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silence encourages the tormentor

elie-wiesel.we-must-always-take-sides

“Are you German?” he asked as three friends stood beside him; two stood to his left, one to his right.

“No. Of course I’m not,” I answered, realizing as the words came out of my mouth that being a white American to me meant I was only American; I was not German or English or Jewish or Irish or Scottish or Russian or French or Norwegian.

“No. I’m not,” I answered, realizing how blond-haired and blue-eyed I was when the question was asked, and realizing that I felt guilty because the color of my skin and the hue of my eyes and hair about five seconds after the question was thrown into the hallway as we sat waiting on others, now at the end of the Holocaust museum in Israel.

A profe soon rushed him and his buddies out of the museum hallway and through the exit doors moments afterward, I say now with a more red and more sweaty countenance waiting on the roughly eight dudes behind me in my group who were making their way through the horrifyingly real and terrifyingly factual Holocaust museum in Jerusalem over ten years ago. I rub my hands through my blonde, nappy hair.

We left the space soon after.
We ate dinner in New Jerusalem.
I sent a girl two tables over dessert for her birthday through our server who afterward informed me she was engaged “but appreciated the knafeh.”

I’ve gotten so old.

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Elie Wiesel died today.

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If I was reasonably intelligent and generally wise and not from West Tennessee, it would not have required the “Oprah Book Club” stamp several years ago on his book Night for me to have ever heard his name walking through Target looking for Coke Zero and classy toilet-bowl cleaner.

But I’m not reasonably intelligent and generally wise, and I am from West Tennessee, so here I was.

And here I am.

A white American male who has been told both it’s all my fault and also I must protect what I’ve “earned” at all costs. I’m left confused.

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I walked through the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few years ago with friends and coworkers from one of my employers and an organization that values my deepest insecurities and deepest hopes.

I wept.

We wept.

We debriefed later that evening, and I could only wonder, “Would I have been that one random white dude standing in a sea of black men and women demanding justice, respect, and equality.” I told our folks at dinner, black and brown and white and pale, “I hope I would be one who stood up against those plowed by horses, intimidated by canes, and hung by ropes in the days of my parents (not my grandparents).

I later learned, driving through Alabama to visit friends, these hangings were in my own day. They were not carefully removed to parents or grandparents; It was the right now.

But I could only hope that I would have been one of those few white folks in the crowd demanding justice, respect, and equality for the “other” in those days.

Those days which are these days.

Elie Wiesel died today.

And I am hoping in my less trustworthy but more important parts that I will lean into Wiesel’s character and spirit and honor.

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It may take me down, but I must stand up for those who are pushed under. I do have blonde hair and blue eyes. I benefitted from both slavery. But I need to answer “no” to the teenagers in the final hallway at the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. And I need to answer “no” to my coworker. And I need to answer “no” to the person who checks me in to vote a few months from now where I’m held at ethical gunpoint and asked if I stand for nothing or if I’ll fall for anything.

Rest in peace, after such incredible chaos, brother Wiesel.

I cannot be neutral.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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an open letter to my students

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An Open Letter to My Students on the Eve of the Orlando Shooting.

June 12, 2016

Dear Students,

You likely woke up today as I did: late. You may or may not have turned on the news as is my morning wake-up custom, coffee in hand and multiple snoozes later. Within moments it became clear that there was yet another mass shooting while we were sleeping. This morning’s shooting at a gay night club in Orlando. Over 100 dead and injured.

I remember thinking ‘My soon-to-be godson is to be baptized today. My responsibilities seem yet-again larger now.’

I’m late to the service by a few minutes this morning; I know you’re not surprised. I stood too long at the television in my bedroom, clenching the wooden ledge on top of the dresser left in the room by my great, great-aunts who were the unusual of their era; they were highly educated, remarkably fashionable, and unusually independent women from a time where that was not allowed. No doubt they were recipients of both celebration and judgment. The dresser left in the bedroom of this house they used which I now sleep in has new fingernail marks as of this morning, left accidentally as I should have been dressing for a baptismal service but was instead being washed again in the blood of others.

