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.

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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.

The Thursday Review: The Most Excellent Way: A Theological Reading of the Princess Bride

first published January 27, 2015

One of my favorite movies is Rob Reiner’s cult classic, The Princess Bride.  I have long held that this campy, swashbuckling fairy tale, for all its silliness and slapstick, actually deals very sensitively with a distinctly biblical theme:  That love is the most excellent way (see 1 Corinthians 12:31).

If you’re unfamiliar with this 1987 masterpiece, stop what you’re doing right now and go watch it; we’ll wait.  If you’re like the members of my family, however, and you can quote long sections of the script by heart (No more rhyming now, I mean it...), allow me to connect some dots for you.

On the surface, of course, one of the main themes this film deals with is the power of True Love.   As Westley tells Princess Buttercup, “Death cannot stop True Love, all it can do is delay it for a while.”  Or, as she will tell Prince Humperdinck latter on, “Westley and I are joined by the bond of love, and you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords.”

So far, so obvious; but there is an important motif running alongside Westley and Buttercup’s romance that brings the whole theme into sharp and profound focus, namely: the quest for excellence.  If you’re familiar with the characters, you may recall that each of them are striving for, or have achieved, superlative excellence in some field of human endeavor or other.  Buttercup’s the most beautiful girl in the land, of course, but that’s an easy one.  Prince Humperdinck is the greatest hunter ever to live (he can track a falcon on a cloudy day).   Fezzik is the strongest man alive (only Fezzik is strong enough to climb the Cliffs of Insanity).  Inigo studied all his life to become the world’s greatest swordsman (and his sword, of course is a peerless work of craftsmanship).  Vizzini is the world’s smartest man (Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are morons next to him).  Count Rugen is writing the “definitive work” on the subject of pain (and spent a lifetime perfecting the greatest torture device ever invented).  Ranged against the power of True Love, in other words, is a host of superlatives that True Love will have either to subdue (as in the case of Fezzik and  Inigo) or defeat (as in the case of Humperdinck and Rugen).  In a world suffuse with “excellence,” that is, True Love proves itself “the most excellent way.”
This all ties up rather neatly, but there is a layer to this that isn’t immediately obvious, but is so important: it is not romantic love, exclusively, that is the most excellent thing.  The film, in fact, presents us with a whole range of human loves that together combine to contribute to the victory of True Love. Inigo’s filial love for his murdered father (“I loved my father, so naturally I challenged his murderer to a duel”); Fezzik’s fraternal love for his friend Inigo (“Fezzik took great care in nursing his inebriated friend to life”); and, of course, the Grandfather’s paternal love for his sick Grandson, which he demonstrates by reading the book to him in the first place.  We’re invited to connect all these loves together in the closing line of the film.  As the Grandpa's leaving, the boy asks him to come back and read the book again tomorrow, to which the the Grandpa replies, “As you wish.”  These are, of course, the same words Westley spoke to Buttercup when what he really meant was “I love you.”  "As you wish," it turns out, can apply to more than mere romantic love.

Because in The Princess Bride, the “True Love” that is the most excellent way is not simply the romantic passion that binds Westley and Buttercup together.  It is, in fact, that profound and complicated network of human affections and loyalties and commitments and longings that binds human hearts to human hearts, parent to child, friend to friend, man and wife (that most bwessed of awangments...).  Westley’s and Buttercup's romance is, of course, the centerpiece of the story, but the point is to see how their romantic love both compliments and draws life from these other, equally important kinds of love that together point out the “most excellent way.”

In his classic book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis notes that the ancients identified at least four distinct types of human bonding that today we would call “love.”  Storge, refers to warm affection between companions and family members; Philia describes deep, spiritual love between friends; Eros describes romantic or sexual love; and Caritas (charity) describes the kind of unconditional brotherly/sisterly love that the early Christians referred to with the Greek word agape.  And it was not eros specifically that was “the most excellent way,” but agape, the Love of God which the Spirit has poured out in our hearts.

I think there is something to regain in this more wholistic vision of love; because we live in a culture where sexual love is increasingly disconnected from the other types of loving relationships it was meant to encourage and compliment and draw life from. But biblically, I think, sexual love is supposed to fit in to a larger picture of shalom-ordered living: nurtured families and wholesome friendships and vibrant communities that taken together give us a taste of True Love; and we do violence to True Love when we wrench it from that setting. Perhaps if we could put eros back in its place among the other loves, it would start pointing us again to that thing which, all by itself, it is not: the most excellent way.