Mike Cope's blog

Monday, January 31, 2005

Moses' Tears It's been almost three years ago that our beloved dog, Molly, died. After an appropriate period of mourning, Diane and Chris went to the library to check out dog books so they could read up in preparation of selecting just the right dog. Then I went out to run one morning. When I returned, a mutt puppy was in our garage. Clearly, he had been dumped and had wandered in. I yelled to Diane to come see. Her eyes grew as big as saucers and she screamed, "Chris, come here!" This was not what I anticipated, and I didn't like where it was going. "Oh, no," I objected. "This isn't our dog. He's just a mutt that someone left here." The two of them stared at me in disbelief. Diane finally said, "Chris has been praying for God to send us just the right dog, and it looks to me that God maybe answered his prayer." So I had a choice: I could hold off for the RIGHT DOG, or I could have a son who spent his life as a believer instead of an infidel. Anyway, Moses (named Moses because he was "drawn from" the garage) is our dog. Our big dog. Our big dog who can't quite get out of the puppy stage and is just a bit too welcoming anytime you go in the back yard. But when I leave town, I feel like he's watching over my loved ones. It's hard to imagine him being mean; but he's smart and fiercely loyal. Now Moses presses his face up against the back door staring at the twelve year old who is his constant companion. Wondering why he isn't coming out to play. Wondering why he's sitting in a wheelchair instead of walking. I think I've seen Moses cry. Or are those my tears I see reflected?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

I sent a letter to the editor on Wednesday. It hasn't been printed yet, they told me yesterday, because of all the interest in the Abilene cable television controversy. I'd hate to bump something so urgent. So, in case it never makes it, here it is: As a minister of the Highland Church and, much more, as the father of one of the children critically injured in the recent rollover on I-20, there are so many people I'd like to thank. First, I'm thankful for the competent emergency response team that cared for our children when we weren't there – along with strangers who stopped and then calmed and prayed for our kids. I'm also thankful for the amazing trauma team at Hendrick. They received our children, provided appropriate care, and did their best to comfort the frightened parents. I'm grateful for the support and encouragement of so many people of Abilene. But especially I'm thankful for our larger community of faith who held us up in prayer when we were too exhausted or frightened to pray. Our little band of three families at Cook's Children's Hospital felt that support of many local churches constantly. Pioneer Drive Baptist Church called Highland and asked if they could staff our nursery during Brody Bourland's funeral so all could attend. And then six churches – First Baptist, St. Paul United Methodist, First United Methodist, First Central Presbyterian, First Christian, and Heavenly Rest Episcopal Church – called to see if their teens and teen leaders could come pray for our church in its distress. There are no words to express what that means to me. After our son was dismissed from Cook's Tuesday, all children who had been hospitalized were officially home. But with a long road of recovery ahead for some of the kids and for the driver (a beloved woman from our church), it brings comfort to know that the prayers of believers from many churches will continue. Mike Cope

Friday, January 28, 2005

There were so many wonderful nurses while we were at Cook's. Chris's hall of fame includes: Steve - He knew how to help Chris get more comfie to sleep with a back brace and a neck brace, thereby making him a hero. Jack - She was the ICU rules-Nazi who was fiercely devoted to her patients and enforced rules (like two visitors at a time) because she wanted the children under her charge to get better. Missy - One night at shift change, Chris whined, "I want Missy . . . ." Had he been in charge of shift assignments, Missy would have been on each evening. Kim - Ah, yes. His favorite. The first time she came in, I had "Mercy Me" going in the Ipod. She asked Chris who his favorite Christian group was. (Easy question for a boy who's just been to an Audio Adrenaline concert.) Her loving spirit matched her nursing skills. One afternoon Kim observed as Chris came out in his wheelchair to a small crowd of supporters. She watched as his aunt fanned him to keep him cool and as his cousin Maddie stood at his side with a drink and straw in hand. Kim shook her head, came over and grabbed the cup, went back to her desk and wrote the words "PRINCE CHRIS" on it, and returned the cup. It was his cherished styrofoam cup for the rest of our stay.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

