Remembering Paul Walker

Paul Walker

To be honest, the Fast and Furious series doesn’t do much for me. I am not what you’d call a “Car Guy.” So when I first heard of Paul Walker’s passing, I was surprised how much it struck me in a personal way.

Before I’m accused of being a poser, here’s some back story. In college a film critic friend asked me to do phone interviews in his stead. I nervously agreed, and among the interviewees was none other than Paul Walker. I don’t remember which Fast and Furious film he was plugging because we only spent about two of our fifteen minute mano-y-mano conversation talking about it.

I won’t go into detail—to be honest some of it is a blur of nervous excitement—but Walker mostly talked about his family. One thing I remember clearly is that he repeated how, above all, he wanted to be known as a “good guy”—to make his family proud.

Then he asked about my family. And he kept asking.

After listening and asking and listening and asking, Walker said I seemed like the kind of guy he’d like to hang out with, “get a drink or something.” Nevermind that he may have said that to any college-aged interviewer. Nevermind that we were thousands of miles apart. I was a nobody college kid who he made feel like a close friend.

I can’t help but think a Hollywood star had better things to do. Walker could easily have cashed in the entire conversation. It would have been understandable, even expected. After all, I was a twenty-one-year-old stand-in interviewer from a D3 college. I wasn’t going to help his career. He certainly couldn’t have imagined how greatly I would further his star by blogging about our conversation ten years later. But it struck me then as it strikes me now that he was just being what he hoped to be remembered for. He was being a good guy.

Over the years, as I watched him play the same likeable guy that he seemed to be in life, I’ve thought about our conversation, how what he wanted to be remembered for was what he used his time to live out. Now, in light of his premature passing, I’m asking some questions of myself: Are people seeing goodness in me? Do I invest in others with no hope of gain? Am I living out what I want to be remembered for?

I want to answer “Yes,” but I’m afraid it’s premature. I have, I hope, plenty of time to make the answer stick. Still, we never know which moment—or fifteen minutes—will leave a lasting impression.

When Superman Should Be Clark Kent

Super Hero

It’s been a while, but I’m back on the horse (briefly, as least). Pop on over to The Lightning Blog to check out my take on helping versus rescuing in parenting. If you’re a parent, teacher, or mentor of any sort, I think you’ll see yourself in one of these two personas–maybe both depending on the situation.

Image courtesy Jeroen van Oostrom/

I Wear Pull-Ups

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Potty training is hard work. Right now my wife and I are in the process with our daughter, so for the past couple weeks we’ve become Toilet Sentries. We watch the clock, frequently ask her if she has to go, and scuttle her to the potty approximately forty times a day. And it’s not like our daughter appreciates our efforts. At times she’s run away, hidden so we can’t see her do her business, or cried atop her Elmo seat. Sometimes we simply wanted to scrap the idea altogether. What’s wrong with a twelve-year-old in diapers anyway?

Luckily we’re in a phase where she’s made significant progress. She wears pull-ups and can go almost the entire day in the same one. Without constant reminders, however, she’d easily revert to her old ways: doing her business in her pants.

It struck me this week that too often my faith is like this. I make progress trusting God, but without constant reminders, I make a mess of my life. To be honest, I’m having a tough time trusting that I’m where God wants me to be. Or maybe I’m where He wants me to be, but I don’t want to be there anymore. Ever have that feeling?

I feel dry, and not in the good sense, like how I hope my daughter is when I check her every fifteen minutes. It’s more like a burden, and I’ve identified a few reasons. Last week I had surgery on something that didn’t hurt, and now that it’s “fixed” I can’t move around much. For someone who’s pretty active, it’s been tough. Also, I’m a teacher, and it seems the decision-makers in my state no longer appreciate what I do. Decision after painful legislative decision fills me with mourning for my students, myself, and my colleagues. Finally, I’m on vacation (I know, boo-hoo, right?) and until this blog haven’t written a new word in a week. Not a good sign for someone who fancies himself a writer. As I list all of my complaints, my life starts to look and feel like the inside of my daughter’s diaper (gotta love that imagery).

