Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: July, 2009

Ariel’s Story #3 – Domos and her daughters

   Even though my stomach churned I couldn’t pull my eyes away as the grubby, fat girl continued to spew the contents of her stomach over the table. She seemed to have an unnatural amount of vomit available. Every piece of food was tainted by the time she finished.
   With a harsh choking sound she took her soiled hand from her mouth, brushed her hair back and rubbed the tears from her eyes. She stared at the crowd, winked, farted and walked away, laughing.
   “Well,” I said to myself, “you don’t see something like that everyday.”
   “No,” said the man beside me. “But most days.”
   “Does she never share with the crowd?”
   “Never. Sometimes she calls young girls to come in and become her daughters. But they are never seen again.” He looked down to the ground, kicked at a stone, put his hands in his pockets and slowly turned to walk away. The others in the crowd followed suit.
   The sky darkened. Thunder crashed. Lightning followed after. It rained.
   The downpour was torrential. It made me think of gaudy words that always look ugly on a page or screen like copious, plenteous and superabundant. I was soaked to the bone in seconds.
   Lightening and thunder flashed together. I was about to run to shelter when I caught a glimpse of the lobby doors. The girl, Domos, was standing there, waving to me. Beckoning me to come in, out of the rain.
   I struggled past the razor-wire fence, slicing my leg a little, and came to her door. It was locked. The rain fell painfully hard.
   “You wanna come in?” Domos yelled, pressing her oily face against the glass. She grinned wildly, exposing sharp, elongated eyeteeth. “It’s raining. You might get wet.”
   “Yes, I suppose I might.” I was shivering. “I’d love to come in, if I may.”
   “And if you may not?”
   “Pardon?”
   “If you may not. Would you still want to come in if you may not?”
   I blinked. “I’m not sure I understand.”
   She glared at me. Smiled. Frowned. Rubbed her face on the door, making a hefty streak. “Screw off.” She turned her back to me, tried to jump and click her heels and sauntered off.
   I walked from the door, knowing that no amount of running would make me any drier, and began searching for a dry place to stay.
   Night seemed to fall.

   The three figures in black cared little for the rain. It beaded and slid off their oiled jerkins, hoods and bare arms. Crouched beneath the shrub by the door they waited and watched. Silent. Angry. Armed.
The Stranger and Domos talked very briefly at the door. Domos, in her characteristic way, had enticed him and told him to push off. He wandered in the rain now. Domos was inside. Safe, she thought.
Without sound or signal the three moved in unison to the door. The leader took a vial with a dropper out of a pouch at his belt. He squeezed the liquid into the door-lock. A silent hiss and puff of smoke and the door was unlocked. They went in, crouched, hands on hilts.
   Ignoring the elevator they sped to the right, down the hall through a door at the end and up the stairwell.
   There was no need to talk as they raced silently up the stairs. Their legs pumped like well-oiled pistons. Their eyes, under their hoods, blazed brightly, full of life. Their hands stayed at the ready. Merciless. Hard. Uncompromising.
   They reached the penthouse. Out of his pouch the leader took a tiny mirror. Placing it near the bottom of the door he peered into the room. Satisfied, he put his mirror away, pulled something small and round from his pouch and put his hand on the doorknob. The other assassins crouched at the ready. Hands firm on their hilts. Positioned to burst through the door as soon as it was open.
   With the kind of speed only a predator could possess he pushed the door open and flung the flame-pellet to the ground. With a violent flash and burst of sound it exploded, scattering flaming particles to every part of the room.
   They worked fast.
   Domos was crouching over the corpse of a girl a little younger than herself, her teeth embedded in her throat. She didn’t even have time to turn before a blade removed her head from her body.
   Particles of flame began to settle and land, igniting the room.
   Bodies upon bodies were strewn around. The daughters of Domos. None decomposing. Quickly the assassins went to each and decapitated them.
   The flames crawled and began to lick at the stone walls, setting even them ablaze.
   Though there were hundreds of bodies the assassins worked fast. As the fire became an inferno they finished and sped out the door they can come in and down the stairs. Everything in the penthouse was reduced to ash and salt.

