Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: February, 2012

Doing Nothing

I’m very nearly done the last revision of my novel.  It’s holding steady at about 181,000 words.  Keeps me pretty busy.  So busy that I hardly have a moment to blog, except from my phone while sitting here on the bus.  When I’m busy like this I become thankful that I’m good at the art of doing nothing.

Have you ever done nothing?  I don’t mean vegging in front of the TV or spacing out in a video game.  Have you ever done nothing?

We have been programmed to think that if what we are doing is not making money or moving toward making money, we are wasting time.  As if our role as humans is to be productive. As if there is some virtue in moving matter from one place and in one form to another.  And so we work long hours and feel guilty when we take breaks, as if we owe some cosmic force a time quota.

But I don’t think that way.  I only allow myself to get as busy as I want to be.  And sometimes I just do nothing.  Nothing.

I sit there.  The clocks slow.  I don’t sleep or rest or escape.  I don’t listen to music or turn on the TV.  I just sit and enjoy sitting.

We are not really a pleasure-driven culture.  We are driven by entertainment and productivity.  We are always doing one or the other.  But when was the last time you just sat?

Rousseau on Property

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, thought of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have been spared if someone had pulled up the stakes and filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to everyone and that the earth itself belongs to no one!’

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men

The Nameless Crowd

     I recently gave a talk about global economics and Christianity. It’s a pretty simple topic to go on, really. All you need to do is show how mind-bogglingly screwed up the distribution of wealth and resources is, then point to the bucketful of prophets and apostles who say that if we aren’t fixing it we’re working against God’s will. I’ve given talks like this a few times in different churches.

     But something slapped me in the face this time.

     I was reading up on the story Jesus told about Dives and Lazarus. You’ve heard the story. Lazarus was a beggar who lived outside of Dives’ house. He was destitute, homeless and covered in painful sores. Dogs used to lick them. The he died. Jesus says that after he died he got carried by angels to a nice place. Then Dives died. His place wasn’t nearly so nice. Jesus suggests guilt on Dives because of Lazarus. Not necessarily because it was Dives who caused Lazarus’ destitution, but because he didn’t give a damn.

     The neatest thing, though, is that Dives didn’t really have a name. If you read the story itself, it just calls him ‘The Rich Man’. Dives is just Latin for rich man. Meanwhile the dying beggar, covered in disease, is called Lazarus. Jesus gives this character the name of one of his best buddies.

     The wealthy, influential and, likely, well-admired hard-working dude is nameless. He’s a nobody. A stat on a page. Just the rich guy.

     The beggar, dying in the streets, ignored and forgotten in his suffering, has a name. A beloved name. A name that people like Jesus care about. Suddenly, in the midst of his horrible circumstance, Jesus gives that character dignity, while subtly taking it away from the one we would have thought was important.

     If you’re reading this blog, I’d wager that you are rich. At least in the top ten percent of wage-earners in the world. And since you have the Internet, you probably know about the suffering that goes on in the world, just like the unnamed rich man did. He did nothing about it, and lost his dignity and importance.

The rich man was guilty because he ignored the poor man’s plight, did nothing about his destitution, failed to use his affluence to relieve the poor man’s need, and acquiesced in a situation of gross economic inequality which had dehumanized Lazarus and which he could have remedied. The pariah dogs who licked the poor man’s wounds showed more compassion towards him that the rich man. Dives went to hell not because he had exploited Lazarus, but because of his scandalous indifference and apathy.
– John Stott – Issues Facing Christians Today


     Yesterday, a jillion people uttered the words, “I love you.”

     I think that’s nice. Good for you, jillion people.

     I’ve heard it said that those three words are the nicest words anyone can hear. But I think there are two better ones.

     “I understand.”

     I get you. I see where you’re coming from. I can see how that makes sense. I respect that.

     Me and my wife, believe it or not, disagree on stuff. And not just little stuff like who should pick the kid up from school. Large, world-view kinda stuff. Stuff that would get one or both of us kicked out of certain clubs and circles. I was once warned that these sorts of disagreements would lead to marital problems.

But as love covers a multitude of sins,
So also does understanding cover a multitude of opinions.

     I never ask Ruth to see things the way I do. That would be ridiculous and evil. All I ask is that she understand. And she does. Readily. Quickly. With a smile and a funny quip. And I understand her. We see where each other is coming from, even when we’re not coming from the same place.

     And I think that’s one of the main reasons why our relationship is so good. People are always tempted to base their love on something.

     “Why do you love me?”
     “Because you’re clever.”
     “Because you make me laugh.”
     “Because you’re nice.”
     “Because my body wants your body.”
     “Because you think like I do.”

     Why do we love each other? None of the above. No reason. At least, none that I can think of.

     Sure, Ruth is clever and she makes me laugh and she’s nice and my body certainly wants her body. But if all those things were gone, the love would still be there. The love just is. So I’m not threatened when her mind and conscience take her to a different place than my mind and conscience take me. When we are in different place, we find that we can still hold hands despite the distance. We respect each other’s minds and don’t judge each other.

     Someone once asked, “But what will you teach your kids if you disagree on so many things?”