“I also remember this, and wish I did not,” as Didion once said. I remember that I was not surprised.

Yet another killing, this time the largest mass shooting in our states’ history and the largest terrorist attack on US soil since my freshmen year of college when I sat in a lecture hall of Blanchard at Wheaton and watched the towers fall before my eyes.

I remember this morning thinking that I was surprised that morning as an 18-year-old hopeful, but that I am not surprised now as a 32-year-old hopeful. And it is the hopefulness of my better wiring which has been wanting to talk to all of you all day long today, even though you’ve managed to sneak away from me for the summer. I’ve managed to talk to you in one of our random, side conversations all day long in my head regardless. Then I decided that I hope you might hear it.

Many of you value your faith deeply; I do as well. Because of this, those who believe differently from you are owed your love and honor. The faith you claim has told you so; the faith leaders you are bothered by have challenged this. Follow your faith.

Many of you think
public policy,
issues of social policy and social welfare,
wealth and poverty,
emails to your governors and senators and representatives
(unanswered as most of them go…which you will remember),
childhood development and influence,
family structure and complexity,
group norms and roles,
mob mentalities and social capacities,
and research formulas and findings
aren’t connected in any real way
to your deep desire to help those who are in need.

The crimes of today should remind you that these things are all connected.

The language and now law signed in by Governor Bill Haslam in Tennessee that allow therapists to legally hate and discriminate by refusing counseling to those of the LGBTQ community affected by today’s mass shooting is an issue of policy, welfare, wealth and poverty, legislators who listen and those who ignore (and are paid to do so, which you will remember), legislation and its [silent] funders, biological development and its influences, structure, complexity, norms, roles, mob mentalities and social capacities, research and its findings…

This language and this legislation and these legislators and these voices are the authors of the men and women who will come into your offices and onto your caseloads wounded, orphans of those killed by this morning’s violence, orphans of those who had parents who lived lives of silence or submission to a norm, or stood silently in the back of your sanctuaries on mornings like these as you went to church and thought it was a regular Sunday morning.

I felt the need all day long today, now pushing the clock to make it honest, to let you know that I expect the world of you.

I am pretty sure I have told you this. You will be the best.

I expect a whole other kind of world from you. I expect you to wake up on days like today with the news of the moment and the heart of a saint that is both willing to break the rules and willing to break the norms to dig your fingernails into the wooden ledge on top of the dresser and be late for something planned and appropriate because you decided you had to stand up and speak out for something possibly inappropriate because it puts all of our humanity at risk.

So in class, when I hound you and harass you and rap at you and sing at you and yell at you and take points from you and even when I feed you in an effort to buy you, please know this: I do all these things so that some day, some Sunday morning when someone is waking up and committing to go to church and pledge gratefully to be a godfather for a young man or young woman who has not yet learned to distrust the world…

I do all these things so that you will remember that it will never be okay for us to not be surprised at this kind of hateful news that greeted us this morning.

I’m counting on you.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

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Easter Monday

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Easter Sunday feels both impossible and a little too easy.

To claim impossible things hours upon hours across the globe as the meridian moves in single-hour increments.

Bombs. Easter egg hunts. Incense.

We celebrate ridiculous hope one time zone after another;
That’s what we do on Easter Sunday.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our jobs
where we are in trouble for questioning the reasoning,
and caught between our ideas of Easter Sunday and bottom-line Friday.
And we make our choices.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our churches
where we are in trouble for questioning the lessons and the allegiances,
and caught between character and piety and donor-approval.
And we make our choices.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our neighborhoods
where we are pushed to hate and discriminate for the sake of something…
and caught between partisan and party and allegiance.
And we make our choices.

Easter Sunday is as holy
and easy
and gutless as
Christmas Sunday.

Unless we decide that somehow
ultimately
Easter changes everything.
And the Monday after Easter
is going to make us different
in all the ways
we hoped to secretly stay buried in
the tidiness
of our own racist and pious histories.

But Easter Monday means we crash into our
jobs
and our
churches
and our
neighborhoods
uncomfortably different than we left them.

