Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: October, 2011

St. Paul on Love

It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.

St. Paul, First Epistle to the Corinthians

No Plan B

     I call my dad Dave. Or The Dave when I think he’s cool. Which is often. He’s the cat’s meow.

     He runs his own software development company. He’s been doing it for almost as long as I’ve been alive. From a distance he looks like your average, button-pressing manager-dude (I obviously have no idea what managers do). So when I was in my mid-teens and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I was scared.

     I wanted to act, deep down. And I was pretty sure I was good at it. It was the only thing I wanted out of life at that time. But how do you tell your father that? Especially when your father has been working at the same office since you were born? I was thoroughly expecting one of those sit-com lectures about thinking of your future and not wasting youth on silly things like dreams and acting.

     So I hedged my bet. I told him about an interest in the arts and acting, but I quickly assured him I intended to get a business degree or something to fall back on if that dream evaporated.

     He got serious. He looked me in the eye, which was freaky because we were driving down the QEW.

     “Don’t have a backup plan,” The Dave said. “No plan B.”

     He explained that if my dream was acting, I ought to, nay, need to sacrifice everything else. If it’s acting, then throw all your chips into acting. Acting or bust.

     I was pretty shocked.

     I shouldn’t have been.

     If I had paid attention as a kid, I’d have seen that The Dave is no normal businessman. When he was young and newly married, he quit his profitable factory job to go out on his own and start a photography business with his buddy. Everyone was scared, but his dad told him to go for it. His dream changed as the years went on and it evolved into the software company it is today. But the point is, he chased the dream and cut his safety net. He had no plan B. And he won. He’s one of the only people I know who loves going to work in the morning.

     My dreams have changed since that talk. But I never forgot what he said. And I think it’s still true. If my dream is writing (and it is), I’ll spare no effort or expense to bring it to life. I’ll sacrifice time and responsibilities on its altar. I’ll refuse to hedge my bets. Because hedging your bet is insulting to the dream. It’s like signing a prenuptial agreement. It feels safe, but it’s ugly and false betrays the sacred vow you’re taking.

     Find the dream. Marry it, forsaking all others.

Steven Pressfield on Sin

     To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

     The humanist believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God.

     – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Can’t Have it All

     You can’t have it all. Where would you put it?

     I never really wanted it all. I wanted a lot. But not all. Some things just don’t appeal.

     I wanted a lot, though. And it seemed reasonable. I wanted to excel as a family man. I wanted to write novels and get paid for it. I wanted a stellar blog that was updated every day and earned a million positive comments. I wanted to get a degree of some kind, like mathematics or anthropology. I wanted to like under a Neem tree in rural Sindh. I wanted to rock faces at WoW, 3v3 (Shadowplay ftw!). I wanted to read every book ever written. I wanted this. I wanted that.

     But where would I put it all?

     A day is like a room. It only fits so much. And when it gets overcrowded, you run the risk of damaging some of your stuff.

     Can’t have it all. Gotta toss some stuff out. Or at least cut back.

     I tried so hard to blog every weekday while writing sermons and novels and playing with my kids and dating my wife and practicing guitar and doing yoga and reading Urdu and playing craft and doing protests and going to work and reading Hemingway and HOLY CRAP ARGH!

     Can’t do it all. Because when you try to do it all, you suck at everything.

     So I’m going to do it some.

     People first, of course. Especially the wife and kids. Because that’s where love and the future are.
Writing second. That’s the dream and I’m not ready to let it go after so much progress.

     Everything else?

     Don’t rush me. Still trying to find shelf space for the first two.

     How much are you trying to accomplish? Is it too much?

Neil Gaiman on Writing

A Writer’s Prayer

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too much;
who spreads himself too thinly with his words,
diluting all the things he has to say,
like butter spread too thinly over toast,
or watered milk in some worn-out hotel;
but let me write the things I have to say,
and then be silent, ’til I need to speak.

