Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Category: Archive

Up @ Night #10 – Being Called Cool

I have some funny thoughts swimming around my head. I share them when they seemed to have matured enough to stand and fight on their own. So I release them into the world and, of course, they sometimes meet opposing thoughts and enter into battle. I get that. Nay, I expect that. How else can we know if my thoughts have any merit if I don’t let them battle? It would be like having a pokemon stay in his pokeball and never fight. It wouldn’t grow. It wouldn’t get any stronger. Useless.

So when there are conflicts of ideas flying around, I get encouraged. I like it. It means we’re all a bunch of thinking animals just trying to think better. Wonderful.

Until I get called trendy or cool. Then all the happiness dies. Dies hard.

This is how it happens. Someone says, “It seems to me that A=C+B.”
His opponent replies, “I believe that A=C-B.”
The first Someone counters, “Ah, that’s a very trendy belief for you to hold. Many cool and trendy people are starting to hold that now. You must have jumped on board that new and cool and trendy bandwagon to believe such a cool and trendy thing.”
The opponent stutters and withers away, his argument somehow dismantled without any critical thought at all.

There is nothing worse in a debate than this sort of circle. But you see it all the time.
“That’s just post-modern drivel.”
“You’re just saying that because you’re from the conservative camp.”
“I can’t accept that liberal nonsense.”
“I know it’s very fashionable for you to say that, but you’re wrong.”
“That’s not a real opinion, that’s just you trying to be politically correct.”
“Hmph, I guess you’ve been taken in by the Emergent crowd, eh?”

News flash for people who love to discuss: No one believes anything because they think it’s cool! They believe it because they think it’s right. Not because it’s politically correct. But because they think it’s just plain correct.

And when you take part in a discussion and you suggest the other person is trying to be trendy or politically correct or enamored with emergent sexiness, please realize what you are implying. You are implying that your friend has no brain at all. That he’s a zombie who has been spoon-fed and brainwashed. That he is so very weak in the head that he has no business running his own life.

So don’t say crap like that. It hurts.

Come up with a relevant comment instead.

The Case for Idealism

He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did. It’s your father’s lightsaber. – Obi-Wan Kenobi

No one could ever really disagree with the ultimate goodness of the wildly idealistic advice of Jesus and the idealistic way the first Jesus-followers ordered their lives. Here you have a teacher who claims it’s best to allow slap you twice, give aid and comfort to your enemies and to give more than you’re forced to give. Here’s a group of people who sold everything that was superfluous and shared it with one another and with the poor. Here’s a philosophy of life built on that wildly idealistic and, most would say, unrealistic charge: Do as you would be done by.

Idealistic. Unreasonable. Too high.

Because if I am slapped and I allow my attacker to slap me again, I’ll get hurt. If I don’t resist my enemies, they will cause more suffering. If I give aid and comfort to the opposition, I am a traitor. If I sell all I have and share it with like-minded Jesus-followers, I won’t be able to enjoy God’s material blessings. If I do unto others as I would be done by, I won’t have much time left for myself.

And so we feel like we have no choice but to pull back from the ideals laid out by Jesus and the first Jesus-followers. Because they’re unreasonable. Because they hurt. Because, while they look good on paper and make a great pie-in-the-sky ethic, they just don’t work in the real world.

And there is the tragedy. Because there is only one reason that the high ideals of Jesus don’t work in the real world: The world isn’t living by them.

And there is only one reason why the world isn’t living by them: The world does not follow Jesus.

And there is only one reason why the world does not follow Jesus: They do not value his Way as the best way.

And there is only one reason why they do not value his Way as the best way: Those who claim to follow him are not living out the wild, pie-in-the-sky ideals Jesus laid out, which would show to the world how glorious and wonderful and happy and freeing and energizing it is to be a part of the Jesus Movement.

And there is only one reason why those who claim to follow Jesus are not living out his wild ideals: They think they don’t work in the real world.

And we come to the end of a sad and pathetic circle. And we sit in our churches and bemoan the ethical state of our culture and cannot understand why people do not come to seek our Jesus. And we rarely stop and think, ‘Why would they seek a philosophy not unlike every other philosophy they are offered?’

