Mike Cope's blog

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Today I'm leaving for the Zoe conference in Nashville. Working with this team is one of my favorite things to do. Today as Chris left for school (not my carpool day), my last words were, "I'll miss you, bud." His last words were, "Do I have lipstick on my neck?" His mother doesn't get it!! She could ruin his whole middle school career with lipstick on the side of the neck. I reassured him that he was clean, he hugged me, and scampered off. Don't know if I'll have the opportunity to blog the next few days. Most of the time I no longer carry my laptop with me. But maybe I can sneak into the Zoe/Wineskins office. So I'll leave you with something to chew on a bit. Here are my Top 10 movies. Please note this admission: my list is pretty light on classics. No "Casablanca"; no "Citizen Kane"; no "African Queen." Just trying to be honest here. I'm not a critic. Just like to go with my wife to a movie. So, here we go . . . 10. "The Emperor's New Groove." Actually, some of these are "representative selections." This one represents all the wonderful movies I've watched with my boys when they were young: "Shrek," "Finding Nemo," "Ice Age," "Monsters, Inc.," "Antz," "But's Life," "Lion King," etc. As the Emperor (David Slade) would say, "Bring it on!" 9. "Peter Pan." This one is here to remember all the wonderful old Disney animations that Megan and I watched. To be honest, she mostly liked the Disney Sing-a-longs. And the great thing was, she didn't (in her 10 years) grow out of them! Every niece and nephew has had to endure Uncle Mike singing, "Never smile at a crocodile." 8. "Chariots of Fire." Again, a representative movie. I work under the assumption that a bad sports movie is better than a good love story. Catch me on another day, and I might plug in "Hoosiers" or "Remember the Titans" or "Field of Dreams" or "The Natural." But besides a cool theme song, "Chariots" inspires me to listen first to God. 7. "Rain Man." Maybe you have to be the parent of a "special child" to get it. 6. "The Apostle." Of course there had to be a movie about a preacher in here. But this one is better every time I see it. The scenes of sorrow, of remorse, of bold faith. Duvall launching his new church with the words of Psalm 150. Then bringing an opponent (Billy Bob Thornton) to his knees in repentance by refusing to back down. God accomplishes his work despite the disappointing inconsistencies of his servants. 5. "City Slickers." A short, dark-haired-and-balding, middle-aged guy who is obsessed with death. Hmmm . . . why could this one be on my list? Go ahead, call me shallow. I like the movie! 4. "Fellowship of the Rings." This, of course, is also representative of the whole trilogy. We've watched the first two extended versions to get ready to watch the third film. But we haven't yet had the opportunity to watch all three extended versions in one day. That moment will come, though. We won't know what to do this holiday season without a new installment of LOTR coming out. 3. "Godfather 2." 2. "Godfather 1." I don't even know where to begin. 1. "Princess Bride." It's all about wuv, baby. Wuv, twu wuv. See, I did have a love story in the list. What do you think? What did I leave off? Anyone else have a list?

