Tag Archives: church

letter TO a Birmingham prison: on MLK Day

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Of course the classy, enlightened thing to do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day every January remains to brighten the cold and often gray mornings by posting quotes, images and videos about having dreams, taking the first steps, and valuing love over hate. We pontificate on justice and look toward the one day when the dream he had becomes a reality, and we feel a little less xenophobic and a little more pious about ourselves.

And then we go to work, or take a day off by relaxing. And that day is often filled with complicit participation in the systems that oppress others and therefore ourselves. We participate in the dreams of power and anxiety and scarcity and fear and clamoring for the top. We participate in tempered and reasoned arguments why Yes, of course these are important issues, but this is the wrong way to go about it. We join in faceless, human-interaction-less debates about getting back to some unreal era when things were better or moving toward some unwon future when the best of humanity is realized.

But on this Monday, every year, we read a letter from a Birmingham prison, a letter in response to 8 clergy’s written request to MLK to calm down and play by the known rules, and we celebrate. We imagine ourselves in the cell with King, supporting his words and thinking his thoughts. After several years of scribbling An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere on pieces of paper and taping them to mirrors and computer monitors, I wondered what the letter written TO a Birmingham prison actually said, and if I might actually, ashamedly find myself supporting their words and thinking their thoughts.

For the causes and the groups of people in the margins those causes are iconic of, we owe our own futures as well as the legacy of King the task of identifying with how much we still speak with the words of these clergy in all their good intentions, whether we want to or not, because in all our tweets and posts about freedom and justice and oppression, we are terrified that if we don’t support the status quo we might end up on the bottom, being treated and imprisoned the way we have been treating and imprisoning others.

April 12, 1963

We clergymen are among those who, in January, issued “an Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

Since that time there has been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experiences of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.

Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.

We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

Signed by:
C.C.J. CARPENTER, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Alabama
JOSEPH A. DURICK, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham
Rabbi MILTON L. GRAFMAN, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama
Bishop PAUL HARDIN, Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the Methodist Church
Bishop NOLAN B. HARMON, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church
GEORGE M. MURRAY, D.D., LL.D., Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
EDWARD V. RAMAGE, Moderator, Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States

And THEN, the letter from that prison:

Letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell from Bradley Williams on Vimeo.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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when it finally has no end

nicene creed

I was up late, and woke up late, and made it into the church service about ten minutes late. My voice was much deeper than normal, and was still deep when we made it to the words of the Nicene Creed. I think it was the unfamiliar cantor of my voice that made me hear what I said today as if it was the first time I had ever heard it.

“…and his kingdom will have no end.”

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There are often moments where I see it. It’s clearly present in ways that don’t make any sense, so I lean back, squint my eyes so that tears don’t fall out, and try to breathe it in. There are moments where I see what Nora Gallagher references as “thin space,” moments where the space we are in is touching the space we will be in when the kingdom comes in all of its fullness.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the monotony of daily chores
the normalcy of singing with the windows down
the clinking of glasses and forks and plates at dinner with friends
the deep breaths after long days of good work.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the deep grief of watching one we’ve lived loving be lowered into ground
the deep heartbreak of waiting to hear the horrible news we’re hoping isn’t true
the deep sadness of holding our hair in our hands because we know we are powerless and things are out of control.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the brilliance of art, laughter, hard work
the sharp edges of a brilliant sonnet, sunset, silhouette
the joy of eyes meeting, hands shaking, understanding.

But every time, for now, these moments of heaven meeting earth
have ends. Endings. They are over after they begin.

They have an end.

And we are then reminded that
the things that feel true, honest, just, lovely, pure
don’t last, for now.

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So we stand together, deep voices on early Sunday mornings, and say the words that have come from the mouths of men and women for hundreds and hundreds of years. In the echo of their voices and the startling depth of our own early-morning voice, we hold out hope that the day is coming when it has no end. The kingdom made up of thin space, where heaven and earth meet for good and hold hands for good, will have no end. So those moments where we know and see and tell and sense the truth, and we hope that they would last forever…we wait for the day when they will.

We wait for the day when it finally has no end.

djordan
Pine Tree

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looking at our toes

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Only half of us stood up, and that was because we couldn’t reach each other to be able to hold hands otherwise. The other half of the room stayed seated. I looked down at my toes, initially wondering if my clammy palms would be noticeable to the women on my left and right.

