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

New Album Release: Three Hands Clapping

Last year on a solo trip to Rochester NY, inspiration struck and I arrived at my destination with a bunch of ideas for some new songs. Over the course of the next year, that "bunch of ideas" slowly morphed into a double album's worth of music. I've been working on these recordings for about a year now, and last week I finally decided they were finished and I was ready to go public with them. So let me formally invite you to check out my latest album, a set of 22 songs called "Three Hands Clapping."

Over the next number of months on my blog, I plan to post some individual tracks and tells some of the stories behind the songs, but in the meantime, let me invite you to check it out for yourself. You can find it available for listening or downloading over at my bandcamp account, or you can click the play button below. Happy listening!

Three Minute Theology 5.5: Everywhere a SIgn

Singleness and the Church (Part V)

The other day I saw an advert for The Purpose Driven Family, a study curriculum developed by Pastor Rick Warren at the famous Saddleback Church, and I was reminded all over again why I started this series on singleness. As a full disclaimer, I should say that I’ve never looked into The Purpose Driven Family curriculum beyond yesterday’s quick skim of the ad-copy, so I’m making these judgements based solely on the cover; but based on that cover, a campaign like The Purpose Driven Family illustrates the challenges of being a single person in the church that I’ve been trying to articulate in this series.

To understand what I mean, try to imagine yourself as a single Christian—a gay man who has chosen to walk the path of celibacy, perhaps—a single woman who has served Jesus all her life and never felt the need to marry, maybe—a divorcee who is trying to pickup the pieces in a way that honors Jesus, let’s say—a single mom whose boyfriend bailed when she got pregnant—a young adult who hasn’t yet found “Mr or Ms Right,” and isn’t so sure they ever will—a—well—you get the picture. Imagine living out one of the many permutations of the single life, as a Christian, and this particular Sunday your pastor announces that for the next 40 days your church is going to focus specifically (perhaps solely) on how to turn your marriage, your kids, or your nuclear family into a power-house for Jesus.

What response are you likely to have?

If you are like any of the single Christians I’ve known, you’ll probably just hold your breath and bear it for the next 40 days at church. Quite possibly you’ll check out mentally for those said 40 days. It’s not impossible you’ll decide to skip church altogether until the Purpose Driven Family thing is done.

Am I saying that the Bible has nothing to say about being a Christian mom, dad, kid, or member of a nuclear family?

No. It has all kinds of things to say about how the Gospel can intersect and transform your family life. Of course it does.

Am I saying the church should never talk about Christian family life, for fear of ostracizing the singles in their midst?

No again. Of course there is a time and a place to do so.

All I’m saying is that if and when a church does launch this kind of a family-focused ministry, it needs to address the fact that it may be unintentionally communicating to the single people in its community that they do not matter as much as married people, that it believes married life is the only “serious” way to follow Jesus, or that God is really just the great matchmaker in the sky whose ultimate goal is simply to pair everyone up with a compatible life-partner, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence around the yard.

As far as I can tell, none of those things are true.

God’s goal is men and women who are following Jesus with all they got, on a shalom-oriented mission for him in the world, and living that out with every breath no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. Marriage is one way to achieve this goal, sure. But so is singleness. And a church that wants to challenge its married people to live on purpose for Jesus should think just as seriously about how to extend that same challenge, with equal weight, to its single people.

A while back I did some writing for our denomination on this topic, and I developed a small “discussion starter” questionnaire that church leaders might use, to think through if, how, and to what extent they actually affirm singleness as a meaningful path for following Jesus. I want this blog series to sound as practical note as possible, so I offer it here as a little thought-experiment in closing.

1. What percentage of our church households are singles?

2. Do we have any singles in meaningful positions of leadership?

3. Do our practices around Mother’s Day or Father’s Day exclude or alienate singles?

4. Do we have couple’s focused ministries, activities or events that explicitly or implicitly exclude singles?

5. In our discussions of outreach do we explicitly or implicitly specify “families” or “couples” as the preferred demographic?

6. In our vision/values/mission documents, do we explicitly or implicitly state our focus is on families?

7. Do we have singles-focused ministries that “isolate” singles from the broader church community?

8. In our teaching or preaching on Christian marriage, families or sexuality, do we include teaching that presents singleness as a legitimate expression of one’s sexuality and/or celebrates it as a meaningful path for discipleship?

9. In our hiring of or searching for pastoral staff, board members or other leaders, do we implicitly or explicitly communicate that single pastors will not be considered?

10. Do we have ceremonies of commissioning to service, or covenant friendships, or other creative ways of publicly acknowledging and affirming people’s choice to pursue singleness?

11. Do we have single mentors, single pastors, or other single Christian leaders who can help younger singles navigate the unique pressures that are part of a single celibate life?

12. Do we encourage informal and intentional connecting between singles and couples (e.g. do singles get invited over by families and/or couples)?

13. Do we provide Divorce Care, or similar grace-based, biblical ministries to help people deal with the grief and loss of a divorce?

Suffer the Singles to Come to Me (On Singleness and Celibacy, Part IV)

There’s a very famous passage in the Gospel of Matthew where the crowds are bringing their toddlers to Jesus and the disciples try to prevent them from doing so. If you’ve read it before you’ll know that Jesus becomes quite indignant with his disciples and tells them to “Suffer the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14, KJV), because “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

It’s famous, of course, because the Lord is clearly validating children here in a way that would have been, at the very least, counter cultural to his original listeners, but resonates deeply with our culture, where (unlike the ancients) we tend to put children on a pedestal and idealize childhood. For us, there are probably fewer images more lovely than the one of the Lord tenderly blessing a handful of playful children—our children—as a quintessential expression of his ministry. Of course, we assume, as we drive our kids hither and thither from soccer practice to piano lessons to playgrounds and back, making no end of sacrifices for their well-being—of course Jesus cares as much about children as we do—of course he was willing to put as much on the line for them as we are.

