Category Archives: to my students

I cracked two paintbrushes tonight.

two paintbrushes against a tan tile floor, background includes wall with painters tape outline a freshly painted triam and molding.

I used to iron clothes.

In a profession that requires patience, expectancy, and hopefulness, many things are waited on for long amounts of time. We wait for things beyond our abilities to wait for them.

So the ability to iron clothes, vacuum floors, mow yards, install light fixtures––they become therapeutic.

At least they do for me.

To start and finish a task that allows me to back up from, look at, and see physical characteristics of its completeness… its finished-ness… it’s healing in a way. In a vocation that requires a long waiting for things unseen, and bearing a faith that pushes hoping for the ridiculous even farther, hope and wait, hoping and waiting, are the honored things.

But they are the things cursed under, and often not under at all, our breath.

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I cracked two paint brushes in half tonight.

In an effort to both gain satisfaction from crossing off a to-do list item from my list as well as to prevent my mind from ruminating on certain frustrating circumstances, I smothered my ears with these new headphones, cranked up Ludovico Einaudi, and got to work. Having repainted the walls of my kitchen a few months ago, I started carefully repainting the trim.

Crisp antique white.

Against the “water swirl” bluish-white of the kitchen, a Lowe’s knock-off from an $8 sample of a fancy shade from London’s Farrow & Ball, there’s not much contrast, but high gloss against flat paint should be quite striking.

Clean lines. Smart joints.

Between coats two and three, however, I cracked two plastic brushes in half. I chuckled at the first but slowed at the second breaking.

In an effort to calm my spirit and ease my mind, my anger and frustration and fear and anxiety managed to make their ways to my right hand and wrist where they released themselves in the crack of cheap paintbrush I was using to assuage my own anxieties.

And then in a second cheap paintbrush.

Finding clean lines and smart joints and perfect outcomes and positive news is a daunting task. The profession of social work leads one to find those things in places and things other people, students, or clients.

windowsill with blue painters tape separating light blue wall from antique white trim and moulding.

The search pushes itself into ironed shirts, swept floors, and painted molding.

The stress pushes itself into the cracked handles of two cheap paintbrushes and the profane-ridden mumbles of my midnight comments to two dogs and a poorly-informed and poorly-responding Alexa dot.

But the reality remains… when I’m ready for it as well as when I’m not. The world goes not well, but the kingdom comes. We do the things we know to do––successful or not––because we can’t not do them. We iron our shirts, paint our molding, break our brushes, and curse our innocent dogs.

But ultimately, we wait in hope.

The world goes not well, but the kingdom comes.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

not most hopeful

It’s been difficult to write.

I’ve not been hopeful.

And having experienced anything other than hopefulness, like wrestling with emotions and under the realities of frustration, anger, depression, sadness, isolation, grief, loss, and silence, there have been few honest words that could be defined as hopeful.

And to project a facade of hope is as offensive as the realities that attack hope itself.

So there has been and in many ways remains quite a season of silence. A season of either hopelessness or silent hopefulness.

Either way, a season of silence. On my end at least.

I’ve heard a great deal from the people in my world: from my history and my past and my world. They’ve been everything between furious and dismissive to piously, self-righteously, “prayerfully,” “worried” about me and my “soul.”

And yes, worried about my “eternity.”

When asked about the refugee, the immigrant, the oppressed, the poor, the person of color: they have no concern.

They’ve not been worried about the present-day life of the neighbor who doesn’t look like me (us), talk like me (us), explain religion like me (us), or… ultimately… the neighbor who is not white like me (us).

But I am a source of concern for these “brothers” and “sisters.”

It’s been difficult to write hopefully.

I wish I could wag a finger and wield a glare at myself for pushing beyond the truth to prove a point, but that luxury isn’t afforded anymore. When a president was elected to the highest office who began his campaign with racist, untrue, and hate-filled remarks about Mexicans, I was told to “chill out” about the response to this un-American position on diversity, human dignity, and individual initiative… I was told this only by those who identify as evangelicals.

When I spilled out concerns about a man who stated: “I hate the thought of black people counting my money” as well as “when you’re famous, you can do whatever you want; you can grab ’em by the pussy,” I was told to think about unborn babies. Told to think only about unborn babies. When I talked about babies born into poverty or what policies and practices actually reduce the occurrences of abortions, I was told it was “fake news” and the conversation had to move back to shopping or gossip.

When I struggled as Dr. Ben Carson was video/audio-taped saying that sometimes you have to put your faith and your Christian principles aside for the sake of politics, I was told I was being irreligious or simply lying.