And once we notice where we are,
we ask ourselves,
What about Easter Tuesday…

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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we all will

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I watched my own mother file in, first in line of the four women. The two directly behind her I know well and have a heavy respect for as game-changers, rule-writers, integrity-definers, and culture-forgers. The fourth I’ve never met in person and somehow now in this moment feel embarrassed because I know her name and legacy well. These four women together are the honorary pallbearers for Ann Livingstone today, a funeral that is unwelcome and too early for her lifetime and her influence in our own. They are each dressed in black, of course, as they filed in St. Luke’s historic building, but with a sharp and intentional splash of red as Ann had instructed.

I picked up flowers later that afternoon for the tables and counters and surfaces at Mom and Dad’s house later that night. I was looking for all white blooms, and then remembered the instruction for a punch of red. So all white was chosen, and a punch of red per Ann’s request. A southern dinner for family and friends, and in Ann’s case…students, was held at Mom and Dad’s house the evening of the funeral.

The door I came home late through nearly two decades ago as a teenager I was now opening to one-time students who had become Ann’s students either officially in a classroom or practically in the world because she instilled in them this deep longing to work excellently and brilliantly and faithfully and daringly in their respective fields, whether political science or peacemaking or religion or community development or justice or healthcare or human rights. They were arriving on our from porch from California and Canada to who knows where paying respects and mourning the reality that Ann was now, whether she wanted to or not, offering the ultimate assignment: taking on the work that had now been stolen from her far too soon.

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A few days ago, a good friend of mine posted online an image of our high school English Lit teacher Lisa Kee. She was too crazy to categorize, and too sincere to discount. She was diagnosed with cancer before our eyes as we watched from the desks in her classroom. She proceeded to teach us new ways of being honest with our own humanity, our own fears, our own faith, and our own responsibilities to read and write. She instilled in us the responsibility that by doing so we were shaping the world around us. She told us about the horror of waking up to baldness because of chemo, the value of fresh air and moon beams when you’re trapped in a sterile hospital room, and the fear of knowing that death is closer than it had been invited.

For me, and for many, she was the first person who ever made it clear that my voice was worth using and worth being heard, and therefore worth being trained and challenged because our shared humanity was at stake.

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When Mrs. Kee died, her funeral was the biggest of any class reunion I’ve ever been to. To invoke her name shapes the conversation that follows, and raises the bar of what we expect among each of us. Ann was never my professor, but I’m the recipient of those she taught, both officially as students who are now my friends and colleagues, and unofficially as friends, like my parents, who have been shaped and challenged and pushed to live wholeheartedly because of what she has taught them.

Death is bullshit.
Unwelcome.
Unnatural.
Untimely.
Unreasonable.
Unacceptable.

But shots of red, unexpected and insistent fugues, the filing in of these four pallbearers, and images of the past wrestle hard against it, fighting honorably against grief in making way to the surface insisting the work must continue. To live with honesty, teach with integrity and urgency, and die with dignity are a sharp lesson and challenge.

Justice waits for us to fight for it. Peace waits for us to make it. Goodness waits for us live into it.

And in the loss of our larger-than-life teachers who have now been stolen by the fight, we find ourselves pushing a little harder to pass on the imperative of living in ways that are worthy of the human spirit.

To Lisa Kee and to Ann Livingstone, I will do my best. And I will push my students with all I have to do their bests.

We all will.

djordan
Pine Tree

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dear 2015

mosthopeful-post-1.2.16

One year ago at this time I was toasting with friends that, if nothing else, are evidence that God is up to unforeseeable and perfect trouble all the time. We were sitting around an evening campfire in the Cederberg, South Africa. We had been speedily doing nothing at all after I had arrived hours earlier after over 24 hours of flight and New Year’s champagne somewhere over the Atlantic.

We were sharing words about what the next year might mean for us, wrapping up both our hopes and our predictions in one tiny word. When it came around to me, I said the word “next” which was immediately met with laughter. Shortly thereafter, when I repeated it, these friends realized I wasn’t passing my turn, but was rather choosing the word “next” as my choice of a defining word for 2015. Next in employment, next in understanding, next in outlook.

