Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: October, 2013

The Subway

I look up and down the length of the subway train while we are still in the station. There are no partitions between the cars on these newer trains. I’m able to see all the way down in both directions. I’ve never been able to do this before. It’s nice to be able to see to the ends of the train.

And it stays that way for little bit as we pull out of the station. But then, suddenly, everything goes wrong. The cars ahead of me veer off to the side. I look behind me and those cars are also twisting back and forth, crooked and foolish. My car is the only one that remains straight, as far as I can see. I’m fortunate to have walked onto this particular one, I guess.

But then I walk a little, just to see what’s going on with the car next to me. It does not seem quite as crooked as the ones beyond it. Funny, when I get there and look back, the car I was on now seems a little crooked, and this one seems straight. And when I stand on the moving hinge between them, everything seems to be bending and twisting.

Then the train stops. I can see all the way the train again. I wonder if any of us really were crooked. I wonder why I judged silly subway cars on how straight they seemed in the first place.

The thing about annoying people

The thing about annoying people, is that they don’t really exist.  Only annoyed people exist.

Normal people turn into annoyed people for lots of different reasons.  Loud noises.  Funny smells.  Hearing ideas we don’t like or seeing facial gestures that rub us harshly.  Certain perceived attitudes in others can do it.  Songs and styles and the ways people walk down the street — all these arbitrary things can turn us normal, happy people into annoyed people.

But not annoying people.  Because they don’t exist.  When I call someone annoying, I’m talking about myself more than anything.  I’m laying out the weaknesses I have in my personality that make it so when my son turns on this video for the eighth time, something yucky happens inside of me.

But it’s not the video.  It’s not my son.  It’s not anything at all but me.

And I think that means something.

The thing about university and family

Life is what goes on.  Life is what I’m doing.  Right now, even.  Writing this blog is life.  It’s not something I do in life.  Right now, it’s life.

My family is life.  Because it’s what I do.  When I roll around on the floor with Joseph, it’s life.  When I build Lego spaceships and princesses with Asha, it’s life.  When I crawl out of bed at 3am to feed Deva, it’s life.  When I slump into a chair beside Ruth for a pleasant moment with tea and anime, it’s life.  It’s not something I have to do.  It’s what I do, and that makes it life.

University is life.  Because it’s what I do.   I feel bad for these teens who have been stuck in school for twelve years.  University is just the next grade for them and I can’t imagine how hard it must be.  But for me it’s easier.  The essays and papers are not obstacles.  They are what I’m here to do.  They are life.

I have a whole lot of life going on right now.  It’s a totally different game from the one I’ve been playing.  It’s a harder game.  The controls are a lot more complex and the levels are tougher to beat.

But who wants an easy game, anyway?


I am
sitting under a red-headed maple
with a mighty sycamore off behind me, and
a tall oak from my childhood on the right.

The others have no names
and I am richer for it.

How dull it would be
if each and every tree
were fully known to me.

My Journey #5 – Not all who wander are lost.

I guess that nearly leads us to the present, in wide, sweeping brush-strokes. There was no way to tell the whole complex story, but I told enough to be comfortable with.

I also feel comfortable enough to share hints about where I seem to be right now. Not because people will understand and accept it, but because I don’t feel like I need understanding or acceptance. And, man, it feels awesome to no longer need those things.

I’ve gotten some private feedback from people wondering what I’ve replaced Christianity with. The short answer is nothing. I have not found, nor looked for, anything to replace the all-pervasive hold that Christianity had on my life.


That being said, I’m into Zen, which is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone else.  I don’t actually have anything to say about it right now.  I used to think it was a silly empty thing. And it totally is, but not in the way I thought. If you look into Zen you’ll probably get frustrated by the cryptic one-liners the old Zen masters liked to throw around.  Don’t be too hard on them.  Zen can’t be expressed without either sounding ridiculous or completely misrepresenting it. Much like the best parts of Christianity (1 Cor. 1:23).

People will say I’m wandering. And I am. I totally am. But that doesn’t make me lost, despite what my friends may say. I can’t say where I am or where I’m going, but I love this journey. And I’m always home. My destination is in each step.

I love you.
And I bet you love me, too.

My Journey #4 – The Turning

It was not hard to decide how to approach a fresh view of Scripture. Jesus first. Always Jesus first. I would start with the Gospels. It was going to be fun, because I had spent most of my spiritual study time with Paul. So I opened up the Gospel of Matthew and everything began to fall apart.

Since I was trying to read it for the first time, his words seemed charged with new power. Love your enemies. Do unto others. Walk the extra mile. Repay evil with good. I had known it all before and had lived a life doing my best to practice it. But I could feel its full weight now and it was incredible. I stood in awe of the Christ all over again.

But there was more underneath the ethics. Something that troubled me when I first saw it. Without Paul as a filter through whom to interpret Jesus, he no longer seemed Evangelical. He spoke of people being saved for acts of charity and damned for an unforgiving spirit. He sat with people of other religions and never tried to convert them.