   The rain had already stopped when I noticed the fire. Like a lighthouse beacon it blazed in the clear night, sending heat from the very top of the building down to where I was standing. A crowd gathered around Domos’ building. Three men in black jerkins stood just outside the door. One was setting a sign up in front of the door. Another was clearing away the razor wire. I read the sign:

Behold, this was the guilt of Domos: She and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. So I removed them. For further details see paragraph 8 of section 16 of article 26 in the Code. Peace be upon you all.

The fire burned through the entire night. Its smoke never did cease.

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Discipline, Freedom and Paying the Price

While at KLBC I read a book by Don Whitney. The premise was simple: Discipline is the price of freedom.

Of course, I had to agree right away. The amazing guitarist paid for the freedom to make his music with discipline. The Olympic athlete paid for his abilities through discipline. The software developer, doctor, dancer, singer and painter all paid with the currency of time, sweat and discipline.

But I never really made the connection with writing.

I love fiction. Reading and writing it. But it seemed that the ability to write decent fiction came in spurts. One day I could belt out a couple thousand words of good stuff. The next week I couldn’t write a thing. Non-fiction was always easier, because it’s a lot like talking (which I’m very good at). But fiction came and went. for a long time I assumed that this was just the way it goes.

But it’s not, really. There is nothing fundamentally different between fiction writing and music, visual arts or athletics. Some people have natural ability, yes. But everyone who wants to excel needs to pay for it.

But I never made that connection. And it stunted my writing. While other aspiring writers are busy with writing exercises and other talent-building strategies, I only focused on projects that seemed ‘productive.’ Just the things that seemed to have a use in themselves. I think I ripped myself off. The Olympian doesn’t feel like he’s wasting his time by running even though there is no race. The informal running prepares him for the race.

So I’m going to run more often (metaphorically, of course). A lot of my writing may never be read by anyone. But that’s okay because whatever I write will support and build and solidify the things that will be read.

On we go!

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Lucas, Johnny and an Old Hope

Last night Ruth and I snuggled up on the couch and popped in Star Wars, The Phantom Menace. I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember and we figured it was about time to re-watch the series.

Should’ve skipped the first one.

Might skip the second and third ones, too.

Did you ever really watch the original three? I mean really watch them? The originality, the subtle humor, the depth of characters. A space-fantasy that defined a generation. A 3-part work of art. There was nothing like it in its time. George Lucas worked and sweated and fought to have his story told the way he wanted it. And he refused to listen to critics foretelling a failure. It didn’t matter to him what others thought, it was his story and he was going to pour himself into it.

And it paid off. Star Wars became famous. He became rich. Toys, posters, video games, parodies. George Lucas became a god in the movie industry.

And then what happened? Almost twenty years later the creative genius comes out with this? Let’s be honest, if The Phantom Menace didn’t have the name of Star Wars attached to it, it would have been forgotten after a year. Full of plot holes, poor dialogue, superficial, goofy comedy and a child-like feel to the whole story, I was left wondering how the great and mighty Lucas had come up with it.

I wonder. I wonder if Lucas, in looking at his own fame, decided to create something for the audience instead of for the sake of creating. I mean, did he see how ridiculously famous he was, and decide to craft something for the kids of this generation so that they, like their parents, would get hooked and buy his toys and games and such? I wonder if the fame of Lucas did him in. I wonder if he spent too much time looking at himself and what the world and turned him into.

Johnny Depp may be my favorite actor. Every role he plays is unique and he always manages to bring something amazing to the characters. I found out recently that he never watches himself. He doesn’t watch his movies. He just does what he does, and doesn’t think about how he looks doing it.

I wonder if that is the difference between Lucas and Depp. Depp acts and creates his characters for their own sake. He doesn’t try to be original or try to look a certain way. He just does what he does, and does it well. Lucas, maybe, dropped the ball because he was too concerned with what the viewers wanted to see. Maybe I’m wrong.

But I think a point still stands, even if I’m wrong. When we create, do we ask ourselves what viewers / readers will think of us, or are we concerned with creating something true, beautiful and good? The former leads us to consumerism, I think. The later tends toward something eternal.

