Category Archives: Series: Signs of the Kingdom

this specific corner; that specific room

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It ordinarily ends in this specific corner of that specific room.
The very first evening ended in that space;
this one did too.
Time lies but this corner does not.
Suddenly new yet very familiar.
Children asleep,
dinner settling,
dessert in process
with a final matching mug or glass.

A chair is pulled up closer, but not too close,
even distance in inches matter.
A reachable circle for the conversation,
and the laughing,
and the impressions:

the toothless, tooth-brushing PSA.
the self, that one time in the middle of that one story.
that customer who opened with the confusing concern.
that student.
that voice.
that dynamic with those relatives.
that signature characteristic.

and the repeated jokes:
likely jokes not actually funny,
but jokes always grow into their own funny the later they emerge in the evening.

It is a treasure buried in the middle of a field, though;
true every single time.
Safe now, later in the evening,
smelling like people smell at the end of the 14 hours
when spare deodorant is actually not in the glovebox,
and the meeting sprawled too late to manage a swing by any corner store
on the way to this specific corner.

Safe now, later in the evening, after a perfect meal over which the melody of
perhaps some shared camaraderie,
perhaps some shared hilarity,
perhaps some disagreement,
perhaps some agreement of disagreement,
perhaps some thick and layered asking of what the hell we are doing,
perhaps some thick and layered asking of what the hell we are trying to do,
and what it is we are trying to chase after,
after all…

where were we?…

Safe now, later in the evening, after a perfect meal over which the perfect melody of
a treasure buried in the middle of the field.

Noticed now,
in this specific corner of that specific room.
Laughter and my own genes have left me sweating.
Food and beer have left me full.
Humanity and honesty,
Pretense prevented by exhaustion,
leave me speaking thanks out loud in between audible laughter
while driving home with a 14-hour smell that is not very funny.

After noticing that I’m sitting in this specific corner of that specific room,
the loud response in my cloudy thoughts is a refrain that continues to say,

Thanks be to God.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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human beings

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I would most definitely be lying if I said it happens every time. It most definitely does not happen every time. But when it’s not a season of dryness, it happens a lot. Today was one of those days. Tuesday was one of those days. Last Wednesday was one of those days.

There comes a split second in the middle of whatever I’m doing where I realize, somehow, that space

and time
and passion
and gut
and possibility
and awareness
and weight
and responsibility
and value
and importance crash in on one another in the middle of what would otherwise be a regular day or a regular moment at work, in work, while working.

Tuesday I stood in front of a group of students who I’ve slowly been getting to know, pointed partly to the screen behind me, projector light across half my face revealing an obvious typo in my otherwise regular presentation. My hands are in the air, my mind is on a person who once sat in my counseling office, and my words are coming out as an imperative I once made fun of a past professor for saying all the time.

“But you will be different. You will be better than everyone else. You will be the one person they come in contact with who looks at them and treats them like the actual human beings they are. These are human beings. You are working with humans. And you will be the best. You will be better than all of your coworkers. You will be excellent. They deserve it.”

Students are half-confused, half still waking up, half-engaged, and some hopefully teeming with the thought they could actually change the course of history in doing excellent work with human beings.

A few hours later, after grading quickly and pouring in caffeine, I’m standing in the same spot with a different group. I find myself reading through a poem about the people who have come before us and challenged everything we think we know about who deserves to be treated like a human being. And I almost lost my composure for a moment.

And then last Wednesday, looking people in the face and listening to them tell me about their perseverance and their hopefulness when everything tells them there’s no reason to keep fighting, I realize I’m in some kind of sacred space where humanity crashes into reality and brings clarity for a split second before exploding back into chaos and confusion once again.

And then today.

Listening to a man the same age and race and history as my grandfathers, were they still speaking wisdom over me in the flesh, saying with tears in his eyes and a knot in his throat,

“Brotherhood & sisterhood
among people of all kinds
is not so wild and crazy a dream
as the people who
profit from postponing it
would have you believe.” B. Zellner

He was once in the KKK, as was his pastor father. But he joined the freedom riders and was pulled bleeding across the street with his black brothers and sisters, many of whom were killed.

