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.

Miracle of Miracles, a devotional thought

Mark gives us three powerful healing miracles back to back in Mark Chapter 5. Jesus exorcises a legion of demons from the man living out in the Gerasene cemetery; then (unbeknownst to him) he heals a woman who has been suffering 12 years from constant hemorrhaging, and then he resuscitates a dead girl, the daughter of the head of the local synagogue.

It's interesting what stands out when you stop to consider what each of these stories share in common. Because the Gerasene demoniac is a) a non-Jew, living b) in the cemetery, and c) among the swine-herds, all of which would have made him "unclean" according to the Jewish customs of the time. Likewise, the bleeding woman would have been considered ritually unclean by any 1sty Century Jew who knew the Book of Leviticus well. So too the dead girl-- for a Jew, contact with a dead body also led to ritual uncleanness. In one short Chapter we come across pigs and pagans, disease and demons, blood and bodies. It's hard to imagine a less-clean travel itinerary, and yet Jesus--the holy, pure, Son of God--moves calmly, assuredly and altogether unperturbedly amid it all.

It strikes me that his Kingdom of God ministry issues a deep challenge to the notions of holiness and unholiness, cleanness and uncleanness, purity and impurity that were woven deep down into the religious fabric of his world. And it gets me wondering-- what deep-seeded notions of "cleanness" and "uncleanness" are at work in my own heart, determining who I have contact with and who I don't, who I will embrace and who I won't, and is his Kingdom challenge as much for me as it was for "them" back then?

Learning the Basics with Jesus,a devotional thought

 A simple line in Mark 4 got me thinking the other day. Jesus has just finished telling his first parable (the sower and the soils, Mark 4:1-9), and while the disciples are all scratching their heads, he says, "Don't you understand this parable? Then how, also, will you know [the meaning of] all the parables?" (my rough translation).

In other words, The Sower and the Soils is like "Learning from Jesus 101," and if you can't get this simple lesson, what will you do as the parables get increasingly layered and mysterious? It's an interesting statement, especially because the parable of the Sower itself is about those who "get" the Message of the Kingdom and those who don't. Jesus seems to be saying: "Only the 'good soils' will get my message, and the first sign that you're 'good soil' is if you get this parable about the good soil, to begin with." Sounds a bit like circular reasoning, but then, when did Jesus ever bow to the man-made-rules of logic or rhetoric? He wrote the rules, after all!

But it got me thinking about the fact that, when it comes to Jesus, how we do hear determines how we will hear; how we do press into the deep truths of life with him, when the pressing in is relatively easy, will determine how we will press in, when the pressing in is fraught with obstacles and spiritual resistance. Tougher lessons than the Parable of the Sower are on their way, and only those who have cut their teeth--and their hearts--and their imaginations--on this one, will be ready for them when they do.

"If you don't get this parable, how will you understand any parable?" May Jesus make us all quick studies.

Standing in the Gap: a Reflection on Worship

A while ago, a friend of mine was reading through the Bible, cover to cover for the first time.  She did pretty well with Genesis and Exodus, but when she got to Leviticus, things started to get rocky.

“Why the sudden obsession with cleanliness and animal sacrifice?” she wondered.

While all those elaborate rituals and detailed sacrifices in Leviticus may seem strange to modern readers like us, they’re actually crucial for understanding the person and the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Because the theological vision underlying the Leviticus is that, whatever else God is, he’s transcendent.  The word transcendent means that God is completely other, absolutely unlike anything in Creation.  Like it says in one place:  “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways above your ways.”

Now, we tend to think in spatial terms, so we tend to picture it in this way—that God is “above us” or “far away.”  But in Leviticus, God is not “far away.”  He is the Creator of everything, after all, so he’s always present to the creation; and what’s more, the story of Leviticus is that God has actually come to live right in the midst of his people, in the Tabernacle that Moses made.

God’s Transcendence has to do with his nature, not his location.  God is completely holy, whereas humans sin.  God is completely eternal, whereas humans are tainted by death.  God is pure light in which there is no shadow at all, and humans are ...well, you get the picture.

