Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: June, 2009

Luke’s First Wish

     It was odd that the two notes would arrive at the same time. Odder still that letters of such weight would come immediately after graduating the academy. It seemed that he had been at the academy all his life. Sitting there in the sterile barracks Luke could hardly remember the boy he had once been, dusty and wild-eyed, spending his spare time at Tasha Station or pegging off wamprats in his old T-16.
     What an odd hobby, he thought to himself.
     He couldn’t bring himself to regret that rash choice, a year earlier. Biggs was going to the academy and it hardly seemed fair for Uncle Owen to forbid him from joining him. Even though everything had changed between him and Biggs since then (rumors were that Biggs had gone AWOL and joined the rebellion), he still couldn’t bring himself to regret. Even with the first letter in his hands.

        Cdt. Skywalker,
     It is with deep regret that we inform you of the tragic events that have recently occurred on Tatooine. Your aunt and uncle have been savagely murdered by the roaming bandits you call Sand People. The tiny Imperial presence in the area has already made it their number one priority to hunt down the murderers and bring them to swift justice. You have my deepest condolences.
           Davin Felth

     Out in the cold, dark abyss of space, Luke could not really realize that they were gone. In a way, they had been gone for a full year. He had never actually believed that he would see them again. So the letter, though depressing, could not completely overshadow the other message he had received.

        Cdt. SKYWALKER,
     You are commanded to report to DOCKING BAY FOUR at 2300hrs tonight for transport to your new posting. At the moment this posting is classified TOP-SECRET and you are ordered to share the new of this posting with NO-ONE. Upon arrival you will be awarded rank of FLIGHT OFFICER.
          Wing Commander Jestman

     The sympathy letter from Felth was in his right hand. The posting order in his left. He looked at them both. One seemed brighter. One seemed bigger. One had a future. He put the note in his right hand down on his bunk. Half-smiled to himself.
     That clinches it, he thought, moving out was the right choice. I would have been killed along with them. There never was a future for me on that rock.
     He lay down to sleep what little he could before his post.

     There were no windows in the cargo bay. Only people. Rows and rows of people. Most of them were older, gruffer than Luke. Only a handful had been in the academy with him. And those, he remembered, were near the top of their respective classes, like he himself had been. No one spoke to him as they cruised through hyperspace. Few spoke at all. It was as if most of them had never met each other. Not that it mattered. Their job was not to socialize, Luke knew and understood this. He was a little ashamed of the foolhardy boy he had been, playing around and wasting time with friends when there was such a conflict going on in the galaxy. A wasteful one that refused to allow peace and order to take charge.
Well, at least he was on the right side now.
     Luke felt the ship drop out of hyperspace. They were close. Announcements sounded over the PA system. Assignments were handed out. Luke learned the name of the new post: Death Star.

     It felt like walking onto a starport on a planet, not a space station. The artificial gravity had no fluctuations. The sleek design and brightly-lit corridors were wide open, as if there was plenty of room to spare. And the hangers, oh the hangers!
     Luke didn’t pay much attention to the hanger his transport docked in. It was the TIE hangers that drew him. His old T-16 seemed like a child’s toy next to these ships. More maneuverable than anything he had ever laid his hands on, the TIE fighters seemed made for him, their quick reactions to every delicate touch thrilled him and told him a deep truth: You belong here with us.
     And, of course, he did not spend all his time staring at them. He flew them. Oh how he flew them! His heart flew when he found out that he had been selected to train with an elite TIE squad. To study under them, fight alongside them, and help bring order to the galaxy. Life could not have been better.

     He trained long. The other pilots became close friends. He went on missions, kept the peace. He even provided escort once when Lord Vader (who lived on that very station!) went out for his weekly flight. Life was good.
     And peaceful. There was not much need for battles after the Death Star began pressing the wasteful rebellion down. The last battle he remembered was at a far-away system called Yavin. A rebel base was lodged there. The Death Star moved in. The rebels reacted with violence. There was a terrific battle. Luke fought in it. On his own he took down four X-wings and a Y-wing (on his own!). The battle fizzled out and the rebel base was removed. The rebellion faded away after that. Faded into nothingness, with no will left to fight.

     On the other side of the galaxy another force was fading. The force residing in a small green creature, once strong and vibrant, drained away. Leaving a shell of despair and sadness and the repeating words, “Why…why?”

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Another time

I don’t usually do this. Usually, come early Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning I am not blogging. Even though that’s when my blogs are published.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been pretty consistent with three posts a week for about a month now. It’s part of my regiment of discipline and my desire to never become…irrelevant. Did you know most blogs and most twitter accounts sit inactive, like cyber-space zombies? I think that’s because most of them were irrelevant to begin with. Just a bunch of guys talking about what they did that way in stale, common prose. Not really offering anything of value to the world.

