There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

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

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

random reads

Three Minute Theology 5.1: The Intercessor

Out of the Comfort Zone, a devotional thought

In Acts 9:43 we’re told that while Peter was on an itinerant ministry tour, he stayed for “many days” in Joppa with a tanner (i.e. someone who tanned hides and prepared them into leather), a tanner named Simon. This is just an offhand line, but it’s really interesting to me, because a tanner, of course, handled animal carcasses (which is where the hides came from), and according to Jewish Law at the time, anyone who handled a dead body was unclean; and so culturally, and traditionally, being a tanner was considered an unclean profession. We know from 10:14 that Peter is quite particular about Jewish cleanliness laws (nothing unclean has ever passed his lips, he says), and yet here we see him lodging at the home of an unclean tanner, of all people. God, of course, is about to explode his whole notion of cleanliness and uncleanness, by sending (gasp) some non-Jewish Gentiles to him, requesting an audience, but in a way, this has already begun when he came under Simon the Tanner’s roof. God, it turns out, does not share our concerns when it comes to keeping ourselves safely in our comfort zones, is my point. As uncomfortable as it may have made Peter to be surrounded by so much “ritual uncleanness” (according to Jewish tradition), this is precisely where serving God has brought him, his own hang ups about human defined comfort zones be damned. Where might we find ourselves serving God, if we shared the same indifference about our comfort zones, I wonder?

Three Minute Theology 4.8: The Whole Set

To the Rabble Rousers, a devotional thought

There’s this interesting line in Acts 9, just an offhand comment, but it gets me thinking. It’s in the middle of the story about Paul’s early ministry, just after he encountered the Lord Jesus and had the scales fall from his eyes, and two themes stand out sharply in these early days. 1) All the Christians are kind of afraid of him. Up till now, he’s developed quite a reputation as a persecutor of the church, so it’s maybe understandable that, now he’s converted, they’re all a little gun shy. And 2) all the non-Christians want to kill him. From the sounds of things he’s as zealous now for Jesus as he previously was against him. Everywhere he goes he’s getting in arguments and debates and trouble, “speaking out boldly in the name of Jesus.” He’s in Damascus until the Damascenes hatch a plan to kill him, so he moves to Jerusalem, until the Greeks try to kill him, so he moves on to Caesarea. Eventually, it says, the disciples “sent him away to Tarsus.”

And then comes the interesting line: then, it says, “the church throughout Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace.” I say it gets me thinking, because Paul’s clearly a rabble-rouser for Jesus, and once they finally ship him off to Tarsus, that’s when the church experiences peace. But, of course, Paul’s more than just a rabble-rouser, he’s also a world-shaker for Jesus, and though his ministry might ruffle feathers (even some of his fellow Christian feathers), God intends to rock the foundations of the Roman Empire through him.

 I’m pointing that out because sometimes in church life (or even our own individual discipleship), the people who disrupt our peace are the ones God most uses to move us, shake us and form us. We need the rabble rousers, is my point, even though it’s not always fun to have the rabble roused; and sometimes the worst thing we can do is to rest in a false, complacent kind of peace. And as difficult as it sometimes is, still I'm thankful to God for the rabble-rousers he’s used in my life and ministry, and even (tremulously) praying that he’ll send more my way.

Three Minute Theology 4.7: The BIRG Effect

The Theology of Bruce Springsteen (Part 5): A Sense of Place

Early on in this theological analysis of Bruce Springsteen’s music, I shared how I was never really much of a Springsteen fan growing up.  In that post, I explained how it was the song “Born in the USA,” in particular, that kept me from boarding the train bound for the Springsteen fandom. 

I was 10 years old when “Born in the USA” “went nuclear” (as Spirngsteen puts it in his autobiography), and it’s maybe to be expected that this angry heart-cry of a down-and-out Vietnam vet, shaking his fist at a nation that took from him everything and offered him nothing in return, would be lost on a 10-year-old boy.  Add to this the fact that I’m Canadian, and the best I could make of Springsteen’s passionately bellowed verses was a naïve ode to the good-ol’-U-S-of-A, a sentiment that I sort of prided myself on not being able to relate to.  Like Ronald Regan, who once used “Born in the USA” as a campaign song, I entirely missed the point of this politically charged bray of protest against the Vietnam Draft and its aftermath.  Springsteen himself called “Born in the USA” one of his greatest and most misunderstood pieces of music, and at ten years old, I was one of the misunderstanders.

