Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: July, 2010

Dora the Lover

    For a while I was despairing about finding children’s media that I felt good enough to share with my kids. Ponyo was a great film, to be sure, but I was looking for something smaller and repeatable, like a TV series. But the vast majority of them are empty and mindless. Shows like Spongebob strike me as the unfiltered imaginings of an insane ten-year-old.
    Then I found Dora the Explorer. My kids love it almost as much as I do. It’s about a bilingual brown girl who runs around with her best friends exploring and discovering. Here’s why I love it:

  • Dora explores and embraces racial diversity. Her skin is dark and she speaks more than one language. She takes part in different cultural celebrations. Difference is good in Dora’s world. Not something to be hidden, but something to be celebrated. She doesn’t try to make us all the same, she rejoices in all our differences. This is wild because just recently Joseph noticed that I am a different color than Ruth and that we are both different from him. For a second, as he was asking about it, I saw a glimmer of confusion on his face. I told him he was right, that we are all different, and I acted excited about that. “Isn’t it neat that we are all different colors?” And Dora backs me up on that, whatever the kids at school might say.
  • Dora is a hard-working helper. Like the time when her friend Boots lost his truck and they had to climb a mountain to get it. Or the time her parents asked her to help with the babies and she spent the entire episode reading to them and feeding them banana baby food. While most children’s programs have heroes doing everything they can to get out of school and work, Dora embraces the tasks she gets and even asks for more.
  • Dora loves her enemies. Swiper is the villain of Dora’s universe. He goes around swiping Dora’s toys and food and anything else he can get his foxy hands on. He’s a klepto, I’m sure. He never gives Dora a moment’s rest. He’s a punk. But when Swiper, through his own crimes, was trapped in a magic bottle, Dora was quick to help. She didn’t say a word about Swiper’s swiping or about his guilt. She dropped everything to travel across the world and get the king to release him. And when Dora gets anything good that she can share, she tracks down Swiper to make sure he gets some of it. She doesn’t fight her enemies, she embraces them. Reminds me of a Man I know.
  • Dora never hates. She never has a harsh word for anyone. She holds no grudges. She only works against the ‘bad guys’ when to do otherwise would compromise her own high moral standards. And even then she does it gently, without anger.
  • Dora loves to sing and dance. She isn’t content to sit and sleep and eat. She wants to get up and move. She wants to dance. She wants to explore. She wants to get out of the place she is from and achieve and carry her unique light into the world.
  •     So if you have kids, go check out Dora. She’s a hero.

    Break Time

    I’m taking a tiny break from this. I’ll be back soon. Promise!

    Trading Freedom for Freedom

    My son just started taking Karate classes. I enjoy watching him out there on the mat, trying to keep up with the other students as the teacher leads them through kicks, punches whatnot. After class today he came up to me and told me how very badly he wanted his yellow belt. It was his second class. He’s ambitious, eh?

    My son is a free spirit. He rarely stays on one task for long. His eyes are always on the next ridge, seeking something new to explore and do. He’s free. He’s wild. I like him. But the freedom he is enjoying right now is not the kind of freedom that will get him his yellow belt. In fact, the freedom he has will hinder him from the freedom that the yellow belt proves.

    To get the yellow belt you need to demonstrate some of the basic moves and katas of karate. Joseph can’t do that. He is not free to do that.

    I’ve heard that discipline is the price of freedom. But I also think that freedom is the price of discipline. In order to be free to do Pinan Shodan, Joseph needs to gain focus and discipline. In order to gain focus and discipline, he needs to give up some of his lesser freedoms.

    It’s like that with everything, eh? Something for something.

    The price of freedom = discipline.
    The price of discipline = freedom.

