MW Cook

An illiterate scribe

Category: a year of living christianly

A Sub-Cosmic Quest

Part of the power of the christianly life is the belief that it’s a quest that cannot fail. I was part of the company of the arbitrarily beloved, tasked to the Kingdom of God, and indiscriminately inviting everyone to the journey,

From Destruction to Glory
Death to Life
Hate to Love
Self to God

What’s the big story I’m trying to cast now? Can the year of living christianly reach for something beyond an experiment? I probably can’t cast the path as the high-fantastical cosmic quest it was, but it’s still a quest.

To cultivate the spiritual fruit–
from love to self-control–
against such that there can be no law.

To deny the spirit of fear,
and accept
the spirit of love and of power and of a sound mind.

To work toward an impossible kingdom
where wolf can dwell with lamb,
children lead lions and cattle,
and no one has to preach because we already know.

And maybe even to figure something out about that peace that passes understanding these old traditions keep talking about.

Christianly Cultivation and the Five Years’ Fallow

A new video where I talk about Jim Elliot, spiritual cultivation, and what it’s like to be fallow after plowing and harrowing for Christ.

 

 

So now I’m making videos

 

 

Partly because it’s often easier to talk about spiritual matters,
than type.

Partly because I like the sound of my own voice.

Partly because it’s a bit like preaching,
and preaching is christianly.

Partly so I can buy a sexy looking logo
and microphone.

And because when you write about things you think a certain way,
and it’s different from when you talk about things.

The God-Shaped Whole

(I’ve been slowing down on the blog posts because of other projects. Gonna have a new thing starting up soon. Stay tuned.)

I still love the Bible. Heck, I still have a thing for reformed theology, and the precise and careful application of a christianly spirituality. Evangelical Christianity features powerful mythos, ritual, and ethics.

But it also features a slow-to-anger-abounding-in-lovingkindess God who considers religious pluralism to be so heinous as to warrant occasional genocide and eternal hell.

And if God, who is love,
is willing to eternally immiserate
the overwhelming majority
of sentient beings
over a defect they cannot remedy
without His direct intervention

well, that could certainly mess up a person’s idea of love, couldn’t it?

If it were swallowed whole.

I’m thinking about the ex-evangelical hashtags and the harsh, brazen, and deeply important stories and conversations attached to them.

#ChristianAltFacts
#EmptyThePews
#HowToEvangelical

There’s a lot of people hurt by the church–not just by the people, or specific conflicts, or isolated incidents–by the whole thing of it because Evangelicalism is a whole life. If you’re unsure what could be wrong with the church, please read some of the threads with these hashtags. And if people seem unduly agitated about the faith we hold dear, consider what could have made them that way.

Christianly Spiritual Disciplines

You will hear from the pulpit that the Gospel is simple–so simple a child can understand. You’ll hear that Jesus wants nothing from you but belief, that all the work has already been accomplish through his life, death, and resurrection.

Just as I am thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve.

It’s theologically accurate (according to those who consider it accurate), but it’s not the full picture of the Christian(ly) life. After regeneration comes growth in grace and knowledge, conformity to the image of Christ, slow transformation into the ideal version of oneself. This happens by the work of the Spirit, through the spiritual disciplines. The disciplines are how Christians abide with Christ.

Some Christianly Spiritual Disciplines: 
Scripture (reading meditating memorizing)
Prayer (habitual liturgic fasting)
Worship (private public artistic)
Agape (love without condition)

From a secular point of view the disciplines exercise certain cognitive mechanisms that seem to help people overcome obstacles and thrive at life. Quite a few studies suggest interesting benefits from habitual mediation, for example. There aren’t a lot of studies on the effects of Christian disciplines. I think “eastern” practises appeal to the secular west because they don’t carry the baggage of being part of the religion of our forefathers.

Also, you don’t need to believe in Buddha to do Anapanasati.
Maybe you don’t need to believe in the Christian stories to partake in their disciplines, either.

I like the idea of sanctification–slowly but surely growing into a wiser and more virtuous version of myself. I often wonder if this transformation is the essence of spirituality. I sometimes hear people disparage those who don’t chose a religion but still call themselves spiritual. I don’t think you need to be religious to be spiritual, but the runner trains for the race, working daily to refine and empower their performance. Surely some discipline is involved in any spiritual path.

