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.

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.

Creative Being: Reflections on the Artistic Nature of the Christian Life (I)

Years ago I was talking with a pastor friend of mine about how we each came to faith, and the obstacles that God had to overcome for us before we did.  I started to explain that, having grown up in a relatively conservative Evangelical home, one of my difficulties in embracing the faith as a young man was the feeling that I would have to give up something that I cared about deeply, if I did.

My friend thought he saw where I was headed with this, and he said: “You felt you’d have to leave you brains at the door?”  He was thinking of the strong anti-intellectualism bent that is present in many conservative Evangelical traditions

But that wasn’t it for me.  “No,” I said.  “Not my brains.  I thought I’d have to leave my imagination at the door.”

I have always had, by nature and nurture both, an artistic temperament.  Creativity is one of my core values.  I was an English major and an art minor in University.  I write songs.  I write poetry.  I once wrote a musical.  I am working on a novel.  I’ve blogged before about my passion for the arts.

Because of this heart for all things creative, and because of the Evangelical tradition’s tendency to employ the arts simply as bait-and-switch advertisements for a truncated Gospel, I’ve always struggled to believe that there was in my tradition a real place for art as art, with all its polyvalent ambiguity and unresolved tensions, and especially its honest effort to brush up against the true nature of things.  The only art I ever encountered in the churches of my childhood were those kitschy Warner Sallman portraits of silken-robed and carefully coiffed Jesuses knocking warmly on the heart’s door, those superficial church plays that resolved their conflict neatly and without remainder by a straight-forward asking of Jesus into said heart, or those saccharine love-songs where every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before ever since he came in.  Somewhere in the midst of all that I picked up the not-so-subliminal message that art was a useful thing, and only “useful” so long as it was clear and straight-forward and unambiguous, but there were quite clear (and narrow) boundaries within which it must operate.

In one of the journals I kept during my University years, I put it like this:  “Because something (God, did you put it there?  Is it sin to listen?)  Inside me sings of the beauty and Truth of creation, and because something even deeper longs to capture, magnify, reflect and thus join the beauty and truth of creation, I am a poet. … I stare at that word on the page, and am flooded with questions impossible to answer:  Can I be a poet & serve God?”  It’s a bit maudlin, I realize, but it illustrates the point: somewhere along the journey of Faith, I picked up this idea that a “real” poet couldn’t serve God, and, more to the point, there was no real place in his Kingdom for a “real” poet (the witness of John Donne, John Milton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot not withstanding).

I have long since resolved this dilemma, and as a Christian and a Pastor I’ve found my way into God’s service without leaving my imagination at the door, helped in great part by the writings of Francis Schaeffer, his son Franky, Madeline L’Engle, Jeremy Begbie and others.  I am thinking about it today, however, because I have been reflecting recently on the creative nature of the Christian life and the “artistic” (for lack of a better word) nature of the Christian disciplines.  Not only is there a place for the artist in the Christian faith, but to live the life of a growing Christian well actually requires us to use those very faculties that the artist hones and develops and employs as a matter of course in the production of their art: imagination, creative expression, story-telling, visioning and re-visioning the world. 

I do not mean, in saying this, that artists make better Christians, or that all Christians should be “artistic,” in the normal sense of that word.  I mean something simpler, and yet more profound:  that the Christian life is in its very essence artistic, and whether they realize it or not, whether they conceive of it in this way or not, whether they every write a poem or paint a picture in their lives or not, still,  serious, growing disciples of Jesus are—by the very nature of what it takes to follow Jesus—becoming artists.

This goes back, actually, to the very beginning.  In Genesis 1:27, we’re told that God created human beings by the power of his speech and that he created them in his image, "male and female, in the image of God made he them." There's far more going on in these few simple words from Genesis 1:27 than could ever fit into a 500 word blog post (indeed, they've inspired theological words-in-response at a ratio of something like 1,000,000:1) but what I want to focus on is the fact that, in the ancient world, a king who had conquered a land would then set up his image (zelem) in that land, the idea being that the image would effect, extend and continue the King's reign even when the King himself was not physically present.   And in the ancient world's framework for cosmogony (stories to explain how the cosmos came to be), creation always happened through an act of conquering and subduing chaos.  So in Genesis 1:  God conquers the formless-and-void chaos of the world-in-the-beginning, and, once the wild and waste world is formed and filed with verdant life, he sets humanity as his kingly "image" in the newly-conquered-Creation.  The implication here (among other things) is that humanity is called to extend, effect and continue the creative work he has begun.  Being made in the image of God is being made for a certain kind of “creativity”—a world-nurturing, creation-blessing, God-reflecting creative life in the world.

(With this all in mind, I can't help but notice that the words we most often use to describe the human act of "singing/drawing/carving/writing/making original things that didn't exist before" link it to divine things.  There's "creativity" itself, but there's also "inspiration" (to be "breathed" into), and there's "imagination" and "visionary" and "musical" (connected, of course, to the Greek Muses).  All of these words seem to be feeling around the etymological edges of that spiritual "thing" that happens when human beings act creatively.)

Of course, two thoughts follow this observation.  One is that the rest of the story describes how human beings failed in this calling to properly Image God in the creation.  Forbidden fruit was eaten; Humans were exiled; Paradise was lost.  The Image of God itself is not lost.  It is something intrinsic to being human, and the New Testament affirms that even this side of the Fall people are still in the Image of God.  But the image has been marred by sin and distorted in our exile. That’s the first thought: we see the Image now as if in a mirror darkly.  The second thought is good news, however: that in Jesus Christ, God has recapitulated the Image of God for us.  Jesus is the true Image of the Unseen God (Col 1:15), and by his Spirit Christians are being shaped into his Image and Likeness (Romans 8:29).  Through Christ the Image in us is being restored to its former glory and beauty.

And its former creativity.  Which is the point I want to make today:  if it’s true that the Image of God originally included a call to creative activity in the world on the Creator’s behalf, and if it’s true that in Christ the Image is being restored in us, then it follows that there is something intrinsically creative in the life of discipleship that He’s calling us into.

Again, let me stress that I don’t mean Jesus wants us to paint paintings, necessarily, or write short stories, per se, or take up interpretive dance even.  He loves it when we do these things for his glory, I think, but that’s not my point.  My point is that if the Christian life really is about having the Image of God restored in us, then the Christian life is itself a creative way of being.  It is about looking at the world with a sanctified imagination, and responding to it creatively, and putting our hands to it with skill and care and craft, and leaving behind something original and expressive and true.  To the extent that this is also what the artist tries to do whenever she picks up a paint brush or puts down a word or what have you, to that extent there is something fundamentally artistic about the Christian life.  The growing Christian is, you might say, an artist in the truest sense of that word.

Over the next few weeks at terra incognita we’re going to spend some time exploring this idea: the connections between Christianity and creativity.  If you’re an artist yourself and you’ve ever wondered if the Faith has any genuine room for your particular artistic passion, I hope you’ll come along for the ride.  If you’re not an artist, and have never really felt any draw to the arts, I hope you’ll join us all the more.  Either way, I hope we’ll discover that not only do we not have to leave our imaginations at the door, we actually need them—and our poetic expression, and our carefully-crafted stories, and our artistic visions and our full creativity—if we’re to love him well.



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