I’m never sure if self-fulfilling prophecy is a legitimate reality or simply a filter for reflective thought, but 2015 was no doubt the year of “next.”

I learned more about people, who they say they are, how they really are, and how things work than I ever wanted to know in 2015. I met people and groups and neighborhoods and communities I thought I knew about but learned I was completely ignorant of and disconnected from. I became friends with people I would have never known about but now can’t imagine operating without. I faced my biggest fears and insecurities, and faced the world the next day realizing that people are just as evil and just as good as I had imagined. I realized how hope and reality fight constantly, leaving me in a fragile reality where the battle is not over yet but I’m supposed to operate as if I know the ending.

I enter 2016 with texts of jealousy-inducing pictures from the same friends in the same Cederberg. I’m not sure what my word for 2016 is yet, but I’m grateful for all of the next that 2015 brought. I’m no longer afraid of “the worst” that others are capable of bringing, because they’ve brought it and I’m still standing. I’m no longer ignorant of so much of my own city I desperately need to be in relationship with, and I can’t go back operating as a wealthy white kid who doesn’t know what it’s costing everybody else. I’m no longer wondering if fighting when I might not win   is worth it.

I’ve learned the good fight is always worth it. And I’ve learned that if I’m paying attention, there are always people who’ve been fighting and losing the good fight a long time who have a lot to teach me about being honest and brave. About taking up what Sara Groves calls the things that are “too heavy to carry and impossible to leave.”

So to 2016, I’m not sure what you’re bringing, but I’m sure that I’ll be ready.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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you will go to church tomorrow

you-will-go-to-church-tomorrow
About five years ago, I sat next to her the morning she was trying church again. I understand why she had quit trying altogether up until now…the threats and the punches from her husband, the need to stay in the marriage from her old church and pastor, the reality of how in hell to care for her children and protect herself at the same time. I couldn’t believe she showed up to begin with. And on that Sunday morning, the sermon itself was ultimately about how wives should keep doing the right thing even when their husbands’ don’t in hopes that their husbands will come around. God bless.

For people dealing with socks in the floor or toilet seats left up, perhaps this is not a problematic statement. But the reality that more than two thirds of christian women in violent relationships feel like it’s their duty to tolerate the violencemakes it a problem. The difficulty with knowing that nine out of ten church-going, christian women interviewed felt that their husbands used their religion and doctrine to support their abuse2 makes it even messier.

I worked at the church at that time, so I found myself on Monday morning wringing my hands while deciding whether or not to mention this difficulty to the preacher. When walking in that morning, one of the staff who worked there at the time asked if I had been at church the day before and what I thought about it. After playing dumb and answering with questions, it became clear that she was a survivor of domestic violence and left the sermon the day before feeling guilty for leaving the marriage. Another conversation with yet another church staffer made it clear that there were at least two women in the building who had been in “christian” marriages in the past where domestic violence was present. They had both pushed courageously through their church’s tradition that you have to stay, wait it out, and keep doing the right thing in hopes that your male “head of the christian marriage” will come around. The two of them before 9:30 in the morning made it clear that I had to mention this issue to the preacher in hopes that in the future he would be willing to make the caveat to avoid these silent sufferers leaving church thinking God is mad at them for their bravery in avoiding assault.

His response when I scheduled a meeting with him about the issue?

“You can caveat a sermon to death.”

A few days later, an additional response.

“It’s not your place to talk to me like you’re my teacher.”

I managed to leave my employment at that church too many months later after these interactions. I’ve learned in the meantime, now serving my second year as chair for an incredible nonprofit working to empower women and men in abusive relationships to get the hell out, the reality that many churches are afraid to address head on the issues of domestic violence out of fear that people are looking for excuses for divorce.

Please catch your breath with me.

Many churches and their male pastors, in this area at least, are afraid to address head on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault out of fear that women are looking for excuses for divorce. Or, for the incredibly important reason that we can “caveat a sermon to death.”