"I'm tired of this." "I wish this didn't happen." Very simple statements from my son this morning, but I understand. To borrow Seder language, "If only he had cracked a couple ribs, dayenu [that would have been enough]." "If only he had cracked a couple ribs and a thumb, dayenu." "If only he had cracked a couple ribs, a thumb, and a vertebrae, dayenu." "If only he had cracked a couple ribs, a thumb, a vertebrae, and a skull (slight fracture at base of skull), dayenu." But to go with all that is a sore butt and a headache. The "bone guy" (translation: pediatric orthopedic surgeon) said that after three months, he ought to be brand new. But three months to a twelve year old boy in the middle of his basketball season and right before baseball begins is like a decade to me. When we first saw him in the E. R. at Hendrick here in Abilene (before he was flown to Cook's), he was hardly recognizable. He had been beaten horribly. When he heard our voices, he began crying uncontrollably. I leaned over and whispered in his ear the words I've said to him at bedtime a thousand times: Love that boy. Like a rabbit loves to run, I said I love that boy. Like a rabbit loves to run. Love to see him in the morning. Love to say, "Good mornin', son." Then, for the moment, he calmed down. My prayers for the previous hour had been fairly simple: "Please, God. Please, God. Please, God. Please, God." I think you'd expect more from a 48-year-old minister. But that's about all that would come. As I leaned over him, not knowing yet how serious his internal injuries were, nothing profound came. So I prayed the same words I say over every baby born at Highland: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be on you always." Sometimes familiar words fit the best.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

We are home!! We pulled into the driveway this afternoon to signs and balloons welcoming Chris. Before long school let out and we had a house full of 6th grade boys. So very, very thankful to be here. The road ahead will be slow and hard. But for the moment, we're HOME! On the way back, we stopped at the site of the wreck near Putnam. The site where my precious boy could have died. The place where his friend Brody Bourland did die. There's so much to process. Our prayers continue for the Bourland family and for others who were injured in the rollover. Chris was the last child to leave a hospital. (The driver remains hospitalized.) So many stories to hear and tell. One that's filling my soul right now is hearing about the service on Sunday night. Six churches contacted Highland to ask if their teens could come over that evening to pray for our church, our youth group, the Bourlands, and all who were injured. They are First Baptist, St. Paul United Methodist, First United Methodist, First Central Presbyterian, First Christian, and Heavenly Rest Episcopal Church. These churches came to minister to my beloved church while I was gone -- to pray for my son and for the others. I have no words at the moment to begin to say what that community of faith means to me.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The slow process of rehab continues for us at Cook's. This is now eight days after the wreck. Just as Chris was intubated for about 30 hours to help his lungs begin to heal, so we have all been intubated by the community of faith. People have breathed for us when we couldn't breathe. They have prayed for us when we were too tired to pray. Yesterday Chris got to talk by phone to the only other child still in the hospital in Abilene. That was very comforting to him.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Yesterday morning two of Los Tres Amigos got to go home. Hurrah! We watched Jon Weston and (a few minutes later) Austin leave their rooms to head back to Abilene. It was kind of a lonely feeling for Chris, but he was glad his friends were doing that well. And we had a good day, too. From the outside it would probably seem like baby steps. But from the inside it was gigantic leaps. Chris is now doing some simple exercises and is able to get into a wheelchair for brief periods. He had a couple buddies come up yesterday (plus his two very attentive female cousins who are hovering around him when he's up to it) and they watched ballgames together. Today he has his brother and sister-in-law to watch NFL playoff games with. There was a moment late last night when just the five of us were in the room and prayed that I thought, "Life might one day be 'normal' again." During one of those early dark nights when we were waiting on word about head and lungs, I kept searching in my Ipod for something that would comfort. It came down to one thing: Zoe music. Probably because I could hear the familiar voices and know that those very people were praying for us. The two songs that ministered the most to me were "Come, Ye Sinners" (I know the words "bruised and broken by the fall" are referring to sin . . . but for the moment that spoke to our situation) and "Be Still My Soul." Last night and this morning I was supposed to have been speaking at a Zoe Conference in Fresno. I know it's going well. Well, that's the report from Cook's Children's Hospital this morning. I think my mom and I are going to slip away to early service at Richland Hills. There are so many places I'd like to go this morning: to Burleson to say thanks for all the food; to Grapevine to say thanks for the banner signed by middle schoolers; to . . . . You understand. Thank you all so very much for your prayers. We had one note sent up by someone saying that she is a member of this blog community though we've never met. She just wanted us to know she's thinking about us, praying for us, and would do anything to help if we'd call her. Are there words in the English language to say what that means to a family in crisis?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

