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

random reads

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

Screwtape Proposes a Toast, C. S. Lewis

On Pirate Tatoos and Christian Maturity, a baptism homily

Hebrews 6: 1-3: Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.3 And God permitting, we will do so.

Of course one of the things that always happens, or a least, it should happen when we witness a baptism, is that it reminds us of our own baptism. Myself, I was 12 years old when I was baptised. And, it’s interesting, even though that was 29 years ago now, I still have a number of very vivid memories that stand out in my mind from that day.

I remember, for instance, that that a kindly old guy in our church wanted to give me a gift—it was a little Bible and some candy—to say congratulations after the service. And that would have been nice, but he accidentally gave it to my brother instead of me.

There were three Harris boys, and we all sort of looked the same to him. He came right up to us, while we were all standing together, and he gave Shane the gift, and said some really kind things about how proud he was of him for taking this step of obedience and so on, and gave him a big hand shake. And neither Shane nor myself had the guts to tell him, that, actually, it was me, who got baptized.

As I recall, Shane split the gift with me later on. I got the Bible and he got the candy. Well—I’m not sure if that’s how that part went, for sure.

But I am sure of this memory: because my most distinct memory of the day was that, earlier on, at school that day, someone had drawn a skull-and-cross-bones pirate tattoo on my shoulder. In permanent ink. We were just goofing off at school and he thought it would be a funny gag. And I didn’t think about it afterwards—when I was trying vainly to scrub said pirate tattoo off—that I would have to stand up in front of the whole church in a tee-shirt. And everyone would see my pirate tattoo. And like—what if they think I’m actually a pirate or something. Or what if the pastor decides to call the whole thing off because—well—I never—this kid thinks he can be baptized with that drawn on his arm?

Seriously: that was my big anxiety of the day. What if someone sees my phoney pirate tattoo and thinks maybe I’m not baptizable, because of it.

Now: I’ve told this story before, I realize. It’s actually one of my best baptism stories, to be honest. And I’m telling it again today, because, well, because I think it actually illustrates one of the points that the author of the Book of Hebrews is trying to make here today—the point is: listen: we all of us, always, have to mature into our baptism.

That’s the point I want to make today, anyway: we all of us, always have to mature into our baptism.

You see: as a twelve year old kid, someone might have looked at my twelve year old concerns that day—my worries over a childish skull and cross bones tattoo, and sort of rolled their eyes, you know, given the profound, spiritual thing that was happening that day, as I stood in the water and followed Jesus in his own baptism—united with him, is how the Bible says it—buried with him in baptism and raised to the new life of a Christian. I mean, really: given the weight, and the depth and the significance of that event, I was worried about a little ink on my arm, of all things?

But here’s the thing: I mean: sure, at 12 I didn’t get the full significance of what was happening in that moment, but really at 41, now, I’m not sure I get it yet, either, the full significance of what a baptism is. I am still learning what it means to be united with Christ by faith, and how baptism not only symbolizes my union with him, but also, in some mysterious way, it also participates in it. And I’m still discovering aspects to what exactly it was that God was doing in me and through me and to me that day when his Spirit prompted something in my spirit and said, do this thing. Receive this sign. Repent and be baptized.

Do you follow? I mean: I have matured a lot since my 12-year-old pirate days, but even so, I am still maturing into the meaning of my baptism. We all of us, always, need to.

I’m saying that partly because, whether or not it was true for me, it was certainly true for the followers of Jesus that the writer of the Book of Hebrews is writing to here. How does he say it: “Let us leave aside the basic, elementary teachings about Christ, and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance ... and of faith in God ... and instructions about baptisms and the laying on of hands.”

Now: this is a complicated passage, and this is a baptism devotional, not a full on sermon, so I’m not going to have time to unpack the whole thing here, but for our purposes today, let me just say this.

Hebrews was written to a bunch of Jewish Christians in the early church who were being persecuted for their faith. The non-Christian Jews in their day, in particular, were coming after them because they had abandoned their Jewish traditions and were claiming Jesus as their Messiah.

