Mike Cope's blog

Thursday, July 29, 2004

  You just get used to it.   How have people permitted great acts of violence in places like Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Cambodia, and Rwanda?  They just got used to it.  “To tell the truth, one did become used to it,” explained Franz Stangel, a Nazi commandant of the death camps of Sobibor and Treblinka. Part of how the terrorist functionaries get used to it is that they often have some slight distance between themselves and those being maimed and murdered.  As Dr. Johann Kremer, one SS physician explained (about his preference for doing pathology research on fresh human tissue):  “When I had collected my information the orderly approached the patient and killed him with an injection in the vicinity of the heart. . . . I myself never made any lethal injections.”   I’m reading a wonderful book called King Leopold’s Ghost about the Belgian conquest of the Congo.  King Leopold II tried to appear like a great humanitarian (appealing to racist notions in Europe) but was a greedy, land-hungry despot.  His Belgian officials in the Congo inflicted unimaginable torture to people whom they were ostensibly trying to “help.”  Often Africans (including children) were beated with a chicotte, “a whip of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide, cut into a long sharp-edged corkscrew strip.  Usually the chicotte was applied to the victim’s bare buttocks.  Its blows would leave permanent scars; more than twenty-five strokes could mean unconsciousness; and a hundred or more—not an uncommon punishment—were often fatal.” But usually the Belgians required other Africans (who were promoted to “foremen”) to inflict the punishment.  That was the sliver of distance that allowed them to just get used to it. There have been some monsters in the world’s history.  But each of them has had thousands of functionaries who carried out their inhumane insanity.  How could those thousands do it?  They just got used to it. And now, I’m wondering about the things I’ve just gotten used to.   The inhumane treatment of fellow human beings comes in many forms.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Sorry my posts have been so sporadic for the past couple weeks.  And they probably will be until AUGUST 9.  Then it's time to get back to business! Our country is bound to continue to struggle with issues related to homosexuality--especially in a pluralistic society.  But as those discussions are taking place, it's essential that the church be clear about what it believes, honest about where it is uncertain, and compassionate toward all.  More on this later . . . .  But here is a wonderful piece from Ed Fudge:   gracEmail (SEXUAL INTIMACY AND HOLINESS) EDWARD FUDGE Jul 27, 2004 A gracEmail subscriber writes: "I am a devout Christian. I am also a lesbian. For several years I have been celibate but very lonely. I have been studying some material that reconciles faith with gay sexual orientation. It notes that Jesus himself was notably silent on the subject, that the Greek and Hebrew words translated as 'homosexual' roughly mean a male prostitute, and that Paul's comments may have been addressing pagan religious rituals and practices rather than monogamous homosexual relationships. I'm really feeling confused." I commend you for seeking the Lord's will about sexual activity in a time when most people give little if any thought to God's wishes. Our culture thinks nothing of sexual intercourse between heterosexual singles. Modern society regards divorce as an easy escape from discomfort or as a means to self-fulfillment when one's spouse loses that "special" aura or appeal. There is also a great move afoot today to legitimatize homosexual intimacy. Such attitudes and opinions result from worldly thinking not informed by the Holy Spirit. We need to renew our minds based on biblical revelation so that we are not deceived. God's plan for sexual relations calls for joyful and self-giving intimacy between one man and one woman who are married to each other for life. This excludes sexual relations between singles, between a married person and anyone other than a spouse and between people of the same sex. Jesus did not specifically address every form of sexual immorality. Instead he condemned impurity in general and reaffirmed God's positive plan (Matt. 19:4-6). Paul's language in Romans 1:26-28, 1 Cor. 6:9-11 and 1 Tim. 1:9-10 clearly prohibits homosexual relations by either women or men. These prohibitions and warnings certainly include pagan practices, prostitution and promiscuity, but there is no biblical or linguistic basis for limiting them to that. Contrary to common assertions, the ancient world also was familiar with loving, long-term homosexual relationships (as documented by Dr. James DeYoung in Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law, published by Kregel.) Such relationships are no exception to blanket biblical condemnations of homosexual intimacy. Homosexual orientation is a "brokenness" in our fallen world but a person is not sinning merely because they have such an orientation. Many heterosexual people also have "broken" cravings to which they too must say "No" for Christ's sake. God can heal sexual brokenness of all kinds and he can supernaturally enable a holy life. This applies to homosexually-oriented persons as well as to the far greater number of unmarried heterosexual persons. Meanwhile, those of us who have truly experienced God's love and forgiveness regarding our own sins need to come alongside our struggling brothers and sisters to encourage them in holiness and to offer godly friendship and spiritual intimacy. For a pastorally-sensitive presentation of the larger biblical perspective on this subject, I recommend "The Gay Debate", a little booklet by Stanton Jones, published by IVP, Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515.  © 2004 by Edward Fudge. Unlimited permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I've been flying through books for the past week with some time designated for reading and praying.  One book that was a "for fun" read was Nicholas Sparks's new one, Three Weeks With My Brother.  The best-selling author (The Notebook,  A Walk to Remember, The Wedding, etc.) received a travel brochure for an around-the-world-in-three-weeks trip.  So he called up his brother, Micah, and pitched him the idea. Partly the book is a travelogue of their visits to places like Guatemala's Mayan ruins, Peru's Incan temples, Chile's Easter Island, and Cambodia's killing fields.  But each chapter leads him backward to recount their challenging lives, which have included being raised in poverty, the deaths of the rest of their family (parents and sister), and the (apparent) autism of one of Nicholas's sons. Just the thought of two brothers getting to travel together to reconnect is stirring.  Micah tries to help his younger brother put aside his workaholism and enjoy life; Nicholas tries to point his older brother back toward faith. Hey, Randy, you reading this?  I have two words, little brother:   Machu Picchu!

