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 (III): Breathing

If you look closely at the depiction of the saints as they appear in the ancient icons of the Orthodox Church, you will notice that they all have very long, thin, quite distinct noses. This is true of all the icons, but we see a great example of it in one of the more famous icons of Christ, the “Christ the Pantocrator.”

I once read a very nuanced “reading” of this icon that interpreted every aspect of it in loving detail. The two eyes are actually looking in two different directions, for instance: one looking off to the eternal horizon of Heaven and the other starting directly at you, piercing the soul with its knowing gaze. The visual perspective on the Bible in his arms, as another example, is skewed and distorted. This suggests that the book (and, more importantly, the Gospel message it contains) is from another dimension and yet, at the same time, still inhabits this dimension, for all it’s having crossed the eternal divide to speak to us.

The imagery in icons is never representational, is my point. It is always deeply, subtly and mysteriously symbolic of the heavenly truths the icon is seeking to express. This is true of the position of the fingers in Christ’s hand (spelling out the initials of Jesus Christ, in Greek), the shape of the mouth, and, as I mentioned, the distinctly long, delicate nose.

The meaning behind the nose, I’ve been told, is that it suggests either the presence of the Holy Spirit, or the spirituality of the person, or both (that is, a Spirit-filled person is also a deeply spiritual person). You may wonder what the length of a saint’s nose has to do with his spirituality, but consider: in both the Greek and the Hebrew languages, the words for “breath” and “spirit” were the same. It was pneuma in Greek, and ruach in Hebrew, and, depending on the usage, it could mean either “spirit” or “breath”’; and in places where the biblical writers are feeling especially playful, it means both. With this in mind, it begins to make sense why the ancient iconographers, when they wanted to indicate that a person was deeply filled with the Holy Spirit and, as a consequence of this filling, was deeply spiritual, they would draw them with a long nose. All the better to breathe deeply with, my dear.

As we continue looking at the spiritual disciplines of the Christian Faith—and especially those disciplines, like fasting, silence, and so on, that don’t get much mention next to the basics of reading your Bible and praying every day—I think this ancient connection between the spirit and the breath is worth some careful reflection. It may be because of its suspect use in non-Christian spiritual practices (Zen meditation, Yoga, and so on), or its unfortunate association with New Agey mumbo-jumbo, but for whatever the reason I don’t hear Christians talking that much about the practice of breathing, and breath control, and the way intentional breathing can be a practical way of regulating our emotions, grounding us in the present, and focusing our thoughts and energy.

This is odd, inasmuch as almost every other form of human endeavor that involves the kind of mind-body-spirit connection that Christian holiness and discipleship also involves, uses breathing as part of its practice. I’ve already mentioned other, non-Christian practices that make use of breathing. We might add to that the way psychotherapists use breathing exercises to treat patients with anxiety disorders, PTSD and so on. In most of the traditional martial arts, too, and especially in the advanced forms of martial arts, breath control is essential to mastery. From what I understand, the training that Navy SEALS go through also makes use of it. Singers and athletes and effective public speakers all need to learn how to master their breath if they are to master their craft. Like I say, in any human endeavor that requires us to be “whole selves"—mind, body and soul together—to do it well, at some point or another, you have to learn how to breathe.

So it leaves me scratching my head a bit, that we don’t employ breathing practices more in Christian spiritual formation, teaching followers of Jesus to breathe well. You may say: it’s because nowhere in the Bible does it describe “breathing” as a spiritual discipline. To which I’d say, I’m not so sure. I’ve already mentioned the breath/spirit connection in the biblical languages. Think, for instance, of God breathing into his newly-formed human beings “the breath of life.” Or remember the Risen Jesus doing it again, in John’s Gospel, when he breathes on them so that they may receive the Holy Spirit.

If that’s not concrete enough for you, let me remind you about Jesus, sitting all night on the mountain top in communion with his Father, and let me just wonder out loud if that kind of sustained prayer could have lasted for hours if Jesus hadn’t been practicing the kind of calm, controlled, deep breathing that is physiologically necessary if we’re to focus our thoughts and attention for hours on end. What about Peter in Acts 10:10-11? It says he sat down on the roof to pray and he “fell into a trance,” during which he receives a life-altering vision from God. I don’t know for sure if his trance-inducing prayer involved controlled breathing or not, but it sure doesn’t sound like it was of the “now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” variety. We see a similar thing in Revelation. “On the Lord’s Day,” writes John the Seer, “I was ‘in the Spirit’ and I received”... well... a vision so heavenly and disturbing that 2000 years later we still tremble to read it.

I admit that none of this is what you’d call “hard biblical data,” and I also acknowledge that, as with all spiritual disciplines, it’s by the fruit you’ll know it. I can easily imagine someone practicing breathing as a gimmick or a “technique” and not drawing any nearer to Jesus, maybe even drawing away. But at the same time: when I imagine St. John the Seer on the Island of Patmos, so deep in his prayers that he passes “into the Spirit,” I can’t imagine that happening without some careful attention to his breathing.

I say that partly because, as I have been learning about breathing and its effect on us as whole creatures, I have been tentatively trying to be more aware of my own breathing. In my prayers, for instance, I often start with a simple breathing exercise that quiets my mind and focuses my thoughts on Jesus. I have started practicing breath control to ground me in the moment when I am doing ministry. I have started experimenting with breathing exercises as a way of regulating my response to stressful situations. What I have found as I’ve become more aware of my breathing as a spiritual practice is that I am able to direct my thoughts to Jesus more easily in any given moment, I am more attentive and receptive to his voice in my prayer times, and I am better able to “take thoughts captive” in my day-in-day-out response to the world around me.

I don’t want to be dogmatic about this reading, but maybe this is what Job was getting at, in Job 27:3, when he says: As long as my breath is in me, the Spirit of God is in my nostrils.



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