Remembering my friend Kip
Editor’s Note: Kip White of Lakewood, Colo., died May 31 in a fall on the Maroon Bells. His funeral was Monday, and his friend, Mitch Hawn, sent this letter to The Aspen Times.
My friend Kip White died yesterday. He died while climbing Maroon Bells near Aspen with his 19-year-old son, Jordan. They were good and experienced climbers. From what I know, they both could be dead today because they fell tethered together for about 400 feet. It is most likely that they were connected in the fall by a rope that was expected to keep them both safe. Kip and Jordan were connected by much more than that. And that connection is part of what I’m feeling right now and trying to describe for my own understanding. In some ways, Kip was a lifeline for me. He helped keep me grounded and, as I think back, it’s pretty hard to express just how he did that. Kip was grounded. You had the feeling that you were talking to someone who was as immovable and solid as a 14,000-foot peak. It wasn’t stubbornness or stoicism really, though he certainly possessed both in abundance; the solidness I experienced in Kip was his unwavering belief in the greatness and majesty of God.I once had a long discussion with Kip about Job. Kip didn’t want to include Job in the pantheon of “great men of God” because Job did the wrong thing. I learned in Sunday school that Job never turned away from God even though all his friends believed that God was punishing him for some unseen sin. What did Job do that was wrong? He dared to ask God, “Why me?” Kip told me he believed that God keeps his own counsel and we have no right to questions his ways or his decisions in our lives. Though as I type it sounds almost outrageous, I believe that solidness and resolve is what made Kip solid in return.I’m sorry Kip, but I’m asking God, “Why you?” And though I know that God has his own reasons and does not include me in his deliberations, I have a mind that simply can’t wrap around what happened yesterday.
Kip had a reverence for the holiness and greatness of God, his transcendence, which somehow didn’t detract in any way from God’s intimate love relationship he pursues with each of us and his miraculous presence to us if we will but show up. I began my relationship with Jesus as one who walked with me and talked with me and who was no more averse to being asked for a good parking space or for miraculous intervention to get my motorcycle started than he was for an end to world hunger. It was like a charmed friendship or even apprenticeship. After losing our baby to miscarriage, going through a long and painful separation and finally divorce, and then finding out that my daughter had been sexually molested, I found God to be so much more than a friend. He was immovable and solid when everything else was in turmoil and every other truth in flux. He was the God of Job that Kip had tried to introduce me to. Kip was profound in theological scope and discussion, but simple in terms of the life God was asking for – the simplicity of obedience in every moment. I remember having a discussion about free will. He was telling me that he was internally very uncomfortable with telling people, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This was the introduction to faith that he was to use as a team leader behind the Iron Curtain of the then-Soviet Union. He simply didn’t see that backed by scripture. To Kip, it was quite possible that God had a different plan for some folks … how could it be otherwise when the world was full of people whose purpose was clearly not wonderful. Kip launched into a well-thought-out and scripturally supported discourse on predestination and I was dizzy with it all. But the last sentence on the subject went something like this: “Mitch, what does God have on your plate right now? Do that one thing the best you know how and let everything else go. You don’t own the past and God is not consulting you on the future – they are in good hands. What you do with each morning is all you need to worry about.”You see what I mean by complexity that all comes down to simple obedience in the moments of life.
Driving out to Erie on a very early Colorado morning to tamper with a refuse site ventilation unit Kip had designed, I reached over to turn on the radio and Kip said, “Not before 12, OK?” I asked him why and he said, “I don’t want anything messing with my focus in the morning.” “Focus on what?” I asked. “I don’t know, whatever God has for me … don’t you think people surround themselves with sound because they are afraid to really listen?” This was said with a subtle lack of patience. It became clear to me that my very question was coming dangerously close to “messing” with some sort of internal and very intimate dialog that Kip had going with his creator. That intimate relationship is what lent wisdom beyond years to Kip’s words and music. That’s the lifeline I sensed in my times with Kip, a rope that could maybe connect the God of the universe to a deep longing in myself.I sometimes think that this relentless pursuit of intimacy with God is what made Kip so driven. He was always driven to taste more of God’s goodness and bigness and much satisfaction could be found in scaling mountains and sheer ice falls, in standing at the top in the thin air and breathing in what God can do. Kip shared with me that the act of living for God is risky and dangerous and I felt then as I do now, that Kip would probably die on a mountain with a satisfied look on his face. He did die on a mountain and his life up to that last moment was a hyperactive pursuit. The pursuit is over and the longing for intimacy with God has been satisfied and we here are left with renewed hunger.Thank you, Kip, for the lesson of profound simplicity in your actions and your words, spoken and sung.