Mike Cope's blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

We had a perfect view of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade from 48th and Broadway. There were 14 giant balloons, 37 smaller balloons, 27 floats and 10 high school marching bands--plus the Beach Boys, Carrie Underwood, and Johnny Bench. To say nothing of 2.5 million others watching along the route. (When I ran the NYC marathon, there were an estimated 2 million lining the route. That made the race easier -- it only seemed about 25.2 miles.) Four blocks after it passed us, a 515-pound M&M ballon was blown into a light pole, puncturing it. As it went down, it pulled the light fixture off, causing it to drop down and injure two sisters (one of whom has CP and was in a wheelchair). All we knew was that emergency workers came rushing by, but we had no idea why. The next morning the NY Times scathed NBC because the network decided they didn't want their sunny broadcast interrupted by bad news. Not only did they not mention the accident and the injuries, but they also substituted footage from the 2004 parade when it came time for the M&M balloon to pass their cameras. Al Roker pressed on with his script: "Will these classic candymen get out of this delicious dilemma? Hard to say, but when it comes to sweetness, Yellow and Red continue to melt your heart, but not in your hand." Bad news is so hard to deliver, especially when people are in a mood to celebrate. The names Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Isaiah (eighth century prophets) come to mind!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In Plan B, Anne Lamott has a moving chapter about the death of her beloved dog, Sadie. "Having a good dog is the closest some of us will ever come to knowing the direct love of a mother, or God, so it's no wonder it knocked the stuffing out of Sam and me when Sadie died. I promised Sam we'd get another puppy someday, but privately I resolved to never get another dog. I didn't want to hurt that much again, if I could possibly avoid it." It's amazing how much the death of a dog can hurt, isn't it? On one hand, it's just an animal. It's not a child. And yet . . . . This past year our dear friends James and Marla lost their retriever, Lucy. She was an indoor dog that knew her boundaries. (Very few.) She was around while the girls grew up, she oversaw the comings and goings during teenage years, she tolerated the move from Arkansas to New Hampshire to Vermont. And when she died, it wasn't like losing a pet fish. (Apologies here to those really attached to a pet fish.) Also last year our friends Charles and Mary Lee lost Digger. It's still weird going over to their house and not seeing him lying down on the kitchen floor. Digger knew he was allowed anywhere on the tile, so he'd get his body to the very last 1/1000th of an inch next to the carpet of the living room to be as close as possible while we talked. And several years ago now, Molly died--the blonde cocker spaniel we'd had since Matt was five. She was technically "Matt's dog," but she endeared herself to our family by being so gentle around Megan. Especially when Megan was young and healthy, she could be pretty rough. (New readers may not know that our daughter was mentally handicapped.) But Molly would receive that tough love without ever becoming cross. We have lots of memories of the two of them running across the back yard in Arkansas. After Molly died, I thought we were through with dogs. That's when I noticed that Diane and Chris had come home from the library with several books about dogs. Not a good sign. But they determined that they were going to find the perfect dog and then we were going to buy one. (I'm still confused as to why I'm not in on decisions like that.) A few days later I went out to run and when I returned, there was a puppy in our garage. It was obviously one that had been abandoned and had wandered in. I called to Diane to come see--just sort of as a curiosity thing. But when she screamed, "Chris, come here. You won't believe this!" I knew we were in trouble. I said, "No, no, no. This isn't our dog. It just wandered in here." Diane responded, "Chris has been praying every night for God to bring us another dog. Could you explain your position to him?" So he's now our dog. Moses (named by our friend Emily, who said he was "drawn from the garage") is a big dog. Really strong, good-looking, smart dog. In other words, everything our cocker was not. But, alas, we also have another cocker. I'm still confused about this one. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law and my three nieces went to get a puppy, and they came home with a black cocker. But for some reason, we had to take the brother of their dog, so they wouldn't be permanently separated. Of course, I'm still wondering, if this was so important why didn't they take both? But I digress. Anyway, we also have Joshua--so named because he came after Moses. Any other dog people out there? Anyone else who's had dogs "raise" your kids? Or anyone who remembers thinking, like Anne Lamott, that the loss of a dog was so painful you'd never get another one (only to find yourselves proud owners once again)?

