There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

random reads

The Thursday Review: Apart from the Father?

First published September 26, 2012

I sort of killed a sparrow yesterday. Not singlehandedly, and certainly not intentionally, but I was walking my dog last night, and as we came down the side walk, I noticed a sparrow sitting in the grass at the edge of a lawn. My dog was on one of those spring-loaded retractable leashes, and she rushed ahead curiously. For a brief moment it occurred to me I should rein her in, but in just as brief a moment, I decided that the sparrow would fly away long before pup could do any damage.

The sparrow did fly away, first to the top of a picket fence edging the lawn—and I could tell from its erratic flight that it had been injured somewhere—and then, still startled by the dog, it fluttered wildly out across the street. With her injured wing and all, she could only attain an altitude roughly the equivalent a Toyota 4Runner's grill.

I know this because that’s what brought its panicked flight to a thudding stop. The vehicle was clipping along at about 40 clicks—not fast, mind you, but fast enough that the bird bumped up, arced over the hood and landed, lifeless, in the gutter.

The timing of the whole event was so precise as to seem inexorable.

I felt sad; I wished I’d reined in the dog; and this morning I’m thinking of Matthew 10:29.

Because according to our Lord’s teaching, what happened last night should have had the effect of emboldening me in my Christian life. Here’s how he says it: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. ... So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

But I’m thinking about that sparrow dropping to the asphalt last night—a victim not just of my own neglect but also of the rush and worry of the car-infatuated culture I inhabit—and to be honest, it’s left me with a lot more questions than answers.

Did God in fact will this bird dead? Was this sparrow’s death-by-4Runner somehow preordained, and if so, to what end? Does Jesus really want me to draw solace from such a seemingly arbitrary and pointless death? And, in my most cynical moments: is the divine handling of this sparrow’s life really supposed to inspire my confidence in the Sovereign’s loving plan for me?

These are the questions they wouldn’t let you ask in Sunday School.

And I don’t have any easy answers, but I do have this: “Not one of them falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father” is how the NIV renders Jesus’ word here; and it’s certainly how many would take it (I had someone cite this verse to me, for instance, as biblical evidence for Predestination). But in fact, this is actually more than what the verse literally says. Not much more, but more.

Literally all Jesus says is: “Not one of them falls to the earth apart from your Father (aneu tou patros ‘umōn).”

All Jesus says is that that sparrow didn’t die apart from God. The “will of God” bit is the NIV’s attempt to make sense of the verse (and for the record, almost every other reputable translation takes Jesus at his word without the metaphysical speculation, and translates the phrase simply, “apart from your Father”).

Which is how I’d translate it, too. Because personally, I don’t think that Jesus’s point is that God willed that sparrow’s death, but that he was involved in it. And not involved like a curious puppy, sniffing after its own purposes regardless the consequences to injured birds... nor like a neglectful pedestrian who, for reasons inscrutable, chose not to rein-in the hound of fate ... and certainly not like the reckless motorist in the careening 4Runner of our destiny.

He’s involved in precisely the way Jesus says he’s involved: as loving Father.

I thought I was sad to hear that dull thump.

If I can take Jesus at his word, God was intimately involved in that sparrow’s entire existence, watching over it lovingly, from shell to sky to earth to gutter. And in the moment it met the crushing force of that 4Runner’s grill—if I can take Jesus at its word—it was intimately present to God, more present, perhaps, than I was, watching it fall to the ground. And if I can take Psalm 84:3 at it’s word, then even this sparrow has a sacred space reserved for it near the altar of God.

As insignificant as it may have seemed to me, or to the car I accidently chased it into—Jesus says that this sparrow’s death was not in vain, and more, that it did not die alone; it was not abandoned or neglected by the loving Creator that made it in the moment of its passing.

And then for hope’s-sake, he assures me: nor will I be, at the moment of my death when my turn comes. And in that knowledge I do find a beautiful seed of confidence.

Seminary Flotsam (III): Jesus Christ and the Mediation of Worship

Paper:  "The Things of God to Man and the Things of Man to God":  Jesus Christ and the Mediation of Worship

Overview:  This paper develops a theology of worship around the theological concepts of God's immanence and God's transcendence, using the biblical theme of the mediation of Christ as the central motif.

Thesis: To maintain an authentically Christian tension between God’s transcendence and immanence, the church’s worship must reflect and confess the Christological reality that both God’s “human-ward” movement in revelation and our “God-ward” movement in response happen in the person of Jesus Christ.

