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.

Post Cards from Narnia (IV): Virtue, Vice and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader


 I have a bit of a running theory about The voyage of the Dawn Treader, the fifth book in the Narnia series (it is the third book Lewis wrote, but fifth in the chronological order of the stories).  The Voyage has always been my favorite of the seven books, the one I’ve spent the most time thinking about, so it’s maybe to be expected that I’d have a theory about it (I should also give credit where credit's due: this reading came to me one afternoon when I was watching the award winning BBC film adaptation of Voyage, produced by Wonderworks, which is well worth a watch... far better than the hatchet-job that Walden Media made of the story, which I could barely stomach, let alone watch in its entirety).

If you’ve never read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, stop everything right now, and go read it.  I’ll wait.  If you really can’t spare the time, here’s the book in a nutshell:  Lucy and Edmund, long-time veterans of Narnia, are summoned back to the Magical Country through a mysterious picture frame, this time bringing with them their stinker of a cousin, Eustace Clarence Scrubb (a boy so rotten he almost deserves the name...)  They join Prince Caspian and an assorted crew of Narnians on a mystical quest to sail to the eastern edge of the World, searching for the seven lost lords of Narnia that sailed away many years ago and never returned.  Along the way they discover a number of strange islands, encounter all sorts of wonderful characters, de-stinkify their cousin Eustace and ultimately find their way to the Aslan’s Country, beyond the end of the world.

To get my theory, you have to understand first that, as the third book that Lewis wrote for the series, Voyage is a sequel to Prince Caspian, a book that was, for all intents and purposes, about the revival, or re-conversion of Narnia back to the ways of Aslan (so: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells the Easter story, with Aslan's allegorical Death and Resurrection; Prince Caspian is set hundreds of years later, after Narnia has forgotten the story and has fallen away from “the old ways”; Prince Caspian is the only human in Narnia who believes in Aslan and he’s able to “convert” the people back to the old ways.)  Then comes Voyage: Caspian, having led the revival in Narnia, is now on an east-ward journey to the end of the world, to make it, at last to Aslan’s Country.

If Lion is the story of the Cross (Redemption), and Caspian is the story of conversion (Salvation), then Voyage is the story of Discipleship (Sanctification).  It's the story, that is, about the spiritual journey (as symbolized by the sea-quest) through the triumphs and trials of life (as symbolized by the islands they encounter along the way), to reach, eventually, our heavenly home (as symbolized by Aslan’s Country).

This reading takes on weight and substance when you look closely at each of the stops they make along the way.  Lewis has written extensively and eloquently elsewhere (both in The Screwtape Letters and also in Mere Christianity) about the classical virtues and vices of the Christian tradition, and when you read it with that in mind, if becomes clear that at each one of the island stops on the journey to Aslan’s Country deal with either one of the seven deadly sins, or one of the seven cardinal virtues.  In this way, as they confront the seven deadly sins and grow in the seven cardinal virtues, the children advance further in their quest for Aslan’s Country.  This is not just vague symbolism, either.  Consider the following itinerary of the Dawn Treader in its eastward journey. (For your reference, remember that the seven deadly sins are: anger, greed, sloth, envy, gluttony, lust and pride; and the seven cardinal virtues are: courage, wisdom, temperance, justice, faith, hope and charity).

1. Their first stop is on the Lone Islands, where they need to put an end to the slave trade conducted there.  In so doing they explicitly demonstrate the virtue of justice, and encounter the first of the lost lords, Lord Bern.

2.  Their next stop is on “Dragon Island,” where Eustace sneaks away while the work's being done, specifically because he's too lazy to help, demonstrating the sin of sloth.  He takes a nap in a dragon’s cave, only to waken the next day as a dragon himself.  He is eventually restored by Aslan, and they discover the remains of the second lost Lord, who himself turned into a dragon previously.

3. En route to the next stop, they have two narrow escapes:  they are attacked by a sea serpent, where Eustace demonstrates the virtue of courage fighting it off (the text specifically points out his bravery); and then they land on an island where the water turns everything it touches to gold, and they must overcome the enchantment of greed (they also discover the remains of the third lost lord, who unwittingly  swam in the pool and got turned into a gold statue).

4.  Next they land on an island peopled by a group of foolish, one-legged dwarfs named the Dufflepuds.  The Dufflepuds have made themselves invisible because they believe an evil wizard put an “ugly spell” on them, and they couldn’t bear to look at one another; now they wish to be visible again, so they force Lucy to sneak into the Wizard’s study and read a spell from his book.  Along the way Lucy is tempted to read a spell that will make her beautiful, and it is revealed she has always felt envy towards her sister, who was always considered the prettier one.  (The Dufflepuds are the embodiment of folly, the total opposite of the virtue of wisdom, and their foolishness is played up for comic relief.)

5.  Next they come to an island where “all your wildest dreams come true,” which seems promising at first, until they learn that the dreams in question are really the deepest, darkest corners of the id, the stuff that spins your nightmares in the dead of night.  This one’s a bit Freudian, but it’s my contention that this island is Lewis’ way of handling the theme of lust on a level a child would be able to process and understand.  (Notably, they meet the fourth Narnian Lord here, who ostensibly arrived at the island do to his lack of temperance.)

6.  Finally they arrive at the last island in the book, and are forced to decide if they will carry on to Aslan’s country or not.  Here they discover the last of the three Narnian Lords.  It’s worth pointing out here that in Christian ethics (and Lewis cites this concept in Mere Christianity, so we know he was familiar with it), the first four of the cardinal virtues—justice, courage, wisdom and temperance—were said to be virtues even the pagans could attain to, without Christ.  But the last three virtues—faith, hope and love—were said to be virtues that it took the special grace of the Holy Spirit to attain.  So it’s no accident that the last three Narnian Lords are all found together on the last island before Aslan’s Country.  Interestingly, the three lords have fallen into an enchanted sleep because they could not agree whether they should carry on to Aslan’s Country or not, and the only way to awaken them is for the crew to journey on themselves and leave someone in Aslan’s Country. (Also notable: the reason they are asleep is because they had been quarreling about whether or not to go on to Aslan's country, and one of them grabbed hold of a sacred knife in an outburst of anger, causing the enchantment to fall on them.)

7.  When they finally arrive at Aslan’s Country, Prince Caspian himself wishes to stay behind, even though he must return to be king of Narnia.  The rest of the crew tries to convince him of this, but in his pride, he insists on staying, until Aslan encounters him and helps him to repent. 

This is, of course, a rough overview, and if you’ve never read the book, it may not make much sense to you.  But if you have perhaps it will ring true:  the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is really about the Christian voyage, the journey of growth in Christian virtue, and at each adventure along the way, the children must prove themselves in one of the seven cardinal virtues or resist one of the seven deadly sins (or both), and so draw closer to their heavenly destination, the land beyond the rising sun, Aslan’s Country.  Inasmuch as this is a journey that, in the end, all Christians must take, you might say that Voyage is, actually, a fictional, allegorical, children’s-lit discipleship manual,  an imaginative reflection on the spiritual life.


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