Learning to Walk in Sobrioteousness

To those dear souls for whom this level of honesty is awkward: grab your inhaler, a pillow or two, and Just. Look. Away. What follows are a few thoughts outlining my slow, daily march of sobriety.

And, never one to mince words, it’s been (insert happy superlative, or expletive, of choice) awesome. Like, so way much more awesomer than usual. I’m choosing to call it a time of sobrioteousness.


It is an awkward and wonderful marriage of sobriety, riotous joy, and deeper righteousness. The result has been a clearer head. It has scuttled out some pretty confusing stuff and ushered in a season of newness and productive self-reflection.

And, as one who has spent inordinate amounts of time in the swirling eddies of his own head, this would otherwise be dangerous, even inadvisable.

But times they are a’changin’ as someone once said. Thank you, Mr. Dylan.

I am presently experiencing that which those like me most avoid but for which we most long:

wait for it…

a normal life. 


I know!

Just a few years ago such a prognosis would have struck terror in me. I mean, the very thought that I was anything less than stage-ready remarkable would have been an unthinkable travesty. Like Madonna with no marketing plan. Kanye West, the guy, not the god. Taylor Swift without the whining. Or the Kardashians, at all.

Much of our lives are lived in pursuit of that which we possess already – acceptance and love. It has certainly been the case for me.

Upon honest reflection, my life has often aimed itself at two primary goals: self-knowledge, and the safety found in praise and adulation. It can be hard to know the difference. It has prompted many, including myself, to ask the question, will the real Rob please stand up?

Of course, I don’t think it either right or prudent to simply write off all pursuits as efforts toward attaining acceptance and the praise of others. There will always be those things to which we naturally aspire. 

For example, it would be hard to disattach from me all things Celtic. The skirl of bagpipes, the wild scuttle of Celtic music and the dark, mystical history that weaves it all together. This is the cut of my jib. 

And, words. Long have they held sway over me, sometimes in euphoric, hypnotic ways. To read words placed well, taste them under the tongue, swallowing them raw and whole is genuinely nourishing. Those occasions when I feel I’ve written well leave me breathless. I’m seldom out of breath, but trying all the same.

I’ve always loved laughter and the humour that takes me there. I love whatever is funny and however I can be funny. From distant memory I recall possessing the ability to make people laugh.

That makes me happy.

I love to run. To some degree it has become every bit the addiction alcohol was, although with more respectable results. It too has defined how I see myself. How others see me. How I want to be seen.

All of this and more lines up to take its place in the panoply of influences, pursuits, passions, and proclivities that have come to represent, Rob

Ironically, the older I get, and the deeper I move into the blessing of sobriety, the less interested I am in being unique and remarkable.


I do not spend as much time and energy looking for the wow factor, and that relieves the constant pressure to be unforgettable, memorable. Not dull or without significance or ability in my own right. Just part of something bigger; something beyond myself in which I can play a small part.

My part.

Instead of rejoicing in all the ways I am unique, I now find considerable comfort in all the ways I am just like everyone else. And, to my surprise, I’m no longer lonely.

Go figure.

I’m calling this phase of life, sobrioteous. I’m clean and sober, happily, riotously normal. And all of that may, in some small way, contribute to righteousness or the Bible’s description of “the good life.”

Thanks for listening…







It’s not a party till the piper comes

This blog has been kind of a one-stop shop for all things spiritual; the stuff life throws my way and what, by God’s grace, I get to hurl back. Much of that is intimately tied to my Celtic DNA. A Canadian by birth, an American by address, a Scot by history, bloodline, and luck – I gain much from this tossed salad of personal ingredients. 

Perhaps none more so however than the joy and pride I take in being a Highland Bagpiper.

bagpiper.jpgNow, I recognize that many out there might consider it an oddity for such a thing to be a point of pride. Well, to those misdirected naysayers, I share the following excerpt from a delightful book I’ve been reading entitled A Celtic Miscellany. It is a varied, and utterly delightful collection of literary bits ‘n bobs, all masterfully translated from early Celtic literature by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson.