I want to offer something. And I was doing pretty good at it, I thought. At least it had potential. So much potential that my blogs were all being posted a good week after they were written. Not only was I not struggling against a due date, I was ahead of the game.

And then this week started. Things are getting hectic. I’m preaching, moving to Toronto, trying a handful of other projects. So I’m typing this in real-time, and desperately hoping that it’ll be the last time.

But I’m going to be true to my resolve. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are blog days. If you stumble on this blog on one of those days and there’s nothing new, you have the right to kick my ass (or butt, if you don’t want to take it out on my donkey). Just give me until noon.

And in the future, I promise to make these posts more relevant and fun and all that crap that blogs are supposed to be.

Love ya.

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Good resolves and productive envy

You’d probably never be able to guess what my favorite book is. Knowing me, you might assume it would be one of the sci-fi masterpieces like Ender’s Game or Dune (both of which were great, especially the latter). Or maybe you’d think I’d go for a fantasy epic like Wheel of Time. Then again, maybe you’d think I’d be down with the modern literary fictions like Kite Runner (which, yes, blew my mind). Or maybe you’d assume I’d give the godly answer and cite a theological work or something by the puritans or CS Lewis. Those would all be good guesses, but you’ll never guess what book I name the favorite.

So I guess I’ll tell you…

Actually, I think I won’t. I’ll make you guess. First one to guess my favorite book wins a smiley face. And if you guess the second-favorite you might get a prize as well.

Now, I read this favorite book of mine about two years ago. And when I put it down I had seriously conflicting emotions. The first was a thrill at reading something so beautifully crafted. It was exhilarating to finally sink my teeth into such a juicy, thick piece of literary meat. But it was also depressing. You see, at that time I was halfway through a pretty hefty writing project and I was just feeling like it was coming together. But when I read this book I realized that, next to it, my work was a piece of donkey dung: very common and worth almost nothing. I stopped writing for a while.

I eventually picked myself up, though. I got back on the horse. You know why? I wanted to be like the one who wrote that book. No. I wanted to be better, in my own way. I wanted to present something to the world that would showcase my worldview in a form that was oozing with skill. And I think I wanted it for Christ’s sake (and my own, too).

So I resolved. I finished my project. It’s still nothing compared to my favorite book, but it’s a step in the right direction. My next work also won’t be worthy of sitting on the same shelf as my favorite, but it’s another step. And one day, who knows? Maybe some dumb kid like me will hold something that’s flown off of my fingers and invent a good resolve with it. And maybe someone will know Jesus a bit better. Who knows?

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Good times, good times

I bet you’ve been itching all weekend to know how my anniversary went. Because, of course, you have no life of your own to get on with and you’re perpetually yearning for news on mine.

Well, I guess not. But I bet you like pretty pictures. So here’s a rundown of how my weekend anniversary part-eh went.

First we cruised over to the Science Centre, where Ben and Melissa were waiting for us (surprise!).
The Science Centre was neat…not nearly as mind-blowing as it was when I was twelve, but I was with people I loved, so it was cool nonetheless.

After bidding farewell to Ben and Mel, we went down to the Gladstone Hotel, the oldest running hotel in Toronto. Each room was specially designed by a different artist. We stayed in the Red Room (sounds too close to Redrum for my tastes…)

And the entire evening was a riot. Karaoke, Ethiopian coffee, good food, and a wonderful wife. Yay for happy!

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Five years and counting…

Do you know what day it is? It’s June 19th. That means anniversary time for the Cooks.

Right now, as you’re reading this, I’m in Toronto. Ruth is taking me to the Science Centre and I’m taking her to a slick hotel. We’ll probably have some Ethiopian food and listen to some Jazz at a club down the road in the evening. Things are looking good. And they’ve been looking good for a long time.

I’m not really a romantic type. I usually roll my eyes during chick-flicks and Bollywood romances. Most love songs make me nauseous. So bear that in mind when considering what I’m about to say.

I love my wife.

I am more in love with my wife than I was when we were first married. And I mean that in the most complete way possible. I mean that I am more passionately, purely, intellectually, emotionally, and every other-ly way possible, in love with her now than I have ever been.

So I have messages for two groups of people today. One is for all those people who warned me about how crappy marriage and married life is. For all those movies and sitcoms that portray marriage as a drudgery that seems only a step or two above prison. For those people whose best advice for married people is little more than ‘you shouldn’t have done it.’ For those people, here is my message: You’re all idiots.