But even as I write this, I know these are all excuses. Because here’s more of what’s wrong: aside from the prayers I pray with my daughter, I haven’t offered much spiritual conversation in a week, I skipped church Sunday and didn’t refill the tank in any substantial way, and I haven’t been reading my Bible. I’ve not done what Paul advised when he said, “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). I’ve been a child in my thinking (1 Cor 14:20).

How’s that for confession?

What I’m rediscovering is that my spiritual situation is self-induced. Unless I allow it, no one and no thing can stand between me and my God. Not abdominal pain, not short-sighted legislative decisions, and not my lethargic attempts to break my writer’s block. They’re distractions. They’re road bumps I’ve made into walls when I can just as easily let God send me speeding over them.

I have the choice. It’s in my hands. But sometimes it’s more comfortable to stay where I am. To wallow in the muck of my own self-pity.

I bet my daughter feels that way sometimes.

Maybe I should take a lesson from her and start making some progress. It’s time to put on my big-boy-pants and do something about the spiritual mess I created. If you’re where I am, hopefully you can do the same.

Why Your State of Being Pleases God

Image courtesy nuttakit /

Image courtesy nuttakit /

As I stated in an earlier blog (check here to catch up), sometimes God calls people to just be, to put down the work and the business and rest in Him. But why is the Creator of all things so concerned with me and my state of being? Doesn’t He have more important things to do? Thankfully, no. For proof, let’s consider the story of how He created us in Genesis.

Point 1: He created you “in His own image” (Gen. 1:27)

Theologians disagree about exactly what it means to be created in His image. However two things they seem to agree on are that 1. God doesn’t physically look like me and you (which would be hard to do since you and I look different—“Not so,” says my handsome doppelganger.) and 2. mankind was made in the likeness of God, whereas the rest of Creation was not. We hold a special place with God because of our god-likeness. No other part of creation holds his image. It sets us apart and demonstrates our importance to Him.

Point 2: The Ordered Universe Ends with Man

One can’t read the creation story without seeing the order that’s drawn from chaos. God clearly displays his rationality as he orders a place to sustain and provide for His final and most loved creation: Man. As descendants of his first created, we can look at our importance two ways. Gerald Robison and Bob Sjogren, authors of Cat and Dog Theology, humorously phrase it this way:

“A dog may look at you and think, ‘You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me—You must be god!’ On the other hand a cat can look at you and say, ‘You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me—I must be god!’”

As a dog person, it’s clear that God invites me to love Him because He first loved me.

Point 3: “He rested” (Gen. 2:2)

When I teach Genesis in class, students often ask, “Why did God stop creating on the seventh day?” I generally respond with a question (very Socratic, don’t you think?): “What do you usually do when you finish your work?”

Unfortunately the obvious answer isn’t always the way of things, especially in our time-obsessed, more-is-better, rat-race lives. But God sets the example: when you’ve done the good work He’s set you to do, rest. It’s illogical to do anything else, and as displayed in Points 1 and 2, God is logical and created you to be like Him.

Point 4: He is a God of connection (Gen. 3:7-11)

In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and hide, God comes to them and asks, “Where are you?” When Adam responds, “When I heard you, I hid because I was naked.” God asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
Now either God truly doesn’t know the answers to His questions, which doesn’t fit with his omniscient nature, or He has another purpose in mind. Like a good parent who already knows his daughter colored on the wall and tried to cover her misdeed by pasting pictures of horsies over it, God isn’t as interested in punishing as he is in reconnecting. He uses his questions to eliminate Adam and Eve’s barrier to Him (disobedience & sin) by allowing the opportunity for confession. God obviously loves them and wants the best for them. And what’s best is to be close to God.

What’s interesting is that He doesn’t call them to reconnect by doing anything; the punishments He gives demonstrate the results of sin (literally, death) but aren’t part of the reconnection process. Instead, God makes Himself available and calls Adam and Eve to be near—physically, in this case (since they are hiding), and spiritually through confession and forgiveness.

What it tells us

There’s something beautiful about a perfect God who endows us with an element of Himself, about an ordered God who goes ahead and prepares a way, about an inexhaustible God who models the rest he knows we need, about a forgiving God who knows every fault and wants us anyway.

