Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: love

Unaltering Love–Happy Birthday Ruth

Sonnet 116 William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments.

They say that you tend to be with someone similar to yourself. I suppose it’s true most of the time. We’re pretty narcissistic people, so we seek ourselves in the people we love.

                     Love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds,
or bends with the remover to remove:

They say unless two agree, they cannot walk together. And that if they start to disagree, they probably are going to have to go off in different directions. Alteration, they imply, alters love.

O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
that looks on tempests and is never shaken;

Ruth and I have changed. A lot. I’m not the person she married. I have different goals, different convictions, a different sense of morality. Different ways to love.

It is the star to every wandering bark,
who's worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

We change each other and change by each other’s changes. Our love isn’t based on our personality traits. The thing that holds us together is not ourselves. It’s a kind of transcendent love.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
within his bending sickle's compass come;

For about 123 days of the summer, Ruth and I are the same age. Tomorrow she’s older than me again. We’re in the midst of so much change, but we still love.

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

It does not matter how much we grow. It doesn’t matter how much we change. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t the people we married. Love that alters with alteration is not our kind of love.

If this be error, and upon me prov'd
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Happy birthday Ruth. I love you forever.
Love
Matt

Letting Conditions Go

I’m reading a book called The Poisonwood Bible about a missionary who takes his wife and daughters to the Congo in the late 50s. It gets so familiar that it jars me. I like to think that my missionary philosophy was a direct response to his. He wanted to show Africa the power of American Evangelicalism. I wanted to see some kind of Sindhi Evangelicalism take root. We called it Incarnational Ministry, and Paul’s commitment to “become all things to all people” was my modus operandi.

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It made me a gentler missionary than Nathan Price, I suppose. And it allowed me to see some beauty in Pakistan and her cultures. But I was still a fundamentalist, so I couldn’t see the value of any faith here, except insofar as it accorded with the core of my own.

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So despite my desi dress and family and lifestyle, I was still set apart–in Sindh but not of it. I suppose I took it as a badge of honour at the time. But my constant dissatisfaction with the way my neighbours worshipped and viewed the world built a wall around me, and they could sense it.

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I’ve come to embrace a new mantra since then, borrowed from a Christian ska band: Freedom means love without condition. I still can’t say that I am of Sindh, but I can embrace my family and friends here with a kind of abandon I wasn’t able to before. I’m thankful for that much.

The thing about Christmas

Jesus was a revolutionist.  I guess that word is loaded.  I usually think about people like Che Guevara when I hear it.  It’s hard to see how the same word can apply to gentle Jesus, meek and mild.  But it does.  Because Jesus started a dramatic and wide-reaching change.  The world is a better place because of him.  Sure, there have been horrendous things done by people who thought they were working on his behalf.  But I bet they would have done those horrendous things anyway.  They’d have just found some other figure or religion to justify them.

For me, Christmas is still a time to celebrate Jesus.  Because no matter what I think about who Jesus “really was,” he’ll always be the first one who showed me how someone can love their enemies and stop grasping the fleeting wealth and vapoury things of the world.  He’ll always be the first one who showed me that real love is bigger and scarier than I could have imagined.  He lived the path of love so wonderfully that it killed him.  And the miracle of it was that he made it all seem worth it.

So I still celebrate Jesus, in my own little way.  I still keep Christ in Christmas.  Not by shouting his name or correcting people when they say Happy Holidays.  I do it by being thankful that he walked the earth and shared his ideas.  I do it by taking his ideas as my own and doing my part toward bringing the Kingdom of Heaven (as I understand it) to earth.  And when I do that, Christmas isn’t a burden.  Because it’s not about gifts and shopping.  It’s a loud and boisterous reminder of a gentle and subversive teacher who wanted to turn the world upside-down with love.

My Journey #5 – Not all who wander are lost.

I guess that nearly leads us to the present, in wide, sweeping brush-strokes. There was no way to tell the whole complex story, but I told enough to be comfortable with.