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I'm not blaming anyone for what I'm blogging about this morning. Really good people were doing the best they knew how to do. The fault is largely mine. But I was trained to be a professional. It was great training for a Constantinian world in which the church is the center of all life. But it doesn't fit our current situation of living in a post-Christian, post-modern world. One of my graduate school professors insisted that a preacher should spend one hour in study for every minute he preaches. That's great advice -- if the goal is to preach sermons. For much of my preaching life, I've preached two sermons a week. That would be 50 hours of study. While in Searcy, I preached three sermons a week. That would be 75 hours of study. I was trained to do just that. With seven years of Greek and a couple years of Hebrew along with class after class of textual studies, I was prepared to do one thing: study. I had (for the most part) incredible profs. I don't regret most of the classes. But I was never taught other things: like how to be missional, how to help form a missional church, how to pray, how to disciple people in the way of Christ, etc. Again, good people were teaching me what they knew. It wasn't them--it was more a whole system that didn't understand what we're facing. We majored in information transfer. We hardly even minored in formation and transformation. There was never any training and mentoring in how to connect with lost people, how to move Christians from consumer-demands to kingdom-service, how to start justice-based ministries, or how to plan worship that forms people and prepares to send them out in Jesus' name. It's easier to train professionals. People who know how to caretake the organization. They know how to bring about slow change. How to do studies. How to organize. Basically, how to do all the things really good businesses do. So churches have learned to rely on people who know very little about Christian mission and formation but know a LOT about professional matters. I remember taking a class on evangelism. The whole class was, of course, a study of evangelism. We spent the whole semester getting ready to perform a skit from GO YE MEANS GO ME. And there was a class on "the work of a preacher" that was basically a study of the pastoral epistles--in other words, another textual class. My class on worship studied the issues of worship and worked toward the big project: of each group preparing a devotional for one class period. I'm thinking we don't need any more professionalism. (That isn't to say, of course, that we want to give up serious study of scripture, including languages!) We need missionaries. Missionaries right here: people who can learn the language, teach the language, learn the culture, teach the culture, mentor, equip, train, reach out. Here are some realities we'll have to face: 1. Some don't want to be missional. They want the organization to work smoothly. They will leave. We need to love them as they struggle, helping them to mature beyond consumer complaints, and then bless them as they leave. Jesus didn't leave the church so everyone could be comfortable and happy; he left it as an outpost of the in-breaking kingdom. It is not safe! 2. There will be conflict as this happens. But this conflict is best resolved by people staying focused on what the central mission is. As people join hands in evangelism, in feeding people, or in training people for jobs, they tend to learn to accept one another despite differences. 3. The day of megachurches is probably coming to an end. Megachurches are great at offering services. But they haven't historically been great at forming people into the image of Christ. I'm thrilled when I hear about students (of various majors) eager to go out and start a house church. This isn't either/or. I'm committed to helping a large church. But I think the future will be smaller. 4. I hope our theological training stays rigorous: in languages, history, theology, etc. But along with all the information we must find a way to form lives. We need to keep raising up teachers who are actively involved in the mission of Christ. (And I'm discovering more and more of them!) One final word of grace here: God has used all our stumbling efforts--including my own pitiful ones--to his glory. This doesn't discount any of the sacrifices that others have made. But it's just a chance to think ahead and dream.

Monday, September 27, 2004

I wasn't a good Bible major. My hair was too long. I got devo-ed out easily. And I listened to Three Dog Night and the Stones. So I can't really claim that I was a regular Timothy Club attender. Occasionally I did go, though, because of my fanatic appreciation for Jerry Jones, the chairman of the Bible Department at Harding at the time. But now I'm thinking about how ministers were trained. And about how little much of that training has to do with the actual work and calling of ministry. There was the Hyper-Discipler who came in from Florida to tell us that if we really wanted to train people, they had found the way. That was pretty early in what became known as the "Crossroads Movement" and later the "Boston Movement," but it was enough to make several think, "Finally, someone has found THE way," and several others to think, "uh-oh." There was the well-known preacher from Dallas who came in and talked to us about how a minister should dress and how he should negotiate his contract carefully on the front end. You know, Apostle Paul's sort of issues: what you wear and what you make. There was the logician who came in from Tennessee to teach us how to prove everything so that you could be absolutely confident that you were right about everything. It was as simple as a "if this, then that; this, therefore that." Or something like that. Good old gospel syllogisms. The kind Jesus used in his teaching. In some ways it was refreshing, because very rarely in your life do you meet anyone who will outright tell you that he's right about everything. (Some suspect it, but are too humble to admit it.) The experts were a bit of a disappointment. But I contrast that with how much I've learned about ministry from some older ministers who have been heroes of mine. I've written before about Jim Woodroof and Lynn Anderson. When I grow up, I want to be like them. (I've already mastered Lynn's ability to lose things. But I mean in other, more substantial ways.) Here's the truth, though: many of the best models have never been quite as famous as Jim and Lynn. They have ministered faithfully in out-of-the-way churches decade after decade. They nurtured their children, loved their wives, counseled, taught, married, buried, and ate more casseroles than can be counted. They set up chairs, fixed the sound system, and prayed for the lost. They have done just what Eugene Peterson said faithful ministers should do: "The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God." This morning, I'm thankful for those older ministers who have modeled this responsibility for me. Some are well known; others are tucked away in obscurity. But they have taught me what I so often forget: that my central job is to help keep people attentive to God.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Have you seen the new Jaguar commercials? They're trying to sell their newest cars by appealing to four of the seven deadly sins: lust, envy, wrath, and pride. This is the funny thing: we still try to think of our country as a "Christian nation" in the most superficial ways, while we promote luxury items by appealing openly to things that historically Christianity has called "deadly sins"! (Note: This isn't to pick on Jaguar. They're just trying to sell cars. But some marketing firm has convinced them that in the USA the way to sell cars is to appeal to lust, envy, wrath, and pride.) It does the church no favors to live with the illusion that we're a "Christian nation." It weakens the church, for Christianity is best lived against the grain. (To see what happens to the strength of the church when Christianity is commonly accepted as the national religion, look back to the time of Constantine. Not a pretty scene--even though Christianity was declared the official religion of the empire.) Opening our eyes to realize that this is a post-Christian environment will help us return to our missional nature. Instead of positioning ourselves for a larger share of "the market" (by catchy billboards, bumper stickers, yellow pages ads, etc.) we'll have to live out and proclaim the faith that we believe. That wouldn't be a bad thing, would it? And this will open our eyes to greater concerns than whether or not our taxes will be cut. We'll realize that 8000/day are dying of AIDS in Africa; that 300,000 are left with nothing after the hurricane in Haiti (and that this is just a step below where normal life in Haiti is); that there is a genocide going on in Western Sudan; and that babies are being abandoned in many places of the world. Open our eyes, Lord. Someone who was visiting at Highland recently filled out an "encouragement card" for me in which they screamed: WHY ARE YOU PRAYING THAT THE KINGDOM WILL COME WHEN IT'S ALREADY HERE? I understand the (poor) theology that is behind that question. But for the love of God, open your eyes!! How can we blindly believe that the kingdom has come and God's will been done on earth as it is in heaven? Yes, the kingdom has broken in. But it is certainly not yet fully realized.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

