Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: August, 2010

A Good Day

I knew the coffee would be bad, so I ordered a tea instead.

There was no Tim Horton’s nearby, as strange as that may sound. There was only a Coffee Time. I had to hurry. I had just got off of my normal night shift and I had thirty minutes until the planning meeting began. It would go on into the afternoon, and when it was done I’d have to race home, sleep fast, and be back at work for the next night shift. I was not looking forward to it.

I ordered a tea and a muffin. Dragging my feet I carried them to a table in the corner and sat. Immediately my body tried to fall asleep. I shook my head and looked around for something interesting to take my mind off my fatigue. Right beside me there was a sign with the words written on the bottom: “It’s going to be a good day.”

It pissed me off.

I started an internal argument with the sign. “What makes you think,” I said, “that this will be a good day? What do you know about my day? I have just come off a night shift, you silly sign. And I have a meeting in a few minutes and another night shift after that! Does that sound like a good day? On top of that, you don’t know about all the things I’m trying to start that seem to be failing before they get off the ground. You don’t know about the stresses my family is facing or how we are dealing with them. You don’t know about my internal struggles with all the nasty spiritual, mental and emotional forces I am dealing with. You don’t know, you silly, stupid sign! You just don’t know!” I took a bite from my muffin. “And this muffin tastes horrible, too! Why? Because on top of all the stresses that this country gives me, I cannot even find a decent coffee shop from which to get some decent comfort food. So what, you stupid, silly sign, makes you think it’s going to be a good day?”

And then I looked down at my tea, and stopped. There, on the lid, written in that white chalky pencil, was a smiley-face.

Affection. The lady who made my tea took a second and drew a smiley-face on the lid. And the serious and smiling truth hit me: Love and affection exist. Indeed, I have plenty of both in my life. Therefore it is going to be a good day.

Despite a crappy work situation.
Despite a handful of dim-looking prospects.
Despite a fatigue so great I fell asleep during the meeting.
Despite a muffin so insipid I couldn’t finish it.
Despite all these things, I have love. I have affection. Both stream to and from me and to and from my friends, family, neighbours and strangers.

Despite not seeing fully. Despite not knowing fully. Despite not living fully I have these three things that remain: Faith, Hope, Love. Love’s the best. It’s going to be a good day.

Look at me! Look at ME!

It never stops. It never shuts up. And when you beg it to be quiet, you feel empty and cut off, don’t you?

The phone chirps with messages and e-mails. Each one is probably of dire importance, if we judge by the way we respond to them. A chirp from the phone pauses conversation. A ring signals an end altogether.

The computer flashes with new news. The blog reader is constantly being refilled as it begs, nay, demands to be read. And we drink down the thoughts of others while nodding or shaking our heads. Blogs of import, that we, in turn, blog about.

The television sings and dances with news and facts and laughs we cannot live without. With somber yet cheerful faces those familiar strangers fill our hours with stories of hunger in the east and lost kittys in the west. We mock them for slanting the stories and filtering the information, but remain hopelessly devoted to them.

And then the day ends and the noises cease. We have nothing to hear but the murmurs of our awesome minds. And what do they say at the end? Very little. They have been overfed and undernourished. They have gorged on the tender snacks of media and unbreakable communication. And they are sated. They are tired, you see. They need a rest. Yes, a night’s rest will do them good. Tomorrow will be clearer. Tomorrow we shall be wiser.

And as I sit in the dark, with all my pretty toys turned off, my mind begins to stir and wake again, as it once did, so long ago. The truth is clear, of course. My phones and TVs and Internets and blogs and chirps and bells and whistles are making me stupid. No argument. Case closed. But will I stop? Indeed, as I type this and throw it on the Internet and beg people to read it, am I advancing the problem?


Scot McKnight interviews Brian McLaren: Watch the video.

The best moment was at about 2:40 when Brian said, “When I read a book or listen to music, I’m not always asking, ‘what do they believe?’ I want to ask, ‘what do they have to say to me?'” And he expands on that in the following minutes. It makes me wish I had put my own checklist away years ago – perhaps I would have gained more by now that I already have.

Quick! Fast!

So the Muslim world just started fasting again. For the next month faithful Muslims will avoid food, drink, smoking and sex while the sun is up. Not only that, but every mosque will hold Qur’an recitations every day and actually get through the entire book before the month is up. And the already burdensome prayer times will get a boost. Whole lot of religious duties going on!

At this point Christians will usually shake their heads, make a bit of a *tsk* sound and say, “Don’t they realize that all these religious works are useless? Don’t they realize that they are missing a key thing that negates all the hard work they’re putting into their faith? Poor, misguided Muslims.”