An Ancient Path for a Modern World (VI): Spiritual Reading

The other day a group of us from the FreeWay were sitting around talking, and the topic of “books that were part of my spiritual formation” came up. No one used that phrase, exactly; we were just sharing the most influential Christian books we’ve read. C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters was high on most people’s lists, along with Mere Christianity. J. I. Packer’s Knowing God got a nod, as did Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. My own list included both How Should We Then Live, and He is There and He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer. It struck me, as we talked, that almost everyone one had a book or two (or in my case, many) that God used at just the right time, in just the right way in our lives, to shape our thinking, our feeling, our being in Christ.

Over the last month or so I have been going through some of the “more obscure but still spiritual vital” disciplines of the Christian life here at terra incognita. We’ve looked at silence, solitude, breathing, fasting, journaling each in turn. However, after that evening swapping book titles with some brothers and sisters in the Lord, it occurred to me that, though it’s not often thought of as a spiritual discipline, reading good Christian literature—and by good I mean both well-written and spiritually edifying—is and has long been a formative practice of the faith.

Anyone who has ever stumbled their way into a Christian classic like The Confessions, for instance, or a contemporary classic like The Screwtape Letters, or more weighty stuff like The Cost of Discipleship, or even more pop-y fair like The Sacred Romance, and closed the book changed, will know that it’s not just because I’m a former English Teacher that I’ve listed Christian reading as a spiritual discipline. It’s because there is something profoundly formative about opening both your heart and mind together, to receive the musings or the insights or the teachings or the story of another Christian who is perhaps further along the road than you, or travelling a slightly different path, but still walking with the same Lord. All sorts of studies have been conducted to demonstrate the positive psychological effects of reading generally; Christian reading has all these benefits with the added benefit of a beautiful, focused, extended conversation about God, and the things of God that can move at whatever pace we choose and can be shared with others and yet is still deeply personal and intimate.

Like I say, Christians have long known that spiritual reading is a practice to be encouraged in the life of a disciple. In 1750, for instance, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, published a thirty-volume set of Christian classics called A Christian Library, which he encouraged all good Methodists to read, and expected all his preachers to know. The Christian Library was a wide-ranging collection of Christian literature that Wesley had gathered together from all corners of the Christian world. It included works by the ancient fathers, all the way up to his contemporaries like Jonathan Edwards. Wesley, it seems, recognized that a steady fare of good Christian literature is vital for a thriving Christian soul, that if a Christian really wants to expand their spiritual horizons, conversations with spiritual friends who have gone before, conversations outside and beyond our immediate circle of spiritual experience, conversations that can only happen between the pages of a book, were necessary.

Spiritual Reading is an especially difficult discipline top maintain amid the frenzy of the modern age. On the one hand, the time for reading, and especially time for reading the slowly-digested stuff that is really going to nourish the soul, is hard to come by. To work through Wesley’s Christian Library today seems an onerous task, even for a voracious reader like myself. But on the other hand, good—in every sense of that word: well-written, soul-nourishing, spiritually deep and theologically rich—good literature is harder and harder to come by. If I wanted to be a humbug, I might raise against popular Christian publishing some of the same critiques you hear raised against contemporary Christian music: that it’s repetitive and superficial and lacks substance and creativity.

But I don’t want to be a humbug; and that’s not really a true statement anyways. The fact is, there is good work still being produced and published, maybe more and better than ever. It’s just not getting the same shelf space as the pop, the fluff or the trivia at the local bookstore.

The other fact is, even if another word never gets put to pen, still we have a lifetime’s worth of Christian classics already to choose from. If you’re wondering where to start, might I suggest these, from my own list of books that left a spiritual impression on my Christian formation (in no specific order):

1. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
2. Jesus and the Victory of God, N. T. Wright
3. The Sacred Romance, John Eldridge and Brent Curtis
4. Loving God, Chuck Colson
5. Worship, Community and the Trinue God of Grace, James Torrance
6. The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis
7. Paradise Lost, John Milton
8. He is There and He is Not Silent, Francis Schaeffer
9. Life Together, Dietrich Bonheoffer
10. The Cross of Christ, John Stott
11. Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton
12. Naming the Powers/Unmasking the Powers, Walter Wink
13. The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
14. How Should We Then Live, Francis Schaeffer
15. The Confessions, Augustine
16. Knowing God, J. I. Packer
17. The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonheoffer
18. The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton
19. The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright
20. Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle

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From the Beginning: A Devotional Commentary on Genesis (V)

The other day I was reading Genesis 10:10-21, and I kept noticing this recurring phrase that piqued my curiosity. It's giving all the generations of Noah's sons after the flood, and it keeps saying, "These are the sons of .... according to their clans, and languages, and territories and nations ..."

