Mike Cope's blog

Friday, August 05, 2005

Part of my fun reading this summer has been catching up on Grisham novels -- the last couple and one I missed several years ago, The Street Lawyer. I especially loved the last one. Years ago I interviewed Grisham for Wineskins Magazine because I loved the way he brought his faith to his writing without turning them into "Christian fiction" (which tends to be pale and rarely reaches anyone on the outside). All right, so he isn't James Joyce. But come on, did you really enjoy having to read Finnegan's Wake? Street Lawyer is a great moral tale -- of a young DC lawyer who's been busting his hump (and distancing his wife) while pursuing the magical dollars that come from partnership. His world was all about bucks: the right car, the right apartment, the right restaurants, the right vacations. And then one day he came face-to-face with death when a homeless man who had been booted on the streets by his law firm took him and a handful of other lawyers hostage. Meeting this man, observing his sudden death by a sharpshooter, and digging into his background introduced him to a world that is not about worshiping dollars. He found an underground where people are seeking justice and working for humanity -- not trying to see how many billable hours they can rack up while charging $50 lunches to their clients. And everyone thought he was crazy. He had been confronted, through fear of death, with the values of the kingdom. And no one -- including his church-going parents -- understood him. (Note: others can meet the radical claims of the kingdom and make radical changes in their lives without switching careers, of course. But they can never be the same.) He flies to Memphis to talk to his parents. He says, "I rented a car at the Memphis airport and drove east into the sprawling suburbs where the white people lived. The blacks had the city; the whites, the suburbs. Sometimes the blacks would move into a subdivision, and the whites would move to another one, farther away. Memphis crept eastward, the races running from each other." Here's the sceen from his golf game with his dad, when he tries to explain why he might leave a job with a six-figure income and astronomical perks in the future for a job defending the defenseless for $30K a year. "Late that afternoon my dad and I did nine holes. He played; I drank beer and drove the cart. Golf had yet to work its magic on me. Two cold ones and I was ready to talk. I had repeated the Mister tale [the story of the homeless man who took them hostage] over lunch, so he figured I was just loafing for a couple of days, collecting myself before I roared back into the arena. "'I'm getting kind of sick of the big firm, Dad,' I said as we sat by the third tee, waiting for the foursome ahead to clear. I was nervous, and my nervousness irritated me greatly. It was my life, not his. "'What's that supposed to mean?' "'Means I'm tired of what I'm doing.' "'Welcome to the real world. You think the guy working a drill press in a factory doesn't get tired of what he's doing? At least you're getting rich.' "So he took round one, almost by a knockout. Two holes later, as we stomped through the rough looking for his ball, he said, 'Are you changing jobs?' "'Thinking about it.' "'Where are you going?' "'I don't know. It's too early. I haven't been looking for another position.' "'Then how do you know the grass is greener if you haven't been looking?' He picked up his ball and walked off. "I drove alone on the narrow paved trail while he stalked down the fiarway chasing his shot, and I wondered why that gray-haired man out there scared me so much. He had pushed all of his sons to set goals, work hard, strive to be Big Men, with everything aimed at making lots of money and living the American dream. He had certainly paid for anything we needed. "Like my brothers, I was not born with a social conscience. We gave offerings to the church because the Bible strongly suggests it. We paid taxes to the government because the law requires it. Surely, somewhere in the midst of all this giving some good would be done, and we had a hand in it. Politics belonged to those willing to play that game, and besides, there was no money to be made by honest people. We were taught to be productive, and the more success we attained, the more society would benefit, in some way. Set goals, work hard, play fair, achieve prosperity. "He double-bogeyed the fifth hole, and was blaming it on his putter when he climbed into the cart. "'Maybe I'm not looking for greener pastures,' I said. "'Why don't you just go ahead and say what you're trying to say?' he said. As usual, I felt weak for not facing the issue boldly. "'I'm thinking about public interest law.' "'What the hell is that?' "'It's when you work for the good of society without making a lot of money.' "'What are you, a Democrat now? You've been in Washington too long.' "'There are lots of Republicans in Washington. In fact, they've taken over.' "We rode to the next tee in silence. He was a good golfer, but his shots were getting worse. I'd broken his concentration. "Stomping through the rough again, he said, 'So some wino gets his head blown off and you gotta change society. Is that it?' "'He wasn't a wino. He fought in Vietnam.' "Dad flew B-52's in the early years of Vietnam, and this stopped him cold. But only for a second. He wasn't about to yield an inch. 'One of those, huh?' "I didn't respond. The ball was hopelessly lost, and he wasn't really looking. He flipped another onto the fairway, hooked it badly, and away we went. "'I hate to see you blow a good career, son,' he said. 'You've worked too hard. You'll be a partner in a few years.' "'Maybe.' "'You need some time off, that's all.' "That seemed to be everybody's remedy." What a great scene. Whenever you wake up from the thick fog of materialism and the American Dream, people think you're a lunatic.


  • Thanks for this, Mike. I have lived in two other countries in my life -- Afghanistan and the UK -- where the American Dream does not have much relevance to reality. Not only do people think you're a lunatic. American Christians have also questioned my faith, and considered me 'not quite' a Christian any more. They view me -- etiher secretly or openly to my face -- as a traitor. Traitor to whom??? I admit these judgments hurt a lot. Why is this? Does this mean my allegiance to Christ is not as important a priority as my allegiance to America?