You may have noticed: I have a bald spot. I don't see it often because it's in the back of my head. But sometimes I'll catch it in a mirror and, of course, I can feel skin rather than hair. It doesn't bother me one bit. I joke about it quite often. But it wasn't always that way. It was a very big deal to me when I first realized, at about age 20, that hair wasn't staying put back there. All through my twenties, I worried about it. Is that another advantage of aging? Now I'm thinking, "It's just hair. It falls out now or maggots eat it later. But it's just hair." I think you also realize as you age that NOBODY CARES. You get past thinking that people notice and/or care. On those rare moments when my priorities are lined up properly, I appreciate Paul's perspective: that though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I keep hearing that CBS-gate ("putting the BS back into CBS") is going to hurt their ratings. But in the short run, it's helped their ratings in our house. We never, ever watch CBS news. We are Brokaw people. (And as I've mentioned before, I'm like Rainman. It's hard to pull me out of my ruts.) But last night I watched Dan Rather just to see what would happen. It was a surreal experience listening to CBS report on "the CBS story." I'm thinking someone forgot the lessons from first year journalism about checking sources. - - - - Tonight I'm preaching from Jeremiah 32. What an amazing story of hope. I love God's response to Jeremiah's prayer: "I am the Lord, the God of all people. Is anything too hard for me?" Next week Randy Harris will begin a 3-week series entitled "How I Got to Be So Humble." Vintage Randy! - - - - I figured out part of the dance of our parenting skills last night. Diane is the bedtime Nazi. I am the vegetable Nazi. She's passionate about a sixth grader getting to bed RIGHT ON TIME! I'm looking for more of a ballpark bedtime -- after one more inning of the Rangers game, or one more story, or one more game of ping-pong. I'm passionate about learning to eat vegies when you're young. It's no secret that our diets need lots of vegetables, fruits, and nuts -- and it's hard to learn better eating habits when you're older. Poor Matt survived my eating fanatacism, but it's funny to hear him tell about how much he looked forward to Sundays when (to celebrate the Lord's Day, I guess) he was allowed to have a breakfast bar instead of "healthy" cereal. (Bad news, Matt. I'm still a Nazi vegetable dad, but I've caved a bit on breakfasts. While my "Fiber One" and "Good Friends" cereal boxes are still around, Chris has other boxes of sugared cereals. Maybe this is another advantage of having older parents. They're too tired to fight the same battles.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