And listening to him tell his story and say these words in front of me as I watch my students sit beside and around me, with lives of social work and beloved-community bringing and rule-breaking completely ahead of them

And then tonight

Driving home from sitting with a friend at another board meeting where numbers and spreadsheets and arguments and committee reports are ultimately about people getting the care and support and dignity they deserve because they are human beings.

It’s then that something clicks and says it’s worth being so tired and so ready for bed if it means that people are treated like the human beings they actually are. It must be. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s so elusive.

And it doesn’t happen every day, every time, every meeting.

But it happens just enough to remind me that there are no other actual options but to wade into these kinds of waters and fight these kinds of fights

And hope that the students and the clients and the colleagues and the men who marched all those years ago will keep doing the same…

on days when it happens

but mostly on days when it doesn’t

djordan
Pine Tree

 

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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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a kind of rumbling

  
It wasn’t at all that there were a few other languages loud enough to notice, but English was still the loudest. There was no prevailing language; the rhythm of the words held the group of roughly thirty together as much, I suppose, as the gathering just after seven for Eucharist held us together. I’m glad the words are now, after all these years, buried somewhere deep inside me. Otherwise the thin layer of contact-floating tears would have made it impossible to read them. Still it was nearly impossible for me to speak them.

     Your kingdom come…

With my awareness of Pentecost still keyed up, whatever it means and whatever I’ve made it mean, I heard the phrase in multiple languages said together so that it spun into a kind of rumbling made familiar by rhythm. I got the phrase uttered, and then had to stop again only to listen. The language to my right was different from that to my left. Neither was the same as mine.

     … Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
     … Makwenziwe ukuthanda kwakho nasemhlabeni, njengokuba kusenziwa emazulwini
     … laat u wil geskied, soos in die hemel net so ook op die aarde

To lean into the rhythm, celebrate the diversity, and dare for the gritty risk of kingdom on earth outside the doors of the cathedral after final thanks and hallelujahs…we might, then, sense the same kind of rumbling being spun in the streets. 

djordan
Cape Town

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kingdom comes over hot chicken

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Several weeks ago it was at a greenhouse under the South African sun. It was with two friends, one from South Africa and one from England, both in Cape Town now chasing the kingdom hard and fast. One works to transform the way housing is addressed for those living in informal settlements by way of valuing inherent wisdom, skill and reality. The other is working to address issues of gang violence, trauma, and youth development not only in Cape Town but in the hearts and plans of those around the world.

A few weeks later, it was in Nashville, Tennessee. We were talking about whether hot chicken was hot enough or too hot as we prepared for a wedding a few hours later. Friends without the pretense of worry of doing it right or doing it fancy, it was a celebration of choosing to do it and do it together. Friends willing to push through the new uncertainty of what it means to be a community surrounding those who are choosing to do life together. Friends who will argue over the heat of Nashville’s hot chicken in the morning, pretend not to cry at a lifelong commitment in the afternoon, and dance like no one knows what dancing is supposed to look like in the evening.

And this week, like last week, and like the other weeks in between was at the altar rail at a little church on the north side of town. Hands out, breath held, eyes up, it all swelled together. I’ve heard my priest and favorite friend say before that when we kneel at the rail, we share in communion with those with us in that moment, those who are gather at Christ’s table around the globe, and those who have both joined the table in centuries past as well as those who will come after us with the same assurances and the same uncertainties as we knelt at the rail today.

This morning, hands out, I joined them. I joined my brothers and sisters in Cape Town. I joined my sisters and brothers over hot chicken in Nashville. I joined my own local church community, and all those who were at their own churches both in my own city and in cities around the globe and through the ages.

I’ll work toward justice tomorrow and push against institutional power and greed.
I’ll seek beauty and laughter and silliness tomorrow with adults who hate it and children who love it.
I’ll do paperwork and billing tomorrow and wonder what I’m doing and why I care.
I’ll push a few steps forward into and few steps back from the kingdom of God.

