Second Wind

Second Wind
An album of songs both old and new. Recorded in 2021, a year of major transition for me, these songs explore the many vicissitudes of the spiritual life,. It's about the mountaintop moments and the Holy Saturday sunrises, the doors He opens that no one can close, and those doors He's closed that will never open again. You can click the image above to give it a listen.

The Song Became a Child

The Song Became a Child
A collection of Christmas songs I wrote and recorded during the early days of the pandemic lockdown in the spring of 2020. Click the image to listen.

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

random reads

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 Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzalez

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

Screwtape Proposes a Toast, C. S. Lewis

The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis

The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis: A Life, Alister McGrath

Planet Narnia, Michael Ward

Transitions, William Bridges

The Breastplate of St. Patrick, a song

When I was still relatively young in my faith, as a young adult, I had the opportunity to attend a worship leading conference in Edmonton, Alberta, and the worship leader on the first night opened the session by having us all read together an old poem called The Breastplate of St. Patrick. It's a latin poem traditionally ascribed to the Irish Saint, and I had never heard an expression of the Christian story quite so beautiful or thrilling. Ever since that evening back in 1999, I've always had a profound fascination with the Apostle to the Irish. I memorized the Breastplate, and would recite it to myself mornings on my way into work. I learned how to say the Lord's Prayer in Irish. I even wrote a musical based on the life of St. Patrick, called The Saint and the Slave, which The Corner Church staged back in 2018. It was this poem, however, that started it all for me. Shortly after getting back from that worship leaders conference in 1999, I sat down and set it to music, one of the first songs I ever wrote. This is a recent re-recording of that old song which I did last summer.



I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, the One in Three.
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, the One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever
By power of faith Christ's incarnation,
His baptism in the Jordan river,
His death on the cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to harken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me;
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ to comfort and restore me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word;
Praise to the God of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

Indubitably Merciful, a devotional thought

There’s an unusual command for us in Jude 1:22 that I've been thinking about recently. Our denomination (the Free Methodist Church in Canada) is right now in the middle of a couple of very challenging conversations about some of our doctrinal positions, and the best way to hold those positions as followers of Jesus. After some recent discussions I've had with some of my colleagues about all this, Jude 1:22 came to mind forcibly for me.

Jude’s talking about the way Christians are supposed to be in their interactions with different people, both in and outside the church, and in v. 22 it says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” It's interesting, because the Greek word for “doubt” there refers to a believer who is experiencing doubt or wavering in their belief, more than it does an unbeliever who has rejected the faith or plain never accepted it. It's not about the doubt of the disbeliever, it's about believers, whoever they may be, who happen to be scratching their heads over questions of doctrine, position statements on theological issues, the stridently-held truth claims of their own tradition.

It is, I think, a very tender thing for Jude to say. Sometimes we go through times in our lives, experiences, life changes or unexpected circumstances that leave us in seasons of doubt, questioning our faith, maybe, wrestling with the really hard questions, hanging on by a thread. This is true for even the most stalwart of Christians. And sometimes, I’ve noticed, when Christians are in these times and places, it can leave other Christians feeling threatened, uncomfortable, judgmental, anxious to “double-down” on their beliefs, and looking for trite platitudes to sweep the doubter’s “doubt” under the “easy-believism” rug. Inasmuch as so much seems to ride on faith, for the Christian, genuine doubting can be very disconcerting.

If you’ve ever seen what I’m trying to describe here, and how unhelpful the trite platitudes are, how harmful the judgement can be, how much damage the anxious efforts to double-down can cause, then maybe you’ll feel how tender Jude is being here, too. “Show all kinds of gracious, gentle mercy,” he says, “for anyone among you who's in that doubting place.” Mercy, he says, is what’s needed when doubtful conversations happen between brothers and sisters in the Lord. When you read it in the broader context of the surrounding verses, it looks like mercy is also what will bring the doubter through, to firm footing again. May God give his people grace to be as merciful with each other as he is with us.