I suggest that if we threw caution into the wind and lived in the manner expounded by Jesus and displayed by the first Jesus-followers, the moral decline of the planet would cease as everyone slowly came to see the beauty of the Jesus-life. It would be hard for the first who tried. But nothing good is ever easy, is it?

Hallowed Thoughts

Halloween gets a bad rap. And I can understand why. There’s something kinda creepy about pretending to be dead things. I get that. I also get how Halloween tends to encourage consumerism and poor lifestyle choices (though not nearly so much as Christmas). And, let’s face it, wandering the dark streets on a crisp autumn day doesn’t sound like much fun at all.

But as I took the kids out Trick or Treating last night a few thoughts hit me that nearly fully redeemed the holiday in my mind.

  • – Halloween encourages community. When else would you ever knock on your neighbour’s door? When would you go out of your way to meet new people?
  • – Halloween encourages giving. And not the quid pro quo giving that goes on at Christmas. Halloween giving can’t be repaid. Those funny-looking kids have no means to repay you for your handfuls of goodies. That’s a Jesus kinda giving.
  • – Halloween reminds you that there are other people living on your street and in your town. And in a culture like ours, where the national past-time is staying inside with the people you already know, that’s a good reminder to have.
  • – Halloween reminds you of death. Creepy, eh? But I feel sometimes like we are a society of immortals. Death is pushed aside and given fake names (Oh, he passed away). Halloween is a modern Danse Macabre. And through it we have no choice but to remember the frailty of life and the worthlessness of earthly glory.
  • -Halloween lets you dress up, and that’s just way too fun!

So give Halloween a chance!


Have you ever been here before? Your kid is on the playground, having a blast with the other urchins (not sea urchins, mind you – they are not for children). Something happens. Someone gets hurt. Someone’s in trouble. A child goes to complain to his mother and, the next thing you know, you are in an awkward situation where a parent is telling you that your child has done wrong and something needs to be done about it.

And what is expected of a parent at this point? A stern look married with stern words. Perhaps some sort of disciplinary measure. And, the most important thing of all, an apology from the offending child to the crybaby offended child.

And that is where everything, for me, falls apart. Because I am a rogue parent. I commit a great sin whenever my child does something he oughtn’t. I never, ever force him to claim he is sorry for something he has done.

Do you think that’s dumb of me? Hear me out first.

  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, 95% of the time I’m telling him to lie. He’s not really sorry. In the heat of the situation he doesn’t care much about the offended sensibilities of the other kid or the angry mother.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I devalue the entire idea of regret and remorse. It means nothing if it can be forced out of you.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am teaching him that saying certain words will get him out of a bad situation.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am robbing him of the inhibitions that we all have to keep us from doing things artificial.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am dancing to the beat of another parent’s drum. I care more about getting our of an awkward situation than about my own child’s development.
  • My kids don’t say sorry nearly as often as others, it’s true. But that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Because when Joe, having done something wrong, comes up to me and says “Papa, please forgive me” (and, yes, he actually uses those words!) I can see in his eyes and tone that he is serious. When my son says that he feels remorse and that he is sorry for something, he actually means it. That’s worth a handful of awkward playground experiences, yes?

The Man Jesus

You know what’s funny about this picture? How completely out of place Jesus seems. Check out the disciples. They are crammed together, vigorously communicating with each other and engaged in action. Jesus sits above all that, with his own generous portion of personal space and with his hands held out, as if he is perfectly still and at perfect peace.

What a silly painting.

We’ve always emphasized the deity of Christ at the expense, I think, of his humanity. We can see this in nearly all traditional Christian art. Jesus is always serene with a couple fingers in the air and halos and flaming organs and whatnot. But as I read the gospels, I don’t get the impression that he had a halo or any body parts in flame.

We forget that Jesus was a man. And that’s tragic.