To my friend that Sunday morning sitting next to me, leg and arm muscles tightening as you received word from the pastor that you should stick it out, I’m so sorry. I wan you I left. I moved on. And I wish I had never invited you. To church staff who pushed through the same issues, I’m so sorry. I left. I want you to know I moved on. And so did you. To the women who are still in church and still in marriages and still wondering whether or not God honors marriage more than your own safety and dignity, I have good news. He is for you.

This past Sunday, I watched as the Executive Director of WRAP, the nonprofit working to empower survivors of sexual and domestic violence, climbed the steps to the microphone at my church during the middle of the service. I felt my watery eyes turn on as she spoke gently and directly about the number of women who show up for services at WRAP and say that they were afraid to tell their churches because they were afraid they wouldn’t be believed. I watched the priest walk over to this woman as she was trying to make her way off the platform as he said, “please don’t go yet. If I can, I’d like to pray for you and the people your organization works with.” I watched him put his arms around her and say, “Thank you God for women like Daryl, and for places like WRAP, and for the work they do as a part of your church to let people know your heart if for marriages and families of mutual respect. You are a God who wants peace in families, and safety for all in the family. We know, God, that you are never for the abuse of your children. So we say today that we stand with you against domestic violence for all reasons.  Empower your servants to work with great power to free those in danger, and know that you are with them.”

You will go to church tomorrow. Is your church willing to honor peace over abusive marriage? Ask. Find out. Make it an issue, and make sure that your church will speak up. The people affected by these issues won’t cause problems in your congregations; they will go home and take another fist to the face. The burden is ours. The insistence is His.

djordan
Pine Tree

If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced domestic or sexual violence, contact WRAP by visiting www.wraptn.org. 

Nash, S. T., Faulkner, C., & Abell, R. R. (2013). Abused conservative Christian wives: Treatment considerations for practitioners. Counseling and Values (58). October, pp. 205-220.
2. Nickmeyer, N., Levitt, H. & Horne, S. G. (2010). Putting on Sunday best: The silencing of battered women within Christian faith communities. Feminism and Psychology. (20)2. February, pp. 94-113.

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Lord willing, we won’t keep growing

Our Jackson Home posted a piece I wrote reflecting on this year’s Remember Me Walk for survivor’s of homicide loss. This group is astounding to me, and I’ve copied some of the post below with a link to read it in its entirety. And if you have not yet checked out Our Jackson Home, you should probably get on the ball.

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The crowd was larger this year than any crowd the past seven. The Carl Grant Events Center at Union University was filled with tables surrounded by people of all kinds, ages, colors, and worlds held together by the sad reality that someone they loved has been murdered—some of them fifty years ago and some five months ago. The reality that no one truly understands this grief is echoed in the camaraderie across the room. “Lord-willing,” they say, “we won’t keep growing. We don’t want other people to know what this feels like.”

Grief is breathtaking. All have experienced it, and we know the deep-down grumbling in our guts that must be an echo of the deep-down grumbling in our souls.

A life is lost. A story ends. …

Click here to keep reading on Our Jackson Home

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carry on, warrior

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“People hurt the things they fear,” has become for me one of the most haunting lines of Glennon Doyle Melton’s not-so-new book.

And I’ve tried about ten times now to type out how Carry On Warrior has made me exhale so strongly and peacefully over the last week as I’ve been reading it. Her words have been a kind of subversive undertone to everything else I’m seeing and reading as the news unfolds.

Something in me is pushing hard against the rhetoric of hatefulness and fear, of greed and warmongering I hear predominantly from Christians as each day breaks across the globe. Something in me is pushing hard against this fear of neighbor, fear of other, fear of different. Since when did Jesus say kill for my sake, hate for my sake, marginalize for my sake? Something in me is pushing hard through the psuedo-christian noise for voices that speak to something altogether clear, and noble, and lovely, and gracious, and simple and beautiful. I don’t feel the need to kill the person who threatens to kill me; I feel the need for peace. I don’t feel the need to hurt the person who has hurt me; I feel the need to forgive. And I need to know other people feel that need too. And I need to know how to move into that need.