    The saddest thing I am faced with is that people in these two countries I have lived in are influenced more by the American Dream than the Promise of Life Christ has to offer. How has that happened?

    By Blogger Deb, at 8/05/2005 04:50:00 AM  

  • Deb,

    What an incredible and penetrating comment! Thank you.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 8/05/2005 05:12:00 AM  

  • this reminds me of a quote used by Martin Luther King in the period after his March on Washington when he became an advocate for the poor.

    "When I give money to the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist."

    By Blogger Krister, at 8/05/2005 06:34:00 AM  

  • I live in Memphis where it's true that the whites have moved east leaving downtown, midtown, north Memphis and south Memphis to the largely poor, black population. Sad as this is, more sad is that those who leave the troubles of the city taking much needed resources with them claim to be Christians. The largest CofC congregation in our city just announced plans to sell their property at the edge of midtown and move as far as 10 miles away from the city. Have we all but given up our effort to "walk as Jesus walked"?

    By Blogger MarkS, at 8/05/2005 07:05:00 AM  

  • I remember the excitement when Grisham's responses came back in the mail, how I had to wait for you to come into the office, and then hounding you to go check your mail.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 8/05/2005 07:11:00 AM  

  • I had another thought about this "white flight" thing...we seem to have adopted John the Baptist's strategy of calling people out of the city to the rural (wilderness) area then preaching (screachng) to them. Our churches try to create an "attraction" that will draw people to the church building where we preach to them about their sins.

    Jesus, however, left the wilderness and went to the city to befriend, connect, direct, comfort and heal. "Attractional" (John's way) or "Incarnational" (Jesus' way)? Seems to me that God would have us be about Jesus' model of "pitching our tents" among the poor and disadvantaged in order to love and connect.

    By Blogger MarkS, at 8/05/2005 07:32:00 AM  

  • Thank-you for a great post. I've been working at a nice restaurant this summer, and I wait on a lot of very wealthy people. I find myself sometimes wanting to change majors or career choices, because I want the things they have. It's reminders like yours today that keep me focused.

    By Blogger Brandon Moore, at 8/05/2005 08:08:00 AM  

  • Extremely thought-provoking blog this morning... I've been mulling it over since I read it a few hours ago.

    To MarkS -- I also live in Memphis, and just for the record, not all of us at that large CofC are in favor of moving out of the city and are praying that other doors will be opened.

    By Blogger Rhonda, at 8/05/2005 08:40:00 AM  

  • Mike, you are hitting on a subject that has been near and dear to me for the past couple of months. It all started when I noticed not one, but multiple books on the shelves of a Christian bookstore that were trying to draw up a formula for financial success in the business world based on "Christian principles."

    Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that some people have been blessed by financial success while living out their faith at work. But I also think that the obsession with finding a way to marry money and Jesus creates a seriously distorted view of the ways that work and faith interact. In short, the way of Jesus can also call us to places where there is LESS money, LESS prestige, LESS "success" (in a professional sense), but MORE time and flexibility to pursue the affairs of the Kingdom.

    I wish there were more books about Christians who face and make choices like those that the character confronts in this novel, and less about how God wants to make us all wealthy.

    By Blogger Matt, at 8/05/2005 09:41:00 AM  

  • Mike - this has absolutely nothing to do with your post!! I have been working in Austin for 4 months now, so not only do I miss you on Sundays, I also miss Highland on Wednesday evenings. I think the Oasis is what I miss most - being away from home is similar to being in a dessert. (Gee, don't know if I spelled the one I meant, but you know.) David Wray did a fantastic job today of reminding us of how we are community. I look forward to your return to the pulpit, so at least one thing will be back to normal!

    By Blogger P Watson, at 8/07/2005 12:47:00 PM  

  • I just finished reading John Grisham's "The Testament" and am also fascinated by the light Grisham sheds on the power and difference of simple faith. Reading in a "pop" novel about a man coming to terms with God's grace while sitting in a small Brazilian chapel is a powerful and refreshing experience. Effectively describing why a lone missionary in the jungle would turn down an $11 billion inheritance proved Grisham's understanding of how different God's servants are.

    Agreed... We don't need more Christian music or books, we need more music and books created by Christians.

    By Blogger Cary, at 8/07/2005 08:39:00 PM  

  • It's so funny that I just picked up this book from 1998 and am reading it. There are so many other incredible quotes in this book that prick me. (a Christian that works 8-5 but drives by someone on the street with my head averted) Becoming a 'street lawyer' in tiny steps like working in a hand's on way with homeless people is the real value that I got hammered home in this book. I give to my church but don't give my time. This book is a quick read and as always a lawyer extravaganza. Let it apply to your life though in, at least, small ways by giving some of your time and sweat is what I got from the book.
    M.C., Fort Worth

    By Blogger SubBlogger, at 8/08/2005 06:39:00 AM  

  • MarkS:

    What a thought provoking comment! I will have to mull that one over. Thanks for posting it.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 8/08/2005 06:39:00 AM  

  • Thanks, Serena: I just noticed on your profile that you like Jim Reeves and music from "Phantom." You just became one of my best friends.

    By Blogger MarkS, at 8/08/2005 10:30:00 AM  

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