Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: December, 2009

The Sound of Fiddles

I heard that Chaim Topol was playing Tevye in A Fiddler on the Roof at Canon Theatre in Toronto. So, naturally, I bought tickets immediately. And, aside from the balloon-busting fact that Topol had taken ill and would be replaced by Harvey Fierstein (that raspy guy from Mulan, ID4 and Mrs. Doubtfire), it was really good.

Harvey brought a side of Tevye to life that I hadn’t seen before. I appreciated it, even though the poor guy couldn’t sing. Tevye suddenly seemed wittier.

But the music. Wow, the music! The whole key to this play is the music. It was incredible. I could listen to that soundtrack again and again.

But who makes the music? Not the flashy actors on the stage, primarily. Oh, they lend their amazing voices, of course. But the music is not really theirs. They add to it. But they are not the substance.

The substance is hiding beneath the stage in their dimly-lit cave. The orchestra. Those mysterious magic workers who seem to shun the spotlight.

It made me think about how much of the great things in life are really brought to us through people and means that are not showy. The best movies come from great staff, not famous actors. The greatest cars are not made by the models who promote them, but by the hard-working builders. The great and mighty Big Mac is not put together by Ronald McDonald, but by the tireless burger-flippers.

Yay for the people behind the scenes. We need you.

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Broken, but still amazing

Harry Potter and Mr. Weasley were on their way to the Ministry of Magic. They were taking the subway. Mr. Weasley, a man not accustomed to travelling with non-magical people, stood amazed at the technology. For a moment he stopped dead in front of a ticket dispenser, awe-struck.
“Isn’t it amazing?” he asked Harry.
“But Mr. Weasley,” Harry said. “It’s broken.” He pointed to the out-of-order sign.
“I know, but still.”

I know it’s broken. But still. I know it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to work. Indeed, it hardly seems to have any use at all. But still. The ingenuity. The originality. The sheer usefulness of the thing. Though it does not work, yet I am in awe of what it stands for. Of what it could be.

I believe human nature is broken. If you really think about it, you’ll agree. We have so many destructive desires and tendencies. Yes we kill and hate. Yes we are ignorant and undiscerning. Yes we take and destroy and pervert. But still.

But still we are human. Still we are the images of God. Still we have his spark, his life.

Don’t get so worked up over human depravity that you forget to stand in awe of what we have been made to be. Yes we are, like Jeremiah said, desperately sick and wicked. But still.

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Han and Lando

Joe and I just finished watching The Empire Strikes back (again). With any good movie there are new things that stick out every time you watch. Two lines stuck out to me this time.
Han: Then I’ll see you in hell!

Lando: It’s not my fault!

So Han Solo finds out that his buddy Luke is lost somewhere in the cold night of Hoth, ready to freeze to death. What does he do? He sets off to find him, of course. And then one of the deck officers tells Solo that the temperature is dropping so rapidly that he’ll be dead before he gets very far.
At that point, what would you do? I thin most of us would say something like, “Seriously? Dead before the first marker? Well…shoot. Now what do I do?” We’d waffle. We’d hesitate. But Han rarely hesitates. He shoots back, “Then I’ll see you in hell!” and kicks his tauntan, riding into the snowy twilight.
Han looks at the prize (his friend’s life), looks at the cost (his own life) and makes a call. I’ll go to hell before seeing my friend left alone in the dark.

Now move near the end of the film. We see Lando, Han’s old buddy, betray him to Vader and Boba Fett. He eventually has a change of heart (quite a bit too late) and rescues Leia and Chewie. As they blast away from cloud city they find out, at the worst possible moment, that the hyperdrive is down. How does Lando respond?
“It’s not my fault!”

Friends, maybe. But very different people. Han sees a problem and throws his life on the line to fix it. Lando sees a problem and his first thought is to abdicate responsibility for it. Which one would you rather have at your side in a blaster fight?

Or a church?