It's late Thursday evening and I'm bone-weary. But I have a moment at the computer to catch my blog friends up on what's happening here. We are officially out of ICU!! Chris has a slight fracture at the base of his skull (which will heal itself and is nothing to worry about we're told), a broken thumb, a couple broken ribs, and a broken L4 vertebrae. It will take quite a while to recover. But he will. Fully. Or so we're told by the doctors and so we're believing. We have a lot of work ahead of us which we're thankful to be facing. I'm getting ready to clear my calendar of all traveling for quite a ways in the future. I know the places I'm scheduled to speak will understand. (A friend of mine started the process today by calling the wonderful folks at Ozark Christian College, and he said they couldn't have been more understanding.) This afternoon, we shared the sad news about the death of his friend with Chris. He cried and then we prayed a prayer of tears. Not long after that, he got out of bed for the first time since he was placed on a stretcher somewhere on I-20 Sunday afternoon. With his neck brace and his back brace, he slid into his wheelchair. Then we went for a private meeting of Los Tres Amigos -- the three 6th grade boys from Highland who have been at Cook's together. They were all in ICU together; and now they're in regular rooms near each other. I'd have loved to have heard that conversation. How can we ever begin to say thanks for all the prayers, cards, comments, etc.? The Burleson Church of Christ, which I think I know nothing about, has provided dinner for everyone the last couple nights. People from Highland have been unbelievable. Dr. Jim? What can I say? You cared for our children in Hendrick ER and then came over with us to watch over their broken bodies for two nights (or maybe three -- the days are running together) -- letting the Cook's people do their thing, but becoming our translator and encourager. You were minister, pastor, and physician. We -- I -- will never ever forget it. Our road ahead will be long. After the others are gone, we'll be here for a while. But eventually we'll be back at home -- to share the joy and grief of others.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dear Friends - First, thank you so much for your prayers. We have felt the love and prayers of people from all over. Thanks also for remembering all the families who were effected by the wreck--especially the family who lost their precious 6th grade son. (The funeral, I understand, is tomorrow at 1:00 p.m.) Second, I want to provide an update on Chris. For now, I want to be brief and to the point. There's more I'll share later, but I know some have probably been checking here for info. We've just been too caught up with everything happening in ICU to be able to break away. Apparently, Chris is no longer in critical condition. The dangers we feared seem to be past. Yesterday (the day after the accident) he began communicating through hand signals. He became quite clever at a simple game of charades. His first major question to me was, I finally figured out, "What time is it?" A funny question for a kid who, because of the trauma, doesn't even know what month it is yet. Last night after his lungs had improved so much, they exubated him, and he's been breathing on his own quite well. It isn't pleasant mind you, with two or three broken ribs and bruised lungs, but he's doing well nevertheless. This morning he became very verbal. He's very responsive, and can have pieces of ice. This afternoon the tube in his side (that went into his pleural cavity--I only know this because my med school son is standing beside me while I type) was taken out. Can you say, "BIG OUCH"? He's close to being ready to leave ICU. We've been told his neck brace can't come off yet because of all the swelling in his neck, but nothing about that seems to alarm anyone. Chris has a broken L4 vertebrae. They measured him for a mold that will be made for him that he'll have to wear for a while (couple months?). They (I keep using the infamous "they" to refer to a slew of wonderful docs, nurses, and therapists) aren't concerned about this break; he just has to be very careful for a while. Translation: his basketball season is over. He and Austin Lemmons have been friends from the womb. Their mothers were pregnant at the same time, and they've been big buddies ever since. They're together for covenant group most Sunday nights. They've been side-by-side up in PICU, intubated together, and now breathing on their own together. They keep asking about each other. Austin has been about a day ahead of Chris in all the areas of getting better (plus he doesn't have the back thing to deal with), so we've been able to watch him and know what is hopefully ahead. I don't want to say more publicly about Austin or the other Highland boy here, their buddy Jon Weston Bennett. That's up to their families. But suffice it to say that the Highland report from Cook's Children's Hospital today is very good. More later. This was just for some who might check in. Diane and I appreciate you so much. It's been one of the hardest 48 hours of our life. As you know, we've been down some of this road before--we flew Megan here and were in ICU so many years ago. I'm fighting back tears as I tell you that my son appears to be all right. Thanks, Mike.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

