MW Cook

An illiterate scribe

Morning Devo: Habakkuk and Colonialism

We have an overwhelming tendency to read ourselves into the good guys of our myths. We identify with heroically flawed characters like Peter and Paul before Judas. We’re Jacob instead of Esau. We’re Job, not his three idiot friends. But sometimes the text is just so jarring we can’t help but apply it to our own selves.

Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against they soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity. Habakkuk 2:8-12

The house that is built on oppression and the spoiling of other nations sits under the judgement of God. Even though I don’t believe, it unnerves me. Colonial legacy is a blinding log in the eye of the Christendom. It hasn’t been thoroughly repented of.

On that note, here’s some angry-sounding ska to start your weekend:

Making the CBC Short Story Longlist

My story, And a River Went Out of Eden, made the 2018 CBC Short Story Contest longlist. Cheers and mead all around! I’m super honoured to have a story make it this far, and excited to read the others on the list.

And a River Went Out of Eden is the product of more than a year of composition and rewriting and critique and rewriting. It wasn’t written in a vacuum. I’m thankful for the input of incredible writers: Robert McGill and all my peers at ENG389, where the story was born, and J. Marshall Freeman and A.M. Matte who helped nurse it to strength.

Writing can be very solitary, and it’s often like singing alone: you really can’t tell what you sound like unless you have someone to listen. If you’re serious about writing and looking for a tip to grow with, consider getting a group of writerly friends and sharing your works in progress. It helps!

Resurrection Stories and a Resolution

At my parents’ church on Easter Sunday we heard stories of lives changed by the resurrected Christ. Broken relationships mended. Addictions overcome. Courageous rising to meet heart-shaking challenges. All this because Jesus was killed on a tree, and rose from the dead, breaking the power of self-destruction and hate, and empowering those who believe to walk in newness of life. It’s an incredible story. It’s an unbelievable story.

Resolved, never to be so cynical to deny the real power of stories I don’t believe in.

Morning Devos: Seeing God’s Floor in Exodus 24

One day, at the mountain, God tells Moses to bring the ruling class of Israel up for dinner.

And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink. Exodus 24:10-11

Imagine one of the nobles, coming home after supping with God.

“What was He like?”

“His floor was…so blue. Clear as the sky.”

“But what was He like?”

“He didn’t lay a hand on me.

“…”

Big revelations and encounters cannot be easily put into words. We resort to phrases like, You had to be there, when the story doesn’t hit our hearers the way it hits us. This is probably why most worldviews, besides your own, look trite or foolish or just plain wrong.

Reality created itself by accident? That’s just stupid!

A deity with an elephant head? How silly!

God kills himself to stop himself from killing us? Give me a break!

A dinner party with Yahweh and a shiny blue floor? What a fairy-tale!

Every meaningful experience has something in it that is ineffable. When we meet something real, sometimes the only thing we can put into words is the floor.

And, man oh man, it was clear as the sky.

Palm Sunday Report

It’s Palm Sunday today and I’m a quarter through my year of living christianly. Here’s some observations:

  • It wasn’t hard to lay down a habit of waking early and spending decent time in meditative reading. The habit has opened my mornings up, and it feels like there are more hours in the day.
  • The first few months were emotionally intense. This is a deliberate understatement. I never felt such sadness and anxiety before, though I could sense a healing thread in it all. I think I had to properly mourn my loss of faith a while.
  • I can sit and chew on a piece of myth or devotional reading without believing that any of it actually happened and still find worthwhile nuggets to carry with me and change mt outlook on life.
  • I haven’t been to church for about a month. I’d like to blame school and term papers, but the fact is, church is meant to be a community of like-minded spiritual pilgrims. It grows hard to sit as an outsider. I’ll be back, though.
  • Digging into Scripture and dense spiritual literature is invigorating. I’d forgotten.

 

Christianly Book Review #3: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

Puritan writings are an acquired taste. I loved them while I was a Believer, and was growing an impressive library of Puritan Paperbacks. As my faith began to deconstruct, I went through a misguided minimalistic phase and purged nearly all my books. I regretted it almost immediately. Then I found Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed in a thrift shop last year.

richard_sibbesPuritan spirituality is rigorous, promising great reward for those who walk the path and predicting serious trouble for those who won’t. The Bruised Reed is full of beautiful, comforting words. But there’s a lot I can’t resonate with anymore. Reading it was a bitter and beautiful reminder of the complex and rigorous spirituality I loved, devoted to “the constant progress of Christ’s gracious power, until he has set up an absolute government in us which shall prevail over all corruptions” (77).

If you’re a Believer, consider the Puritans. They had many of blind spots, and sometimes great ignorance. But nuggets of wisdom are almost everywhere you look, and the Puritans were keen on growing wisdom. Despite some serious problems (you’ll see them if you read them) the Puritans plowed a fertile field for spiritual gleanings.

This book speaks to me from the strangest place; in a form I love, Sibbes presents a path I cannot follow. I read it with a pen in hand (because that’s how you have to read the Puritans), so I’ll share a few lines that struck me, without comment or context.