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    I’m cursed with a great imagination.  Give me a situation am I can very clearly picture myself in it.  It’s creepy sometimes.

    For example, I can picture the glimmer of hope a prisoner on the way to Auschwitz would feel upon reading the sign that stood over the gate: Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Shall Set You Free.
    I can picture myself turning that over in my head.  True, the stories have said that no one was ever set free, but the sign!  The sign says that work could set me free!  Perhaps, if I just work the hardest…

    And I can picture that sign and those words driving me to work harder than anyone else.  I can picture seeing my friends being exterminated and reasoning with myself, “They didn’t work hard enough, that’s all.  I’ll work harder.”
    I can picture my body deteriorating as I worked it to its breaking point.  Again, I would reason with myself, “It’s a test.  I must pass it.  Work shall set me free.”

    Months would pass.  I’d outwork them all.  Finally I would be taken away from the other inmates.  I’d be led away, all the while thinking that all my work had finally paid off.  But then they’d herd me into that building from which I had never seen anyone leave.  And in my last moments of life I’d be raising my confused protest, “But I worked!  You said that work would set me free!”

    I think that the door to religion has the same sign over it.  Work, and you will be free.  And so we work.  We sacrifice.  When our friends fall, we say they didn’t work hard enough.  When trials come, we say we just need to work harder.  But work cannot set us free.  It never could.  If is could, most of us would be free already.

    The Truth sets you free.

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A Torch

I just watched the Olympic torch run through Thorncliffe Park. Wild, eh? Not something you see every day. When you think about it, it’s actually pretty special that I saw it? How many times are the Olympics held in Canada? How many times has the route the torch takes been right in front of my house? Odds are I’ll never see the silly thing again.

But it isn’t a silly thing. I don’t know about you, but I love the Olympics.

But the funny thing is, I don’t really care about the games.

For me, the Olympics symbolizes something. I saw the crowds this morning, all smiling in the freezing morning air, clapping, waving flags and cheering a stranger on. I saw them hoping. I saw them rejoicing. In what? I don’t really know.

I was rejoicing in unity. I was rejoicing that we can, as diverse humans, put problems aside for a while and play a few games together. I was rejoicing that we don’t take life so seriously that political squabbles can get in the way of a good hockey game.

Rejoice with me.

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Darth and Light

How would you describe Darth Vader’s evil?

Monolithic – Large, powerful and uniform.  Made of one thing.

Darth Vader is a monolithic evil character.  There’s nothing redeemable about him at all.  From the very first scene we know this, when he strolls onto the rebel space craft and glances down at the corpses, as a man would look at a bed of flowers.  Or look at the callous way he deals with the failings of his staff, choking them on whims.  Even captain Needa, who went to personally apologize for a failure that was hardly his fault was snuffed out.  And then Vader, with that dark, chuckling voice uttered that coldest of lines: “Apology accepted.”

Even in his transition from Anakin to Vader we see deep evil.  Without a single argument he obeyed the Emperor and slaughtered the children in the temple.  Darth Vader was the worst of terrorists, the most gruesome of psychopaths and the most merciless of despots.  Bad dude.

And yet, he was redeemed.

Vader claimed, with his dying breaths, that Luke was ‘right about him.’  Most of us assume that meant there was a little good left in Vader all along.  I doubt that.

Luke was right about the fact that there was a chance of redemption.  Somehow Luke brought it out.  Somehow it happened.

I’m always pleased when I see a monolithic evil character redeemed.  It makes me think of myself in happier terms.  I may not be monolithic, but I’m pretty evil.  Yay for redemption so wild that even Vader could partake.

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A Song of Ice

I’m reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s epic fantasy and has a wonderfully unique voice. Give it a shot.

There is an execution scene near the beginning of the story. It stood out to me because the lord of that massive realm didn’t have a headsman. He did the deed himself. I wondered why.

Then the lord’s own son asked him why. And Lord Stark explained.

We hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die … A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.