  • When we forget Jesus was a man, one of the most important reasons for the incarnation is destroyed. That is, to show God in a way that we can understand.
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we make him into a transcendent, ethereal being worthy of worship and reverence, but not imitation.
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we allow ourselves to follow him only until the point where we no longer want to. At that point we say “Oh, well he was GOD and this act and that act are not really meant for me to imitate.”
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we begin to follow an entity that simply does not exist.

Let’s not forget that Jesus was a sweating, eating, drinking and sleeping man. A man with hair. A man with a nose and toes. A man of a certain height and build and smell. Otherwise we’ve lost sight of him.

The Slightly Off-Centrality of Scripture

Evangelicals are a Bible-centered bunch and they ain’t afraid to say it. They go to Bible camps and Bible chapels. They hold Bible studies and attend Bible colleges. They make their churches Bible based and crack Bible jokes. Whole lot of Bible going on.

And I think it’s real, too. Seriously, I do. The evangelical sub-culture is set apart by its mission to make the Bible the centre of everything they do. They wear that as a badge of honor. Like the song goes, they ‘stand alone on the Word of God! The B-I-B-L-E!’

But I don’t really think they should.

I guess this may sound funny, but the Bible is not the thing upon which my spirituality is based. Not at all. Because my spirituality and my searching for God is focused on Jesus. The Bible is just a glass. A slightly dirty glass through which I see some of Jesus. It’s a tool. It’s a bridge. It’s a thing.

Of course, pretty much everything I know about Jesus comes through the Bible. So why make a distinction? I want to make a distinction because the difference between having a Bible-centered life and a Jesus centered life is bigger than you’d think. The Bible-centered life is like an astronaut studying the Hubble. The Jesus-centered life is like and astronaut studying stars. And then visiting them!

A Gentle Dogma

The root of dogma carries a bit of a gentler feel than it does in English. The Greek root is simply opinion. Do you find that interesting? I do. Mostly because today dogma is a principle or belief that someone tells you that you have to believe or something bad will happen. It’s not opinion anymore. It’s an order (as if you can order someone to hold an intellectual position). And there’s usually a threat attached to the order. “Hold this opinion, or God will kill you” and such. Seems harsh.

I have opinions. I have dogma. But I feel like I want to strive for a gentler sort of dogma. A dogma that, to borrow from a dear friend, says three main things.

  • Jesus is the best. Worship him. Believe in him.
  • Jesus’ death freed us from sin (though I don’t really know how) but we must still fight remnants through the Spirit’s power.
  • Let’s do tons of good things.
  • Kind of reminds me of a fellow who made a lot of waves in his day. He had the wild idea that all of the prophetic stuff and legal stuff of God could be boiled down to “Love God, love your neighbour.” They didn’t respond well to that.

Brain Hacking

No wonder we are fooled so easily.

Brain Hacking

Balancing It All

I had a thought about a month ago. I think it’ll be a quick one.

Balance. It’s important, right? It keeps us from being extreme. Balance allows us to moderately benefit from competing ideas. We are forced to create a balance between a lot of things:

The time we spend working and the time we spend with out families.
The money we give and the money we keep.
The time we spend awake and the time we spend asleep.
The time we spend creating and the time we spend consuming.
The time we spend in leisure and the time we spend in productivity.
The time we spend talking and the time we spend listening.
The meat we eat and the vegetables we eat.

You know what struck me about this list? All these things are mutually exclusive. You cannot devote yourself to one without detriment to its opposite. You cannot spend all your time working and still spend all your time with your family. So there must be balance. Right? Of course right.

Now, take that list and mix things up. Would you say that there needs to be a balance between eating vegetables and spending time with family?

That question doesn’t make sense, does it? Those two things aren’t opposites. They aren’t mutually exclusive. The one is not the antithesis of the other. Heck, they aren’t even related to each other. So why even bring that question up? It’s like trying to find a balance between leisure time and charity. Or between climbing trees and thinking about ducks. Or between laughing and scratching. It’s just plain silly.

So why, oh why, do we talk about finding an elusive balance between doing spiritual good and social good?

New Media

Hey folks! I don’t have anything to say today so I’ll just point you over to the new website my home church of Ridgeville Bible Chapel. It’s even got a few of my sermons up there, if you are so inclined.