Monday, November 28, 2005

A day of questions: You know I love CCR, 3 Dog Night, and the Eagles, but is U2 the all-time best rock band? Is Coldplay in that league? What's the best Christmas song of all-time? Why does a good white preacher make you want to smile and nod your head and a good black preacher make you want to stand up, dance, and shout "preach it!"? Why is college basketball ten times more entertaining than the NBA? Not counting Stan Musial, who's the best player ever for the Cardinals? Is it possible that someday broccoli will be considered bad for you and donuts will be considered beneficial? Who decided at some Christian colleges that they can have secular bands come play secular music but they can't have Christian bands come play Christian music? What do women see in Dr. McDreamy (a cultural obsession I read about in USA Today)? What's that about? - - - - Sometime today someone will make the counter click 500,000. I know it's arbitrary--I dropped that counter on 15 months ago--but what would be a fitting gift for that person? If you are the one to make it hit 500,000, leave your name and we'll together decide on a fitting gift.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Today my nephew, Jantsen Barrett Cope, would have been 22. He was a happy, faith-filled teenager who loved fishing, telling jokes, watching goofy movies, sports, and being with his family. His life ended suddenly of a heart malfunction in 1999 when he was 15. Our thoughts are, of course, with Randy and Pam today. How appropriate that this year, JB's birthday falls on the first Sunday of Advent, a time of hope and anticipation.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The three of us have had a wonderful couple days in NYC. On Thanksgiving Day, we got up early to claim a front spot at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I've watched it since I was a kid, and it was a blast being there. In the afternoon we went to the Rockette's Christmas program, which ends with a moving account of the birth of Jesus. In between we managed to squeeze in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Gallager's. That night we went to the top of the Empire State Building, where the wind chill felt below zero. (My kind of weather!) Yesterday we wandered in Central Park and then saw "Wicked" and "Hairspray." Now we're at the airport heading back home. When Matt was young the three of us came here (while, I supppose, my mom kept Megan) -- a trip he's never forgotten. I hope Chris has the same kind of memories a decade from now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Highland Church is in a horrible place for traditional Abilene "church growth." We're not near ACU, and we aren't in the growing area of Abilene. There are so many new stores and restaurants: Books-a-Million (hurrah! a legitimate bookstore in Abilene!), Red Robin, Jason's Deli, and a hundred other places on the South/Southwest side of town. But around Highland, there is nothing new. We are not in the right part of town. Location, location, location. But I'm so thankful we're here. I'm so thankful that we didn't move down to 707 years ago when it was considered. Because God is opening so many doors. I'm so thankful because of W. She lived across the street from our building and now, a few years after her baptism, is a vital part of this church. Though W. is mentally disabled, she is right at the center of this church. She arrives early on Sunday mornings to get coffee ready for her class. She greets everyone as they enter the building. She laughs (loudly!) at my jokes . . . and at other times. She "amens" loudly at the end of prayers. She is a truly amazing woman who is on fire for Jesus. I'm so thankful because of the Colonial Apartments. God put this vision in Maria's heart a few years ago, and now there is this partnership between Highland and the Colonial Apartments that only God could have brought about. If you haven't ever seen the Colonial Christmas Pageant at Highland (which this year is expanded to the Freedom Fellowship neighborhood), don't miss it on December 4. I'm so thankful because of the huge number of neighborhood people who are eating here at the Oasis meals on Wednesday nights. We started these meals as a chance for us to be together before the 7:00 assembly and classes. But apparently God had other plans, because there are as many nonmembers as members eating. It's a different environment, maybe not quite as relaxed as chatting with friends, but what an opportunity! (I know one reader of this blog who had an amazing opportunity to minister last week . . . if maybe she'll just share with us . . .) I'm thankful because some of the people I saw bringing sacks of groceries to the front of their church Sunday morning to share with others in need are people who at times need the church's assistance in making ends meet. Location, location, location. Ah, to be located in the middle of something God is doing. - - - - In case I don't blog tomorrow, please have a wonderful day. "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). - - - - It was so good to see Matt and Sarah Lynn Sunday morning. The church that they planted in Eugene, Oregon, is doing well. Their group wanted to pick one of the most unchurched places in the country and they found it. I wonder if the people going there have any idea that they have one of the most gifted worship leaders (SL) anywhere? - - - - I guess this will be our first Thanksgiving without Matt since he was born in 1982. Ah, the wonder of sharing your married children! For 27 years we've alternated holiday trips between Ohio and Missouri. How has that worked for others of you? Any other holiday sharing going on out there?