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.

The Thursday Review: Paroxysms of Peace

first posted October 3, 2012

The English word “paroxysm” is an oldie but a goodie. Literally it describes a sudden and/or violent outburst of emotion. You could have a “paroxysm of laughter,” though the term generally has negative connotations. Paroxysms of rage are more common.

The word itself comes from an old Greek word, paroxusmous, which, according to my Greek lexicon, means “stirring up, provoking”. It only appears twice in the New Testament.

The first appearance is in Acts 15:39. Here Paul and Barnabas have what the NIV calls a “sharp disagreement” and the KJV a “contention”. Literally, Luke says they had a paroxusmos so intense that they parted company. The fight, it turns out, was over John Mark (of the Gospel of Mark fame), who had deserted them on their first missionary trip over in Pamphylia. Paul felt he was unreliable and didn’t want to bring him on their next foray. Barnabas begged to differ—begged so sharply that a paroxysm of conflict flared up—begged so sharply that he and Paul parted ways, Barnabas to Cyprus with Mark in tow and Paul off to Cilicia.

It’s a sad story, to be sure, but then, those of us who have been doing ministry for a while now know that churches have split over smaller issues than the roster of the mission committee. And bigger.

But here’s the fascinating thing. Besides its use to describe the “sharp disagreement” in Act 15:39, the word paroxusmos only shows up another time in the New Testament. In Hebrews 10:24 the writer says, “Let us consider how we can spur one another on to love and good deeds.” This is how the NIV renders the verse. NASB says “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” Old KJV says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.”

Literally what it says is something like: “Let us consider one another towards paroxusmon-- incitements, provocations—of love and good deeds.”

Now, former Bible teachers of mine read this blog from time to time, so I need to be careful here not to commit the exegetical fallacy of semantic anachronism, but I find it worth reflection, at least, that the Bible uses the word paroxusmos once to describe a sharp disagreement between two Christian ministers, and elsewhere to describe (in what most biblical scholars would agree is an startling image) our duty to “provoke” one another to Christian love. On the one hand, a paroxusmos led to a deep rift between two friends; on the other hand it leads to Christian charity and shalom.

And I’m reflecting on this especially, because like I say, conflict in ministry is inevitable. Paroxysms of all sort are bound to come. And because we tend to prefer smooth feathers and shiny faces on Sunday morning, I think received wisdom is that they ought to be avoided, or at the very least resolved discretely, even if, in their avoidance or resolution, we find ourselves settling for false peace. At least the tomb looks white, right?

But Hebrews 10:24 and Acts 15:39 fly like two sticks between the spokes of Received Wisdom’s bicycle, sending False Peace head over handlebars. Because when you line these two verses up, they suggest that conflict is not by nature bad; nor is it to be avoided at all cost; and there are fates worse than ruffled feathers.

These two verses suggest that conflict can actually become a catalyst towards charity and service, if it’s entered into for Christ’s sake; and what determines whether or not it will is whether or not the parties involved are really provoking one another for Christ’s sake. (Even Paul and Barnabas’s paroxysm led to love and service in the end. In the short term, it expanded the ministry of the gospel by sending Barnabas to Cyprus and Paul to Cilicia; and in the long term, we have hints that things get patched up between Paul, Mark and Barnabas (see Col 4:10)).

This is hard work.  Paroxysms of any sort (ancient or modern) hurt. But then the cross itself teaches us that the Way of Christ has never avoided the suffering that redemption costs. And conflicts that redeem will cost us: utter humility and risky openness, and above all real, raw honesty about our own goals and agendas in any given dispute. But if well seek those treasures of his Kingdom, first, then we may find that redemptive Paroxysms of Peace are being added to us, as well.

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