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too little;
a decade-man between each tale, or more,
where every word accrues significance
and dread replaces joy upon the page.
Perfectionists like chasing the horizon;
You kept perfection, gave the rest to us,
so let me earn the wisdom to move on.

But over and above those two mad spectres of parsimony and profligacy,
Lord, let me be brave, and let me, while I craft my tales, be wise:
let me say true things in a voice that is true,
and, with the truth in mind, let me write lies.

Neil Gaiman

How to Love

People say it’s hard to love. I guess it’s true sometimes.

Different people find it hard to love for different reasons.

Some folks can’t stand argumentative people. Some folks can’t stand people who think differently than they do. Some folks can’t stand mean people.

Everyone has haters. From Gandhi to Mother Theresa all the way down to Glenn Beck and John Stewart. Everyone is hated by someone. Or, at least, unloved.

Depressing, eh? Especially when you get that sneaking suspicion that you are one of those unlovers.

But there’s a way to love.

The greatest man told us to love enemies. Then he proved it was possible by walking a path of love that led him to a state-sponsered death. And while he was dying, he told his killers that he loved them. ‘Father, forgive them.’ And he showed us what God is really like.

The fact is, God loves Glenn Beck, regardless of how he makes me squirm. He loves Glenn Beck relentlessly. Passionately. With the unbridled power of a thousand suns. It doesn’t matter what Glenn Beck says or believes. God loves Glenn Beck. Because Glenn Beck carries within himself a beautiful image of God. He is, despite what I or anyone else thinks of his opinions and politics, a beautiful soul.

And when I think of that, suddenly I love Glenn Beck, too.

Pick that one person. That one person who gets you on edge every time they speak or tweet or show up on the TV screen or knock at your door.

God loves that person. Passionately. Relentlessly. With the unbridled power of a thousand suns. That person is a beautiful soul.

That’s worth loving.

Because if we could just master this one thing, the wildest part of Jesus’ most famous prayer would come true:

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

J.M. Coetzee on Barbarism and Civilization

It always pained me in the old days to see these people fall victim to the guile of shopkeepers, exchanging their goods for trinkets, lying drunk in the gutter, and confirming thereby the settlers’ litany of prejudice: that barbarians are lazy, immoral, filthy, stupid. Where civilization entailed the corruption of barbarian virtues and the creation of a dependent people, I decided, I was opposed to civilization; and upon this resolution I based the conduct of my administration.

– The Magistrate from J.M. Coetzee’s, Waiting for the Barbarians

Why I Occupy Toronto

     I was at the Occupy Toronto protest these last two days. I’ll be there a lot as the weeks go on because I think it’s an important movement.

     A lot of folks are dismissive of it. Some are downright hostile. I hear some of the arguments repeated.

     I’m told that, since I live in a wealthy country, it’s hypocritical to protest greed. Our poor, some say, are on par with the rich in many countries. I’ve heard Occupy rhetoric compared to Nazi propaganda. I’ve heard the movement dismissed as a bunch of whiny middle-class white folks who wish they could be upper-class white folks.

     All this is nothing more than a complete misunderstanding of what the Occupy movement is all about.

  • We don’t want wealth. And we don’t hate the rich, either. Our problem is with the corporate-dominated system that has created global economic inequality. Real people are starving and social mobility is a myth for many in Canada and around the world.
  • We want to start dialogue and draw people’s attention to some very pressing issues. Globally, the top 1% are using corporate power to influence governments for their own benefit. Policies are put into place that keeps the poor down and boosts the wealthy up. The few are using power in a way that abuses the many.
  • We’ve been called vague and leaderless. I suppose that’s justified because we are wildly different people. We are liberals and conservatives, libertarians and communists – all united in the realization that our current, corporately-run system is perpetuating a system of global economics that is destroying lives and pushing developing countries and the lower classes down.
  • We don’t have all the answers. We are a voice that is trying to inform people of the problem. We don’t mind if people scoff and dismiss us. We don’t mind the insulting cartoons and the people calling us lazy fools and greedy hippies. We don’t have all the answers, because our movement is about starting dialogue and asking questions. Answers will come once enough people come together and see that the problem is not that the poor don’t work hard enough or anything else so impossibly simplistic.
  • While it’s true that Canada has not been hit as hard by the recession as many other nations, there are still economic problems in our own borders. Since the 1980s, the top 20% wealthiest Canadians enjoyed a 16.4% increase in median earnings while the bottom 20% had a 20.6% drop. Nearly 5% of Canadians live at ‘Basic Needs Poverty.’ And these are, globally, good numbers.
  • The global system of corporate greed mixed with politics is against the messages of love and justice of God (Is. 10:1-3, Ez. 16:49ff).