I stop only long enough to plead for prayers. My son and some friends were being driven back from Winterfest this afternoon in a Suburban that flipped. Chris has been intubated and is about to be flown to a children's hospital in the metroplex. My little boy was beaten black and blue. They're saying he's stable. CT scans showed no head injuries inside. The boy next to him died. I grieve horribly for the family. But I'm off. Diane is flying with Chris. I only pause because I beg you to pray for my son.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Sometimes I earn brownie points on Friday morning by making a couple stops after working out. This morning I rolled through Starbucks for a Cafe Mocha for Diane. (The only thing Starbucks sells that I like is bottled water. Apologies to you SB addicts. I have my own addictions, but coffee isn't one of them.) Then I ran into Grandy's for a biscuit deluxe for Chris. The guy behind me in line must have been pushing hard on 90. I heard his order as I was leaving: "I'd like two sweet rolls and a whole milk." You've got to love that! There's hope ahead. At some point you think, "Who cares what I shovel in there? Bring on the extra piece of blueberry pie. And drop an extra scoop of Bluebell on top." Meanwhile, I came home to my Fiber One with almonds with some 1% milk.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

CAR POOL I mentioned in August that I had a pretty taciturn car pool -- a bunch of 6th grade boys who would crawl in one at a time on Thursdays and say profound things like "hey, dude." That all changed in the fall though. I found the secret. The Beach Boys. I had tried lots of music: U2, Eagles, Beatles, etc. But it was The Beach Boys that popped the cork on conversation. For some reason, these guys know the BB tunes. "Help Me, Rhonda," "Sloop John B," "Surfin' USA," "Surfin' Safari," etc. And when "I Get Around" comes on it's karaoke time! With Beach Boys playing, there is a buzz of excitement. Now instead of no one talking, everyone is talking. Once they're loosened up a bit by The Beach Boys, we can move on to better stuff: Van Morrison ("Brown-Eyed Girl"), B. W. Stevenson ("My Maria"), Kingsmen ("Louie, Louie"), Steppenwolf ("Magic Carpet Ride"), and, of course, CCR ("Down on the Corner"). Plus, these are still just kids, so anything from Shrek works nicely (think: Smash Mouth's "All Star" or the Monkee's "I'm a Believer"). The reason I'm thinking about it this morning is that I forgot the Beach Boys CD. We were back to contemplative.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