And I’ll only be able to do anything at all tomorrow by the mystery of
the power that somehow shakes the rail every time I kneel,
whether at a nursery in Cape Town
or over hot chicken in Nashville
or the altar at my little church.

His kingdom comes.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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thickness of thin space

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Here I am in an empty church. In it, between the rows of pews, on the tile floor, under the silent cross, I walk along a boundary, a place in between heaven and earth. The Celts called it thin space….The church calendar calls into consciousness the existence of a world uninhabited by efficiency, a world filled with the excessiveness of saints, ashes, smoke, fire; it fills my heart with both dread and hope. It tells of journeys and mysteries, things “seen and unseen,” the world of the almost known. It dreams impossibilities: a sea divided in two, five thousand fed by a loaf and two fishes, a man raised from the dead. 

– Nora Gallagher
Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith

It seemed as though every few breaths had to be wrestled quietly to keep exhales from becoming tears. I don’t think tears of any kind of sadness, although some seem wrapped together with a letting go of things that no longer fit but were desperately and perfectly holy when they once did. Others pregnant with promises that are only clear today after all this time of begging for clarity. Others coated in laughter of flying monkeys and brave children.

After being on the road––or in the air––for nearly a month, I returned to the desks and sessions and meetings and paperwork and conference calls of the work week last Monday. With the promise of daylight savings time still a terribly long week away, I traveled back from exhilarating speaking and learning with stellar servants in Seattle and Memphis and the slow and holy days of the beach with lifelong and new friends, to the pounding of alarms in the still-dark mornings of my own still room.

The threat would be, of course, that the magic only happens when things are outside of the routine. Only with toes buried in the sand and waves ruining the back pages of novels do we cross into the thin spaces. Only with lecture halls and presentations and learning credits pending do we feel the rush of the practice and the theory. Only with the frantic boarding runs do we surmise that we are living something exciting.

But then, on a Monday morning as regular as any other, the shower makes us look a little more alive than we feel, the coffee makes us a little friendlier in a few short moments, and the first meeting, the first client, the first conference call reminds us that we love what we do and the people we get to do it with.

And the thin space becomes so thick we can taste it and name it and break it as if it were in itself that holy meal.

So today, a week later, with more travel on the edge of the next few days, I’m giving thanks for a week of clients, a week of paperwork, a week of surprise parties and the lies they require, a week of out of town guests and in town friends over drinks.

So today, a week later, I find myself at the altar, imagining that table that spreads all the way to family in Nicaragua and all the way to family in Cape Town, and all the way to family who have already moved a little closer to something better on the other side of time, and I was wrestling breaths in order to exhale without bursting into tears. Tears of letting go and holding on. Tears of the promise that I have no idea what I’m doing, but somehow I feel alive while I’m doing it and I feel loved getting to do it with such incredible people, and I feel honored doing in on behalf of those so often not welcomed at the table.

So today, a week later, I find myself at the altar recognizing that the thin space has become so thick at this particular moment in time, that I let it win and with the tears that hit the hands that hold the bread and the wine, I give thanks that he withholds no good thing from us.

Not a thing.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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a faint sound of something

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I could hear it
our shoes making a shoddy moon
on the fifteenth floor looking out over the city.

I can always hear the other
the sound of killing
shooting, the ringing of it
the sound of racism
silence, the subtlety of it
the sound of oppression
cash registers, the shininess of it
the sound of isolation
weeping, the breath-stealing nature of it

I can always hear the paranoia in the shadows of the other
I can always hear the anger in the panicky crisis
I can always hear the hopelessness in the news banner
flashing across the bottom of the screen

but there
moon-shaped shoes filled with
women and men now family and friend
the best and true of both
standing up and holding hands in prayer
as if holding hands kept us from blowing down
or blowing apart
or blowing away

thy kingdom come
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven

thy kingdom come
to the ringing
to the subtlety
to the shininess
to the breath-stealing

and make things whole
we asked.

