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.

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.

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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.

Postcards from Narnia (VI): New Creation and the Last Battle

In 1956 The Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series, won the Carnige Medal, an award that celebrates outstanding new literature for children. It is, in my mind, a well deserved recognition. The Last Battle not only serves as a near-perfect conclusion for the seven-book series, but stands on its own as one of the most masterful combinations of high fantasy, Christian eschatology, metaphysical philosophy, classic fable and modern fairy tale that I’ve ever read, all of it distilled and clarified as a children’s story, but one that, as Mr. Tumnus said of Aslan’s country itself, is like an onion where every circle is bigger than the last as you continue to go in.

That said, I do admit that it was never my favorite of the books. Though it expanded my imaginative horizons every time I read it, and was, to be sure, the first book I ever read that got me to think seriously about what heaven was and would be like, still, the sense of closure it evoked was so complete that I hated to read the last page. As hopeful as it was to know that the Great Story went on, and goes on, forever, and that in it every chapter is better than the one before, still, that last page of The Last Battle always left me with an ache in my heart for this story to continue, regardless how wonderful the next one would be.

If you’ve never read it, here’s how it goes:

Soon they found themselves all walking together—and a great, bright procession it was—up towards mountains higher than you could see in this world even if they were there to be seen. But there was no snow on those mountains: there were forests and green slopes and sweet orchards and flashing waterfalls, one above the other, going up for ever. And the land they were walking on grew narrower all the time, with a deep valley on each side: and across that valley the land which was the real England grew nearer and nearer.

The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-coloured cliffs led up in front of them like a giant's staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty. ...

Then Aslan turned to them and said: "You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often."

"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

I have a very vivid memory of reading that last chapter for the first time, and closing the book and just knowing, even as a 10-year-old child, that I had come into contact with something profoundly deep and beautiful. In other writings, Lewis talks about the “stab of northerness,” the pangs of “unsatisfied desire that are themselves more desirable than any other desire” that works of great literature awakened in him as a child. His own Last Battle, was I think, one of the first “stabs of northerness” to pierce my heart.

And yet it did hurt. However wonderful it was, it still stabbed. And this brings me to the point of this particular postcard from Narnia. Because the eschatological finality of The Last Battle—Father Time arises and crushes the sun to darkness; the stars literally fall to the earth; Peter, in the end is called upon to close the door on Narina for good—it all hurt to see the final end. No matter that on the other side of that closed door they would discover that the “true” Narina was there all along, and “true England,” too for that matter; still, the discontinuity between the lost old Narnia and the new-discovered Real Narnia, left an ache in the heart.

There are, actually deep philosophical roots here that a ten year old child could have known nothing about. In Plato, especially, and in the Neo-Platonic philosophers who followed him, the “real,” “solid,” “material” world of flesh and blood is actually not the “True” world. The “True World” is the world of “Ideas,” the world that exists, ostensibly, in the Mind of God and the world of which this concrete, light-and-matter-and-flesh-and-blood reality of ours is only a shadow. Platonically speaking, the chair you are sitting in is only a shadow of True Chair, the Real Idea of Chair, which exists in the Mind of God. You can read Plato’s fullest treatment of this in The Republic, and especially, most popularly, his “Allegory of the Cave.” In “Allegory of the Cave,” reality as we know it is only flickering shadows dancing on a cave wall, cast by “Real” objects that we cannot see.

Or if you've never read "Allegory of the Cave," just read the closing chapters of The Last Battle.  There is little doubt that Lewis had Plato, if not in mind, at least in his peripheries, when he wrote this:
"The Eagle is right," said the Lord Digory. "Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream." His voice stirred everyone like a trumpet as he spoke these words: but when he added under his breath "It's all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!" the older ones laughed. It was so exactly like the sort of thing they had heard him say long ago in that other world where his beard was grey instead of golden. He knew why they were laughing and joined in the laugh himself. But very quickly they all became grave again: for, as you know, there is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.

It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia, as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it, if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different—deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if you ever get there, you will know what I mean.

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed and then cried:

"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"
There are some points of contact between Plato and Christian theology, to be sure. In the Book of Hebrews, for instance, and certain parts of John, perhaps a passage in Colossians, or two, it sure sounds like the writers are working with Platonic paradigms—or, at least, paradigms informed by Platonic ideas. But in more broad strokes, there is a thread in Platonic philosophy that runs right against the grain of biblical theology. It's the idea that this world—this concrete world of flesh and blood and sunrises and child-births and rainfall and rush-hour traffic—is not real; or at least it is not as real as the spiritual, the world of ideas and angels and immaterial concepts that exists somewhere unseen. The logical corollary of this Platonic starting point is that the spiritual is thus somehow more important than the material, that it matters more and is of greater consequence to God.

Anyone fully steeped in a robust biblical theology of creation will see quickly how contrary to the narrative of the Christian Scriptures Platonic philosophy is in this regard. The fact that the Creator saw that the creation was good, and behold, it was very good, is axiomatic to the entire story arc of the Bible. That the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, too, is axiomatic to Christian theology. The New Heavens and New Earth that John the Divine saw in his own Last Battle is, for all its being new, still continuous with the old (the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations, not their blotting out). Most biblical scholars these days would suggest that New Creation there means “re-newed Creation,” more than it means “Brand New.”

The last thing I would ever want to do is step up to bat with a pitcher like C. S. Lewis on the mound when game is philosophy, but I do humbly suggest that, to the extent it is influenced by Platonic categories, the eschatology of The Last Battle is not the best picture of what God has in store for his hurting world when the final battle is, at last, fought and won. A fuller picture, I think, would include an compelling affirmation that this creation—made and loved by the One whom Aslan symbolizes—is good and real and true, and that he intends, in the end not to discard it but to restore and redeem it.

This is maybe more than is fair to expect of a children's book, and who knows but that when it's all said and done if the redemption of this world won't look something like Father Time reaching up and squeezing the sun to darkness, or a page being closed on a beautiful but no longer necessary story.  After all, you usually have to pull down a lot of walls and tear up a lot of flooring when you're renovating.  Even so: because of our tendency to spiritualize our faith in unhealthy ways (popular evangelical views of heaven tend to be dripping with the worst kind of Platonism), and because of the escapism, apathy and disengagement from the world this so often results in, I would love it if we found a lost chapter of The Last Battle, one where, before the door was closed on Narnia for ever, Aslan healed the wounds of Calormen's tyranny and exposed the fraud of Shift the Ape, liberated the captives at Cair Paravel and renewed the stripped forests of Narnia, giving us a glimpse of what he had in mind when he created the world in the first place.


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