MW Cook

an ex-evangelical doing a year of living christianly

Tag: christianity

Religious, but not Spiritual

I get confused when people say they are spiritual, but not religious.

I don’t know how you can do spirituality without religion. Religion is like scaffolding. Both the five-hundred-year-old tradition and the vague conception of following your own inner truth are religion. Religion is the structure, the ritual, the lens through which you see parts of the world.

I think I’m religious, but not spiritual.

“What does that even mean?”

I pray and read the Bible. I belt out hymns and attend church. Christianly myth undergirds my interpretation of reality. I love sacred things. I’m religious, and I can’t help it.

But I don’t think any of the stories really happened. I don’t think the Bible is a book from God, and I don’t think that Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t think anyone is listening when I pray, or spiritually leading me, or that I’ll survive my death in any meaningful way. I’m not spiritual. I believe in the sacred, not the holy.

The Bible is sacred, foundational to many religious frameworks. But it is not holy. It is not whole and pure and uninjured. It is a collection of disparate works across time and genre that do not internally cohere without a complex hermeneutic formula. If I believed it was holy, I would have to accept the obviously evil bits of the Bible.

Here’s a guy who’s religious AND spiritual

A benefit of being religious but not spiritual is that I can hack my religion. Since it’s not the eternal edict of the universe, I can toss out every word of the law that contradicts the spirit of love and, with a nod to Marie Kondo, every doctrine that does not spark joy can be reverently discarded.

Christianly Book Review: Life at the End of Us Vs Them by Marcus Peter Rempel

images“The warnings I offer here do not come out of a superior religion but out of a failed religion

Marcus Peter Rempel’s book, “Life at the End of Us vs Them,” is a seriously thought-provoking view of Christianity and its place in our “strange, endtime world.” Drawing on René Girard and Ivan Illich, Rempel presents a view of the Cross that necessarily undermines any power structure that would try to build on it.

The crucifixion of Christ, he argues, is not best seen as a judicial act of substitutionary atonement. Instead, it is something like God identifying with the most marginalized individuals, the most hated outcasts, the people who society crucifies. “It is by taking on the viewpoint of those it marginalizes that Cross-formed culture comes to be accurately mapped, and more justly remade” (13). Rempel takes this understanding, and applies it to his relationships with “those who are his other: women, queer folk, refugees, Muslims, atheists, and Indigenous people.”

Here’s what I like about this view of the Cross: it reminds you of everything at once. It reminds you that you are part of the system that crucifies innocents. At the same time, it offers to forgive you. And it bids you pick up your cross, and follow in that way of looking at the world–that the “least of these” is, somehow, the Christ. It shifts the view from Us-Them to I-Thou. Frankly, it reminds us that Jesus never meant to convert the world. Yes, he meant for his Way to go out into all the world, but not to colonize it. Not to become the oppressor.

The Cross will always glare accusingly at any system or person that tries to use it as a tool of oppression. It undermines all sacred violence. It perpetually strips the sacred cloth from the temple, showing it to be empty. The violence we thought we did in God’s name was actually against his own son. All persecution persecutes the Christ. Christianity as a religion, Rempel argues, has failed insofar as it has been complicit in violence.

At least, that’s how it could work. From what I read on the Internets, I don’t see a reconciliation between Church and the vulnerable anytime soon. If it’s possible, though, for follows of Christ to sit with the very marginalized instead of always being seen beside the oppression, this book gives clues on how it will be done.

I heartily recommend this book to people who want to take the Bible seriously and are troubled by the dissonance between Church and Christ. If you believe that substitutionary atonement is the only correct way of understanding the Cross, you will probably balk at a lot of what Rempel has to say. Consider, though, that both Scripture and Church have cast the Cross in different lights to glean fresh insights from that wonderful tragic event. Rempel offers a light that the Church today would do well to meditate on, even if she can’t swallow the whole thing.

A Christian and Two Ex-Believers in a Pink Room

Ruth and I sat down with P.J. Tremblay, A.K.A. P’Jamz. We all met at Bible college a couple life-times ago. We had a great conversation about the faith and losing it and keeping it and how we can all start to speak the same language.

