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 (IV): Solitude

The stylite tradition is one of the little known but most fascinating stories from the ancient Orthodox Church. According to Wikipedia, a “stylite” (from the Greek, stylites, meaning “pillar-dweller”) was a type of Christian ascetic who lived out their Christian witness on top of a pillar, preaching, fasting and praying, sometimes for decades on end.

As odd as it may sound to us in 21 Century Canada, these “pillar-saints” were relatively common in the Byzantine Empire in the 5th and 6th Century. They believed that the extreme discipline and self-mortification it took to while away your days isolated from society alone, on the top of a pole, had a purifying effect on the soul.

According to tradition, the first stylite to get the idea was a fellow known as Simeon Stylites the Elder, who first took his perch atop a tall pillar back in AD 423, and stayed there until his death in AD 470 (yes, that’s a grand total of 37 years sitting in one spot on top of a pillar). It wasn’t long before his example had spawned a number of imitators: a guy named Daniel the Stylite, Simeon the Younger, St Alypius (who, according to legend, lasted 53 years atop his pillar, until they finally coaxed him down).

From what I understand, the sites of famous stylites became pilgrimage destinations in the ancient world, and folks would come from far and wide to witness these ascetic hermits sitting there on their poles. Daniel the Stylite was so famous that even Emperor Leo came once for a visit.

Now: I am not suggesting anyone build a column in their back yard anytime soon; and to be sure there are all sorts of theological issues with the idea of earning one’s salvation through forms of extreme asceticism like pole-sitting. Let me be clear. But I was thinking about the stylites of the ancient Orthodox Church the other day because, whatever theological problems we might have with their methods, still, there is something commendable in their goal—what they were looking for, there atop those poles—that we would do well to reflect on as we continue our journey through the forgotten practices of Christian spirituality.

I’m talking here about solitude. The necessary removal of distractions, I mean, of competing interests, and yes, even of companionship for a time, or a season, or a moment in the day, so as to fix the heart unflinchingly on the awe-inspiring wonder of the presence of God.

Jesus, of course, practiced solitude as part of the regular rhythm of his life with God. In Matthew 14:13, as just one of many examples, we read that Jesus “sent his disciples away and went up on a mountain by himself to pray; and when evening came he was there alone.”

Solitude is to our social lives what fasting is to our appetites; a saying “no” to something, for a while, so that we can say “yes” to God more earnestly, sincerely, openly or expectantly. Solitude is the art of getting one’s self totally alone so that we can discover that we are never, actually, ever alone, and that often, God is often most talkative, most at work, most present to us, in the quiet and the stillness of our loneliness. Solitude is a discipline, too, that allows us to be more fully present to and thankful for others in our lives, in the same way that fasting actually sharpens our gratitude for food, once the fast ends.

Solitude is all these things and it is, also, very hard to come by these days. Surrounded as we are by incessantly ringing gadgets, blipping email alerts, whizzing cars, jostling crowds, screens and phones and the busyness of life, it is often profoundly difficult to find an hour alone with God on a metaphorical pillar, let alone 53 years on a real one.

There is, of course, a bitter irony in this. Many analyses of social media technologies have noted that, for all our text messages and face-time chats, our face-book posts and innumerable ways of communicating, people report higher levels of loneliness, disconnectedness, angst and social anxiety than we have ever experienced before. As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle put it, “Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication.” We are, as she so vividly puts it, “alone together.”

But this may be precisely the reason that the practice of genuine solitude is needed now more than ever, because choosing to be alone—to shut off the gadgets and unplug the wires and close down the screens for an intentional season, so that we can attune ourselves all over again to the God who is always present to us—may be the path towards regaining control over those gadgets and wires and screens and wires in the first place.

Whether or not that’s the case, I do know that those times I’ve made the effort to carve out intentional spaces in my day, my week, my year for real solitude, away from all other social distractions so that I can focus simply and intently on God, are times where God has done and said and worked remarkable things in my spirit, opening me to deeper and better and more sincere communion with him and with others.

It doesn’t take 53 years on top of a pole in the Byzantine Empire to get this, either. It just takes an awareness of the need, and a commitment to satisfy it in God, alone.


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