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.

3 Minute Theology 5.2 What is the Mediation of Christ?

On Aging with the Lord (Luke 2:21-40)

On Seeing a Daytime Moon (a poem)


When I see the moon
All pale and low but unmistakably there
In a bright blue afternoon sky,
Like a winking eye hung faint and grey
In a time and place it has no right to be,

I remember all those times and places
I myself have stood all incongruous and out of sync
Like a celestial anomaly exposed
By the unlikely coalescence of the lunar cycle
Of my heart and the diurnal rhythms of my destiny.

Did He who taught the pale moon
To peek out now and then on a sunlit afternoon
Put me here, or there, or there again, as well,
To see that thing that no one thought belonged
And name the thing that no one else could see?

Raindance (a song)



And when the rain comes falling
Falling from heaven above
Don’t let it dampen your spirits
Let it water your love

Nothing green can grow
Except the rain comes along
In the downpour
Just sing this song

Raindance!
When you’re caught in a storm that you just can’t explain
You raindance!
Keep moving your feet till the sun shines again
Nobody’s a prisoner of circumstance
You can find your way out if you just take the chance
On a rain dance!

And when the rain comes tumbling
Soaking the thirsty land
Don’t let it slip through the fingers
Of your trembling hands

And when the levee breaks
You won’t get washed away
And when the flood comes
You’ll laugh and say

Raindance!
When you’re caught in a storm that you just can’t explain
You raindance!
Keep moving your feet till the sun shines again
Nobody’s a prisoner of circumstance
You can find your way out if you just take the chance
On a rain dance!

Spinning, spilling, splashing, washing over your heart
Like a whirling dervish dancing his way to the start of
Spinning, spilling, splashing, washing over your heart
Like a whirling dervish dancing his way to the start
His way to the start, his way to the start

And when the rain comes softly
Sparkling like morning dew
It’s gonna soak your soul down
And make everything new

'cause nothing green can grow
Except the rain comes along
In the downpour
Just sing this song

Raindance!
When you’re caught in a storm that you just can’t explain
You raindance!
Keep moving your feet till the sun shines again
Nobody’s a prisoner of circumstance
You can find your way out if you just take the chance
On a rain dance!

3 Minute Theology 5.1: What is the Ascension?

Epiphany (a poem)

As pastor I am the forgotten crayon
Shoved into the front pocket
Of the congregational pair of blue jeans,
Chucked haphazardly into
The laundry machine of Church Life.

If I am pink the whites will all turn rose.
If I am green, they'll come out a sickly hue.
If I am yellow, then yellow will become the clothes;
If grey, eventually they’ll turn a faded blue.

On the Joy of the Lord (Luke 1:1-80)

The Preacher, the Pastor and the Poet

I have been thinking a lot recently about the role of poetry in the work of a pastor. If this combination—poetry and pastoral work—strikes you as odd, that is partly why I’ve been thinking about it so much.

It ought not to be odd.

After all, whatever else it involves, the work of the pastor involves handling the written Word of God well, so that it might lead people to, and mould them after the likeness of, the Living Word (our Lord Jesus Christ). I believe very strongly that a pastor who wants to do this work well ought to be at least as comfortable with poetry as he or she is comfortable with church leadership paradigms (let’s say), models for discipleship ministries, pastoral counseling practices, or theological reflection.

I’m not alone in this conviction.

In The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson makes an off-hand observation about the intuitive connection between pastoral work and poetry. “Is it not significant,” he asks rhetorically, “that the biblical prophets and psalmists were all poets? It is a continuing curiosity that so many pastors, whose work integrates the prophetic and psalmic (preaching and praying), are indifferent to poetry. In reading poets, I find congenial allies in the world of words. In writing poems, I find myself practicing my pastoral craft in a biblical way.”

I have also noticed this “indifference to poetry” among many contemporary pastors, too. One time at a work dinner with a number of my fellow pastors, I asked out of the blue (and out of genuine interest) what everyone’s favorite Shakespeare play was (mine is King Lear, followed closely by Midsummer Night’s Dream). The blank stares that met me gave me a hunch that Peterson is on to something here.

In Subversive Spirituality, Peterson returns to this thought. He points out that St. John of Patmos, who was the first Christian ever to bear the title theologian—was also, and by default, a poet. Contrary to the suppositions of the Left-Behinders, the Book of Revelation is not an Apocalypse Survival Manual. It is a poem. The “one great poem which the first Christian age produced”; and, Peterson warns us, “The inability (or refusal) to deal with St. John the poet is responsible for most of the misreading, misinterpretation, and misuse of the book.”

