MW Cook

An illiterate scribe

Category: a year of living christianly

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.

 

Christianly Book Review #3: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

Puritan writings are an acquired taste. I loved them while I was a Believer, and was growing an impressive library of Puritan Paperbacks. As my faith began to deconstruct, I went through a misguided minimalistic phase and purged nearly all my books. I regretted it almost immediately. Then I found Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed in a thrift shop last year.

richard_sibbesPuritan spirituality is rigorous, promising great reward for those who walk the path and predicting serious trouble for those who won’t. The Bruised Reed is full of beautiful, comforting words. But there’s a lot I can’t resonate with anymore. Reading it was a bitter and beautiful reminder of the complex and rigorous spirituality I loved, devoted to “the constant progress of Christ’s gracious power, until he has set up an absolute government in us which shall prevail over all corruptions” (77).

If you’re a Believer, consider the Puritans. They had many of blind spots, and sometimes great ignorance. But nuggets of wisdom are almost everywhere you look, and the Puritans were keen on growing wisdom. Despite some serious problems (you’ll see them if you read them) the Puritans plowed a fertile field for spiritual gleanings.

This book speaks to me from the strangest place; in a form I love, Sibbes presents a path I cannot follow. I read it with a pen in hand (because that’s how you have to read the Puritans), so I’ll share a few lines that struck me, without comment or context.

Truth fears nothing so much as concealment, and desires nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all. (27)

Let men take heed of taking up Satan’s office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others. (32)

Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. …The strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak. … The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. (33)

What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? (36)

Under this gracious covenant, sincerity is perfection. (37)

It is better that the water should run somewhat muddily than not run at all. (42)

It is better to enjoy the benefit of light, though with smoke, than to be altogether in the dark. (49)

Sin against conscience is as a thief in the candle, which spoils our joy, and thereby weakens our strength. (61)

Again, remember this, that Christ rules us by a spirit of love, from a sense of his love, whereby his commandments are easy to us. He leads us by his free Spirit, a Spirit of liberty. His subjects are voluntaries. (81)

Those, therefore, that are enemies of knowledge help Satan and antichrist, whose kingdom, like Satan’s, is a kingdom of darkness. (85)

No wicked man can be a wise man. (90)

Love once kindled is strong as death. (97)

What the heart likes best, the mind studies most. (103)

It has been a successful way of corrupting the judgment, to begin by withdrawing love. (103)

See a flame in a spark, a tree in a seed. See great things in little beginnings. (124)

 

Exvangelical Devotions: The End of Job

God shows up and is all, Who’s darkening counsel without knowledge? Then, in four chapters, God tells Job all the things he’ll never understand or accomplish. Job listens, puts his hand over his mouth, and withdraws his complaint.

From the pulpit I’ve heard that the answer to Job is kind of an expansion of Isaiah 55:8; “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” Basically, God knows what’s up and we ought to trust that everything will work out and Job got his money back and new kids so, over all, there is a justice to the world.

My interpretation is a bit different. See, God keeps coming back to the same kinds of questions. Where does light live? Does rain have a father? Can you bind the constellations? Will the unicorn serve thee, doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and all that? The end of that matter is that the question falls fully apart. Why do the innocent suffer? Where is snow is stored for winter? It isn’t. It just doesn’t make sense.

The three friends are moved by this revelation to bring food and throw down some money for Job to get back on his feet. They stop blaming. They stop trying to figure out the Story. They just help.