Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Many of you have heard me talk before about one of my heroes, John Stott, an evangelical minister and writer in the Anglican Church. I once preached to a small gathering in Florida of ministers that included him. I wanted to stop in the middle and say, "I'm sorry. This is wrong. Mr. Stott, would you please come do this right?" I love this editorial in today's NY Times. November 30, 2004 OP-ED COLUMNIST Who Is John Stott? By DAVID BROOKS Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life. Inviting these two bozos onto "Meet the Press" to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school. This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored. It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don't blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott's name hasn't appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it's never appeared in many other important publications. Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching. When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I've heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott. It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott's mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus' life and sacrifice. There's been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing "thoughtful allegiance" to scripture. For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously. Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues. Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes: "It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ." Politicians, especially Democrats, are now trying harder to appeal to people of faith. But people of faith are not just another interest group, like gun owners. You have to begin by understanding the faith. And you can't understand this rising global movement if you don't meet its authentic representatives. Not Falwell, but Stott.

Monday, November 29, 2004

November 21 was the 10th anniversary of Megan's death. But, amazingly, that anniversary marker is now filled with wonderful memories for us. Diane and I spent five days at Sundance in Utah for a wedding. We enjoyed lots of time hiking on trails and soaking up the beauty. But we also enjoyed reconnecting with Arkansas friends: Phil and Annette Herrington, Glen and Nancy Blue (along with their children and daughters-in-law), and Jimmy and Andee Cone. It was especially nice to be with my cousins, Steve and Kathy Stevens and their daughter Juliana. Their home in Little Rock was a fun escape place for us during the Searcy years, so it was nice to have someone to remember Megan stories with. On that morning, I spoke to the little wedding crowd that was gathered at Sundance. Then, I performed the wedding later that morning for Phil and Annette's second daughter. In the evening we all gathered in the private screening room to watch -- what else? -- "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Here is my journal entry from that day: It's 10:16 a.m. I've just spoken to everyone at a communion service, centering thoughts on the theme "A River Runs Through It." I wanted to mention Megan and how God's unending stream of mercy has washed and revived us again and again these past ten years. But I didn't. I could tell that if one word came out, I would crack and crumble. But I remember so well this very minute on 11/21/94. I thought maybe I'd be obsessing more this morning on all those details. But really--since getting up at 4:00 this morning--I've been thinking about what a blessing Megan was. I can't help but wonder what her last ten years would have been like. I keep thinking about "Searcy Megan"--the energetic little girl who couldn't slow down. But the "Abilene Megan" would have continued to battle sinking health and abilities. I had a daughter. I'm so blessed. I had a daughter who was beautiful and loving. The years will continue to roll on, but that blessing will never fade. And I'm ten years closer to seeing her than I was!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Home again!! Home from Utah. Now home from Missouri. Too tired to blog. Just this . . . Today, Jantsen Barrett Cope, one of the most faith-filled, life-affirming, fun-loving kids I've ever known, would have been 21 today. So . . . happy birthday, JB. Your uncle will never, ever forget you. Your absence makes me long for my real home.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

It's Thanksgiving morning in Missouri. After the return trip that wouldn't end, we turned around yesterday and drove from Abilene to Neosho. We met Matt and Jenna at Pappasito's (can you travel from Abilene to Missouri without a Pappasito's stop?), left their car somewhere, and drove up together. This is a tough time of year. We just passed the 10th anniversary of Megan's death (Nov. 21 -- I'll probably write more about that later), and it's around the date when my nephew Jantsen would have been 21. And yet we are all together. My parents, my brother and his family (who live here), one of my two sisters and her family (from Conway, AR), our family, and various other relatives. One turkey is in the oven. The other will soon be deep fried. Pumpkin pies are baked. Peanut brittle will be made (by Dad). Sticky buns were awaiting us this morning. Life is good.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

