Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: October, 2010

Full Plate and No Appetite

What’s going on? What’s important? What’s shaking? What do I have a deep and motivating opinion on?

Lots, of course! I got opinions out the wa-zoo (what a wa-zoo is and why my opinions are coming out of it, however, I fear I’ll never know).

I got an opinion on the recent series the Gospel Coalition did on “How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?” (Opinion: stupid question!)

I got an opinion on this neat little quote that precedes chapter 14 of Carl Sagan’s Contact. (“Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect…”)

I got an opinion on large, expensive church buildings and projects. (Feed dying people instead!)

I got an opinion on the style of preachers on WDCX. (“You need to follow Jesus more fully, buy these resources from us and we’ll tell you how!” Capitalism at it’s finest!)

I got an opinion of the popularity of shallow books like the Twilight series and anything written by Dan Brown. (Seriously, how did those get famous?)

I got an opinion on the way we use our magical technology. (The awesome powers of the cosmos at our fingertips so we can watch silly videos and share pictures with friends who will never look at them.)

I got an opinion on western employment habits. (40 hours is unnatural. Let’s give up some luxuries [like the 8-billion-dollar phone you only use to look at silly videos and share photos with friends who will never look at them] and spend more of our time being happy.)

I got an opinion on video games and movies. (The Horde always looks better than the Alliance and Star Wars is nothing like Star Trek.)

You want opinions? I got them. I got thousands of words worth of opinions. Nay, I say thousands of posts worth. You could spend half your life listening to my opinions (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

But I came to a stunning realization. Blogs and news and sermons are all, in the end, made of nothing but opinions. And yet we call it all content. As if it were something. As if it did something. Maybe it used to do something, back where there were a few, well-informed voices (though I have no idea when that was). But today I have so many opinions thrown at me I find I only have time to formulate my own opinions about those opinions and throw them back. And then I’m tired and go to bed.

That’s the problem with all my precious abstract conversations. Since they exist in the abstract, they don’t truly exist. Because it is only my faithfulness that is the substance of the things I hope for. It’s my faithfulness that proves what cannot be seen. And my faithfulness is nothing more or less than the logical outworking of what I’ve signed up for.

So my opinions about how churches spend their money is about a useless as my preference for the Horde over the Alliance, because while it remains inert and in my mind alone, it does not exist. Our opinions are a plate of food before us. And I fear we have forgotten how to eat.

Tired

When you’re tired,
      nothing works.
When you’re tired,
      regret creeps uselessly in. Strong for stinging. Too weak for anything else.
When you’re tired,
      the mind moves to the morbid dance of the epileptic. The sole constant is the image of that bleeding billboard shouting with angry letters: “I am tired!”
Rest
When you’re rested,
      it works.
But here fatigue creeps about like a roaring leech,
      devouring. And fatigue cannot sleep in my town.
For we breed and feed the leeches by hand and select each one carefully before applying them to our heads and hearts and most sensitive places.
      How can there be any good while I breed entropy and beg it to devour me?
These leeches must be salted.
      Or I must leave their swampy lands.

Words

Word.
An expression of an idea.
Thoughts dwell in abstract – barely real in their ethereal domain.
They are conceptions, pregnant with power.
They take form through movements in the invisible, yet tangible, air.
Those who have ears and minds can grasp and be grasped.
Here they are impregnated.
Here the thought – the conception – is aborted or allowed to come to term.
And it is reborn and reborn a million times with a million mutations.
And here is power.
A word.
A Word.
But a word from the Transcendent cannot exist as subtle movements through air. Air cannot sustain the expressions of the Airmaker.
So the Word was made flesh.
The Word screamed in birth and death.
Have you heard it?
Did it impregnate?
Will you abort? Or will you give birth?

Unapologetic

Have you ever been here before? Your kid is on the playground, having a blast with the other urchins (not sea urchins, mind you – they are not for children). Something happens. Someone gets hurt. Someone’s in trouble. A child goes to complain to his mother and, the next thing you know, you are in an awkward situation where a parent is telling you that your child has done wrong and something needs to be done about it.

And what is expected of a parent at this point? A stern look married with stern words. Perhaps some sort of disciplinary measure. And, the most important thing of all, an apology from the offending child to the crybaby offended child.

And that is where everything, for me, falls apart. Because I am a rogue parent. I commit a great sin whenever my child does something he oughtn’t. I never, ever force him to claim he is sorry for something he has done.

Do you think that’s dumb of me? Hear me out first.

  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, 95% of the time I’m telling him to lie. He’s not really sorry. In the heat of the situation he doesn’t care much about the offended sensibilities of the other kid or the angry mother.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I devalue the entire idea of regret and remorse. It means nothing if it can be forced out of you.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am teaching him that saying certain words will get him out of a bad situation.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am robbing him of the inhibitions that we all have to keep us from doing things artificial.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am dancing to the beat of another parent’s drum. I care more about getting our of an awkward situation than about my own child’s development.
  • My kids don’t say sorry nearly as often as others, it’s true. But that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Because when Joe, having done something wrong, comes up to me and says “Papa, please forgive me” (and, yes, he actually uses those words!) I can see in his eyes and tone that he is serious. When my son says that he feels remorse and that he is sorry for something, he actually means it. That’s worth a handful of awkward playground experiences, yes?

The Man Jesus

You know what’s funny about this picture? How completely out of place Jesus seems. Check out the disciples. They are crammed together, vigorously communicating with each other and engaged in action. Jesus sits above all that, with his own generous portion of personal space and with his hands held out, as if he is perfectly still and at perfect peace.

What a silly painting.

We’ve always emphasized the deity of Christ at the expense, I think, of his humanity. We can see this in nearly all traditional Christian art. Jesus is always serene with a couple fingers in the air and halos and flaming organs and whatnot. But as I read the gospels, I don’t get the impression that he had a halo or any body parts in flame.

We forget that Jesus was a man. And that’s tragic.

  • When we forget Jesus was a man, one of the most important reasons for the incarnation is destroyed. That is, to show God in a way that we can understand.
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we make him into a transcendent, ethereal being worthy of worship and reverence, but not imitation.
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we allow ourselves to follow him only until the point where we no longer want to. At that point we say “Oh, well he was GOD and this act and that act are not really meant for me to imitate.”
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we begin to follow an entity that simply does not exist.

Let’s not forget that Jesus was a sweating, eating, drinking and sleeping man. A man with hair. A man with a nose and toes. A man of a certain height and build and smell. Otherwise we’ve lost sight of him.

The Slightly Off-Centrality of Scripture

Evangelicals are a Bible-centered bunch and they ain’t afraid to say it. They go to Bible camps and Bible chapels. They hold Bible studies and attend Bible colleges. They make their churches Bible based and crack Bible jokes. Whole lot of Bible going on.

And I think it’s real, too. Seriously, I do. The evangelical sub-culture is set apart by its mission to make the Bible the centre of everything they do. They wear that as a badge of honor. Like the song goes, they ‘stand alone on the Word of God! The B-I-B-L-E!’

But I don’t really think they should.

I guess this may sound funny, but the Bible is not the thing upon which my spirituality is based. Not at all. Because my spirituality and my searching for God is focused on Jesus. The Bible is just a glass. A slightly dirty glass through which I see some of Jesus. It’s a tool. It’s a bridge. It’s a thing.

Of course, pretty much everything I know about Jesus comes through the Bible. So why make a distinction? I want to make a distinction because the difference between having a Bible-centered life and a Jesus centered life is bigger than you’d think. The Bible-centered life is like an astronaut studying the Hubble. The Jesus-centered life is like and astronaut studying stars. And then visiting them!