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A few more thoughts after those amazing responses to last Thursday's blog about being single. First, this reminds me that we must continue telling people that in baptism the church--others who have signed up for following Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life--is our first family. We have to be careful about all our language about "family values," "family retreats," "family devotionals." For those of us who have responded to the call of the kingdom, our primary family isn't birth (as important as that family still is). Second, I was struck by the suggestion that we try to have an odd number of seats at our small groups. What an image! (And it makes me thankful that we do have an odd number at our covenant group.) Third, I'm reminded of the need to "look to the side" (to reflect my words from Sunday in speaking about Luke 10:25-37)--to see those who are maybe not in our tunnel vision. An invitation to dinner, even if it's running to McDonald's after church, can be so important. Fourth, the good feedback makes me wonder about our tendencies to separate people by "market groups." I think of one of our classes at Highland that has successfully incorporated couples, university students, grad students, and other singles into one group that seems to be bonding well. Fifth, we must keep the mission of Christ always before us. If we're working side-by-side in the work of the reign of God, we will inevitably be drawn closer. All right, admittedly, I'm saying the obvious here. This may be redundant, but would others like to offer specific suggestions of ways in which some of these barriers have been broken down?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Every school day now, Chris is at 7th grade basketball practice early in the morning at Lincoln Middle School. Eleven years ago today, that's exactly where Matt was when I went to pick him up. I found one of the coaches and said, "Matt's sister is going to die in the next few hours, so I need to take him up to the hospital." He and I drove to Hendrick together as I explained that this was going to be Megan's last day. And at 10:16 that morning, she took her last breath. Here's what I wrote on this blog two years ago (changing only the number of years): Megan Diane Cope died eleven years ago today. Who -- in our success-driven world -- would want her genetic make-up? She was, after all, mentally retarded. And yet . . . she changed our worlds. She was a quiet, loving witness to the gospel. She was an incarnation of God's love. She received whatever gifts of service we offered to her without expecting more. She embodied the truth of 2 Corinthians 4:7: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." Her ten years here were too short. So today, again, we grieve her absence, and we look forward to seeing her again to thank her for helping to set our worlds right.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

October does come to Abilene. It just waits until about late November. It's been an amazing weekend to be outside. Friday, the Highland ministers traveled to a ranch about an hour away where we spent some time apart (hiking, reading, praying, meditating in REAL HILLS) and some time together. Saturday, Charles and I went for an hour bike ride together. And this afternoon, Chris and I rode bikes together at Abilene State Park. I love being outdoors. When it isn't hot!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I don't have much personal investment in the Iron Bowl since I'm not a fan of either Alabama or Auburn. But the best seat in college football may be in the home of Buddy and Stephanie Bell in Montgomery during the Iron Bowl (which, for those who aren't ESPN addicts, is this afternoon). - - - - We have, of course, already seen "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Very good. Four down . . . three more to go. - - - - Congrats to AHS for winning last night in OT. There are so many Highland guys on the team (including two who I assume will be the offensive and defensive players of the year in the district -- Taylor and Stephen) that it's been a blast to follow. - - - - Highland members remember to bring your grocery sacks full tomorrow for the thanksgiving offering.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's stupid. But funny. Check it out. - - - - What's it like to be a single adult in church? So much of what we do is family-centered: family retreats, family encampments, family devotionals, etc. Are we doing a good job of communicating that after baptism the first family is the body of Christ? Is it the best idea to have singles classes or would it be better to integrate people so that relationships are formed? From Lauren Winner: "There is a trend in churches today to segregate people into demographic groups. Single twenties and thirties in one Sunday-school class, families with small children in another, empty-nesters in a third, sernior citizens down the hall, and so forth. Indeed, many churches have 'dealt with singleness' by starting singles' groups or singles' Bible studies, and hiring associate ministers who are charged with the task of ministering to single Christians. "I see the appeal of such groups, but I am cautious about them. Perhaps the most robust expression of Christian community comes when we connect people of all demographics, people who might not meet each other if left to their own devices--toddlers and senior citizens and married couples and single professionals and empty nesters. This may cut against the grain of the organizational flowcharts that have become de rigueur in so many churches, separating parishioners into market groups (though the intentional fostering of relationships across demographic lines does not necessarily preclude a thriving Bible study for single parishioners, or a young mothers' prayer group). I have never joined a church with a singles' group, not because I think they are horrible or suffocating, but because church has always been one of the very few places where I can meet and know people who are not superficially like myself--it is only in church that I get to know kindergartners, and elderly people, and young families. . . . "One of the best ways Christian communities can support chastity is to ensure that married people and single folks are in relationship with one another. Fostering relationships between married and single means not assuming that 'couple' is the basic unity of Christian identity. It means asking the single person not only who are you dating? but how is God calling you to be faithful now as you are? It means making sure you have an odd number of chairs at your dinner parties." I'd love to hear from single adults today: what is your experience in church? What changes could leaders make that would bless you? Also, maybe there are others who've witnessed ways in which singles and married couples can be brought together better -- along with more intergenerational experiences.