Friday, July 23, 2004

Three words offer the "what-more-can-I-say" excuse.  They say, in essence, "Hey, I'm flawed, I'm weak, I'm sin-filled.  What would you expect?"  The three words?  "I'm only human." But as I've meditated on the meaning of the incarnation, I wonder if we have the wrong view of what it means to be a human.  Maybe, in light of the life of Jesus, our problem is that we're not human enough yet. From the example of Jesus we've learned this:  to be human means to build on eternal values, to bless all whom we encounter, to live for justice, to speak for those without a voice, and to keep our eyes peeled for the rule of God.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Been out of town for a few days -- without cell phone reception or internet connection.  It was like a return to the dark ages (10 years ago).  And . . . it was wonderful.  Of course, there are the 155 messages waiting for me.  Ughh.  Is e-mail a way to SAVE TIME? One thing hit me as I was away in solitude:  there are books inside me that want out.  I don't know what to do about that.  I don't know how to be a husband, dad, preacher, teacher, editor, and visiting speaker -- and let these books out.  I don't want to crank them out sloppily. 

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Great weekend in St. Louis!  It was our last "Ancient Future" Zoe worship conference.  (A new theme will begin in Nashville this fall.)  It was exhausting--leading two 2 1/2 hour and one other 2 hour worship sessions--but I'm blessed as well as worn out.  Someone jokingly (I think!) asked me Saturday morning, "What are you going to talk about this morning?  You covered the whole Bible last night!"   I love working with Brandon--as well as with the Zoe singers:  Sheryl, Melissa, Amy, Karen, Jason, David, Jonathon, and Brian.  Also love ministering side-by-side with the Maxwells, Eric, Greg, Theresa, Randy, all the workshop teachers, etc.  I'm very thankful for the McKnight Road Church that hosted the conference and for my own elders who bought into my passion for the Zoe ministry by giving me a couple extra weeks to travel this year to the conferences around the country.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Jim Woodroof. For some reason, my few hours in Searcy this week got me to thinking about Jim Woodroof. He was preaching for the College Church when Diane and I were students there. He changed our lives. He gave me a vision for preaching--a vision of drawing people into the topsy-turvy world of scripture. A world where the first are last and the last are first. A world where blessings are announced on the poor in spirit and the meek. A world where submission trumps dominance and serving trumps power. No student had to feel bad that Jim didn't remember their name . . . because he couldn't remember anyone's name. He was an equal opportunity forgettor. But all knew that he loved them and wanted them to give their lives to Jesus. I remember him saying that he wanted to be with Jesus so much that he thought he'd go to hell if he found out that Jesus was there. He loved 2 Corinthians and John's gospel. He preached them with passion and gospel-formed insight. When I grow up, I want to be like him.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