But then, looking at my flip flops and the sandals of the women on either side of me, and then the various shoes of those around the room, (not that I was peaking during the prayer) I immediately flashed back to several years ago in the mountains of Nicaragua. We were in a small church in Matagalpa at the end of a Sunday morning service, and the congregation was praying for us and us for them. I remembered during that prayer too, holding hands and sweating, looking down at all those toes. Shoes were   pointed toward each other making a makeshift circle, hands held, prayers offered for one another and those not even present.

Tonight, our circle joined that circle years ago in Matagalpa. It will join the circles of the generations to follow as it joins the circles of generations past. It joins the circles and sweaty palms of my friends in Cape Town, England, Korea, China, Seattle, Texas, Atlanta,  Spain, and the globe over. Our sweaty palms and pointed toes join each others as we look over the words of those who tried their hardest to follow Christ early on and ask what it means to follow him now. Our sweaty palms and pointed toes join each others as we work to learn what it means to hold onto truth, push the boundaries of hospitality, ask the questions of justice, and pray the words of hope.

Sweaty palms and pointed toes. There’s little magical about it, and yet it’s in these small circles that the world is changed.

The world is changed even as we are looking at our toes.

 

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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the best of us and the worst of us

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we act our best
when we know we need to 
and it’s not completely a lie
but rather an appearance that
only shows the things we are most proud of in ourselves. 
 
so at work
at events
in conversations
over coffee
over brews
sometimes over family dinners
we act our best
 
and then there are those other times where 
we act ourselves
which is not different from our best
but includes the rest of us
the jealous of us
the insecure of us
the intimidated of us
the petty of us
the bitter of us
and also the best of us. 
 
and every now and then
because God knows we need our sanity
we find those people who allow 
the best of us
and the worst of us
the jealous of us and
the humble of us
the insecure of us and
the confident of us
the intimidated of us and 
the empowered of us
the petty of us and
the courageous of us
the bitter of us and 
the reflective of us
 
the best of us and 
the worst of us. 
 
and it’s the people
that holy few people
who know us completely 
at our best and at our worst
that we rest in and
that we find ourselves in and
that we discover the courage
to seek first the kingdom with. 
 
at our best and our not best. 
 
djordan
Pine Tree Dr.
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what are we doing?

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In the middle of multiple meetings lately, either starting with coffee because it is far too early or in the morning, or starting with coffee because it is far too late in the evening, I find myself in the middle of multiple meetings.

There are papers and computers and skyped-in video faces and clicking pens and reshuffled papers and dogs under the table because that’s the way it works when we are meeting whenever and wherever we can.

And I find myself often in these meetings wondering what in the world I have gotten myself into. I will either have a dining room filled with two bodies and one skyped-in face arguing and agreeing and praying our way through to a more hopeful and sustainable work in another country with real people with real skills and dreams and aspirations, or I will find myself in a dining room looking across a kitchen, a living room and a den filled with students and adults who are learning what it means to follow Christ into their own city. We talk about what truama-informed care looks like, what it means to view others through a lens of strengths instead of through a lens of shortcomings, and what we are actually doing when we are serving in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods a few miles from my home.

And I look at both of these groups, all people I am falling deeply in love with and flying highly in respect with, and wonder what in the world we are doing. Who let us be responsible for these tasks, and who knows we are learning as we go? I often feel as though I snuck into a grown up world, and the bouncers didn’t catch me, the Dean’s didn’t notice, and the bosses didn’t pay attention before putting me in these positions.

So knowing that I am leaning into the work at the same time as I am learning it, I find myself most amazed at what God insists on doing through my own ignorance, unpreparedness, and incompetence. We take seriously the discipline of learning and asking and pushing and working, but the generosity of God is the only thing which actually moves us from point A to point B.

And so we keep moving. From dining room table to living room floor, we lean into whatever it means to live out the kingdom of God in León or in Jackson or in wherever in God’s name we end up living something out. We pray we do it well knowing all the while that we are quite a mess.

I went to the grocery store last week in my pajamas and saw three people I know, but not well enough to make a joke about being in my pajamas. I went to a service with church two weeks ago and in a rush had only trimmed half of my beard.