The next few steps were harder and more complex than I’m able to express in this little post. I had a commitment to be honest with myself and the text, no matter what the authorities said. I began to see inconsistencies. They were nothing new – I had already read the Bible cover to cover more than once. I used to have ready answers for the discrepancies between the inclusive love and compassion of Jesus and the violent intolerance of Moses, Paul and Jehovah. But those ready answers didn’t seem to hold water anymore. Suddenly the stories of the Old Testament were tales of misogyny and genocide.  Paul’s ideas were typical examples of sexism and homophobia.

Those are big things to say, I know. Big huge things that I don’t even bother trying to back up. I bet that’s frustrating, and I’m sorry for that. But my purpose in telling this has never been to ‘de-convert’ anyone. I have no desire to pick apart the Bible and lay it open to specific criticisms in this post. Maybe there will be time for those kinds of discussions in the future. For now, I just want to tell my story. And my story leads me here:

I could not think of a good reason to have ever considered the Bible the authoritative, infallible Word of God in the first place.

Obviously, everything changed after that.

I had only known about sin and atonement through the Bible. I had only felt guilty for failing to keep a cosmic standard of behaviour because of the Bible. I had only believed in a personal God because of the Bible. And now the Bible was just another wonderful piece of literature. That’s when I had to admit a surprising truth to myself – I was in no way a Christian.

My Journey #3 – Hell

Every evangelical has to question hell eventually, unless they’ve had the humanity stripped from them. The idea of a loving God forever tormenting billions because they did not put their faith in Christ grates the teeth. Calvinism has a ready defense for hell: God is just, and when it looks like he isn’t just, it’s only because I am totally depraved and can’t see what real justice is. So even though it seems unjust to torment billions forever, it’s actually hunky-dory.

I used to do personal little theological studies. There was nothing better than opening up the Word, grabbing a pencil and notebook and working through some meaty theological problem. I picked up the study of hell a year or two after returning to Canada. To my surprise, though, I couldn’t find it.


The Bible presents the two roads of a life following God and a life rebelling against him as a life / death battle, not a life / torture battle. The wages of sin is death. Those who do not believe will perish. Many verses use fire as an image of judgment, but I realized that fire is mainly used to make an end of a thing, not to torture it. A few passages in Revelation seemed to hint at something that sounded like the traditional view of hell, but Revelation is all manner of crazy, and I was not comfortable building a doctrine of hell from it alone.

I realized that if I had come to the Bible without going through the church first, I never would have come up with this idea of hell. Especially considering that the Gospels paint a picture of a God so loving that He was willing to sacrifice Himself to save (some of) humanity. I wondered if I was becoming an annihilationist. I wondered what this would do to my Calvinism.

And then Rob Bell showed up and everything went nuts.

You should have seen it.  The Internet blew up with anger over this geeky pastor who wrote an artsy book that suggested our ideas of hell were wrong. One of the most influential pastors in my own life excommunicated him on Twitter before the book even came out. It gave me a chill. Would that anger have been directed at me if I had shared some of the things Scripture was showing me? I had a realization:

My faith tradition had sacred cows–at least one of which I hadn’t noticed until now. How many more unjustifiable things did I believe?

I had to attempt a fresh look at the Scripture. And I had to do it no matter what the Internet said, because Truth was, and is, so much more important than the objections of friends.

My Journey #2 – Calvinism

I was a Christian. I sought after God through the Spirit. I preached in church and counseled at Bible camp and I knew that neither of those things meant anything. I was born of God and striving to live by the Spirit. So when high school ended, I signed up for Bible college.


KLBC was the best time of my life, up to that point. I had never had such deep relationships as the ones I formed there. I had never met such deep and committed followers of Jesus. I dug through Scripture for treasures like the proverbial master of the house (Matt. 13:52). I met my wife there. I also met Calvinism.

Have you ever encountered a beautiful philosophy? A set of ideas that makes you pause, take a step back and go, “Wow”? Calvinism was one of those philosophies (or doctrines, if you prefer). From the outside, it seemed harsh and heavy, but when I dug a bit, I found something lovely. Much of Scripture seemed to imply it, and it in turn illumined much of Scripture. I was quickly convinced of its truth and I used it as I went through the next seven or eight years of my life. It wasn’t my God–it was a useful framework to understand Him.

Even though the denomination I was raised in was started by Calvinists, the philosophy had since fallen out of vogue. For the first time ever, I was standing a little bit away from the rest of my church on an issue of doctrine. Not very far, of course. But far enough for me to notice a difference. That difference allowed me to realize something I had already known:

It was up to me and the Spirit to explore the Bible and discover what I could about God, the universe and everything. While I was always willing to listen to my church, my tradition, my professors, I realized that I had to judge and seek out the answers for myself.

Even when the answers I found put me at odds with the people I loved.