We're baaaack. It was just a wee bit late, of course. We left Utah (one of my new favorite states!) early yesterday morning. The flight to DFW went fine. We were supposed to switch to American Eagle and be in Abilene by 4:15. But there's something about the lethal combination of bad weather, DFW, and American Eagle. We finally got to Abilene at 2:15 this morning. On a bus. Our flight had been cancelled. So we went standby on another flight that finally took off. We got about halfway to Abilene and ran into bad (and I mean B-A-D) weather. So we looped back around and, for the second time in the day, landed at DFW. At 7:45 they told us a bus would be right there to pick us up. And it was. About three hours later. So much more to write about later. I will mention how much fun it was to read the billboards in Salt Lake City on the way to the airport yesterday. Those wacky Mormons! One read: "Meet LDS [Latter Day Saints . . . or Mormons] singles. Hotsaints.com. Chase and be chaste."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"'I've lost control!' That is what good people say when bad things happen to them. 'I've lost control of my life!' I have said it myself, but it is not true. Human beings do not lose control of their lives. What we lose is the illusion that we were ever in control of our lives in the first place, and it is a hard, hard lesson to learn--so hard that most of us have to go back to the blackboard again and again, because we keep thinking that there must be some way to work it out, some way to master the human condition so that there are no leaks in it, no scares, no black holes. As far as I know, it cannot be done. Maybe that is why it is called the human condition. Like asthma or myopia, being human is a condition we live with--a splendid one in most respects--but one with certain built-in limitations. Some things will budge for us and some will not. We cannot fly. We cannot live forever. We cannot control everything that happens to us. That is the human condition, and it can be frightening, because what that means is we cannot choose all the circumstances of our lives. All we can really choose is how we respond to them, and that is why it takes a lot of courage to be a human being." - Barbara Brown Taylor

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

We're anxious to see James and Marla Walters, our longtime friends from Searcy days, who're staying with us Wednesday. James, who is a professor of New Testament at Boston University, will be speaking in "Oasis" from 1 Timothy 6. Even though he and I are about the same age--and, therefore, I've never actually taken a class he's taught--he's been the most influential Bible prof in my life. (Before his appointment at BU, James worked with Landon Saunders and "Heartbeat" while teaching adjunct at BU and Dartmouth College. And before that he taught New Testament at Harding.) How about it, blogland? Any former Walters students out there?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Someone at second service yesterday told me she made it through the scriptures I read from Job, Lamentations, Psalms, Matthew, and John during the DVD with images of grief; through my message giving a "scout's report" on ten years of grief (since Megan's death on 11/21/94); through the scriptures that Diane and I read--psalms that had ministered to us through the years; and through hearing Val and others sing "You Raise Me Up." What sent her over the edge was during the closing song seeing little Anna Claire break away from her family, run right in front of the worship team, leap into my arms, and press her cheek against mine. I'd just spoken of losing my little girl. And one of the youngest in the assembly came for me to hold her. That's community.

Friday, November 12, 2004

A note to Highland readers: One year after Megan died, I talked about the year of grief. I was hoping that it would help give words to others who live with grief of one sort or another. And it seemed to. Then, the five-year anniversary fell on a Sunday, so in 1999 I reported again. I described it as being a scout coming back to report on what the trail ahead is like. This year the ten-year anniversary also falls on a Sunday, but that day (Nov. 21) is our annual food offering, one of the best days of the year at Highland. Diane and I are going to quietly slip out of town for the weekend. So this Sunday, I'm going to talk about grief. I'll again try to make sure this isn't just about us and our story. (I'm still hoping Diane will share a testimony and offer part of her perspective, but so far she's not inclined to. As I mentioned, November isn't her favorite month.) I mention this here, because some of you have friends and neighbors who have experienced loss and grief who might be able to identify. Please see if they'll come with you. I'll stay up front after both services to visit as long as people want to. The title of the message is "By Their Scars You Shall Know Them."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

arthritis For as long as I knew her, my Grandma Cope suffered terribly with arthritis. It attacked her whole body. She'd shuffle around because of the stiffness in her hips, knees, and ankles. Her fingers were almost rendered useless. And yet, she decided not to let it stop her. Her constant cooking and sewing just worked around those little inconveniences--like not being able to use her fingers. (Note: In one of the comments two days ago about dessert, someone darted in to leave an anonymous comment about the sugar cookies on Jefferson Street. That was Grandma Cope's address--the world's best sugar cookies.) My dad's arthritis hasn't been nearly as severe, thankfully. But several times he's gotten one of those good old cortisone shots in his ankle. Unless he's just teasing, they apparently hurt. Enough said. So yesterday, Dr. Butch, a friend from Highland and an orthopedic surgeon, is checking out my x-rays and preparing to tell me that I have a torn meniscus and should probably have orthroscopic surgery. But then he said, "And there seems to be some arthritis, too." For some reason, I can deal with the torn meniscus. I've been a pretty active person. Maybe it was one too many marathon . . . or throwing batting practice without stretching . . . or . . . well, who knows? (Actually, I'm afraid it happened last fall when I decided that I could unload a piece of furniture by myself. I couldn't wait the extra two minutes it would take to call Dickie next door.) But arthritis in my knee? Isn't that for old guys?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

