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

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis

random reads

On Racial Equality and Justification by Faith

The other day I received some constructive criticism about my ministry, pointing out a blind spot I had when it came to promoting (or in this case, failing to promote) racial diversity in our community. It was a relatively minor critique, all things considered, but given the racial tensions in the political atmosphere these days, it stuck with me.

I write this, of course, as a middle-aged white male living in one of the most prosperous countries in history, placing me among one of the most privileged demographics on the planet. Acknowledging that, I say what I’m about to say very cautiously, and offer it with an open hand. Through all last week, as news about the protests in the States began popping up on my social media feed, and it became clear to me that a real political groundswell was emerging, I chose not to comment on it in any of the social media channels available to me. This was not because I was trying to bury my head in the sand and ignore an issue that is as close to the Lord’s heart as racial equality is, but simply because, as a middle-aged white male, I believed I was the last one who had any right to speak. Rather than pipe up with my own ignorant point of view—what do I know about systemic racism, who has never had any doors closed to me because of the colour of my skin?—I did my best to listen to the points of view of others. In this I was trying to follow the advice of one of my spiritual heroes, Francis of Assisi, who sought more to understand than to be understood.

But here’s what I found, by seeking to understand: I have within me an impulse towards self-justification that is grievous to the Holy Spirit.

I say this because when I received the constructive criticism I mentioned a minute ago, I noticed that my instinct was to think of all the reasons why the critique could not be true—to “justify myself” in my own eyes. I wouldn’t say my response was defensive, necessarily, but the first thing that came to mind was everything I had done to promote racial equality in my sphere of influence. I won’t list them here, because the sum total of them is pitifully small, truth be told. The point is just that, my gut reaction was to pull out my “spiritual ledger” and start reviewing all the times and all the ways I had proved myself to be “a swell guy” when it comes to this issue. I’m not sure I would have named this impulse as “self-justification” before this week, but as I mulled it all over, I came to see that this is exactly what it was.

I believe this grieves the Holy Spirit for two reasons. First, and foremost, because if I am a Christian, then the gospel I have believed tells me that I cannot justify myself; and it’s because I can’t that God has already justified me in Christ. Regardless my just deserts, he has declared me righteous in the death of his Son. Bear with me, if you see the problems that appear when we try to apply the doctrine of Justification to the issue of racism, because I see them too, and I will get to them in a minute. But theologically, I think that the only way forward for someone in my position—someone, I mean, who has lived his whole life benefiting from systemic inequality (whether he realized it or not)—is to admit that there is no human justification for it, and to turn, a repentant sinner needing grace, to the justification that God offers us in the death of his son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

We aren’t used to thinking about the doctrine of Justification as something that can, and should, impact human relationships. We have been conditioned to think about it solely as a theological abstraction, a truth that puts us in right relationship with God and paves our way to heaven, yes, but a truth that shapes the very structure of our interactions with others? That’s a different ball of wax, isn’t it?

And yet, as I process the impulse towards self-justification I mentioned above—the way my heart grasps so quickly for all the reasons that I couldn’t be as bad as it looks—I am coming to see how important it is for Christians to allow the justification of Christ to transform the way we experience and respond to the issue of racism in North America.

In The Cost of Discipleship, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer argues that Jesus is not only the mediator between us and God, but he is also, for that very reason, “the mediator between us and all other [human beings].” The same idea emerges in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, where he suggests that “within the spiritual community there is never, in any way, whatsoever, an ‘immediate’ relationship to one another”; and “Because Christ stands between me and another, I must not long for unmediated community with that person.” One of the ways we “long for unmediated relationship” with others, I think, is by thinking up all the reasons we are “justified” to be in relationship with them, instead of acknowledging ourselves as culpable sinners in need of the grace God offers. (Surely a divinely reconciled relationship with others is not least among his graces towards us?)

I believe with all my heart this is true. The problem, of course, is that if it’s applied in the wrong way, it can amount to saying simply, “Yes, maybe I benefited from racial inequality as a white person, but Jesus says I’m okay, so it doesn’t matter to God, and certainly shouldn’t matter to you.” If it sounds like I’m saying that then I’m not communicating well here at all.

Because there is a different way of applying the Doctrine of Justification to every-day human relationships. It involves honestly facing the ways I’ve knowingly or unknowingly participated in sinful power structures and saying simply: I can’t justify that. There is no human justification. And then, because the Gospel proclaims that even that sin is nailed to the cross, I discover in God the grace genuinely to repent. This is not cheap grace (to quote Bonhoeffer one last time), but neither is it an empty, virtue-signalling repentance. Because if I am justified in Christ, then I must surrender my own self-determination to Christ, and allow him to mediate my every interaction with others. Only there will I learn truly what it means to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.

This brings me in the end to the second reason self-justification grieves the Holy Spirit. It is because so long as we are determined to justify ourselves, we will stay blind to our blind spots. After all, if I saw what was really happening in all the places I’m not looking, it might leave me feeling uncomfortably culpable. Better not to look there, right? Worse than keeping us blind, though, self-justification is all kinds of likely to make us defensive, arrogant, even cruel, ignoring the honest protest of others, and so missing opportunities to grow in Christ-likeness. Because to hear those protests the way Christ would, we would have to acknowledge all the ways we have been unjust, and are therefore unjustified. Rather than do that, it’s easier to bluster, minimize, equivocate, evade and dismiss.

May the Lord have mercy.

And thanks be to God that he has had mercy, and offers it to us all today in Jesus Christ. May we find in him the humility and the strength to work together, as we labor towards that day—the day the Holy Spirit himself is labouring towards—when all of God’s people, gathered from every nation, tribe and tongue stand together before the Lord, justified freely, together, by his grace.


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