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.

The Theology of Bruce Springsteen (Part 4): In the Shoes of a Stranger



One of the hidden gems on Springsteen’s classic Born to Run album is “Meeting Across the River.” The song tells the story of an amateur street thug and his friend Eddie, who are scraping together the cash for a vague and ominous-sounding meeting with a man “across the river.” From the details, we gather that the narrator is down to his last chance in the criminal underworld, that he and Eddie are in way over their heads, and that all their hopes for redemption are riding on whatever deal it is they’re planning to make with the man on the other side of the river.

What makes “Meeting Across the River” especially compelling is the fact that this story is told in the first person, through the eyes, as it were, of this third-rate hood, desperate to make it big in a world far bigger and far more dangerous than he is. The first person narrative voice creates a deep pathos and a profound empathy for the listener. When the narrator urges Eddies to stuff something in his pocket so it will look like he’s “carrying a friend,” the depth of his naivete and the strong likelihood that this meeting across the river is going to end very badly for them, creeps over us like a vague, looming shadow.

The first time I heard “Meeting Across the River,” it took a second to register for me that the “I” voice in the song was not Springsteen himself, that he was actually playing a role, singing a part. Having been raised on the intensely personal songs of the 80s, be it Glam-Metal’s odes to personal sexual prowess or U2’s spiritual ruminations about finding “what I’m looking for,” I had come to assume that whenever a singer sang in the first person like this, he must be singing about himself, expressing personal hopes and dreams, individual desires, and private disappointments. Part of what makes “Meeting Across the River” so arresting on first listen is the fact that the narrator’s voice is so convincing, so fully conceived and personal, that it takes a while to realize that you’re not really hearing the true confessions of a failed, entry-level street thing; you’re only hearing Springsteen imaging the world as one.

As a song writing technique, this art of assuming the role of a particular character and singing in his or her voice permeates Bruce Springsteen’s songbook. In “Born in the USA” he is a returning veteran of the Vietnamese war. In “Racing in the Streets” he’s a career street racer looking over his life. In “The River,” he’s a teen aged dad watching his dreams go up in smoke in the face of unemployment, adult responsibility, and the Carter recession.

It was “The River,” actually, where he first began experimenting with this approach to writing songs in a serious way. In this brief excerpt from the documentary “The Ties that Bind,” Springsteen talks about the development of first-person storytelling in his music.



“With a very specific narrative story,” he explains, “I would sing in that voice, you know, of the character. And it wasn’t necessarily me, though it was partly me, and partly other people. … ‘The River’ was my touchstone for all that writing that came later, where you simply step into a character’s shoes and try to get your listeners to walk in those shoes for a while.”

Towards the end of the above clip, he talks about the power of this kind of song writing. “You’re laying claim to [a] character’s experience, and you’re trying to do right by it as a song writer, and you’re taking the risk of singing in that voice.” Taking this risk, he says, “is the writer’s job. [It’s to] faithfully imagine the world, and other’s lives in a way that respects them … sort of honours them … and records them in your own way somewhat faithfully.”

What Springsteen is talking about here, I think, is more than just the writer’s job.  It’s the well-spring of grace and compassion in the human heart. At least: the ability to imagine the world through the eyes of another human being, and to do it in a way that respects and honours them faithfully, is essential if we are to know true compassion and extend genuine grace to others. To realize what it might mean to be a dying AIDS patient, for instance, longing for brotherhood as he waits out the sunset of his life (as Springsteen tries to do in “Philadelphia”) is to take a step towards true empathy for the lonely dying in our own lives. To realize what it might mean to be young, unemployed, and out of options (as Springsteen does in “Atlantic City”) is to plant seeds of grace in your heart for the hard decisions people in such circumstances need to make every day.

Whenever I see this “faithful imagining of the world through another man’s eyes” happen well in a Springsteen song, it occurs to me that Christians could do worse than take a cue from him on this one.  At least, it is certainly what our Lord did for us, on a cosmic scale, when he literally stepped into our shoes—the Son of God become the Son of Man—and walked in them all the way to the cross.  "We do not have saviour who is unable to empathize with us in our weakness," says the writer of Hebrews, "but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and yet he was without sin."  Herein lies the source and power of Christ's grace and compassion for us, that in him, God literally looked through the world through human eyes.  "For this reason," the writer of Hebrews says in a different place, "he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a faithful and merciful high priest in service to God."

And to the extent that his compassion and grace are in fact the currency of the Christian life, this ability to “step into a character’s shoes and walk in them for a while” should come as naturally to us as breathing. If it did, I expect that the “weightier matters of Law”—justice and mercy and faithfulness—would come more naturally, too. To quote a song writer that predated Springsteen by a good 750 years, the Way of Jesus is to seek “not so much to be understood, as to understand … not so much to be loved, as to love with all [our] souls.”

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