Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: March, 2011

Review: Sabriel – Garth Nix

It was little more than three miles from the Wall into the Old Kingdom, but that was enough. Noonday sunshine could be seen on the other side of the Wall in Ancelstierre, and not a cloud in sight. Here, there was a clouded sunset, and a steady rain had just begun to fall, coming faster than the tents could be raised.

I didn’t find out this was technically a young adult novel until after I finished it. And I’m glad of that. Sometimes the labels people put on a book taint it before you get a chance to read it.

Sabriel is a fantasy about the daughter of an undead-slaying necromancer. Raised in a setting that feels like 20th-century earth, she is forced to leave school behind and seek her father deep within the Old Kingdom, a place rich with danger, magic and undead nasty thingies. Sabriel is full of great settings and intrigue. The most attractive part for me was the depth of the world and magics that made it.

The world is divided into two places. Ancelstierre, which is similar to earth a hundred years ago, and the Old Kingdom. They are separated by a great wall which holds back the undead yuckies and magics that try to pour down from the Old Kingdom.

The story was great. The plot was completely driven by the characters and deep. The writing, however, was a little clunky now and then, and that tend to be distracting. Also, the story was told strictly from the point of view of Sabriel herself. Usually I resonate with a book better when there are multiple views points to distract me. But I think that’s more of a failing with me than it is with the book. It’s the first in a series, and I still haven’t decided if I’m going to plunge ahead and get the rest of them. But if you like fantasy and teen novels and deeper-than-usual-coming-of-age tales, give Sabriel a whirl.


Death and what came after death was no great mystery to Sabriel. She just wished it was.

Fear and realization of ignorance were strong medicines against stupid pride.

How to Win

     I’ve been winning for a month. Or nearly a month. When you win it’s hard to keep track of how long you’ve been winning. It’s easier to count the days slip by when you’re losing.
     Are you winning?
     We all seem to have something inside us prodding us to do something. The something is different for each one of us. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s film. Maybe it’s cooking or dancing or painting or sewing or reading or praying or humanitarian aid or jogging or karate. But it’s something. And we feel like it’s our thing to do. So we make plans, set goals and sit down to do our thing. And then, as we approach the starting blocks, it fizzles out and dies.
     We feel tired. We feel angry. We feel depressed. We feel like we’re no good a it. We feel like we’ll never accomplish anything. We feel resistance.
     My thing is fiction. There is nothing I like more than a good story. I’ve wanted to create my own for as long as I can remember. I’ve had fleeting successes, but I’ve never really been a winner. Until this month. I’m winning now. Every single day. And I think I know why. Shall I share?

     Know the Enemy.
     There is something insidious that works against anything good, creative or beautiful. It seeks to destroy, inhibit and pervert anything happy and alive. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Theologians call it Sin. I’ve come to call it Hate. I call it that because of the way it rails and bites and spits with no goal other than destruction. Have you felt it? When you sit down to write your story? When you wake up early to start your spiritual disciplines? When you think about putting on your jogging shoes? It’s relentless. It’s evil. It makes you hate your thing. It wants to take you down.
     Once I realized it, I understood that every excuse I made for not doing my work was rooted in Hate. And every time I accepted those excuses, Hate won. And my thing was not created. Hate wants all things creative to cease. It’ll do anything it can to kill them. When you know the enemy is there, you realize that every step in the right direction is war. You realize that sometimes you have to work even when you’re hurt (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically). Because Hate is always crouching at the door, and it’s desire is to destroy you and your art.
     And once you see the enemy, you accept that you must kill it if your thing is to live. And you can take the old Aiel purpose and make it your own: “Till shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder’s eye on the last Day.”

     Know the Ally
     Hate stands against you and your work. Love stands with you. Love, the greatest virtue, is primarily a spiritual and creative thing. Love always builds. Love delight in existence. It was for Love that God made the world. It was in Love that he put a part of himself in every human. And, through Love, we can create and achieve.
     All good creativity comes from the Outside. Its root is divine. And when we realize that it is not born within us, but outside us, we see that we can beg for it. We can reach out to the Creator and ask him to send a Muse to kiss our spirit so we can go forward and do what we were meant to do.
     And Love, of course, is stronger than Hate. For Love is, foundationally, something. While Hate, foundationally, is a non-thing. Love tends toward order and peace and life and existence. Hate tends towards chaos and violence and death and entropy.
     With an Ally like the Creator, how can Hate win? With Love we can trample the brats of hell under our feet and give to the world whatever gifts we have to give.

     And so I am winning. And I shall continue to win. And one day you will see the fruits of my victories.

     When will I see yours?

Review – Introspection – P.J. Tremblay

For 23 years, I had been living the life of someone else. For 2 years, I became intentionally undone. For 2 years, I initiated the development of my true identity. This year, only the strongest songs of that on-going journey have reached this album.

I don’t usually dare reviewing music. I find it hard to say anything intelligent about most music because it’s like trying to comment on an art form that I know next to nothing about. But I recently realized that you don’t need to say intelligent things to say worthwhile things, so on we go!

I just got this album and it’s been playing in my car non-stop. Loving it. You know how a lot of artists seem to have just one kind of song that they repackage again and again? Not this guy. Each song stands apart from the rest, truly original. I sat for about half and hour trying to figure out which genre to list it under on my iTunes. It refuses to confirm to any box, which I guess it really the point.

The whole album is the story of the artist’s journey from a superficial existence toward something authentic, real and ultimately much more satisfying than anything artificial could be. As I listened to it for the first time I resonated with so many of his feelings and observations. I think this album will really connect with anyone who has felt that their life is heading in the wrong way and there needs to be a change. Especially with people who have already started to make that change.

