MW Cook

an ex-evangelical doing a year of living christianly

Category: a year of living christianly

An Unbeliever’s Prayer

Sometimes I pray that God would

create in me a clean heart
renew in me a right spirit
have his presence go with me
and restore the joy of my salvation

What can that mean to someone like me who does not believe
in God,
or cleanness of heart,
or salvation?

A clean heart can be unclouded desires
A renewed right spirit can be an energetic and positive attitude
The presence of God can cast out fear
The joy of my salvation can be ultimate gratitude with my state and rituals

That works

Biblical Fiction: “Not Wanted on the Voyage” and “The Red Tent”

I’ll start reading any stories based on Bible stories. Ancient myths of all kinds are like fertile fields that grow new crops every time they’re sown. My favourites, so far, are Timothy Findley’s “Not Wanted on the Voyage” and Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent.” 

They’re completely different kinds of books.

“Not Wanted on the Voyage” is a deep and whimsical fantasy about Noah’s Ark.

“The Red Tent” is a stark and realistic portrayal of the life of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter.

Both of them grabbed me deeply.

Meanwhile, I have given up on Gore Vidal’s “Live From Golgotha.” It’s funny, clever, and I just can’t bring myself to finish it. The premise is interesting: time travelers want to shoot the crucifixion for NBC. There’s wit and anachronisms everywhere. But I just don’t care.

I’m wondering what Findley and Diamant have that Vidal (in this book anyway) does not. Here are my thoughts:

  • All three are willing to turn the patriarchs on their heads, but Findley and Diamant make it serve the story. Noah and Yahweh are hugely problematic characters in “Not Wanted on the Voyage.” Diamant paints Jacob just as double-sided as the Bible. There is irreverence, but not for its own sake. The irreverence serves the story.
  • Findley and Diamant dig deep when the suffering comes. They refuse to shy away from the depths of human hurt–and human apathy. But Vidal’s light touch makes nearly everything that happens in the story light. And since it is light, it doesn’t matter.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Diamant and Findley make me CARE SO MUCH about the characters. Like, ruin your day kinda care. Meanwhile, I can’t bring myself to invest much in the people in “Live From Golgotha,” despite its very interesting premise.

So if you’re looking for some really good Biblical fiction, pick up Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” and Timothy Findley’s “Not Wanted on the Voyage.” Both are engrossing, gripping, and more than worth your time. 

And if you want something that smacks like an irreverent Douglas Adams, “Live From Golgotha” might be for you.

Jeremiah’s Dirty Underwear

The LORD was appalled with the nation that called themselves after his name. They oppressed the strangers, the fatherless, the widows, and shed innocent blood all over the place. They churned out wickedness like a fountain spewing forth water. The prophets lied. The priests chased political power. The congregates loved it. The pastors were brutish and did not seek the loving-kindness of their God. They did not grieve. They made their faces harder than rocks. They refused to repent. They had faith that they were God’s nation, even though they didn’t act like it. Time for an object lesson.

The LORD called Jeremiah.

“Get yourself some new underwear. Something nice, made of linen. Wear it, and don’t wash it.”

Jeremiah did that.
A few days later, the word of the LORD came again.

“Take it off, and hide it under a rock by the river.”

Jeremiah did that.
Many days later, the word of the LORD came again.

“Go back and fetch that gitch. How does it look?”

Pretty bad.

“This evil people,” saith the LORD, “which refuse to do justice and live the loving-kindness they claim I am full of, are just like this loincloth: good for nothing.”

Lament

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (Rembrandt)

“Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Lam. 3:48)

As a religion, Christianity may have failed. Not because of its roots, but its branches.

Because it has become a tool for oppressors,

and the watchers on the wall have either not noticed,

or have sided themselves with antichrists:

Scribes
Pharisees
Pilates
Caesars

They rail against the marginalized, forgetting that the Christ-followers are called to empty themselves.

Like Christ, who did not consider his privilege something to be grasped and squandered,
but
poured
out
for the benefit of many.

The holy city sinned.

Her prophets and pastors see vain and foolish things. They do not expose their people’s sin, but glory in their own self-righteousness. They lay false burdens on those who trust them.

I weep for my people, the Church. Evangelicalism has become a byword because her leaders side with oppressors instead of the Samaritan, the adulterous, and the crucified thief.

Justly do her enemies wag their heads.

 

On Abuse and Hell

I’ve heard it said that teaching your children that Hell is real is a kind of child abuse. That jarred me. Billions of people believe in Hell—most of the disagreement is just over who has to go there.

But I can see how belief in Hell can be hurtful.

It teaches that the most loving being in the universe is still cruel enough to hurt you forever.

Stop. Don’t throw down your easy reply about the holiness of God just yet. Let it sink in that the Author of love is willing to pour eternal misery on you.

What kind of love is learnt from a Father like this?

Of course, if Hell is real and the go-to place for those of us who can’t muster belief, then not telling people about Hell is abusive.

Praise be, then, that it’s not a Biblical concept in the first place.

Christianly Book Review: Life at the End of Us Vs Them by Marcus Peter Rempel

images“The warnings I offer here do not come out of a superior religion but out of a failed religion

Marcus Peter Rempel’s book, “Life at the End of Us vs Them,” is a seriously thought-provoking view of Christianity and its place in our “strange, endtime world.” Drawing on René Girard and Ivan Illich, Rempel presents a view of the Cross that necessarily undermines any power structure that would try to build on it.