By most standards, the Highland building isn't in a great location. Have you noticed there isn't exactly a lot of construction going on around us? Wylie area -- yep. University Hills -- uh-huh. A few other spots around Abilene. But not much around S. 5th and Highland. Almost everyone in our church drives past at least one other C of C to get there. Crime, poverty, drugs -- all fairly close to our humble abode. Several years ago the elders considered the possibility of moving. They looked at the area south of town -- around where Beltway is (as I understand it). They also talked about being on the loop somewhere. But they decided prayerfully to stay. Because we're not using "most standards." We are using the standards of the in-breaking kingdom of God. And by those standards, we're in a wonderful place! Think of our new brothers and sisters from the Colonial Apartments. A few years ago that was just a nasty drug nest. Now Highland rents two apartments--outposts of love and ministry. Think of all the Colonial kids who just performed the Christmas pageant at our building. Think of all those university students who walk the neighborhoods around our building, just greeting, loving, and praying. There's a kind of openness they might not find in my own neighborhood--wonderful as it is. (Did you read Larry James's recent blog about how he lives in "Mayberry with an edge"?) Think of our gym being full of children every afternoon for Boys and Girls Club or of all our neighbors who are joining us for Oasis meals. Location, location, location. Thank God, we've got it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Today is the first day of class for the Acts-Revelation class that Randy Harris and I co-teach. We have 76 freshmen Bible/ministry majors. Randy's in Brazil today, so in his honor, I'm dressing in black. Not quite all black--Randy's daily uniform--but close. Thanks to Steve Puckett for pointing me to the witty writings of reallivepreacher.com. How to find a church by Gordon Atkinson (see www.reallivepreacher.com) I keep getting e-mails from people who say, “Your church sounds nice. I wish I could find one like that.” Let me guess. You’re looking for a cool church, filled with authentic Christians who aren’t judgmental but also have convictions, and are hip and classic in just the right mixture. A church where people forgive each other, love children and worship in meaningful ways. A church with a swingin’ preacher who makes the Bible come alive, tells great stories, is a wonderful inspiration—and plays too. A church that isn’t liberal or conservative, but seems to transcend weak-ass categories like those. A church where the hunger for truth is honored, and people can disagree but still love each other and share a plate of tacos. A church where people are committed to “The Christ Life”—and it shows in the fabulous and creative ways they love the world. That what you’re looking for? I got ya. I understand. Here are some tips to help you in your search: • You won’t find that church. • Open the yellow pages. Tear out the entire church section and burn it. Offer prayers for your journey while warming yourself at the fire. Dance if that’s your thing. • Surely I don’t need to say anything about churches that have billboards and commercials featuring preachers with $200 haircuts. • Dedicate yourself to this quest. • Call denominational offices in your town and ask if they know of any spectacularly unsuccessful churches. Explain that you do not want a church that is huge and famous and full of all the right kind of people. Tell them you are looking for a ragged bunch of pilgrims who might be meeting in a laundromat or someplace like that. • Try the Quakers. You’ll have a hell of a time finding them, but that’s the point. • Find out if there are any “house churches” in your area. Not every house church is what you’re looking for, but your odds are better. These are Christians who have decided not to have buildings. They put a high premium on authenticity and relationships. Think guitars, Ritz crackers and singing Jesus songs with a baby in your lap. • Let’s talk about my first tip again. As I said, you won’t find the church you’re looking for. Go ahead and grieve. You’ll have to make do with a silly bunch of dreamers and children, prone to mistakes, blunders and misjudgments. • Find some people you can hang with—people you can trust. Be patient. You’ll change them and they’ll change you. You’ll meet somewhere in the middle. • Relax. It’s all good. God might use this journey to teach you something. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you might pick up some friends along the way and start your own church. All you need is coffee, a Bible and a couple of kindred spirits. • Don’t skimp on the coffee. Get the good stuff.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Last night I got to hear Landon Saunders at the ACU faculty presession. His message was incredible. Many of us talked about it afterward and said things like "Wow, I was 20 years old again tonight" and "The first time I heard Landon I was . . . ." Part of it is the voice, of course. THE VOICE. But much more is the keen sense that this man is pointing you to the way of Christ -- the way of loving human beings -- like no one you've ever heard before. (This fall I had a Landon in my freshman Bible class--one of 10 children in his family. He's one of many "Landons" around the country named by parents after this man who had been so influential in their lives.) We enjoyed having Landon over Saturday evening and then again last night after the presession ended. For a while the first evening, Landon and Chris were alone at the dining table while Diane and I got things in the kitchen. We just smiled as we listened to Landon ask him about his life and tell him stories--especially stories about all the turkeys, deer, bear, foxes, and llamas (yes, llamas) he's seen on his land in Vermont. After he left that evening, Chris said, "That man sure tells good stories." He has no idea! - - - - Friday night was a chance to catch up with my buddy Eddie Parish, who was here to teach a short course at ACU. He and Judy now run the Parish Hermitage, a retreat center just outside Baton Rouge. I'm excited that he's going to be a speaker at the Renovare International Conference this year. - - - - Yesterday morning I interviewed Linda Egle, one of our members who started the Eternal Threads ministry to help young women in SE India get out of poverty--poverty that sends many of them into the sex trade industry. If you don't know much about it, take the time to look through the website. Lots of women at Highland have one of the Sofi tote bags. And each time you purchase one, you know that you're helping to support these young women. The tsunami effected the villages where Linda works. So she and Randy Uthe, a pediatric R. N. and also a Highland member, are going over soon to take a relief package from Healing Hands. But as Linda said yesterday, her concern goes beyond that initial relief (as important as it is). She's concerned that so many people in the villages lost their resources to earn a living. Small fishing boats and nets were washed away. So she's hoping that lots of people will want to help replace those. Linda is trying to make sure that ministers and churches there are centrally involved in the assistance, because they are the ones who will remain behind and be able to enter the lives of the those who were devastated. - - - - Thanks for all the great comments to my last blog. If you haven't read them (especially the 42nd comment by a 19-year-old male), be sure to. There is a wealth of parenting advice there!