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Proclaiming #7 – Milking cows and office work

I once heard that Luther said something like “Even the milk-maid can tend her cows to glory of God.” I don’t know where he said that (if you do, please let me know). I can imagine that being a milkmaid was the most dreary, lowly job of Luther’s day. The equivalent of an office grunt, maybe. One of those jobs where you sometimes think to yourself in the morning, what is the use? What am I contributing?

But even the most dreary job can give us an opportunity to proclaim on what ground we hope to stand. It’s about about the manner in which we carry our job out. So let’s assume we’re milkmaids, office grunts, cashiers or whatever. How can we proclaim a radical foundation for life while doing jobs that are completely normal?
– By doing those jobs for the good of society. Your milk feeds the people in the village. The software your company makes benefits C-Stores all over the nation. The products your store sells actually do help people and fulfill needs. Keep the good of society in mind. If your job is not actually a benefit to society…well maybe you need a different job.
– Work in harmony with your co-workers. A divisive Christian is a blot on Christ’s image. The follower of Christ ought to be the most peaceable, most friendly member of the workforce. Anything less is…normal.
– Work hard. Laziness in a Christian is another blot. Poor work ethic betrays a deep problem of sloth and apathy. Care about the job and do it as if God is your boss. Because he is. Indeed, he is using you to disseminate whatever benefits to society your role is providing.
– Work with wonder. Look at the cow you are milking and wonder at it. Look at the software you are supporting, and thank God for creating the human mind that put it together. Look at the people you are serving, and remember the image of God stamped on them. Wonder at the monotonous, because nothing is monotonous.
– Work with thankfulness and generosity. Especially in this time of recession, think of those who have no job. Lend a hand. Be cheerful and don’t complain over petty, insignificant thinks like mix-ups, work politics, money and the like.

Secular work gives us all an amazing chance to show what we’re standing on. So work! Milk! Support and serve. On we go.

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Ariel’s Story #2 – Three Sisters

I fell asleep again, after a heavy dinner of spiced lentils and rice. I dreamed.
Again I was in Isht Drowl.
The desert was not so arid anymore. Sparse patches of grass had popped up in random places. The tumbleweed tumbled now, kicking up dust as they went. It was still a desert, but not such an unbearable one as it had been before.
I wandered. The dunes became smaller as the hours drained by. The loose sand gave way to hard-packed dirt. Sparse patches of grass and tumbleweed were replaced by harsh-looking thorny bushes and small trees. A bird sounded.
I turned to the right to see the bird, sitting on the lower of a young neem tree. An ugly, ragged thing with a longer tail than most. It looked at me with dark, dead-looking eyes. It opened its mouth sang to me; the most beautiful bird call I had ever heard. For a full five minutes I stared at it while it sang, an ugly creature with the voice of an angel.
Abruptly it stopped. It cocked its head to the side and took off in the direction I had been headed. Following it with my eyes, I suddenly saw a village where, I was sure, there had not been one before. Thoughts of the bird vanished. I needed water.
The village was large, but primitive. Its bramble walls were high. The wooden gate was ancient, but secure. And open. I walked in.
The paved street was the first thing to catch my attention. It seemed out of place, what with the peasants walking down it, struggling under bundles of laundry, wood and water pots. High-rise apartments (that I hadn’t noticed before) stood guard beside the street, every window bare. Every light off.
Traffic began to pick up. Donkey and ox carts lumbered up and down the street. They stopped at driveways, dropping things off. Picking things up. Junk, mostly. Insipid food. Bad art. Shaky furniture. Children ran in the street, dressed in heavy outfits, despite the hot sun.
I walked south down the street. Listened to the sounds. Screams. Action.
The high-rise on the right looked old. The owner sat outside the lobby, on the floor with her many daughters. She looked familiar.
“Marasia?” I called.
She jumped to her feet, showing herself to be almost naked, her oily body glistening in the sun. “Oi! Yes! Is that you, lover?”
I took a step toward her, noticing splotches of white on her dark skin. Vitiligo? Something else?. “Um, no. I think you are confusing me with someone else.”
She laughed. A single, moist chuckle. “I don’t think so.” She took two lazy steps forward. “I know a lover when I see one.” She bent down to brush a piece of straw off her bare foot, tilting her head back at the same time so as to give me a full view of what, I realized by now, she was offering. “Won’t you come in?” She said when she had straightened.
“Ah, well. Um, no. I don’t think so,” I stammered.
“Come, come,” she approached closer. “My rates are fair. Better than what you’d get with either of my sisters.”
I took a step back. “Honestly, I’m not in the market for…er…what you’re selling. Sorry.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Renting, honey,” she said, her voice sizzling. “Never for sale, only for rent.” She turned and walked away, her swaying hips calling out her offer one last time.
I continued south, leaving Marasia sitting with her scantily-clad children.
The next building on the right was dilapidated. I think I saw a homeless girl sitting in the lobby. Young. Alone. Clean, though. I past it by.
The third building was massive and more gaudy than any I had seen before. Golden flamingos stood still over the lawn, so many that the grass suffered for want of sunlight. The building was painted in rainbows, with gold and silver added to the mix of colours. A crowd huddled just off the property limits, kept back by a fence of razor-wire.
I could see a girl sitting in the lobby at a massive oak table, ruined by the gold paint splattered over it. The table was weighed down with every kind of food I could imagine.
A large bowl of saffron sat, turned over, at the corner of the table. Half of its contents were scattered on the filthy floor. Beside it a pile of Macadamia nuts was dispersed all over the table. The chubby girl would sometimes pick one up, suck on it for a moment, and then spit it out on the floor. A plate piled high with an odd mixture of almas caviar and white truffle sat close to her right hand. Her large arm would occasionally bump it and send some of the rich food flying. Piles and piles of wealthy food covered the table. Some I couldn’t identify. Some beginning to rot. None of them getting the attention they seemed to deserve.
The fat child wiped her chin with a dirty forearm and dug her teeth into some KFC.
“Who is this?” I asked out-loud.
“Domos,” a voice to my right said. “Youngest of the three sisters.”
“Is this her building?” I turned to the man who was speaking to me, a scruffy fellow with ragged clothes.
“Aye,” he said, “It’s all hers. Her rent is high and she cares little for the tenants.”
“Are you a tenant?”
He laughed, a wheezing dry laugh without mirth. “No, no. I could never afford it. No I live on these fair streets. I come by her doors only to wait for when she puts her garbage out.” He patted his belly, small as it was.
As if she had heard, Domos suddenly looked up. A malicious sneer twisted her pudgy mouth. After giving the hungry crowd an obscene gesture she stood, put her fingers down her throat, and force vomited over the entire table.

