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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

random reads

Corpus Christi Carol (a song)

lyrics based on a traditional poem

Lullay, lullay, lullay, lullay
Falcon has born my mate away

He bore her up, he bore her down
He bore her to an orchard brown

And in that orchard there was a hall
It was hanged with purple and pall

And in that hall was laid a bed
That was hanged with gold so red

And on that bed there lieth a knight
His wounds a-bleeding day and night

And by that bed there kneeleth a maid
And she weepeth night and day

And by that maid there rests a stone
Corpus Christi written thereon

Towards a Theology of Celibacy, Part III

(Note: this is adapted from a paper I prepared for the FMCiC in 2016. You can find the whole paper here: Pastoral Reflections on Singleness and Celibacy)

Any church that wants to treat the Bible's teaching on marriage seriously will have to grapple, at the same time, at some point or another, with its teaching about celibacy as well.  Few books I've read or sermons I've heard on the topic of marriage actually do this. Instead they tend to treat Christian marriage as though it were some how the ideal, and ignore the sometimes startling things the Bible says about the goodness of the single life. There are a number of Bible texts that laud singleness as a path for following Jesus, and often these texts present marriage, if anything, as a concession to those who are unable to walk the path of celibacy.  If we wish to have a theologically rich understanding of marriage and singleness alike, I think, we will have to let these texts speak with their full weight.

The first, and most obvious, is 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul addresses the Corinthian church on matters of marriage and celibacy. What stands out in this text is the way in which Paul seems to view marriage here as a good and proper concession to the frailties of our broken sexuality, rather than an arrangement that is somehow superior to singleness. “It is good for a man not to marry,” he writes (7:1), “but because of immoralities (porneia, sexual immorality), each man is to have his own wife and each woman is to have her own husband” (7:2). Later in the passage he will say that it is “good for the unmarried to remain single” (7:8), but if they are likely to “burn with passion,” they should marry. Here Paul lines up celibate singleness and marriage as equally legitimate expressions of Christian discipleship, though he is clear that he sees an advantage in singleness. The advantage, specifically, is that unmarried Christians are free to serve the Lord with an undivided heart, whereas married Christians have divided interests (7:33-34). Finally, it should be noted that in this passage Paul  refers to celibacy as a “gift.” Given the fact that the term Paul uses here for gift (charisma) is the same he will use later to describe the supernatural empowerings of the Holy Spirit—gifts of healing, tongues, prophecy and so on—it should be noted that Paul does not single out singleness as a unique “gift,” as distinct from marriage. Rather he notes that for some the “gift” is to live a married life, for others it is to live a single life (7:6), but both situations are gifts from God and, presumably, require the empowering of the Spirit to live faithfully and well.

Another passage that deserves careful reflection is Jesus’ teaching about “singleness for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” in Matthew 19. After hearing Jesus’ firm position on divorce and remarriage, the disciples respond that, given this view of marriage, it is “better not to marry” (19:10). Given the church’s tendency to see marriage as the ideal expression of the Christian life, Jesus’ response is fascinating, because he does not deny their conclusion. He simply states, with a line of reasoning similar to that of Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 7, that “not all people can accept this statement” (19:11); in other words, because most people cannot successfully embrace the celibate single life, marriage is the best alternative. He goes on to say, however, that those who are able to “accept” the celibate life should in fact “receive” it, offering a clear and unambiguous affirmation of celibate singleness.

A final text we ought to consider is Jesus’ teaching about marriage at the resurrection. In an effort to point out apparent inconsistencies in his teaching about the resurrection, the Sadducees ask Jesus about a woman who was married seven times: who will she be married to at the resurrection? Again Jesus’ response is startling for Christians used to assuming that marriage is the highest ideal for the Christian life. “In the resurrection,” he says, “they neither marry nor are they given in marriage” (Matthew 22:29-30). In other words, marriage is an earthly institution that serves a good and useful purpose in this life, but will be unnecessary in the life to come. This is not to marginalize or trivialize marriage in this present age—the Scriptures are uniformly clear that marriage is a blessing and a gift from God—but it is to put marriage it its proper perspective. Marriage serves an end and is not an end in itself; and celibacy, too serves an end, though it is not an end in itself either. Both are, in their own way, signs of the coming Kingdom where the human arrangements of husband, wife, master, servant and so on, will all be overshadowed by the heavenly relationship of “brother and sister in Christ.”