From Darrell Guder in TREASURES IN CLAY JARS: It may seem more than obvious that the Bible should stand at the center of the missional church. Virtually every Christian tradition affirms the centrality of Scripture to the Christian church. In theory at least, the sermon preached every Sunday is a proclamation of the biblical word. Certainly all of the congregations under review would make such affirmations and expect such preaching from their ministers. There is a problem, however, It is possible to be biblically centered, to expect and to experience biblical preaching, and not to be a church that acknowledges, much less practices, its missional calling. This is the crisis and the dilemma of much of the Western church. It is possible to study the Scriptures in such a way that its central emphasis upon formation for mission is missed. It is possible to hear the gospel primarily in terms of what God's grace does for me, or for you. It is possible to take the Bible seriously, persuaded that it is primarily about one's personal salvation. It is possible to preach the Bible in such a way that the needs of persons are met but the formation of the whole community for its witness in the world is not emphasized. It is, in short, possible to be Bible-centered and not wholeheartedly missional. Dallas Willard has said that our churches are full of converts who do not intend to become disciples. Another way to put it would be this: Our churches are full of people who are there to receive the benefits of grace without knowing that they are receiving such blessings "in order to be a blessing."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I'm on a dessert binge. This is a place where I think I could blame my father, one of the world's great dessert eaters, or my mother and paternal grandmother, two of the world's great dessert makers. Of course, I'm not a blamer. I just think it should be mentioned. I'm not a respecter of desserts. I pretty much love them all. Yes, yes, chocolate, of course. But it goes way beyond that. I like blueberry pies (my all-time fav), blackberry pies, apple pies (and my wife makes the world's best), rhubarb pies (it's been a while), anything with the word "cobbler" in it, strawberry shortcake, lemon meringue pies, coconut cream pies, chocolate meringue pies, cake (our philosophy: why bake cakes when McKay's does it so well?), chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, butterscotch cookies, peanut butter cookies, and a various assortment of candy bars. I'm not a big ice cream person unless it's homemade. That takes me back to childhood of taking my turn at cranking the ice cream maker. (Now you just plug them in!) The key here isn't abstinence. I gave up desserts one year for Lent--seriously. I wound up resenting Lent and being glad for my Church of Christ roots. The movie "Chocolat" comes to mind here. Moderation is such a great word, isn't it? There's always a temptation to present options of binging or abstaining. Some Christians get carried away with lust, so we decide all dancing is wrong. Some people have drinking problems, so we decide a glass of wine is taboo. It's time for breakfast. My daily assortment of "Good Friends" and "Fiber One" cereal with a sprinkling of almonds and blueberrys. (Sometimes a side of salmon, but I figured you wouldn't want to know that. Not everyone is a breakfast salmon person.) The dessert itch doesn't begin until mid-afternoon. Now -- how about you? What's in your Dessert Hall of Fame?

Monday, November 08, 2004

It's as predictable to me now as the leaves and cool air. When it's November in Texas the leaves turn colors (all right, it isn't Vermont, but they do change!). Then they fall. The weather eases up a bit. Chill descends for the last football game or two. But a more accurate sign of the season is that Diane begins to disappear. It happens year after year. Rachel weeping for her children. She continues teaching at Thomas Elementary and at Highland. She continues blessing the thousand people around her. But another part of her hides in a mournful place. My grief is less seasonal. It just comes and goes without warning or invitation. But Diane's is Novemberal (new word). It's the month of mourning. Every year, thankfully, she reemerges.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