From a section on humour and satire (something in which the Celts took great delight and did astonishingly well), I give you “Welsh Harper and English Bagpiper.” It describes the self-pity of a self-congratulatory Welsh harper at being upstaged by, you guessed it, a bagpiper.

Enjoy (he says, trying unsuccessfully to rub the silly grin off his face).

“Last Sunday I came – a man whom the Lord God made – to the town of Flint, with its great double walls and rounded bastions; may I see it all aflame! An obscure English wedding was there, with but little mead – an English feast! and I meant to earn a shining solid reward for my harper’s art. So I began, with ready speed, to sing an ode to the kinsmen; but all I got was mockery, spurning of my song, and grief. It was easy for hucksters of barley and corn to dismiss all my skill, and they laughed at my artistry, my well-prepared panegyric which they did not value; John of the Long Smock began to jabber of peas, and another about dung for his land. They all called for William the Piper to come to the table, a low fellow he must be. He came forward as though claiming his usual rights, though he did not look like a privileged man, with a groaning bag, a paunch of heavy guts, at the end of a stick between chest and arm. He rasped away, making startling grimaces, a horrid noise, from the swollen belly, bulging his eyes; he twisted his body here and there, and puffed his two cheeks out, playing with his fingers on a bell of hide – unsavoury conduct, fit for the unsavoury banqueters. He hunched his shoulders, amid the rout, under his cloak, like a worthless ballad-monger; he snorted away, and bowed his head until it was on his breast, the very image of a kite with skilful zeal preening its feathers. The pigmy puffed, making an outlandish cry, blowing out the bag with a loud howl; it sang like the buzzing of a hornet, that devilish bag with the stick in its head, like a nightmare howl, fit to kill a mangy goose, like a sad bitch’s hoarse howl in its hollow kennel; a harsh paunch with monotonous cry, throat-muscles squeezing out a song, with a neck like a crane’s where he plays, like a stabbed goose screeching aloud. There are voices in that hollow bag like the ravings of a thousand cats; a monotonous, wounded, ailing, pregnant goat – no pay for its hire. After it ended its wheezing note, that cold songstress whom love would shun, Will got his fee, namely bean-soup and pennies (if they paid) and sometimes small halfpennies, not the largesse of a princely hand; while I was sent away in high vexation from the silly feast all empty-handed. I solemnly vow, I do forswear wretched Flint and all its children, and its wide, hellish furnace, and its English people and its piper! That they should be slaughtered is all my prayer, my curse in their midst and on their children; sure, if I go there again, may I never return alive!

(Welsh; authorship uncertain; fifteenth century).

Well then. I’ll just leave this here, shall I?funny_bagpipes_cards-r3e45aedba9bb4a898a576c4c32274e9e_xvuak_8byvr_512


Glimpses, part II – the spirituality of place.

Where a person is can be as important to one’s spiritual development as what they believe. Long have spiritual masters proclaimed the benefits of sacred places. The Hebrew scriptures are replete with God’s directions to Israel to mark out territories prescribed by God that would both demonstrate God’s faithfulness and Israel’s special role in God’s redemptive economy. From the irrigated, verdant hills dotting the landscape around his hometown of Galilee, Jesus would spend countless hours with his Father. From such wilderness haunts he would find nurture, tenacity, strength, succor, and, frankly…answers.

So much of who we are and what we are becoming is directly attributable to the places that have graced us (rhyme subliminal but entirely intentional). In the comparative spiritual laissez faire of Constantine’s newly Christianized Rome, Abba Antony of Egypt started a mass exodus into the deserts of Egypt, those who would become known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The barrenness and desperation of the desert mimicked a similar cry deep within the hearts of these enigmatic souls. What is the obvious lesson? When there isn’t anything to titillate the senses, one might as well deal with the soul!

