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 Theology of Bruce Springsteen (Part 2): Blinded by the (Everyday) Light

Spend much time with Bruce Springsteen’s music and you’ll become keenly aware of an intense yearning, throbbing in the heart of all those last-chance losers and hopeful romantics that haunt his lyrics.

It thrums like an urgent pulse in the unsettled soul of “Hungry Heart,” who’s got a wife and kids in Baltimore while he sits in a Kingstown bar, confessing the truth about the money he laid down and the parts he played, only to discover in the end that “everybody’s got a hungry heart...”

It pounds like an engine roar in the breakneck passion of the street-racers in “Night,” who forget the sweat and toil of the work-a-day world in the split-second glory of the drag race; who “work all day / to blow ‘em away in the night.”

And it echoes like a plaintive cry in the unrealized dreams of the teen aged dad in “The River,” who acts like he don’t remember his hopes for the future, and whose shotgun bride acts like she don’t care.  “Is a dream a lie if it don't come true,” he wonders, “Or is it something worse / That sends me down to the river / Though I know the river is dry / That sends me down to the river tonight?”

Though each of these characters—and the many more that lurk in the dark alleyways and wander endless highways of his songs—feel it in different ways and salve it with different balm, each are yearning, fundamentally, for the same thing: to escape the drudge and disappointment of the everyday world in some unfettered, extra-sensory, soul-illuminating experience of liberation.

If everyone does indeed have a hungry heart, what all the hearts in Springsteen’s songs are hungry for, it seems, is that mystical experience of "otherness" that theologians call the transcendent.

As a theme in his song writing, the yearning for the transcendent finds its most Springsteen-esque expression, of course, in the two broken heroes of “Born to Run,” the never-grown-up street racer, and his dreamy, visionary lover, Wendy.  From its unforgettable opening lines, the entire song gapes like an unhealable wound with an unfilled ache for transcendence:  “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream / At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines.”  The whole highway is jammed with “broken heroes on a last chance power drive,” of course, but it’s Wendy and her desperate lover whose yearning for escape crystallize the need for transcendence in us all:  their town (our worlds) may indeed be a death trap, a suicide rap, but together, with a delirious street to die on and an everlasting kiss between them, Wendy and her Peter Pan might just leave it all behind, if only for this moment, for this night: “Together Wendy we can live with the sadness / I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”

In his autobiography Springsteen describes the thematic impetus for this rock and roll classic (ranked #21 on the Rolling Stone List of Greatest Rock Songs of All Time).  “I wanted to use the classic rock ‘n’ roll images,” he writes, “the road, the car, the girl . . . what else is there?  It was a language enshrined by Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Hank Williams and every lost highwayman going back to the invention of the wheel.  But to make these images matter, I would have to shape them into something fresh, something that transcended nostalgia, sentiment and familiarity.”

We find a similar desire for “something that transcends ... familiarity” in Mary of “Thunder Road,” whose streetwise saviour freely confesses that although he’s no hero (that’s understood), he has a kind of redemption on offer (beneath this dirty hood):  the redemption of a passionate embrace and an open road, of escape from loneliness and fading beauty in a roaring car on a winding highway, of “one last chance to make it real / to trade in these wings on some wheels.”

It’s the same kind of transcendence the street racer and his partner Sonny are chasing in “Racing in the Streets.”  Unlike those guys who “give up living and start dying piece by piece,” they come home from work and wash up, “and go racing in the streets.”

And it’s the same kind of transcendence that the young tough of “In the Streets” is hunting, who loads crates down on the dock five days a week, and then takes his money and meets his girl in the streets, where he can “walk the way [he wants] to walk,” and “talk the way [he wants] to talk,” and so escape the drab realities of his otherwise small, restless, harried world.

As a songwriter, Springsteen is hardly alone in his quest for transcendence, of course.  Jim Morrison was stalking it, in his surreal musings about riders on the storm and his psycadelic speculations about breaking through to the other side.  Bono was pining for it, in his ode to a place where the streets have no name and his prayer for a time when all the colours bleed into one.  Arguably even the party rockers like Van Halen were chasing it in their Dionysian anthems to wine, women and rock n’ roll.

What distinguishes Springsteen from the rest, however, is that instead of sending his characters on metaphysical walkabouts to mystical mountaintops, or losing them in hedonistic debauches with drugs and sex, his quest for transcendences drives them continually back to the earthy, the ordinary, the commonplace.  Passionate love, the togetherness of community, the mysterious bonds of friendship, the thrill of a fast car, the joy of release after a hard day of work: these are the sources of transcendence in Springsteen’s songs.  In his best lyrics we experience something reminiscent of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration, where the ordinary stuff of earth is given an unexpected second look, and found suddenly scintillating with the stuff of heaven.

That last line is a bit hyperbolic, perhaps, comparing a Bruce Springsteen song to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration; but it is an intentional hyperbole.  Because the quest for transcendence is not just a theme in rock and roll; it is also a theme of Christian theology.  Way back in the 5th Century AD, St Augustine said it like this:  “You (God), have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”  Some 1400 years later, C. S. Lewis famously put it like this: “If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.”  What each of these thinkers were trying to put their finger on is that there is, in fact, a yearning for transcendence throbbing in all of us, and that though we seek to fill it in all sorts of ways, metaphysical, hedonistic, ordinary or otherwise, that yearning will never be satisfied until we experience the ultimate transcendence: the beatific vision of and mystical union with God that is the goal of Salvation and the hope of the Christian Faith.

As Christians of course, we recognize that it is only Christ, the Living Water, who can quench the thirst for transcendence that Springsteen’s yearning heroes and searching lovers pique in us.  But like Springsteen, Christianity is also convinced that the stuff of heaven is indeed found most compellingly in the stuff of earth: a broken loaf of bread and a homely cup of wine that becomes inexplicably for us the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus, an old book that trumpets suddenly as the Word of God, the simple refrain of a familiar hymn that transforms suddenly into the habitation of the High King of Heaven, a ramshackle gathering of everyday sinners that becomes, mysteriously, the Body of the Christ.

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