I am what I am, and we are what we are, and while we don’t know exactly what we’re doing, we are doing what we know to do and working to do it better, more effectively, more educatedly, more honestly, more humanly day by day. We are reading and studying and listening and praying our tails off, but we have to move now. It’s worth filling up dining room tables and living room floors for, I would say. It is in breaking bread and coming together that God let’s us know what is next.

We don’t know what we are doing, but he does. And as long as we are diligently working to learn and seek and know more about what we’re doing, he makes the kingdom come. We merely jump in.

djordan
Pine Tree

Donald is privileged to work with a ridiculously awesome staff at Area Relief Ministries, a local non-profit in Jackson, Tennessee working to alleviate suffering, promote dignity and foster hope in a multitude of ways. He also serves on the Board of Directors with three other very talented and influential individuals for El Ayudante, Nicaragua who seeks to work with the Nicaraguan people to transform the nation. These meeting often end up happening in Donald’s living room and dining room, which make living at Pine Tree worthwhile in and of themselves. Check out Area Relief Ministries and El Ayudante | Nicaragua online.

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good men and the practice of resistance [part 2]

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It’s easy to sit in our offices or living rooms, around kitchen tables or restaurant tables, and talk about what we would do if we were in someone else’s shoes. We see others as those in positions of power, and yet we look at ourselves as either the victims or the martyrs. We see ourselves as those who have been taken down by good men gone wrong, or by the bad men gone wrong. Either way, we imagine ourselves as standing for something and going down because of it.

I do, at least. It occurs to me in writing this that not everyone feels that way. We are all of us trying to figure out what we are doing while pretending like we know what is going on. We have all been told by someone above us that we aren’t supposed to let them see us sweat, so we push forward as if we have any idea what forward should to look like.

And all the while, we see others in the positions of power, and ourselves as merely players in the game. We see others as those we are willing to follow, or as those we desire to complain about.

And yet we are, of course, charting the course of the future.

And I think about what it means to either participate in or push back against the regime. I think about what it means to either participate in or push back against the resistance.

I have found myself sitting on concrete slabs in the middle of downtown parks considering whether to blindly trust those in power, or to ask questions and push harder toward what it might mean to be the church in the world, even when I have no idea what that means. I have found myself sitting around tables, weighted with silence, because the powers of blindness are at work in the world and my paycheck has depended on them, but I’m not sure what the next step needs to mean for me. I have found myself in meetings around conference room tables where the truth of the kingdom is harder to demand than the appeasement of the rich Christians who are demanding solace and the protection of status quo, and I’m not sure which I’m willing to push for or lean into. I have found myself in tears with my sisters and brothers on living room floors asking what it will cost to seek first the kingdom before the education of my children, the safety of my family, the reputation of my career, and the pursuit of my own American dream.

And the answers are never easy.

I have found myself, in all of these situations, pretending as though I am all alone so I can have great pity for myself that I am asking these difficult questions and doing the best I can, at least. My pity makes me think it’s honorable. Until, I realize how arrogant I can so quickly become.

I have never been alone.

Not only have I never been alone because God himself has been there, however cheesy and ious that may sound. But I have never been alone also because I have been sitting on those concrete slabs with others. I have been sitting around tables, sitting in conference rooms, sitting in tears on living room floors with others who are pushing through the very same things. We don’t always end up in the same places, but we told the truth together.

It is these same people that I have clinked glasses with in celebration and in hope, because we know we are on the edge of something better and truer and a little more hopeful than the places in which we find ourselves or once found ourselves. And it is in doing life with these women and men who have been known for breaking rules and asking questions that I am pushing against the regime into the resistance, knowing that while the world goes not well…the kingdom comes.

I have no choice, really. Forward it is.

djordan
Pine Tree

This post, written by Donald Jordan, is part 2 of a two-part post. Part  1 is a guest post by Wes Gristy which can be found by clicking HERE.