We haven't been youth group parents since May of 2000. But we're back! Now with a sixth grader, we were back in the meeting of youth group families a couple Sundays ago. It's nice to be out of children's ministry, to be honest. Not that we wanted our youngest to grow up. But some of the other parents were starting to look like they could be our children. We're not Abraham and Sarah, of course. We were 35 when Chris was born. But that's quite different than being 25 when Matt was born or 28 (me) and 27 (Diane) when Megan was born. Matt had a dad with more energy. At the end of the day--no matter how early it began!--I was ready to wrestle and throw a ball for as long as he wanted after dinner. Plus, my back didn't hurt. But . . . there are some advantages to having children when you're older. Chris has a more patient dad. For the most part I don't let things get to me so easily, following a "life's too short" philosophy. There's still been plenty of wrestling, baseball, and soccer -- but not every night. I figured out that I don't like traveling as much, so I'm around more. Our marriage is happier. (That's a bit delicate to put right here in the blog. But it's true.) And as a coach this time around, I have more moments when I remember that there are bigger issues than winning. It used to bother me that I'd be 54 when Chris graduates. But that's looking younger all the time!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

I am a loser. Not as in "winners and losers." But as in "finders and losers." I lose things. I hate to point fingers here, but it seems to have been passed along to me by a maternal gene. But enough of that. If my mom wants to start her own blog and make her own confessions, that's fine. I spend so much of my time looking for things I've lost: my sermon notes, phone numbers, CDs, keys, glasses (a particularly hard item to look for!), my wallet, my pocketknife, and my cell phone. I can't tell you how many times I've had to call my cell phone to find it. I wish I could call my wallet. My current list of things I've lost: a Brueggemann book, notes for a message I'm supposed to give in late October, and my wedding ring. I know the last item sounds alarming. But I've lost it so many times, we've learned to not be anxious. It always finds me. I'm Frodo. To be honest, it isn't THE ring. It isn't the one my beloved slipped on my finger in May of 1978. That one is long gone. I think this is the second ring; Diane believes it is the third. In some ways (given my history), it's amazing that I've had this one 17 years. And the one before it was stolen from a locker in the men's faculty dressing room at Harding (not by a faculty member, obviously). It isn't that I'm unorganized. I just set things down with my mind already giving full attention to something else. The most grievous thing I've lost (and I hate to say this after mentioning that I lost a wedding ring) is my NIV Bible that I'd had from seminary days until about 1996. I searched forever for that beloved book. The one I now have, I've held onto since then. I've tried to lose it, but each time it has returned. I've had to call a rental agency in Memphis and a church on the West Coast. But both times, it was FOUND! What a great thing it is to find something. I'm guessing that my life has had bursts of joy that many of you have never known because you don't lose things. Nearly every week there is some moment of ecstasy when I realize that something I thought might be gone for good is still around. Everyone loves the story of the lost sheep and the lost son. But I have a special appreciation for Jesus' story tucked in between those two better-known ones: the parable of the lost coin. "And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'" That's good news.

Friday, September 17, 2004

We know every inch of that beautiful beach (Pensacola Beach) so well. For 16 years, we've gone every summer. With the toll bridge out--thirty to forty feet missing--and the Navarre causeway damaged, there is no telling when there will be accurate assessments of the damage. Much more significantly, there are so many displaced people further inland. In Pensacola, my sister lost her whole house. Apparently, only the garage is still standing. It sounds like much of her neighborhood got leveled. You've probably seen the "for sale" sign up somewhere in Florida this morning: "1 Charley, 2 Frances, 3 Ivan, 4 Sale." The high price of paradise.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Waiting for further word from Pensacola . . . . My sister and her husband lost their roof in the storm. Who knows what Pensacola and Pensacola Beach (and several other communities) will look like when cameras move in later this morning. - - - - I've listened to the new Zoe CD called "Desperate." It's incredible. Great job Brandon and gang. See you all in a couple weeks. (I hope several in this blog community will be there. Registrations have been closed--maxed out at about 1050.) - - - - John Lackey gave up one run and struck out 10 last night in 7 2/3 innings . . . and didn't get a win! Come on, Angels.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

