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.

The meaning of worship, the meaning of life

Most Christians would agree that worship is right at the heart of a thriving life with God.  One old description of the Faith says it’s the very reason we were made: “To know God and Glorify Him forever.”

What Christians don’t tend to agree on, however, is what worship actually is.  If you were to ask a bunch of Christians to define worship, you’d probably get a range of answers.  Some would  talk about singing songs about how much they love Jesus.  Some would talk about taking part in the traditional ceremonies of the Church, like communion and baptism.  Some would describe the feelings of awe they get when they’re out in God’s creation.

So what actually is worship?

Maybe it would help if we looked at some key passages in the Bible where people actually are worshiping God, to see if we can’t detect a pattern in what’s happening.

One of the central stories in the Bible, for instance, is about how God rescued the People of Israel when they were slaves in Egypt.  Right at the start of the story, it says that God heard the people groaning in slavery, so he sends Moses to tell them that he’s going to help.  And in Exodus 4:31, it says that when the people heard that the Lord was going to help them, they bowed their heads and worshiped.

God acts, and the People respond.

In another place, after King Solomon built the Lord’s Temple and was consecrating it to the Lord, it says that the fire came down from heaven and the glory of the Lord filled the Temple, so that the priests couldn’t go in. And then it says this “When all the people saw the fire and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down and worshiped.”

Again: God acts, the people respond.

The same pattern is there in the New Testament.  In the Gospel of Luke it tells how Peter met Jesus for the first time.  Peter’s been fishing all night but caught nothing.  Along comes Jesus, who tells Peter to cast his net into the deep water, and when he does, the catch of fish is so huge that they need another boat to help them bring it in.  And then it says, when the Peter saw it, he fell on his knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord, I’m a sinful man.”

Or how about this one.  After Jesus’ resurrection, Doubting Thomas is ... well ... doubting.  And the Resurrected Jesus appears to him and tells him to put his fingers in his wounds.  And when Thomas sees the nail-holes of the cross, he says, with a voice of awed worship: “My Lord and My God.”

This pattern is consistent throughout the Bible.  It always starts with God showing himself in the life of his people.  And the people see God at work.  And then they respond accordingly.

Sometimes we call this the “Revelation-and-response” pattern in worship.  Worship does not begin with us; Worship is what happens when God reveals himself to us in some way, and evokes a response from us that is appropriate to the revelation.

This revelation can happen in all sorts of ways: hearing the Story of Jesus and realizing how much God loves us; reading something in the Bible that puts its finger smack dab on something we’re going through right now; working among the poor and the marginalized and discovering the presence of Jesus there; being reminded of the awesomeness of the Creator by experiencing the beauty of his creation.

God can and does reveal himself to us through all these things and more.  But the key is that worship happens when God shows himself in our lives, and then we respond in ways that his revelation evokes in us.

It may mean raising our hands and singing our hearts out.  It may sitting in overwhelmed silence.  It may mean weeping because we realize something’s not right between us and God.  It may even mean a drastic overhaul of our lives.

But however it happens, in that response to God, we’ll be discovering the meaning of life.


Through the Roof, a devotional thought

A simple thought hit me the other day when I was reading the story in Mark 2, about the guys who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof of the house where Jesus was because they couldn't get through the crowds.  These guys were ready to do whatever it takes to get their friend to Jesus.  It talks about them digging through the roof (so, roofing in 1 Century Israel was, admittedly, a bit easier to dig through than the shingles on my house, but still, it was hardly an easy job), and then lowering the guy down on his mat (They must have had to haul him, mat and all, up to the roof in the first place, another labor of love).  

The question that emerges for me from this story is, simply: "What stops you from 'getting the guy to Jesus,' Dale?  Because it didn't seem like these friends of the paralytic were about to let anything stop them."  

And while I'm mulling that one over, a beautiful, but kind of difficult thing stands out to me.  It says: "When he saw their faith, Jesus told the man:  'Your sins are forgiven.'"  This is remarkable because of what it doesn't say.  A salvation-by-faith-alone Evangelical like me, if I were writing it down, I'd have said, "When Jesus saw his faith" (i.e. the faith of the man needing healing); but it doesn't: it says their faith.  This may include the faith of the paralytic, but it also includes the faith of the guys getting him to Jesus.  

Are you saying, Mark, that Jesus 'saved' this man from his desperate condition, because the community around him (as represented by the four friends) were so convinced you would, that they'd do anything to get him to you?  If that is what Mark's saying, then you can't help but wonder: What might Jesus start doing in our communities, if we were filled with similar faith: a faith that says, "Nothing matters more than 'getting the guy to Jesus,' and anything might happen, if we do."?

Books Read, 2016

Normally in January, I take some time to look back over my previous year in books, and identify some of the highlights, some of the low-points and some of the contenders for best-read of the year.  This last year, however, I started working on my D.Min studies at Northeastern Seminary, which meant, among other things, my reading list for the year almost tripled.  Because of this, it's a bit of an onerous task to narrow it all down to a few "best-of" picks, or to haiku my way through the whole list, like I did back in 2014.

That said, I've decided this year simply to post the whole list of books read in 2016, with a simple 10-point rating scale and no further comment.  For those interested, here are all the books that entered my brain through my eyes this year (in chronological order).

