Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

15 Years and Counting

During some intensive spring cleaning I stumble across a thick bundle of papers and folders: immigration documents from the first couple years of marriage. Included are several evidences of our mutual affection such as love letters, wedding favours, gifts, and signed statements–we had to prove our relationship was real.

Reading through, I remember how much we’ve changed.
First we were kids, entralled by a wide-looking world.

Behold, the one-legged goose!
Niagara Gorge?
See what we did there?

We grew up fast and got married.

So spiffy!
And not always serious.
And look at how earnest!

A fledgling family,
we crossed land and sea

I should bring back that haircut.

We came back different people,
to a different-feeling world.

But you still kept your necklace

Even when certain things broke apart,
we never did.
We never even came close.

Part of my spiritual crisis included this regretful hairdo

I love being with you.

Partly because we look quite good together

I love how we keep changing

and how we always seem to be changing
into people
in love

Love you Ruth. Happy 15th!

Review: What We See in The Smoke by Ben Berman Ghan

Comes out June 6

Part novel, part anthology, Ben Berman Ghan‘s What We See in The Smoke is an evocative and powerful read. Each chapter is a separate short story that can be read on its own, independent of the other chapters. Taken as a whole, they form a grand epic of humanity’s descent into the far future–through a Torontonian lens. Each section and story progressively moves further from the Toronto (and Earth) we know.

The sci-fi elements are both outlandish and belieavble. The tone is often dark and sometimes funny, and there’s always something at stake that hits at the heart.

The first section, “These Memories of Us,” covers the nearly familiar future. We see inter-connected people struggling against overbearing and implacable systems while tending to their own limitations and empowerments. “Planet 58” put us in the mind of people whose understanding of the wider world threatens to cut them off from the local one. “Time Loop Tango” dances with determinism in a way that pushes at its limits. “A Carnival World” jars the reader with 2nd person narration.

Aside: I heard a professor say it wasn’t possible to write convincingly in the 2nd person but obviously that prof had never read “A Carnival World” or the other 2nd person stories in this book or N.K. Jemisin.

The second section, “These Violent Machines,” stretch all the way to 2280. The first story, “Yum,” opens with an epitath from Moby Dick that sets a dark stage for the rest of the book.

“Cannibals? who is not a cannibal?”

While the stories are not (all) about cannibalism, they each introduce a dehumanising factor. “Darkly Dreaming” envisions a Toronto in which the controlling arm of the corporations reach deeper inside a person than we ever thought possible. “Re-Pilot” follows a job applicant trying to adjust to life on Mars. “The End of History” puts the reader in the front seat again, returning to the 2nd person to watch the end of the world as it comes.

As the stories fly further and further from out present-day point of view, Ghan keeps bringing us back to ourselves with relatably broken characters.

Finally, “An Uncertain and Distant World” takes us far from familiar earth, with mind-implants, teleporting art theives, robots on trial, and (my favourite) an ever-evolving race of beings waging eternal war on a hull breach. The settings and circumstances are believebly outlandish. The characters are tanglible and real.

What We See in The Smoke peels back painful and beautiful layers of humanity in a time when we are becoming more and more aware of the futures we are constructing for ourselves. These stories are engrossing and powerful. The prose is darkly comic and brightly sombre. This is a book for anyone who loves stories about Toronto, rocket ships, and the kinds of love that can survive apocalypse. Go buy it!

Buying Options:
Crowsnest Books
Chapters Indigo
Amazon

It’s interesting how myth can be taken in different ways

eg: There are at least seven competing theologies of the atonement.

I should totally blog about that

eg: Scripture can be used to condemn or justify war, pacifism, civil rights, racism, bodily autonomy, abortion, charity, racism, colonialism, communism, murder, feminism, capitalism, polygamy, poverty, penitentiaries, and everything else I can’t think of at the moment.

Might want to blog about that, too

eg: Concepts emerge from sacred books that lens our reality, and can either enable or repress us.

Definitely blogging about that soon

But today I’m just thinking about a bit of Bible, and my two favourite ways of taking it.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

Ephesians 4:26

This means: don’t sin by letting anger control you, and resolve your fights before going to bed.

or

This means: be righteously angry, and don’t let your anger’s day end.