Seriously, you’re dumb. You’ve never experienced marriage the way it ought to be. And I don’t think you mean well, either, because you could at least pretend to support people when they’re getting married, instead of filling their heads with nasty, pessimistic expectations. Yep, you’re all dumb.

And to those of you who are married, or getting married, or hope to be married, I have something to say. Marriage, regardless of what anyone says or what your experience with it is, is great. Don’t think so? Trust me, it is. If your marriage isn’t going well the only solution is love and forgiveness. Love and forgiveness are cure-alls for marital ills. And Ruth and I love and forgive ALL THE TIME. Therefore, we are happy. Burstingly, ridiculously, annoy-people-on-mondays happy.

So throw away your marriage books, forget 3, 7 or 100 steps to a perfect marriage. Just love and forgive. And maybe, if you’re luck and if God allows, you will be able to love your wife almost as much as I love mine.

Ruth, you continue to rock my face off. Keep rocking.

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Up @ Night #6 – Good Friends

I had it all planned out. I was going to get home, eat with my family, work for a few hours on the billion projects I’ve got going on, and then hang with my family again until it was time for bed. Seemed like a good plan. But it didn’t work.

Good friends showed up.

Good friends always keep me up at night. When I am faced with a choice between duty and good friends I think I always pick good friends. I don’t think anything of staying up past midnight for a third night in a row the morning before work if good friends are the cause.

Here’s the thing: work will always come and go. But the benefit I get from spending all my non-working hours with good friends is nearly incalculable. I feel really sad when I hear people say that they have few real friends. But I wonder, at the same time, if they were willing to sacrifice a bit of duty and work for people, would they start getting friends? If they valued friends and relationships more than work and ‘oughtness’ do you think the friends would come? I’ve caused a lot of work for myself this week because of time spent with friends. And even though I’m very tired about it right now, I don’t regret it in the least.

So thanks, good friends, for showing up and disrupting my schedule. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Proclaiming #5 – More Than Dill

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

The Pharisees were very good at what they did. Very careful. Very precise. So precise that they permanently traded their glasses for microscopes. They could see the fine, invisible details of a matter very well, but they couldn’t take a step back and see all the details together in a whole. So they made sure they gave the allotted percentage of the herbs they had in the kitchen. And they forgot about love.

We don’t tithe mint, dill and cumin. But I am pretty sure that we have equivalents. Here’s a list of things that have become the dill of the contemporary church:
– Fighting homosexuals in legislation
– Wearing headcoverings (or refusing to wear them)
– Eschatology
– Dress codes (or lack of dress codes)
– Putting tracts on restaurant tables and car windshields
– Precise greetings (God bless you / He is risen / etc)
– Supporting Republicans and Conservatives
– Boycotting media that famous Christians tell you to boycott
– Supporting political Israel

The Christian who does all these things is accounted a good Christian. But why? This isn’t the heart of Christianity. It isn’t anywhere near it. In fact, you could throw them all away and I doubt it would make a dent in your spiritual life. But they are the dill of the day. So if you throw them away your Christian friends will think less of you.

Do you know why Sodom was overthrown? The knee-jerk answer is, ‘They were gay!’ But Ezekiel says something different:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.

Sodom was overthrown because they were rich, proud and didn’t help the poor. Were they steeped in homosexuality? Yes. But homosexuality was not the issue that incensed God. They were not kind. They did not help others. They had no love. So God removed them. Instead of picketing Pride Parades and protesting homosexual legislation, we should be emptying our pockets for the poor.

So we wrap ourselves up in dill and forget the weightier matters. We forget to radically love each other. We forget mercy and faithfulness. We microscopically pick out the bacteria in our cup while missing the fact that it isn’t tea, but chlorine.

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Full of Crap

For the past six months or so my wife has had chronic back pain. Back when Joseph was born she had an epidural that the doctor kinda screwed up. So we figured the back pain was a result of that. Sucked, but there was nothing we could do about it.

And then we came to Canada and went to our doctor to get information on Ruth’s Rheumatoid. He ordered some x-rays and the results came back the next day. They actually pin-pointed the root cause of all Ruth’s back pain.

She’s full of crap.

Ahem. Rather, she seems to have been in a state of slight constipation for almost half a year. Her bowels were so backed up that it was causing the back pain. Now, since these systems seem so completely unrelated, we were hesitant to believe this. But the prune juice banished all doubts along with the crap. Her back pain is gone.

So I sat there and I thought to myself, what can we learn from this?

When you are full of crap, it’s going to cause problems. When you are not real or honest with yourself and with the people in your spheres, you’ll start to notice strange, seemingly unrelated problems popping up. And the only way to get rid of those problems is to cut the crap.