When I said I could not stand or support or accept a man who celebrated sexual assault, proudly proclaimed his racism toward any human being created in the image of God whose skin wasn’t pasty white or bronze-tanned, or bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” I was told I could not possibly be a Christian.

To write hopefully, much less most hopefully, has felt impossible over the last many months.

And now in the last forty-eight hours, the President of the United States has suggested that we should only allow immigrants from predominantly-white, European countries to grace us with their presence in this country.

The President of these United States is suggesting that those who save us in emergency rooms, those who fight for us in the US military, those who rush into burning buildings and die rescuing our families, those who teach our children third grade math or senior-year Oncology and graduate school public health, and those who operate on our grandparents are from “huts” and “shithole countries.” And we don’t want any more of them here.

And then the decision to dig in to and spin these comments rather than confess the hateful, lymbic, ignorant shadows of them and beg for forgiveness. No need to beg for forgiveness; those who claim to follow the human being of table-turning and death-defying faith work hard at defending or excusing these realities. The more common response is a cloudy blend of eye-rolling, huffing, “waiting-for-proof” for the hundredth time, and pretending that obvious fact is a shadowy conspiracy.

The most common response is, “Well I don’t know about all that, I haven’t paid any attention, but I support him.”

These “shithole countries” are the same places I’ve been asked by Sunday School teachers and youth ministers to visit on ‘mission trips’ and to donate to for “missionary campaigns.” I grew up with photos of these––in the words of the President of the United States––I grew up with photos of these folks from “shithole countries” taped to my wall and fastened to my neighborhood lemonade stands as both an attempt at advocacy but more an attempt at guilt-driven capitalism (in the name of Jesus, of course).

The last I’ve heard from old Sunday School teachers and youth ministers was that the promoter of this hatefulness was the person their Jesus wanted and insisted that I vote for. Local and national evangelical, particularly southern baptist, Christian university professors and “theological” or “ethical” polymaths worked hard to find ways to excuse, explain, or defend standing with something and someone who more explicitly than almost ever before acted, spoke, and believed against most of the sermon-on-the-mount ways of Christ…sadly, or opportunistically…in the name of that very same Christ.

So yes, it’s been difficult to write hopefully, to write anything about hopefulness, much less to write with a sense of hopefulness above and beyond anything else. I cannot lie.

And of all the things I feel, I’m not most hopeful.

So what does it require to remain most hopeful when the loudest, self-proclaimed Christians blindly or apparently-blindly defend a sexual assaulter and racist xenophobe who says he is “Christian” and promises economic growth for the richest among us? What is there to do to hold out hope when old friends claim over late night beers around a fire that “blacks” should get out of the country or “everybody should get over it” when the highest office in the land spews racist and Christ-antithetical hatefulness toward anyone who can consider being “other” before heading back to an emotional worship service the next day?

Presidents of “Christian” universities waste no time in the courts, in the papers, or on social media outlining who is not accepted by the king of the heavenly kingdom for their loves or their politics, but have a hard, pressured, or “I don’t recall” time saying anything definitive about much less against the KKK, white supremacists, racism and classism, or those who teach, live into, and most dangerously love and therefore fear the blasphemy of a celebration of wealth, power, and accumulation rather than the hope of a doxology, generosity, and shared abundance.

I’ve wanted to, and have worked to find the ability to do it, but it’s continued to be difficult to write hopefully, much less hopefully more than heartbroken or harrowed.

Youth ministers have posted, spoken, and confirmed support for sexual assaulters and racist pedophiles.

Friends have let me know, via distance and disembodiment, that I can’t be a Christian.

Old family friends have pushed (privately and publicly) piously-decorated support for a human being who is, in all ways of both word and action, antithetical to the king and his coming kingdom. But my own religious ancestors-in-present of evangelicalism are the pale group who put him there, work to defend him, and spiritualize his hatefulness toward the least of these.

And they have all continued to push, or “prayerfully encourage” me to fall in line.
Or at least be calmer or quieter if I’m not in Orwellian-step with the rhetoric and propaganda.

Hopefulness has been a distant courtier; but hopefulness has been a persistent courtier.

And so to honor the best of my youth ministers, my Sunday School teachers, my old friends, I’m obligated to keep seeking Christ and his kingdom––the kingdom of the least of these and the last in line––I’m pushed, in honoring a memory of those relationships that are apparently no longer based on the same values, to believe what I was taught by those very folks at their best about a new way of living and being in the world.

The world does not go well, but the kingdom comes.

So for me, it’s for Christ and his kingdom. Hopeful or not, this is what I, at my best, am called to follow and working to lean into. Difficult or not, we bend the arc toward the beloved community.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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an open letter to my students

i-also-remember-this

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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