And it was in that moment
over and above and beyond and inside and all around
I could hear the faint sound of something
a symphony of some kind
a little more melodious
a little more beautiful
a little more free

I could hear a faint sound of something
–a symphony of some kind–
and it sounded like hope.

djordan
Rosemary Beach

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responsibility and recovery | an interview

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A friend of mine who is currently working on his Social Work degree asked to interview me as a clinician and community advocate who work with a population wrestling with substance use and abuse for a course assignment he is working on. After being forced to pause during the business of work and reflect on his questions, I realized how valuable the exercise had been to me. I’ve decided to share it here, and invite your own comments for those of you working or living in the field. And to all my clients and colleagues in the work, this is a small testimony of your importance to my own development as a human being.

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Dear Donald, 
I have to do an interview with a person who works with substance abusers and since I know you work at Jackson’s Drug Treatment Court and with Pathways Youth Recovery services, I thought you may be a good person to get in contact with. So without further ado, here are the questions: 
1. Why did you choose this occupation? 

I feel like it chose me. Apparently, as a child when I was told I couldn’t help mom or dad do something, I would tell them “If helpers can’t help, they die.” While a little melodramatic even at that age, my heart is with being there when people discover something is possible they thought had already been ruled out or even something they had never thought of before. People dealing with substance abuse and addiction who are seeking recovery are the most honest, holy people I’ve ever met. I learn from them, and they learn (some of them) that there is more available for their lives than they could ever have imagined.

2. What are the unique strengths and challenges of this population?

I often feel, whether in small group IOP (Intensive Outpatient) therapy groups, one on one in outpatient counseling, or in AA / NA group-led self-help meetings, that people coming together, admitting their crap and the crap it has caused, refusing to respond to others in judgment because they are aware of their own need for support and peace, and honestly believing that every day is the beginning of another possibility. These are all strengths. That’s what makes A&D work a holy exercise; it puts the pretense that actual church services can often be to shame. Some of the challenges include, obviously, the incredible chemical, relational, emotional and neurological effects and consequences of addition, and the ways these affect people’s relationships with all the systems they will need to move into recovery. 