Our state of being is a reflection of our connection to His spirit. Since our ancestors first disobeyed, we’ve invented a million and one new ways to blow up our lives and try to sacrifice our relationship with God. Lucky for us, our state of being matters to Him. It pleases Him. And he’s forever seeking to reestablish His bond with us, if we’ll only let him.

He said, “Daddy loves you.”

Photo courtesy David Castillo Dominici /

Photo courtesy David Castillo Dominici /

Grayson Clamp was born deaf. He’s not anymore. That’s because after three years of experiencing the world in a soundless vacuum, an auditory brainstem implant changed his world. When I first saw his story, I was touched by the boy’s reaction to hearing his father speak for the first time. If you’ve seen the video, you’re probably picturing it now: saucer eyes, a look of wonder, and an instant of simultaneous questioning and recognition, as if his father’s voice had been there all along but it was just now that he really heard it. It’s a priceless moment.

(Check out the clip here)

Years earlier, Len Clamp and his wife adopted Grayson. They chose him, deficiencies and all. So years later when Grayson finally had the ability to hear, Len Clamp’s “parental instinct” led him to spontaneously say, “Daddy loves you.” I wonder how many times he’d vocalized the same words over the first three years of his son’s life. A hundred? A thousand? And if his son had never heard them, I have no doubt that Len would have gone on repeating those words the rest of his life, as a loving father would do.

But in that moment those words gained life. They united a father to his child in a way that only those three words can do.

In John 19:30 Jesus sends the same message using three different words: “It is finished.”

Photo courtesy bela_kiefer /

Photo courtesy bela_kiefer /

On the cross he poured out his spirit so that we might know life. He sent out a call so profound that all his children for ages to come would know He loved them. That He chose them. That he purchased them at a great price.

But just like Len Clamp’s words, Christ’s message is one-sided unless his child reacts. A gift already given must still be claimed. His child must rejoice when he hears his Father’s voice saying, “Daddy loves you.” The good news is that, like Len Clamp, God continues to whisper, to cajole, to beckon. His words are there even when you can’t hear them.

I think of Len’s words, “We chose him, you know? With adoption, you go out and you pick the child. And we picked him.” How profound. How like our Maker, who died for us while we were still sinners, who adopted us before we could hear his voice. He had already claimed us. He wanted us in the family.

Grayson Clamp still has years of therapy ahead of him. He must learn to cognitively process the verbal cues he now hears. He will struggle. He will falter. But even so, Grayson knows one thing. His Daddy loves him, and that’s reason enough to fight on.

This Guy I Know (Name Withheld to Protect Identity)

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

For as long as I can remember I’ve been at his beck and call. One of my first memories is of him not wanting the toy he played with and making me get him another. He’s driven me the wrong direction down one-way streets—all in good fun, of course. Still, all these years I’ve grown to like him more and more. It’s odd, because to say he’s selfish and needy and overbearing would be an understatement. He never has enough money, he criticizes my work, and he believes his desires come before all others. It’s like some lopsided symbiotic relationship.

Yet I think more highly of him today than ever because I know he’s a good guy. Deep down, he is. At least that’s what I have to tell myself after pouring this much effort into him. To be honest, I love him more than anyone else in this world. But that’s exactly the problem. I’ve let him rule my free time. I’ve allowed myself to become his slave.

The only thing that’s ever worked, the only thing that’s ever quieted him enough to allow me some peace and quiet, the only thing that puts him in his rightful place….

Is when I stop trying to serve myself and start serving others.

Because I am my own worst enemy: a hard-hearted, self-absorbed, never-satisfied, jealous-of-my-time master. When I serve myself, I lack joy, complain often, and take criticism badly. I become impatient, inflexible, and emotionally inconsistent. I always want more. In my lust for comfort and security, I make an idol of myself.

The reason this relationship won’t work is that I will never be enough for me. I am incomplete. My desires will only grow, my compassion going only as far as my fingertips. In No Man Is an Island Thomas Merton says that “man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother.”

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Only when I see these two as inseparable orders, as one command, can I ever truly be happy. I can’t truly love God without loving my neighbor, I can’t truly love my neighbor without loving myself first, and I can’t truly love myself without loving the one in whose image I was created.

But when I get outside myself to serve others, my world expands. I stop living for me and start living for a creation loved by its Creator exponentially more than I could ever love myself. Merton believes “that the first responsibility of a man of faith is to make his faith really part of his own life, not by rationalizing it but by living it.”