A church that takes the scripture’s teaching on celibacy seriously will recognize it, celebrate it and affirm it as a distinct and meaningful path for discipleship, one that requires the support of the Christian community if it is to flourish, one that is highly valued and respected in the teachings of the apostles and in the explicit word of the Lord, and one that makes as valuable a contribution to the community as do marriage and family. Similarly, churches that wish to be shaped by the Scriptures when comes to singleness and celibacy will reject the popular notion that in order to be effective a pastor must be married, or that marriage is a qualification for ministry. This is directly contrary to the plain teaching of the Bible, which, if anything, gives the advantage to the single pastor, who is less encumbered by the demands of a family and a household in the discharge of his or her ministry. At the very least, churches that wish to be shaped by the Scriptures in this matter will take intentional steps to offer a counter-culture to the highly sexualized culture of contemporary Canadian Society, to be a community where singles are affirmed and supported, and celibacy is embraced as a meaningful path for Christ.

3 Minute Theology 5.4: Call and Response

Fire from Heaven: Luke 9:28-56

i thank you god (for most this amazing)

lyrics based on a poem by e. e. cummings

Singleness and the Church, Part II

A “plausibility structure” is the intricate network of symbols, social supports and embedded ways of communicating that a culture has in place to make a certain way of life seem “plausible” to its members.

Take marriage as an example.  Lifelong monogamy does not "come naturally” to the species, one might argue, but societies that enjoin their members to practice it have a whole slew of things in place to make this way of life seem “plausible.” We have sacred ceremonies to celebrate it. We make laws to govern it. We have an elaborate system of record keeping to keep track of who has entered into it. We tell stories which idealize it, and so on.

For centuries, in fact, we have maintained a rather sophisticated “plausibility structure" to make married monogamy seem “plausible,” to nip-in-the-bud any nay-saying voices that might hear the idea and say: “Really? One partner, exclusively, for life? Who could possibly?” (Indeed, the notable decline of interest in traditional marriage in modern day Canada is linked, I would argue, to a steady erosion of the “plausibility structures” that once encouraged Canadians to believe that marriage was a viable path to walk).

If marriage seems too loaded an example, try American gun-control.  No wonder meaningful gun-control laws feel so impossible in America, when 1 in 4 of its eligible citizens owns a gun, when the country itself own almost half of all the citizen-owned guns in the world, when there are 25 times more gun homicides than in any other comparable country, when the right to own a gun is ostensibly encoded in the founding documents of the nation, when a steady stream of entertainment media glorifies gun violence, and so on.  How do you convince citizens to accept restrictions on their freedom to own firearms in a nation where there are all kinds of “plausibility structures” in place to encourage guns, and next to no structures in place to make effective gun control sound “plausible”?

The concept of “plausibility structures” is crucial for any Christian community that wishes to take seriously the Bible’s perspective on sex, and authentically encourage its unmarried members to walk a path of abstinence and celibacy. Most of churches I’ve experienced have been this way. They taught their members that sex ought to be experienced only within the bonds of marriage, and taught by extrapolation that unmarried Christians ought to follow a path of abstinence. Yet such churches had no more “plausibility structures” in place to encourage celibacy, than America has for gun control.  That is to say: there was nothing there to make celibacy appear “do-able,” other than the guilt, shame, or idealization that swirled around sex-talk generally.

Instead, these churches focused on the family, and preached sermon series on how to have a godly marriage, and celebrated newly-weds, and provided little support for divorcees, and targeted “young families” as their preferred ministry demographic (either implicitly or explicitly).  None of these things communicates that “we actually think singleness is a very good thing, a good way to follow Jesus, a way of life that is rich, and important, and, especially, plausible.”

I first learned about "plausibility structures" from Christian Sociologist Jenell Paris-Williams.  She suggests that churches fail in their calling if they do not intentionally make celibacy a “plausible” option for Christian singles, and that if a church wishes to promote a traditional sexual ethic it has an especially poignant obligation to build "plausibility structures" around that ethical teaching.  She argues that the extent to which one’s community presents a life-style choice as “plausible” greatly influences the likelihood one will choose it, and be successful in pursuing it. Her wisdom on this matter merits an extended reference, I think:

Celibacy is surely a strenuous spiritual path, but today the cost of celibacy is unreasonably and unnecessarily high. When it comes to moral teachings about sex outside of marriage, we isolate sexual pleasure from all the other good things that are connected to sexual relationships. People are commanded to abstain from sexual intimacy, but no one addresses how abstention may also limit the person’s access to family, touch, children, financial stability and so on. It’s hard to be a celibate person in an unchaste church whose broader context is an unchaste society. In striving for moral virtue, the celibate also bears the church’s collective sin of failing, in a highly sexualized social context, to make a counterculture in which celibacy is plausible. (Jenell Paris Williams, The End of Sexuality (Downers Grove, Il:  InterVarsity, 2011), 136.)
Wesley Hill, a gay Christian who has chosen to live the path of celibacy, writes extensively on this theme.  In Washed and Waiting, he makes the poignant observation that the church was meant to be God’s sanctified remedy for human loneliness, God’s “compensation” to celibate Christians for their sacrifice of sexual intimacy (see Mark 10:29-30).  He challenges Christians to recognize that “the New Testament views the church—rather than marriage—as the primary place where human love is best expressed and experienced” (Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2010), 111).

