Mike Cope's blog

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

It doesn't happen often. But this morning I was wide awake at 3:15 with one word emblazoned on my mind. It's like God woke me up and told me to focus on this one word. I prayed about it, read scripture about it, journaled about it. Perhaps that word will be my theme for 2004. How about you -- what word or phrase might describe where you see God leading you in the coming year? How about prayer? . . . or compassion? . . . or justice? . . . or purity? . . . or reconciliation? . . . or scripture? . . . or evangelism? . . . or sabbath?

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Rick Reilly recently wrote (in SI) about a 55-year-old man coming to him to say that his daughter is dying of a brain tumor. She is a sports fanatic. What should she do to enjoy her final year. Reilly thought about it and here's what he says: If I had only next year to live, I'd do whatever it took to see, one last time, Michael Vick's happy feet, Allen Iverson's XL heart and Ichiro's bionic arm throwing out some poor slob at third who didn't even think he'd have to slide. I'd chase goose bumps coast to coast. I'd make sure I saw Tiger Woods windmill a driver. I'd go to the Kentucky Derby paddock and watch the parade of thoroughbreds, dropping my Starbucks when I see how huge they are. I'd beg, cheat and bribe my way onto the Super Bowl field, so I could be there when the F-18s polish off the national anthem with a flyover that turns your spine into marmalade. I'd go to Fenway and sit above the Green Monster, see Mia Hamm before she starts having tiny Olympians and go to a UCLA game to shake the 93-year-old hand of the wisest man in the land, John Wooden. I'd see the Palio in Siena, hotwire a Ferrari and drive the Amalfi coast road, and see how long I could sprint behind Lance Armstrong as he melted another Alp. I'd read Ball Four a few dozen times more, watch Slap Shot again, listen to Vin Scully call one last game on my transistor while I hooked up a steady IV of Dodger Dogs. I'd get to Augusta and watch the par-3 tournament on the prettiest swatch of golf in the world. And on Sunday I'd watch the last group go through Amen Corner and then whip the seven-iron out of my pants leg and play number 12 right quick. So you go to jail. When they hear your story, you'll be out by 9 p.m. I'd want a few laughs, so I'd go to Logan Airport the day after the Boston Marathon and watch the poor runners walk backward up staircases because their calves are so sore. I'd sit with the Cameron Crazies to see them dangle a Big Mac in front of a visiting Jabba the Center. I'd pay $10,000 to enter the World Series of Poker just to sit next to Amarillo Slim and hear his hilarious whoppers. I know what I'd stop doing. I'd stop wasting time worrying about my 401(k) or what the Madman and Coach think on SportsBlab 1090 or NFL receivers who make cell calls to their egos. I'd try to become part of sports as it weaves through the fabric of life. I'd go an hour late to the starting line at the Iditarod just to hear the sorrowful howling of the sled dogs left behind. I'd see if John Madden would let me hitch a ride. I'd walk into physics class, sign out my kid and his buddies and go play Wiffle ball. Now that's physics. I'd write some letters, not caring if I got a response. I'd thank Derek Jeter for playing so hard, Pete Sampras for playing so well and Kevin Garnett for never showing up in the sports section, which my daughter reads, with two Girl Scouts and a bottle of X. I'd find Bill Buckner and forgive him, Steve Bartman and hug him, Rasheed Wallace and slap him. I'd blow off the annual jersey exchange that pro sports has become and get to where the passion is -- the colleges, the high schools, the jayvee basketball game. I'd go to Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M with the 30,000 other wackos who like to be hoarse for kickoff. I'd call Bobby Bowden on his listed phone number and talk trick plays. I'd go to Senior Day at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse, where the floor gets covered with carnations and the jerseys with tears. I'd catch the milk run on Ajax, at Vail, in powder you could lose Doug Flutie in. I'd hit the best tailgate in America -- a Kansas City Chiefs game -- and try to become the first man to drown in Gates Bar-B-Que sauce. I'd play 72 at Oregon's Bandon Dunes, where the cliffs and the waves and the Scotch make you want to chain yourself to the starter's hut on check-out day. I'd relish friends and catch up on bliss and bake in all the tastes I've acquired. I'd wallow and dawdle and completely ignore my cholesterol. I'd spend my last year reminding myself why I loved it all so much in the first 45. And I'd die happy, knowing it was going to take the embalmers two hours to bend the grin off my face.