3. What do you think are the most effective interventions in working with this group?
Such a tricky question, here. There are TONS of interventions that are evidence-based and therefore effective. Some are indicated more so for certain groups. We used a highly cognitive-behavioral model at Pathways with you, and we use a different motivational interviewing and behavioral model at drug treatment court. I’ve used narrative practices against addiction in one on one therapy before in individual outpatient. A strong therapeutic rapport, good evidenced-based practice, and a judgment-free, dignity-filled therapeutic perception of the client are all major players. And of course, the choice always lies in the client’s hands as to whether any intervention is ultimately effective. Not to shrug my clinical shoulders and wash my clinical hands so much as to honor the reality of the client’s own ability and acknowledge that her success in recovery belongs to her and the system of support that she has created.
4. Do you have any thoughts about what the future will bring for the group? 
Not sure what this question means. My work on the federal and state levels with SAMHSA and TDMHSAS reveals that there is a strong push that continues to be difficult to highlight co-occuring disorders, and to merge the substance abuse and mental health worlds into an effective, connective system of care. This leads to questions of collaboration between multiple agencies, staying with tension and conflict regarding competing agency and group agendas, and how to make decisions about models and interventions and policies in ways that best serve both client and organization. And “best serve organization” always reflects in part how services can be funded and how services that are initially funded by grants can ultimately be sustainable and interwoven into the fabric of the pre-existing system of care. 
5. What has been your most rewarding experience working with this population?​
I learn about myself, my own growth, my own shortcomings and desires to hide them, my own responses to rejection, isolation, stigma, piety, and despair as well as the others’ responses affect me in turn. I always tell group members during one of their initial group sessions, “There’s no difference between this group and ‘those people out there.’ Some have become brave enough to tell the truth about their shortcomings and hopes, and others have yet to find a way to tell the truth. Welcome to the table.” In turn, I am at risk of not being welcomed to the table by the group. They are generous enough to let me in and share incredibly personal things with the table. That’s courage. That’s honesty. That’s holding onto and being honest about, as Parker Palmer would say, the tragic gap between the way things are and the way things can be…and the willingness to stay there long enough for our hearts to break open and new solutions to pour out from it. I am in church every time I’m in group; the good, the bad and the ugly of church. 
6. What has been the hardest part of working with this populace?
Taking responsibility for someone else’s recovery, holding out false hope by getting ahead or withholding needed hope because I don’t yet believe I have no idea what the participants are capable of. There’s always the risk of heartbreak, or heart-crushing perhaps. But it’s the risk that makes people finding their whole lives again possible…and always worth the risk of a crushed heart. It has to be. 
7. Do you think that you will continue to serve this population in the future?
Definitely. 
8. What is some advice you would give to people who are going to work with this population? 
You aren’t saving anybody. People don’t need saving, they need finding. We can help ask the questions that allow individuals to be found. It’s not an “us” and “them,” and stay clear of any professional or individual who ever communicates in a way that sets them on a higher plane than those they serve. The biggest risk is entering the work thinking we are above or over or ahead of those we serve. All are changed in the work, so if you aren’t willing to take the same risks you are asking your clients to take, don’t start to begin with. And, ultimately, the success of those you work with is out of your hands; your excellence and hard work and perseverance and ultimate respect for others is completely in your hands. Don’t blur the lines…for your own sake and for the sake of your clients. 
9. Would you say that this population is a population that is heavily discriminated against?
Yes, but so is every population in one way or another. They don’t need pity or sadness, they need the same kind of encouragement that there is hope for something else just like all of us need. They are on an uphill climb, though, as people associate addition with choice alone, so it becomes a moral issue the way other diseases or not. So not only does this population have to work to regain trust in order to secure work, housing, and relationship, but they have to constantly battle the stigma of being ‘bad people.’ The church should lead in chaining this tone, but AA and NA are doing a much better job at it presently. Luckily, or divinely, the church is all in AA as well. 
10. How has what you learned from your clients affected your practice?
I feel like questions 1-9 address this question. Hope this helps. It is always good for me to stop and reflect; thanks for asking.
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djordan
Madison Ave
Memphis, TN
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crossing the street to find your way home | thoughts on “the hundred-foot journey”

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Our greatest fear, of course, is that we might be viewed as in some way similar to the “them” to our “us”. We’ve worked desperately for centuries now at defining clearly and bloodily who we are with and with whom we are not. Who we are like and who we are not like. And when the “us” and “them” becomes less theoretical and more the new next-door neighbor, less conversation and more colleague, less hypothetical and more here-and-now, we find our heart-pounding pulse and back-of-the-neck skin overrun with the fast-beating terror that there is no longer enough space between us and them.

In terror and anxiety, thus in our most not-yet moments, we move on anxieties and insist certain actions that involve thinking, moving and working in ways which keep the lines clear, humans separated, and enemies inhumane are needed. We have to keep the peace by keeping the road as clear barrier between our home and theirs, and the hundred-foot journey in between.  

But once in a while, perhaps because we have a kind of holy blood in us because we are human, we can’t help ourselves. We cross the street, take one-hundred steps, (counted in fury and scheming at one point and now counted in calm humility and prayerfulness), and appear at the front door of the other, the non-separate, the human beings across the street. The front door of his home, bearing witness to his family and their dreams, their hopes, their stories, their legacies, their fears, their burdens and their dirty spots. We appear at the front door, newly-terrified and deeply-anxious, but already too far across the street, already there, already one-hundred steps too many in to turn around.

So we meet our neighbors. We learn their names. We hear their stories. We sing their songs. We sit at their tables and we eat their meals. 

And absent-minded of our terror and anxiety, we realize that in traveling the distance we have found our neighbors, in making the journey we have found our place, and in crossing the street we have made our way home. 

We pray that our new neighbors would move in, and that we would cross the street to find ourselves. As we are bold to pray for terrifying things because we’ve been taught to do it, teach us what it means to come home in your kingdom. 

djordan
Pine Tree

Don’t miss The Hundred-Foot Journey on the big screen. If you miss it, you’ll regret it…and so will your neighborhood. 

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