Reflections on a Great Friend: Paul Kopp

Paul and I went to a number of Twins Games through the years. I never knew what I would enjoy the most: The game itself, as we discussed the intricate details of baseball along with reflections on baseball history – or, would it be the deep conversations as we drove over two hours to and from the stadium. Of course, with Paul, the best part of any trip is the unexpected. In this case, it was parking the car.

I was driving. Paul was navigating. He directed us to the parking lot of Bethlehem Baptist Church near the Metrodome. Paul said we could park here. I explained to Paul there was “No Event Parking ” signs everywhere. Our car will get towed.

He said, “No, it’s OK. We can park here.”
“But Paul, I don’t want my car towed.” 
“They won’t tow your car. It’s OK!” 

Then Paul began to write something. 

“I’ll put this on the dashboard.” 
“What does it say?” 
“It says my sister is a member of your church. Thank you for letting us park here.” 

I’m thinking that should settle everything. The tow truck driver is going hook up our vehicle and suddenly see the note on the dashboard and say, “I didn’t realize his sister went to church here. My mistake!” 

Just then, I saw a person that might work at the church. “Paul, let’s at least ask him if we can park here.”

Paul walks over to him like he’s a Jedi Knight talking to a Storm Trooper (you know — “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”)

— “Hi, we parked our car over there.” 
— “My sister goes to church here.”  
— “We put a note on the dashboard too.” 

The whole time Paul is talking, the guy is nodding like he is in a normal conversation. Then the man said, “OK – thank you for letting me know.”  As I began to walk away, Paul says to the man, “Can we pray for you?” 

This is a microcosm of a 40+ year friendship with Paul: Continuous joy, unexpected twists and turns, led by the Holy Spirit.

We met Paul and Sandy in 1981. Janet began doing daycare for their daughter Kristen (age 1 at the time). A life-long friendship developed with many family celebrations and get togethers (Sandy and I also have the same birthday). Paul and I shared many common interests including family, baseball, politics, but mostly, a serious approach to practical Christianity. We also enjoyed much of the same music (like U2):

Yeah, we’ll shine like stars in the summer night
We’ll shine like stars in the winter night
One heart, one hope, one love
With or without you . . . 

The first thing I noticed when we met Paul and Sandy was how calm they were. (Sandy on the phone: “I suppose I should go now. I saw Paul drop by the window. He must have fell off the roof.” Yes – you did read that correctly! ) She must have been used to Paul doing things like dropping from the sky. Once Paul showed me where he was driving a pick-up truck with their piano in the back. He took the corner too fast and too sharp and the piano flew out of the pick-up and shattered all over the intersection. This is why when we moved into our current house, Janet whispered to one of my other friends, “Don’t let Dave and Paul carry the china cabinet.” Again, I have shared characteristics with Paul – dropping things, breaking things, and injuring ourselves. The china cabinet was safe and sound, but then we heard a crash from the other room. Paul dropped the silverware all over the kitchen floor.

Paul filled so many roles at different points in my life: prayer partner, intellectual, encourager, sports enthusiast, political analyst, theologian, prophet, comedian, counselor, and so much more. People are right to see Paul as a very kind man. But those who see Paul only as a very kind man miss the grand scope and immensity of who he is.  

Paul is dying. I will miss him immensely. But to say that Paul is dying doesn’t mean he is losing his life. He gave that up a long time ago. He found peace and joy in giving his life to be like Christ. He found peace and joy in giving his life to others.  Even in his recent suffering, like Christ, he’s giving his life to bring love, joy, and peace to others. He went to the hospital in Fridley, MN. Paul didn’t find healing there — but the hospital did. The doctors did. The nurses did. The staff did. And in these last days of his life, Paul’s suffering will ultimately help his family and friends find the love, joy, healing, and peace he’s always wanted for all of us. It may just take us a while. 

Thank you Paul for giving so much life to all of us. 

And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away

.

All Song Lyrics: U2: With or Without You

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This Land is Your Land

I wrote this a few weeks after George Floyd died. Today marks two years since his death.

Teresa of Avila Turns 500

When I was child, we used to sing This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie.

This land is your land, this land is my land.
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters
This land as made for you and me.

The song caught my attention again about six months ago. I began noticing the imagery: “As I was walking that ribbon of highway.” my mind traveled back to my childhood of riding down two lane highways to visit grandparents. I remember seeing those “ribbons” cutting through the rolling farmland. (Of course this took place in a smoke-filled car, AM Radio, parental bickering, extreme boredom, and an occasional bout of car sickness.)

As I further reflected on this song, I began to notice Guthrie’s alliteration:

I roamed and I rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her…

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A Black Dog, a Cheerful Priest, and an Unresponsive Walker

I wrote this a few years ago on the value of silence, meditation, and reflection.

Teresa of Avila Turns 500

Prayer and Meditation Part II

When I go to my place of solitude I regularly see the same man walking his black dog. I drive slowly and carefully because, at dawn, his dog is hard to see. As I pass the dog’s owner I wave but never get a response. I think he should be friendlier, after all, this is Minnesota. If he doesn’t want to be friendly he could at least appreciate my concern for his unleashed dog and give me a “thanks for not running over my dog” courtesy wave. Maybe he thinks a wave might invite some weird conversation or confrontation, yet, after several years, you would think familiarity would at least produce a head nod.