I also feel comfortable enough to share hints about where I seem to be right now. Not because people will understand and accept it, but because I don’t feel like I need understanding or acceptance. And, man, it feels awesome to no longer need those things.

I’ve gotten some private feedback from people wondering what I’ve replaced Christianity with. The short answer is nothing. I have not found, nor looked for, anything to replace the all-pervasive hold that Christianity had on my life.

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That being said, I’m into Zen, which is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone else.  I don’t actually have anything to say about it right now.  I used to think it was a silly empty thing. And it totally is, but not in the way I thought. If you look into Zen you’ll probably get frustrated by the cryptic one-liners the old Zen masters liked to throw around.  Don’t be too hard on them.  Zen can’t be expressed without either sounding ridiculous or completely misrepresenting it. Much like the best parts of Christianity (1 Cor. 1:23).

People will say I’m wandering. And I am. I totally am. But that doesn’t make me lost, despite what my friends may say. I can’t say where I am or where I’m going, but I love this journey. And I’m always home. My destination is in each step.

Also,
I love you.
And I bet you love me, too.

The one about Ruth

This is a guest post from my wife, Ruth.  She’s awesome and everyone ought to love her.

Sometimes when there is a huge change, it threatens to taint our love and we accidentally suppress the love that Jesus gives us. But when there is change and differences, that is when our love and support ought to be strongest. It’s easy to cling to and support and love someone like you—so easy that it’s hardly worth anything. Luke 6:32

Matt and Ruth

Matt’s announcement was, obviously, not a surprise for me. Matt has always been utterly open and honest about his journey with me. Yes, when he first started realizing that he was leaving Christianity, it was a bit of a shock and even sad. But even though I have not made the same choices as Matt—I am still a committed Christian-we both have buckets of love bursting from our souls for each other and our relationship is still the best relationship I’ve ever seen. If anything he had only grown more gentle and kind in these last years and months.

The biggest question I’ll be getting is now, how am I taking all this? I’m taking it the same way I’ve been taking our relationship for nearly ten years: through struggles that always fall away in the massive waves of our love. I’m happy and blessed by awesome kids and a husband who is my role model regarding love and gentleness. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d want to be reborn as his wife in every life, haha.

Anyway, if anyone wants to drop me a line to ask questions or whatnot, I’m just as open as Matt.

And that’s the end.

:)

The thing about heaven

IMG_20130612_130405Asha is in her bed. Joe is in ours, just a little too unnerved to sleep on his own due to stories about Bloody Mary he heard from day camp. Deva is swaddled up in the corner, his form barely illumined by the light of our computer screen. We are continuing our game of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, sharing chocolate and trying to keep our laughter down so we don’t wake our sons.

Then the chocolate is gone and we decide  to catch up with some of our favourite TV shows. We slip into the living room, depositing Joe in his own bed along the way. My HDMI cable is finicky, and it’s a while before we can connect the computer to the television. By the time it’s done we’ve forgotten all about Dexter and Breaking Bad. We lounge on the floor while watching our favourite anime opening themes on YouTube. We laugh together as we share the last beer.  We make out under the light of the TV screen. We slip outside and make love on the balcony, wrapped in Toronto’s fragrant darkness.

Later, I sit alone staring at the city skyline, indulging in a rare cigarette and reveling in a now-familiar settled joy. The night air is gentle against my face.  The moon climbs the sky while I watch.

The thing about heaven is that it’s right there–in my grasp, in my heart. I sip my cool water and wonder why it took me so long to figure that out.

Love on the TTC

I sat under the brightly-lit overhang at Kipling Station, waiting for the 45 to take me to work.  The night was bright and living, a perfect urban evening.  A girl sat on the bench next to me, hugging her knees and hiding her face.  A boy sat on the bench next to her, trying very hard to look the other way.  When the 45 came, he mumbled something to her and walked off.  She dried her eyes and followed him.  I followed them both onto the bus.  They sat together and I sat across from them and pretended to read.

