Tag Archives: leadership

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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because you did not ask

head in the shrubs, photography, surrealism, asking, leadership, authority, questioning, questions

 The questions that learning leaders pose challenge their followers to see complexities and interrelationships in [major issues] and launch inquiries that stretch the bounds of their worldview. Moreover, this work is never done. What is learned one day is used the next as a bridge to considering a new set of understandings and challenges. 

+ from “Learning as a Way of Leading” by Preskill and Brookfield

It isn’t uncommon to reference the idea that Jesus answered most questions with questions. At times when women and men were at risk of facing persecution or losing their lives for following him, it would seem that if there were ever a time to answer directly, clearly, give the people “something to hang their hats on,” break it down because “only a few can understand,” it would have been then; it would have been when guards were carrying him off; it would have been when asked an ultimatum of a question by Pilate; it would have been after coming back to new life. But he only asked questions, adding to the confusion with people who were having a hard time understanding anyway.

There is an ease in going along without questions, resting on what others have said with authority. There is an ease in “taking their word for it,” and leaving the hard stuff to those we think know better. But Jesus engaged those who “wouldn’t understand” with questions that made these even more confusing.

Christ was constantly explaining what the kingdom of heaven was like, and it was always upside-down, backwards, inside-out, heretical, inappropriate. And on-purpose.

And it was always posed with a question. A set of illusive stories with no explanation, but counted on the fact that those listening, who had ears to hear, would indeed hear it.

I had coffee a couple of weeks ago with a friend who had been told not to ask any questions about this and that from those in leadership. Something in her, because of what she knows about what Jesus is up to in her own life and world, forced her to ask more questions. In respecting leadership, she was forced to ask them more questions. Ask others more questions. Listen past the answers sometimes shaped to shut down thought and conversation and merely align allegiance. And she took on the challenge.

What was so thrilling for me was her excitement now on the other side of those initial questions. She is renewed in what her calling is, what her faith is about, what her God is doing in the world, and what Christ has set in motion.

She is reminded all over again of the extreme danger that asking questions poses, and the risks involved when shattering what has been by asking what should be. But more than that, I am reminded of the great job that comes in assuming we are always missing something important, in asking others, in reading and learning, in trusting the largeness of God enough to bring him our questions.

Her face and grin as she sipped her coffee has become a symbol for me of what, whenever I am tasked to lead others, I am really being called to do; God doesn’t need me to tell them what they need to know as if they aren’t smart enough to think…instead, I get to join others in asking good questions about a good God who is making all things new.

djordan
Louisville, KY

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rise up

We were sitting around a table spread with pads, pens and leftovers a few feet off of Beale Street in Memphis. We had a two-day staff retreat for Area Relief Ministries, and we were closing up our time together with some overarching reflections on our different ministry areas, what we were seeing and feeling, and where we wanted to go in the days ahead.

Having been through the National Civil Rights Museum together, a staff of half women and half men, half black and half white, we were reflecting on our own experiences and those of the people we serve every day at ARM.  One of our staffers, Vakendall, started talk-praying in a kind of musical tone that he often speaks in; what came out of his mouth has been lingering in my head since then.

In reference to the photos and pictures throughout the Civil Rights Museum of men and women standing up to oppression, racism and violence with a kind of sharp meekness seldom see, Kendall asked, “Who told them they were somebody?”

As I think of the people who walk through the doors at Area Relief, the kids who show up at The HUB Club for tutoring and mentoring in the afternoon, the clients that sit in my office at Pathways fighting bravely against all shades of mental illness, I am now wondering who is telling them they are somebody.

Churches often get swallowed up in the business of deciding who is and who is not…somebody.

There seems to be a task at hand, a responsibility and a privilege bundled up together the moment eye contact is made with another. Just as we hope to be bearers of a holy image, we feel a call to look another in the eyes, reach down deeply, and speak of their somebodyness.

The people not in those photos at the Civil Rights Museum were likely their teachers, neighbors, postal carriers––maybe if we are lucky, even their pastors––the women and men who made it clear over and over again that they were somebodies. People who were made to be kings and queens, even if nothing else in the world at that moment suggests that is anywhere near the truth.

I’ll be more satisfied if I ever end up not being the person who speaks at the pedestal for the world to hear, but rather the one who told him or her that she was somebody.

djordan
Pine Tree

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