I made a rare trip to a Catholic church for a First Communion service. The church service was simple and the sound system lacked sound. I am not used to this…

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Preoccupations

A healthy spirituality expands instead of contracts our worldview. I wrote this short story a number of years ago about an early experience I had with Christian fundamentalism.

Full of a thousand preoccupations as they are, they pray only a few times a month, and as a rule they are thinking all the time of their preoccupations, for they are very much attached to them, and, where their treasure is, there is their heart also. From time to time, however, they shake their minds free of them and it is a great thing that they should know themselves well enough to realize that they are not going the right way to reach the castle door. Eventually they enter the first rooms on the lowest floor, but so many reptiles get in with them that they are unable to appreciate the beauty of the castle or to find any peace within it. Still they have done a good deal by entering at all. (Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: First Mansions: Chapter One)

Revolution rock, it is a brand new rock
A bad, bad rock, this here revolution rock
     (The Clash)*

“Reptiles” is Teresa of Avila’s metaphor for worldly attachments and preoccupations. Reptiles can take control of our lives keeping us anchored in the courtyard and limit our ability to explore the entire castle. Hearing the phrase “worldly attachments” may give former fundamentalists flashbacks about pharisaical preachers and their endless lectures about “sin” and “righteousness”. Two things were infinite in that system: God and the number of requirements it took to please him.

It was 1982 and our former neighbors Randy and Joyce came back to visit. They brought their friend John who was attending what he would have proudly called a “Fundamentalist Seminary”. During their visit I went to the store to get a few additional items for dinner. Randy and John came along. At checkout I received a game piece for grocery store bingo. On the way home John began questioning if playing grocery store bingo was a sin (i.e. gambling). When we got back to our apartment we moved on from bingo and talked about basketball. For the next two hours I defended the intentional foul as a legitimate game strategy while John held the intentional foul was sinful because it broke the rules.

After dinner, John noticed our TV Guide upside down on the coffee table. On the back cover was a cigarette ad. This bothered John so much he flipped it over.  To his horror, the front cover had a women in a low-cut dress. He flipped it back quickly and advised “we need to be careful what we look at”. Apparently, in the hierarchy of sin, a low-cut dress trumps tobacco and quite possibly an intentional foul.

I heard countless sermons about “the things the world”. A moral micrometer was used to make judgments about nearly everything including, and especially, the music you should or shouldn’t listen to. I attended seminars designed to enlighten us about the sinfulness of certain musical styles or structures. I never fully grasped the relationship between sin and the details of beat, rhythm, harmony, and melody. Rock music was excessively sinful and should only be listened to if you were an “expert” and played the album backward. You needed to do this to expose the satanic messages hidden on the record. (I am not sure why Satan put his messages in backward — most people I know never played their music that way.)

I have to add, with some lingering resentment, the biggest problem I had with the music “regulations” was missing the release of London Calling by the Clash. One of the best albums ever and I had to wait years to hear it. I still like London Calling. I recently heard it played in its entirety as we sat in a gluten-free bakery on Broome Street: Family, Cupcakes, and Jimmy Jazz. Satta Massagana.

So are the reptiles Teresa talks about a big deal? Yes. They are dangerous because they can take  control or consume our lives and keep us from moving to the center of the castle. Reptiles can be things like money, sex, power, people’s approval, busyness, or even religion. This brings us back to The Clash and John the seminary student.  The Clash, considered sinful and worldly, was harmless fun. John, considered spiritual, was worldly and stuck in courtyard controlled by the reptiles of religion. His preoccupation with dissecting right and wrong consumed his life and kept him from moving deeper into The Interior Castle.

*Revolution Rock – written by Edwards and Ray

(This is a slightly modified version of a post I called Reptiles.)

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Flowers in the Desert

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom.
– Isaiah 35 NRSV

We do not rejoice in victories. We rejoice when a new kind of cotton is grown and when strawberries bloom in Israel.
– Golda Meir

Abram was born in Europe in 1938. He moved to Israel in 1949. As an adult he became an officer in the Israeli army followed by a career in business. After retirement he became a tour guide. 

In 2009, Abram picked our family up from the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. At the end of the first day he said, “I see you are an open-minded family: I can give you the Catholic tour, the Protestant tour, or I can show you Israel” (along with most of the major biblical sites).

We spent the next ten days riding around Israel in a mini-van hearing the wisdom of Abram. He told us a great deal about his country, but a subject he brought up daily — and with great enthusiasm — was Israel’s agriculture. One afternoon, as we stared perplexedly at crops in the desert, Abram said, “This is what Isaiah prophesied; there will be ‘flowers in the desert’“.

Of course, the “flowers in the desert” are also a metaphor. In our lives, we can anticipate the “flowers in the desert” — God’s goodness breaking into our life. And we can have faith that someday:

Waters shall break forth in the 
wilderness
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of
water.


 

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