If the church is going to live into its identity as “the primary place where human love is … expressed and experienced,” it will have to take far more seriously the extent to which it supports, encourages, and values the single people in its midst.  It will have to ask hard questions about how authentically and how practically it serves as God’s “compensation” to celibate Christians for the sacrifices they have made to pursue this particular path of discipleship.  If it did, I think, it would find itself building structures in its life together that makes the path of celibacy not simply “plausible” for those who walk it, but rich, and rewarding, and life-giving.

On Taking Up Your Cross (Luke 9:10-27)

Zoe (a song)

Zoe is dancing again in the daylight
She comes to me lovely and full of delight
Skipping and spinning with all of her might
And she sets my heart free

Richer than milk, sweeter than honey
Stronger than wine, more precious than money
A blue sky divine all brilliant and sunny
She dances lovely

Life! Springing up from the ground
Like nothing that I've ever found
On this sweet earth
Joy! Filling my heart like wine
Now that I know that you're mine
I'm filled with mirth

Zoe is shinning again in the twilight
She's burning like starts in the darkness of night
She's casting off blindness and putting on new sight
To make my heart see

Flowing like water, burning like fire
Sent from the Father to lift me higher
Anointed with laughter, delight and desire
By Christ my master

Love! Bubbling up in my soul
Your mercy has made me whole
And gave me new birth
Zoe! flowing out like a spring
You teach my spirit to sing
TO sing your worth!

Zoe is running again in the rain
She is leaping and falling and rising again
She is there in the joy and there in the pain
The life Christ gave me

Richer than milk, sweeter than honey
Stronger than wine, more precious than money
A blue sky divine all brilliant and sunny
She dances lovely
Dances lovely
Dances lovely

Life! Springing up from the ground
Like nothing that I've ever found
On this sweet earth
Joy! Filling my heart like wine
Now that I know that you're mine
I'm filled with mirth

Love! Bubbling up in my soul
Your mercy has made me whole
And gave me new birth
Zoe! flowing out like a spring
You teach my spirit to sing
To sing your worth!

Singleness and the Church, Part I

Here’s a quick mental exercise for you.  If you are a church-goer, ask yourself: when was the last time I heard a sermon or Christian teaching on the topic of marriage, family, children, or sex?

Now ask yourself: when was the last time I heard a sermon or Christian teaching on the topic of singleness?

This purely speculation on my part, but I’m willing to bet that the former (teaching on marriage and family) was both more recent and more frequent than the later (teaching on singleness).  Christians have an unnoticed tendency, I think, to idealize, romanticize, and over-emphasize marriage, and ignore, under-emphasize or subtly denigrate singleness as a legitimate way to follow Jesus.   I don’t have a lot of hard data on this, but my gut and my experience tells me it’s so (hence the quick mental exercise at the start of this post).

I wonder a lot about what impact this idealization of marriage has on single people in the church.  I wonder this in part because it is, in fact, quite unbiblical. The Bible actually puts singleness on even par with marriage as a very good way to follow Jesus, and, if anything, portrays marriage as a concession for those who can’t walk the walk when it comes to singleness. (But that’s gonna have to be a post for another day.) More importantly, I wonder about the impact of our emphasis on marriage, because on a spiritual level it seems like a bit of a double standard, to tell unmarried people that they ought to walk a path of celibacy, on the one hand, but offer them none of the spiritual support and recognition in the church that married people get.

Whether or not I’m on to anything here, all the signs in Canadian society suggest that this issue—how does the church relate to, make space for, and spiritual care for the singles in its community—is going to become increasingly relevant in the coming years. In a 2005 study of Canadian social trends, Susan Crompton suggests that Canadian singles, what she calls the “won’t marry’s,” represent a “small but distinct” segment of Canadian society who face a whole slew of unique social pressures related directly to their single status.  Statistically, wont-marrys have fewer socio-economic opportunities, have a higher likelihood of not entering the work-force, and tend to have a median income 16% lower than that of “will-marrys” (Crompton, “Always the Bridesmaid: People Who Don’t Expect to Marry,” Canadian Social Trends, 77, Summer 2005).