I guess I shouldn’t sound so … snarky, should I? I mean, anything spiritual without Jesus really does seem useless. But I just can’t help thinking about all the ways Christians nullify their own spiritual acts. Fasting, for example. Some people think it’s a bit of a lost Christian art, but I know a lot of Christians who still fast. And I wonder how many fast in the way God intended. Like how Isaiah says we are supposed to fast in Isaiah 58. In that part of the Bible, God is calling the people’s fast useless because they did it wrong. And then he laid out how to do it right:

  • Loose the bonds of wickedness (v.6). – Break yourself and others free from sin and self-destructive habits.
  • Undo the straps of the yoke (v.6). – Undo burdens. Help people.
  • Break every yoke (v.6). – Be an enabler. Break people out of whatever is holding them back.
  • Share bread with the hungry (v.7). – What deep, spiritual truth are we meant to wrestle out of this confusing text? What grand, internal glory can we take? Just feed the hungry.
  • Invite homeless people into your house (v.7). – Er… of course the prophet must be exaggerating here. I mean, homeless people are dirty and awkward. He wouldn’t really have us invite them in… Right?
  • Give clothes to the naked (v.7) – Supply the basic needs for people who do not have them.
  • Don’t hide from fellow humans (v.7) – Don’t look at your watch when you pass that homeless guy. Don’t pretend to see something interesting across the street. Don’t set your face like flint and stare resolutely ahead of yourself as you pass the one living without a roof over his head. Jesus identifies with that man, you silly Christian. Oughtn’t we?
  • I feel like I cannot criticize another group’s fast when they leave something out when the group I grew up in seems to be doing the same thing, y’know?

    New Testament

    The denomination I grew up in is fond of calling its churches New Testament Assemblies. The idea is that our churches follow more closely after the pattern that the New Testament Church followed. We point to the book of Acts where it talks about the four ‘meetings of the assembly’ (2:42) and other passages like it. We try to take our cues from the early church and the early writings. We are so obsessed, in fact, with the idea of an ideal New Testament Church, that we go into towns where there are already evangelical churches and plant our own because Baptists and Pentecostals are not so nearly New Testament as we are.

    But I had a realization the other day. We, also, are not nearly as New Testament as we think we are.

    Here are some interesting characteristics of the church in the time of the New Testament that I don’t quite think we are pulling off:

  • They hung out every day (2:46).
  • They sold their possessions and gave to the poor (2:45, 4:34-35).
  • They performed miracles (5:12).
  • They had no private property but held everything in common (2:44, 4:32).
  • They had no building set aside for ‘church’.
  • The church spent its money on the needy (4:35).
  • They risked and lost their lives to help other.
  • It’s interesting how we don’t do most of this. But I think that the most interesting thing is that, by and large, we don’t think these things should be done at all. Which is a shame, really, because it seems like a wonderful system. So wonderful, in fact, that I think this is why the early church grew by the multitudes (5:14) while the modern church … doesn’t.

    Fire and Brimstone

    I can picture the preacher. Black suit. Dark tie. Stony face. He stands there atop the platform, takes the glass in his strong hand and drinks. He puts the glass back down and looks over the crowd, waiting and expectant. He takes a breath, raises his hand and begins to preach.

    “This land,” he says, voice already at a yell, “is hanging over the pit of hellfire! This land, this evil, abominable culture we have found ourselves in, is against God in the most perverted ways imagined. Only the great and unfathomable mercies of Jehovah have held the fire and brimstone from consuming this country as it consumed Sodom and her whoredom so long ago. But do not presume on the mercies of God! There is a limit! A limit of the deviant sin that God will be willing to put up with. I tell you, brothers and sisters, if this land will not repent of its grave iniquity, it will be consumed just like that city of old that has become a byword for sin so heinous I can hardly bring myself to give it utterance.

    “What? Are there those among you who think that our country and culture is not so bad? Worldly! Deceived! Sons and daughters of a liberal, post-Christian age! Can you not see? Have you not heard what the Lord has done to those nations that have turned to the sins that our culture and politicians are embracing? God points the finger at the political parties who have allowed this sin, most horrid, to become accepted, nay, applauded. God points the finger to the citizens who do not care or raise their voices against the sin of Sodom that has become so popular. God points the finger even at the Church, his whore bride, who plays the part of Sodom with more and more liberty now than ever. Never before has the Church been more like Sodom than today! And you think God does not hear? You think God does not see? Shame! Shame and judgement! The judgement of God shall fall upon us all soon, for the philosophy and practices of Sodom are with us, unchanged by time.”

    He pauses to take a breath, I think. Another sip of water. And then he opens his Bible and, in a soft voice, reads.

    “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.”

    He Won’t Invite You Back…

    Luke 11:37-54

    So a Pharisee invites Jesus over for lunch. It seemed like a good idea. Jesus had been stepping on many religious feet and maybe a friendly meal would help bridge the gap that had sprung up between Jesus’ followers and the fundamentalists. It looked like a good PR move. Except that Jesus forgot to wash his hands.

    But somehow, I cannot imagine that Jesus actually forgot. I mean, he was raised in a nice, religious Jewish family and would have been taught from a young age about the importance of hand-washing. To avoid washing his hands, Jesus would have needed to go against his upbringing. He must have done it on purpose. He wanted, I think, to pick a fight.

    But his host was too gracious! He kept his thoughts to himself and didn’t say a word against Jesus. Maybe he wanted to secure a bit of unity before getting Jesus to fall in line. He was astonished, to be sure, but he seemed to bury it inside and hoped to move on to more productive topics.

    Jesus didn’t want to move on, though. As soon as the Pharisee shows his surprise, Jesus jumps into action and starts insulting and belittling his host. Fool! Grave! Dirty dish!

    A lawyer tries to calm the situation down, reminding Jesus that he is being rude and insulting.

    It doesn’t work. Jesus rounds on the lawyer and calls him an idiot, too. No, not an idiot, but a murderer of prophets and holy men.

    I don’t think he was invited back.