And things were hard for these Christians, back then. Really hard. And many of them were thinking of abandoning Christianity and going back to their old religion. Some of them actually had abandoned Christianity.

And the author of this Book is just trying to say: listen, if you want to stand firm, and hang on to your faith when the going gets tough ... if you want to make it through this or that trial... well ... the way to do that is to mature into the meaning of the life you embraced when you were baptised.

Leave aside the basic elementary teachings about Christ, not laying again the foundation ... that’s his way of saying, look: don’t stay there, stuck with the Sunday-School pat answers and the Veggie Tales music videos or what have you—move on from those elementary teachings and into maturity. Mature into the meaning of (what does he say?) the meaning of your repentance, mature into the meaning of your faith in God.

Mature into the meaning of your baptism.

And let’s remember: He’s not talking to 12 year-old pirates about to be baptised there. He’s talking to grown up Christians who have been baptised. Maybe years and years ago. And he’s telling them: listen: you need to move on from the basics of the faith and mature into the meaning of your baptism.

If it feels like I’m flogging this horse to death today, it’s only because, well: it’s partly because sometimes I get asked, especially by parents, whether or not someone—especially a child, let’s say—whether or not they are “ready” for baptism. And usually when I’m asked this the idea is: does the candidate fully grasp the meaning of what’s happening? Do they “get it”? Are they “ready” in that sense?

And I guess, if I’m reading Hebrews right here today, I guess the answer to that question is: well: none of us ever fully grasp the meaning of baptism, no matter how much we might think we know when it happens to us. You weren’t ready, really for your baptism when it happened, and all of us, actually, have to mature into the meaning of this symbol.

But the other reason I’m flogging the horse, if it feels like I’m flogging a horse, is because, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but: I think it’s very easy for Christians not to mature into the meaning of their baptism.

I think sometimes we see baptism as a point of arrival rather than a point of departure, if you follow me ... the end point of a journey rather than the starting point of a journey. There is this tendency among Christians that I’ve noticed, where we sort of look at baptism as this thing that’s either separate from our growing in Jesus, or else it’s something that finishes off our growing in Jesus. Like, you know, after I’ve been baptized, as a Christian, then I’ve arrived.

And I guess, the thing is: that’s not how the writers of the New Testament saw it. They saw it as the start of journey, not the completion of the journey. It was something you matured into, spiritually speaking, not something that showed how spiritually mature you were.

You with me? Well, if not, or maybe as a way of illustrating this, let me put it like this: how many of you were baptised as part of your journey with Jesus. If you were ever baptised, maybe stand up for a moment.

And stay standing, and let me—well—first let me say that it was sort of a trick question—because none of you were baptised. At least, that’s not the best way to say it: because to say I was baptised is to put the emphasis on a past event, isn’t it? Something that happened in the past but doesn’t, necessarily impact the present in any meaningful way.

You say: what do you mean Pastor Dale?

And I’d say: well: what if, instead of saying I was baptised. You said: I am baptised? My baptism is not something that happened at some point in past and has no impact on my day to day present—but it is, actually, a present reality?

What would change for you, if you said that instead? I am baptised?

And when spiritual trials come along that threaten to derail your faith—because spiritual trials will come along, and they will threaten to derail your faith—what if you said: I am baptised—united Christ in his death on the cross?

And when old habits were hard to break and old ways of thinking were hard to unlearn—because some habits will be hard to break and some thought patterns will be hard to learn—what if you said: I am baptised—raised with him to live a new life?

And when God calls you to try new things for him and they’re risky and they’re uncertain and they take sacrifice—because some of the things he asks you to do will be risky and the will take sacrifice—what if you said: I am baptised—dead to the old and alive to the new, clothed with Christ and a child of God through faith in him.

Well: I don't know if those trials or challenges or sacrifices or risks will be easier, necessarily, but I do know this: if you allowed the meaning of your baptism to impact your present reality, today-- whatever else happened as you did, I think you'd be doing what the author of Hebrews is asking us to do: you'd be maturing into the meaning of this beautiful, mysterious symbol.

And God permitting, let's all do just that.  Amen.

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