As an adult I’ve come to appreciate the song.  Even though it’s still not anything I’ve ever sung in the shower (and truth be told, I find that synth hook annoyingly repetitive), I can relate to its passionate desire for roots and rootedness, for community and belonging, for a shalom-oriented re-weaving of the social fabric.  The singer in “Born” is more like an estranged son, clinging to a father who’s disowned him and refusing to scorn his birthright, than he is like some red-ball-cap-wearing jingoist, blindly chanting “Make America Great Again!” at some campaign rally or other. Inasmuch as this need for rootedness, this ache for community, this longing for a shalom-oriented rend in the status quo is a universal experience, and not just a sentiment made in the USA, it is something that can and should resonate with every human heart, regardless of where it was born.

In commenting on “Born in the USA,” Springsteen has said, “It was a GI blues, the verses an accounting, the choruses a declaration of the one sure thing that could not be denied … birthplace.  Birthplace, and the right to all of the blood, confusion, blessings and grace that comes with it.  Having paid body and soul, you have earned, many times over, the right to claim and shape your piece of home ground."

Here we get intimations of the theological meaning of a song like “Born in the USA,” I think, and the many other songs in the Springsteen canon that convey the same attachment to one’s “home ground,” and one’s right to “claim and shape” a piece of it.  Songs like “My Hometown,” “American Skin,” “My City of Ruins,” “Death to my Hometown,” though none of them so bluntly as “Born in the USA,” all ring with the same root note: that the place one calls home is worth loving and celebrating and grieving with and agonizing over, simply because it is home.  As screwed up as it sometimes is—and to be clear no one’s hometown isn’t screwed up, when you really get to know it—but as screwed up as it is, that only makes it all the more worth the agony.

I’m suggesting this as the theological meaning of “Born in the USA”—that one’s home ground is worth all the heartache it takes to love it—because it is certainly the kind of sentiment that a Christian with a robust understanding of the incarnation of Jesus Christ would take to heart.  We know, of course, that the incarnation is about the Creator’s passionate commitment to this world; but often, I think, Christians read this in the abstract.  God may have loved “the world” as a general construct, but he didn’t necessarily love this or that specific neighbourhood in the world, did he?  My home town, your street corner, this or that stretch of grass?

Of course, you can’t ask that question without recalling that the covenant Jesus came to fulfill—the covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—was actually a very real promise of “home ground”—a promise of land and birthright and home.  And while Jesus has transformed that covenant so that it is no longer about a tiny strip of land somewhere in the Levant, even so he hasn’t annulled the promise in doing so, rather he’s burst it wide open, so that the “home ground” he offers us now is the whole world, every strip of land, everywhere, redeemed and renewed and restored by the love of God (so Psalm 2:8, “You said, ask of me and I will give the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your possession.”)  

In Jesus, the Promised Land is now the promised hope of New Creation, healed and renewed and coming soon to a theatre near you.

Through the incarnation, then, God has demonstrated a passion for the welfare of “my hometown” far deeper and purer and more profound than any Springsteen song could ever convey.  And through the incarnation he calls us to share that passion: to love our various strips of “home ground”—my street, my neighbourhood, my corner of the globe—with the redemptive love of Jesus, and then get to work re-weaving the social fabric into a beautiful tapestry of Shalom. 

This is why, though it’s unlikely I’ll ever sing it in the shower, nevertheless I’ve come to appreciate Springsteen’s greatest and most misunderstood piece of music: because it reminds me of something that the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt: that there’s no corner of the Creator’s world that isn’t worth all the agony and heartache, the blood, sweat and tears it costs to love it well.


The Face of a Martyr, a devotional thought

The other day I was reading the story of Stephen in the book of Acts, and I was struck by the description of Stephen at his trial before the Sanhedrin.  Stephen is famous among Bible Trivia buffs for being the first believer to be martyred for his faith, and in Act 6:15, he’s about to give the incendiary sermon that will lead to his summary execution.  But right before he speaks, it says, “All who were sitting [there] looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”  Such a strange and yet powerful image: in giving his testimony for Jesus—the testimony that will cost him his life—Stephen was so filled with the glory of God that it shone in his face.  Shone so clearly, mind you, that it was like the face of an angel to his interrogators.  It got me thinking: does my witness for Jesus—my testimony to his love, his grace, his mercy, his truth—does it shine in my face with anywhere even near that kind of a heavenly radiance, when I’m sharing it? And how can I be so filled with His Spirit, like Stephen, that it might?