Scared Sacred, a song

 Last spring I was leading a verse by verse Bible study through the Book of Revelation at our church. There are no end of compelling themes and difficult images to be drawn from the pages of this mysterious book , of course, but what stood out to me especially this time through was the tension between God's beauty, on the one hand, and his fearsomeness, on the other. The Jesus revealed in the Book of Revelation draws us into his light and then drops us on our faces, trembling and undone by the sheer glory of his presence. A while ago I came across the expression "scared sacred" in a book about Christianity and the creative life by Andrew Peterson. The line found its way into my commonplace book and re-emerged as I was pondering the "fearful Holiness" that I was glimpsing in the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelation. The line inspired a guitar riff, which morphed eventually into this song. I'm not sure the final result quite captures the unbridled awe I was feeling as I wrote it, but there are one or two places where it comes close. And for what's missing, I suppose, yet one more journey through the Book of Revelation will easily fill the gaps.


And when you speak to me from the whirlwind
And your lightning lights up the sky
And when your dark clouds are gathering
And I’m standing in the eye of the storm

And when I hear the sound of your thunder call
Over the crashing waves of the sea
And in the roaring of your waterfall
The deep cries out to the deep in me

Cause your glory leaves me trembling
All my defenses are unraveling
And your eyes pierce my secrets
In your presence I’m scared sacred
Scared sacred, I’m come undone
Scared sacred

And when you call to me from the holy place
With a cry that makes the heavens shake
And every seraphim is covering their face
And every saint is quaking inside 

Cause your glory leaves me trembling
All my defenses are unraveling
And your eyes pierce my secrets
In your presence I’m scared sacred
Scared sacred, I’m come undone
Scared sacred

I’m come undone before the Holy One
I’m come undone before the Holy One

Cause your glory leaves me trembling
All my defenses are unraveling
And your eyes pierce my secrets
In your presence I’m scared sacred
Scared sacred, I’m come undone
Scared sacred

The Simplest of Delights (V): Crib

I grew up in a relatively conservative Christian tradition, but on the tail end of the evangelical world’s suspicion about playing cards. I understand that there are still some corners of the tradition where card-playing is seen as highly suspect, but on the whole, I think, evangelicalism has moved on to bigger spiritual fish to fry. That said, I do remember my cabin leader at Bible camp explaining to me that a standard deck of playing cards has its origin in the use of tarot cards, and these supposedly occult origins make card games spiritually dangerous.

This Christian suspicion of playing cards may explain the proliferation of card games based on non-standard decks of cards that circulated so widely in the Christian circles of my youth. Dutch Blitz, Rook, and Lost Heir were among the favorites, games that played with all the strategy and random chance of a bona fide card game, but without all the offending imagery of knaves and clubs and suicidal kings.

In another post I might talk about the evangelical impulse to baptize cultural practices and artefacts that we find suspect, neutering them and Christianizing them in a way that allows us to have our "holiness cake" but still eat with a worldly spoon.

That post will have to wait, though, because this post is really about the one card game that found its way into my heart despite the vague suspicion of cards that lingered in the air of the church circles my family moved in. I worded that last sentence carefully, because my own parents, I think, never breathed much of that legalistic air, despite it being a part of the spiritual atmosphere in which they raised their family. Whatever the church thought about card playing, then, still my father did his dad-ly duty and taught me early on in life the joys of playing this, what has become my all-time favorite game: cribbage.

I can still remember my first game of crib. I was maybe 12, and I played it with my Dad, he teaching and coaching me as I went. I found it confusing at first, but also mesmerizing, all that hunting for combinations that add up to 15, the back-and-forth trading of the crib, the intricacies of pegging.

Later, when I was newly married and my wife and I went on a backpacking tour of Europe, we brought a crib board with us, and would often while away the long hours waiting for trains or ferries with game after game.

Later still, when I started working at my first assignment as a new High School teacher, there was always a crib board on the table in the staffroom Over lunch we’d play as many games as we could fit in, playing for cokes and tallying our wins on the staffroom whiteboard, so everyone always knew who owed whom how many cokes at the end of the year.

I have since taught my own kids to play, and my youngest especially caught the bug. We would discuss crib strategy on long family road trips, dealing out hands and then talking over what to throw and what to keep. My daughter and I once played a year-long crib tournament where we played a game every day for a fully 365 of them, tallying the scores (1 point for a win, 2 points for a skunk). This tournament has gone down in family lore, because at the end of 365 games we finished with an exact even tie between us.

So crib has kind of been a constant card-game companion of my life.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what I love about it. It seems to me to be the perfect combination of strategy and chance, and over the years I’ve taken a life lesson from the way a very good strategy can turn around even a terrible hand in crib. I also love the many inter-related aspects of the game: choosing what to keep and what to throw, pegging, then counting your hand. There is, in this, a perfect mix of introspection and social interaction. And then there’s my fascination over the myriad ways to count points in a hand, the many different combinations of cards that make 15, the joy of a double run, the elusive quadruple run, and the rare miracle of a 29 point hand (a deal I am still waiting for, incidentally, after all these years). There are no end of delights to be had in a good game of crib.

I think the greatest joy of all, however, is the poetic playfulness of the counting that happens at the end of each hand. Early on in my exposure to crib I was taught how to add little rhymes to the end of each tally—“fifteen two and the rest don’t do,” “fifteen two, pair is four, and there ain’t no more,” and so on.

Even without these embellishments, however, there’s a rhythmic meter to that comes out when you’re counting that has always delighted me. Don’t believe it? Give it a try:

 

Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, fifteen eight, pair is ten, pair is twelve, and a quadruple run makes 24.

Legend has it that the game itself was invented in the 17th Century by an English poet named Sir John Suckling, which may explain the poetic elegance I’ve always found in the game.  You can hardly count the above hand without lapsing into sing-song.  Add this to the list of delights.

Over the last month or so at terra incognita, I’ve been reflecting on some of the small sources of joy I have in my life that help me improve and maintain my positive affect—simple delights that I can count on to lift my spirits and deepen my joy. As unspiritual as it sounds to say it, a simple game of crib is one such pleasure.

Playfulness does not generally get the same air-time in theological reflections as some of the weightier matters of life with the Lord—the atonement, prayer, acts of mercy, and so on—and perhaps there is good reason for this. That said, there’s a place in Chesterton's Orthodoxy I’ve never forgotten, where he describes a small child giggling uncontrollably over a repetitive game of peek-a-boo, squealing "Do it again! Do it again!” with unbridled delight. It’s an image I expect many of us have seen. Children, he says, never tire of repetition so long as it’s attached to joyful play like this.

But then Chesterton points out that the Creator designed our world in just such a way that the sun would repetitively rise, day after day without ceasing, always new and yet always the same as the day before. Chesterton asks us to imagine him, the Creator, delightedly calling the sun to rise each morning, just like it did yesterday, crying “do it again!” with holy delight over this celestial game of peek-a-boo.

It's almost so beautiful as to feel irreverent.

But if Chesterton's on to something here, then maybe there really is something about play that helps us glimpse something true about God. For all I know, we do in fact get a small glimmer of the delight God took in creating the world, when we enjoy the playfulness of a satisfying game. It's not nearly so glorious as a sunrise of course, but still, like each new dawn, crib too is a game that's different each time you come to it, and yet for all that, still it’s always the same as it was before.

Wait, a song

As I get older and look back on my journey of faith, I've started to notice how huge a role the hope of the Second Coming has played in my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. I was raised in a largely dispensational tradition that regularly talked about the End Times and held to very clear dogmas about the timeline of the millenial reign of Christ. My parents has a copy of the Ryrie Study Bible on the bookshelf. My Grandfather would often share his theories with me, about why he was convinced Christ would return in his lifetime, or what he believed the Mark of the Beast really was, or any number of similiar eschatological speculations. The first book of the Bible that I have a very clear memory of reading for myself was the Book of Revelaiton. One of my favorite storybooks as a child was The Last Battle. I never really added this stuff up before, but my childhood was shot through with a deep sense that the Second Coming was more than just a matter of credal assent; it was an urgent, pressing reality.

The subliminal eschatological orientation of my life has shown up in my songwriting over the years, too. The first album of music I ever recorded, with a group of musicians from my home church in 2004, had at least 2 songs on it that were explicitly about the Second Coming, and at least three others that alluded to it. Nearly twenty years later, these songs strike me as a bit naif and pedantic, but they also remind me of the orientation towards hope and the future that my faith has given me over the years, and the "Already/Not Yet" tension I've always carried in my heart.

This song, called "Wait," is probably the most explicitly eschatological song I've ever written. It goes back to 2001, and although I hope I'd handle the subject matter with a good deal more subtlety and sensitivity today than I did a two decades ago, still, it captures a feeling that has been throbbing in my heart, I think, all my life.



How long will you be silent
How long will you hide your face?
Wake O Lord the arm of your righteousness
Cleanse our land with your love and grace

     And we will wait for the dawn of your righteousness
     We will wait for that thief in the night
     We will hold out the hope of your glory
     Shatter the darkness with your truth and light

How long will the wicked prosper
How long will the lie seem right?
Arise O Lord and scatter your enemies
Shatter the darkness with your truth and light

     And we will wait for the dawn of your righteousness
     We will wait for that thief in the night
     We will hold out the hope of your glory
     Shatter the darkness with your truth and light

Wait, we will wait for you
Hope, we will hope in you
Watch, we will watch for you

     And we will wait for the dawn of your righteousness
     We will wait for that thief in the night
     We will hold out the hope of your glory
     Shatter the darkness with your truth and light

The Story of Christianity, a book review

I was raised in a conservative evangelical church tradition, one that emphasized the Sola Scripture legacy of the Protestant Reformation and was highly suspicious of anything that had even a whiff of Catholicism about it. Liturgy, sacrament, even stained-glass windows were all viewed with skepticism. On the books, our church was consistent with historic Christianity in its teaching about the Trinity, the hypostatic union, and other such theological non-negotiables, but the emphasis was not on any of these monumental truths about who God is and how he’s revealed himself to us. It was on, rather, asking Jesus into your heart to get yourself saved, and then reading your Bible and praying every day so you’ll grow, grow, grow. I don’t remember anyone saying this in so many words, but looking back, it’s clear to me that the spiritual leaders of my church community were not at all sure if Catholic or Orthodox believers were worshipping the true Jesus, and even if they were, everyone was sure that their particular expression of faith was “lifeless ritual” and “works-righteousness” and not a genuine form of Christianity.

The very strong impression I took from the church of my childhood was that Christianity began sometime towards the end of the 19th Century or the start of the 20th, and that it really only got off the ground in the 40s, with the preaching of Billy Graham. If pressed, I’m sure everyone would agree that you could trace the origins of the faith back to the early 16th Century and the protestations of Martin Luther. Whether there were any real Christians before him, however, was anyone’s guess, because everything prior to October 31, 1517 was shrouded in a godless mist of Catholic hocus pocus.

I can remember stumbling across things like the Prayer of St. Francis, or the Breastplate of St Patrick, and being absolutely stunned by the beauty of them, but not sure what to do with the “Saints” to whom they were attributed. Were there really Christians back as far as that, and were they really capable of such stunning spiritual depth and profound expressions of having Jesus-in-your-heart devotion?

Since those early days of my spiritual formation, I’ve had many opportunities both formal and informal to experience church traditions that are happily thriving in meadows outside the evangelical fold. I’ve had the privilege of studying church history both broadly and deeply, and I’ve encountered Christians from across Christendom, both living and historical. I’ve come to see the many blinders I had developed, growing up in a church tradition that tacitly implied that there was a 1500-year gap during which no real Christians existed, between the penning of the last book of the Bible (ca. 90 AD), and the start of the Protestant Reformation (ca. 1517).

These blinders, I’ve since learned, had blinded me not only to Church history, but to a very rich, deep vision of who God is and how he has been at work among his people throughout the ages. Not only that, it left me with a great deal of spiritual xenophobia and a prideful assumption that my particular church tradition had a self-righteous monopoly on God’s Truth.

As God has removed these blinders, I’ve come to see how varied and fecund the vineyard of his church really is, what it means to confess belief in the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Church, and how big a family tree I belong to in Christ. I’ve also come to discover how spiritually unhealthy it is to ignore or deny the truth that as Christians, we are part of a 2000-year-long story that God has been telling about his plan to bind people together in community around a shared love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

I was reminded of all this last year when I had the pleasure of reading Justo Gonzalez’s monumental book, The Story of Christianity, Vol 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. The book details the intricate and convoluted story of the development of Christianity, from its origins as a fringe movement within 1st Century Judaism, to its world-spanning presence as a global religion by the end of the 15th Century. Along the way he introduces his readers to the many remarkable theologians, fathers and mothers of the faith, saints, sinners, popes, and reformers whom God used to direct the formation of his Church. It made for riveting reading, not least of all because Gonzalez is so adept at drawing out the human motivations at play in the world changing events of the Church’s history.

It may not be that you ever had the kind of blinders about the Church and its history that I described above. It may be that they were removed long ago. It may be that you’re still not sure you want them removed. Whatever the case, I think every follower of Jesus should at some point or another take a tour of the epic saga that is Church history. It will help you better understand this Jesus you’re following, by seeing how people throughout the millennia have followed him too.

If you’re looking for a guidebook for such a tour, one that is both thorough and academic while still being accessible for a relative beginner, Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity is about as good a starting place as any I've come across.

The Simplest of Delights (IV): The Family Dog

Back in 2008 our family welcomed a sixth member into our clan, our family dog Trixie. I’m not sure any of us had a clue how big a role Trixie would go on to play in our life, binding us all together over a shared responsibility for her well being (this is, I think, one of the things a family pet does; it’s one of the few relationships of care in the family that parents and children can equally carry, putting us all on the same footing of affection).

Trixie is going on 14 now, and we are entering the autumn season of pet ownership, patiently watching the sun set on her life. She is 100% blind and is beginning to lose her hearing. She has difficulty keeping food down and can’t be trusted on the couch anymore. But she’s not got any of the aches and pains that many dogs struggle with in old age, making them irritable and un-cuddle-able. Trixie still very much enjoys sitting in a lap and soaking up as much human touch as she can get.

In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis talks about the Greek word storge, which refers to a kind of affectionate love that binds people together in bonds of fondness and familiarity[1]. A parent’s love for her child is storge love. So is the love shared between siblings, or the love passed among comrades, perhaps, in war. It is that affectionate, admiring, unconditional positive regard shared between people who have in some sense been “thrown together” by chance.

When it comes to feeling storge love for our pets, Lewis is somewhat ambivalent. He acknowledges the natural human tendency to do so, but also cautions against using pets to meet a need more properly met by human beings. His caution has to do with inappropriate distortions of love, however, of exploiting other living creatures (human or animal) by treating them solely as means to meet our own selfish ends. I don't think Lewis would have any objection to that healthy, generous fondness for animals that pets so often engender in their owners. In many other places in his writings, he speaks affectionately and compassionately about animals (he was especially fond of dogs and horses), and he often emphasized our creaturely kinship with the animal creation. Even in his discussion of storge in The Four Loves, he suggests that one of the best images we have for this particualr kind of love is found in the instinctive love that animals show to their young: “The image we must start with is that of a . . . [dog] or a cat with a basketful of puppies or kittens; all in a squeaking, nuzzling heap together; purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.” There is something about storge that reminds us of, and strengths our connection to the rest of God’s creatures.

Caring for a pet over the course of its life tends to deepen our capacity for storge love. It teaches us what it means to have unconditional positive regard for a creature that cannot benefit us, really, in any other way than through the storge it offers us in return. Trixie has poured overflowing measures of storge love into our family life over the years, and in a mysterious way, our shared affection for her has helped to deepen our affection for one another.

This is not the only thing loving a pet does for those who love them well. Research has shown that owning a pet can relieve depression, increase self-esteem, lower stress hormones and reduce anxiety. One study found that simply petting a dog for 15 minutes can lower your blood pressure by up to 10% [2]. I’ve not done any formal studies of my own, but my intuition tells me that after fifteen minutes of petting Trixie, I experienced all these outcomes and more: greater calmness, a deeper sense of well-being, and a stronger feeling of being grounded and connected to the world.

I’ve been reflecting over the last few weeks on things in my life that improve my daily positive affect. Small things, that is to say, that I can work into my routine to give me regular moments of joy. I don’t know how many days we have left with Trixie, but I do know—and the psychology and the theology both back me up on this one—that so long as we have her with us, one of the simplest ways to improve my “positivity hygiene,” is just to take some time and express some storge for our family dog.

First Man Standing, a song

When writing a song, sometimes the whole thing comes to you in a single flash, and it's simply a matter of getting it down clearly. Other times the song sort of reveals itself to you as you're writing it and you have no idea where it's going to end up when you're done. This song was more of the later. When I started it, I had it in mind to write a sort of Chrsitian version of that classic Meatloaf song "Bat out of Hell." Musically, I mean, not thematically. I've always loved the breakneck piano riff that opens the tune, and the chaotic structure of the song, shifting between verses and bridges and choruses and solos with narry a nod to the traditional pop-song format. It didn't take long to realize how far beyond me it was to write something that came anywhere near to approximating Jim Steinman's genius, but I kept at it until I had a piano riff that captured as best I could the uncontainable energy and wreckless abandon I feel when I listen to that 70s rock masterpiece.

After I had the music, I was scrolling through an old file on my phone where I'd written down some bits and pieces of ideas for song lyrics, and I came across the phrase "First Man Standing," a little play on the expression "Last Man Standing," that I'd jotted down in 2018. It brought to mind for me the line in Philippians 2:10-11, how every knee will bow when Christ returns. This image of Christ, the only one standing amid a countless throng of kneeling worshippers, stuck in my mind, and after a dozen or so discarded drafts, I'd penned some words that I thought had enough energy to keep up with the music.

Here's the song I eventually arrived at, after that long and winding creative journey:



After the stars fall and after the earth quakes
And after the powers of heaven are shaken
And after our sorrows are beaten to plowshares
At the final tomorrow, You will be standing there

With the firm foundation
Of new creation beneath your feet

You’ll be the first man standing
At the last sunrise
When the angels bow before you
And your glory fills the skies
After every knee is bended
And the heavens all declare
That you alone are worthy
You are worthy of standing there
On that dawning day
You’ll be the only one standing there
We fall on our knees
And you’re the only one standing, there

After the darkness is bleeding with daybreak
And after your mercy has healed every heartache
And after your passion has dried every tear
When the last word is spoken, You’ll still be standing there

With a firm foundation
Of new creation beneath your feet

You’ll be the first man standing
At the last sunrise
When the angels bow before you
And your glory fills the skies
After every knee is bended
And the heavens all declare
That you alone are worthy
You are worthy of standing
Worthy of standing
Worthy of standing there

Holy, holy, holy all creation sings your praise
Just one glimpse of your glory and we’re falling on our knees
Holy, holy, holy, all creation sings your praise
Just one glimpse of your glory and we’re falling, falling

You’ll be the first man standing
At the last sunrise
When the angels bow before you
And your glory fills the skies
After every knee is bended
And the heavens all declare
That you alone are worthy
You are worthy of standing there
On that dawning day
You’ll be the only one standing there
We fall on our knees
And you’re the only one standing, there

The Simplest of Delights: My Greek New Testament

One of my most cherished possessions is my fourth edition Greek New Testament, edited by Kurt Aland et. al., with concordance. I received it in Seminary, as a gift from my second year Greek instructor, and over the last fifteen years, it has been one of my most constant companions in the spiritual life. It is dog-eared and worn. The fore edge is filthy from thumbing continually back to the concordance to look up words. It’s on its second cover (the first wore out about two years in, and I had it rebound at the Seminary library). Yet for all that, it is the most precious book I own.

