Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: January, 2010

Task 117

A guest post from Ruth.

   “My people do not understand!” laments God at the opening of the book of Isaiah. Oxen know their masters and donkeys know their master’s beds, but the people of God simply do not understand. Throughout the first chapter of the book God calls his people evildoers, whores, dishonest and murderers. But why?
   A glance at history and you’d be tempted to think the people of Israel were doing okay. God himself admits that they were faithful in the different rituals that had been laid down to him. They observed the sabbath and all the other special days and gave the offerings they were commanded to give. They were quite religious. So what was the problem? What was so bad that God was prompted to command them to stop being faithful to the religious code he’d given them (Is. 1:13)?

      Learn to do good;
   seek justice,
      correct oppression;
   bring justice to the fatherless,
      plead the widow’s cause
         Is. 1:17

   Here is the matter’s heart. All the slick religious duties in the world could not compare to the glorious simplicity of love and justice.
   The word plead is a neat one in Hebrew. Usually it’s used as argue, contend or quarrel. I’m no Hebrew scholar (more’s the pity), but it seems that you could legitimately translate that last bit as ‘Fight for the widow.’

   In the West, most of the offerings brought into the church are used on projects that directly benefit the people giving the money. It’s usually on something that has to do with the church building or on whoever is doing the preaching. I wonder, though, if this is the way it was meant to be. A quick look through the New Testament will show that most money donated to the church went immediately and directly to the poor and the helpless. This urge to help the helpless was so great that the early church often considered it fraud to spent it on anything else (see this great article for more info on how the early church spent its money).
   So if the example of the early church and the words of Christ and the Apostles are telling us to spend Jesus’ money on the poor, why are we spending it all on preachers and real estate?

   I’m from Pakistan. My mother is a widow. I suppose I have a bit of a bias view of things. But I’ll tell you something about widows in Pakistan. There is hardly anyone in my country who is of lower social standing than a widow, especially in my people-group. The widow is ignored, forgotten and tossed aside. Most of the ones I know have one outfit and spend their days working themselves into the grave, bent over in hot fields. They are mistreated. They are abused. And no one fights for them.

   I’m going to fight for them. I regret I didn’t see the need before my mother became a widow. But I see it now and I’m donning my gloves and entering the battle. If no one else will plead the widow’s cause, I will.
   Will you fight, too?

   We’ve set aside a special bank account.  Anything that goes in there is Jesus’ money.  I can only use it for things I think Jesus would use it on.  For now, that’s widows.  The vision may broaden as time goes on, but it’s a widow’s purse for now.  Some of you have expressed interest in helping the widows of Pakistan.  If you want to, you can put your own funds into this widows purse.
   How will this money be used to help widows?  First, it will be used to get the necessities of life, like food and clothes.  Second, it will attempt to fund basic education for the young children that most widows in Pakistan seem to have.  I’m not a charity and I don’t know a thing about tax receipts.  And I don’t intend to, either.  This is just me giving what is surplus to those who have never had a surplus.  If you have surplus, you’re free to send a cheque my way and I promise to put it to work for widows and orphans.
   I’m going to Pakistan at the end of April. After seeing my family, my main goal is to see out the worst-off widows in my area and see, more specifically, how I can fight for them. I hope to return with great stories that I’ll be sharing at the Facebook Group, 117.

   You can help. You can pray. You can join the Facebook group that I’ve made. You can send money directly to needy widows through me. You can come with me to Pakistan, sit with widows and encourage them. There is so much that can be done. If only we, as God’s people, would understand.

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Resist Resistance

I read a good blog post the other day.  You should read it, too.

Have you ever had an idea?  One of those, I’m-going-to-turn-the-world-upside-down ideas?  One of those It’s-so-crazy-it-just-couldn’t-work-but-wow-if-only-it-could-it’d-be-great ideas?  I did.

You’ve have one or two, too.  You know you have.  Hasn’t everybody, at one time or another?