After reading that I asked myself, “What hard tasks do I have that I try to delegate to someone else? Do I ever hide behind paid executioners?”

Difficult choices are not actually all that difficult. It’s the carrying out of difficult choices that is tricky. Usually we know the right way. We know what needs to be done. But we don’t want to do it. Usually we try to get it done by proxy – to get someone else to take care of it.

Getting someone else to do something for you because you’re busy is efficient. Getting them to do it because it’s awkward is dishonest and, eventually, very bad for you.

Do the dirty work that needs to be done yourself. You’ll be better off for it, having learned what it means to do dirty work. You’ll be better respected for it. And it’s a much more honest way of living.

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Death of the Dragon

Francis Dolarhyde, antagonist in Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon wanted to become.

From childhood Francis understood his weaknesses. He was born with a deformed face – unable to speak properly. He was raised by his vicious grandmother who constantly told him what a horrible child he was. Francis understood his weakness. And he wanted to rise above it. He wanted to ‘Become’.

He lusted after the persona of the Red Dragon. He sought to Become the Red Dragon. To do this, he killed.

In the end, the Dragon got out of control. He tried to fight it, but it was too late. He had Become it already. And then he died.

I think, if we are honest, we can all relate a little with Francis. We understand our weaknesses. If we really dig deep, we see that we are seriously screwed up. If we ever want to do better, we must Become. Indeed, all of us will Become.

But what shall we become?

C.S. Lewis said that each human has within him the possibility of Becoming either god or devil. Which one?

Francis became a devil. He gave in to lust and shadow. He Became devil and died, as all devils must.

I think Christ beckons us to Become. Through him, he beckons us to Become like him. To become little Christs. Little (I say it reverently) gods.

We all must Become something. We cannot stay in this frail form forever. Light or darkness? Gods or devils? Life or death?

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Top ten signs you may be spiritually destitute.

Adapted from a sermon last Sunday

You may be spiritually destitute if…
10) You sometimes find yourself hating something good.
9) You sometimes have a flashing desire to hurt people you love, especially with passive-agressive behaviour.
8) You fail to put up a decent fight against the imperfections you’ve found in your own life.
7) You feel a deep need to correct all the problems you notice in others.
6) When you try to do something spiritually, creatively or physically good, you feel a deep, nearly unconquerable feeling of resistance.
5) You have harsh flashes of anger toward the annoying.
4) You have a deep dislike for people who are not like you.
3) When faced with difficulty, your first reaction is not to solve, but to complain.
2) You cannot sympathize.
1) You have any desires, ideas or behaviours that are illogical and destructive.

It’s a good thing the kingdom of heaven is for the spiritually destitute, eh (Matt. 5:3)?

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Heisting the Maiden

I’ve always liked Morgan Freeman. So when I saw The Maiden Heist in Blockbuster, I grabbed it.

Three odd security guards each obsess over a different work of art in their gallery. They spend all their time examining, mimicking and re-creating the art. So when the museum announces that their exhibit is moving to Denmark, they don’t know how to handle it.

After deciding they can’t follow the exhibit to Denmark, they come to the only other logical choice: steal ’em.

Sounds pretty dumb, eh?

But, on reflection, isn’t that the smartest thing to do?

For these men the world revolved around this one thing. There was nothing else that mattered. Everything was sacrificed for this art. So how could they stand back and let someone take them away?

They were unreasonable, right? It wasn’t their painting. They didn’t own it. What right did they have to demand it? What right did they have to take it? None, I guess.

But they were driven by something. Something gripped them and turned them into unreasonable men. And we all know that the world is only ever changed by unreasonable men.

Myself, I can’t understand the devotion to their paintings, but I sometimes can taste a drive for something. An obsession for Something. And I begin to realize that my attitude for that Something needs to be the same as the men in the Maiden Heist. No letting go. I’ll hold on to what I have even if it means I have to break every convention out there. I’m going to steal the maiden.

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