The crucifixion of Christ, he argues, is not best seen as a judicial act of substitutionary atonement. Instead, it is something like God identifying with the most marginalized individuals, the most hated outcasts, the people who society crucifies. “It is by taking on the viewpoint of those it marginalizes that Cross-formed culture comes to be accurately mapped, and more justly remade” (13). Rempel takes this understanding, and applies it to his relationships with “those who are his other: women, queer folk, refugees, Muslims, atheists, and Indigenous people.”

Here’s what I like about this view of the Cross: it reminds you of everything at once. It reminds you that you are part of the system that crucifies innocents. At the same time, it offers to forgive you. And it bids you pick up your cross, and follow in that way of looking at the world–that the “least of these” is, somehow, the Christ. It shifts the view from Us-Them to I-Thou. Frankly, it reminds us that Jesus never meant to convert the world. Yes, he meant for his Way to go out into all the world, but not to colonize it. Not to become the oppressor.

The Cross will always glare accusingly at any system or person that tries to use it as a tool of oppression. It undermines all sacred violence. It perpetually strips the sacred cloth from the temple, showing it to be empty. The violence we thought we did in God’s name was actually against his own son. All persecution persecutes the Christ. Christianity as a religion, Rempel argues, has failed insofar as it has been complicit in violence.

At least, that’s how it could work. From what I read on the Internets, I don’t see a reconciliation between Church and the vulnerable anytime soon. If it’s possible, though, for follows of Christ to sit with the very marginalized instead of always being seen beside the oppression, this book gives clues on how it will be done.

I heartily recommend this book to people who want to take the Bible seriously and are troubled by the dissonance between Church and Christ. If you believe that substitutionary atonement is the only correct way of understanding the Cross, you will probably balk at a lot of what Rempel has to say. Consider, though, that both Scripture and Church have cast the Cross in different lights to glean fresh insights from that wonderful tragic event. Rempel offers a light that the Church today would do well to meditate on, even if she can’t swallow the whole thing.

A Christian and Two Ex-Believers in a Pink Room

Ruth and I sat down with P.J. Tremblay, A.K.A. P’Jamz. We all met at Bible college a couple life-times ago. We had a great conversation about the faith and losing it and keeping it and how we can all start to speak the same language.

P’Jamz recently released his an LP, Foibles & Fiction. Songs like Proud and Odd One Out candidly talk about the fallout from losing faith. Go to his Audio4n6 Site to check him out and buy his album.

 

Sit in on our conversation on the Audio4n6 channel. There’s a lot here, and it’s been split up into convenient little chapters:

Part 1 — How we all got to Bible college

Part 2 talks about evangelism and missions

Part 3 — the uses and abuses of Christianity

Part 4 talks about what it takes to be successful at religion

Part 5 — how if religions don’t change, they don’t endure

Part 6 makes Ruth choke on water

Part 7 — childlike curiosity

Part 8 reminds us there are a few things to keep

Part 9 — the power religion can provide

Part 10 talks about how hard it sometimes is to talk about this stuff

Conversation with Derek Webb

Derek Webb’s music has been important to me since 1999. Songs like Not the Land and Wedding Dress provided vocabulary for aspects of my spiritual journey that other believing artists wouldn’t touch. Faith My Eyes and Lover were soothing anthems during my missionary days. His most recent album, Fingers Crossed, is a tale of spiritual and marital divorce. It’s about losing faith and family. It’s sad and beautiful and if you’ve ever lost faith go listen to Goodbye, for Now and cry a bit.

I sat down with Derek last week at before his house show in Buffalo. We had a great conversation about his music, what’s left over after faith is gone, and the time he nearly killed RC Sproul. Watch the video below, or at Youtube where there are handy chapter divisions in the description.

Go buy Derek’s music and tickets to his few remaining house shows at derekwebb.com

A Knee-Jerk Reaction to the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

I made the mistake of skimming the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel while I was setting up for a completely different video. If you ever wanted to hear me in angry preacher mode, here’s your chance.

As you can see, the statement got me all worked up. This is my unprepared response, so take it with whatever grains of salt you need. I may say more on the statement if I can bring myself to get into John MacArthur’s headspace.

If you’re a believer, read the statement for yourself and ask if these affirmations and denials are what the gospel is about, or if the church is inventing gnats to strain from their camel pie.

An Anxious Evangelist

I am anxious. Especially around other people. You should see me at Costco. Actually, you shouldn’t. And if you do, stay out of my way because I may have a panic attack or run you down in a frantic attempt to escape. I dread nothing more than encounters with others.

In college I became an evangelist. My first time handing out tracts I almost passed out. It never got easier, but I kept doing it anyway. Sketchboard Evangelism. Open air preaching. Intentional friendships with shopkeepers and strangers in Ontario and Sindh with an eye to sharing my great and glorious salvation. Absolutely terrifying. But there was a script / story / drama that gave me the power to rise above myself:

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9

The fear didn’t hold be back because I believed Christ was the only one who could heal the nations, and if the knowledge of him filled the earth, all hurt would end. My own anxiety was nothing compare to the eternal weight of glory that was promised. It helped me do difficult, powerful things.

I still want to work for a story that brings healing.
But the script is no longer simple.
I don’t think a single way is possible.
The gods, being greater than us, are not likely jealous.

I do, though, miss the script that made me do the things I “knew” I couldn’t do.