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Today, I'm remembering with thanks all the wonderful women I've worked for. Or with. Decades ago they would have been called secretaries; now we prefer administrative assistants. My first coworker was Dorothy. When I first moved to the College Church, I was 27 and was WAY over my head. She was much older than my mother and gave me much-needed guidance several times. It was before the days of computers (at least in most work places), so she typed everything. After a Jimmy Allen meeting, if 200 people responded, she'd faithfully type 200 letters to encourage them. After Dorothy was Brenda. Funny, loud (in the good way), competent. One of those laughs you don't forget. But didn't last too long because Harding stole her away from me. Or I should say, a wonderful opportunity came open on campus. Then came Cecelia. A dear friend. She and Rowan are two of the best folks I've ever known. He's still working at Harding and serving as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church in Searcy. Cecelia, "Uncle Travis," Jody and I had a blast together in the office. I remember thinking when we decided to leave Searcy that one of the worst parts was not having her in the next office every day. When I moved to Abilene in 1991, Brenda worked with me. What can I say about this godly woman? When I've called her the "church mother" it's only because she nurtures everyone in her path. Shortly after this she became a full-time minister. (If I'm forgetting someone else here, it isn't intentional!) Camille was a calm, steady, spiritual presence in the office. She made everyone glad they'd called or dropped by. Like others to follow, she wasn't there long enough because when her husband finished at ACU they were off. Then there was Trellis. Working with Trellis, who had such a passion for the people of Haiti, was a constant reminder that what we're doing isn't just about "building a church." It's about participating in the kingdom of God that is breaking in through Christ. Trell was joyful and deeply spiritual. It was while she worked with me that we made the big transion to powerpoint (in 1994). I still remember that one funny little typo that slipped past us both. We became better proofreaders after that! Deana was next. What can I say? Those who follow this blog have choked laughing over her comments many, many times. She is the daughter of a minister and now the wife of a minister (plus an accomplished writer herself). Witty, fun, godly. My biggest mistake was in not asking her to actually write my sermons for me. I've asked her to write something that I'll put at the end of this article. Any time I see her or Chad in the audience, I just want to smile over great memories. Then Lora and I worked together while her husband was in school. She was the organizational whiz I needed to bring greater order to my life. She's one of the most put-things-in-a-place-where-you-can-find-them people I've ever know. Chemaine was next--again working here while her husband was finishing up at ACU. Our lives intersected in ways I didn't even known about. When she was a teenager, she was in a car heading toward Youth in Action in Alabama, where I was speaking. She was in a horrible wreck that dramatically altered her life. A less courageous person might have wilted. After they left Abilene, she wrote to tell me she and Roger had given their firstborn my name as his middle name. She was incredibly, wonderfully kind. And . . . then Gina. My dear friend. If I preach until I'm 100 I'll never work with a better person. Her maiden name is Cope, though we know of no relationship. Her husband, Mark, is one of my elders (though quite a bit younger than I am) and is an amazing minister to students on the ACU campus. Her kids, Casey and Patrick, are wonderful. And it was her niece, Sarah Lynn, who ministered to me during a time of deep loss -- through her voice, her worship leading, and her spirit. Gina knows what my weaknesses are and she constantly makes me look better. When I'm tired she steps in. When I'm testy, she smiles and makes the calls that I'm in no mood to make. When I'm traveling too much, she kindly tells people who call "he'd love to, but he can't" and then tells me that I declined the invitation. Does she work for me or do I work for her? I couldn't really tell you. I've told her that I'll stay at Highland as long as she will. For several years now she has made me appear to be a better minister than I really am. Diane and I are leaders of the Gina Fan Club. And now . . . a few words from my dear friend (and former coworker) Deana. I invited her to share a bit about my type-A quirks. (I wasn't asking for the kind words at the end, but thanks, my friend. You and Chad will always be special to Diane and me. You sat on the other side of the wall during the darkest time in my life and helped me survive in my ministry. In fact, you had to take over a few of my jobs for a while--like signing letters!--because I couldn't function. Gracias.) It was fall of '94. My husband Chad was starting his last undergrad semester at ACU and I didn't have a job. Whenever Chad would start to panic, I would remind him that God would take care of it. Then God called. And his voice sounded a whole lot like Brenda Chrane's. Would I like to work in the Highland office? Answering phones and keeping up with Mike Cope? It sounded great. I started the day after Labor Day. Answering phones was a breeze. Keeping up with Mike Cope was a different story. He was known as Mike, the Amazing Disappearing Minister. I was convinced he had a trap door under his desk or in his office closet that led to the outside. I even went in there and looked for it a couple of times. Once I saw Mike walk into his office and close the door. Just as the doorknob clicked shut, the phone rang. It was Jack Reese. "Deana," he said desperately. "Please tell me Mike is there. I have to talk to him right now." "Well, you're in luck," I said proudly. "He's right here." I buzzed into Mike's office. "Mike?" Silence. "Uh...Mike?" Crickets chirping. I got up and went into his office. Lights out; computer off. Mike was gone, and he wasn't coming back. Mike's disappearing acts were something I got