My wife’s got one.  She’s gonna share it in a little while.  She’s moving forward with it.  I find myself wondering, why?  Why is it that my wife has started moving forward with her idea while most of us just tuck our ideas deep down inside and wait for them to suffocate and die?

That post I linked at the beginning has some good reasons.  They’re all the reasons that I haven’t moved forward with my earth-shattering ideas.

But isn’t it better to just move forward with those ideas?  I think it is.

You know who had a great idea?  David.  There’s this nasty giant guy who threatens the nation.  That’s a problem.  Ought to be solved.  And the king’s offering his hot daughter to whoever solves it.  Logic screams, “Be the one to solve it!”  Resistance simpers, “They’re all going to laugh at you.”  David takes care of business, saves the world and gets the girl.  No one’s laughing at him now.  They probably laughed at him when he started, but not when he finished.

Yeah, they’ll probably laugh at you when you start.  They might laugh at you the whole way through.  But it’s better to be laughed at and save the world, than to be ignored and…not.

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Stingy Santa

Do you remember this one?  It was always one of my favorites.  It still is and I want to tell you why.

You have Larry, a picture of a normal Christmas observer.  He wants to honor Santa.  With what does he honor Santa?  With cookies, because that’s what he’s good at.  But things don’t turn out the way he expects.

Instead of Santa, evil people show up, planning to do him harm.  But, as a faithful follower of the spirit of Christmas, he gives good gifts in return for their evil intent, thus winning them over.  That and that alone stands out and shouts a seriously Christ-centered worldview.  Yay for VeggieTales.

But then things get complicated.

Santa, the figurehead of Christmas, shows up, full of good intents for Larry.  But then he sees the robber and viking.  His response?  Threats and violence!  “No one messes with Santa!”  The deep, glorious worldview that Larry was living out is denied by its figurehead.  I can’t help but think of the West and the Western Church.  We are looked upon as the beacon of Faith and Jesus, yet when we have an opportunity to do something for someone who doesn’t earn it, we drop the ball.  We love those who love us and punish the rest.  We’re Santa, a fool in a red suit who only helps the ‘nice’.  Larry hardly exists.

I’d rather be Larry.

But what about the IRS guy?  Larry slams the door on him.  Why?  Why did the IRS guy earn a cold shoulder when the violent viking and crafty bank robber got yummy cookies?

I find myself thinking that the IRS guy represents official religious convention.  The letters and the law.  The strict adherence to dead form.  Larry won’t let that into his house.

Yet I find myself thinking that, in Santa’s book, the IRS guy would have gotten endorsement.

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Incarnation of an Idea

If you’re ever going to see Avatar, please see it in 3D.  Seriously, 3D.  Don’t bother with the normal stuff.  Go for the gold.

I’ve been hearing a lot about the movie for a while.  With all the hype that was going around before it came out, you knew something special was coming.  Or, at least, you hoped something special was coming.

And I think something special did come.  I’m not one to be easily impressed with slick visuals.  I appreciate them, to be sure.  But they can’t carry a movie all by themselves, I think.  So I didn’t really enjoy films like G.I. Joe and Transformers 2.  But if there were ever any visuals that could have carried a movie all by themselves, it was the ones in Avatar.  I was going to try to explain how wild and immersive they were.  But I don’t think I can.  Suffice to say, at the end of the 3-hour flick, I was wanting more.

But I’ve been hearing a lot of complaint about the unoriginal story.  And it’s true that we’ve all heard the Avatar story before.  Imperial white guys show up in paradise.  White guys send in a spy to bring the natives down.  Spy realizes natives are cool and white guys suck.  Natives rally behind spy to kick out the white guys.  If you’ve seen Fern Gully, Pocahontas or Dances With Wolves, you already know the plot.  Original?  I guess not.

But, depending on the story being repeated, unoriginality is not always a bad thing.