I still haven't seen "Friday Night Lights" even though the central character, Gary Gaines, is a Highland member--and, as I've blogged before, a really good man. (Anyone seen it? Is it good?) But I have to say this: I really do love Friday nights under the lights at Shotwell stadium. The last two weeks, the place has been full (15,000-17,000). Last night AHS played Midland Lee for the district championship. Of course, I loved that Abilene High won, extending their record to 10-0 and giving them an outright district championship for the first time in a gazillion years. But even beyond that, it's just the experience of West Texas high school football. And especially West Texas football in November when it's cool and crisp--as football weather ought to be.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Not only are moves hard on family (see yesterday's blog), but they're a bit hard on friendships, too. And yet . . . I haven't lived by these two buddies since 1991. We jumped ship that summer, moving to Abilene. Not long after that, one of them moved to New Hampshire. The other musketeer has remained in Searcy. But distance hasn't separated us. So far there have been four weddings. This summer, the other two couples came down for Matt and Jenna's wedding. Afterward, the six of us got away for a couple days. There have been three other weddings: one in the Northeast (I think it was the NH side of the Connecticut River, but it could have been the VT side) and one in Arkansas (which I performed). We were all together for those two. The only time anyone missed a child's wedding so far--of the two remaining children, one is engaged and getting married this summer and the other is in 6th grade--was when Diane and I couldn't go to Searcy at the last minute. I was supposed to be performing the wedding; but I wound up preaching my nephew's funeral that day. Each year Los Tres Amigos meet for a few days in the Northeast. And we get together any other time it's possible. We've cheered teams together (we have differences, but we're united by a hatred for the Yankees); we've celebrated over our kids' accomplishments; we've wept over children's struggles together; we've watched each other age (and at times mature). When Megan died, I immediately called them. One of them is coming to Abilene in a couple weeks and will be speaking in Oasis. He's the best biblical scholar I've ever known -- or at least he's been the most clarifying and helpful to me. The other is my Arkansas doctor who has tended to my asthma, tested my heart, pulled a splinter out of my butt (don't ask), run five marathons by my side (now that is a full service cardiologist!), climbed Kilimanjaro with me, and calmed my hypochondriacal fears. What's the song? Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other's gold. Today I'm thankful for friends--old and new.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Not living around family has NOT been my first choice. With three years of graduate school in Memphis, a couple years of preaching in North Carolina, seven years in Arkansas, and thirteen-plus years in Texas, I have missed being around my family. I'm so envious of families who raise their children around grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins. For two years in Searcy, one of my little sisters and one of Diane's little sisters were students at Harding. So Matt and Megan had aunts (and one little cousin) around. Not just aunts. But cool, college-age aunts. And for the the past two years another of Diane's sisters, my brother-in-law, and three nieces have lived here. On our end, we've tried to bridge the gap. Every other year we've alternated Ohio (McKee) and Missouri (Copes) Christmases. On the Ohio Christmas years, we've usually driven to Missouri (that's Miz-ur-uh) for Thanksgiving. And my parents have been wonderful. Who knows how many trips they've made to pinch-hit as babysitters or to see graduations, soccer games, baseball games, basketball games, and football games. Matt's senior year when AHS made it to the state quarterfinals, they came to two regular season games and all four (!) post-season games. Four straight weekends they drove from MO to Lubbock (twice) or Texas Stadium (twice). My youngest sister, now a teacher in AR, is a reliable e-mailer. My brother, a newspaper publisher (and executive for a newspaper chain), and I go through spurts of e-mail flurries. We know we're always there for each other. I know it hasn't been easy from my parents' end: having their grandchildren carted around from NC to AR to TX. But they have called, sent cards and photos, remembered every Christmas/birthday/Halloween/Easter, and visited often. While Megan was alive, they kept the kids a week every year. Trust me: keeping Megan for a week was a joy. But it wasn't easy. One year they kept her for ten days. When we returned, my very loving-but-haggard mother hugged us and said, "I think I'm a seven-day grandma." (A story lives on in our family of the day Megan wore my mom out during that ten-day stint. She called a good friend and told her that if she'd come keep Megan for half an hour she'd pay her $100,000,000.) I can't tell you what those weeks meant to our marriage, since life with Megan rarely gave us restful time together. It's not that we planned it this way. As Robert Frost said, "Way leads to way." We took one road and then another and then another. And now our folks are in their late sixties, and we're wishing we'd had more time together through the years. Would love to be an uncle-in-residence to Crista, Van, Tatum, Kari, Madison, and Hunter (from my side -- not counting, of course, my buddy Jantsen, my brother's son, who died in 1999), and Daniel, Caleb, Hannah, Benjamin, Joshua, Darrin, Abby, Brady (from Diane's side -- along with Sarah, Rebekah, and Elizabeth who live here). Probably many of you are separated from family. I hope you're working at it as hard as my parents have to stay in touch.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Anyone else a Tim Russert fan? He is the one who, four years ago, made the phrase "Florida, Florida, Florida" a famous prediction, claiming the presidential election would turn on a close Florida vote. This year his prediction was "Ohio, Ohio, Ohio." Wish I could channel that ability. Could I get him to say, "The Longhorns, the Longhorns, the Longhorns"? Or, "The Rangers, the Rangers, the Rangers"?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