used to. I also grew accustomed to his outbursts about the temperature in his office. This was in the old building. In the dead of winter, I would sit freezing at my desk by the front door. Mike would come charging out of his office and say, "Do you want to guess how hot it is in my office?" Then, while Abilene's Arctic winds blew everything around on my desk, he would prop the front door open and say, "I'll come close this in a minute." Then he would disappear. Sometimes for days. The real fun started when I had to take calls from salespeople. Mike didn't have the heart to tell these guys no, but he didn't have the stomach for their sales pitches, either. So they just kept calling back. I got to know one guy named Norm pretty well. Sometimes they tried posing as Mike's friends, hoping I'd put them through. "Let me talk to Reverend Cope. He's an old friend of mine," they'd say. I thought everybody knew the Church of Christ has about as many reverends as topless nursery workers, but apparently, these guys didn't. Mike also had a hard time saying no to speaking engagements, even when he had promised to quit traveling so much. One day, a coordinator for a major lectureship was on the phone. Mike was on his way into his office to take the call when he turned to me and said, "Will you come sit with me and hold my hand and make me tell him no?" At the time, I thought he was kidding. Looking back now, I don't think he was. Mike is one of those people who tries to be everywhere, all the time. (Except for when he's trying to be nowhere, which I've already addressed.) I tried to help him out with that. He showed me how to sign his name in one of his blue pens. He was fanatic about this certain kind of pen and had them stashed all over the office. When signing his name, he was "Mike Cope" to most people and "Michael W. Cope" to people who had written him up in some brotherhood rag. "Just don't make it look like a girl signed it," he would say. As Mike's assistant, I was privy to all kinds of sought-after information about him. At one point, I had his date of birth, social security number, driver's license number and all of his phone numbers -- including the ever-elusive cell phone number -- memorized. And I knew that he liked his files numbered with the multiples of three going up the right side. I also witnessed the heartbreak of that year. I remember staring through tears at a blank computer screen pretending to work while Mike sat on the other side of the wall from me -- lost in grief over Megan's death. I remember every 21st of November, Mike. I want you and Diane to know that. People have asked me what it was like to work for Mike. It was, short of staying home to raise my children, the best job I've ever had. He was adamant about calling me his "co-worker," never a secretary. I worked with him, not for him. He's the definition of the Type A personality, but he puts all that energy into the work of the Lord. It's his passion. "He has the best heart," I tell those people. "I love his heart." And I always will. Now if I could only get the guy on the phone. Thanks, Deana. When you call just lower your voice and tell the receptionist you're Norm the Sales Guy. That'll get you right in! (My cell phone is 325-668-. . . well, you know.) I've been blessed to work alongside all these wonderful, godly people. My life has been richer and my ministry has been stronger because of them. Anyone else want to tell about a coworker who has blessed your life?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

There was this bit of disconnect in my teen years. It seemed like every week there was something said at church warning us of the evils of "mixed bathing." (You can immediately spot the problem of mixed bathing; apparently, the greater concern was mixed swimming.) It was a rule strictly enforced at the Bible camp I went to and the university I attended. No mixed bathing. However, almost every Sunday in the summer, the moment church was over we headed for the lake. I loved singing the song with "throw out the lifeline," because it helped me fantasize about getting in the water with a ski and having someone throw out the ski rope. ("Throw out the ski rope, throw out the ski rope, someone is drifting away.") And there was mixed swimming. As I recall, a couple times we took the church's high school class with us. Then eventually, there were even dates to the lake! More mixed swimming. But maybe these old lessons got downloaded into my head. Maybe they are why I really don't care much for the beach and much prefer the mountains. Perhaps it isn't the heat, the sunscreen, the skin cancer, the salt water, or the sand that really annoy me. It's the mixed bathing. In the mountains of Colorado--which I much prefer-it's usually cool and everyone is wearing lots of clothes. Sometimes we'd go to Table Rock Lake on Saturday, spending the night. I have great memories of joining the Shell Knob Church of Christ on many Sunday mornings. Church didn't exactly start at 9:45. It was more 9:45ish. The teen class was pretty much everyone twelve to twenty, and my brother and I would about double the attendance. It was just assumed if we showed up that my dad would be the song leader. And as I got older, I could count on leading a prayer. What I especially recall is what good, welcoming, salt-of-the-earth people they were. I don't know how many of you have worshiped often with a group of just thirty or so. But for me, this is such a positive memory. One year at Harding, Diane and I drove every Sunday morning along with a buddy and his girlfriend (now his wife) to Alread, Arkansas. We'd drive from Searcy through Rose Bud and Bee Branch to Clinton and then snake our way up the gorgeous mountains of north central Arkansas just past Rupert. That was Alread. One of us would preach in the morning; the other would preach in the evening. Usually the one who wasn't preaching would lead singing. In the afternoon the four of us would go to someone's house for a great country lunch. Then we were free in the afternoon to rest, catch up on homework, or (for the one who hadn't preaching in the morning) to furiously write a sermon for the evening.