There is something about this story that allows it to endure being reborn in many avatars (hehe, pun).  There is paradise. It’s always a natural paradise, eh?  You rarely see a technological paradise.  I guess that resonates with us better.  There are evil, yet powerful people who threaten paradise.  And paradise is forced to fight for its survival.  And, in the end, paradise is proved stronger, at least in some ways.

The story is great.  The story needs repeating!  It needs repeating simply because we haven’t understood it yet.  And we can all agree that we don’t understand it because every new version of the story still casts us as the bad guys!  We’re always the ones trying to piss on paradise.  And we don’t just do that in the movies, do we?  We hate Parker Selfridge for hurting the Na’vi, but we become him through our own avatars (more puns?) of corporations who are messing up the world like Walmart and unjust wars like…well…figure that one out for yourself.  Granted the places that wars and Walmart mess up aren’t actually paradise.  But they could have been.  Heck, the whole planet could have been.

Avatar was the slickest re-telling of that ancient, holy story that I’ve seen.  And we obviously still need to hear that story.  Maybe, once we’ve stopped raping the nations we can put the story away and legitimately criticize constant re-tellings.  But today is not that day.

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12 Years to be Pixar

One of the most encouraging videos I’ve seen in a long time.

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Wellness Update

What I’ve noticed:

  • Meat, when rare, is a delightful thing!
  • Anything, even homemade bread, can be bad when you eat too much.
  • My mind works ten times better with a decent diet and no distractions.  And when it works better, all of life suddenly becomes a little bit easier.
  • I feel like it would work a bit better with well-regulated distractions.
  • Devoting yourself to a challenge publicly makes it a little easier than if you did it alone.
  • Dark chocolate is a better friend than coffee ever was.
  • The hardest itches last only a week.  If you want to do something that you don’t really want to do, just get through a week.  It’s easier after that.
  • When your spouse is behind you, you feel like you can do almost anything.  And, suddenly, you end up actually doing it.  I would assume that when your spouse is not behind you you can’t really get much done.  But I wouldn’t know.  That’s never happened.
  • When you push yourself to do something that you don’t really want to do, you end up learning interesting things about yourself.
What I’m planning:
  • Since I’ve been strictly observing the rules in regards to mental and physical wellness, I want to move over to the other side of things.  I’m not going to be as concerned with them (though still very concerned).  Instead, I’m going to focus more on relationships and spirit.
  • I’m hoping to get out more, visit more, pray more and host more.  How am I going to do this?  Good question.  I don’t really know.  But I’m going to start with the realization that my culture fights against all those things.  So I’m going to do it as a man goes to battle.  Grrr.
Is the Wellness Challenge a success or failure?  I don’t know.  It’s hard to even know, at this juncture, what the point was.  But I have learned a lot about myself and about what makes me tick.  The trick, now, will be taking that new knowledge and using it to make myself a better person.
Well, less than two weeks left.  On we go!
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Selfish Mungo

One of the most interesting places in the Harry Potter universe is St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.  The tour the reader get in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is incredible.  You get the impression that the Healers at St Mungo’s are pretty much capable of handling any injury or illness that comes their way.  Broken arm?  Fixed in seconds.  Lost limbs?  Regrown easily.  Nearly anything short of death can be cured at St Mungo’s.

Suddenly, after reading this, I had a deep feeling of animosity for the wizards and wizard culture in the Harry Potter universe.  Can you guess why?

If they can cure so much, why aren’t they curing AIDS in Africa?  Why aren’t they curing polio in Egypt?  Why aren’t they using their amazing powers to make the world a better place?  I mean, can you imagine what a wizard could accomplish in a country like India where 217 million people aren’t getting enough to eat?  What a bunch of jerks these wizards are, eh?  Blessed with supernatural powers, they hoard it all and keep the blessings to themselves.

Sadly, it kinda reminds me of the Church.

What do we have?  Money, education and (apparently) the almighty power of God.  That’s what we have.  How do we use it?  The vast majority of our money is spent on ourselves (this includes the money we give to the church).  We use our education to make ourselves more money.  And the almighty power of God that we claim can move mountains and change the world?  We use that for singing.