As a result of their foray into geographical nothingness, they became everything. They became the fullness that lies beneath the surface of what one misses when only seeing the desert sand.

The Celts, well known for their keen kinship with their environment, made much of this desire. Not unlike the Native populations of the US and Canada, not a feather of wing-ed bird, nor bark of tree, nor single trickle of rainwater escaped their notice. All carried within it some morsel of meaning for them.  Because everything received notice, nothing got wasted and this outer kinship found expression through inner resolve and great spiritual creativity.

My own holy places, the cairns of my wanderings, are generally old, rather solid, often drafty and poorly insulated, but full of the memory of stones that have long cried out to their Maker. Long have I had an historical and spiritual affinity for those stuffy, rarely air-conditioned chapels that never cease to draw me elsewhere…to the great Other. Let me share just a few.

St. Saviour’s Anglican Church sanctuary in Nelson, British Columbia where for a number of years I taught at a Highland Bagpiping School (a place where other strange souls like myself learn to tame a five-legged creature designed to rouse neighbors and destined to arouse suspicions). Connections in the community opened the door figuratively and, in this case, literally, to spend as much time as I wanted in the church sanctuary after everyone else had gone home. I was given a key and carte blanche run of the place.

Most evenings after a long day of bagpipe students, some whiny, some lazy, all of them noisy, I would retire to the sanctuary with my pipes. For an hour or so I would simply play, enjoying the epic reverberance of the sound bouncing off the hard stone walls, and finding no sonic respite from the hardwood floor. It was, for me, the closest I had yet been to what I might have then described as heaven. At times it was 2:00 am before finally getting back to my room.

The hospital chapel in the same city was another such place. I was falling apart after a recent break-up with a girl to whom I had been engaged. My shattered interior was gradually reintegrated in that little chapel where I would weep and pray for hours, listening to John Michael Talbot, or the Monks of the Weston Priory sing beautifully doleful refrains. It was for me, through gallons of heart-crushing tears, the perfect requiem to my stubbornly elusive peace of mind. It would become the Introit to a new place of healing and restoration, albeit gradually.

Tintern Abbey in Wales, the place I believe could be boasted by angels as heaven’s waiting room, the lobby to eternity. My first experience of this roofless wreck of holiness was following a six month sojourn as a missionary to youth in Edinburgh’s rough Pilton district with my new wife of a year. We were tired and needed time to traipse about the land of our ancestors (and her relatives) before returning to Canada, unsure of what awaited us there. The warm, lazy day infused with the angular light of Fall caressed the ancient stone walls easily visible from almost anywhere. The pointed gables of apse and nave bespoke a darker but simpler time. All we could do was sit and pray.

Less than two years later a picture of Tintern Abbey would help pull her through a terrible first pregnancy with our son, Calum. The same photo performed this function five years later as our second son, Graeme, reluctantly succumbed to womb-ed pressure and left his humble abode to make his premier. However, it is difficult to compete with William Wordsworth whose words best complete this picture:

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things…

And somewhat of a sad perplexity,

The picture of the mind revives again:

While here I stand, not only with the sense

Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts

That in this moment there is life and food

For future years. And so I dare to hope…(Wordsworth on Tintern, 1798)

Everyone can point to at least one place where something important, even seminal occurred and they sense something is different. There it is that our life has been forever changed, perhaps only incrementally, but transformed just the same.

I believe it is God’s way of playing spatial peek-a-boo.

Think deeply of a place or two that have been places of rest and reconstruction. Picture that place in your mind. Now let that picture juggle your heart.

As you do so, re-member the pieces of you that may have been broken or lost in that place. Quietly give thanks to the God who loves to find us where we’re least looking or at least looking the other way.

Of life, love and bagpipes

I am a Highland Bagpipe player or piper in street talk. It is an instrument with which I have had a love-hate relationship for almost forty years now. For the longest time I wondered what might have gone through my parents’ minds when, at eight years of age, I loudly proclaimed my overweening desire to begin lessons immediately. That is, until I mused lately on the fact that both of my sons are rock drummers. I’m sure that bears at least some resemblance.

