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.

Angels Among Us

In the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation, the Risen Jesus dictates a series of prophetic letters to St. John the Divine, addressed to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor: the Church at Ephesus, the Church at Smyrna, the Church at Pergamum, at Thyatira, at Sardis, at Philadelphia and Laodicea. For those even vaguely familiar with the Book of Revelation, this will probably ring some bells. These seven churches are in various stages of success and failure, hopefulness and helplessness, victory and defeat, and Jesus sends them each a letter, warmly commending them for their spiritual victories, tenderly comforting them in their trials, and sternly warning them when it’s needed.

I think about these seven letters to the churches in Revelation a fair bit in my work as a pastor; they come to mind, actually, on a pretty regular basis. It’s not, however, because of the specific content of any individual letter. To be sure, they are among some of the most poetic and compelling passages in the whole New Testament, and I fully trust that the same Jesus who promised the Pergamonian Church a taste of the hidden manna should they overcome, promises to reward the FreeWay’s overcoming in like manner.

But that’s not what draws me to these letters.

It’s this curious observation that I made a few years back and I can’t “unnotice” now that I’ve noticed it: Jesus addresses each letter, not to the “pastor” of the church, or the “over-seer,” or the “elders board” or even the individual congregation. Instead, in each letter he address “the angel of the church.” “To the angel of the church at Ephesus” he says, “write ....”

“To the angel of the church at Smyrna... to the angel of the church in Pergamum ...” and so on.

This is supposed to be a blog post about church ministry, specifically, not angelology, so I won’t delve too deeply here, but it strikes me as all kinds of interesting that, when addressing the trials and triumphs, the struggles and successes, the warp-and-woof of each church’s spiritual life together, Jesus does not address individuals, specific leaders, or even corporate congregations. He addresses the angel of the church.

If you’ve read the work of Walter Wink before, or William Stringfellow, or Hendrikus Berkof, who each write eloquently and insightfully about the “inner” or “invisible” realities that exist in all human efforts to order our life together—from political power structures, to economic system to, even, church institutions—you may see where I’m going with this. There is—the Bible is quite convinced of it—a spiritual life or a spiritual entity (words are difficult here) that becomes evident whenever we structure human life-together.  It emerges from the power structures we erect, and at the same time transcends them. The Bible calls these things Powers and Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, Authorities and Rule. In Colossians we’re told that Christ defeated the Powers and Principalities through the cross (2:15); and in Ephesians were told that Christ is enthroned above them all (1:20); and later in Ephesians we're told that our battle as Christians, is not against flesh and blood but against them (6:15).

The Bible regularly depicts these “Powers and Principalities” in personified ways, as angels and/or demons, variously at work in the world. In saying that, I don’t mean to imply that I take the Bible’s talk of angels and demons as “mere” metaphor, as though there was nothing “real” behind Daniel’s demonic “Prince of Persia” (Dan 10:13) than “simply” the power structures of the Persian Empire. What I am saying is that, as far as the Bible is concerned, the two are intimately connected. The demonic “Prince of Persia,” and the concrete realities of the Persian Empire—the spiritual beings in the heavenly realms and the human power structures that exist on earth—are opposite sides of the same coin. The later are concrete expressions of the former; and the former draw their meaning directly from the later.

I promised I wouldn’t delve too deeply, so let me resurface with this. Put simply: nation states—as human efforts to order our life together—nation states all have an “angel” that exists invisibly, but powerfully, and exerts an invisible but powerful influence over the people who “belong” to that nation state. So do multi-national corporations. And economic systems. And institutions of higher learning. And, as far as the Book of Revelation is concerned, it would seem, so do churches.

There was, in a very real sense, an “angel of the church at Ephesus”—a spiritual entity, a spiritual reality—a spirit—that exists because the church at Ephesus exists, and though it transcends the Ephesian church and exists separately from it, its life is intricately bound up with their life. And so, when Jesus wishes to address the life of that church, even though he has very real, flesh and blood human beings in mind while he’s doing it, he doesn’t address individual leaders or church members. He addresses “the angel of the church at Ephesus.”

There’s an angel of the church at Laodicea, too; and at Sardis, and, if I am reading the Bible right on this one, an angel of the church called FreeWay, at Oshawa.

Every church has its angel.

Anyone who’s ever walked into a church and just sort of knew without being able to put a finger on it, that the “spirit” of this church was dead, or bitter, or vibrant, or reverent—anyone who’s ever been in a church that just couldn’t seem to break through a spirit of failure, or pride, or what have you, no matter how many times they changed the pastor, no matter who moved on or who moved in—anyone who’s ever been in a church where the spirit of the place was full of life and love and joy and before they knew it they were radiating life and love and joy, too—will get what I’m trying to say here.  There is a spirit to every church—every church has, for lack of an even more biblical way of putting it—its angel.

This is why I think about the letters to the churches in Revelation regularly in my work at the FreeWay, because in my more imaginative moments, I wonder: what is the FreeWay’s angel like? Don't worry.  I’m not going new age here, or theologically flaky or dropping off the deep end. I don’t waste much energy on this; but every once in a while, in good Book of Revelation fashion, I wonder.

What does the Angel of the Church called FreeWay look like? (I imagine him as shorter and spunkier alongside the more staid, noble and somber angels of the Heavenly host. His armour of light is held together with duct tape, his wings affixed with chewing gum, and where all the rest of the assembled angels have swords, he has a slingshot protruding from his back pocket...)

More important than what he looks like, though—and this is a question I do spend a fair bit of pastoral energy on—what would Jesus say to the angel of my church, were he to address it the way he addresses the angels of the churches of Asia Minor?

0 comments: