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.

An Ancient Path for a Modern World (I): Silence

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith, and especially, in particular, those disciplines that don’t normally get listed among the usual habits of a thriving Christian.  At least, they didn’t usually get mentioned in the church circles I grew up in; indeed, some of them would have been viewed with not a small amount of suspicion, smacking too much of mysticism, fanaticism, or works-righteousness.  I’m thinking here of things like: the practice of silence, fasting, meditation, listening prayer, and so on.  Practices like these are often hard to pin down; they don’t come with a money-back “guarantee of results”; and they tend to be less explicitly biblical than the more typical “read-your-Bible-pray-every-day” agenda of the thriving Christian. As such, they don’t often get top billing in the list of things that Christians ought to do, especially in the hyper-utilitarian, results-oriented, bigger-brighter-louder-better culture of North American Christianity.

And yet, many of these practices—silence, listening, fasting, prayer-vigils, meditation, simplicity, and so on—have a long, deep, rich and proven heritage in the broader Christian tradition, tracing back throughout the ages, with various examples among the early church and weighty biblical precedence among the prophets and the patriarchs.  Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll even find them all over the place in Jesus’ daily, weekly, monthly practices, I think.

All of that is to say that for the next few months here at terra incognita, in a series I’m calling “Ancient Paths for a Modern World,” I’d like to spend some time exploring what you might call the less common but still vital disciplines of the Faith, ancient practices that don’t get much air-time in the modern North American church but are profoundly rich, rewarding disciplines for growing followers of Jesus to explore, experiment with, and develop into habits.

Take the practice of silence, as a first example.  My gut feeling is that, by-and-large, our world is dominated by what C. S. Lewis once called “the Kingdom of Noise.”  We cannot escape the constant blare of humming machines, roaring engines, blaring electronic music, incessant media interruptions, deafening Dolby-surround sound, lights, camera, action!  And my gut, further, tells me that the church has, by and large, acquiesced to the culture's insistence on making (with apologies for quoting Meatloaf and C. S. Lewis in the same paragraph) everything louder than everything else.

In this world, making space enough and time to sit, genuinely silent in the Lord’s presence, with no other agenda than simply to be still—fully still—and know that he is God, is not only rare, but it is, actually profoundly difficult.  The first time I ever tried practicing intentional silence, I found that my thoughts were bouncing around worse than a teeny-bouncer flung into a locker room (when I was in junior-high, this happened once in the boys locker room, and four guys almost lost an eye before the little rubber ball finally came to rest).  I set the timer for 15 minutes, knelt the coffee table and tried to quiet my thoughts to silence.  That teeny bouncer kept bouncing incessantly, till I gave up and looked at the clock.  Only 7 minutes had passed.

I’ve since learned some important, practical tips for developing the ability to practice silence, which I’d like to share, but before I do, let me offer a few reasons why this discipline—sitting silent, mind cleared and held still, for extended periods in the presence of the Lord—is worth the practice and effort it takes to develop it into habit.

For one, it answers the imperative of the Psalmist, to be still and know that He is God.  Coming to God in silence, with no prayer request on our lips, no prayer needs in our hearts, no agenda and no “advice” for how he ought to resolve this or that issue I’m facing, is profoundly humbling and also profoundly liberating.  Learning to be truly silent before God develops our awareness of his presence because it forces us to turn off all other distractions, including, especially, our own inner chatter.

For another, the practice of silence is an important part of learning to “take every thought captive” as a Christian.  Practicing silence teaches us better control over our thoughts.  In order to get better at sitting silently before God, we must also, and first, get better at taking charge of our thoughts: holding them still, keeping some from developing, keeping others from running away with us.  Silence is, in fact, a discipline of mental toughness; and mental toughness,  I am learning, is necessary if we are going to be in control of our own thought patterns, taking captive those thoughts that do not honour Jesus or are unbecoming a follower of his, and nurturing those thoughts that do and are.  Silence is to “taking thought captive” what weight training it to Olympic wrestling: they’re not the same thing, but then again the one is sure a lot easier if you’ve done a lot of the other.

Finally, silence is, I believe a necessary condition for genuine hearing.  Even in normal conversation we know this is true.  I can’t really hear my spouse if I’m trying to speak over her; and what’s more, if I’m busy thinking of what I’m going to say next when she’s talking, I’ll miss what she has to say, too.  The same is true with God, I think. So much of my prayers are really me chattering over God’s voice, never stopping to hear what he has to say.  Because silence puts us in the posture of waiting patiently to speak until spoken to, it develops in us a deeper sensitivity to the small still voice of God, and a more profound recognition of it, when he does speak.

If that’s made a firm enough case for the practice of silence that you’re feeling challenged to try incorporating this practice into your own Christian disciplines, let me offer a few practical things that have helped me.

1. Posture matters.  Where and how you sit when you are practicing silence will make a big difference to how you experience it.  Sit in the same location each time, and sit in a relaxed, upright position, one you will not be tempted to shift about in, but one you won’t fall asleep in (don’t laugh, it happens...)

2.  Learn to breathe.  This is one of the key aspects to the practice of silence.  Learn to breathe slowly and regularly from your belly, through your nose, filling your lungs from the diaphragm.  Practice this a fair bit, and use the regular rhythm of this “belly breathing” to continually centre you.  Whenever you become aware that your inner noise has started up again, come back to your breathing and let it quiet you down once more.

3.  Visualize your silence.  It helps to use an image of some sort or other to help you stay silent.  Sometimes I imagine I am sitting in a wide, open meadow, for instance, with a gentle breeze blowing.  Whenever I become aware that I’ve started up my inner noise again, I imagine my thoughts as though they were dandelion fluff, and I let the “breeze” blow them away until I’m silent again. (Another one is to imagine yourself sitting at the bottom of a still, clear pond, and whenever thoughts emerge in your mind, visualize them as bubbles, floating up to the surface).

4. Remove distractions.  Not just in the moment, but as part of your lifestyle.  Get rid of your TV, for instance or at least put it in a place (the basement, a back room) where it takes an intentional decision to watch it, and it’s not easy to while away mindless hours prone before it.  Do the same with the internet, Facebook, video games, or whatever else is screaming “pay attention to me!” into your life.

5.  The Holy Spirit is the Best Teacher.  Start each time of silence with a prayerful invitation to the Holy Spirit to guard you, guide you, direct you and protect you as you quiet yourself before the Lord; and end each time with the same.

6. Practice make perfect.  Don’t be surprised or discouraged if, the first time you sit down to silence, you find your thoughts are like the afore-mentioned teeny-bouncer, too.  Silence actually takes practice.  But set a timed goal—5 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, or what have you—and work at increasing the length of time you practice silence by small increments.

Again, silence is not as prominent a spiritual discipline as the more pragmatic ones, but it is, I am learning as I try more and more to work it into my own disciplines, a precursor for being more fully aware of God’s presence in the more pragmatic ones.  But don’t take my word for it; take the prophet Elijah’s.  In the famous passage about Elijah hearing the small still voice of God on the mountain side, we’re told that God wasn’t in the whirlwind, the earthquake or the roar of the fire.  But after all that came “the sound of crushed silence” (that’s how my Hebrew prof translated the verse, anyways), and when Elijah hear that—the sound of crushed silence—that’s when he heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him.

1 comments:

Frogman said...

Wow! thanks for this. Remarkably timed with regards to how I've chosen to spend my day.
Was sort of wondering how to "get there" so to speak.

Ironic perhaps that the answer came through one of my distractions... ;)