Even without the lyrics which chronicle the journeys of the artist, the music itself is soothing and energizing. Head over to the artist’s site and buy it! You won’t regret it, I swear. Good stuff, Phil. Good freakin’ stuff.


Is it just me, or is it so absurd that elephants have gone unheard?
I can’t live like this now, communicate with me somehow
I am not your enemy
I just see things differently
Too much time’s been spent in fear
You can at least respect me here
– Is This Thing On?

Breathe the breeze
And just seize the seas
Just leave the worry to someone who aint free… that aint me
– Free

I lived oh so Christianly, devout as I could ever be
Lived a way that would look alright, but I was so lost inside
I’m not strong, I’m just not afraid of being weak

So I took all the things in my life that were stained and threw them out my door
Started new with a genuineness that gives me peace for evermore
I’m not strong, I’m just not afraid of being weak
– I’m Not Strong, I’m Just Not Afraid of Being Weak

I don’t believe it’s right
to let others define your life
I can do anything I’m interested in
and I’m interested in all that I can do
– The CarTune Song

Review: Imaginary Jesus – Matt Mikalatos

Jesus and I sometimes grab lunch at the Red and Black Cafe on Twelfth and Oak.

I found this one free on the Kindle site. I love free books, don’t you? It’s about a man who finds out that the Jesus he’s been hanging out with since childhood is not actually the real Jesus, but one of many imaginary Jesuses. He then embarks on a quest with the Apostle Peter, a talking donkey and an ex-hooker to find the real Jesus. It’s full of great humor, wild wit and a lot of great ‘aha’ moments. All in all, it was a good read. Entertaining and thoughtful all at once. It keeps you kinda guessing, too. Because every once in a while you’ll encounter a Jesus who you think is the real one, only to find out that he was an imaginary one, too.

I really have only one negative thing to say about it. The book (accidentally, I think) enforces the popular idea that if a part of your understanding of Jesus is off, you’re following the ‘wrong’ Jesus.

The argument usually goes like this. Someone says, ‘Hey, do you know Frank?’
‘Oh yeah, I know Frank. He’s an accountant, right?’
‘No, he’s a banker. You must be talking about a different Frank.’
And the concept gets applied to Jesus. So anyone with a wrong (or different) understanding of anything from hell to the atonement to election to depravity is said to believe in the wrong Jesus.

But, I think, if we were talking about Frank, the conversation would be more like this:
‘Hey, do you know Frank?’
‘Oh yeah, I know Frank. He’s an accountant, right?’
‘No, he’s a banker. He works at First National.’
‘Really? Are you sure?’
‘Well, I think so. Let’s find out for certain.’

Just because I think he’s an accountant and you think he’s a banker doesn’t mean we’re talking about different people. We just have different ideas about him. Heck, for all we know, maybe Frank is an IRS agent. But I’m pretty sure we are both talking about the same guy.

But Imaginary Jesus is certainly worth a read. It’s witty, fun and playful. Check it out.


“But do you know what it looks like when Jesus walks up to someone and says, ‘Follow me’? When I first started to follow him, I didn’t know he was God. I didn’t know he was the only way to God. I didn’t pray to say that I believed it with all my heart. None of that.”

The first century smelled like what Christians call a “men’s retreat.” This is when men leave their wives and children for several days, go to the mountains, and yell at each other, “Stop neglecting your wife and children!”

“So you’re saying that if I was, for instance, your disciple-”
“You wouldn’t need to find a bathroom,” the donkey said, “because you’re walking on a perfectly fine road.”

Pete said, “Even without the promise of eternal life, I gave up everything to follow him. I didn’t know him well. But I knew him well enough.”

How do you deal with a God who breaks all the rules that your confident, well-meaning friends have told you he will follow?

“You think you’re got to have all the answers. Why can’t there be mysteries once in a while? It’s okay not to know the answer.”

Review: World War Z – Max Brooks

It goes by many names: “The Crisis,” “The Dark Years,” “The Walking Plague,” as well as newer and more “hip” titles such as “World War Z” or “Z War One.” I personally dislike this last moniker as it implies an inevitable “Z War Two.” For me, it will always be “The Zombie War.”

I bought the book on a whim. Until I started reading it I was afraid that I had wasted my five bucks. Great myths and genres always have a higher than normal chance of being bastardized. Zombies, vampires and the like are creatures with a deep mythos about them and that mythos has been abused again and again in film and literature. So, yeah, I was worried I had wasted five bucks.

The book is written as a historical account of a world-wide zombie outbreak and the war that followed. The narrator travels the world after the war ends, collecting stories from different survivors, gathering a wide view of what the war was like for people in different stations and nations and cultures.

It was a good read. Gritty and realistic but not overtly depressing, as a world-wide zombie invasion would be. My only struggle was the complete lack of any real protagonist to fall in love with. But the originality of the storytelling made up for it with me. It was a risky book to write, I think, being so very different. But it was a risk that paid off. Five bucks well spent.


Most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has. That’s not stupidity or weakness, that’s just human nature. I don’t blame anyone for not believing.

Imagine a group of people all staring at writing on a wall, everyone congratulating one another on reading the words correctly. But behind that group is a mirror whose image shows the writing’s true message. No one looks at the mirror. No one thinks it’s necessary.

We were taught since birth to bear the burden of our grandfathers’ shame. We were taught that, even if we wore a uniform, that our first sworn duty was to our conscience, no matter what the consequences.

Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they’re used.