Part 1

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TPK Diaries #2 – The Heart of the Matter

Joys of cooking:

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TPK Diaries #1

Settling. Goofing off. Case in point:

A nice Pakistani lady was talking to Ruth while we were all at the park today. After looking at me she turned to Ruth and said, “Wow, you have a white husband and you’re dressed like this?” It threw Ruth for a loop just for a moment. But she remembered this was a common sentiment in Pakistan. Since Ruth is ‘high-status’ she ought to dress like it, the logic goes.

Ruth rejects this. She refuses to dress or act a certain way just because her social class seems to call for it. This turns some people off, initially. But it also makes her true relationships deeper. You see, her adornment is the inner beauty of her personality and her life in Jesus. That’s what’s most attractive. So when she refuses to conform to arbitrary conventions about dress code, she is rocking the boat where it needs to be rocked. Rock on.

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Up @ Night #8 – The important things that don’t matter.

Christian Horizons is a really neat organization. Check them out.

They hired me a little while ago. Last week they said that I would be starting at a house soon. Soon is not nearly as soon as I’d like, though. I’ve been living here in Thorncliffe for more than a week…and I guess I’m unemployed. I know they’ll call eventually (probably). But even then there is the nagging question: what if I don’t get enough hours? What if they don’t really need me? What if I can’t do this thing that I’ve set out to do? Crash and Burn. Prove all the nay-sayers right. Screw the pooch.

And the scary thing is, failure, as far as I can see, is actually possible. I have a wife and two kids. No job=no rent / food. What if I can’t make ends meet? It’s possible.

I caught myself trying to come up with get-rich schemes. Well, not get-rich, more like get-decently paid. And right around the time I started toying with the idea of dancing on the street for quarters I remembered something someone very wise once said.

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Then all these things will be added to you

.