This is the theological dilemma driving the Book of Leviticus: God is always right there with us, and at the same time, he’s wholly transcendent.  How do you live with a God like that?

In Leviticus the answer is through the ministry of a priest.  A priest must “go between” for the people, in the way that God prescribes, according to rituals he describes, rituals which not only “represent” God’s transcendence to us, but also “bridge it” so that we can in fact, live with him.

So ritual washing, for instance, reminds us that God’s pure and we’re unclean, but it also deals with the problem, by making us clean.  And the rituals of animal sacrifice address the fact that it would mean death for flesh-and-blood creatures like us to stand in the presence of a Holy God, but it also deals with this problem.

The whole Bible agrees with Leviticus on this one:  God is completely transcendent and yet, at the same time, always there.  And because of this, there is no way for Humans to do life-together-with-God—to worship, or pray, or celebrate him—without the work of a Mediator like this.

Someone needs to enter God’s presence on our behalf, bringing “the things of humanity to God,” and bringing the “things of God to us.”

And this is where Jesus comes in.  Because Christians, of course, while they may share the vision of God that Leviticus describes, they don’t actually observe any of the rituals it prescribes.

And this is because the writers of the New Testament kept insisting that Jesus is the fulfillment of the vision for life with God that we find in the Torah.  He is the Great High Priest, but he is also the sacrificial Lamb.  He is the Tabernacle where God’s Glory dwells, but he’s also the Perfect Mediator who enters the Tabernacle for us.

This is why the teaching that Jesus is both fully God and fully human matters so much, because only a fully-human-fully-divine saviour could bridge God’s transcendence for us, brining the things of God to us, and at the same time, bringing human being like us into the divine presence.

For the Christian every aspect of our life with God is really just a participation in the Priestly Ministry of Jesus, who stands as our human representative before God.  Through faith and by the Holy Spirit, our worship, our prayer, our ministry, our very lives are untied with the worship, prayer and ministry that Jesus offers the Father on our behalf.

And because it’s offered in him, it is accepted as holy: pure, perfect and pleasing to God.


By the Lakeshore with Jesus, a devotional thought

Compared to the three other Gospels, Mark comes across as brief, unpolished, even cursive at times. Yet for all this, many of his stories capture details that the other Gospels might minimize or edit out, but they leave you certain you're brushing up against the raw texture of a story remembered by those who were there.

Mark 4:1 is an example of this. I've always loved the description of Jesus sitting in a boat and teaching from the water because the crowds were so packed along the lake-shore that there was no room for him there. This is, I think, the sort of out-of-the-ordinary detail that would have lingered long in the telling and retelling of the event: "And then Jesusget thishe was almost pushed into the water by the crowds pressing in to hear him, so he hopped in a boat and shoved off into the lake, and taught them all from there!"

When I tried to visualize this, it sort of strikes me that today the crowds aren't "practically pushing Jesus into the lake" in their enthusiasm to encounter him. Even among Christians, you don't often see this sort of falling-over-yourself eagerness not to miss a thing he has to say; sadly, Jesus has plenty of room to move about freely in most Canadian churches.

It makes you wonder.  What had those crowds at the lakeshore that day *experienced* in Jesus, that we have yet to experience, that nothing in the world was so compelling to them as standing under his teaching as he taught? But it also makes you wonder this: what if the 21st Century Canadian Church was like that lake shore: crammed so full of people there to hear Jesus that it almost felt like there was barely room left for him? I think we'd find he was filling up the place to overflowing, if it were.

Jamming with the Maestro, a thought on prayer

One of my favorite viral videos is of a violinist performing a solo piece in concert.  The audience sits enraptured as the performance reaches its majestic crescendo, and then someone’s cell phone thoughtlessly breaks the spell.

But what this maestro does with the interruption is amazing.


So: the way this maestro graciously incorporates the harsh music of that cell-phone into his performance provides us with a helpful starting point, I think, for understanding Christian prayer.

Now: it’s a basic axiom of the Christian life, that Jesus Christ acts on our behalf as our Great High Priest in Heaven, interceding for us before the Father. Our prayers always come to God in, through and with the prayers of our Mediator, the God-man Jesus Christ.

We see this principle at work in some fascinating ways in the New Testament.

