Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: christian

Serial Mondays: Siddarta’s Ashram

     The bell rang. The universe shifted. Like a raging lake that grows calm as the sun sets.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The mantra was breathed out. This was not the austere chant of the films. Nor yet the flippant hurried prayer of the youngsters. It was the finger that touches the pool in the perfect place so as to still the ripples.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The monk sat in the lotus pose. His shoulders were relaxed. His chin high. His eyes half-closed. He had no incense to mask the stench that covered the city. He had no fellow devotees chanting to hide the primal noises that drifted over the walls. And he needed neither.
     Om mani padme hum.
     He was mindful. Each breath was intentional. Each heartbeat. His powerful mind took note of every sensation, kissed them, and bid them farewell as he fell deeper into his meditation. The anxieties of life were dismissed without judgement or regret and his consciousness faded into the great universal mass.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The energy of the universe crept up into his body from the earth he sat upon. Blue and electric, it climbed through his legs and up his spine and flashed in his brain. He took note, then passed beyond. Beyond notions and appearances. Beyond concepts and metaphors. His selfness drained into the infinite sea and time’s talons released him.
     The bell rang. He pulled out. He opened his eyes.
     The sun had been hidden when he started, but now it was above the horizon, bringing its humid heat with it. Sensations flooded over him, made all the more sharp for the mindfulness wrought through his meditation. They were not pleasant, and it was a struggle to touch them without fear.
     He unwrapped his legs from their lotus pose and stood, his bare feet kissing the stone floor, still cool from the night. He adjusted his orange robes and looked out the open door to the ashram.
     When he had first come to the ashram, so many years ago, it was a desolate place. The fields were unkempt and covered in angry thorn bushes. There was a pack of feral dogs, so full of mange that Siddharta had been surprised they were still living. The walls were crumbling and broken whiskey bottles littered the area, left there by rebellious teenagers who used the site to indulge in vices away from the prying eyes of their elders.
     Siddharta had worked hard with the Guru to turn the wild, clinging place into the ashram it had become. Within a year the dogs had moved on and the fields were cleaned and planted. A simple yet beautiful shrine was erected and the Guru began calling his disciples to live with him. A sangha grew. And it was not just Indians who came. There were Asians of the zen tradition who lived among them. Seekers from the West, American and Europe. Even those from other religions—Hindus and Christians and even Muslims and Atheists all sought for the peace and renunciation the Guru offered. It was a place of simplicity, smiles and devotion.
     Now, looking over the fields and the walls, Siddharta had to frown. The Guru was dead. Nearly all the seekers had fled while the outbreak was still in its infancy. The fields were full of weeds and no walls could keep out the sounds and smells of horror on the outside.
     It is good I am not a Christian, Siddharta thought. Then I’d have to ask why God had allowed this.
     The only two living people who shared the ashram with him now were Christians. At least, he assumed they were Christians. They were white, from Canada. Their Hindi was much better than Siddharta’s English, but that was not saying much. They could communicate basic needs to each other, but no more. Not enough to ask them what they thought of God now, or to help them hold onto the spirit of compassion and peace that the Guru had taught on. Not enough connection to keep the sangha alive.
     The day was quickly turning hot and Siddharta was sweating through his robes. He wanted to do his prayers for the city before the Christians woke up. He slipped on his sandals and walked down the well-worn path to the high wall that separated the ashram from the teeming city. How many times had he smiled at the children who pulled themselves up to look in at the monks and devotees? How many times had he wagged a finger, pretending to rebuke them?
     He climbed the wooden boxes he had placed there and pull himself up to look over the city of the dead.
     The street outside was full. It had been an important road in the small city. It was the intersection where the vegetable market and the religious market met. There were always people there, buying tomatoes and okra and images of the Buddha or Krishna. There were no people on the street anymore. But it was full, nonetheless.
     Siddharta had never seen a horror movie, so he had no ready word for the creatures that walked the streets of his city. His mind had touched on many of the creatures his mother had frightened him with during her bedside stories. Vetala. Bhoot. Dien. None of them fit.
     He had never heard the word zombie before.

Consumerism, Goats and Vile Persecution

     Tis the season to be whiny.

     Sorry, was that negative? I didn’t mean it to be.

     But it’s hard to miss during the festive seasons. Which is too bad, because I was raised thinking this time of year was about the greatest gift we ever got: Love in the shape of a baby.

     And I can’t really point at anyone else and blame them for the complaining that marks December. It’s my own tribe. And there are two things you’ll be sure to hear us whine about until the new year.

     First, we’ll whine about how the rampant consumerism has utterly destroyed the message of Christmas. We’ll complain about the sex-driven ads, the ridiculous rushes at the malls, the blatant love of stuff and money.

     All the while, we shop with the rest of them.

     If malls are temples to the great and terrible gods of commerce and materialism, the folks in my Christian tribe are just as devout as anyone.

     My wife is using her wild, love-filled i117 project to fight consumerism. She’s buying goats for widows in Pakistan to help them get enough income to feed their families. Go to her facebook group or send her an e-mail if you want to help battle Christmas consumerism with her!

     Second, we complain about how no one says ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore.

     Seen this comic before? It floats around every year. Of course, no one ever gets sent to the Principal’s office for saying Christmas (sidenote: notice how the two on the left are dressed like punks and the poor, persecuted Christian boy is oh-so-spiffy?). Doomsayers have been predicting this kind of ‘persecution’ since the 80s, but it still hasn’t happened. And, no, the elimination of the state-sponsored promotion of Christianity does not count as persecution.

