Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: peace

The things I’m grateful for today

I’ve come to believe that grateful appreciation is one of the keys to happiness.  And the nicest thing about grateful appreciation is that I can do it any time, no matter what.  It’s easy to make a list of the things that make me grateful today.

  • For Joe, who came into our room when he heard Dev wake up, just to take him into the living room so Ruth and I could get a few more minutes of sleep.
  • For Asha, who came in shortly after to wake us up by crawling all over us, just like kids in the movies do.
  • For Dev, who is determined to figure out how to stand up without support, no matter how many times he falls.
  • For Ruth, who shared my breakfast and my journey in the snow.  Who always shares my meals and journeys.

Those are just the obvious ones.  But when I’m mindful, every moment is full of things to appreciate.

  • The challenge of study and exams.
  • The dense snowfall, making  my walks downtown other-worldly.
  • The frigid wind that bites my face.
  • The way the dancing snow only sticks to the parts of the trees where two branches meet.
  • The sense of triumph when I finally arrive at Robarts Library.
  • The standing in line with other shivering, studying students aching for coffee.
  • The smell of the Reading Room.
  • The view from my cubicle.
  • The feel of the keyboard under my fingers.

This is where happiness is: mindfulness in each moment.  Recognizing that each moment is the best moment.  That Today is always the very best day.

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.

TTC

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.

Kids and the Raising Thereof

     I’m no expert. But that’s okay, because neither are you.
     You might disagree. You might think you’re an expert. Maybe because you’ve read all the guidebooks that other ‘experts’ have written. Maybe because of your devotion to your religion. Maybe because your kids do whatever you say or get great marks or have good careers. But you’re no expert. And those folks who wrote all those books? They’re no experts, either. No one is. In the end, parenting is a grand and glorious experiment.
     But I’ve learned stuff along the way. Some of it is obvious. But a lot of it is so counter-intuitive that it blows my mind.

  • Breaking your child’s will dangerous and stupid. I was always told that strong-willed kids need to be broken. But that’s about as dumb as saying a clever kid needs to be turned stupid because she is a smart-ass. My son is just about the strongest-willed child I know. And I love it. I want his will to be stronger, in fact. A strong-willed child grows up into a strong-willed adult. And strong-willed adults change the world. A broken child doesn’t. A broken child can only follow.
  • Defiance and rebellion is sometimes a good thing to nurture. Because authorities are often wrong. Kids need to know that and they need to learn how to spot it. I often tell my son that if I ever tell him to do something unkind, he ought to disobey. He’s seven and he’s clever enough to know the difference between what is kind and what is unkind. He has permission to disobey me when his conscience demands it. People often tell me that they are worried my son might abuse that idea, but he never has. Ever.
  • Punishment is easy. Nurturing is hard. And since punishment is easy, its benefits are severely limited. All parents have that primal urge to lash out at a child who lashes out. We yearn to throw a tantrum at the child who throws a tantrum. But it’s so much more effective and life-building to stop, breathe and talk. Children are not stupid. Anyone who says that has never really sat down to talk with their child. I haven’t ‘punished’ my children in ages. There’s no need. I cannot remember the last time I had a conflict with my children that could not be solved by a good, mindful conversation.
  • Internal motivation trumps external threats. I have no desire whatsoever to have a child who obeys me because he fears what I may do to him if he doesn’t. Frankly, I’d rather him disobey. If I want my children to act in a certain way, I convince them of its benefit. I trust that they both have the mental and moral capacity to see the attractiveness of a love-filled life. And it works. Every single time.
  • Physical coercion breaks things. I know, I know, we’ve all been hit by our parents and we’ve all turned out fine. That’s what we all say. And we’ve got our Bible verses to back it up. But my road has shown me that demanding obedience by threat of physical pain causes anger and confusion. There is no violence in my house. Not even the socially acceptable violence of corporal punishment.

     But I’m no expert. I don’t think you’re a bad parent if your experiments have led you to different conclusions. And I’d never try to tell you how you ought to raise your children. I’m just sharing what I’ve seen. What have you seen?

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?

Subway Evangelists

     A Muslim evangelist approached me while I was waiting for my subway today. He handed me a book and tried to get me interested in his religion. I told him I had lived in Pakistan and he thought that was pretty cool. He told me that Pakistan, in his opinion, was not a good example of a Muslim country.
     “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “They have great family values there, unlike here in Canada.”
     “Okay.”
     “But the problem is all the Hindus.”
     “Oh. Wait, what?”
     “And Afghanistan used to be a good Muslim country, until the Americans removed the Taliban.”
     “Huh?”
     “Now only Saudi Arabia is any good.”
     “…”

     My train came and I made my getaway. I flipped through the book he gave me. It was about how capital punishment is merciful and condoms deny women the honour of motherhood.

     I threw it out at the next stop.

     Getting on the bus, I started reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants. She talked about a high school health teacher she once had who spent a day educating the class on how to recognize and avoid homosexuals. Because they are ruining the world, of course.

