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 (III): Poetry and the Christian Life

In The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson makes an off-hand observation about the intuitive connection between pastoral work and poetry. “Is it not significant,” he asks rhetorically, “that the biblical prophets and psalmists were all poets? It is a continuing curiosity that so many pastors, whose work integrates the prophetic and psalmic (preaching and praying), are indifferent to poets. In reading poets, I find congenial allies in the world of words. In writing poems, I find myself practicing my pastoral craft in a biblical way.”

Emphasis added; because I also write poetry, and have experienced something profoundly biblical, too, in this careful quest for just the right words and those loving efforts to arrange them just so.

Incidentally, I have also noticed the same indifference to poetry among many contemporary pastors. Most of the pastors who raised me, spiritually speaking, were no-nonsense farmers putting it plainly in the pulpit, or former intervarsity jocks reliving their glory days, adept at squeezing the 23rd Psalm into three preachable points perhaps, but uninterested in letting the weight of those words settle with any ambiguity: even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ...

In Subversive Spirituality, Peterson returns to this thought, in an effort to explain why the Book of Revelation was written as a poem and not (contrary to the suppositions of the Left-Behinders) as an Apocalypse Survival Manual. It’s because “a poet uses words primarily not to explain something,” he argues, “but to make something. Poet (poetes) means ‘maker.’ Poetry is not the language of objective explanation but the language of imagination. It makes an image of reality in such a way as to invite our participation in it.

Emphasis added again; this time because I want to linger over the stuff that makes poetry unique as a form of human expression. It is not simply descriptive speech, but creative speech (Peterson’s right, by the way: the etymology of poem takes us back to the Greek, poiein, “to make or create”). Inasmuch as the language of poetry does this—invites our active, imaginative participation in the hitherto unseen quality of a thing, creating new worlds of possibility and potential—to the extent that Peterson is right and poetry is not “an examination of happens but an immersion in what happens”—to the degree that poetry was the preferred mode of expression of the psalmists and the prophets for a reason—there is, I think, something essentially and necessarily poetic about Christian Spirituality.

Now: before you head off to Starbucks with your moleskin notebook to scratch out your feelings in verse over a steaming Grande Pike, let me clarify. I am not saying that Christians must necessarily write poems, or read them. Nor am I saying that poets make better Christians. I do think Christians could do worse than to read a poem every now and then; I do think it could hardly hurt for every Christian to try their hand at verse once in a while; and I do think the church would be a better place if more Christians felt it in their soul what it means to say something like: “the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with, ah! bright wings.” But that’s the former English teacher in me talking, not the pastor.

What the pastor in me is saying is that when we experience genuine Christian spirituality we are, in fact, experiencing that creative quality of the word that all authentic poetry is grasping after. As we earnestly, fully and wholeheartedly pursue what it means to be a man or a woman made in the image of God remade in the Image of Christ, the Word made flesh, we are doing something inherently poetic, even if we never find the perfect rhyme for silver.

I don’t mean this abstractly, either; I mean it very concretely. Because all Christian Spirituality begins, actually, with prayer. I realize, of course, that almost no statement about Christian Spirituality is uncontroversial.  Theologically I should have said it starts with Christ, revealed by the Spirit and attested to in the Scriptures, but the beginning of our active participation in these things is experienced through prayer. 

Prayer is the essential and necessary activity of Christian Spirituality. And whatever else prayer is—it’s more than this, to be sure, but it is hardly less than this—prayer is poetry.

Again: in saying this I do not mean that our prayers should rhyme, or alliterate, or employ iambic tetrameter. If so, "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" would be a masterpiece of Christian prayer and Dr. Seuss the Most Spiritual Man of All. What I am trying to do here is just bring together the fact that poetry really does invite our active participation in the reality it bespeaks, and the fact that Christian prayer not only invites this, too, but actually answers the invitation.

In praying "Thy will be done, thy kingdom come," we are also participating in the will of the Father and tasting the coming of his Kingdom. On a more immediate level: when we pray for grace, truth, help, hope, sustenance, healing, restoration, the peace of Christ that transcends all understanding, we discover ourselves actively participating in these things as the Holy Spirit realizes them in our lives.

Theologians refer to this as the “efficacy of prayer,” that fact that prayer effects the things we pray for. But today I want to call it the “poetry of prayer,” the fact that the words we speak in prayer spiritually immerse us in what we are praying about.  And the faithful Christian in prayer, even if she doesn't know Gerard Manley Hopkins from Adam, still, in those whispered words that the heart alone understands, to a loving Father by a Spirit who intercedes on her behalf with groans that words alone could never express, she is breathing out poetry of the purest kind, and discovering, I think, the reason poetry was given us in the first place.

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