Friday, January 07, 2005

"TEEN BREAST IMPLANTS." That's the title of an article I read recently by a Knight Ridder reporter. I'd read a similar article a few months ago in the LA Times about junior high students in Southern California getting breast implants. Before I blather on, let me say something to readers who have maybe already had surgery for breast augmentation. That's not exactly what I'm writing about. When a man decides to get hair plugs or a woman gets breast implants-- well, that's a personal decision. I can imagine that for some people it helped deal with issues of low self-esteem. Some of them probably even knew that this wouldn't fix the deeper problems, but it still seemed to help. So, please don't read this column and feel a lot of guilt. But what does it say about our society that so many teenager girls are feeling the need to get "boob jobs"? Everywhere they look they see "perfect" models: on The O.C., on magazine covers, on MTV videos. What they don't see is the dysfunction that's often behind those models (eating disorders leading the list). The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that 32,000 women in America got breast implants in 1992. Last year the number was 247,000. But here is the really disturbing figure: there was a jump in the number of girls 18 and younger from 3872 in 2002 to 11,326 in 2003. The article I referred to above is about girls who are asking for bigger breasts as graduation presents. (At this point I'm wondering: can a Church of Christ minister even write about this? But I press on . . . .) We live in a culture that values the exterior. We obsess on accidents of birth. What would a culture look like that values compassion, forgiveness, and unconditional love over curves, low body fat, and athletic prowess? That's where the church comes in! We are the ones who follow Jesus Christ, the teacher who keep focusing on the heart. He reflected the words of God: "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." There are readers of this blog who are parents, teachers, coaches, cheerleading sponsors, etc. What a great place for you to be! You have a chance to teach and model our belief that it is the character being formed within that really defines a person--not the shape of the body. I still love the song Steven Curtis Chapman wrote for his daughter: I can see the tears filling your eyes And I know where they’re coming from They’re coming from a heart that’s broken in two By what you don’t see The person in the mirror Doesn’t look like the magazine Oh but when I look at you it’s clear to me that I can see the fingerprints of God When I look at you I can see the fingerprints of God And I know it’s true You’re a masterpiece That all creation quietly applauds And you’re covered with the fingerprints of God Never has there been and never again Will there be another you Fashioned by God’s hand And perfectly planned To be just who you are And what he’s been creating Since the first beat of your heart Is a living breathing priceless work of art and Just look at you You’re a wonder in the making Oh and God’s not through no In fact he’s just getting started . . . . Today I'd like to ask for lots of comments. Let's help one another. What suggestions do you have (from reading, observing, or--even better--from experience) for helping us raise our sons and daughters to buy into better values, to resist the Britneyization of our teen culture, and to feel comfortable in their skin?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Let me post a little further about compassion. This is an almost unprecedented time for Christ-followers. This is a chance for it to be known that we don't live for one country, that we don't hate Muslims, and that we aren't defending the greed, consumerism, and moral debauchery of (much of) the West. I'm so thankful for Christians who are in place in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and other countries impacted -- as well as for Christian ministries (like Healing Hands -- www. hhi-aid.org) and generous believers who are responding not so that people will see how giving we are but because it is the Way of Christ.