Why is was the last book of the Bible written to us in the form of an extended poem? Peterson suggests that it’s because “a poet uses words primarily not to explain something but to make something. Poet (poetes) means ‘maker.’ Poetry is not the language of objective explanation but the language of imagination. It makes an image of reality in such a way as to invite our participation in it.” This is true not just of the Book of Revelation, but also of the 23rd Psalm, the glorious visions of New Creation in Isaiah, the exultant Magnificat of Mary, and the hundreds of other poetic texts we find in the pages of the Good Book.

To handle the Bible well, then, I believe, pastors need to know poetry.

Let me be clear that I am not speaking of exegesis here, per se—dissecting and analysing the poetry of the Bible. Like Dr. J. Evans Prichard, PhD—the fictional author of that terrible essay called “Understanding Poetry” from the movie Dead Poets Society—we can be fully fluent in the rhyme, metre and figures of speech that poetry employs without ever coming to know it in a way that allows it to do what Peterson is describing above, to “make” to invite our participation in a new reality.

For this we need to spend leisurely time with poetry. Soaking in it. Savoring it. Trying it out in public when opportunity arises. Even, dare I say, trying our hand at it.

The more I think about it, in fact, the more convinced I am that every pastor whose work involves the Word of God (i.e. every pastor) could do far worse than to write a poem or two every now and then. They need not be good poems; the need never be published; but to understand how a carefully-honed turn of phrase can distill an experience down to its essence and then release it like evocative incense into the imagination of others—that is a lesson best learned by trying.

I am writing from a strong bias here, I will admit. I write poems every once in a while. If you count song lyrics, I would say I write poetry a lot; but even if you only include the unsung variety, I’d have to admit that I’ve been known to write a poem upon occasion. Of course, all of my verse is largely unsung—I’ll never be the next Gerard Manley Hopkins—but even so, I have always found great delight in writing poetry. I hope, too, that it has made me deeper, wiser, and more sensitive as a “workman who studies to present himself approved, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

This is all by way of explanation. For the next few weeks at this blog, I’m planning to post some of my best attempts at waxing poetical. My goal is to write a poem a week till the start of Lent. Well see how it goes. But as we do, my hope is that it might inspire you, whether you are a pastor or not, to reflect a bit on the role that poetry has, or might have, in your own life as a follower of Jesus, the One who was himself the Word made flesh.

Learning to Fly (a song)



When you reach the top
You’re only just starting to climb
So keep rising up
The jump is gonna be sublime

You’ll be soaring across the sky
You’re not falling you’re learning to fly
Just hold your head up and just hold your wings out and
Don’t let this moment pas by
You’ll be soaring across the sky

And you’re not alone
You’re walking where angels dare
So just don’t look down
You’ll be flying on a wing and a prayer

You’ll be soaring across the sky
You’re not falling you’re learning to fly
Just hold your head up and just hold your wings out and
Don’t let this moment pas by
You’ll be soaring across the sky

Just keep the ground below you
Just keep the sky above and
Just keep the wind against your face
The wings of the dawn will show you
How deep, how high his love and
You will be lifted on his grace

You’ll be soaring across the sky
You’re not falling you’re learning to fly
Just hold your head up and just hold your wings out and
Don’t let this moment pas by
You’ll be soaring across the sky

On Being Filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:57-67)

One Hand Clapping (a poem)


There is a quiet that's always just there
On the teetering edge
Of all our doing and being
Our wanting and watching
Our running back and forth in desperate needing,
Like the perfect peace of nestling in
Against the bosom of one’s beloved,
Or the soft second before the next exhale,
Held gently against the heart
Like the folded fist of a newborn baby napping.

Only when you’ve ceased your straining for it
Will you ever start to hear it, a quiet that comes
With the distant flutter of something like dove wings
While a song of deliverance over you sings
And the trembling silence inaudibly rings
With the ephemeral echoes of one hand clapping.

On Asking God for a Sign (Luke 1:5-25)

Ghost Notes (a song)



After the earth shakes and after the wind dies
After the fire has scorched the ground
Come stand on the mountain and listen for silence
A small still voice that whispers the sound

Of ghost notes in the song
They echo, can you hear them?
Calling, in the heart of the
Long dark night of the soul...

