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.

On Playing Calvinball in Church

Richard Beck is a Christian Psychologist who teaches at Abilene Christian University in Texas. His blog, Experimental Theology is one of my favorite stars in the blogosphere, and I seldom come away from it without having a few thoughts, or more, provoked. Some of his ideas—like the one about the connections between Christian Hospitality and the Circle of Kindness, for instance—or the one on the theological meaning of monsters—have even found their way into a sermon or two of my own (always, of course, with due reference).

One of his posts, in particular, has stuck with me for years now, and I’ve gone back to it more than once as I’ve thought through various aspects of church life and ministry. Back in 2008, he did a theological analysis of The Complete Works of Calvin and Hobbes (yes, Calvin and Hobbes. This is the sort of off the wall musings that has so endeared me to his work). The whole series is worth reading (click here), but the one that especially resonated with me was the post in which he draws some theological connections between the Church and Calvinball.

It may be that you’re not a Calvin and Hobbes aficionado, so this may take a bit of back story. “Calvinball” is a game Calvin invents after one too many little-league humiliations.


As a self-avowed artist growing up with two brothers who were far more athletic than me, I have always identified with Calvin’s experience of alienation, discomfort and outright rejection whenever he tries to enter the world of organized sports. Which is why, perhaps, Calvinball has always struck a funny bone of mine.

Calvinball is Calvin’s alternative to organized sports, because, as Hobbes likes to point out, no game is less organized than Calvinball. It has only two rules. Rule #1: It may never be played the same way twice; and Rule #2: You make up all the other rules as you go.

Here’s some footage of a game underway:


The connection between Calvinball and Church life may not be immediately clear, but Richard Beck suggests that, as an alternative to the world of organized sports, Calvinball is perhaps as good a metaphor as any for the Church, as an alternative community to the communities of the World.

“You start to see some really profound things when you compare the world of Calvinball to the world of organized sports,” He argues. “Organized Sport is...a competitive world where rules govern the engagement; a world that creates winners at the expense of losers, and encourages scapegoating (since someone has to be to blame). By contrast, Calvinball is... a relational world... where trust structures the engagement; ... it’s a win-win, joy-filled game ... that enhances community.”

In Beck’s analysis, “Calvinball is based on trust and friendship. Enemies can’t play Calvinball; you’d just have too much control over the other person. With winners and losers and adversarial dynamics in play it comes as no surprise that people are scapegoated in organized games. But the world of Calvinball fosters community. There are no losers, and thus no scapegoats, among friends.”

Well, anyone who’s a Leafs fan probably wishes that were true in organized sport, too. But this is the point where I’m stopped dead in my theological tracks, because Beck goes on to say: “I think we see in Calvinball an analogy for what was observed in the early Christian Church... The Greek term that I’m thinking of is the word koinonia...”

Koinonia may be as unfamiliar to you as Calvinball, so I should explain. It means “fellowship” literally, but the way it gets used in the New Testament, it means far more than simply “hanging out with good friends”. The standard “go-to” definition is found in Acts 2:42, where it’s describing the community of the very first church and it says,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The sharing and celebration and mutual support and positive regard that you see at work there, that’s koinonia. It’s a kind of trust-based, joy-filled togetherness that’s maybe better illustrated by a good game of Calvinball, than it is by anything else. At least, if Richard Beck’s on to something, it is. “It might be a stretch to connect Calvinball with Acts 2:42,” he says, “but let’s go with it... Calvinball and the church represent a kind of ‘coming out’ of a world of competition and adversarialness. Both represent a place where a new kind of game is played... a game built on koinonia rather than competition... a game centred on trust and community and joy.”

I have seen a lot of churches over the years, and a lot of different approaches to doing church. Some churches I’ve seen have been more like a business venture, others more like an ingrown (and sadly dysfunctional) family. Some have been like a circle of wagons, defended from the outside world, and others like a dispenser of religious goods and services.

But I’ll be honest, the kinds of church experiences that I remember most vividly and most positively, the ones where I look back and say, yeah, the Holy Spirit was certainly doing some very remarkable things there, are the ones that had the kind of trust and joy and creativity and grace that tickles the funny bone and sparkles compellingly whenever Calvin and Hobbes get going on a rollicking round of Calvinball.

It may be that this--the degree to which we bring a Calvinballesque spirit to the game--or, if that sounds too trivial, than let me speak more concretely about the degree to which our life together exhibits the characteristics of genuine koinonia--it may be that this measure of success, more than butts in pews or bucks in offering plates or whatever other measure we may be tempted to use--this is the truest indication of what God is really doing in our midst.

At least, as far as Acts 2:42-47 is concerned, if we have koinonia, by God's grace, everything else will follow.

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