Matt Cook: Deconverson (not so) Anonymous

Had a great conversation with the Graceful Atheist! Have a listen!

Graceful Atheist

Matt Cook: Deconversion (not so) Anonymous. Click to play episode on anchor.fm
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

Today’s show is a Deconversion (not so) Anonymous episode. In these episodes, people who have gone throughdeconversionor faith transitions tell their stories anonymously or otherwise.

On today’s episode, my guest is Matt Cook from Toronto Canada. Matt was a former evangelical missionary to Pakistan and a preacher who lost his faith about six years ago. Matt is not your typical deconvert. He calls himself religious but not spiritual. Several years after deconversion, Matt chose to live a year “Christianly.” During that year he prayed, he read the bible daily, he went to church and practiced other spiritual disciplines. Although, it did not change his mind he has found continued value in these disciplines and practices some of them to this day.

You can learn more about Matt and his year of living Christianlyat his blogmwcook.com, on his YouTube channel and

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Oh Be Careful Little Brain What You Believe

Whenever there is a horrible violent act like the terrorist attack in Christchurch, I want to say something. I want to offer thoughts and prayers, but I know they can be vapid. I want to say how broken-hearted I am, but that just puts the focus on me. I want to say how much I hate the beliefs and ideas that inspired the terrorists, but that seems easy.

So I’ll offer this: We must be careful what we believe. I’ve always thought that we cannot choose what we believe, that the mechanisms which produce and sustain convictions are more or less out of our control. But there’s a lot more to it.

If you really want to believe something, you’ll find a way to make it fit. These terrorist attacks were the result of deep conviction and sincere belief. These terrorists acted according to their hateful ideas.

We must be on guard for the seeds of hate we let take root in our minds and hearts. They start small and, and might not give a hint as to how they will grow.

The immigrants are stealing our jobs.
The LGBTQ agenda is poisoning our kids.
The Muslims want to Islamify the West.
The OTHERS threaten the US.

Ideas about race, religion, or any kind of identity threatening our own liberty are dangerous. Do not allow these ideas to grow. Call them out. Expose them so they cannot sprout.

Terrorists are tempted by the desire for easy answers to complicated situations. Desire conceives belief. Belief, full-grown, can bring forth death.

Religious, but not Spiritual

I get confused when people say they are spiritual, but not religious.

I don’t know how you can do spirituality without religion. Religion is like scaffolding. Both the five-hundred-year-old tradition and the vague conception of following your own inner truth are religion. Religion is the structure, the ritual, the lens through which you see parts of the world.

I think I’m religious, but not spiritual.

“What does that even mean?”

I pray and read the Bible. I belt out hymns and attend church. Christianly myth undergirds my interpretation of reality. I love sacred things. I’m religious, and I can’t help it.

But I don’t think any of the stories really happened. I don’t think the Bible is a book from God, and I don’t think that Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t think anyone is listening when I pray, or spiritually leading me, or that I’ll survive my death in any meaningful way. I’m not spiritual. I believe in the sacred, not the holy.

The Bible is sacred, foundational to many religious frameworks. But it is not holy. It is not whole and pure and uninjured. It is a collection of disparate works across time and genre that do not internally cohere without a complex hermeneutic formula. If I believed it was holy, I would have to accept the obviously evil bits of the Bible.

Here’s a guy who’s religious AND spiritual

A benefit of being religious but not spiritual is that I can hack my religion. Since it’s not the eternal edict of the universe, I can toss out every word of the law that contradicts the spirit of love and, with a nod to Marie Kondo, every doctrine that does not spark joy can be reverently discarded.

Communion

One of the biggest pains in spiritual deconstruction is lost community. We were bound together in Christ. When Christ is gone, that bond is broken. I feel this most pointedly at church when I am warned by the pastor not to take part in communion. The Lord’s table is for the Lord’s people, he tells us. For unbelievers like myself, it would be a meal of judgment rather than blessing.

Communion signals the kind of relationship Churchgoers are to have with each other: Eating from the same loaf and drinking from the same cup, as if all were one body. It’s like the feeding of the 5000; no one gets their own, but everyone gets enough.