Monday, December 29, 2003

We got back from Missouri just after midnight after two delays--one expected (stopping at Pappasito's for dinner) and one unexpected (sitting still on I-35 for 45 minutes). Yesterday morning I preached at the Rockedyne Road Church of Christ in Neosho. The audience was largely made up of (1) people I'm related to and (2) people who taught me or babysat me a LONG time ago. As I walked in for early service yesterday morning Carl Selby slipped me a couple pieces of candy. He was doing that 40 years ago! I love going back to a place like that. As I toured Neosho with my brother, memories came flooding--of grade school playground fights (at Field School where my 4-year-old nephew and 5-year-old niece are now attending preschool), of little league games, of a downtown paper route, of buying clothes at McGinty's, of riding my bike to see where a certain girl lived, etc. I'm lucky to have two homes: the one where I live and the one where I was born and raised.

Monday, December 22, 2003

It's a routine we've continued for 25 Christmases now -- all of our 26 since we were married except for the one a month after Megan died. We alternate years between Ohio and Missouri. Last year was an Ohio year. After going up there every other Christmas since 1978, it was only three years ago that someone mentioned that there is a place to ski just twenty minutes from my in-laws house. So the past couple Ohio Christmases have been filled with snow games: skiing, sledding, snowball fights, and tackle football. This is a Missouri year. I graduated from high school in 1974, but much about Neosho still feels like home. My folks are still in the house we moved into my junior year. The tiny trees we planted on their six acres 30 years ago now tower. It's the town where I was born and raised. How many people now get to enter kindergarten in the same town where they wind up graduating? The Ozarks are in my blood.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

I'm reading Luke Timothy Johnson's newest book, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters. This morning I'm trying to face up to the implications of this statement: "The 'witness' of early Christian communities was not primarily through their preaching, but through the quality of their lives. The greatest miracle supporting the claims of Christians was the transformation of their lives and the creation of transforming communities." If that's true . . . anyone see a problem?

Friday, December 19, 2003

I just joined about 4 million Americans who have read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Whew! More Sunday . . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Headed to the West Coast for a day and a half. No blog for a couple days. I leave you with these wonderful words from our friend Bilbo Baggins: The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow it if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins a larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.

Last night was our staff Christmas party. After the party, one of our youth interns was headed to the midnight showing of "Return of the King." Then when it was over (around 3:30 A.M.), he was driving to Colorado to ski. Was I ever that young?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Ian McKellen, AKA "Gandalf," has been on a media blitz before tomorrow's opening of "The Return of the King." (We have our tickets. Do you?) Listen to what McKellen, an atheist, says about the trilogy: "The interesting thing about Hobbiton to me is that it doesn't have a church. It's appealing to me that people like these stories and yet there isn't an archbishop and there isn't a pope telling you what to believe. . . . Despite being a Catholic, I don't think [Tolkien] was trying to write a Catholic parable, so I don't think we were meant to draw conclusions about faith from it. But I am sure that other people disagree." Umm, yes. I believe that's safe to say. (See Chuck Colson's words about Christian faith and "Lord of the Rings.") It's a compelling story about courage, hope, friendship, power, good and evil, faith. Who's the hero? Well, a case could be made for Aragorn, for sure. And Frodo, the ring-bearer, of course. But Samwise Gamgee may be the most compelling figure of all. Listen for him to utter these words when he sees his dear friend suffering from a burden he can't remove: “I can’t carry it for you, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you.”

Monday, December 15, 2003

We had a chance to look through a couple toy stores at the Galleria mall in Dallas. There are some amazing things to buy kids now! Here are some suggestions for younger parents who don't know what to buy their children: crayons, dolls, Play-doh, books, and building blocks. Then how about paints and balls and more books? The zippy, more expensive gifts might get a wider-eyed immediate response. But over the long haul, it's the gifts that invite them to be imaginative and creative that are cherished.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

From Nicholas Wolterstorff, one of my travel guides (in the journey of life and parental grief): God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God's suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love. So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For Love is the meaning. And Love suffers. The tears of God are the meaning of history. But mystery remains. Why isn't Love-without-suffering the meaning of things? Why is suffering-Love the meaning? Why does God endure his suffering? Why does he not at once relieve his agony by relieving ours?

