Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: god

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.

Sometimes Art is Like…

Sometimes art is like the little girl who was drawing a picture in art class.  Her teacher walked over to her and stood behind her for a moment, trying to figure out exactly what her student was drawing.  It was nearly impossible to make out.  The girl’s crayons danced on the page, scattering colours and shapes all around.  In some places it was wild and frenzied.  In others it was sober and serious.  In a few places, it looked downright childish and silly.  Finally the teacher couldn’t be bothered to guess anymore.

“What are you drawing, dear?” she asked.

“God,” the student replied without looking up.

The teacher gave a wry smile.  “But no one knows what God looks like, dear.”

The student leaned in close to her page, sticking her tongue out as she laid down a streak of deep red.  “They will in a minute,” she said.

Sometimes art dares to touch the things that cannot be touched.  Sometimes it tries to see the things that cannot be seen.  Sometimes it succeeds and turns around to show it to us.

The Song That No One Has Heard

     I’m kind of a sucker for devotional music from all sorts of religious traditions. I’ll shove John Michael Talbot, Yusuf Islam, and Krishna Das all onto a playlist together. They get along on iTunes, I wonder if they’d get along if they were all in the same room…
     One of Krishna Das’s best songs is Heart as Wide as the World.

I looked away
Your beauty too much to bear
Where could I run?
Your eyes,
I found them everywhere
All I want is to sing to you
The song that no one has heard

     I follow a lot of aspiring writers on Twitter and blogs. Sometimes it’s a tad discouraging because often they talk about ‘essential’ writing subjects like self-promotion, knowing the market and replicating past successes. Many good, talented, creative people just want to write a story that will sell.
     How low.
     I don’t know about other creative people, but I’d do this work even if I knew I’d never make a penny from it. I’ve been doing it for years and I’ve put time and money into it, but I’ve never gotten a cent back. Sure, I’d love to make some money. I’d love to be able to quit my job and spend my life writing. That’d be the cat’s meow. But that’s not ‘all I want.’

All I want…
… is to be a best-seller.
… is to be famous.
… is to get rich.
… is to be the next [insert successful name here].

     Low! Low! Low!
     I look up to the sky and to the infinite space it rests beneath. I look to the Hand that sparked it and all the glories that dwell within it. And all those petty desires fade like a fog when it is faced with the sun’s fury. One desire remains. One thought. One driving force.
     All I want is to sing to you the song that no one has heard.
     And I’m the only one who can sing that song.
     And you’re the only one who can sing yours.

Life as Temple Run or Minecraft


     Have you ever felt like life is kinda like Temple Run?
     The game only just came out for Android. It barely runs on my phone, but I can’t stop playing it. You take on the role of Guy Dangerous, an explorer with a ridiculously impressive cardiovascular system. You start the game being chased by skull-faced monkeys through an unending temple maze filled with traps and stumps and fire-breathing statues. You run until you die.
     How do you win? You don’t. The maze goes on forever. No matter how skilled you are or how many hours you devote to the game, you always die.
     Is life like that? Is it just a Temple Run where I try to get the farthest I can before the skull monkeys eat me? Is it all just a game of ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’?
     I’ve been on a long, interesting spiritual journey since high school. I’ve gone from atheism to Christian fundamentalism to something else altogether. But one of the things that I’ve never been able to shake off is a deep and resentful contempt for death.
     As an atheist, death was a thing to be avoided at all costs because it was the end of everything. It was the bitter reality that threatened to swallow me whenever I gave it attention.
     As a fundamentalist, death was the gateway to hell for nearly everyone I knew (and, I thought, perhaps for me, as I feared sometimes my theologies would be too incorrect to get forgiveness). The final, unforgiving act of God.
     But now, what is it? Is it really the end?
     I feel like life is a little bit more like Minecraft. Some critics look at the game and scoff saying “It’s pointless!” And they refuse to play. But for others, there’s something special in it. There’s something special about building grand structures in an infinite world. About walking through gateways and slaying evil monsters. About reaching The End and destroying the vile Ender Dragon.
     And what happens when the monsters are all slain and the mighty works are all built? What then?
     I’m not totally sure, really. I can only think of two possibilities.
     Either the old, atheist Matt was right, and there is nothing beyond the grave. Not even darkness.
     Or, as I think these days, the Great Teacher was right when he spoke of another Kingdom that was not of this world. Of a place where Love gives life. Where life comes abundantly and where mankind is reconciled with the source of Love and Life. Where my acts of love and creation live on and rejoice with the other works of love and creation that we have made together with God.
     So I run, mostly confident that I’m not in a game that can only end in death. If I’m right, all my joy today is building toward an endless joy that will one day witness the death of death. If I’m wrong … I’ll never know.
     Keep creating.