On New Year’s Eve, I sat around a table with old friends. One of us had a glass of wine. Another came with a freshly-baked roll. Spontaneously, we tore pieces from the roll, dipped them in the wine, and ate together. I realized I don’t need church services for this kind of communion. I can commune with my people, wherever I find them.

Happy New Year, and may you have people to share bread and wine with.

Nearing the End

I thought I’d have done a lot more for this year of living christianly. I wanted to read the entire Bible, join a local church, and post regular blogs and videos about religion and spirituality and scripture.

I didn’t.

I couldn’t finish the Bible. This is partly because it took a long time for morning devotions to become a habit. Also, scripture is to be lingered over, not devoured. Bible reading isn’t like studying for a test, it’s like a homeowner going through storage, seeking treasures old and new.

Church was difficult. I was always on the outside, even though I’d sing louder than most. Our local evangelical church worked homophobia into every sermon (they will know we are Christians by our sexual conservatism!). And I was on the outside in progressive churches because they never sang songs I knew. In either case, I couldn’t take communion, which I’ve always understood to be the chief meeting of the Church.

My posts about religion, spirituality, and scripture were irregular. I found myself in a middling space, seeing the profound flaws and injustices of religion, along with the beatific and life-changing powers of religious spirituality. This has been hard to write about.

So here I am, my year of living christianly nearly over, and I’m no closer to believing in the crucial aspects of the Christian religion: the existence of a personal God and the resurrection of His son, Jesus Christ. These doctrines are the crux that bar my way back.

But I am not done with this old-time religion. Morning devotions have turned into something powerful for me, and I’ll keep them. I realize that I’ll probably never be done with The Book. And in the new year, I’ll have more to say about it.

An Unbeliever’s Prayer

Sometimes I pray that God would

create in me a clean heart
renew in me a right spirit
have his presence go with me
and restore the joy of my salvation

What can that mean to someone like me who does not believe
in God,
or cleanness of heart,
or salvation?

A clean heart can be unclouded desires
A renewed right spirit can be an energetic and positive attitude
The presence of God can cast out fear
The joy of my salvation can be ultimate gratitude with my state and rituals

That works

Biblical Fiction: “Not Wanted on the Voyage” and “The Red Tent”

I’ll start reading any stories based on Bible stories. Ancient myths of all kinds are like fertile fields that grow new crops every time they’re sown. My favourites, so far, are Timothy Findley’s “Not Wanted on the Voyage” and Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent.” 

They’re completely different kinds of books.

“Not Wanted on the Voyage” is a deep and whimsical fantasy about Noah’s Ark.

“The Red Tent” is a stark and realistic portrayal of the life of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter.

Both of them grabbed me deeply.

Meanwhile, I have given up on Gore Vidal’s “Live From Golgotha.” It’s funny, clever, and I just can’t bring myself to finish it. The premise is interesting: time travelers want to shoot the crucifixion for NBC. There’s wit and anachronisms everywhere. But I just don’t care.

I’m wondering what Findley and Diamant have that Vidal (in this book anyway) does not. Here are my thoughts:

  • All three are willing to turn the patriarchs on their heads, but Findley and Diamant make it serve the story. Noah and Yahweh are hugely problematic characters in “Not Wanted on the Voyage.” Diamant paints Jacob just as double-sided as the Bible. There is irreverence, but not for its own sake. The irreverence serves the story.
  • Findley and Diamant dig deep when the suffering comes. They refuse to shy away from the depths of human hurt–and human apathy. But Vidal’s light touch makes nearly everything that happens in the story light. And since it is light, it doesn’t matter.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Diamant and Findley make me CARE SO MUCH about the characters. Like, ruin your day kinda care. Meanwhile, I can’t bring myself to invest much in the people in “Live From Golgotha,” despite its very interesting premise.

So if you’re looking for some really good Biblical fiction, pick up Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” and Timothy Findley’s “Not Wanted on the Voyage.” Both are engrossing, gripping, and more than worth your time. 

And if you want something that smacks like an irreverent Douglas Adams, “Live From Golgotha” might be for you.