Friday, December 12, 2003

Another thought from reading Tracy Kidder's MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS (about the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, "a man who would change the world"): Kidder traveled all around the world with Farmer as he prepared to write the book--to Peru, to Russian prisons, to Boston, to Haiti (the center of Farmer's work with the poor), and to Paris. Here's what he records about entering Paris: "As we entered the city proper, that great dove-colored epicurean city, he murmured something about how much could be done in Haiti if only he could get his hands on the money that the first world spent on pet grooming." Statements like that jolt me into reality and embarrassment. It makes me think about how hard it is for us to buy Christmas presents for each other when we can't think of anything lacking. And yet there are people in Haiti (and hidden from us in Abilene) who lack almost everything.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Enjoy Jim Shahin's thoughts about Santa: "Isn't Santa always beaming? For once, I'd like to see a pensive Santa or a melancholy Santa. I was lucky enough to see, in person, a drunk Santa. It was in Florida on Christmas Eve, Santa after-hours. He was weaving down the late-night street, spotlit by the hazy light of overhanging street lamps, mumbling something that didn't sound remotely like 'and to all a good night.' I've also been privileged to see a cigarette-smoking Santa; several of them, in fact. They're all over the place in Italy. Cigarette smoking and hair the color of cigarette ash, worn slightly askew, a look that is less jolly than it is kind of Santa noir." Santa Noir, huh? Can you imagine how different all the lyrics might be to popular Christmas songs? Go ahead . . . give it a try.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Just survived a flight from Abilene to DFW. Winds in Abilene turned it into a roller-coaster ride. I saw lots of people in the airport headed to Abilene. They asked how it was. I just smiled and said, "buckle up." On the way, I continued MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS. There is a great passage about what Dr. Paul Farmer calls his "H of G." It stands for "hermeneutic of generosity." In other words, he tries to interpret what people say with a generous spirit, giving them the benefit of the doubt. What a great idea!

Monday, December 08, 2003

You can't trust the Sooners to win. When you want them to lose, they kill everyone. When you need them to win so Texas can get in a decent bowl game, they blow it. And the under-12 Burn? Won in quarters, won in semis, lost 1-0 in the finals. It was a great seven year run. (Thanks, Scott!)

Sunday, December 07, 2003

I love my job. But somedays . . . like this morning. So glad to be here. But I'll miss Chris's soccer team at the Tournament of Champions. They advanced through yesterday's three games into this morning's quarterfinals. So last night, as I've done several times before, Diane stayed to watch what will hopefully be three more games while I drove back for my Sunday gig. Chris has played on the same soccer team for seven years. Many times I've seen him play Saturday in tournaments. But I've never seen one of the final games on Sunday. Go Burn! (For non-soccer fans, this is a cheer for a sports team, not some eschatological fury.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Here's how a real zoom shot works: from a galactic view of the Milky Way galaxy to sub-atomic particles in a leaf on earth.

I came across someone's "ALL I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED ON THE CATTLE RANGE." Thought it was pretty valuable. 1. Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco. 2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day. 3. There are 2 theories to arguing with a woman...neither works. 4. Never miss a good chance to shut up. 5. Always drink upstream from the herd. 6. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. 7. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back in your pocket. 8. There are three kinds of men: - The ones who learn by reading. - The few who learn by observation. - The rest of them have to touch the electric fence to see if it's really on. [Note to my family of origin here: Does this remind you of our farm? How many times did we touch that fence to see if it was on?] 9. Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment. 10. If you're riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

It happened again this morning. I said to Diane, "You look great in that sweater. Is it new?" She said, "Thank you. And no, it isn't new. You got it for me for my birthday last year." All right. So my taste is better than my memory.

Monday, December 01, 2003

I'm finishing up my grading of the papers my 106 freshmen students wrote. They're supposed to review a movie (from a list I gave), showing how the movie prepares for hearing the gospel through messages about sin, brokenness, community, friendship, compassion, etc. Some, never having done anything like this before, just turn the movie into an allegory. I finally took "The Matrix" and "Lion King" off the list because I couldn't take any more "Neo represents Jesus" or "Mufasa represents Jesus" papers. (Of course this year I put "Finding Nemo" on there, and you can imagine where that went!) But others catch it: instead of trying to find illustrations and draw parallels and produce allegories, they grab the big, overarching themes that great novelists and producers work with. "Places of the Heart," "Shawshank Redemption," "The Apostle," "Chocolat"--movies like this are working with real life themes like loss, grief, hope, pain, friendship, hypocrisy. On the subject of GREAT MOVIES, it is just sixteen days until December 17. And you know what that means! (LOTR #3)