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Real Sex: the Naked Truth About Chastity, Lauren Winner's newest book, is wonderful. It's edgy and insightful, fresh and biblical. A convert to Christianity, Winner is coming to terms with the Christian story of sexuality, explaining her journey toward chastity. A few selections today. Winner scours through studies and anecdotes trying to discover why some teens find the courage to hold off on sexual intercourse: "One might hope that the strongest predictor of teenage virginity would be church involvement--but it's not. A recent study of teenage girls shows that the strongest predictor is actually participation in team sports. The girl who plays lacrosse or soccer is more likely to remain chaste than the girl who attends church and youth group." Why? "At first blush, team sports and sexual abstinence seem to have nothing to do with each other. But in fact, the relationship makes sense: through soccer and tennis and field hockey, those girls are learning how to inhabit their bodies in good, robustly physical ways. They are seeing their bodies change and excel and face challenges and, sometimes, fail them. Their sports teams are communities that are teaching them how to live--not as sex objects, but as bodies that are graceful and disciplined and strong. They are learning, through those tennis matches and lacrosse games, that their bodies should be celebrated, because their bodies do great things. This doesn't mean, of course, that if only the church sponsored more softball leagues, everyone would stay on the chaste straight and narrow. But it does mean that the church ought to cultivate ways of teaching Christians to live in their bodies well--so that unmarried folks can still be bodily people, even though they're not having sex, and so that married people can give themselves to sex freely." It's so easy for the church to slip into a bit of Gnosticism--sending signals that the body is evil, or at least mostly problematic. These signals just don't fit the Christian story: of bodies being created by God, of Jesus coming in a real body, and of bodies being raised and glorified to live forever. About communal sex: "But the Bible tells us to intrude--or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what's going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals. But we are called nonetheless to transform seemingly private matters into communal matters." About how we dress: "There is, it seems to me, a certain power in modest dressing, an assertion that though my body is beautiful, I am more than a sex object designed for your passing entertainment. But the power of dressing is also the power of narrative. For our clothes tell stories, and it would be naive and irresponsbile to pretend otherwise. Clothes tell stories about sex and chastity, to be sure, but they also narrate a stance toward our environments; our dress suggests a set of priorities. That is why we enjoy clothing so much, of course--because we reinvent ourselves and our narratives when we try out a new look. So the question for Christians is not an absolute one about skirt length, but rather something about communication. What stories do we want to tell ourselves and others through our choices of clothing?" About sex in marriage: "One hopes that satisfying sex characterizes the majority of American marriages. But the tips and steps and easy how-tos for married folk seem to misdiagnose the problem. The problem is not only that new moms are exhausted and collapse into bed at night wanting only sleep. The problem is also that we think we need to aspire to Hollywood sex; we think husbands and wives, when they're doing it right, will approximate the unbridled passion of Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball. We've defined sex as something unsustainable--bodice-ripping, stupefying, and nightly. . . . Good sex, to be sure, is characterized by physical pleasure. It is also conditioned by moral context. And, as I suggested in the last chapter, it is inextricable from domestic routine. Moms and dads do need to be intentional about making time for sex, but Christians can perhaps remind the broader culture that good sex, by definition, is part and parcel of, not antagonistic to, ordinary marriages and domestic life." Winner discusses four lies that our culture tells about sex: it can be wholly separated from procreation; you shouldn't marry for sex; how you dress doesn't matter; and good sex can't happen in the humdrum routine of marriage. Then she covers three lies that the church sometimes tells about sex: that premarital sex is guaranteed to make you feel lousy, that women don't really want to have sex anyway; and that bodies (and sex) are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

(NOTE: Some days if you type www.mikecope.blogspot.com the full page doesn't come up. That seems to be happening today. Try typing mikecope.blogspot.com without the www at the beginning. I have no idea why, but some days it matters.) A great comment from a night person yesterday who said that the annoying thing about morning people is that they (we) are always in charge of making the schedules. I guess that's true. Morning people tell students that 8:00 would be a great time for a big round of classes. And we suggest 8:00/8:15 for first service. 8:00 for the Saturday morning session to begin after late-night programs on Friday (at the Zoe conferences). Men's breakfasts at 6:30. Body pump at 5:30. Etc. The big exception in my schedule is when I speak at college retreats. I've mentioned before doing the Gulf Coast Get-a-Way a couple times. Thousands of students, eager to be together, to worship, and to learn. Sounds great, huh? Problem: a night person is in charge of the schedule. Last time I went, my first session began at 10:00 p.m. That's approximately bedtime. But they were just coming alive. Baptisms were held in the ocean about 1:00 in the morning. Isn't that when the sharks feed? It's funny listening to teachers describe bad times for classes on campus. Eight and nine are definitely out. Students are in a coma. Ten a bit better, but when you've gone to bed at four in the morning, that still is pretty early. How about after chapel and lunch? Nope. The caffeine has worn off, and the body is begging for a nap. If we really want to maximize teaching, the classes probably need to be held sometime after Letterman is over. But don't expect me to be one of the profs!

