith, and really say, "yeah, that's more than ample repayment for what I'd have to give up"?  And, hot on the heels of that wondering comes this: what's my role (by the Spirit) in making it so?

Little Country Church, a song

Almost 20 years ago now, my wife Dani and I woke up one Sunday morning in January, looked at each other and said, "Maybe we should try going to church today..."  It was the last day of Christmas holidays, and the next day I would be going back to my job as an English teacher at the local High School; I had been drifting, spiritually, for a lot of years, and feeling especially overwhelmed by work.  We were expecting our first child, and, like Dani put it, "When this little life starts asking serious questions, we need to have good answers."  

Anyways, it was maybe a convalescence of a lot factors, not to mention the mysterious and inexorable Hand of Providence, leading us, unawares, by our young and uncertain hands, but for whatever the reason, we felt that morning that church just might make the difference we needed in our lives. Twenty years and counting, later, I can honestly say it did, it has; not just the church, of course, but the God we met there.  It was a little country church in a small town in north-eastern Alberta called "Two Hills Fellowship Chapel" (the two hills in questions was the name of the town) and even today when I hear the expression "salt of the earth," my mind goes inevitably to the folks we met there, who loved us and introduced us to Jesus and discipled us in his Ways.  

This is a song I wrote the summer we moved away from Two Hills, back in 2004, when we finally answered God's call on our lives to go into full time ministry.  The country and western style is a bit of a stylistic departure for me, but I felt it was apropos to the subject matter.  I'm sharing it today as the fifth song on my most recent recording project, "accidentals," but also, and more importantly, as a big, thankful shout-out to all the brothers and sisters in Christ at Two Hills Fellowship Chapel.  God used you all powerfully in my life and I am deeply grateful.





There’s a little church in a little town in a place where two hills meet
And though it’s been a while now, it’s in my memory
The wall were framed for fellowship, they rest upon the rock
The foundation of salvation found in God’s Holy Book
And every Sunday morning rings the bell they raised by hand
From the steeply built with care and love as a beacon in the land

I thank God for that little church, where the preacher preached the word
Where the people worked hand in hand , serving their Lord
Where the Old Time Religion still set the captives free
If it wasn’t for that little church, God knows where I’d be

And the preacher in that little church is resolved to know one thing
That’s Jesus Christ the crucified and resurrected King
And he studies to present himself, approved and unashamed
A workman with the word of truth, proclaiming Jesus’ name
For every Sunday morning when that Holy Book is read
Broken hearts were bound up and hungry hearts were fed

I thank God for that little church, where the preacher preached the word
Where the people worked hand in hand , serving their Lord
Where the Old Time Religion still set the captives free
If it wasn’t for that little church, God knows where I’d be

On a snowy day in January, I first walked through those doors
Not knowing one day I’d walk out, changed forever more
For the living stones that built that church were the world’s salt and light
And they showed me how to find my place in the body of Christ
For every Sunday morning my heart softened bit by bit
Until the living water came and saturated it

I thank God for that little church, where the preacher preached the word
Where the people worked hand in hand , serving their Lord
Where the Old Time Religion still set the captives free
If it wasn’t for that little church, God knows where I’d be

And like a lighthouse on a rock, it glimmers in the night
While the tide of darkness rises with the waning light
And like a haven for the broken, wearied from the fight
Where spirits trade their weakness for the power of Jesus’ might

I thank God for that little church, where the preacher preached the word
Where the people worked hand in hand , serving their Lord
Where the Old Time Religion still set the captives free
If it wasn’t for that little church, God knows where I’d be