Before this post, let me say: my central concern is not that America look generous but that the community of Christ-followers all over the world BE generous. (This reflects my deep conviction that I not first of all an American, but a member of the Jesus Community whose citizenship is in heaven.) This is a time of tragedy that calls for generosity, compassion, and thorough prayer. Having said that, this is from my favorite columnist, Nicholas Kristof: So is the U.S. "stingy" about helping poor countries? That accusation by a U.N. official, in veiled form, provoked indignation here. After all, we're the most generous people on earth ... aren't we? No, alas, we're not. And the tsunami illustrates the problem: When grieving victims intrude onto our TV screens, we dig into our pockets and provide the massive, heartwarming response that we're now displaying in Asia; the rest of the time, we're tightwads who turn away as people die in far greater numbers. The 150,000 or so fatalities from the tsunami are well within the margin of error for estimates of the number of deaths every year from malaria. Probably two million people die annually of malaria, most of them children and most in Africa, or maybe it's three million - we don't even know. But the bottom line is that this month and every month, more people will die of malaria (165,000 or more) and AIDS (240,000) than died in the tsunamis, and almost as many will die because of diarrhea ( 140,000). And that's where we're stingy. Americans give 15 cents per day per person in official development assistance to poor countries. The average American spends four times that on soft drinks daily. In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, we increased such assistance by one-fifth, for President Bush has actually been much better about helping poor countries than President Clinton was. But as a share of our economy, our contribution still left us ranked dead last among 22 top donor countries. We gave 15 cents for every $100 of national income to poor countries. Denmark gave 84 cents, the Netherlands gave 80 cents, Belgium gave 60 cents, France gave 41 cents, and Greece gave 21 cents (that was the lowest share, beside our own). It is sometimes said that Americans make up for low official aid with private charitable donations. Nope. By OECD calculations, private donations add 6 cents a day to the official U.S. figure - meaning that we still give only 21 cents a day per person. One reason for American stinginess, I think, is a sense that foreign aid is money down a rathole. True, plenty has been wasted. But there's also growing evidence of what works and is cost-effective - such as health programs and girls' schooling. One of the most unforgettable people I've met is Nhem Yen, a Cambodian grandmother whose daughter had just died of malaria, leaving two small children. So Nhem Yen was looking after her four children and two grandchildren, and she could afford only one mosquito net to protect them from malarial mosquitoes. Each night, she had to choose which of the six children would sleep under the net. Do we really think that paying $5 for a mosquito net to keep Nhem Yen's children alive would be money down a rathole? When I contracted the most lethal form of malaria, in Congo, I was easily cured because I could afford the best medicines. But to save money, African children are given medicines that cost only 5 cents a dose but aren't very effective; the medicine that would actually save their lives is unaffordable, at $1 a dose. Do we really think $1 a dose for medicine to save a child is money down a rathole? Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist, estimates that spending $2 billion to $3 billion on malaria might save more than one million lives a year. "This is probably the best bargain on the planet," he said. The outpouring of U.S. aid, private and public, for tsunami victims is wonderful. But, frankly, the affected nations will get all the money they can absorb for the moment, and Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are far from the worst off in the world. "The really big money can be better and more usefully absorbed by developing good health and education programs in the poorest countries," noted Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development. "But that's not as visible or heroic." With America's image tarnished around the world, one of the most effective steps Mr. Bush could take to revive it would be to lead a global effort to confront an ongoing challenge like malaria. That would also give Mr. Bush more credibility by suggesting that the "culture of life" he talks about embraces not just fetuses, but also African children crying from hunger. The best response to accusations of stinginess is not to be defensive, but to be generous. And the measure of generosity is not what you offer when the spotlight is upon you, but what you do when the spotlight moves on.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Are you one of those parents who would like to help your children exercise more and eat a more healthy diet, but you're just too tired? Or maybe you're susceptible to guilt when a child complains about having to eat vegies instead of chips (pointing out that none of her friends has to eat that way)? Or perhaps you tend to overcompensate through fast food rewards when you don't have enough time with your kids? Or could it be that you're just too pooped to do anything, so the television becomes a free babysitter? I understand. But YOU ARE THE PARENT! This is the year to change. Even if your children fight you over it. It's always important to remember that you are the parent! It's going to be a tough battle. A Big Gulp and a bag of chips are cheap. A run through McDonald's is easy, quick, and the kids love it. (So does Ronald McDonald, who owns a major chunk of stock in the company.) This isn't about cosmetics to me. We have to be careful about making people think their identity or worth comes from what the mirror or scales are telling them. "People look on the outside, but God looks on the heart," Samuel learned. We come tall, short, wide, and thin. Our culture obsesses on the outside (I hope to write more on that in a day or two), but God looks at the heart. But there is a major health crisis in our country. A recent essay by Elizabeth Weil points out that "the burden of childhood obesity is one created by adults and borne by children." Kids who are overweight have a much greater risk of developing diabetes (type 2). And eventually they'll be at greater risk of all kinds of nasty things (colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, etc.). Need a bit of shock therapy? Check out "Super Size Me." (See my brief comments on 12/19/04, and please note the parental warnings at screenit.com.) Those who've read this blog for a long time know I'm not against desserts or an occasional trip through Wendy's. It's about moderation. A healthy lifestyle. (The low carb diet is currently crashing about as fast as the low fat diet did. A healthy lifestyle is about moderation. Burning as many calories as you take in. Not rocket science. Save money you were going to spend on that diet book and buy new walking shoes instead!) We have to be parents, even when it isn't fun. There has to be a steady diet of fruits and vegies to go with the other food groups. There has to be a reasonable limit on tv. There has to be a time of exercise and play. Water needs to take the place of Big Gulps--yes, even if ALL THE OTHER KIDS AT SCHOOL get to have the Big Gulp. We need to encourage by example as well as by words. Parenting is hard when you're tired, isn't it? Enforcing bedtimes (not one of my strengths!), putting limits on television, encouraging healthy eating and exercising . . . well, sometimes it just isn't fun. But I think it's worth it. (Have you seen Spanglish yet? It'll make you appreciate every time you said "no" when doing so made you miserable being a parent.)