My life has been blessed by knowing Larry James. Larry graduated from Harding a little before I got there, but we connected in the mid-80s when I was preaching in Searcy and he was preaching in Dallas at the East Richardson Church of Christ. For the last several years Larry has been the Executive Director of Central Dallas Ministries. I know of no one . . . no one . . . who has inspired me more to follow the way of Christ in addressing the needs of those without a voice. It's so easy for me to be wrapped up into my white, middle-class world and to forget the suffering poor of the world who tend to be hidden all around me. Here's something Larry wrote that just won't leave me. If he seems a bit angry, you'll have to excuse him. I think it has something to do with the fact that he's pouring out his life in the trenches for the Lazaruses of the world who remain outside, ignored, stereotyped, and unfed. While it is certainly true that the particular issues associated with injustice in this culture may leave much room for debate, compromise and new agreements and partnerships leading to various solutions, the bedrock theological values clearly and consistently espoused by the witness of Scripture and a significant and influential slice of Christian history refuses to let one comfortably "off the hook" so to speak! Whether one turns to the Law of Moses, the wisdom literature of Israel, the books of history or the prophets, throughout the Hebrew bible one is confronted again and again with the clear outlines of what a just, compassionate and true community culture would look and function like. Approaching the life of Jesus, the message becomes even clearer. For the sake of this reflection there seems to be no need to rehearse the long list of texts that address this divine mandate. The Messiahship of Jesus is largely defined by a radical, demanding commitment to the values of the Jubilee Year (Luke 4:14ff). Whether one considers the basis of eternal judgment as defined by Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19ff) or the consistency of his rabbinic teaching (scan the entire book of Luke!), it is very clear that the issues of compassion, fairness, adequate provision and justice filled his agenda. The early church definitely got this point (Acts 2, 4; James; Paul's work on behalf of the poor in Jerusalem; et al). Taking its cue from these sacred texts the history of the church is replete with advocates, reformers and community developers who press hard against the various forces of injustice within society and at times within the church itself. God's messengers throughout history have understood the connections between the revelation of God and the reality of life for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. Two undeniable aspects of this struggle for me involve the opportunities presented by life in a post-modern democratic society and the drifting irrelevance of the church, as we know it. Freedom and the democratic opportunity to craft a truly compassionate community/societal response beyond sound bit rhetoric to pressing contemporary challenges (such as poverty, access to and disparities around health and wellness, livable wages and the results of inadequate skills for marketplace realities, child care, affordable housing and homelessness) hold out great hope and almost endless possibilities. Yet, we are failing miserably in each of these areas. The powerful engines of freedom, choice and democracy currently serve the rich, the healthy and those with access to wellness methodologies, the fully employed, the secure families and the well-housed to the obvious neglect of those left far, far behind. In a world of opportunity, now plagued by freedom's failures, the church is largely silent as it stands mute like a shallow wading pool reflecting the values of a democratic society that systematically crushes the poor and the marginalized while waving the flags of a rabid patriotism. Ironically, at a time when the church's influence appears to be growing in the public square (even if its membership is declining in real numbers), its prophetic, practical voice comes off muted and shrill. Where is the prophetic word today from the pulpits of Dallas? Who is there to speak a clear word of undeniable truth to power today in a state whose 78th legislature pillaged the poor of the few remaining benefits they could take advantage of? Is there a place for repentance, for fasting beyond the gimmicks of the latest spiritual growth regimen? Where is the biblical understanding that would drive a truly discipled people to their knees because of the suffering of the poor, the imprisoned, the naked, the sick and the stranger? Where are the prophets who would boldly challenge the court of American Royalty? Today democracy and religion engage in a bizarre dance. The dance hall is brightly lighted. Smoke and mirrors complement the environment to cover a reality that is just out of view by design. The clerics dance with the one who invited them in hopes of securing new funds while creating a truly Christian nation to the glory of God! All the while the numbers of the dispossessed grow. The suffering continues. Important subjects such as programmatic scale in the face of the overwhelming numbers or the efficiency of comprehensive public policy strategies never arises in any of the significant conversations and, thus, is never achieved. The night of celebration ends in prayer and everyone returns home full, honored and satisfied . . . except for Lazarus who remains unseen outside the gate.