These pressures are likely to sharpen and intensify as more and more Canadians opt to remain single. A 2011 Stats Canada study, for instance, found that the percentage of single Canadians has increased from 39$ in 1981 to 54% in 2011.  Most notably, this study found that for the first time ever there were more people living alone in Canada than there were couples with children.

The Canadian dream of a spouse and a house and white-picket fence enclosing a yard where 2.5 kids gleefully play the day away seems to be evaporating.  And as it does, I wonder if the Church realizes that in the gospel, which clearly affirms singleness as a good way to follow the Lord, we have all kinds of spiritual resources to minister well to this growing segment of the population.

My gut tells me it does not realize this.  Partly because of the results I get when I conduct the aforementioned mental exercise (and I'm the preacher in my church!), but more because when I look around the Church in general, I see all the highlighter ink getting used up emphasizing the ministries we do for kids, families, and marriages, and very little of it getting spent on highlighting the special issues and unique opportunities that single Christians face as disciples of the Lord.

I offer this mostly as a word of encouragement today to any of the single Christians who stop in at terra incognita from time to time to peruse some of my thoughts on God, life, faith, love, words, and spirituality.

But I also offer it by way of a preamble to the series I’m starting this month here at my blog.  For the next few weeks, I’m planning to use this space to explore some biblical, theological, pastoral and practical issues related to being a single Christian in Canada. I’ll be travelling this road as a foreign pilgrim, of course.  I married young (20 years old) and have been happily married for going on 25 years now, so I speak humbly and from inexperience on this matter.  But still, I am a pastor, and I care very much that all God’s children should find their place in the life of the church, whether they are married or not.  It is a place of joy, freedom, service, and worship for all, and if the church has been subtly (or not-so-subtly) communicating that you can only find it well if you’re married, than I believe it’s something we ought to repent of, and learn to do better at.

On Miracles and Obedience (Luke 9:10-17)

The Windhover (a song, for Gerard Manley Hopkins)

I caught this morning's morning minmion
Kingdom of daylight's dawn-drawn falcon
Riding on the whippling of the wind

High there how he rung the wind reign
My heart in hiding stirred with wond'ring
The ecstasy, the mastery of the thing

I want to soar, to soar, to soar with you!
To soar, to soar, to soar with you!

Brute beauty, valor, act here buckle
Oh, air and pride and plume a thousand
Times more dangerous, my chevalier

But the fire that breaks from thee, a billion
Times more pure flash gold vermillion
O Christ, my Lord in wonder I will say:

I want to soar, to soar, to soar with you!
To soar, to soar, to soar with you!

I caught this morning's morning minmion
Kingdom of daylight's dawn-drawn falcon
Riding on the whippling of the wind

But the beauty that breaks from thee, a billion
Times more pure flash gold vermillion
O Christ, my Lord in wonder I will say:

I want to soar, to soar, to soar with you!
To soar, to soar, to soar with you!

Ash Wednesday (a poem)

And is this what all my best efforts
My highest aspirations
And meager achievements,
The joys and sorrows and stops and starts,
The world-building and storytelling
And dreaming of dreams
And befriending of friends
The words, words, words
(flying out like endless rain into a paper cup)
Is this what it all
Amounts to in the end:
A smudge of dust and ash
Smeared across the brow,
Teaching everyone who looks at me
To number well my days?

May it be so.
And if so, may that ash be
Fragrant with great delight
And shadowed with the darkest of loves
Smouldering with profound hope
And set just so, on the skin, above the eyes
To accentuate the twinkle of the iris.

May it be so,
And may I wear it well until I hear Him
Call my name at last.

Women in the Ministry of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3)

First Song (a poem)

Speak to me softly with voices ancestral,
     Whisper tongues ancient and dripping in mead:
The smoke-pop, and sap-hiss of hall hearth your hymnal--
     Shield clash and lute wind and snorting of steed.

Unlayer the dank earth of archetypal digging:
     Marsh mist and peat moss and thyme-mottled wolds
Chant drumlins of darkness, shift dolems in singing
     And wend with the oak-root through Earth's clinging folds.

Or flutter a whisper by ancestral moon-light
     With air-tremor, wing-shudder, heron ascends
The soul-mousing owl and thrush-knock and rook-flight,
     From distant horizons the merlin descends.

And older than all, the seeping of water:
     The scarring deep fissures through granite of time.
The wave pound, the rain-tap, a well spring of wonder
     The hoar weight in winter, a burden of rime.

So come: with the rhythms of three-in-one dancing
     To earth-songs, and star-hymns, laments of the sea.
With trees clapping hands and hearts rising on eagle-wing,
     Carry me there to the hall of the First King,
Who chants me the lay of the hill, cup and tree--
     A very First Song for our very first mem’ry:
To hear it and know it and join it and sing.