Morning Devos: Moses and Resistance

In Exodus chapter 4, Moses has Pressfield-style Resistance. He saw the impossible: the unburnt burning bush. It was a perspective-widening experience that changed how he sees everything, and he knows, more or less, what he’s supposed to do next. But he’s afraid and doubting.

Doubt 1: They will not believe me (my contribution won’t be respected or validated and thus will not matter)

Stick into a snake (and back again)!
that cool thing you do where a thing turns into something else–you’ll be able to do it again

Hand all leprous (and back again)!
that time it looked like it was all over but then it got better–that happens too

Water into blood (it isn’t coming back)!
failing all else, pouring your heart out onto the sand should be convincing

Doubt 2: I am not eloquent (i’m so dumb when i talk it’ll invalidate my whole thing)

Who hath made man’s mouth?
the complex wirings and intricate circumstances that have arisen to form your supposed deficiencies are part of the same system that makes up even your most treasured conceptions of self

I will be with thy mouth.
trust the soup

Doubt 3: Send by the hand of whom thou wilt (i can’t think of any other excuses at the moment but just please not me)

The Levite your brother can speak well. #angerkindled
you don’t have to do it alone but you do have to do it

“OK”

And Moses took his wife and sons,
and set them upon an ass,
and he returned to the land of Egypt
and took the rod of God in his hand.

Morning Devo: Habakkuk and Colonialism

We have an overwhelming tendency to read ourselves into the good guys of our myths. We identify with heroically flawed characters like Peter and Paul before Judas. We’re Jacob instead of Esau. We’re Job, not his three idiot friends. But sometimes the text is just so jarring we can’t help but apply it to our own selves.

Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against they soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity. Habakkuk 2:8-12

The house that is built on oppression and the spoiling of other nations sits under the judgement of God. Even though I don’t believe, it unnerves me. Colonial legacy is a blinding log in the eye of the Christendom. It hasn’t been thoroughly repented of.

On that note, here’s some angry-sounding ska to start your weekend:

Resurrection Stories and a Resolution

At my parents’ church on Easter Sunday we heard stories of lives changed by the resurrected Christ. Broken relationships mended. Addictions overcome. Courageous rising to meet heart-shaking challenges. All this because Jesus was killed on a tree, and rose from the dead, breaking the power of self-destruction and hate, and empowering those who believe to walk in newness of life. It’s an incredible story. It’s an unbelievable story.

Resolved, never to be so cynical to deny the real power of stories I don’t believe in.

Morning Devos: Seeing God’s Floor in Exodus 24

One day, at the mountain, God tells Moses to bring the ruling class of Israel up for dinner.

And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink. Exodus 24:10-11

Imagine one of the nobles, coming home after supping with God.

“What was He like?”

“His floor was…so blue. Clear as the sky.”

“But what was He like?”

“He didn’t lay a hand on me.

“…”

Big revelations and encounters cannot be easily put into words. We resort to phrases like, You had to be there, when the story doesn’t hit our hearers the way it hits us. This is probably why most worldviews, besides your own, look trite or foolish or just plain wrong.

Reality created itself by accident? That’s just stupid!

A deity with an elephant head? How silly!

God kills himself to stop himself from killing us? Give me a break!

A dinner party with Yahweh and a shiny blue floor? What a fairy-tale!

Every meaningful experience has something in it that is ineffable. When we meet something real, sometimes the only thing we can put into words is the floor.

And, man oh man, it was clear as the sky.

Palm Sunday Report

It’s Palm Sunday today and I’m a quarter through my year of living christianly. Here’s some observations:

  • It wasn’t hard to lay down a habit of waking early and spending decent time in meditative reading. The habit has opened my mornings up, and it feels like there are more hours in the day.
  • The first few months were emotionally intense. This is a deliberate understatement. I never felt such sadness and anxiety before, though I could sense a healing thread in it all. I think I had to properly mourn my loss of faith a while.
  • I can sit and chew on a piece of myth or devotional reading without believing that any of it actually happened and still find worthwhile nuggets to carry with me and change mt outlook on life.
  • I haven’t been to church for about a month. I’d like to blame school and term papers, but the fact is, church is meant to be a community of like-minded spiritual pilgrims. It grows hard to sit as an outsider. I’ll be back, though.
  • Digging into Scripture and dense spiritual literature is invigorating. I’d forgotten.