Let’s get out of St Mungos, out of Hogwarts, and into the world.  There is so much pain that can be cured, if only we are willing to cure it.

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Turning the World Upside-Down

10 ideas that could turn the planet upside-down:

  • Conventions are almost always arbitrary and can be abandoned.
  • Quitting your job, moving to a developing nation and contributing to that society with whatever skills you have is not necessarily a bad idea.
  • Exciting things like TV, movies and video games scratch an itch, but usually don’t have a lot of value in themselves.
  • Poverty exists only because of evil in society (Deut. 15:5-6).
  • “When you possess the superfluous you possess what is not your own.” – St. Augustine.
  • World hunger is a solvable problem if those who are not hungry are willing to solve it.
  • Consumer cultures, like our, are characterized by the few producing for the many.  This leaves the many without a great amount of practical skills or ambitions.
  • Sedentary living and poor diets are baaaad.
  • The above applies to the spiritual realm as much as it does to the physical realm.
  • The root of all human suffering and injustice and death and every other crappy thing you can think of is the underlying taint and flaw each human has on their inner being.  Theologians call this sin.  I like to call it soul-cancer.
  • Jesus cures soul-cancer.  In turn, Jesus cures everything.

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Nothing to Wear

 I opened my clothing drawer today.  It’s hard to find stuff in there.  I have to dig around and stuff always seems to spill out.  Today a thought hit me while I was rummaging: How many clothes do I have?  I had to find out.  Here it is:

To me, that seemed like a lot.  I mean, how many clothes does a person need?  I started wondering if my Wellness Challenge had anything to say about the clothing I owned?  Isn’t it better to own what I need and be rid of the rest?  Doesn’t the man with two shirts have a responsibility to give his extra one away?

So I fell into purge mode:

What do I have left?  Three pants, four T-shirts, four collared shirts…not much else.  All I need.  The rest of my wardrobe?  In separate bags headed for Pakistan and goodwill.

What do you have in your closets that you don’t need?  What do you have that someone else might need?

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The Breadman

Do you know what that is?  That’s homemade bread, baby.  And not just homemade bread, but homemade raisin bread with a glaze of honey and topped with sesame seed.

My good buddy Ben bakes bread all the time.  You should go over to his house.  Whatever he’ll feed you is like the happiest day of your life – in your mouth.  I stood in awe of his bread-baking abilities.  He’s like a super-hero.  And then he told me it was easy.

“Easy?!” quoth I to self.  “Easy!  Surely not!  Surely you’re putting on that false modesty that makes me feel like a loser for not having that magical ability to make my own bread.  Grr!”

For months I thought about how wonderful it would be to make my own bread.  For months I toyed with the idea, looking up ingredients and imagining the horrible, day-long process it would take to make a loaf that probably would turn out to be crud.

I looked at the ingredient list from the cookbook.  It looked pretty simple, actually.  Then I looked at the ingredient list of a normal loaf of bread from the supermarket.  Quite different!  It looked like something Professor Snape would put into his potions.  And then I started the Wellness Challenge.  I imagined that I shouldn’t be eating anything I couldn’t pronounce or identify at sight.

So I caved.  I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed the ingredients and make some bread.

Ben was right.

I was shocked.  After 15 minutes of work, I was practically done.  And I didn’t even use a breadmaker!  How did it turn out?  Well…within eight hours the entire loaf was gone.  And that glorious picture of the raisin bread of glory?  That was my second try.  Boo ya!

What does this mean?  It means that it’s not hard to do it yourself!  Why did it seem so hard?  Because I (like you) have been born and raised in a culture where we never do things for ourselves!  We never make real food!  We never do our own work!  Heck, with the rise of video games and MMORPGs, we don’t even use our own imaginations!

Make some bread!  Do something yourself!  It’s better for you.  It’s better for the world.  It’s just plain better!

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