Service gives me a reason to stop thinking about me.

And thank God for that; I’m exhausting.

Liberate Your Great American Story

Image courtesy nixxphotography /

Image courtesy nixxphotography /

Goals. Deadlines. A to-do list that has nothing “to-do” with your current project. How many writers haven’t felt the stress these bring?

Some of this conflict is external (family responsibilities, professional expectations, a pack of starving wolves closing in on your writing cave), and aside from not leaving meat outside your writing cave you can’t always control it. But a lot of the stress probably comes from an internal desire to make good on your own drive and motivation. To feel that ever-elusive sense of accomplishment.

My immediate response in these situations is to rush. To pound out the words with a sledgehammer. To FREAK OUT!


Fortunately, when I take time to breathe, I find that the more my characters and their stories roll around in my head, the more my life and the world pushing in on it enhance the complexities of my plot.

Even so-called “simple” stories have complexity at their heart. Take F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, let me give you a quick story synopsis: A poor boy wants a rich girl, so he spends his life accumulating money and status just to find that it’ll never be good enough.

It’s simple. Archetypal. Yet the story takes on new meaning every time I read it because the author let his characters live in his head for years. His story “Winter Dreams” (1922) was a precursor to The Great Gatsby (1925). It also doesn’t hurt that Dexter Green and Jay Gatsby hold autobiographical significance. They come alive because Fitzgerald LIVED them.

If you’ve ever had a story in your head, you know that they never get smaller. They’re like some early-American immigrant family renting space in your attic. Before you know it, they have twelve kids and omnipresent extended family living with them (don’t worry, this isn’t getting racist). You can’t hear every word they say, but they stomp around, talk too loud, and never sleep. They drive you crazy, and sometimes you just want them out. But truth is, if you calm your nerves and listen carefully, you’ll find that the noise they make is from dancing, the loud words are cheers and stories of the old country, and the late nights are because they can’t bear to lose a moment. They can teach you a lot, and if you decide to let them stay, if you nurture them and allow them to take up permanent residence, there’s a good chance that family’s going to be a driving force behind a flowering story. Maybe even one that endures for hundreds of years.

So take a deep breath this Independence Day, and let your stories do the same. Give them time to put down roots so they can be truly free.

Writing, Self-Promotion, and the Gong Show

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic /

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic /

My name is Tim Knopp, and I’m a struggling writer. (Now you say, “Hello, Tim.”)

Since I re-launched God’s call on my life to use words, I’ve come to realize three things: 1. Current writers, unless they have a team of paid promoters, have to do a lot of self-promoting to make it in the industry, B. I don’t have a team of paid promoters and self-promotion makes my teeth itch, and 4. I’m not very good with lists.

A very patient and down-to-earth agent recently told me that most first-time novelists need (among other things) an online following of at least 1,000 people. My first reaction was, “I don’t even know 1,000 people let alone those who want to ‘follow’ me.” But I understand why a social media presence is a prerequisite for agents and agencies to give writers a first chance.

However, one of the reasons I stopped blogging a year and a half ago—aside from the fact that newborns are surprisingly needy—was because I didn’t feel I had anything valuable to say and nothing to promote. Put down the phone; this is not a cry for help or a ploy for compliments. It’s an honest assessment of my state of mind at the time. I was afraid of adding more noise to the already raucous blogosphere. I didn’t want to be another voice shouting to be heard, posing like a celebrity, filling up friends’ walls with my inane thoughts.

(If you like Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec and have a minute, check out this very funny clip:)

To be honest, I was trying to avoid becoming what I don’t like.

Instead, I wanted to write and blog out of a fulfillment of what God had placed in me to say, and to do it out of love. I think of 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

To borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, the tool of social media can easily become “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” Really, if you haven’t already, watch the Nick Offerman clip above for an example.

My prayer is that I use my words to add value to people’s lives, that I speak from a heart close to Him who gives me breath, and that when I no longer do these things I’ll have the sense to hear my own “resounding gong” and pause the writing, the blogging, and the self-promotion (ugh, I reallllly hate that I have to think about it this way) until He gives me words again.