Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: tolerance

The thing about annoying people

The thing about annoying people, is that they don’t really exist.  Only annoyed people exist.

Normal people turn into annoyed people for lots of different reasons.  Loud noises.  Funny smells.  Hearing ideas we don’t like or seeing facial gestures that rub us harshly.  Certain perceived attitudes in others can do it.  Songs and styles and the ways people walk down the street — all these arbitrary things can turn us normal, happy people into annoyed people.

But not annoying people.  Because they don’t exist.  When I call someone annoying, I’m talking about myself more than anything.  I’m laying out the weaknesses I have in my personality that make it so when my son turns on this video for the eighth time, something yucky happens inside of me.

But it’s not the video.  It’s not my son.  It’s not anything at all but me.

And I think that means something.

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?

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!

Advice for Matt Going to Pakistan

     Do you ever give yourself advice? It’s a good process. Because you’re much more likely to value what you say to yourself than what other people say. That’s just the way things go.

     I’m going to Pakistan on Saturday. It’s been two years. In the scant moments of free time I have while I prepare for the trip, I remember what it was like and I wonder what I need to do to prepare myself for the trip. I drew up a list of advice I am giving myself to make the trip the best it can be. I hope I listen. I should. I’m experienced, after all, having lived completely immersed in rural Pakistani culture for about four years.

  • Chill the hell out! Seriously, Matt. Just freakin’ relax. You get too stressed out over tiny cultural annoyances. Yes, people are going to stand too close to you when they talk. Yes, you are going to get offered more food than you want. Yes, people are going to follow you around when you want to be alone because they are afraid that you might be lonely. Deal with it. The problem doesn’t lie in Pakistan, it lies in you.
  • Remember it’s more complicated than it looks. When you see poor kids on the street, resist the urge to raise your fist at the first rich guy you see. Issues of global poverty, women’s rights, and religious turmoil are as complex as the cultures they are born from. You think you’ll walk in there from your comfy suburb and have the insight to fix it all? Fat chance. Odds are you’ll just try to work against fringe symptoms and end up pissing people off with no real benefit.
  • Go to learn, not to teach. I hate to have to say this, Matt, but someone has to. You are an arrogant S.O.B. I know that you think you have the insight of the gods with which you can smite every root of suffering and injustice. But you don’t. Because, frankly, you’re a bit of an idiot. So stop trying to tell everyone what to do. You’re ignorant and ill-informed. Why don’t you just shut your mouth and take this opportunity to soak in the viable and unique way of looking at the world that Pakistan offers. You cannot put water in a glass that’s already full, after all.
  • Quit being right all the time. Remember all those neat cultural quirks that you hated and took it upon yourself to attack? Quit doing that. You can’t get rid of them and you just piss people off. And, let’s face it, you don’t know what you’re talking about anyway. Like when you used to bitch about having to wear nice shoes to church when you just ended up taking them off at the door? Yeah, don’t do that. You’re not right. Or when you rebuked people for doing their work in a way that you deemed inefficient? Yeah, don’t do that. You’re not right. Because when you try to be right all the time, people get the (accurate) impression that you’re just another white guy coming over to tell the natives how they ought to live. For the love of God, Matt, do not be that guy.
  • Expectations work against you. What? You expected that Pakistan was full of nothing but charming, quaint people who smile all day and sing Bollywood tunes? What? You didn’t expect that there would be a similar ratio of jerk:nice as there in in Canada? What do you really know about Pakistan? After four years, nothing. Say it with me Matt, ‘I know nothing’. Because you don’t. You read books and you lived there, but you know nothing. It takes a lifetime to know and understand a single individual. It would take a thousand years to understand a culture (by which time the culture would have evolved into something totally different anyway). Don’t expect anything. Don’t fall into the deathly trap of thinking in terms of ‘the Pakistani way vs. the Canadian way’. Just roll, friend. Just roll.
  • Eat slowly. Yeah, you remember how long it takes a white stomach to get normal over there. Take it easy, champ.
  • Smile. It’s a cool place filled with cool people. Enjoy them for what they are. Laugh with strangers, dance with friends. Give joy and be willing to receive it when it’s offered to you.
  • Embrace. The people you meet are more like you than you realize. There is not us vs. them. There is only us. If there is a them, it’s God (or aliens, I suppose). That Hindu fellow in the village who cannot read and works in the fields? He’s a man like you. That Muslim woman, all covered up as she floats through the bazaar? She’s a soul like yours. That kid on the street, that angry-faced preacher, that smiling shopkeeper. They are all carriers of the Divine. And so are you. Look around at that strangers and remember that they are not strange. Greet those strangers and call them ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. Rejoice in the things you have in common. Learn from the things that are different.
  • Love. Matt, I realize that your memory isn’t the best. And that’s okay. I love you anyway. So if you manage to forget everything I’m telling you know, just try to remember this last one. Because if you can pull this last one off, you’ll be alright.

     See you on the other side.