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.

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 tended to focus on the family, and preach sermon series on how to have a godly marriage, and celebrate newly-weds, and provide little support for divorcees, and target “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)
Amount 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.

3 Minute Theology 5.3: Prayer and the Mediation of Christ