P’Jamz recently released his an LP, Foibles & Fiction. Songs like Proud and Odd One Out candidly talk about the fallout from losing faith. Go to his Audio4n6 Site to check him out and buy his album.

 

Sit in on our conversation on the Audio4n6 channel. There’s a lot here, and it’s been split up into convenient little chapters:

Part 1 — How we all got to Bible college

Part 2 talks about evangelism and missions

Part 3 — the uses and abuses of Christianity

Part 4 talks about what it takes to be successful at religion

Part 5 — how if religions don’t change, they don’t endure

Part 6 makes Ruth choke on water

Part 7 — childlike curiosity

Part 8 reminds us there are a few things to keep

Part 9 — the power religion can provide

Part 10 talks about how hard it sometimes is to talk about this stuff

Conversation with Derek Webb

Derek Webb’s music has been important to me since 1999. Songs like Not the Land and Wedding Dress provided vocabulary for aspects of my spiritual journey that other believing artists wouldn’t touch. Faith My Eyes and Lover were soothing anthems during my missionary days. His most recent album, Fingers Crossed, is a tale of spiritual and marital divorce. It’s about losing faith and family. It’s sad and beautiful and if you’ve ever lost faith go listen to Goodbye, for Now and cry a bit.

I sat down with Derek last week at before his house show in Buffalo. We had a great conversation about his music, what’s left over after faith is gone, and the time he nearly killed RC Sproul. Watch the video below, or at Youtube where there are handy chapter divisions in the description.

Go buy Derek’s music and tickets to his few remaining house shows at derekwebb.com

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.

 

Tea with the landlord

Kunri, Sindh.  2006

Our landlord lives in the flat below us. He invites me over for tea in the evening, after the nap. His place is nicer than ours. I like ours better, though. We have the roof. It’s one of the biggest buildings in Kunri—three storeys. And the high walls on the roof make it look taller, though they do spoil our view.

I sit with my landlord on the charpai. His English is good, and I’m grateful. I’ve only been in Pakistan a year and Urdu still makes me nervous. We talk about all sorts of things. He asks me about my family. He asks me about Canada. Strange, I don’t seem to ask him much.

He brings up religion. They always do here. I’m eager on this subject. I take control. I make my argument. Tight and powerful. I show the weak spot in his (what shall I call it?) cosmology. Proved. Done. QED.

But he doesn’t get it. He has no answer, but he is unconvinced. Seeing that the stakes are raised, he throws his own attack at me. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. Nothing I haven’t thought of before. It doesn’t faze me. I have no answer to give him, though. And the look on his face tells me he thinks he’s won something.

The conversation moves on, I suppose. I hardly notice. If only I’d had more time, I could have told him something clearer. Something that would have helped him see what I see. It’s just so obvious from my side, and I can’t understand why he can’t see it. He’s not an idiot, after all. I wonder, as we shake hands and I turn to go home, if he is thinking something similar about me.

I don’t sleep much that night. It’s hot. My bed is on the roof, nuzzled by winds that have been gentled by the high walls. I stare at the stars and ask my silent God to sow a seed in my landlord’s heart. To crack the hard shell of his delusion.

At least as much as he’s cracked mine.

My Journey #1 – Purpose

Sept 29, 2013 015(2)

My name it Matt. I used to be a Christian. I’m not anymore, and I want to tell the story about how that happened.

Topics like these are controversial because most of us are intensely invested in our worldviews. It would be easy to misunderstand the purpose of my telling.

I am not telling the story to defend myself. As an evangelical I would never have been convinced to justify the moves of someone who left the faith. If there was no spirit of Christ, it did not matter how heavy the evidence or profound the experience. No Christ = no good. So I know that no one from where I’ve come from will be able to consider my path as legitimate. I understand that and I don’t begrudge it. I did the same when I heard of brothers and sisters who abandoned Christianity.