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good men and the practice of resistance [PART 1]: a guest post by Wes Gristy

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There’s a line in a song called The Resistance by Josh Garrels that haunts me. It comes at the end of the first verse. After poetically describing the power structures of this world that abuse the masses, Garrels asks, how do good men become a part of the regime? The question assumes these systems of captivity to be the handiwork of good people, good Christians even. Ethical businessmen. Rule followers. It’s an assumption that runs contrary to our own. Unlike Garrels, most of us think that the waves of oppression, domination, and injustice arise solely from the drug lords, crooked politicians, and criminals—in other words, from the bad men. They are the ones responsible for the regime. Yet while bad men certainly play their part, I think Garrels has a point.

The truth is that good men contribute much to the structures of this world. Think about it. Good men are prone to protect, and so they work for stability. Good men like to keep the boat steady, and so they don’t allow for radical course corrections. Good men want to give assurances and make promises, and so they create lots of policies and procedures to keep us safe. Good men like to show the prettier side of things, and so questions that poke holes in their presentations are often labeled as negative or even disloyal. Good men can be conservative in the worst sense of the word, stiff-arming innovation with rolls of red tape, declaring with confidence, “The system works well enough. We’re doing the best we can. Our intentions are noble.” And so the status quo holds fast due to the diligent efforts of good men.

How does this happen? How do good men become a part of the regime? Garrels offers an answer: They don’t believe in resistance. They fail to critically analyze the ideologies of this world, and so they are unprepared to resist them. Too many good men fail to heed the words of the Apostle Paul, “Don’t let yourself be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age” (Rom 12:2). Obedience here requires active resistance; the regime flourishes by subtle means when we let down our defenses. Without resistance, we’re assimilated, and we don’t even know it.

Without resistance, good men with good intentions will inevitably slip into the patterns of this evil age.

It’s not that sooner or later good men are unwittingly going to turn around and start shooting people, but rather that popular notions, incompatible with the ethic of Jesus, will begin to sound reasonable to embody—certain notions of success, of courageous leadership, of religious conviction, and of personal ambition. These notions slowly become the subject of our conversations, the content of our imaginations, the stories we tell our children, and ultimately the fuel of the very regime we say we despise.

I had a professor who once offered his students this proverb: “I used to think that bad people did bad things for bad reasons. Now I believe that good people do bad things for seemingly good reasons.”

That’s my fear.

That’s why this lyric returns to my mind again and again. And so I pray, Heavenly Father, save me from becoming a good man who quietly and unknowingly becomes a part of the regime. Teach me to practice resistance.

Wes Gristy is an associate pastor at All Saints Anglican Church in Jackson. He’s been married to his kick-butt wife Abbie for eleven years, and they have a brilliant four-year-old daughter and hilarious one-and-a-half-year-old son. Wes is one of my very best friends who has taught me much about the costs of resistance, and about what it actually looks like to push hard into the questions and compassion and work of the kingdom. I’m grateful to him for guest posting, among many other things.

This post is Part 1 of a 2 Part series. For Part 2, CLICK HERE.

djordan

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a people who tell the truth | thoughts on ash wednesday

from dust you came, and to dust you will return

It occurred to me while getting a cross of ash smeared over my brow, hearing the words, “from dust you came, and to dust you will return,” that one of the things I appreciate the most about the faith I’m finding myself leaning into more and more is that we are a people not only allowed to tell the whole truth, not only even encouraged to do so, but ultimately demanded to do so.

We must tell the truth: the good, the heartbreaking, and the completely unexplainable.

And so we operate in a season of lament and reflection. We begin it by marking ourselves with the dust we come from and the dust to which we will return. We take time to fast from things to remind us of our desperation and dependence on the king of the coming kingdom for anything to be worth telling in the end.

And even when shiny churches and slick preachers grin and tell us how to be happy, we must tell the truth that the world goes not well. Injustice abounds and work toward justice often feels like tiny drops in an enormous ocean. Hearts ache with broken families and open wounds. Loss stings years later like the day death stole life from our fingertips.

And so we tell the truth. All of it.

The hope of the kingdom coming is only truly hopeful if it is the refrain after the we see the deep gray all around us, and admit that we are both broken by it and perpetrators of it.

Until all is made new.

And so, for lent, we remember that from dust we came, and to dust we will return.

djordan
Washington D.C.

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“it’s dark in here” | reflections on MLK Day

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It’s no secret that racism is not okay.

Most people know it. A lot of people pretend like they agree with it. Some people fake it. Everyone deals with it.

But we all know that racism is not okay.