We've been through two hurricanes. In 1984, we endured seven hours of Hurricane Diana in Wilmington, NC. The highest winds were 115. It was a memorable night as we were joined by members of our church who lived in trailer homes. We lost nine trees in our yard--along with our front screen door and the guttering. One of the people staying with us that evening had an artificial leg. In the middle of the storm, he took it off. Matt, two at the time, woke up and walked in only to see the guy missing a leg. He thought the storm was worse than he'd imagined! The second one was in our beloved Pensacola Beach in 1995 when Hurricane Erin made a direct hit. This was not as strong as Diana had been, but still had wind gusts of up to 110. We have fun memories (especially nine years away!) of spending a couple days with the Porches in the home of Buddy and Stephanie Bell, who had just moved a few miles inland. Our prayers continue for all those in Florida and on the Caribbean islands who've been impacted by the three hurricanes this season as well as for all those in New Orleans . . . and Biloxi . . . and Mobile . . . and Pensacola Beach . . . who wait to see which way Ivan will go this morning.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Yesterday I got to begin Mark's gospel with a classful of eighteen and nineteen year olds. "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ." It is holy ground. My interest in teaching is more about formation and transformation than just about information (as important as that is). Some will see that Christianity isn't just signing your name to a creed and shopping around to find the hottest church with the hottest worship and the most to offer. Some will see that it is a Way. A way of suffering. A way of love. A way of power-in-powerlessness. A way of concern for "the least among us." A way of mission. A way of service. A way of forgiveness. A way of long obedience. Really, it's a dangerous thing to teach the gospels. What if . . . well, what if some students took it seriously? What if they decided not to explain it away or dumb it down? What if they decided to follow the Way of Christ for a lifetime? What if -- without condemning others around them who've made different choices -- they chose not to live with a polite, domesticated version of the story of Jesus? It's enough to make a professor wake up early and pray!!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

If you don't want to start your week off with the rantings and ravings of a lunatic, please -- stop right here. This weekend my wife talked for a long time to a woman who is one of the unnamed, unrecognized saints in this world. This woman (in another state) gives round-the-clock care to her mentally-handicapped son who is about the age Megan would be if she were still alive. The two have talked a lot over the years. They both understand how wonderful, yet challenging the life of a caregiver is. Recently this woman got an anonymous letter from another woman at her church, asking her if she wouldn't mind keeping her son in the cry room during the assembly because during the songs he tends to get loud (since he loves singing). It bothers her, and she's quite sure she's speaking for others who aren't "bold enough" . . . (excuse me while I pause to laugh) . . . to write to her. The chances of Anonymous being a reader of this blog are not good. But just in case. Dear Anonymous: How about this? Get off your selfish, complacent butt and help this woman!! She cares for her son 24-7. Would it kill you to give her a hand? Offer to take care of her son while she's at church. The moment we walked in the door of Highland in 1991, someone stopped Diane and took Megan's hand. She said, "For the rest of the week, Megan is yours. When you're here she's ours. You need to be able to worship with the rest of your family." And if you aren't willing to pick your butt off the pew, maybe you could listen to this young man's utterances. It might be that there is an angelic choir near you, but you aren't hearing it. For crying out loud, how have we lowered the bar of discipleship so low that someone could go to church week-after-week, year-after-year without even coming close to the way of Jesus Christ? In Christian Love, Mike Cope

Saturday, September 11, 2004

As Chris and I watch the Horns and Razorbacks tonight, it takes me back. WAY back. My parents were UT graduates, so every fourth year when the big game came to Fayetteville we were there. Dressed in burnt orange amid a sea of Red. It was in that environment that I learned the meaning of being a counter-culture. I was also first exposed to obscene gestures there. We were at the big game -- often called "The Game of the Century" -- in 1969 as Texas and Arkansas fought for the #1 ranking in the polls. Let's see, that would be 35 years ago. That would make me . . . about Chris's age. One special part of this game is that Cedric is still running for the Longhorns. There were two great games (Matt's junior and senior years) when he was Abilene High's middle linebacker and Cedric was Midland Lee's running back. Those are good memories. (Truthfully, they were both losses. But still good memories.)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Are we an institution that needs to be preserved or a vibrant outpost of the kingdom of God? That's what church leaders have to keep asking. When institutional concerns are paramount, then preserving the status quo and making the clientele happy drives all decisions. Experts are brought in to preach the institutional mantra: "slow change, slow change, slow change." Cantankerous people run the show with their objections. Meeting consumer demands (with the members as the consumers!) rather than forming people as disciples becomes the preoccupation. But when the spiritual leaders figure out that they are not an institution to be preserved but a body of believers who are following the way of Jesus, then missional--rather than consumer--concerns drive decisions. There's less talk about prayer and more prayer. Less talk about the poor and more ministry with and among the poor. Less of a desire to let immature naysayers get their way and more of a desire to form them into disciples. Less of a devotion to "slow change" or "fast change" and more of a devotion to the leading of God's Spirit (as discerned by the group--not as "discerned" by one minister who just got back from a cool conference). I don't believe in being insensitive. We need to take time to teach people and care for people on our journey. Everyone is important! But for too often, out of our love for institutionalism and professionalism, we've let the most immature guide the decisions of the church. When will the church hear the missional voice of God? When will the poor, the unemployed, and the lost help determine what the church does? When we will realize that Christianity isn't just a tradition we believe but a way we live? When will we quit worrying about preserving the institution and start opening ourselves to the leading of the living Christ?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

