MW Cook

an ex-evangelical doing a year of living christianly

Category: christianly stories

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.

Making the CBC Short Story Longlist

My story, And a River Went Out of Eden, made the 2018 CBC Short Story Contest longlist. Cheers and mead all around! I’m super honoured to have a story make it this far, and excited to read the others on the list.

And a River Went Out of Eden is the product of more than a year of composition and rewriting and critique and rewriting. It wasn’t written in a vacuum. I’m thankful for the input of incredible writers: Robert McGill and all my peers at ENG389, where the story was born, and J. Marshall Freeman and A.M. Matte who helped nurse it to strength.

Writing can be very solitary, and it’s often like singing alone: you really can’t tell what you sound like unless you have someone to listen. If you’re serious about writing and looking for a tip to grow with, consider getting a group of writerly friends and sharing your works in progress. It helps!

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.

Morning Devos: Elihu the Fourth Friend

Job rests his case. He’s innocent and suffering and that chips away at the shared Story of a just world.

Elihu’s mad. He’s mad at Job’s three friends because for condemning Job even though they couldn’t answer his legitimate concern. He’s mad at Job because of his self-justifying, God-condemning reasonings. So he takes his turn, despite his youth, and nails it so hard that Yahweh shows up.

Watching Elihu argue is useful for any of us who talk about hard things. Here’s a list of ways he kicks conversational butt:

  • Job 32:11-12; Elihu listens more than he speaks, which gives him the ability to meet the real questions in new, useful ways.
  • Job 32:14, 33:7; Elihu is not adversarial toward Job like the three stooges. Also, his contribution to the conversation will be different from theirs–otherwise why would he even be talking? Notice, also, how often Elihu uses Job’s name; he refuses to forget that Job is a person, not a theological problem.
  • Job 33:8ff; Elihu repeats Job’s argument to shows that he understands it.
  • Job 33:12-13; Elihu does not flinch in his own argument. Since he’s demonstrated he is not against Job, there’s no need to flinch.
  • Job 33:31ff; He’s still listening and he checks in to see how his words are taken.
  • Job 37:1; He’s emotionally invested. He doesn’t pretend that it’s not personal. He doesn’t detach.
  • Job 38:1; His arguments prompt revelation; God appears and blows everyone’s minds.

There’s a sermon here, and way more in the last ten chapters of Job than a weekday blog post can fit.

What it Would Take to Believe

There’s beauty in the idea that we are chosen, and our reward will be worth any amount of suffering. There’s power in the idea that the Omnipotence indwells a believer. It’s great to believe that no matter how bad things get, the One in control of the cosmos has my back.

I’d wager it sounds trite to most unbelievers. The power of Evangelicalism is a bit like the harm of cultural appropriation: you can’t understand it unless you know the whole story. And even then there’s something important lost in translation.

See, every human restlessness and ache and shame and attachment is because of innate brokenness. Our souls are bent before birth, and our bodies reflect it. Ours is a world of exiles, so far from God that we wouldn’t believe the truth even if it slapped us in the face and sent us all to hell. Cut off from reason, we suffer and cause others to suffer until we die and reap suffering’s fulfillment.

Some are saved when God breathes life into their dead spirit, rips the scales from their eyes, gives them a heart of flesh instead of the stone inside. These ones are set apart. No matter what suffering they go through it will not be comparing the eternal weight of glory prepared for them through Christ.

I used to believe all that.

The year of living christianly is not about trying to recapture that belief–it seems dishonest to set out trying to attain any specific belief. But the other day someone asked me what I wanted from God. What would God have to do to prove that he was real? Well, faith is a gift of God, lest anyone boast. If God wanted to prove himself real to me, he would have to give me faith.

so either you aren’t real

or I am just not chosen

maybe I’ll never know

either way my heart is broken

– Derek Webb, “Goodbye, for now”