As an avid reader, I've found myself returning again and again to writers whom I can trust to be thoughtful. I don't remember ever reading anything by Philip Yancey or Eugene Peterson when I thought, "Hey, that wasn't worth my time." Their words are eloquent, insightful, and faith-filled. Today from Peterson: "What a waste it would be to take these short, precious, eternity-charged years that we are given and squander them in cocktail chatter when we can be . . . vehemently human and passionate about God."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A quick trip to LR yesterday (and then in the evening to Searcy to watch the all-star game with a buddy). I forget sometimes what an incredibly beautiful city Little Rock is. Tall, gorgeous TREES everywhere! The Arkansas River. Hills and bluffs. While on the tram between terminals, I heard a harried mom explaining to her daughter (about 4) that the next flight would be much longer. "How much longer?" she wanted to know. "About a Shrek and a half," she replied. Isn't that much more practical than, "When the big hand is on the . . ."? If you have time, catch yesterday's Tavis Smiley show. He has an interview, that turns into a discussion/debate, between Jim Wallis (Christian leader and editor of SoJourner) and Jerry Falwell about values, morality, and politics.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I'm pausing at DFW for a bit, reflecting on what you often see at ticket counters: angry people. SOMEONE has done SOMETHING to make them mad!! Guess what? Someone doesn't make you mad. You decide to be mad. You have control; the choice is yours. You can respond to unfavorable external stuff with reason and patience, or you can respond with anger. It's one of the secrets of life and especially of marriage. People imagine that if they had a different spouse, a different job, a different church THEN they'd be happy. But they carry their own habits of self-pity, blaming, and resentment with them. It's a great day when you realize that God blessed you with the gift of choice. Happiness is within your reach no matter what the circumstances. It's a lesson I've had to preach to myself often, which is ridiculous in light of how incredibly blessed my life has been.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Reentry "Several times a year I disengage from American culture, either on a visit to a foreign country or on a hiking trip into the wilderness. Each time, on return, I experience a jolt of reentry, a psychic adjustment similar to what astronauts must go through physically upon return to earth. I turn on a television sitcom and listen to the innuendoes and sarcastic put-downs and the canned laughter that follows. I watch the commercials promising sexual conquests if I drink a certain beer and professional esteem if I rent from a certain car company. The first day back, modern culture betrays itself as a self-evident lie, a grotesque parody of the day-to-day life I know. The next day my reactions moderate. A few days later I am breathing the air of lust, consumerism, selfishness, and ambition, and it seems normal." - Philip Yancey

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Having finally been eliminated from the tournament on Friday night and having one of our few open nights since baseball began in late March (preseason, regular season, city tournament, all-star practice, all-star tournament), what did we do last night? Yup. Went to see the final little league game in District V. I sat in the stands full of "what ifs": what if I'd called a curve instead of a fastball, what if we hadn't had so many errors, what if I hadn't tried to send a kid home on a passed ball, etc. Anyone ever struggle with the "Whatifs" in life? The "whatifs" I had last night were the ones about how things could have been different. But there are also the whatifs that obsess on what may be waiting around the next bend. Perhaps you'll enjoy this Shel Silverstein classic: Last night, while I lay thinking here, Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear And pranced and partied all night long And sang their same old Whatif song: Whatif I'm dumb in school? Whatif they've closed the swimming pool? Whatif I get beat up? Whatif there's poison in my cup? Whatif I start to cry? Whatif I get sick and die? Whatif I flunk that test? Whatif green hair grows on my chest? Whatif nobody likes me? Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me? Whatif I don't grow taller? Whatif my head starts getting smaller? Whatif the fish won't bit? Whatif the wind tears up my kite? Whatif they start a war? Whatif my parents get divorced? Whatif the bus is late? Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight? Whatif I tear my pants? Whatif I never learn to dance? Everything seems swell, and then The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