Truth fears nothing so much as concealment, and desires nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all. (27)

Let men take heed of taking up Satan’s office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others. (32)

Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. …The strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak. … The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. (33)

What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? (36)

Under this gracious covenant, sincerity is perfection. (37)

It is better that the water should run somewhat muddily than not run at all. (42)

It is better to enjoy the benefit of light, though with smoke, than to be altogether in the dark. (49)

Sin against conscience is as a thief in the candle, which spoils our joy, and thereby weakens our strength. (61)

Again, remember this, that Christ rules us by a spirit of love, from a sense of his love, whereby his commandments are easy to us. He leads us by his free Spirit, a Spirit of liberty. His subjects are voluntaries. (81)

Those, therefore, that are enemies of knowledge help Satan and antichrist, whose kingdom, like Satan’s, is a kingdom of darkness. (85)

No wicked man can be a wise man. (90)

Love once kindled is strong as death. (97)

What the heart likes best, the mind studies most. (103)

It has been a successful way of corrupting the judgment, to begin by withdrawing love. (103)

See a flame in a spark, a tree in a seed. See great things in little beginnings. (124)

 

Exvangelical Devotions: The End of Job

God shows up and is all, Who’s darkening counsel without knowledge? Then, in four chapters, God tells Job all the things he’ll never understand or accomplish. Job listens, puts his hand over his mouth, and withdraws his complaint.

From the pulpit I’ve heard that the answer to Job is kind of an expansion of Isaiah 55:8; “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” Basically, God knows what’s up and we ought to trust that everything will work out and Job got his money back and new kids so, over all, there is a justice to the world.

My interpretation is a bit different. See, God keeps coming back to the same kinds of questions. Where does light live? Does rain have a father? Can you bind the constellations? Will the unicorn serve thee, doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and all that? The end of that matter is that the question falls fully apart. Why do the innocent suffer? Where is snow is stored for winter? It isn’t. It just doesn’t make sense.

The three friends are moved by this revelation to bring food and throw down some money for Job to get back on his feet. They stop blaming. They stop trying to figure out the Story. They just help.

Morning Devos: Elihu the Fourth Friend

Job rests his case. He’s innocent and suffering and that chips away at the shared Story of a just world.

Elihu’s mad. He’s mad at Job’s three friends because for condemning Job even though they couldn’t answer his legitimate concern. He’s mad at Job because of his self-justifying, God-condemning reasonings. So he takes his turn, despite his youth, and nails it so hard that Yahweh shows up.

Watching Elihu argue is useful for any of us who talk about hard things. Here’s a list of ways he kicks conversational butt:

  • Job 32:11-12; Elihu listens more than he speaks, which gives him the ability to meet the real questions in new, useful ways.
  • Job 32:14, 33:7; Elihu is not adversarial toward Job like the three stooges. Also, his contribution to the conversation will be different from theirs–otherwise why would he even be talking? Notice, also, how often Elihu uses Job’s name; he refuses to forget that Job is a person, not a theological problem.
  • Job 33:8ff; Elihu repeats Job’s argument to shows that he understands it.
  • Job 33:12-13; Elihu does not flinch in his own argument. Since he’s demonstrated he is not against Job, there’s no need to flinch.
  • Job 33:31ff; He’s still listening and he checks in to see how his words are taken.
  • Job 37:1; He’s emotionally invested. He doesn’t pretend that it’s not personal. He doesn’t detach.
  • Job 38:1; His arguments prompt revelation; God appears and blows everyone’s minds.

There’s a sermon here, and way more in the last ten chapters of Job than a weekday blog post can fit.

Christianly Book Review #2: Intimacy With God by Thomas Keating

I spent a few years as a Cognitive Science major, mostly because it spoke to the kind of spirituality I used to pursue: very introspective and interested in mental/spiritual/emotional growth. I first heard about Thomas Keating’s book on Christian Centering Prayer, “Intimacy With God,” while doing a paper on the similarities and differences between meditative practises and prayer. This year of living christianly is a good opportunity to finally read it.

Here’s how Thomas Keating lays his prayer out:

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
  3. When you become away of thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word.
  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes (16).

The idea is to “gently establish an attitude of waiting upon the Lord with loving attentiveness” (43). I’ve found it to be a difficult practise to keep up, perhaps because it doesn’t have the same, er, cultural flavour as the evangelical disciplines I’m used to. Also, training intention is a different skill from training attention–one of the goals of mindfulness meditation. So while I think Christian Centering Prayer could be really useful for some people, it’s not super palatable for my evangelical tastes. Has anyone else tried it?

Morning Devos: Proverbs 3:31

Envy thou not the oppressor, and chose none of his ways.

Lines like these strike a sad chord because of how often Christendom is the oppressor. And how often Christianity envies the oppressor and choses his ways, or at the very least gets out of the oppressor’s path so he can get on with his oppressing. And how many times cries against oppression are implicitly and explicitly resisted by Christian voices.

Almost every week I hear social commentary from the pulpit: how #metoo is rooted in the sin of sexual liberation, how social justice distracts from the gospel, how conservative politics are a mark of being Christian: and all of it couched in Biblical-sounding talk.

oh i don’t know the sufferings of people outside my front door.
and i join the oppressors of those i choose to ignore.
i’m trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder, it’s suicide.
and this too shall be made right.

Derek Webb, “This Too Shall Be Made Right”