Letters from Home

Letter-writing used to be big. Trips to the mailbox held great promise. Most days there was enough mail to preoccupy and distract for a little while. But letters were the best.

I spent a good number of years in my youth at summer camps — Camp Blue Haven as a camper and, later, Camp Grady Spruce as a dishwasher and counsel0r. (Two separate jobs and two separate summers.) The mail-call ritual was a highlight of the day.

As a camper, I was so excited to hear my name called. I would tuck the envelope into my pocket and let the anticipation grow as I hurried through lunch. Then off to my cabin in The Barn and the mandatory rest period after lunch. From my bunk, I would read the latest news from home — at least the news that would interest a 10 to 14 year old boy. Most often the letters were from my mom with an occasional missive from my grandmother.

As a camp worker, I don’t recall getting letters from Mom, although I probably did. But I do remember those from Nancy, my life-long love, and from Nikki and a few other friends. As I recall, I received a number of letters from girls who were interested in my brother, Carl, and who thought that making friends with his little brother was a good tactic. I have to admit, I felt a little bit of power from being in that broker role.

Regardless, they were all letters from home. “Home” is a relative term. After all, I heard from people who weren’t from my home. But it was through this correspondence that I learned that home really is where the heart is. The thought that someone would take time and put pen to paper while thinking of me created a place of belonging and brought home wherever I was.

I witnessed Nancy’s dad, Jack, practice this labor of love. I watched him write letters to family and friends. I carried hundreds of his letters from our mailbox to our kitchen table. I watched Nancy reading those letters and then writing her response in turn.

The phone was right there. But there was something magical about letters from home. Not quite as good as a face-to-face visit, but a tangible, lasting conversation on paper.

I know. That era is gone for the most part. But if you can remember letters from home, find a way to recreate the same anticipation, joy, and satisfaction with those you love.

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

a personal note and an invitation

Dear friends, As I announced recently, I am leaving Facebook. In the intervening time, I have heard from many of you and your messages have fallen into a few broad categories:

  1. Don’t go.
  2. Don’t go, but if you do, please let Togo get his own Facebook account.
  3. Please go. But let Togo get his own account.
  4. Buck up. You’re a conflict guy. Deal with it.
  5. Unfollow or unfriend all the people who disrupt your life.
  6. I understand.
  7. Find other channels to keep in touch.

So, just a little more explanation and then my plan.

All in all, people have treated me and my opinions pretty well on Facebook. There are those who disagree and who tell me. There are those who disagree, tell me, and express their continued love for me. There are those who ignore things I post that they disagree with. There are those who ignore everything I post. There are those who listen to me and enter into conversation. So, my Facebook friends are pretty much just like regular friends everywhere. I am blessed.

I’m leaving Facebook to preserve and heal my soul. I am not leaving because of the actions of any of my friends. I am not leaving with the intention of falling silent about what I believe in.

My profession has been peace and reconciliation. I regularly engage people in conversation at times that are very upsetting and disruptive for them and those around them. It can be difficult, but, as I like to say, it’s like having a front row seat to see God at work. The people who come to my table (or I go to theirs) don’t always reconcile, but there’s something healthy about the effort and I believe that God uses that time to lay the groundwork for peace.

Facebook is different when it comes to conflict. The ability for nastiness and utter disregard for others is multiplied on its timelines. And it encourages people to misbehave.

Recently, I became disturbed over the comments being made by one of my friends. He has a very rigid view of the political scene in America and I would see him appear in the comments on numerous posts on my Facebook. We share many common friends. In each and every one, he would make outrageous and sometimes hateful statements. When others would ask him to document his thoughts, he would deflect their requests and make disparaging remarks about their close-mindedness. I was encouraged by those who patiently attempted to draw him into true conversation. I privately wondered what he could be missing. Eventually, I went to his timeline and read a good number of his posts. And there I discovered what I had been missing. In reply to one of his friends, he bragged about how he would spend several hours a day finding posts that didn’t meet his political leanings and then intervene for the sole purpose of disrupting the conversations of others. I’m not sure if he thought this was some sort of sport or entertainment. But I judged him harshly for that.

In fact, I owe him a debt of gratitude. In discovering his secret, I unearthed my own problem with Facebook. And it’s not just Facebook. I grieve over people who refuse to enter into thoughtful discourse and to lay aside their selfish ambition in any venue. But, Facebook is worse than real life because the algorithms push these people into my face. And in this medium, I can’t seem to reach them. So, I judge them.

I’m leaving Facebook because of my need to stop judging people. That’s God’s job and he is really good at it.