Got my vote registered at 7:30 this morning. Then on to Abilene Regional to visit a Highland member, only to learn that he had died early this morning. The volunteer at the front desk pulled up his name and turned pale. I knew he was afraid I was a family member who had no idea. I hadn't considered how difficult those volunteer positions might be at times. Ever since Megan's death, hospital visiting has without a doubt been one of my least favorite parts of ministry. Fortunately, at Highland there is the expectation that when someone is in the hospital it is primarily their shepherd and small group who will provide the care. Tonight will be a big night. It's, of course, draft night for Abilene Youth Basketball Association.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Good words from Rubel Shelly in this week's "Fax of Life" that might be useful on this eve of the election. There has to be more to this story than made the papers. No charges were filed. The official report simply called it "accidental." But the consequences were quite serious – and could have been deadly. A resident of Confluence, Pennsylvania, saw a mouse. Since most of us don't like mice inside our residences, he took action. Instead of setting a trap, however, he got a pistol! Maybe he's a marksman. Maybe he just really hates rodents. But it turns out that he soon had cause to regret his decision. The 43-year-old man raised his weapon and fired. He missed the mouse but not his girlfriend! The bullet hit her in the arm and put her in Somerset Hospital. The day after the shooting, she was in fair condition. And state police who investigated the incident issued a statement encouraging people not to shoot guns indoors. I'd say that was a minimal lesson to be learned. It sounds like a real-life illustration of our tendency to overreact to things. To go to extremes. To do disproportionate damage in responding to people and events. Remember this old adage against extreme responses: "It's like swatting the fly on your friend's forehead with a hatchet"? This is the new version! When the 2004 presidential election ends this week, what will be the aftermath of all the strident rhetoric? "We've come to expect it!" you say? Then shame on us. Honest disagreement is one thing. Verbal assault is another. Wonder how many people who've never had a flu shot before are in a panic this year because of the much-publicized shortage of vaccine? Ever watch a particular stock or some company's viability ride the up-and- down frenzy of rumors that have hit the street? Did you ever lose a valuable friendship because he or you – or the both of you – misread a situation and hit the roof? Ever hear of a parent who went way over the line to discipline a child and wound up guilty of child abuse?" Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control" says Proverbs 25:28. Indeed, the person who wants to make a difference in this world must first learn self-mastery. Appetite, tongue, passion, weaponry – in the absence of self-discipline, otherwise useful things become incredibly destructive. Responses appropriate to a situation are one thing. "Tom & Jerry Cartoon" scripts acted out in the real world make for absurd headlines and bad outcomes.

Can you still trick-or-treat if you're in 6th grade? It's a bit iffy. But you can if you have younger cousins. Then it's like you're the brave one who's making sure they're safe. So last night my sister-in-law and I walked through her neighborhood and mine with Chris and my three nieces. Our favorite stop of the night was at Jack and Ann Griggs' house. First, the kids insist it's the best candy stop. But what I love was their excitement. Ann yelled for Jack to come to the door, and insisted that the four come in to have their pictures taken. Do you know what that communicates to four children to have a couple from church want to take your picture? Will they ever forget that they were in an elder's home on Halloween being treated like they were grandkids? - - - - Could the dead decide the election? No, this isn't a visit to Chicago's past. This morning on NPR I heard them talking about how the election could come down to Ohio. (I'd already heard Tim Russert say that this year it's "Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.") There has apparently been a very heavy early voting turnout in Ohio. They pointed out that chances are good that a few of those who voted early will die before the election. And in Ohio, state law allows for those votes to be counted.