And so we think of ourselves as matured. As evolved. As just and honest and good and lovely.

But we are, all of us, racist, of course.

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I was walking through the mall a few weekends ago with a guy who used to be a college student in a small group of mine. We were there for me to run an errand, and this guy, a man who is soon to be a youth pastor in a church, made a comment that has been haunting me since that day.

“It’s dark in here.”

I looked around, looked up at the skylights, around at the stores and back at him.

“What?”

“It’s dark in here.”

The same again.

I looked around, the sky is blue, the light is shining in through the skylights, the mall is brightly lit, and at the same time as my head is turning back toward him in confusion, I understand what he is saying. I feel my heart break the moment we make eye contact, and I wish I could control anything but in that moment I realize that I can control nothing.

“There are lots of black people,” he whispers.

I have no idea what I said. I’m sure I was a jerk. My memories of that day go back to me as much as they do to him.

And today, both Inauguration Day and the day we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., I find myself speechless, still.

I grew up in a world where racism was acceptable, and in a home where it was not. I grew up in a faith where if you are poor and on drugs, it’s because you don’t know Jesus, not because of personal, systemic and global injustice.

More than this, I grew up knowing that it’s not okay to be a racist, but seeing those around me make it okay to be a little racist. At the right time, with the right people, in the right way.

As an upper, middle-class white male, that means that many around me, outside my home and often in a family of faith, think that those who are not any of those things are likely not Christians, so we should pray for them, and that they are both irresponsible and dangerous, so we should be afraid of them.

And whether I admit it or not, that same thought is buried deeply in me somewhere. Thank you, Southern, wealthy, Christian United States.

+++

And today, I show up for work each day with brothers and sisters of faith, both black and white. I show up for work with men and women seen as equally bringing the truth of the faith and the work of the kingdom. I show up to work each day and hash out the difficulty of what it means to work and live and laugh with those who are both the same as well as different from me, and I am a better man for it.

I am still racist. I still make assumptions about others who look like me that I would hope to never be associated with. And I know, in turn, that I am still seen as someone who makes those assumptions.

It is not completely unfair.

So on this day, when I think about the black pastor in the southern US who wrote letters to white pastors in the Southern US saying this must be the time––when I think about a pastor who wrote those letters from a Birmingham Jail–I hear them now in a deeper place than I have heard them before. I see and feel those white pastors listening who are convinced that the calls are untimely. And the challenge is more personal than it has been before. And in the global world, in the polarized world, in the rich and poor world, I hear the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. say “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and I hear my King say, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

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To my buddy in the mall that day, as I felt my jaw drop and my eyes broaden and heart sink, I wish I had told you, “There is so much of the kingdom you are missing.”

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

Other recommended links for MLK DAY

KATHY ESCOBAR | THIS DREAM IS SO POSSIBLE – Kathy Escobar
10 THINGS YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN ABOUT MLK – Huffington Post
A DREAM THAT CAME TRUE – The Washington Post

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this side of history | on watching “Lincoln”

abraham lincoln

it’s one thing to sit with a huge twenty-dollar coke
watching the story unfold on the big screen
making decisions pretending like we don’t know how the story goes.

of course, i would vote for the thirteenth amendment.
i’d be a monster otherwise.
i know it has to do with money.
i know it has to do with the economy as we know it.
i know we don’t know how to move forward without slavery.
but, i’m a good enough person to know that i’m in favor of it.

i think to myself, eating popcorn,
watching the story, ending already known, unfolding on the screen.

and I think about the stories unfolding right now
the stories in congress
the stories in the courts
the stories in the projects
the stories in the suburbs
the stories in the churches
the stories in the living rooms
the stories in the villages
the stories in the high-rises
the stories unfolding right now

across not only this city
across not only this nation
but all over the globe

and i wonder,
as i eat my popcorn and drink my twenty-dollar drink,
do I have it in me
to stand for justice
to take the risk
to make the jump

when i have no idea what it will mean about money
when i have no idea what it will mean about the economy as we know it
when i have no idea what it will mean about how to move forward
when i have no idea what it will mean

but, on this side of history,
where will i be standing
one hundred and fifty years from now
when people will be eating popcorn
imagining what they would have done
had they been me.

may we be courageous.

djordan
Pine Tree

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