It stands out to me for two reasons: a) in Genesis 11, right after all this, it's going to tell the story of the Tower of Babel, and it'll start by saying that everyone had only one language and a common speech (in contrast to what it's saying here in Genesis 10); and b) all this diversity of clans, territories and languages in Genesis 10 seems to be happening in fulfillment of God's blessing, back in Genesis 9, when he told Noah's family, to multiply on the earth and increase upon it (9:7).

In other words, God's heart, it seems, is for a rich, variegated, wide-spreading, culturally diverse family of human beings filling the earth. And whatever else was wrong with it, the problem with the building project of Babel was that it was forcing humanity into stark, sterile homogeneity.

It makes me think about the importance of cultural diversity among God's people, and the ways church ministry can either promote or discourage the kind of nation/tribe/language/cultural variety we see in Genesis 10. Because it's not just Genesis where we see it. If the Book of Revelation can be trusted on the matter, it's what we'll experience on the last day, too: we'll be part of "a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9). Churches that enjoy the Genesis 10 blessing of rich, difficult, but joyful cultural diversity are getting, I think, good practice here on earth for that Heavenly day.

The Thursday Review: The Unsung Songs in Church

First published November 24, 2009

Besides my list of songs written in 7/4 time, I've also been working on a list of the saddest songs I know. So far my list (in no particular order) includes:

1. "Mothers of the Disappeared," U2.
A haunting lament giving voice to the heartbreak of the Argentinian Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose sons and daughters opposed the Videla and Galtieri coup d'etat in 1976, and were kidnapped, never to be seen again.
In the trees our sons stand naked
Through the walls our daughters cry
See their tears in the rainfall

2. "Bonny Portmore," Traditional (Lorena McKennitt).
A traditional Celtic lament mourning the loss of the ancient oak forests of Ireland, which were clear-cut to provide lumber for English ship-building projects.
All the birds in the forest, they bitterly weep
Sighing, "Where shall we shelter, where shall we sleep?"
For the Oak and the Ash tree are all cutten down,
And the walls of bonny Portmore are all down to the ground.

3. "Strange Fruit," Billie Holiday.A vivid and arresting song decrying the lynching of two black men in in the southern US in the 1930s.
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves, blood on the root

4. "Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen.
A song about love and failure and the gapping space that yawns between human hearts.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

5. "Siúil a Rúin," Traditional.
The lament of an Irish girl whose darling has left to fight in the continental wars.
I'll sell my rod, I'll sell my reel
I'll sell my only spinning wheel
For to by my love a sword of steel
And safe forever may my darling be

And as I make this list, I'm thinking about church music, worship music, the whole praise-chorus shebang, and wondering about how little lament it allows. We don't often hear songs in church with the pathos of a "Mothers of the Disappeared," the honesty of a "Hallelujah," the ache for Shalom of a "Strange Fruit," or the sensitivity of a "Bonny Portmore." (Though after writing these sentences, I remember that we sang "All I Can Say" last Sunday at our church, which certainly gets a vote for real pathos and honesty and ache for Shalom.)

But maybe we're missing something when we don't. We are, after all, called to weep with those who weep; and music that gives voice to the ache, I think, is also one of the good and perfect gifts of the Creator.
The Psalmists knew this.

You wouldn't necessarily guess it from the way their heart-cries have trickled down into the peppy hymnody of the church, but there is some pretty raw stuff in there. I remember the day I read Psalm 43, of "As the Deer" fame, and suddenly realized that this is not the melodic, somewhat soporific song we sing in church. Whatever else this"Maskil for the Sons of Korah" is for, it's not for crooning devotion. It's for crying desperation.

Desperation for justice, for deliverance, for vindication, for restoration, for any food other than the tears that have been his sole nourishment day and night without count.

This is lament, not love-song.

A while ago, I was preparing to lead worship in my church, and asking about the missing laments in contemporary church music, and wondering what to do about it. I sat down and tried to work out an arrangement for "As the Deer" that might give a bit more room for the original ache of the Psalm to speak. Still thinking about the unsung laments of the people of God, I offer it here.

Seminary Flotsam (II): As Yahweh Lives

Paper: As Yahweh Lives: The Anti-Baal Polemic of the Elijah Narrative

Overview: This paper presents a close-reading of the Elijah narrative in 1 Kings 17-19, tracing the theme of Yahweh's supremacy over Ba'al, and setting this theme within its original Ancient Near Eastern context.