I’m not telling the story to draw anyone away from their own faith. Jesus gives the world one of the most powerful ethics I’ve ever seen. If everyone were to adopt his way of doing life, we would have world peace tomorrow. Sure, his ethic generally takes a backseat in the lives of his devotees, but every once in a while someone appears in the Church that takes Jesus’ way of life seriously, and the world is better for those people. I’d hate to pull someone away from that.

Part of the reason I’m telling the story is that everyone wants to be understood. It sucks when the people you love don’t understand you. It sucks when they look at your path, with all its complexities and struggles and nuances, and write it off without understanding how it all happened. And even though I know most of my friends will not understand even after I’ve told my story, heck, at least I tried.

The next four posts will highlight the major signposts in my journey. It is all from my perspective, because that is the only perspective I have the right to speak from. Take it as that. Or don’t. I don’t care, in the end. It is enough that I have had my say.

Ruth’s Last Word

One more guest post from Ruth.  Because she’s got things to say and I’m really tired.

So, as you can imagine, we’ve gotten a lot of emails this week. I’m sure each and every one of them was sent with a spirit of goodwill, but certain spoken/unspoken aspects of the communication have gotten me down, and I’d just like to express my feelings about them.

We have been married for more than nine years. Over this time we’ve developed a very special relationship. And not just in the normal way all relationships are special. I mean there is something weirdly uniquely special going on here that basically overcomes and destroys all joy-stealing obstacles in our path. Matt has changed over the years, but the thing that has not changed even the tiniest bit is that strange, wonderful relationship. I get the impression from others that our relationship is expected to suffer because of the different ways we view the world now. That sounds like a cop-out. Relationships suffer if the people in them are willing to let them suffer. There’s no other reason for it at all. In our situation, there is no obstacle to our walking together in perfect harmony, in spite of our disagreements. Matt’s different views have not turned him into some strange, new bizarro Matt.

There’s another idea that floats around the church that if you hang out with people who are outside the church you may get pulled along with them. But if someone’s faith can be injured by the people they hang out with, what kind of faith is that? Is that the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit the Bible talks about? I’ve never understood it when people try to avoid ‘bad people.’ The ‘others.’ The ones who are on the ‘outside.’ I’ve never understood it because those are the very people that Jesus hung out with the most. Matt encourages my faith. He’s never tried to impose his views on me, even though we often have lots of discussions about those high things.

And, lastly, I appreciate everyone’s prayers, but don’t be sad for me. I’m quite happy. I have the Three Things: Faith, Hope and Love. The best is Love.

PS – I love you, Matt

The one that clarifies things

I’ve written quite a few drafts of this over the summer. They were mostly long and had all manner of shiny points and quips. I didn’t really like any of them. Some of them were preachy and others sounded snarky. One of them read like a guy desperate to avoid misunderstanding, and so the text was long and meandering and sure to cause misunderstanding. So the best way, I decided this morning, is to keep things tight and brief.

I am not a Christian.

It’s partially my fault that even this statement needs a bit of clarification. As an evangelical I tried to distance myself from words like Christian and religion because I felt they had been hijacked by systems that did not represent Jesus in the way I saw him. So there needs to be just a little more clarity.

I think Jesus was an amazingly insightful man.
I think the Bible is an important piece of literature.
It’s been a long and complex road from where I was to where I am.

Only the tiniest tip of my walk has been expressed on-line. In the weeks to come I’ll use this blog to unpack some of my thoughts on the journey and how I look at the universe now. But it’s important to be brief when talking about big heavy things, so I won’t say much more right now.

Sunshine

Source: ruthconscious.tumblr.com

I’m open and approachable and would love to hear from you, either in public comments or private messages. I know a lot of folks don’t like using the Internet for important talks, but I think with care and mindfulness any medium can be awesome for clear, friendly communication, even when dealing with subjects as heavy as this one.

One last thing: I love you. I may be out, but I don’t even have a drop of negative feelings toward where I’ve come from or the people and institutions that have shaped me. I am happier than I have ever been in my life, both in magnitude and consistency, and that would never have been possible without my past.

Looking forward to many wonderful talks,

Matt