Perhaps not.

The Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB) as it is called by the musicology muck-a-mucks is an instrument uniquely designed to be heard. A perfect wake-the-dead alarm, they have been used for centuries to alert clans of forthcoming gatherings, oncoming battles and soon coming dignitaries. A piper on a hill is not just a cliché or quaint tourist post card. It does in fact typify much of bagpipe history. Moreover, as either clever tactic or cruel joke (depending upon whether one is a piper or not), the bagpipes were always the first line of defense in any conflagration. Apparently, troop commanders figured they could simultaneously amuse, entertain and confuse their enemy with a burly, red-haired, stumpy man in a dress, himself attacking the weapon of choice and tossing note after screaming note at them as a monkey flinging musical feces.

Like an octopus missing some legs the GHB consists of three drones – a bass and two tenors; a blowpipe through which ample air must pass into the bag acting as reservoir for this purpose, and a chanter that accommodates fingers eager to surprise the world with music both raunchy and wild, pristine and sweet. Heard under a best-case scenario in which all of the varied factors of its engineering converge successfully and wielded by someone with a modicum of experience lassoing them into submission, it is undoubtedly the most mystically beautiful thing I’ve yet heard. However, the usual encounter of the average passerby is a rather less than desirable auditory experience not unlike a grumpy orangutan humping an unsuspecting cat on the rush-hour freeway after a losing football game. That said, I confess such a description as that which I have yet to see.

Yet, it is what many might actually prefer when they hear this baffling instrument. It is, under any circumstances, an instrument that, like a crying baby on an airline, demands center stage. It is a sound that captured me even as a boy of seven years old. I well recall my first visceral experience with the bagpipe.

I grew up in a tiny bungalow in Calgary, Alberta the adopted son of a brewery worker and his house-wife, my mother. As I, along with my younger brother and sister, continued to grow, it became abundantly apparent that our consistent brushing of shoulders would only lead to inner-family disaster. My father set about building me a bedroom in our not-quite-finished basement. For some fifteen years to follow it would be my sanctuary – my monastery and the place where I found music, booze, girls (don’t mention that to my parents, they only know about the previous two) and ultimately salvation.

The spring before my eighth birthday I moved in. Kismet. I was also sick as a dog. My parents in true devoted fashion brought me hot soup, books (I’m a total nerd) and best of all, a TV to help wile away the hours spent in sniffly, coughing boredom. Changing channels one afternoon I happened upon a presentation of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual display of pomp, circumstance, bright lights, booming cannons and bagpipes – lots of bagpipes. It is filmed live at Edinburgh Castle. From the very first sound I was hooked. I cried through the entire thing, later asking my parents if I could learn to do what I had just seen but thought I had dreamed.

A love affair had begun.

Over Scotland

I love poetry. I used to write much more poetry than I presently do. I feel bad about that. Consider this part one in rectifying this. This poem was written gazing out from an airplane window while flying over Scotland in 1989. It was finished in 1991, the next time I was in Scotland.

High flying, window glass reveals tattered floor-

Pristine heaven greets eyes open to curving planet yonder

Stretching, reaching, sky-borne, we soar.

Place of kings bringing wonder to hearts that wonder.

Stipple green, ground richly steeped in lush, purple hue-

Woven pattern of road-cut scenes moves closer,

Sky meets peripheral sky, horizon’s hazy blue.

Shadows run as daylight comes.

Well-fermented scenes from ancient dreams-

Walls of stone, hearts of flesh, eyes of steel,

Pageantry in motion, all is as it seems.

Like God in man, surreal kisses real.