It’s the Hindus’ fault.
It’s the gays’ fault.
Blah blah blah.

     I remember giving myself a tour of my son’s elementary school. I saw a poster on the ground, obviously torn off the wall and defaced. It had named the school a safe zone for people of all races, religions and sexual orientations. I guess some people don’t like the idea of making the world safe for people who walk different paths.

     It’s all so silly, though, isn’t it?

     Every group claims they want to see peace on earth and goodwill toward men. But only on their terms. Peace, so long as you become us instead of them. Peace, so long as you stop being so gorram different.

     I used to think that the only way to peace was if everyone in the world stopped being whatever they were, and became more like me. My religion. My sexuality. My philosophies of government and economy. It was straight, Christian, conservative, capitalism or bust. And I spent many, many hours trying to get people to switch sides.

     But what if we put these labels aside and recognized each other as fellow humans, first? Instead of blaming the Hindus or homosexuals for whatever problems we see, what if we just shut up and gave peace a chance? What if we all just got along?

     Cliche? Simplistic? Maybe. But I heard a clever guy once say that we should, so far as it depends on us, be at peace with everyone. So I’m not going to blame out social ills on this religion or that lifestyle. Instead, I figure I’m going to be the change I want to see, open my arms in fellowship to everyone, and be at peace with all people.

     Blaming other groups is easy and cathartic. But it does little more than generate more hate and animosity. And we have enough of that in the world, already.

Thich Nhat Hanh on Community (Sangha)

When we live as a Sangha, we regard each other as brothers and sisters, and we practice the Six Concords – sharing space, sharing the essentials of daily life, observing the same precepts, using only words that contribute to harmony, sharing our insights and understanding, and respecting each other’s viewpoints.  A community that follows these principles always lives happily and at peace.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

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.

It’s Quiet … Too Quiet

     I’ve heard preachers claim that noise is the music of hell. Have you heard that before? Silly, eh?

     I used to try writing in the library. I went nearly every day for a month. I think I managed a couple hundred words a day. A pittance. Good enough to keep the dream alive but not enough to give it breath.

     The problem with writing in a library is that it’s too quiet. And when it’s too quiet, it gets really loud. I can hear the gentle tinkling of the air conditioner. Down on the other side of the library two people are having a conversation in hushed whispers that I can hear perfectly. The employees are gently putting books on the shelf. And they’re all so damned quiet that the noise is overwhelming.

     One of my favorite places to write is the mall food court. There is not a drop of quietness to be found.

     Teens yelling and goofing off at the table next to me. Janitors cleaning up spills and emptying garbage bins. The loud smells of food and coffee dancing throughout the place. Always movement. Always life. Always noise.

     When everyone is special, no one is. When everyone is quiet, no one is. And when everything is loud and chaotic, in truth it is peace and quiet of a purity that is hard to manufacture.

     When there is noise and movement all around you, it’s easy to sink into that special place where all the good things flow. But when everyone around you is trying to be quiet, then the tiniest change in the artificial stasis is jarring.

     Don’t seek for peace and quiet. It only exists in places where there is no life. And don’t dare try to create art in a place where there is no life. Noise is a gift, not a curse. Embrace it. Love it. It charges your art and soothes your psyche if you let it. And if you’re writing at home and your wife and kids are trying their best to create an environment of peace and quietness, tell them to watch a loud movie and listen to music and wrestle in the next room. It’ll make your process that much better.

Thoughts on a Cup of Tea

     Stop.

     Just for a minute there.

     It’s not that you’re doing it wrong. I don’t really think there is a wrong way to do it. But maybe there is another way. A way that will be better for you.

     First, don’t pour the water while it’s boiling. Let it cool down a bit first. Just a minute. It’ll still be hot. And the taste will come out better.

     While you’re waiting, think about something lovely in the room you’re in. Smile at it.

     Now pour.

     Watch it for a bit. See the colour seep from the bag and stain the water. What did you use? Black? Green? Herbal? Try green. It’s good for you and, if you make it the way I do, it’s not even a little bitter and tastes like something divine.

     How long are you going to let it steep? Try steeping for three minutes or less. It won’t be as strong, but it won’t be bitter, either. That’s the best kind. It’s not strong, but it’s not afraid of being weak, either.

     Are you just going to drink it? Just like that?

     Try sitting on the floor. Cross your legs. Put your cup in front of you. Is your room quiet? Can it be made quiet? Can it be made still? Just for a minute. Take your cup in two hands. I know you can lift it with one, but two is better. If you only use one, you’ll be tempted to multitask. And multitasking does not lead to peace.

     Bring the cup to your mouth, but don’t drink yet. Don’t smell it, either. Rather, breathe it. Slowly. Breathe it again. Can you taste it already? Can you feel it’s warmth in your chest? Nice, isn’t it? Close your eyes and breathe it for a minute.

     Put it to your lips, and take a sip.

     Smile.

     That’s how to have a cup of tea.