After the darkness and after the daylight
After the shadows have come and gone
In the sound of your breathing, your broken heart beating
The small still voice it leads you on

With ghost notes in the song
They echo, can you hear them?
Calling, in the heart of the
Long dark night of the soul...

Angel song ringing and seraphim singing
A cherubim calls in the throne room above!
Oh can’t you hear it,
Too glorious to bear it,
His song of redemption salvation and love?

Ghost notes in the song
They echo, can you hear them
Calling, in the heart of the
Long dark night of the soul

10 Years of Blogging

It was a grey January morning in Saskatchewan, almost 10 years ago today, that I took my first tentative step in to the blogosphere. This blog was officially born on January 27, 2009, but I had been experimenting with the idea of a blog for about two weeks before launching.

Although 2018 was my least productive blogging year ever--with a mere 3 posts in 12 months--I have kept blogging pretty consistently over the last 10 years. 2016 was my best year, both in terms of output (155 posts) and content (personally I feel some of my best writing happened in 2016), but on average I've produced about 80 posts a year for ten years.  When I started this blog back then, it was mostly because a) I needed an outlet for my urge to write, b) I wanted to continue reflecting on life theologically, having just finished my Masters Degree in Pastoral Ministry, and c) I had a vague notion that keeping a blog was something a pastor of the new millennium ought to do.

A lot has happened in the last ten years. I became a pastor; I beat the odds and served 10 consecutive years at the same pastoral post (thank you FreeWay!); together with my lovely wife I raised three children into young adulthood; I experienced the heartache of a pastoral burn out (2014); I nearly completed a D.Min degree (I'm on the final leg of my dissertation); I've read approximately 180 books (yes, I keep track); I recorded 7 albums-worth of original music (# 7 will be released in the coming months); and I posted almost 800 posts on topics as far-ranging as the theological meaning of Gravity Falls, an exegetical notebook on the Book of Esther, an analysis of the Narnia books, the spirituality of bicycling, the ecological imperative of faith, the theology of Bruce Springsteen, poetry, songwriting, the ascension, the incarnation, parenthood, the historical Jesus, gender, sexuality, and just about anything else I could think of in between.

Over the last ten years (the dry spell of 2018 excepted), this blog has been a great companion.  It has given me space to say things I just couldn't find a better place to say.  It has kept a record of the spiritual vicissitudes of my life. It has challenged me to be a better writer.  It has pushed me to be a deeper thinker.  It's been fun.

It has also been a bit of a pain. The problem with a blog is that it's never finished.  Tomorrow's post isn't written yet, and there will always be another to write after that.  And except for the odd comment or two--that pop up like oases in the desert--you never really know for certain that anybody's reading.

I know this is starting to sound like a typical, "thanks for the memories but I'm shutting down the blog" farewell post, but it's actually the opposite.  After much prayer, reflection and introspection, I've decided to give terra incognita at least one more year of attention.  Last year, between leading through a church merger, producing an original musical based on the life of St Patrick, preparing for the first defense of my dissertation, and launching my second child into university, I had almost no time to breathe, let alone to blog (of all things).  The aforementioned 3-post drought of 2018 is evidence that last year did not have a lot of margin for the blog.  I am hopeful that things will be different this year, and I've laid out a plan for regular posting in 2019.  Among the topics we'll cover this year, I'm planning to explore: the spirituality of the Legend of Zelda, the role of food in discipleship, lessons learned from a church merger, the pastor as poet, and much more.

If this is your first time visiting terra incognita, let me invite you to join me for the ride. If you've been here before, but the last year of silence sort of put you off, let me apologize sincerely.  If you'll give terra incognita one more chance, I'll do my best to keep you thinking, wondering, amused, challenged and stumped as we reflect together on God, life, faith, love, words, and spirituality.

Unregrettable (A Poem for a New Year)

When my time comes
To drop dead as stone
Of heartache after kissing
My last goodnight--
Or however I'll go--
When my time comes
May it come with
Notebooks full of poems
And songs well sung and sermons well preached
And dances danced and plays played
And children, my children
Filled with love,
Like crystal pitchers brimming
With summer lemonade
Squeezed from the lemons
Of life
And my heart, when it bursts (or however I'll go)
Like a sponge sopping wet
With all the Nows it soaked up
Dripping with joy and tears
Unregrettable,
When my time comes.