It’s hard to do. Especially in our religious circles, because without the crap we can’t put on a good enough show for people to respect us as much as we’d like them to. But it’s better without the crap. It’s better and, in the long run, easier to be who you are.

So take a swig of prune juice, be honest with yourself and cut the crap, whatever crap you may be holding. You’ll feel better almost right away.

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The Support Grunt

I really miss fiction. I used to write it a lot. I’m getting back into it, with a few neat projects on the go. But I really wanted it to be a part of this blog. Otherwise people might think that I’m just a whiny dude who doesn’t like Christians (I do, actually, like Christians).

So on that note, I’ve decided to start writing some flash fiction, aiming at around 500 words. We’ll see how it goes. Enjoy.

They said he would get used to the constant whirring of the servers behind him. He never did.
Or maybe he did. But whenever he would stumble across that thought he would notice them all over again, and they would drone away in his mind, burrowing under his thoughts and permeating them. He was sure they were driving him mad. But only when he thought about them. Or when he thought about how he hardly ever thought of them.
It was a slow day. People rarely called on Fridays. He thought that was a good thing, though he couldn't put his finger on why he thought that was a good thing, why no work was better than work and idle, better than moving.
But even though he was convinced that it was a good thing, he was full of angst. He stared at the screen in from of him, primed and ready for a service call, and played with the tea bag in the already-saturated water.
He thought about playing a Flash game, but his boss would probably not have appreciated it. His boss knew he was idle, but it was better to be idle and bored than idle and entertained, or something like that.
He stood up, pushing his chair out and letting it roll out of his workstation. He peeked over the dividers flanking his desk at the other support grunts. They didn't look up. One was busy with wikipedia, the other with facebook. Both better than Flash games, he supposed. More productive, in a way.
He sighed. No one looked up. He looked around the support pit, taking in its painful familiarity, and walked out to the coffee makers. One of the developers was there. He thought his name was Don, or something.
"Hey man!" the developer said with a grin. "Great news!"
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah! I figured out the problem with that ODBC sync. I've already written a work-around and the new mde is up on the server. Woo! What a rush!" He spilled a little coffee on his bright shirt.
"Yeah? Wow. That's great."
"Yeah, it's great!" Don said. "I don't understand people who say the software industry is boring."
"Huh. Yeah, me neither." He poured himself a coffee.
"You know, people ought to learn programming skills in school. It's good for mental development. Just think of what you've gained by working here."
"What I've gained?"
"All the life-skills you've gotten by working with this software. It's unique, no one else knows how to handle the program like you support guys."
He tried to smile. "Yeah, I guess it is really useful. I mean, I don't even know how many times in life my knowledge about online product purchasing and receiving software will come in handy. Yeah. Woo ha."
He turned back to the support pit. Found his way to his desk. Noticed the full mug of tea sitting there. Put his coffee beside it.
He his hands to his temples and wondered if he could have been an actor. Then he began to type.

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Proclaiming #4 – Radical Joy

Yeah, yeah. If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands. Whatever.

This is the part where I whine about how whiny Christians are and tell you all to cheer up because Jesus loves you and life is grand.

I guess it is grand, though it doesn’t always feel like it. Have you ever felt that your life is something like a novel? Have you ever felt like you’re getting ripped off in life? That you’re not getting what you had hoped to get or doing what you had hoped to do? Something’s missing, circumstances suck, generally life is not being kind.

But it is, really. Isn’t it?

I once heard a very interesting explanation on why children go through a ‘terrible two’ stage. Because it’s around that age where you start saying ‘no’ to the kid. Up until that point every single thing that the kid wanted, the kid got. But as he grows up his horizons broaden and he wants things that we don’t want him to have. So we say no. And this is traumatic. Think about it: for his entire life every wish of his has been fulfilled. It doesn’t matter that we, with our years of wisdom, consider his wants petty and meaningless. They mean something to him, so they affect him.

Same with us. Life feels bad, but maybe we have perspective issues. Maybe we don’t realize how good we’ve got it. Maybe we’re just chemically imbalanced. But life isn’t really that bad.

And Jesus makes it better. He was always talking about Joy. People know know Jesus know the deep joy he gives. We probably shouldn’t be crabby people. If you’re crabby people will assume that you don’t have anything to be happy about, that you’re life is generally worse than you had hoped it would be. But if you know Jesus, shouldn’t your life be better than you can imagine?

Radical Joy, in the midst of disappointment, dissatisfaction and problems is a huge sign for people. It’s hard to be joyful, and it takes something bigger than willpower, but it’s good.

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