I don’t know how, though.

And Melton doesn’t claim to know how either, but somehow her words in Carry on Warrior actually begin to do it. Honoring a kind of David-like offense to face the giants of anxiety and fear and terrified christian culture, she manages to walk to the middle dropping one piece of heavy armor after the next knowing that it might be her end.

But also knowing that it might be her only chance in hell at an actual beginning.

I’m envious, really. But hopeful. I’m working to lean in to the call to be honest and hospitable when it means standing with those the church is screaming at and setting targets on. I’m working to lean in to the challenge to show up and do my best to return justice for injustice, generosity for stinginess, and even openness for rigidity and fear. It’s infuriating, and then again completely freeing. Something as if from another world altogether.

People harm the things they fear, she says. I’m doing my damnedest to stop being afraid.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

To follow her blog, visit momastery.com, and click here to find “Carry On, Warrior.”

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on Rachel Held Evans “Searching for Sunday”

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While finishing Rachel Held Evan’s new “Searching for Sunday” as she begins thanking different friends and people for their contributions to the work of the book, I immediately noticed that my skin was covered in goosebumps. Throughout the book, chapters begin with quotes from other authors, theologians or musicians. In passing each quote, I realized that they were authors who also had joined me on a journey from loving church, to leaving church, to finding church again. Madeleine L’Engle, Nora Gallagher, Frederick Buechner, Walter Brueggeman, Brian McLaren, Anne Lammott, Barbara Brown Taylor, Becca Stevens, and on and on and on. The way the book itself resonated with something in me apparently forgotten was registering more and more understandable as each name graced the pages. A sense of camaraderie was surfacing, like we had all been having these conversations together.

And then in hitting the acknowledgments, a section I’ve come to read in every book as to me it presents a kind of undercover autobiographical picture of the author, she thanked many of these people, referencing food, wine and tables as a common location for their work together on life and ultimately on the living behind this book.

My mind drifted to the last few months in my own life. High expectations met with a deep drop of disappointment and numbing hopelessness that permeated much of my community. It drifted to my travels across the ocean and to the coast, sitting and reading and eating and drinking with friends and family. These are the same friends and family who journeyed with me during a deep love of church. They were with me when I realized for the first of many times that church will be as out of touch and off track as any other group of normal people. They were with me when I couldn’t bare to look church in the face because it was unrecognizable as the body of healing and hope and restoration and justice that I had learned it was supposed to be. They were with me sitting on a living room floor every Sunday night managing crying babies and prayerful questions about what it means to be tiny christs in the world. They were with me when I snuck into the back row of big church for an Easter service because something in my blood wouldn’t let me stay home. And they were with me I said what I swore I would never say again as i committed to a group of people learning together what it means to live as Christ in a world clamoring for us to figure it out.

And were I to be writing a book about loving, leaving, and finding church, I would write in the acknowledgements about all of these people and their tables. Dinner on Greencastle and Harper Cove. Breakfast and mimosas on Mimosa Drive. Happy hour at Picasso’s and Flat Iron and the Fat Cactus. Cheese and whiskey on Smith Dr. and sundowners at Camps Bay. Coke zeros and weird cookies under the rustling thatch looking out toward the Nicaraguan volcanos. These meals and drinks have been peppered with the words of Buechner, L’Engle, Brueggeman, Stevenson, Alexander, Meyers, McLaren. They have been soundtracked with the music of Sara Groves and Josh Garrells and Bono and the Indigo Girls. They have been hemmed in by the wise words of good friends.

And if any of us look carefully enough, there are small stones somewhere in each these places, whether restaurants or rancheros or vineyards, that mark something important. They mark tiny moments of thin space where God was real for just a moment, whether in hopelessness or surprising hope. They mark signs of the kingdom with other people who have been both lost and found. Rachel Held Evans and her people. Me and my people. There are lots of us out there looking for each other in hopes that we can find ourselves. The book was a reminder to keep searching for Sunday.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

To find Searching for Sunday, click here. 

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