Here is my plan going forward:

  1. I will continue to write for my blog, joeycope.com. Despite the advice of blog gurus everywhere, I don’t concentrate on a narrow area of information. I write about all sorts of things. And I have proven the blog gurus to be correct. Such a lack of focus fails to build strong readership. (On a personal note, I appreciate both of my regular readers.) I encourage you to visit joeycope.com regularly. I have a place there for you to sign up to receive my postings by email. And, I rarely post more than once a day — and sometimes I will go weeks without posting. So, sign up there. (If you’re reading this on my blog, the sign-up form is on the right side of the page. If you are averse to filling out the form, email me at copej@acu.edu and I’ll add you to the list. I just need your name and email address.)
  2. I will be on Twitter at @joeycope. That’s where Togo speaks and I have announced new blog posts. For now, I will continue that practice. The only difference is that my Twitter feed will not be showing up on Facebook. I am considering consolidating Togo’s tweets on a regular basis as a blog post. So if you don’t do Twitter, you can sign up for my blog posts to come to your email and Togo will appear on occasion.
  3. I have an Instagram account. I’ve lost the password, but I may resurrect it. Togo likes having his picture taken and we are in negotiation on this.

I will miss the good things about Facebook and I will miss my friends. I understand that I am making our online relationship complicated. I apologize. Thank you for your kindness and consideration. Some of you regularly message me on Facebook. If so, I invite you to email me at copej@acu.edu.

I will leave my Facebook open through February 15, 2017 in hope that friends will see this invitation to connect with me elsewhere.

Thank you, again, for your friendship. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you. And give you peace.

Grace and peace,

Joey Cope

Abilene, Texas
February 4, 2017

A Lot to Say

no words

It seems more and more I find myself with a lot to say, but find no words that are adequate.

A lot to say

photo credit: Danielle McInnes/unsplash.com

I’ve experienced this for years when facing the loss of a loved one or a friend. Even the words that are true and right just don’t seem to express my feelings at a given moment. And so I sit in silence. Or perhaps I repeat the same neutral, void-filling phrase over and over again.

Other life events bring similar moments. When a friend or family member makes choices with less than positive circumstances . . . when a friend or family member ignores what I said when I had something to say . . . when . . . when things I have previously said have hurt or isolated or angered another — even when my words were absolutely correct.

Sometimes there is no event, no particular moment. Sometimes words can’t impact the most glorious of spontaneous, non-history-making instants. Sometimes . . .

I suppose the point is this,

 

To the Africa Family

"I bless the rains down in Africa . . ."

This morning, I relived a special feeling when Toto’s “Africa” fed through my earphones. Its signature lines about the great continent bring fond memories. In just a couple of weeks, it will be one year from the date six incredible people allowed me to join them on an adventure to Rwanda and Kenya. And even though we spent many hours together preparing for our trip, it was the trip itself that set our relationships in a framework that can only be viewed as remarkable and led to our claim to be “the Africa family.”

In regard to the song, I should note that we never heard live drums echoing in the night, nor did we see Kilimanjaro. Our closest parallel to the imagined journey portrayed in the lyrics was our time on the Serengeti. Even those rains eluded us. We preceded the rainy season by a couple of weeks.

Still, as I listened to the melody cascade over the distinctive drum track, I came face-to-face with special moments. Quiet conversations were frequent. Laughter was a major feature of every single day. What I remember most deeply is the feeling of comfort I had when I was with my Africa family. Thousands of miles from home, that little group became my touchpoint.

When you experience a time of life with a close-knit group of friends, you encounter not only your own feelings, but are immersed in the perspectives and emotions of those around you. I believe that my memories of this particular group of people will always bring me comfort. Thanks Betty, Allison, Robyn, Aaron, Dan, and Malcolm! You changed me.

So, to my Africa family, I want to say “thank you” for sharing that incredible journey. But, more importantly, thanks for opening your lives to me. Over time and the separation of distance, our family will lose some of its familiarity. I hope that you will never lose the feeling of community that was created. I know I never will.

Mourning Finality

After the Bridges Are Burned

All my life, I heard “Don’t burn your bridges!” (Okay, so early on I actually heard “Don’t burn your britches!” . . . but I digress.) The idea, of course, is that you shouldn’t make decisions that don’t allow you to back up — to reverse your course if you are wrong.

Looking back on my life, I can see a lot of bad decisions and more than a few burned bridges. The decisions about education and career and those far too many cars I’ve bought through the years don’t seem to be scorched by a burned bridge. There were always alternative paths, ways to realign my life, after I made a poor choice.

The smoke still rises, however, from the bridges burned around relationships. I set a torch to some of those because it was “the principle of the matter.” I hoped by saying that that others would see me as noble.

In truth, in most cases, I did set a good boundary. I said “no” appropriately. I did the right thing. Until . . . I burned the bridge. And by doing that, I ended the possibility of future friendship. I destroyed the possibility of reconciliation.

So now, in moments where memories flow, I mourn the finality of burned bridges and quietly ponder rebuilding.