Friday, November 11, 2005

This weekend Highland is hosting the West Texas Girls' Conference with about 700 teenage girls attending. Blessings on our amazing youth minister, Sarah Campbell, as she leads the conference and on our dear friend Kayci Ross as she speaks. - - - - No school today in AISD, in honor of Veteran's Day, so no one else will be up in this house for quite a while, I'd guess. As an early morning person, I've never really had the joy of sleeping in. Oh, but I do know the glory of going to bed early! - - - - All these years later and I still miss "Calvin and Hobbes" in the morning. "Dilbert" has been my favorite for a few years and "Garfield" has survived well through the years. But isn't there some way we can sue the "Calvin and Hobbes" guy and demand that he bring them back? Reading the paper first thing in the morning is deeply engrained in my soul. I grew up the grandson of a publisher and then the son of a publisher (Dad) and of an editor (Mom). This means the whole paper. Sports page first, then news, then editorials, then comics, then everything else. This doesn't take long to do with the Abilene Reporter-News, which generally I think is a pretty decent paper, but I love traveling when there is time to grab a NY Times and go front to back. - - - - A few words for the weekend: I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38f)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

We had some amazing stories last night. At the end I had a roving microphone for people to share stories about Narnia. One university student said she read the Chronicles for the first time last year after her dad died, and they ministered to her in every book. Another student said that his two parents were artists, and so, in addition to reading him the books, they painted Narnia--Aslan, Peter's sword, etc.--all over his walls. (For those who've been to Zoe conferences, do you have any guesses about who those two artists might be?) More stories came in afterward. One is from a friend whose family was reading through the Chronicles of Narnia last January. Just before the wreck, they had come to the part where Caspian is told to take Susan's horn and to blow it if he ever desperately needed Aslan's help. When they got word of the wreck--that Brody had died and that other broken bodies were flown out--they knew the only thing they could do was to blow the horn and ask for help. (By the way, I vaguely remember seeing him as I arrived at the emergency room at Cook's. How he got there before me, I don't know. Or maybe the timing is off a bit in my mind.) "It is said that whoever blows it shall have strange help - no one can say how strange. It may have the power to call Queen Lucy and King Edmund and Queen Susan and King Peter back from the past, and they will set all to rights. It may be that it will call up Aslan himself. Take it, King Caspian: but do not use it except at your greatest need." I like this passage from Alan Jacobs' The Narnian: The LIfe and Imagination of C. S. Lewis: "Lewis could make Narnia because the essential traits of Narnia were already in his mind long before he wrote the first words of the Chronicles. His reading and his other experiences had formed him that way. He was a Narnian long before he knew what name to give that country; it was his true homeland, the native ground to which he hoped, one day, to return."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

There's a wonderful piece by Tom Smith in Relevantmagazine.com. It begins . . . I love experiments. A few years ago I wore my Jabez T-shirt in Colorado Springs. It said, “I prayed the prayer of Jabez for thirty days and the only thing I got was this lousy shirt.” The reactions I got were truly amazing. Some people were furious while others thanked me. A few weeks ago I embarked on another one of my ventures. The laboratory I chose was the local Christian bookstores in Johannesburg, South Africa. The experiment was really simple; I would browse the store in search of books on helping the poor and fighting AIDS. After I saw a million, ‘Here’s how to use Jesus to make you more successful’ titles, I would then ask the sales clerk or manager if they stock books about helping the hurting and helpless. The first store’s clerk looked confused when I asked the question, and the manager intervened and said, “If you find a book on the subject you should immediately buy it.” Two days later I took my science to a bookstore in another mall. I walked in with one of my seventeen year old friends, who happened to be someone who was on the receiving end of apartheid. I asked the clerk if they had books on poverty or AIDS. Nothing could have prepared me for the answer she gave me. “No sir, this is a religious bookstore. I think you should try the secular bookstore around the corner.” In utter shock I asked her if she didn’t think that helping the poor or sick had anything to do with religion. I only got a blank stare. Now it’s easy to harp on this poor girl but to tell you the truth, if you asked me the same question a few years ago, I probably would have had the same confused look, and I’m a pastor! I often wonder why I never made the link between my relationship with Christ and my responsibility towards people who suffer and are poor. To read more, you can find the full article here. - - - - "The one principle of Hell is -- 'I am my own.'" - George MacDonald - - - - Yes, that's right. I said it in this morning's post: Joe Montana is the greatest QB ever to play the game. A few years from now, I expect that to be edited to Peyton Manning (who stars in some of my favorite commercials on TV).