They were angry at each other.  Or sad at each other.  Or just tired.  They were probably going to spend the whole trip sad at each other.

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But then one of them spoke to the other.  And the other said something back.  And they were talking.  I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I could feel it.  I could feel the sadness in the girl’s voice and its mirror in the boy’s.  The girl fidgeted with the boy’s backpack while she talked.  The boy started to look at her face instead of the floor.  They sounded defensive.  They sounded accusatory.  But they kept talking anyway, even though it looked like the words were making them feel worse.

Then there was a sudden and startling change.

The girl threw her arms around him with a sudden sob.  The boy squeezed her tight and said something loud and affectionate.  Something that spoke of promise.  The girl laughed.  The boy kissed her on the mouth and she melted into it.  Others on the bus grew embarrassed.  I grinned at them.

Thank you, you delicious people who refuse to settle for sadness and broken relationships.  Thank you for sharing peace with each other in a public place so I could watch and remember that peace is out there for anyone who wants it.

And thanks for wanting it.

Imbalanced.

You only need to balance things when you have finite competing objects.

You need to balance time awake and time asleep.  Because the human body needs a certain amount of both.  Because you’re not going to exist forever.

You need to balance eating for health and eating for fun.  Unless you’re born already in love with only the finest and healthiest goodies in the finest and healthiest portions.

But there are a lot of things you think you need to balance but you don’t.

Like love.

You sometimes talk about balancing love between people.  Balancing your love of your wife and the love of your mother.  The love of a friend and the love of a stranger.  The love of the self and the love of the world.  As if you had a finite amount of love available!  As if one side could get too much love!  They only seem imbalanced when the love of one or the other is deficient or poorly carried out.

There are so many things we do not need to balance.  So many things that don’t really compete.

Love and practicality.

The mind and the heart.

Strength and tenderness.

Passion and purity.

Work and play.

Spirituality and practicality.

Skepticism and trust.

Silliness and maturity.

Giddiness and sobriety.

Pacifism and activism.

Love and anything else.

Wisdom’s Bastard Children

We criticize folks from other religions and denominations and wordviews when they have our favourite beliefs wrong.

When those people live better than us and the rest of our tribe, we mourn that they look like they understand things better than us.

But, in some direly important ways, they do understand better than us.

Because wisdom is justified by all her children.

Heroes and Villains

John Calvin was a hero, they told me.  I didn’t argue.  It wasn’t my place to argue.  It was my place to listen.  And so John Calvin was a hero.

He was clever, you see.  A pioneer of sorts.  One of the first and brightest to read the Book the way they told me it was meant to be read.  He was a hero.  Like Martin Luther.

It bothered me that he killed a man, though.  Bothered me that he thought folks who disagreed with him ought to die.  But he was a product of his culture.  He can’t be fully blamed.  He just used worldly weapons in a spiritual war.  When you put it that way, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal.

Though I bet Michael Servitus thought it was a big deal.

And, sure, Martin Luther was a misogynist and anti-semite.  Well, he was a product of his culture, too.  Can’t be too harsh on him.  Or on Jonathan Edwards for his owning of slaves for that matter.  Products of their culture.  Innocent, in their own ways.  Heroes still, I suppose.

Mother Theresa, on the other hand, was not a hero, they said.  Sure she poured herself out for the ‘least of these’.  Sure she inspired millions and eased the sufferings of countless invisible people.  But she was the wrong kind of Christian.  Roman Catholic.  Damned.  In hell, despite her service.  That’s what they said.

Gandhi is another one who isn’t a hero.  Sure, he championed non-violent resistance against the forces of evil.  Sure, he fought against oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.  But, like Theresa, he was one of ‘them’, not ‘us’.  Hindu.  Blind.  Damned and in hell, despite his service.  That’s what they said.

Is it any wonder?

Is it any wonder they talk about us like they do?

Is it any wonder I felt the need to [………]?

We forgive the murderers and slave owners because they thought like we do.

We condemn the compassionate souls because of a rosary and a dash of vermillion upon the forehead.