When I was finishing my fourth semester of Greek in seminary, my instructor told our class a story on the last day of class that I never forgot. Looking back, this strange story has probably had more influence over my devotional life than any sermon I’ve ever heard.

“Imagine a fish,” he said, “Who was trying to swim up stream to spawn, when he came to a mighty waterfall. He struggled with all his heart to swim to the top of that waterfall, getting pounded back by the current with every swish of his tail. Finally, he reached the top. He was so relieved to get there that he splashed up out of the water, onto the riverbank to rest. And then, lying there in the open air, he died.”

The end.

It wasn’t exactly Aesop’s Fable material, but while we were all blinking at him and wondering what on earth he was talking about, he said to us: “You all have been struggling to learn your Greek for two years, and here you are, finally through all the hard work. And because you did it, you might be tempted to take a break from the Greek and rest. But just know that if you do, most likely within a month or two, it will all be gone. You'll have forgotten everything and all this hard work will have been for nothing.”

“So try to form a habit,” he said, “of reading a little bit of Greek each day.”

Not wanting to be that exhausted fish gasping for breath on the riverbank of Greek exegesis, I took his story deeply to heart. I went home that day and made it my goal to read the entire Greek New Testament, front to back, in a year. I worked out the math and figured that if I read 3 pages each day, I’d be able to do it with a few days to spare.

It was really tough slugging, at first. I had four semesters of Greek under my belt, so I wasn’t completely lost, but it wasn’t long till I realized how much swimming there was left to do. But I stuck to my 3-pages-a-day routine, and gradually it got easier and easier, and by the end of the year I had made it from Biblos geneseōs Iēsou Xristou (Matthew 1:1) to Hē charis tou kuriou Iēsou meta pantōn (Revelation 22:21). It was such a joy to think I had actually heard the Word of God in its original language like that, right from the beginning to the end, that I started over at the beginning the next morning. Matthew 1:1: Biblos geneseōs Iēsou Xristou.

This has been my habit pretty much ever since, reading three pages of Greek each morning, with a consistent goal of reading the whole New Testament in a year. And though I do miss a day or two here or there, still, in the last 15 years, I’ve made it through the whole thing about a dozen times or more.

A few weeks ago I started this series talking about the simple things in my life that give me joy. If you missed the first post, the idea comes from some research I heard about in the field of Positive Psychology. It suggested that incorporating regular experiences of every-day happiness into our routine (maintaining your “positivity hygiene,” they called it), is a simple way we can care for our mental health and build our emotional resilience.

As I’ve been reflecting on some of the things that help me maintain my “positivity hygiene,” it’s occurred to me that those three pages of Greek each morning have been a rich source of daily delight for me over the years. Some days are very taxing, I’ll admit. Even after fifteen years of reading, I still find the last half of the Book of Acts, all of Second Peter, and most of the Book of Hebrews pretty challenging, but even the challenge is joyful.

Reading the Greek New Testament has become far more than just a personal goal for me. Something beautiful seems to happen when I open that tattered book each morning. A world unfolds before me where the Word of God is mysteriously familiar, but just foreign enough that I have to slow myself down, and ponder deeply what it’s really saying, and wrestle with it word by word. As I do, it comes to life for me in all sorts of unexpected ways.

I can still remember reading through Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-35) for the first time in the original Greek. I had to look up basically every second word, at the time, and wrestle with the parsing, and untwist the syntax, but as I did, the scene, of our Lord’s giving of himself by hosting his followers at a final meal that would be, forever after, his body and blood, took on dimensions I had never experienced before. It has forever changed, not just how I read the passage, but how I participate in the Lord’s Supper itself.