Remember When Yesterday was my beloved's birthday. I won't say how old she was, but my birthday card was a little booklet called "1956: Remember When . . ." It listed others who were born that year: Joe Montana (greatest QB ever), Carrie Fisher (AKA Princess Leia), Bo Derek (numero diez), Kenny G, and Sinbad. The hit tunes were dominated by Elvis ("Don't Be Cruel," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Love Me Tender"). The Evil Empire won the World Series. More significantly, Martin Luther King organized a boycott of public buses in Montgomery, the Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in instrastate public transportation, and Dwight Eisenhower was reelected. - - - - Religious Porn Two different people told me the same story in the last two weeks. They were in churches that had magazines out, happened to pick one up, and saw something about me. The first was in a Christian Church in Kansas where they saw an article I'd written on Christian unity. Must have been in Christian Standard or, perhaps, One Body (another journal that picked it up from the Standard). The second was in a Church of Christ somewhere. They told me they read an article that was attacking me for what I'd written on unity in the Christian Standard. It was in the Spiritual Sword, they said! Are you kidding me? I had no idea it was still being published. There was a time that I couldn't resist peeking at the heretic-detecting, faith-contending religious pornography that came through the office. But it's been a long, long time. I guess I hoped they'd gone out of business. But no -- someone brought me this copy back. It was strange holding it my hands, since I've sworn off religious porn for so long. Don't get me wrong: there are undoubtedly some edifying articles that have appeared in all of these. (Little known fact: long ago Contending for the Faith picked up something I'd written and published it. That was about 1979. So yes, I'm one of their writers.) But overall, the tenor of these rags has been so sour and arrogant. And by writing this little blog, there's a chance I'll reappear again soon in a magazine near you. But please . . . don't tell me about it.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I appreciate Larry James's words about a conference Matt helped organize in his blog today. I can't imagine anyone better than Larry to encourage and challenge that crowd. Movement and Hope "Breaking Barriers to Health Care: Working for Social Justice" was the theme for the 2005 American Medical Students Association Regional Conference in Houston at the Baylor College of Medicine over this weekend. Matt Cope, son of my good friend Mike Cope, is President of the local chapter in Houston and led the organizing efforts for this gathering of some 300 medical and pre-medical students from across the South. Thanks to Matt, I had the privilege of speaking to the group twice on Saturday, once in a plenary session and once in a smaller breakout group. Talk about bright people! I always enjoy the opportunity to speak to the group here in Dallas at UT Southwestern Medical Center where I observe the same level of smart coupled with amazing heart for those left behind. It is very clear that these students are on a mission. Simply put, they intend to change the world! Gives an old man hope, I tell ya! On Friday evening among the first events of the conference was a rally for universal health care for the nation. Later on Saturday, the students planned a mass "call in" to contact their congressional representatives about the Global AIDS Fund and the role of the United States in fighting HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria around the world. These young people are serious. What I observed while among them was nothing short of the beginnings of a movement toward a more just society. These students believe we can do better as a nation and as a people. I have no doubt they will help us get there. A new moment has arrived. Hope lives! Thanks for the invitation, Matt. I needed to be with you.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I can't believe Sylvia has moved. I'm a man of habits and Subway is one of them. For six years, Sylvia has managed the Subway where I often go. She knows the routine: wheat bread, turkey and ham, provolone, all vegies (including spinach) except lettuce, vinegar. But her husband got transferred to Houston, so they're gone as of this week. For six years we chatted briefly. She'd ask how things were going at church, and I'd ask how things were at the store. It's the funny thing about being in a place for so long. I buy cars from Chris (if new) or Cal (if used). Brent handles my insurance. Floyd and Kay deliver our paper. And Kelli cuts my hair. For 15 years she's cut my hair. There's less in back now than when she started in 1991, but she still gives it her best effort. When we first moved here, I wandered into a clip shop between our house and ACU. She happened to be available. When she moved downtown years later, I followed. Now she's at Jodelle's. It's a tiny bit girlie for me. There's no TV with ESPN, and no Men's Health magazine is in sight. But the two of them are wonderful. Besides, I could name names of guys who sometimes read this blog who also go there. - - - - Took a little walk in Nashville this morning. Just incredibly gorgeous!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I just came across these words from a Wheaton English prof: "The stories most greatly treasured, and treasured for the longest periods, are those that trace, in bold lines, the outlines of our deepest experiences." G. K. Chesterton pointed to the three great kinds of stories: The Iliad (battle), The Odyssey (journey), and the book of Job (riddle). Battle, journey, and riddle. Most of the time, I think of my own life through the great themes of journey. But battle and riddle certainly fit as well. How about you? Which is a defining metaphor for your life?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A couple more pieces from C. S. Lewis about conversion and friendship: "I gave up Christianity at about fourteen. Came back to it when getting on for thirty. An almost purely philosophical conversion. I didn't want to. I'm not the religious type. I want to be let alone, to feel I'm my own master: but since the facts seemed to be the opposite I had to give in. My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs--or else sitting up till the small hours in someone's college rooms talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea, or pipes. There's no sound I like better than adult male laughter." "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him Whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." Thanks so much for those wonderful memories of Narnia in yesterday's comments. - - - - And while we're thinking about books for children, I miss having one small enough to read Dr. Seuss to. Our all time fav? Go, Dog, Go.

Halloween was a blast last night, with my three little nieces and their parents joining us for the traditional Halloween night spaghetti. This tradition goes back to Searcy days when Matt and his cousin Kari would trick-or-treat together, along with Megan (dressed in her little pumpkin costume). Apparently a couple years we had spaghetti. It wasn't intentional; it was just fast. Then the next year, we were starting to prepare something else, and Matt said, "Where's the spaghetti? We ALWAYS have spaghetti on Halloween?" Can you hear Tevye in the background? "TRADITION!" My favorite trick-or-treaters last night were seven high school students who were a punk band -- guitars, singing, wild outfits, and all. They were having a blast together. I just put the bucket in the middle of them and said, "For that performance you can have all you want." - - - - A little audience participation today. Anyone out there have a story involving the "Chronicles of Narnia" -- maybe about being read them by your parents, or enjoying them as a teen, or reading them to your kids? (Has it come to this? A preacher looking for stories from his blog? I'll try not to make a habit of it.) As a little C. S. Lewis bonus, here are words from The Four Loves: "Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a friend. . . . In some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest."