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.

Ecclesia Ludens, the Church at Play

There’s an obscure, somewhat bizarre episode in the Book of Acts that crosses my mind every once in a while when I’m deep in the thick of ministry at the FreeWay. It’s the story of Paul and the Seven Sons of Sceva.

In case this one wasn’t included in your Sunday School flannel graphs, let me give you the background. During the course of his missionary journeys, Paul arrives in Ephesus, where there is a septet of Jewish brothers going around performing exorcisms for hire. These seven “sons of Sceva” get a load of the miracles Paul’s performing in Jesus’ name, so they decide to give it a try. “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches,” they intone over their next demonized client, “I abjure you to come out!” And the result looks something like a cross between WWF and Monty Python:
The evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and ... gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.  Acts 19:16
Now: when I say that this episode crosses my mind sometimes during ministry, I should clarify. It has nothing to do with the beating these guys get for trying to capitalize on Jesus’ name; and it’s not because anyone has ever run out of any of my services bleeding. It’s not even because it involves a failed attempt at casting out an evil spirit.

It’s only because it’s—well—if you can get past some of the cultural baggage here—evil spirits, random acts of cudgelling, seven dudes fleeing a house “naked and bleeding,” and what not—if you can let those things simply exist as they might have in their original, first century context—it is a funny story.

At least it was meant to be so, I think. Seven bumbling exorcists who don’t know Jesus from Adam get a royal whooping from the evil spirit they’re trying to exorcise because they misused the name of Jesus, with the ironic effect that the evil spirit, who surely has no vested interest in upholding Jesus' name, ends up pointing out just how precious and sacred and powerful it truly is. Okay: it’s not Corner Gas material, maybe; no sides got split in my telling of the tale, I’m sure, but still, the more I think about it, the more I think Luke, the author of Acts, wants this little episode to crack a pious but genuine smile on the faces of his readers.

Not that I’d recommend the majority of his work, but the guy who runs the Brick Testament website maybe got this one right, presenting it in the medium of a Lego diorama. It sort of does sound like what you’d get if a 10-year-old boy were to come up with a Bible story. Lots of action, a few good fisticuffs, and a eyebrow-arching guffaw at the end: “And he gave them such a licking they fled the house naked and bleeding!”

And this why I think about it every once and a while at the FreeWay, because it suggests to me that, for all its seriousness and eternal import—and make no mistake, ministry is serious and of eternal import—but even in the midst of all that, there is something to ministry that was meant very much to be, for lack of a better word, fun.

This isn’t an exegetical hill I’m ready to die on yet, but I wonder if a passage like Acts 19:13-16, the one about the seven beaten sons of Sceva, was written especially for church leaders who've let church life wring out of them the ability let themselves go with a good-natured, whole-hearted laugh. Or for church communities so burdened with the weight of glory that life together is no longer life-giving. Or for Christians who don’t really think, actually, that the Christian life has space in it for a healthy sense of humour.

It’s not just in Acts 19:13-16, either, that we see Luke throw a sideways glance at his audience with a wry grin that sort of says, “There is, in fact, some very holy fun, going on here, for anyone who wants to get in on the action.” In Acts 12, for instance, you get the one about Peter, escaped from prison, who goes to the house where they’re praying earnestly for his release, and the servant girl is so flummoxed to see him there that she forgets to let him in and no one will believe her that he’s at the door. In Acts 20 you get the one about poor old Eutychus, who fell asleep in the window because Paul’s sermon was so long-winded (the original long-sermon joke...) Acts is peppered, actually, with funny scenes once you start to look for them.

I should clarify. In calling these things “fun” or “funny,” I don’t mean to trivialize the things of God, or to suggest we should handle them flippantly or foolishly. C. S. Lewis has a great letter in The Screwtape Letters where he unpacks humour theologically, and suggests that there is a very important place for “the Joke Proper,” as a channel and expression of Christian Joy, that there is such a thing as a godly joke, and that laughter is not only spiritual healthy, but has all kinds of potential to be redemptive and worshipful if we’ll let it be so.

That’s the kind of funny I’m trying to get at here. And that’s the kind of fun, I think, that church ministry should include: the “funny” that is willing to watch the greatest made the least and the last made the first, and bubble up with laughter because it’s happening—the “funny” that is humble enough to laugh even at itself— the “funny” that views all things, our trials and our accomplishments, in the clarifying light of eternity, where most of the things you take so seriously will turn out not to be nearly so serious as you take them to be.

We laugh a fair bit at the FreeWay. Jokes get told at board meetings all the time. No small amount of play happens during the Sunday morning set up. Our worship team banters with one another between every other song during Thursday evening practice. And when I hear it, or see it, or join in it—the fun, that is—sometimes I think: I bet Luke would get the joke here; and other times I think: I bet Jesus is laughing with us, on this one.

That’s me with my guard down. The straight-laced theologian in me wants to put it like this: in addition to our understanding of the church as Ecclesia Apostlica (the Apostolic Church), and Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (the church always reforming), we must come to understand her, too, as Ecclesia Ludens.  The church at play.

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