Spiritual Friendship, Wesley Hill

The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church, Michael Frost

Replenish:  Leading from a Healthy Soul, Lance Witt

The Giant Slayer, Iain Lawrence

Courage and Calling:  Embracing Your God-given Potential, Gordon Smith

A Time for a Change?  Revisioning Your Call, James Hightower

The Way of the Seal:  Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed, Mark Divine

What Makes Love Last?  How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal,  John Gottman

Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, John Gottman

Personality Type in Congregations:  How to Work with Others More Effectively, Lynne Baab

Your Personality and the Spiritual Life, Reginald Johnson

Discover Your Conflict Management Style,  Speed B. Leas

Rest in the Storm:  Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and other Caregivers, Kirk Jones

Pentecostal Healing:  Models in Theology and Practice, Kimberly Alexander

Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson

Over Sea, Under Stone,  Susan Cooper

The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper

Healing, Francis McNutt

Power Healing, John Wimber

The Healing Light, Agnes Sanford

The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis

Miracles:  The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, Craig Keener

Healing in the History of Christianity, Amanda Porterfield

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

The God You Have:  Politics, Religion and the First Commandment, Patrick Miller

Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope, Walter Brueggemann

The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis

Discovering John:  Content, Interpretation, Reception, Ruth Edwards

Interpreting the Gospel of John:  A Practical Guide, Gary Burge

Biblical Ethics and Social Change, Stephen Mott

Complete Your Dissertation in Two Semesters or Less, Evelyn Ogden

Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis

Sabbath Keeping:  Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest, Lynne M. Baab

Solidarity Ethics:  Transformation in a Globalized World, Rebecca Todd Peters

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis

The Cross and Gendercide:  A Theological Response to Violence against Women, Elizabeth Gerhardt

Signature Sins:  Taming Our Wayward Hearts, Michael Mangis

The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis

The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis


On knowing what you're about, a devotional thought

There's a small, almost throw-away line in Mark 1:37-38 that speaks deeply to the life of a servant of Jesus, I think. Jesus has been up all night healing the sick and casting out demons. They've brought their wounded to him where he was staying at Simon Peter's house, and from the sounds of things, there were many.

 They crowded the door, is how Mark says it.

 So in the morning, he's exhausted (I'm assuming), and heads of to a quiet place to regroup (I figure), and when his disciples come looking for him, he says, "It's time to move on." And here's the part that speaks to the heart. Because there's much, much more to be done here. Sicknesses to heal, blind eyes to open, demons to throw down for the ten-count here. And Jesus is leaving. In Luke's telling of this part of Jesus's story he draws out the struggle: "The crowds begged him not to go." But Jesus says, "I've got other cities I need to preach in, for this is the reason I came."

Every servant of Jesus (pastoral or lay, vocational or not) is going to see far more Kingdom work that needs doing, than they themselves can possibly do. Wrestle all night with anti-Kingdom demons, and there will still be crowds needing healing, crowding the door come morning. If it was true for the Son of God incarnate, how much more true for his disciples? And yet Jesus--and I can only imagine how wrenching it must have been for him--left those crowds to preach elsewhere. He knew what he was about, and why, in particular, the Father had sent him--what, in particular his Kingdom mission was--and this became the compass point for his life, allowing him to navigate his way through the sometimes overwhelming demands of ministry.

 I am learning, or trying hard to learn, from the Master's example here: to be clear on "the reason for which Jesus came into my life. Because the ability to say, with gracious humility and transparent honesty, "this is the reason he sent me," allows us also to say the much harder thing: "that's not the reason he sent me." And the freedom from self-Messiahship, and Christian-super-heroism and needing-to-be-everything-to-everyone we will find in Jesus when we can say that, I think, is a path to re-claimed joy in ministry and renewed passion for serving Him.

The Immediacy of the Gospel, a devotional thought

There's a simple word that shows up with unusual frequency in the opening chapters of the Gospel of Mark. In Greek it's euthus, which means, "immediately," or "right away." Jesus came up out of the baptism water "immediately," the Spirit led him into the desert to be tempted "immediately," the first disciples left their fishing nets to follow him "immediately." It actually appears 5 times in the first 21 verses alone (about once every 4 verses), and 42 times in the entire book (which is about 10 more times than all the other Gospels combined).

Jesus' Gospel is breaking over Mark's world with breathless urgency, and in his telling of the tales, the immediacy of the events seems to get special emphasis: things happen one after the other at such break-neck speed that the next wave's upon you before you even have time to clear the foam of the last one from your eyes.

This all stood out to me the other day as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark.   It got me wondering if I share Mark's sense of urgency about the Story of Jesus. Do I feel the same immediacy and excitement and expectation about what's happening in our midst and all around us as long as Jesus is walking among us, as Mark seems to have?

Truth be told: not really.

I sort of "spiritually saunter," most of the time in my walk with Jesus; not a peaceful stroll, mind you, but a lally-gagging shuffle, sure I'll get there eventually... So I'm trying to catch a bit of Mark's spirit these days, and feel it in my core how urgent it is, what Jesus's doing immediately, here, right in front of me, in his mission to bring the Shalom of God to the world.