    What Makes a Good Story

  • Good stories are convoluted, for life is convoluted. Anything true is deep and complicated. Every person is interesting and intricate. If these things are not true in a story, the story is lacking.
  • Good stories are beautiful, for life is beautiful. Without beauty the human soul cannot relate perfectly with a story. Without beauty something is missing.
  • Good stories are meaningful, for life is meaningful. In the deepest tragedies, in the most glorious victories and in everything in between there must be meaning. Otherwise why would I care about the story (or life) at all?
  • Good stories are difficult, for life is difficult. You cannot pull good things from life with wrestling. So it is with stories. They should not give up their treasures without a bit of a fight (but not too much).
  • Good stories are fun, for life is fun. A good story must entertain, because life is so very entertaining. If it were not so, why would we keep living?
  • Good stories are emotional, for life is emotional. The good story tugs on your heart, one way or the other. And it hardly seems to matter which way it tugs, so long as it tugs.
  • Good stories are epic, for life is epic. It could be the epic of a lone hobbit triumphing over the immortal dark lord. Or it could be the epic of an illiterate village girl finding, at the end of her life, a friend. The mundane can be epic. Indeed, it must be.
  • Good stories are fantastic, for life is fantastic. Fairies are wonderful things in stories. The fantastic, magical things that dwell in stories mirror the mighty wonders in our world that we cannot understand. Fairies are real, for they mirror something unknown and beautiful in reality. And if your reality is missing things like fairies, I wonder if it’s missing too much.
  • Good stories are truth, for life is true. I was once told that storytellers use lies to tell the truth. And that is the truth.
  • Good stories do not help you escape, for life does not. Entertainment that offers me an escape annoy me. I do not want to escape life, I want to live it more. A good story does not distract you from life. It shows you life. It helps you live life stronger and harder. If you want to escape, try drugs. If you want to live hard, read a good story.
  • No Longer Slaves

    I came across this neat news article, just in time for the fourth of July.

    It seems that when was drafting the Declaration of Independence, he was struggling for the right word to describe the American people. He settled on ‘citizens’, but originally he had written ‘subjects.’

    I find that wild. In the beginning Jefferson was going to confirm the convention that all men and women are slaves to the monarch or the state. But with one stroke of the pen he changed all that. No longer subjects, but citizens with rights and privileges and information.

    It made me think of the Bible. When you read the Old Testament you get the feeling that God is looking for subjects. That he’s looking for a bunch of people who will just do what they’re told without asking too many questions. But then Jesus came and made it clear that he was not after slaves at all, but citizens. Indeed, fellow citizens. People he could tell his plans to. People who could share the inheritance he earned. In a real way, brothers.

    Trying to Fly

    Joseph handed me one of his big story books and asked me to read to him the other day. The book was one of those large compilations of stories. I really have no idea where we got it, but he likes it. So I opened to the middle, picked a random story and started reading.

    A mouse named McWhiskers was walking around with a friend when they heard the news that Bru the Bear was planning to fly that afternoon and had invited everyone to come watch. McWhiskers immediately identified himself as the nay-sayer of the forest, as he commented on how bears simply cannot fly. But he went along anyway. They arrived at Bru’s place to see him piling crates up and attaching a pair of wings he had made to his arms. He was ecstatic. McWhiskers tried to rain on his parade by pointing out, again, that bears cannot fly. Bru was undaunted, though, and brushed his negativity aside.

    Of course, Bru’s attempts at flying failed. He leapt off the crates and flapped his wings hard, but crashed to the ground. McWhiskers had a polite ‘I told you so’ moment and finally convinced Bru to abandon his pursuit of flight altogether.

    The end.

    I decided to never read that story to Joseph again.

    Most people would say that McWhiskers was right to stop Bru. I mean, how could a bear ever hope to fly? It’s impossible! Indeed, if God had wanted Bru to fly, he would have given him wings. Good for you, Mr. McWhiskers, for stopping your silly friend from making a fool of himself.

    But was it really impossible for Bru to fly? Of course, the crude wings he made couldn’t do the job. But what if he built better wings? What if he devoted himself to learning about aerodynamics and trust and fuel and was able, after much work, to fashion a machine that would take him off the ground, just like we humans have? He would have flown. But he’ll never get that chance, you see, because McWhiskers talked him out of it.

    Imagine how much we would have lost if all the Brus of the world had listened to all the McWhiskers. We would have never advanced beyond the bronze age. We would have never done anything difficult or time-consuming. We would have never chased our dreams.

    McWhiskers, I think, is a cruel person. He himself had no ambition to fly, and so he saw fit to rob his friends of their ambition. And, in doing so, he became a murderer to dreams. Don’t be like McWhiskers. You never know when you may be cutting down a person who was destined to change the world.