On the bright side, two good things happen today: (1) my little all-star team gets to go swimming, and (2) I get my vehicle back. The bad news, of course, is that both are possible because we lost last night and are eliminated. We ended up 5-2 and tied for 3rd in Texas District V. Once again we held the other team to 7 runs (which came largely from our ten errors, if you count passed balls where runners scored), but this time we only scored 6. So here in a little bit, I'll actually have my jeep again. Out comes the big equipment bag, the bucket of balls, the water cooler, the folders with team phone numbers, the extra rule book (an obsession which I attribute to my C of C heritage), and my glove. The part I'm trying not to think about is this: that may be the end of my little league coaching career. Christopher was DUE in August of 1992, but he came a month early. Had he been born on time, we'd have one more year of little league. There's still more baseball ahead, of course: junior league and senior league. But I doubt if I'll coach at those levels. So, that may be it. Of course, John and Elizabeth Edwards had their last child when he was 47 (my age) and she was 50 (WAY over Diane's age). Hmmmmmm . . . .

Friday, July 09, 2004

From Philip Yancey: ". . . I went to the local supermarket and looked over the magazines as I stood in line at the checkout stand. The progression of magazine titles over the past few decades tells a story of narrowing interests: from Look and Life to People to Us to Self, from Ladies' Home Journal and Good Housekeeping to Shape and Cosmopolitan. Every magazine on the rack featured a beautiful woman showing off her curves in workout gear, a bikini, or other revealing clothes. Does America have no men? "I looked around at the women standing in line. This being the U.S., a majority were overweight. They wore glasses, had moles and imperfect skin, dressed sloppily, slumped at the shoulders--qualities absent from the magazine cover girls. We all know the lie being sold by the magazines, yet still we buy the promise that straight teeth, an ideal shape, and glossy hair will satisfy forever." No wonder our teenage girls are obsessed with looks and often have low self-esteem from not measuring up! These old words spoken by God to Samuel still speak a fresh word of insight: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The all-star team I'm managing won again last night. We began with 18 teams in Texas District V, and now we're down to four. We continue tonight. We began practicing June 15. That's a lot of gatorade!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I'll leave the political analysis to Tim Russert. But here's the part of John Edwards that resonates with me--the part that has drawn me to follow his career for quite a while. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were married less than a year before we were. They have three children: Cate (22), Emma Claire (6), and Jack (4). But there was another one: Wade. In 1996 he was killed at the age of 16 on a NC highway. That kind of devastating loss changes you: it either sucks you under and defeats you or it forces you to ask serious questions about what matters in life. This is for sure: the loss never leaves. It is a part of who you are. Even when the wound no longer bleeds, there is a scar that can't be missed. A friend of Edwards said that after the death, he was less interested in his accomplished career as a trial lawyer. He showed an "emerging desire to paint with a broader brush." Edwards rarely speaks about his grief in public. So I may never know much about the things that interest me most: How did his faith (Methodist heritage) survive the loss? What did he learn about God . . . prayer . . . community? Why did they decide to have more children at their age? (He looks 40 but is 51.) What has been the ebb-and-flow of grief over the past eight years?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