Honestly

     Without honesty, you’re dead.

     Trust me, I know. I used to lie to everyone. Everyone. It was tough. I would cry myself to sleep. Well, man-cries, at least.

     It took a while to find someone I could be honest with. And then I found him – myself. It was a bit of a shock, really. Because I knew me to be a pretty judgmental fellow.

     I had been lying to me for years. It was a little scary once I gave myself permission to tell the truth. But, man, it did great things for me.

     A weight came off my shoulders. I know it sounds cliche, but I can’t think of any better way of putting it. I was free. Suddenly the future looked brighter. And, better than that, the present looked bright, too.

     Then I looked to my right and saw my wife. It turns out she had been standing there the whole time, ready and willing to hear my honesty. So I gave it to her. And she was gentle with it. She touched my honesty as I held it out to her, and smiled at it.

     “I’m on a roll,” I thought. I looked around to see who else I could be honest with. I looked up and wondered about God.

     I’ve have a very complicated relationship with the divine. I’ll tell you about it one day. But I figured it was about time to get honest with God. I went to find him and let him know how I really felt.

     But God was not where I had left him. The lock on the door was smashed, you see. It fell apart the day I started being honest with myself. So my concept of God broke free. And God has been leading me on a merry chase through the universe ever since. And he’s been blowing my mind.

     I’m honest with a bunch of people now. It’s nice. It’s freeing. Sometimes it’s dangerous and leads to anger and confusion, but that’s okay. Because most of the time, people look at your honesty and smile. Because I’m free inside and the burden on my back is light. One day I’ll be honest with everyone. One day I’ll be honest with all you wonderful people who read these silly little posts. Not today, but one day.

     Are you honest with you?

How to Love

People say it’s hard to love. I guess it’s true sometimes.

Different people find it hard to love for different reasons.

Some folks can’t stand argumentative people. Some folks can’t stand people who think differently than they do. Some folks can’t stand mean people.

Everyone has haters. From Gandhi to Mother Theresa all the way down to Glenn Beck and John Stewart. Everyone is hated by someone. Or, at least, unloved.

Depressing, eh? Especially when you get that sneaking suspicion that you are one of those unlovers.

But there’s a way to love.

The greatest man told us to love enemies. Then he proved it was possible by walking a path of love that led him to a state-sponsered death. And while he was dying, he told his killers that he loved them. ‘Father, forgive them.’ And he showed us what God is really like.

The fact is, God loves Glenn Beck, regardless of how he makes me squirm. He loves Glenn Beck relentlessly. Passionately. With the unbridled power of a thousand suns. It doesn’t matter what Glenn Beck says or believes. God loves Glenn Beck. Because Glenn Beck carries within himself a beautiful image of God. He is, despite what I or anyone else thinks of his opinions and politics, a beautiful soul.

And when I think of that, suddenly I love Glenn Beck, too.

Pick that one person. That one person who gets you on edge every time they speak or tweet or show up on the TV screen or knock at your door.

God loves that person. Passionately. Relentlessly. With the unbridled power of a thousand suns. That person is a beautiful soul.

That’s worth loving.

Because if we could just master this one thing, the wildest part of Jesus’ most famous prayer would come true:

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.