Jesus just told us not to worry about food, drink, clothes, rent, Internet, phone. Because the secret is seeking Christ above all. Running after his righteousness. His kingdom. And if we run after it, we can be confident that he will take care of the details.

I’m going to keep waiting for the call from Christian Horizons. I’m going to call them a few times every day until I hear form them. I’m not going to turn away money that comes my way. But I refuse to chase it. I refuse to live for it. Instead of trembling by the phone and staying up at night wondering if August’s rent cheque will bounce, I’m going to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. If I’m still living here next month, you’ll know that it worked.

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Proclaiming #6 – Priorities

Every society generates an unspoken list of priorities. It’s not really designed by anyone. It’s just the general consensus of the population. It’s probably the best way to understand a people. I’ve been trying to make a list of the priorities of our Canadian people group. Here’s a rough list:
– Safety. Death is the ultimate evil. Anything that reduces the risk of death or injury is good.
– Entertainment. Being bored or under-stimulated is almost as bad as death.
– Ease. Convenience as an end in itself, not as a means to save time.
– Independence. Each individual ought to be able to function as an island. This is valued both as it tends toward life-building experiences and as it protects our choices from outside interference.
– Freedom. The ability to choose our own paths without arbitrary interference.
– Tolerance. The embracing of all manners of living as completely as possible.

This started me thinking about what the priority list of the Christian sub-culture might look like. This seemed more difficult because most of them would be the same in some sub-cultures, while in others they might be completely different. I decided to go with the sub-culture I knew best. Fundamentalist.
– Biblical authority. If it is not of the Bible it is bad. This spreads to all levels of life. Even some that many would consider irrelevant.
– Separation. The church is separate from the world. As such the things of the world are evil and practices of the world are suspect.
– Tradition. The way we have done it is good and change is resisted unless for very good reason.
– Solemnity. Quiet, deep worship. Flippancy is considered very bad.

And, of course, all this started me thinking about what a list would look like for a group of people who followed Jesus. This one was hard, because it required me to try to push past the way I ordered my life to see the way I should order my life.
– Love. Love to God and love to man. Nothing higher than this. Nothing. Not safety, not money, not freedom. Love above all.
– Hatred. Seems strange, eh? But hatred of sin, I think, is something high on the list. Hatred of hypocrisy. Of death. Of pain and injustice. Of philosophies that cause these things.
– Holiness. The emulating of the life and love of Christ. The faithful outworking of everything he pointed to. Joy. Discipline. Service. Purity.

I can’t think of any more. Can you?

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Up @ Night #7 – Expectations

How long have I been here? How long have I waited to get here? Suddenly I remember the lost, familiar feeling I had in Pakistan.

It’s not that this place is actually like Pakistan. It’s not, really. Even the people are different, if you look closely. In my area of Pakistan there was a homogeneous feel. Most people were Sindhi. Some were tribal or Punjabi. That was about it. Here there is a metropolitan of South Asian people groups. Not just Pakistani and Afghani and Persian. But deeper cultural differences. Pashto, Gujrati, Sindhi, Punjabi, Mohajir, Dari. The cultural climate is different. TPK is not Pakistan.
So it’s not a similarity of people or landscape that makes me feel the same way. It’s, I think, a familiarity of expectation.

You know what it’s like achieving something you’ve been pressing after, right? You’re sure that everything will turn upside down once you get it.

But things don’t really turn over as much as you’d think they should. I’m still me. I still wake up in the morning with a horrible taste in my mouth. What has changed? Not much.

TPK isn’t really the holy grail of life. It’s a place. A neat place, yes. One of the most interesting places I’ve ever been to. But it’s only a place. I think I was expecting TPK to change me in some way that another area could not.

But places don’t change us. Or, they rarely do. People change us. Ideas change us. But places don’t. I seek for a radical change in my life that will, in turn, elicit a radical change in the lives of whatever community I’m living in. But the radical change in my own life must first come from either myself or something higher than myself.

I was up at night troubled with the expectations I have in this new place. Expectations about what I can do here. About what can happen here. About what I ought to feel and accomplish here. And so I forget that this is just a place. A place filled with beautiful people who are hurt and broken.

So I let go of expectations. I live the way I preach: not as a missionary or a man with a project, but as a simple lover of Jesus who loves his neighbors. Boo ya.

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