Robert Rife © 1991

Reflections of January Residency, 2009 – Part 1

By now it has become rather apparent that my M.A. program January Residencies have been deeply formative experiences. At the risk of boring the reader into a coma, I continue to share these experiences with part 1 of my 2009 reflections…

Who am I? In total recognition that I am among the countless throng throughout history who have asked this deepest of questions, my query is not of the kind asked by the philosopher who plumbs archetypes, epistemologies and the like. My question is less enigmatic and more practical in nature. More personal. My reflections on the January Residency are within the broader framework of my spiritual journey over the past few years.

I play the bagpipes among other Celtic instruments. It’s not that this information is particularly unique or interesting in and of itself. However, an early childhood fascination with all things Celtic and the means by which I began to learn the instrument make for good dinner conversation. Watching a television program featuring the Edinburgh Military Tattoo from Edinburgh Castle as a boy forever sealed my fate as a lover of the instrument. It also ended any hopes my parents may have had that I might play Chopin Etudes or Beethoven Sonatas in the shopping mall with the other little social climbers!

No, it was the fact that my mother revealed certain information to me after that night which forever changed the trajectory of my life. I am adopted. Moreover, I am adopted from a family with profound Scottish roots. The connection was complete. I was a mystic long before I ever knew what that meant. Who I am has been the primary question I’ve asked ever since.

In October of 1983 while praying in a dark gymnasium at Foothills Christian College, Calgary, Alberta I prayed a prayer: God, I want to be a man of integrity. At the time, steeped as I was in conservative evangelicalism, this meant a certain thing to me. I believed I was asking for a solidity, immovability, authenticity and trustworthiness – in essence, to say what I believe and believe what I say. My inability to stay very long with anything, to make decisions or share convictions rather than opinions revealed the fissures in the fractured windshield of my projected life. My prayer, in retrospect, was a prayer for something I didn’t fully understand. It was a prayer that I become a man of God, or at least to be known as a man of God.

The years that followed have, for me, completely unraveled a commonly held assumption among western evangelicalism – that a post conversion life was to be reflective of victory, an unwavering trust in God, and a consistency in discipleship and faithfulness to the primary tenets of Bible study, prayer and witnessing. Although these things will always be central for me, the circuitous journey I have undertaken has shown me many things I could never have foreseen.

My life prior to my conversion at age 18 could best be described as narcissistic, blissfully entitled and blessed. The world held great wonder for me. Everything around me – relationships, the created order, experiences, my place in the world – was cause for wonder, celebration and poetry. However, the oldest of three adopted children, I enjoyed a great deal of freedom and lived a pampered life with respect to the fulfillment of desires. Our home was small by most standards, five people in a 900 square foot bungalow (with one bathroom!) in a decidedly blue-collar area of town. But I was denied nothing. I could easily celebrate my existence since I was rich, globally speaking, and was the center of my family’s time and attention.

As my life continued to point me ever so gradually toward heavenly things I succumbed to the romancing of God while driving home from a singing gig in Edmonton, Alberta. I was 60 pounds overweight and profoundly hung over. My conversion was for me, earth shattering. At least in the short term I was an excellent candidate for the evangelical demand of a good testimony. I can in fact point to the existential realities of a deep sorrow for my sins accompanied by the delicious joy reserved for those who serendipitously embrace a way of life birthed in hope. Changes in my demeanor, direction, sensibilities and relationships were immediate and obvious. I was, in C. S. Lewis’s words, surprised by joy…


Welcome to innerwoven, a place to discuss matters related to the Christian spiritual journey. Specifically, my interests lie in the many places of intersecting dialogue among worship, the arts, liturgy, and spiritual formation. As both a church music director (Yakima Covenant Church, Yakima, WA) and a graduate in spiritual formation and leadership (Spring Arbor University, MI) these are for me, increasingly, matters of genuine excitement. More selfishly, it is a place to share my circuitous journey of faith and the ways I’m seeing God in my world. In the world.

This is a safe place to be where all discussion is good discussion inasmuch as it strives unto mutual respect, love and understanding. Denominational baggage…please leave it at the door upon entering. But when you do, do so with my warm invitation to share this journey with me.

Pax Christi, Rob