Take the well known “Lord’s Prayer,” for instance.  The disciples see Jesus praying, and ask him to teach them to pray.  And the prayer he taught them goes like this: “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Towards the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself is praying, in a garden called Gethsemane.  It’s right before his crucifixion, and Matthew says Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to pass from me, then thy will be done.”

Right before his obedient death on the cross, Jesus himself prays perfectly the prayer he taught his disciples to pray—that the Father’s will be done.

In Mark’s Gospel, we see the same thing from a different angle.  In Mark’s Gethsemane, Jesus prays these words:  “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you; take this cup from me, yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The word “Abba” is an Aramaic term for Father that expresses intimacy and familiarity—the word “Dad” maybe gets us close to it in English.

But in another place in the New Testament, it’s talking about our life with God, and it says this:  “We are all children of God ... who have received a Spirit of Sonship, and by the Spirit we cry out ‘Abba, Father.’”

In other words: the Holy Spirit puts Christ’s prayer in us when we pray to the Father, and by the Holy Spirit, our prayers become part of the beautiful, trusting, ‘Abba Father’ prayer he prayed in Gethsemane.

What all this means in practical terms, is that when Christians pray, our prayers are united with Jesus’s own prayers to the Father.  He gathers them all up into himself, perfects them in his own self-giving, and then offers them for us in his one glorious prayer:  “Abba, Father, Thy will be done.”

But what does this actually look like?  If Jesus prays for us, does the actual content of our individual prayers mean anything?

Well: imagine a violinist performing in the great concert hall that is heaven.  His music is sweeping and rapturous, and as he performs , sometimes-well-meaning, sometimes-thoughtless, but never especially musical ringtones break the moment.

To the extent that we never know how to pray as we ought, and even when we try, our humanness always gets in the way—in that sense our prayers are those garish ringtones.

The difference, of course—and it’s the difference that makes all the difference— is that rather than seeing these ringtones as thoughtless interruptions, this maestro joyfully welcomes them.

Because he’s the consummate artist.

And he’s able not just to transform them into music, but to weave them seamlessly, effortlessly, and joyfully into his performance, so that they thrill the audience, and without ever losing their original quality, sound as if they always belonged.

This is what Jesus does with our prayers, as faltering and imperferfect as they always are, he gathers them up into his own liturgical self-giving to the Father in heaven, uniting them with his own perfect prayer and offering them with his, to the Father.

In this way our prayers become part of his glorious masterpiece: Yes, Abba Father, Thy will done, on earth as it is in Heaven!

What's in a Name, a devotional thought

I love the description of Jesus "naming" his disciples in Mark 3:16-17. It says that after he chose the 12, he gave Simon the name "Peter" (Peter is Greek for "the Rock") and he gave James and John the name "The Sons of Thunder."

I've always sort of read this in a sombre way, that Jesus is putting his finger on something truer-than-true about these men. And there's probably something to that, but this morning it struck me how playful the giving of "nicknames" actually is. In the Robin Hood legend, one of the running gags is how Robin Hood renames all the outlaws who join him (Little John was John Little before he met Robin). Or remember how Mike Myers kept adding "-meister" and other such playful suffixes to peoples names in Wayne's World? We just watched Big Hero 6, and in that movie, it's Fred, the not-a-care-in-the-world-party-guy who "gives everyone their nicknames." Oh yeah, and in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, it's Michelangelo (the party dude) who assumes the responsibility of giving all the bad-guys their super-villain handles.

No: Jesus is not like Mike Myers or Michelangelo or Robin Hood, except in this: when his followers come to him they find themselves creatively, even playfully, renamed. In my mind's eye I could almost see the twinkle in the eye as Jesus looked at Peter and said, "from now on we'll call you The Rock." And I can only speculate what earned James and John the handle "Sons of Thunder!" (but it's pretty rewarding speculation). Two intermingled thoughts linger with me here: 1) in coming to Jesus something deep and true and essential about who we really are gets drawn out of us, and this is reflected in the renaming of people we see him doing in the Gospels; but 2) there is something profoundly good-natured and joyful and even playful in the way Jesus goes about drawing this out of us.