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.

An Ancient Path for a Modern World (II): Fasting

Sometime in the second century AD, the Roman Governor of Asia, a guy named Arrius Antonius, encountered one of the strangest cases of his political career.

A group of Christians asked him to execute them.

Now, at this point in history, early in the second century AD, Christianity was still an illegal religion. The Christians refused to worship Caesar, so officially being a Christian was a capital offense, punishable by death.  But many of the Roman governors didn’t enforce this law too strictly.  Don’t get me wrong, they found Christianity to be a strange, distasteful movement that they didn’t know much about and didn’t think much of, but still, they didn’t want to shed innocent blood for no good reason.

Antonius was one such governor.  He was pretty lax, it seems, when it came to enforcing the anti-Christian laws.  He must have been, because one of the things history remembers him for is that time, like I say, when a bunch of Christians came to him asking him to execute them.

But, you gotta understand:  the early church considered martyrdom—the honor of actually dying for the Lord Jesus Christ—to be the highest privilege of the Christian life.  They called it “the crown of martyrdom,” and as far as they were concerned, there was no crown more glorious.  So you can imagine if, let’s say, if a governor like Antonius was denying Christians this highest honour, it’s no surprise, maybe, that a handful of Christians came to him and demanded that he do his civic duty and have them executed.

Antonius, the history books tell us, was flummoxed.  He actually did have a few of them executed—I think he was hoping this would maybe cool their jets a bit—but it didn’t so he turned to the rest and said the one line that even Wikipedia remembers him for, 2000 years later:  “You wretches,” he said, “If you want to die, don’t you have cliffs or ropes you can use?”

This would actually become a growing problem for the early church—Christians who were so on fire for Jesus that they went around actively seeking martyrdom.  Eventually the church would make a pretty sharp distinction between Christians who died as a result of genuine persecution, and those who went out looking for death.  Only the first kind counted, they said.

But the problem (if you want to call it a problem) was that, as Christianity became more and more mainstream—I mean, by 313 AD it had become the offical religion of Rome—as it became mainstream, real genuine martyrdoms were harder and harder to come by.

It became such a problem, that sometime around 400 AD, a guy named Saint Jerome suggested that there could be two kinds of martyrdom—a “red martyrdom” where you actually literally died for Christ—but in place of that a Christian could have a “white martyrdom.”  In a White Martyrdom, you didn’t literally die, but you took on some special vow that amounted to a spiritual “death-to-self.” White martyrdoms might include things like joining a monastery, becoming a hermit, stuff like that.

This idea caught on.  One of the earliest recorded sermons we have from Medieval Ireland comes from around the 7th Century.  It’s called the Cambrai Sermon, and it adds a third color to the colors of martyrdom: you could have a red martyrdom, where you actually, literally bled for Christ; you could have a white martyrdom, where you took on some life-long vow of piety.  But, for everyday folk like you and me, who still want to die for Christ but don’t have these options available, you could have a Green Martyrdom.

A Green martyrdom was a particular act of self-denial, where you died, spiritually, in the moment, you died to the desires of the self, so that you could live more fully and freely for Christ.

And this brings me, at last, to the point of this post, because one of the main forms of Green Martyrdom (there were others, to be sure, but this was one of the main ones), was fasting. Intentionally going without food—or in some cases, certain kinds of food—intentionally going without for a limited, specified period of time, so that the body’s hunger teaches us to hunger for Jesus.

This may seem strange to some—that the early Christians would have associated fasting with the highest honor of the Christian life—the honor of dying for Jesus.  It doesn’t to me.  There is, after all, something profoundly spiritual about food.  Practically, it’s the stuff of life.  You can’t live without it; and the body—physically—our bodies are wired naturally to respond to it, to long for it, to need it.  (I mean, all I’d have to do is spray some “fresh-baked-bread” room odorizer into the air, and your body would tell you, wouldn’t it?)  We need it; our mouths water for it; we can’t do without it.

And what if our spirits watered for Christ, like that?

Really: what depths, what heights what lengths of life with God would be discovered if we learned to hunger for him the way our bodies hunger for food?  I mean: that’s what fasting was about for the early Christians—learning to hunger for Christ by dying to self.  And biblically, I think that’s what fasting’s about, too: the life with God we will discover as we learn to die to self.

That has been my experience, anyways.  This month at terra incognita, we've been looking at some of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian Life that don't often get a lot of attention in the practical, results oriented culture of the modern (and somewhat cushy) North American Church.  Last week we talked about silence; today we're considering Fasting.  There are lots of places to look for practical tips on fasting, so I won't share any here (for concrete tips, I'll refer you to this very succinct and helpful guide prepared by my friend, Pastor Derek Spink).  What I'd like to do instead is challenge you to, quite literally, to put your money where your mouth is, when it comes to your witness to Jesus, and consider exploring, if you've never done so before, the practice of fasting as part of your martyrdom for him.

To get you thinking more creatively about how this spiritual discipline might be part of your Christian practice, let me also share a few reasons why I fast (I shared these with my daughter the other night when she asked me about fasting).

1.  To sharpen my spiritual hunger for God. (When I'm fasting for this reason, I let the hunger I feel through the fast point me to God, and, whenever I do feel it, I ask myself if I'm as hungry for him as I am, in this moment, for food).

2.  To strengthen my solidarity with the suffering or the hurting.  (There are times when I've fasted for people, or for specific issues, and during those fasts, whenever I feel hungry, I use it as a prompter to pray, in the moment, for the person or issue I'm fasting for).

3.  To deepen my dependence on God.  (During this kind of fast, whenever I feel weak, hungry or tired during the fast, I use that as a reminder that I am as dependent on God for sustenance as I feel in this moment, for food; like it does on bread and water, my life literally depends on him.)

4. To ignite my passion for evangelism.  (During this kind of fast, whenever I feel hungry for food, I sort of think-- God is as hungry for people to come into relationship with him through Jesus Christ, as I am for a snack right now-- and that thought deepens my own heart for evangelism).

There are other reasons, too, but those have been the most meaningful in my practice of fasting.  I'd encourage you to consider areas of your own spiritual formation that the intentional practice of fasting may sharpen, strengthen, deepen or ignite.




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