This addendum to last night's message: Jeremiah, faithful to Moses, understood what numb people will never know, that only grievers can experience their experiences and move on. I used to think it curious that when having to quote Scripture on demand someone would inevitably say, "Jesus wept." But now I understand. Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: (a) that weeping must be real because endings are real and (b) that weeping permits newness. His weeping permits the kingdom to come. Such weeping is a radical criticism, a fearful dismantling, because it means the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do without losing their thrones. Yet the loss of thrones is precisely what is called for in radical criticism. - Walter Brueggemann

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Permit me one more whack at the idea of spiritual imagination. The apocalyptic poetry of scripture is alive, full of electricity, and mysterious. It peeks at history from God's perspective. It imagines a world where the way of Christ is pursued. It is full of bolts of lightning and galloping riders. This poetry seeks to open our eyes to see that prayers--even prayers that seem tired and rote--are really atomic bombs that light up the heavens. It helps us grasp the love of God that is missional to the core. It reminds us that the final trump card will be played by God. He, the Ruler of the Universe, will win. Too much reading of this chunk of scripture has been flat and deadening. The life has been sucked out of it so that it becomes bizarre crystal-ball guessing. Poetry is reduced to prose. It's the worst kind of Western, enlightened, scientific "study" of scripture. (We have spent so much time working on scripture rather than letting scripture work on us! Perhaps we should spend less time trying to bring scripture into our world and more time on letting ourselves be drawn into the counter-cultural world it spotlights.) Is your life short on spiritual imagination? Go back to the prophets. Read Revelation again. Instead of trying to figure out "what this is secretly referring to," use all your powers of imaginition. Picture a world where hope and grace are leaking through every window--even in the midst of suffering.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I enjoyed having Jeff Nelson back at Highland to lead the singing for Gwynneth's funeral. Over the years, some pretty decent worship ministers have been launched from Highland: Jeff (Oak Hills), Brandon Scott Thomas (Otter Creek), David Chrane (Lake Highlands), and Ryan Porche (Highland Street in Memphis) are among them. When do we get to quit launching and actually keep one? More now about the idea of being in a spiritual flat earth society. Years ago when I was speaking at Northeastern Christian Junior College, Tony Campolo was also on campus to address a luncheon crowd on the topic: "A Sociologist Looks at Churches of Christ." Among the profound things he said was, "YOU GUYS ARE THE RELIGIOUS EQUIVALENT OF THE FLAT EARTH SOCIETY." (You have to put Tony's words in bold and caps.) He wasn't mad at us. In fact, there is a lot about the restoration heritage that really resonated with him. But he couldn't believe the naivity it took to talk about "the church" and "the Lord's church" as code phrases for the denomination known as Churches of Christ. It does take a pretty good dose of blindness and/or pride to make that kind of assumption. We are surrounded by Christ-seeking people. But there are other ways in which people can be part of the spiritual flat earth society. Some have lost a sense of wonder and mystery as they plow through life getting tasks done. They don't have time or the inclination to stop in amazement at the bursts of joy and hope around them. With busy lives and with low-level exhaustion, it's easy to miss out on the wonders of grace leaking in from all sides: from spouses, from children, from friends, from prayers, from movies, from books, from W TX sunsets. Try this for an experiment. The next time you go to church, open your eyes to everything and everyone God puts in your path. For once ignore the expected; forget your routine. Pray as you walk in for everyone you see. Shake the hands of people you would normally walk right past because you don't know them. Pretend you've been appointed DEACON(ESS) IN CHARGE OF GREETING. Instead of looking through the worship schedule to see whether you'll like it or not, imagine every possible source of amazement and wonder. Jump into the songs with everything you have. Look at the people around you. (Some did that at Highland this past year and saw a fortysomething woman who was losing a battle with cancer but who was so full of life and love that she drew them into the upside down world of the kingdom.) Absorb every icon, every picture, every facial expression. Be amazed at the body of Christ and the blood of Christ that is shared with you in communion. Imagine brothers and sisters in Christ who are sitting in huts or gathering under trees or huddled in rented public buildings from around the world. This is the art of spiritual imagination. It is apocalyptic. It sees the hope amid the suffering, the joy amid the routine, the love amid the bitterness, and the shalom amid the wars.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Happy Labor Day. This morning I'll be speaking at the funeral for Debi Hudspeth, a courageous woman who blessed people her whole 47 years. Then this afternoon I teach at ACU (motto: "ACU: Putting the LABOR Back in Labor Day"). Then dove-hunting with Chris and Dr. John. Congrats to John Lackey, who grew up at Highland, for his two-hitter last night. Watch out, A's and Red Sox -- the Angels are making their move. The Cardinals don't have to make a move. They're whippin' everyone. They have three players who'll be in contention for MVP! Enjoy these wonderful words by Barbara Brown Taylor: "By the power of our beliefs, we choose what kind of world we will live in -- a porous world, full of glory doors leaking light, or a flat world where everything is exactly what it seems." I know too many people living in the spiritual flat-earth society.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Wise words passed on to me by my mom. (Mom, are you sure this is from George Burns and not from Dad?): "The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible." ~George Burns