One of my elders, Joey Cope (no relation), is the director of ACU's Center for Conflict Resolution. So far he hasn't responded to my suggestion that we could team up for a conflict resolution company called Cope & Cope: I seem to have the gift of creating it, and he has the gift of resolving it. Good team. He writes a column called "Distinct Impressions." Here's a great piece this week (used by his permission). “Corner” takes on a lot of meanings. If someone is “in your corner,” you have a friend, an advocate, an encourager. If a car “corners well,” Consumer Reports writes it up as an automobile with great handling and stability. If I had continued to practice law full-time, I might have had a “corner office” by now. More windows, more prestige. During the birthday parties of my youth, a “corner piece” of cake ensured the maximum amount of icing. In building, the “corner stone” sets the direction and layout of the structure and provides strength essential to construction integrity. The “corner store” is a thriving business because it is located at the intersection – a place of maximum traffic and exposure. In the commodities arena, “cornering the market” is control of a financial goldmine. When our project makes significant progress, we congratulate each other on “turning the corner.” We suffer when we feel we’ve been “cornered.” Just something ugly about being forced into taking a position or making a stand we weren’t prepared for. The corner I’ve come to detest is the “critics’ corner.” That place where those who perceive themselves to be smarter stand and call out to the rest of us, “I wouldn’t have done that.” Or point out that since a particular event didn’t have the best outcome, additional evidence is now available to show that “everybody but me is a complete idiot.” Critics are a constant. They’ve been around since the beginning of the world. Satan criticized God for the whole knowledge-of-good-and-evil business. Adam criticized Eve for causing him to sin. He even took a potshot at God for giving him Eve. Eve criticized Satan. We have all suffered as a result. It’s not unusual these days to praise an individual one day for a particular act and to condemn her the next for not doing better. There just seems to be something unusually sweet about tearing apart the achievements, the plans and the dreams of others. Destruction of good intentions is a high stakes game. The winners bask in euphoric revelry while the losers suffer shame and discredit. Criticism is a sin. “But wait a minute!” you say. “Isn’t there a difference between destructive and constructive criticism? Isn’t there a time to stand up and be counted?” We must make stands. We must be counted. Is there a difference between destructive and constructive criticism? Only in the eyes of the one who criticizes. I have friends who take great pride in their skills of criticism. I have those friends because I’ve walked among them often and been honored by them because of my own heightened skills of verbal dissection. I’m even known in some circles for my supremely developed sarcasm – and known for nothing else. I have been a frequent and exuberant participant in the “critics’ corner.” In a day when “coming out of closets” is common, I want to go on record that I’m trying to come out, too. Not out of a secret place. Instead, I want everyone to know that I am trying to leave the prominence of the corner where critics stand. There will be those who will criticize me for this. Undoubtedly, I will have moments when I will sink backward into the old ways. My only hope is that I can look past the edge and listen to the voices of those who would encourage me. As I try to climb out of this pit of a corner, it is my hope that many will join me in looking for higher ground. There is a place of true standards and accountability. A habitat where people can lovingly disagree and work together to find answers. We don’t have to wait for heaven. It’s simply a different corner. One where my concern for you matters as much as my concern for me. I really want to be in God’s corner. I want to be at peace. Join me?

Monday, July 05, 2004

Miscellaneous notes on this 5th of July: 1. Happy 50th birthday to rock and roll on this anniversary of Elvis's first record. 2. From Eugene Peterson: "Pastoral work is fundamentally creative work. The section of the Creed in which we set up ecclesistical shop is the third, beginning with 'I believe in the Holy Spirit.' If this is so, if we in fact believe in the Holy Spirit, then we must not at the same time try to moonlight as efficiency experts in religion. We cannot nurture the life of the Spirit in a parishioner while holding a stopwatch. We cannot apply time management techniques to the development of souls." 3. I spoke yesterday on how the Lord's supper is a unity meal which unfortunately has been a cause of more disunity (or at least a rallying point of disunity) than almost any other Christian activity. Then, while serving communion with my wife, a visitor interrupted communion in our area by yelling at me that he was offended, that it felt like he was at a Catholic Church. I had to stop serving people long enough to ask him--kindly but firmly--to please have a seat and continue the discussion after the assembly. I told him I'd be glad to wait and visit with him, but I couldn't ever find him afterward. He was a living sermon illustration for the point I'd made. 4. The good news is that the all-star team I'm managing has now outscored our opponents 16-14 in our first two games. The bad news is that we won the first one, 15-0. . . . You do the math on the second one! It's a double elimination tournament, so now we play every night until we lose again. (I guess the more optimistic way of saying that would be: "Confident that we'll return to our winning ways, we will be playing every night this week.") 5. Today I begin part of my study break. I'm really, really, really ready. I've been running on fumes for several weeks. I don't feel creative. I'm prickly. I've lost patience and purpose. (Don't panic. This is an annual event for me. It's part of my "already/NOT YET eschatology," my "glass-is-half-empty" personality, and too much speaking on the road.) 6. I loved being able to worship in an assembly on the 4th of July where we could pray for America (and all nations of the world) without it turning into a sordid display of American civil religion. Those who cling to some belief that America is God's special country are blind to what's happening. The center of Christian strength isn't in America. Don't blame the courts, the president (present or past), liberal judges, Democrats, or Republicans. Blame weak churches that are immersed in consumerism. To find vibrant, missional churches, look to Africa and Asia! (The churches here that are a source of strength are the ones that don't whine about what's happening in America--they just recognize that they live in a Post-Christian environment and gladly accept the missional nature of the people of God.) 7. I refer again to #5. I'm a bit prickly. Maybe the blog needs a rest until I get a couple days into my break.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