Thesis: The Elijah narrative presents an argument in favor of Yahweh and against Baal on the basis of Yahweh’s transcendence of the mythic framework in which Baal was believed to operate. In his transcendence over the fertility cycles that underlie the Baal myth and ultimately in his transcendence over the power of death, Yahweh reveals himself as supreme. In contrast to Baal’s claim on the hearts of Israel—a claim based on an aesthetically satisfying explanation of how the cosmos functioned that promised political power and prosperity to the people—Elijah asserts Yahweh’s claim on his people—a claim based on his sovereign covenant with the nation.

From the Beginning: A Devotional Commentary on Genesis (IV)

I've read the Noah's Ark story any number of times before, but something sort of struck me recently in a fresh way. In Genesis 8:13, it says that "By the first day of the first month ... the water had dried up from the earth, and Noah 'removed the covering of the ark' and saw that the ground was dry." In my mind, I picture Noah already stepping out, onto long-awaited dry ground. But then in 8:14, it says, by the 27 day of the second month, roughly 57 days later, the ground was completely dry, and then God told Noah to come out of the ark (v.15).

In other words, he saw the ground was dry on day one, month one, but had to wait 2 months (approximately) before God told him to come out. I'm just speculating, but I expect it was agony for Noah, waiting those 57-some-days in the Ark, staring day after day at the dry, inviting mountainside of Mt. Ararat, but not yet released from the Ark to go enjoy it.  This is a bit of an allegorical reading, I admit, but it got me thinking about the times in my life when "the ground" so to speak, of what God's doing in my life, "looks dry," but God's not ready, yet, for me to step out onto it. Sometimes in ministry, for instance, or in my family life, maybe, or in my long-range-life-planning, let's say, it may look like God's opportunity is right there, dry as a bone and shining in the sun, and just waiting for me ... and yet, God hasn't yet said to me, like he did to Noah: "'Okay, now, step out of the Ark and into it." 

May we all have both the wisdom and the patience of Noah, today, as we wait to be "released from the Ark" (again, so to speak, whatever "waiting in the Ark" may mean for you or I today). May we, like him, have the wisdom to know when the time's right to step out, and the patience to wait until it is.

The Thursday Review: When Solomon's Temple Meets Minecraft

first posted November 6, 2012 (caveat: 4 years later, no one really plays Minecraft that much anymore in our house)

 My kids are pretty huge Minecraft fans.  For those of you who have never played Minecraft, think of it as a big game of  "virtual Lego."  Those of you who have played Minecraft will know that it's as much like virtual Lego as Mario Karts is like "virtual Hot Wheels" (that is to say, only a bit). 

Here's Wikipedia's description:  "Minecraft is focused on creativity and building, allowing players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. Game play in its commercial release has two principal modes: survival, which requires players to acquire resources and maintain their health and hunger; and creative, where the player has an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger."

Like I say, Minecraft is a popular pass time at our house. So watching the kids work on a project the other day I floated this idea past them:  "Hey guys, you wanna build a scale model of Solomon's Temple, from the Bible?"

They were up for the challenge, and construction continued off and on over the next couple of weeks.  We used the plans for the Temple and its furnishings as they're detailed in 1 Kings chapters 5, 6 and 7, and tried to follow them as strictly as possible (in Minecraft, each cube is supposed to be 1 metre by 1 metre, but for simplicity's sake we made each minecraft cube equal to one cubic cubit  (a cubit is approximately 0.5 metres, so our scale here is 2:1.)). 

My son, who is a wizard when it comes to all things techie helped us produce this virtual tour of our completed Minecraft Temple, which I offer here for your amusement and illumination:

I've read 1 Kings 5-7 a bunch of times over the years, but nothing brought it to life for me like this project with the kids, trying to figure out how and why they built this magnificent building the way they did. But what was especially fun about the job was the many opportunities it provided for us to talk about the things of God. Here's only a small sample of the questions we chewed over as we "built" our Temple, brick by Minecraft brick.

What's an altar? Why did they need one? What was in the Holy of Holies? Why couldn't you go in there?  What's a cherub?  What's an incense altar?  What did they keep in the Temple storerooms? What's a "bronze sea?"  What was it for?  What were the tables for the show-bread all about?  Why did they keep bread out like that? 

Fielding these questions (and much deeper ones-- Why was it only the priest who could go into the Holy of Holies?  What was sacrifice all about, anyway? And what happened to the Temple?) it occurred to me that meeting your kids where they play is perhaps the best way to mentor them in the things of God. 

Louis Mercier once said, "What we learn with pleasure we never forget"; and if that was ever true, it should be true of our formation in the Faith.