     Now, I bet a lot of you will be disagreeing with me. I bet a lot of you are still convinced that our movement is disruptive, angry and somehow Nazi and Communist at the same time. I want to invite you, instead of posting angry things on the Internet, to come on down to St. James park and visit us. Grab some free, home-made soup and a coffee and chill in our library tent. Strike up a conversation with a stranger and ask why they are there. And ask another, too, because we’re a diverse crowd and three different people will give you three different answers. Don’t take the media’s word for what’s going on down here and don’t take mine, either. Take the time to understand us and why we’re here.

     There are three things you can do in regards to the Occupy movement, as it spreads across the world. You could ignore it, and just see what happens. You could speak out against it, calling the poor lazy and the wealthy hard-worker job creators. Or you could join the talk. Listen to us and we’ll listen to you. Because, odds are, you’re the 99%, too. And your voice is important.

Escapism in Entertainment and Religion

        Ever notice how similar religion and entertainment can be? I bet if you thought about it, you could come up with a list.

        I think about the religion I was raised in; fundamentalist evangelicalism. Nice people, more or less. All my life I heard stories about how much our human society sucked and how great it was going to be when Jesus burned everyone else up and took us away to live happily ever after. The gospel was like one of those escape route maps you find in the back pocket of the seats on airplanes. Go from A to B then C to avoid burnination.

        Alas, during my formative years, I never really heard about any of the amazing things I could do to make the world a better place. The entire focus was on abandoning ship. My religious education never encouraged me to take an interest in politics (except for being sure not to vote for people who supported gay marriage). I was rarely encouraged to care for the environment or social justice. Instead of trying to fix and redeem the world, we were content to sit back and let it burn as we wore our asbestos suits and neckties.

        Not that this is a problem specific to fundamentalism. Every religion I’ve had relationships with leans this way.

        But I’m optimistic. I think that our religious climate is starting to look at the human experience in a much more holistic way. Yay for that.

        But I fear that this obsession with escapism has trickled down into how we view our entertainment.

        Why do you read books? Why do you watch TV? Most people will say, ‘To get away for a while.’ To unplug. To let go. To escape.

        Let it never be!

        A human being, carved from dirt into the image of the divine, has poured their creative energy, inherited from God, onto a page or a screen or a canvas. They have, in their own weak and fledgling way, become a creator of worlds and stories and lives and people. With ten fingers tapping they have called something from nearly nothing. And you want to use their world as a place to escape?


        Stories are not a place for you to escape the real world. They are images of the real world. They are not idealized life, but elevated life. Through stories we see our own world ever more clearly. And through their invented wonders we more clearly see the wonders of our own world and characters and societies. Stories ‘make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water (G.K. Chesterton).’

        I beg you, friends, do not escape! Do not run away. Not to religion and not to stories. Because both of them are such mind-bogglingly powerful things that to use them only for escape seems as trite as using a jackhammer to kill a butterfly. Not only is it a supreme waste of energy, it begs the question as to why you want to kill something so beautiful as a butterfly in the first place.

Johnny Cash on Love

You can’t see it with your eyes, hold it in your hands
But like the wind that covers our land
Strong enough to rule the heart of every man,
this thing called love

It can lift you up, never let you down
Take your world and turn it all around
Ever since time nothing’s ever been found
stronger than love.

Johnny Cash, ‘A Thing Called Love’