Friday, September 03, 2004

There is a trombone living in my house. I'm trying to make friends with it, but it's hard. To be honest, we've never been a band family. I never was in band. Diane wasn't either. Nor did Matt spend one minute in band. (There was, of course, that memorable 6th grade boys' choir concert that forced us all to keep reminding each other that their voices were changing.) But Chris didn't choose to be in middle school choir. He's in the band. So, as I said, a trombone has come to live in our house. Baseball I understand well. And football. And basketball. Parts of soccer. Even choir. But a trombone isn't there in my repertoire, shaped as my life has been by a cappella singing. So far he can play one song. I'm not sure what that song is, though. At times, it bears some resemblance to "Mary Had a Little Lamb." And whatever it is, he plays it again . . . and again . . . and again. So I'm begging for help from others who've had 6th grade instrumentalists. Does it get better? Quieter? More on key? More diversified? Is the trombone the LOUDEST instrument in the band? Is it wrong to suggest the garage as an acoustically perfect place for practice? Would it be wrong to suggest the Porches' house next door (since this would probably be quiet compared to the drums Ryan played all those years)? Would it be wrong to say that the dogs in the back yard seem to be pleading with him to come back there to serenade them? This I know: if he someday decides to stick with the trombone, then I'll be one of the world's great trombone lovers. But in the meantime, while he's just meeting a requirement, I need your help here.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Surrounded by Joyce, Kellie and Jim, Trellis and Chris, Corey and Sally, and Ryan and Amber, Gwynneth Curtis took his last breath yesterday at 3:15 p.m. Anyone who knew Gwynneth knew how much he loved singing, so we can only imagine his delight at having Kellie sing over him during his last hours. That's an angelic voice! (As I write that, I recall when our praise team at Highland was Kellie, Wendy [Wray] Ogren, Brandon Scott Thomas, and David Chrane. Now THAT is a praise team!) As a shepherd of the Highland Church, Gwynneth taught me so much: about devotion to scripture, about love of family, and about the mission of Christ. Not only were he and Joyce former missionaries in Europe, but he remained a trainer and equipper of missionaries there--as a missionary-in-residence at ACU and then (the last two years) as a minister with Eastern European Mission. A few Wednesday nights we've had prayers for missions around the world, with various people leading the prayer time by continent. If Gwynneth was around, I'd always ask him to lead the session for Europe. Usually I'd sneak around from room to room, making sure it was going well--which, of course, it always does with people like the Brooms (Africa), the Hendersons (Asia), and the Gibbs (South America) involved. What I noticed in Gwynneth's room was that there was usually not much time left for prayer, because he kept naming families whom he wanted everyone to pray for! Was there a missionary from Churches of Christ in Europe that Gywnneth didn't know, love, and pray for? I doubt it. I'll miss this good man.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Today is September 1, so . . . Happy birthday, Dad. Still clinging to your 60s! (My first couple years as preacher for the College Church in Searcy my PARENTS were in their 40s.) Glad you were born. My life wouldn't have been the same. :) And to others, happy dove hunting. Dove season opens today. We won't get to go until this weekend. Big year for Chris: he gets to move from a BB gun to a real shotgun (all right, it's a 410, but that's still a shotgun!). By the way, as the Mexican menu theme continues, I make some pretty mean dove fajitas. Keep those in mind for this blog block fiesta we're talking about. I've also made quail fajitas and sandhill crane fajitas, but that's for another season.