     Guess what? Jesus is not threatened by folks who celebrate other holidays around the Solstice. He’s just not. He’s more secure in himself. And I’m not threatened by people who wish me a happy holiday. I say thanks, and wish that all their holidays are happy, too. Whichever holidays that might be.

     Because the cause of Jesus (love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance) is not furthered by us whining about how good our religion used to have it back when we ran the show. It’s furthered by rejecting consumerism and intolerance both.

     And now I’ll quickly hang a lantern on this post and acknowledge that I’m whining, too. But, at the very least, I’m whining about something different.

Now go buy some goats!

A New Kind of Christian(ity) – Part 2

There were a lot of things that I hadn’t considered about the Jesus life before reading these books.

First, and perhaps most foundational, I was convinced that our way of looking at the Bible is wrong. McLaren argues that the Bible is not a constitution, answer-book, love letter from God or instruction book for life. And he’s right. It’s a divinely-inspired library of God’s dealings with man. To view it as a constitution is dishonest and, it seems to me, just as bad as the way liberal scholars view it as a dead scholastic work.

Second, I was convinced that his model of Christian education is far better than the models we have been working with so far. Our models focus on knowledge as paramount. Jesus’ school focused on living with and following Jesus. On doing things, not just learning things. If you have A New Kind of Christian you can check out his view of seminary starting on pg. 232.

I was convinced that, generally, instead of looking straight at Jesus in the Bible, we look a Jesus first through the lens of Paul. And we look at Paul through the lens of Augustine. And we look at Augustine through the lens of Aquinas. And we look at Aquinas through the lens of Luther or Erasmus, depending on where our denomination lies. And down the line until we get to whatever preacher is our hero today. And I was convinced that this was a very, very bad thing.

In short, I do not call these writings dangerous. I call them helpful. I call them insightful. I call them off-base here and there, but not dangerous. Not damning. Not worth calling someone a son of the devil.

Would I recommend the books? To some people. Not all. The problem with books by famous people is that there will always be a large group of people who only pick up a book in order to discredit it. They have the attitude that says “I am going to put down this book with the same beliefs I had when I picked it up.” So I could not, with a clear conscience, recommend these books to people who think this way. It would be a waste. It would do nothing but create more bad feelings. And the Christian community has enough bad feelings already. But for anyone else, for anyone with a mind to learn and a heart to move forward in their understanding of Jesus, for those people I say “Don’t be afraid of these books. They won’t hurt you. Use your mind as you read them. Take profit from the things you judge as true. Toss out the things you judge as false. Don’t be distracted by the things that don’t matter. You’re clever enough to do that. You don’t need to be afraid of being put under an evil magic spell.”

I get that a lot of folks will disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m betting the coming comment discussion will be informative for everyone.

It’s funny, though. One of the accusations that people who don’t hate McLaren and the Emergent conversation get is that they are trying too hard to be politically correct. But, in the circles I have grown up in and still live in, the most politically incorrect thing I can do mention these books without condemning them.

A New Kind of Christian(ity) – Part 1

I’ve put this off for a while.

When I arrived back in Canada two years ago, my conservative circles were abuzz with a new heretic. When I left it was people like Gregory Boyd and Clark Pinnock. Suddenly there was a new kid on the block: Brian McLaren. And instead of talking about Open Theism, everyone was talking about Post-Modernism and the Emergent Church. I, of course, had no clue about any of it, so I kept my mouth shut.

It was Al Mohler who got me interested. He posted a video of him and a few buddies spending an hour talking about McLaren. They called him harsh things. “The slyest snake in the garden and the son of his father the devil” is the one that sticks in my head. And let’s be honest, folks, after an intro like that I felt I had no choice but to buy his book!

I got A New Kind of Christian. I read it. My heart sank. It’s a novel about a confused pastor who has eye-opening talks with a university professor. McLaren uses the plot to test and showcase the way he’s looking at where Christianity is going. My heart sank, not because it was full of filth and heresy. But because it’s the kind of novel I could have written myself. Trite characters and shallow plot lines and all.

So I found out the book that earned McLaren the title ‘son of the devil’ was not actually A New Kind of Christian but A New Kind of Christianity. “Ah ha!” I thought. “He wasn’t much of a devil back in 2001, but now, with the new book in 2010, he must have crossed the line!

But, while there were certainly less things McLaren was able to convince me of in the new book, I still found him insightful. Profound where he was right, and insightful in at least pointing out the problem where he was wrong.

A great deal of what was in those books I already held to.

I had already been convinced that Jesus’ mission was much, much more than the simple fire escape for people who prayed the sinner’s prayer. It was to set in motion the redemption of the entire created order. Too long have we settled for getting ‘saved’ and living the rest of our days separated from outsiders in our ivory towers. The world is busted and it’s our job to fix it, from top to bottom, here and now.

I had already been convinced that there is far too much demonizing in the church. We pull facts from the Bible, arbitrarily set certain ones up as foundational and verbally condemn to hell the people who question them.

I had already been convinced that people can disagree with things that the fundamentalist world calls foundational and still be vibrant, life-filled followers of Jesus. I may disagree with folks who believe in evolution or disbelieve in an eternal hell. But they can still follow Jesus and be a part of the kingdom of God just as much as a more orthodox person. And it’s not just because they have a case for their views (and they do have a case). It’s because those things are not the things Jesus came to die and live for.

I had already been convinced that the true Jesus life was something higher than our churches and theologies and arguments and preachings. McLaren was able to express it much better than I could. And so I’m thankful for that.

In two days the second half of this review will be up. It’s already written, I just didn’t like the idea of a thousand-word blog post. My views on these books become more controversial in the next post. So if you’re hoping to comment, maybe waiting until the next installment is a good idea.