     Silly, haven’t you been listening? We will teach them love and understanding. Everything else is optional.


     Does entropy ever bother you?

     They say that all energy will eventually fizzle and turn useless. They say the universe will turn cold and all life and information and movement will cease. All the songs will be silenced. All the stories will be forgotten. Every trace of human wisdom, love, and hope will fade from the cosmos, leaving not even an echo behind. So it goes.

     The thought makes me shudder.

     It makes you shudder, too, even though you know you won’t be around to experience it. There is something deeply disturbing about end of all things. About the final death. It’s sick. It’s perverted. It’s madness.

     I think we’ve always seen it coming. The ancients knew that all good things come to an end. But they didn’t accept it. They couldn’t. They raged against it.

     The ancient seers flung out their prophecies, calling for the ultimate death of death. They claimed that all these decaying things around us would be reconciled and made well again. They spoke of a pinnacle of existence, better than the one we find ourselves in, where there is no entropy. They claimed that those who sought after glory, honor, and immortality would be a part of it.

     Sounds too good to be true.

     But, you know, it’s the madness of entropy that makes me think those prophets could be right. It’s the utter terror of the thought of nothingness that makes me think there could never be nothing. That makes me dare to hope that our stories will never fully fade away. That makes be wonder if death, indeed, will die.

     Eternity is bound up in the heart of Man. Does that suggest we are meant to dwell in a realm that does not decay?

     I think so.

     I may be wrong. It could be that this universe is all there is. It could be that when the last human fades and dies, all our spirit and love will die with him or her.

     Or perhaps the kingdom of heaven will come. And death will be brought to trial and done away with. And perhaps the stories and songs will never end and the sun will never set. And perhaps the weight of affliction of this dark world will not be worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed on that day. And we will laugh and dance with those ancient prophets who searched the human and divine spirit to predict that glorious morning.

     Either way, what can we do but rage against the dying of the light?

     So it goes.

2011 Review

I got nothing for you this morning, friends. So here’s my favourite posts from 2011:

Maybe I Can’t

     Maybe I never will.

     Maybe my dreams will be stillborn. Maybe I’ll be a wage-slave for the rest of my life.

     Maybe all the shiny, happy things that dance in my head will stay in my head and never come out. Maybe all the naysayers are right. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not smart enough.

     But I’ll be damned if I don’t try.

     It’s hard. But I refuse to utter that God-damned word – can’t.

     Because can’t, like death, is so final. But life, like try is so full of possibilites. So full of hope.

     So there, naysayers. So there, thou fel voices in my head. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’ll point your fingers at me in twenty years and laugh and say ‘Told you so! Told you so!’

     But when you do, I’ll smile back and say ‘I’m still alive, silly. Point your fingers at me once I am dead, because I’ve not given up yet!’

On Vegetarianism

     I’ve been a vegetarian for nine months. Last night my son declared himself to be a vegetarian, too, while eating a plate of shepherd’s pie. I pointed out that the beef he was eating was dead cow and, therefore, not vegetarian. He frowned, looked me in the eye and said “Why did you give it to me, then?” He’s decided to try vegetarianism out, and I couldn’t be more excited. I don’t actually believe he will stick with it, he’s only six after all, but I love that he’s thinking about these things.

     There are many reasons I’ve chosen to live meat-free. In the end, it’s a personal choice and matter of conscience. Here’s a few thoughts that led me in this direction:

  • The millions who are starving. The amazing inefficiency of producing animal flesh for food is what made me think about vegetarianism in the first place. Never before have humans consumed so much meat. Most of us say that a meal isn’t a meal without meat, and that sentiment is unprecedented in human history. It’s a bit ironic for me, because I grew up in a church where I was told global hunger was caused by Hindus who sinfully refused to eat cows (seriously, I was told this!). Meanwhile, it takes about sixteen pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. Most of the earth’s farmland is devoted to producing meat. A global shift away from meat would drive food prices down world-wide and be another blow against world hunger.
  • The cause of non-violence. I am against violence in all forms. Factory farms, where the cast majority of our meat comes from (including organic meat) are sinfully violent. The cows, pigs and chickens are treated in ways that would be illegal if they were cats. I may not think that animals have the divine spark of godhood that humans have, but they are still living creatures like us and I cannot justify causing them to suffer for the sake of my appetite. I abstain for the sake of Jesus’ Path of Peace.
  • My health and well-being. Since removing meat from my diet, I’ve never felt so good. It’s had positive effects on my body, energy and emotional well-being. Even if I did not care about starving people or suffering animals, I would still consider vegetarianism for the benefits I am getting from it.
  • The environment. The UN has issued a report citing animal agricultural as having an effect on the environment nearly on par with the consumption of fossil fuels. And if you know anything about fossil fuels, you know that’s hefty!

     I’m not actually trying to convince anyone to abstain from meat. I’ve made a personal choice based on my conscience. Everyone has to make their own choices, looking to their own consciences. I do think, however, that we humans need to be more mindful about what we eat. We are mindful about our other animal appetites, like sex, and we built spiritual rules around them. I think we need to do the same in regards to the things we eat, don’t you?