Monday, January 03, 2005

"Already but not yet." That's a striking way of describing the breaking in of the reign of God. It has already come--but not yet in its fullness. We await the consummation when Christ returns. Probably most Christians find themselves leaning in one direction or the other. "Already Christians" are amazed at the power, signs, wonders, and answered prayers that are all around them. I'm a "not yet Christian." While I believe that the reign of God has broken in, I mostly see evidence of what remains to come. I can identify with the language of Paul that we (and all creation) long, groan, wait, and hope. I deeply love "already Christians." I need to be prodded by them. But I don't share much of their outlook. And it seems at times like their hyper-confidence is damaging to struggling people. When they talk about all the times God has spoken to them, I think of all the silences. When they speak of instantaneous healings, I remember all the people I've pleaded with God to heal but who died (including my daughter). When they talk about how God keeps pouring down his blessings (often meaning homes, cars, vacations, etc.), I think of all the people who become poorer as a result of their faith. They speak of a way of blessing. The gospel speaks of a blessing that involves loss and persecution. They leapfrog to Easter Sunday; the gospel goes through Good Friday and Silent Saturday. There are so many God-lovers who beg God to take away their depression, but it remains. There are many who ask him to remove their homosexual desires, but the temptations keep coming at them. (And for some of them it only makes it worse when they hear the testimonies of people who were instantaneously "cured" -- as in, "Why does God care more about them than about me?") I love these words from Larry Crabb (another "not yet Christian," I believe after reading so many of his excellent books): Modern Christianity, in dramatic reversal of its biblical form, promises to relieve the pain of living in a fallen world. The message, whether it’s from fundamentalists requiring us to live by a favored set of rules or from charismatics urging a deeper surrender to the Spirit’s power, is too often the same: The promise of bliss is for now! Complete satisfaction can be ours this side of heaven. Some speak of the joys of fellowship and obedience, others of a rich awareness of their value and worth. The language may be reassuringly biblical or it may reflect the influence of current psychological thought. Either way, the point of living the Christian life has shifted from knowing and serving Christ till He returns to soothing, or at least learning to ignore, the ache in our soul. . . . Beneath the surface of everyone’s life, especially the more mature, is an ache that will not go away. It can be ignored, disguised, mislabeled, or submerged by a torrent of activity, but it will not disappear. And for good reason. We were designed to enjoy a better world than this. And until that better world comes along, we will groan for what we do not have. An aching soul is evidence not of neurosis or spiritual immaturity, but of realism. The experience of groaning, however, is precisely what modern Christianity so often tries to help us escape.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy new year, friends. Prospero ano y felicidad. I'll launch 2005 with a gift to you. Put in your bookmark this website: Larry James's brand new blog. As you know, Larry is a good friend and has been a powerful influence in my life. At times he's a blessing I eagerly receive. At other times he a pest I just can't seem to ignore. Like most middle-class Americans, I can too easily get wrapped up in my own comfortable world. It's easy to fight for policies that benefit the middle (and upper) class. And it's frighteningly easy just to ignore the poor, writing them off as people who are chronic underachievers. Just for a taste of what's to come, here is his entry today: Who can comprehend the eruption of power and the sheer force that sent the most devastating tsunami in history streaking across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speed on Christmas night? The energy shifted the geographic position of an island, moved the axis of the entire earth and generated walls of water that stole life from over 200,000 people by the time the final toll is known. Possibly it is my age, but I no longer ask "Why?" when something like this occurs. My mind turns more naturally to "What now?" One fact is clear: our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world need our help with the basics--water, shelter, food, medical care and most of all hope. All cost. If you would like to help, check out the websites of these organizations: Oxfam http://www.oxfamamerica.org World Vision http://www.WorldVision.org UNICEF http://www.unicef.org Each of these well-managed assistance and development agencies has a long and respectable history of delivering relief, compassion and hope to suffering people. Begin 2005 by reaching out to someone you likely will never meet, but who will be forever grateful for your care. Compassion, raw, human compassion may be the only force more powerful than even an earthquake like this one.