There’s a place in the Psalms where it talks about how the Word of God gives joy to the heart. Of course, I did not need to keep on swimming in the river of New Testament Greek all these years to discover how true that statement is. I didn’t need to learn Greek at all, and neither do you. This is the beauty of the Bible, that it meets us wherever we’re at, and speaks to all of us no matter where we’re coming from.

Even so, I have come to cherish my daily pages of Greek; and my tattered Greek Bible—when I stop to consider how tattered it’s become—is a beautiful reminder to me of how much sweeter than honey from the comb the Word of God really is.

Transitions, a book review

Around this time last year, I found myself in the middle of one of the most difficult life transitions I've been through in a long time. The last of our three kids was getting ready to empty the nest, while the job I had been working at for over a decade was coming to a close. Though I didn't have the vocabulary at the time to put it in these words, I was coming through a very challenging "Ending" stage and entering the "Transition Zone," a place marked by anxiety and resistance, on the one hand, and potential and possibilities, on the other.

That's how I've come to think of it now. At the time, all I knew was that a lot of things that seemed routine and reliable in my life were changing dramatically and I had no clue, yet, what was going to take their place. It was all very scary and disorienting, to be in the "Transition Zone" like this; though again, while I was in it, I didn't really know it was called a "Transition Zone," or how common it is, when you're in one, to find yourself grasping frantically for something (anything) to make things feel normal again.

The only reason I'm able to name all these things now, on the other side of my particular life transition, is because a good friend suggested I read a book by Dr. William Bridges, called Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes. In Transitions, Bridges explores "transition" as a psychological phenomenon, explaining what's going on in our brains when our lives are changing dramatically. He offers some very insightful wisdom about how to frame life's transition experiences, and some practical advice for going through them well.

In Bridge's view, "transitioning" is a natural process of "disorientation and reorientation marking the turning points in [our] path of growth" (p. 4). Rather than seeing transitions as crises we have to cope through, Bridges suggests they are key seasons in the "natural process of development and self-renewal" (p. 6). He suggests a three-phase model for understanding transitions in this way: they involve an "ending," where we let go of the old, both inwardly and outwardly, a "new beginning," where we start into something new with better self-knowledge and emotional resourcesand a "transition zone," an important "empty or fallow time" in between the two. 

This in-between time is the most crucial part of a transition, but also the scariest. The temptation is to try and turn back to the old and the familiar so we don't have to go through it. We may seek to do this even when it's not really possible to go back. "Growing frightened," he writes, "we are likely to try to abort the three-phase process of ending, lostness, and beginning. We might even twist this pattern around so that beginnings come first, then endings, and then ... then what? Nothing. When we turn things around in that way, transition becomes unintelligible and frightening" (p. 11).

If we can find the the grace, however, to go through the "Transition Zone" staying open to the possibilities that are always there during times of change, our personal transitions can become a path to a deeper self understanding and a wiser way of being in the world.

Bridges' three-stage model gave me some good handles to hang onto as I went through my own transition last year. Especially wise was his reminder that it is impossible, really, to go back to the old once a transition has begun, his warning against trying to, and his encouragement to embrace the in-between time, as scary and lost as it feels, as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. 

One day I hope to write a book about transitions, as a psychological experience, and the theological importance of Holy Saturdaythe Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sundayas a liturgical experience. My strong hunch is that the evangelical tradition has no clue what to do with Holy Saturday. "It's Friday but Sunday's Comin'" is the victorious mantra of contemporary evangelicalism, with nary an acknowledgement that the only way to get to that Comin' Sunday is through a Holy Saturday. I wonder what impact this tendency has on the evangelical Christian's ability to let their transition experiences be for them what Bridges says they can be.

That book will have to wait until I have more time, and perhaps more wisdom, than I have right now. In the meantime, and until it's written, I'd gladly recommend Bridge's work as a starting place for anyone sitting in their own Holy Saturday moment and trying to make sense of it.