I really only meant to address the issue at Highland. Really. But then I was asked to at the Zoe Conference. Then those messages got put on the internet. Then tapes went out. . . . Anyway, my views on the role of women are pretty well known by now. I look forward to the day when we will, in our assemblies, hear young women reading scripture, listen to grandmas leading prayers, and see moms (along with dads) baptizing their children. This isn't because I've sold out to our culture. It's a case of where culture is bringing us kicking and screaming to a more biblical place--much as it did with racism. Scripture, written in a very patriarchal world, is still seeking to lead us to the upside down world of the kingdom -- a place where there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus." I'm tempted to hammer out a long blog about why I believe scripture is leading us here, what I think the meaning of restrictive passages (1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2) is, what the theological underpinnings are, etc. But that's not for a blog, is it? Let me just say that in the baby steps we've taken at Highland, our church is being blessed. Others may say we don't care about scripture or that we've decided to be the Abilene circus (new members have been told both of these recently by members of other churches in town). But what we've experienced is a fresh allegiance to scripture, a fresh commitment to missional living, and a fresh awareness of the way God's Holy Spirit has gifted our church. It's not been an easy move since Highland is so visible, but it's been a God-blessed one. Tomorrow, again I'll be blessed to serve communion side-by-side with my wife as people from the "south congregation" come forward for communion. I'll again have tears in my eyes as I hear her tell people, "This is the blood of Jesus given for you." I'll be blessed to hear a sister in Christ share in the scripture reading. It now seems obscene as we look back to days when worship and worship leading were restricted by color of skin. (Those who led the charge to preserve the racist system had their own texts to quote, of course. Be very careful of text-quoting exclusionists.) Someday it will be equally obscene that we let church be a boys' club for so long.

Friday, July 02, 2004

From my journal 12 years ago today (7/2/92): Dear Father, This morning at 2:42, I got to welcome Christopher Warren Cope into this world. What a marvelous blessing--to experience this joy for the third time. Already this son has captured my heart. My head spins with questions about his future. What will he enjoy? Will he mind having an "older" dad? Where will he go to school? Whom will he marry? What will he do for a job? All these questions are implicit in birth. But my only prayer, Lord, is that he be full of your Spirit. Help him be a boy and man who is intoxicated with your love, eager to follow you. Please, please protect him from the values and behaviors of this world that aren't in line with your kingdom. May he come to know you--the God who fully redeemed him in Jesus Christ!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Blog Classic . . . I wrote this last summer before Matt and Wade held my hand and walked me through the technology of adding comments. Now that we have a sort of blog community forming . . . well, please, jump in here and tell us about your sacred places. Last night in "Peak of the Week," Randy Halstead spoke about "sacred places." That resonated with me, especially since I'd written about one sacred place in Monday's journal. But I got to thinking about other sacred places in my life: Green Valley Bible Camp (where I went every year as a kid), Glen Eyrie (a retreat center in Colorado Springs), Serra Retreat Center in Malibu (where I like to go pray and walk the stations of the cross), Megan's grave, Highland's sanctuary, and the dining room at Darryl and Anne Tippens's old house. Now our covenant group rotates homes, but for a few years, we always met there since their kids were raised. It was/is a place of joy, of prayer, of hope, of grief, and of connecting. Now I'm wondering . . . What sacred places do you have in your life?

Need a good summer "beach read"? Find a copy of Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety. It's a well-written novel that celebrates lasting friendship. The story centers on two couples who meet at the University of Wisconsin and become close friends but who are then separated by career fortunes. But time, distance, heartaches--nothing can undo their friendship. I write this shortly after a reunion with two couples whom we've loved for a long time. One couple still lives in Arkansas; the other in Vermont. We haven't all lived in the same place for thirteen years. But time, distance, and heartaches aren't nearly enough to separate us. So, this morning a toast (I'm sipping water, but by mid-morning will switch to Diet Dr. Pepper) to friendships that survive. They don't come easily.