And he is; don’t get me wrong.

Children will always have a special place in his heart—though not because of their perceived innocence and child-like wonderment (as we might assume)—but more because of their vulnerability, weakness, and (at least in his culture) their low status on the social totem pole. Nevertheless, Jesus clearly loves children, and enjoins his followers to do the same.

A while back I was reading Matthew 19, though, and I noticed for the first time that this passage comes immediately after Jesus’s radical teaching on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19:1-12, where he tells us that God’s intention was that marriage should be a permanent, exclusive union between a man and a woman (19:9).

I noticed this, and for the first time it occurred to me to wonder why the disciples don’t want the children to be brought to Jesus for a blessing in 19:13.

What if it’s because they learned the lesson of Matthew 19:1-12 too well? What if Matthew 19:13-15 is Jesus’s step to correct a pendulum that had swung too far the other way?

What I mean is this: in Matthew 19:10, when they hear Jesus’s firm stance on the permanency of marriage, the disciples say, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife it is better not to marry.”

The logic here is not completely clear to me, but it seems they’ve added it up and have decided that if marriage “can’t be escaped," we ought not to jump into it in the first place.

And what’s stunning to me, is that in Matthew 19:11, Jesus doesn’t tell them they’re wrong. He simply says, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those for whom it has been given; and the one who can accept it should.”

If you read it very closely, Jesus seems to be agreeing with the disciple’s conclusion (that it’s better not to marry), but also wisely acknowledging that most can’t walk that path. So he offers marriage as a concession to those for whom “becoming a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom” is just too strenuous of a path. Paul is probably taking his cue from the Lord Jesus when he does a similar thing himself in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7.

There are probably other ways to take Matthew 19:11-12, but if this reading is correct, it would certainly explain the “let the little children come to me” fiasco in Matthew 19:13ff. Because if you were a disciple that day and you had heard Jesus say that marriage is a concession for those who can’t walk the path of celibacy, but if you can handle singleness you ought to … you could be excused, I think, if you figured that Jesus had actually, in that teaching, minimized the importance of family life altogether. And it would be at least understandable if, the next time you saw a bunch of families bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing, you tried to prevent it.

Surely the Jesus who said what he said about marriage in verse 11 and 12, would not want to be bothered with a bunch of children in verse 13, right?

Well: wrong (see verse 14-15), but I can understand why you’d think that.

Because the New Testament consistently and clearly discusses singleness with very high esteem—as an ideal way to serve the Lord—and it often talks about marriage as though it were a necessary concession for the “not yet” era of the Kingdom of God, a concession which will become obsolete once the “already” has come in all its fullness. There will be, after all, no marriage at the resurrection (Matthew 22:30), and those who can live into that reality already, on this side of the resurrection, Jesus seems to be saying, should do so.

(You might quote Ephesians 6, and say, doesn’t Ephesians 5:22-33 put as high a value on marriage as you possibly can, making it symbolic of the union between Christ and the church? But that verse actually proves too much, in a way. If marriage is a symbol of the union between Christ and his church, then at the eschaton, when that union is perfect and complete, marriage will have served its purpose and will no longer be needed.)

All this brings us back Matthew 19:13-15. Whatever else Jesus was doing by blessing those little children that day, he was certainly also preventing us from taking the above logic too far, too soon.

“Even though the institution of marriage has a shelf-life,” he seems to be saying, “and even though singleness is a good way to follow me, even so, till that day when the Kingdom has arrived in all its fullness, there is still a place, now, for married life, and families, and children. So let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to them (as much as it does to single people).”

On this reading Matthew 19:13-15 is not so much an unmitigated endorsement of all things children, and a summons to the church to focus on the family above all else. It is, instead, a boundary marker, preventing the church from swimming too far out, so to speak, into the sea of “singleness and celibacy.”

Put less metaphorically: Matthew 19:13-15 is there to bring marriage and family, up to, and on par with, singleness as a viable way of following Jesus. So that the church doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking that the singles are the red-ribbon-Christians and the marrieds are the “also-rans.”

If I’m on to anything here, I gotta say that this is not a problem than needs correcting in the modern North-American Church—the problem of elevating singleness and denigrating marriage, I mean. As I have argued in previous posts in this series, the modern North American church tends to elevate marriage as the ideal and barely even acknowledges that singleness is a thing (except as a problem to be “fixed” by marriage).

If Matthew 19:13-15 was there to correct the over-swing of the pendulum towards singleness, in Jesus's day, Matthew 19:11-12, is here to correct the over-swing of the pendulum to the other side, in our day.

But my point here is not to pit one of these two paths against the other, singleness or marriage; it’s just to illustrate that Jesus seems to think that both are necessary, and a church that really wanted to experience the life of the Kingdom would value, celebrate and encourage both.

Because God’s ultimate goal is not “married-Christians.” His ultimate goal is fully-devoted disciples. Marriage is one way to experience and live out one’s discipleship, of course; but so is singleness. And a church that really understood what it meant to bring their children—and their marriages—and their families—to Jesus, would make sure their single people were also there, receiving their blessing too, and discovering that the Kingdom of God belongs as much to them as it does anyone else who finds themselves at his side.