Category Archives: Uncategorized

thickness of thin space

Three years ago. So much has changed, and so much is the same.

most hopeful

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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…

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from invictus to hip hop

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The brief lecture shifted swiftly from Invictus to Hip Hop.

“I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.”
Students filled the tired bleachers
pretending not to be listening.
Adults lined the edges
pretending to be listening.

But the students were being spoken to as adults;
and they were hanging on every word.
The adults were being reminded why they chose this path;
they were hanging on every word.

Then sudden and unexpected shift.
He began speaking the poetry
written by the poets these students
were likely listening to with hidden earbuds
during this very assembly.
He is speaking their language,
the same language of Invictus, but now
spoken to the 16-year-old who
usually can’t help but roll her eyes.

Students now slam their feet on the bleachers,
clapping wildly and worried casually.
Worried about whether they are caring too much
what this university president has to say.
Worried if their friends will catch them caring too much.
Worried that they might actually begin to care again.
Teachers worried they are reminded yet again of
why they roam these halls and click against the dry erase boards.

But he is speaking their language. Their languages.
And we are all hanging on every word.

You can notice the chill bumps they have down their arms,
the chill bumps I have down my arms.
The university president is speaking my language
The students slamming their feet on the tired bleachers
are speaking my language too.
The adults lining the edges of the room
are speaking it too.

We are all now wondering
if it is still possible.
if we are the master.
if we are the captain.
The questions themselves are our language,
and he spoke it so well.

djordan
Jackson Central-Merry Assembly

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

most hopeful

mlk-day-2013

It’s no secret that racism is not okay.

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

But we all know that racism is not okay.

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

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

+++

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

“It’s dark in here.”

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

“What?”

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all our problems

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They have been saying it for several weeks just before we are dismissed from the service on Sunday mornings. As we participate through the Kenyan liturgy, the children are invited to the front of the room, bumbling and running and sisterly fighting their ways to the front, up the steps, and to the center of the stage and everyone’s attention. They are guided, as the congregation is guided by them, to take their right arms and respond to the priest as he says:

leader: all our problems
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

As we all say together, led both by the children and the priest and also by this deep and gut-wrenching reality that we are staring problems in the face everyday that we don’t know what to do with, “we send to the cross of Christ,” we hold up our right arms as far out as we can reach and then throw them pointing or open-handed to the cross centered at the very front of the room.

The children giggle or try to hit each other or actually stare in amazement every now and then at the cross itself, or at their hands and their naive abilities to send things to Jesus and feel like they actually ever got there. I, on the other hand, find usually as my hand flies toward the cross in the front of the room that I get choked a little with the reality that the problems I’m carrying around are a little too big for me and mostly too heavy to actually send to the cross of Christ. As if I couldn’t get a good enough grip on them to throw them that far in the first place.

leader: all our difficulties
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

It’s amusing to me, as I look at those children up there throwing their arms toward the cross as they hurl their difficulties, to consider how simple some of their lives are. I’m not ignorant enough to think their lives are all simple, that some of them aren’t witnessing yelling and screaming and fighting, that some of them aren’t experiencing abuse and illness and secrets they think will kill them rather than be taken with them to their grave at some unreal and future time. Some are, no doubt, living amidst great difficulties. Many of them, however, are living in great comfort and safety and community that is true and rich and deep. But even for them that hurling of difficulties toward the cross feels almost like a prayer for their future selves, or for their sisters thousands of miles away or three miles away who are fighting to survive amidst great difficulties. They don’t know that their silly hurling of difficulties toward the cross of Christ is actually an offering of love and trust for one of their unmet, unknown peers. I move my hand gently toward the cross with them, but I can’t get words out of my mouth because I feel a little taken over by what is happening in the thin spaces these mornings.

leader: all the devil’s works
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

This one, of course, is a little scary because while we’d like to demonize someone else and name their works as those of the devil, we know deep down that some of our own works are marked by something other than the incarnational love of the king. So we know that to send the devil’s works, all of them, to the cross of Christ is actually to send a chunk of ourselves to die in uncertainty. We throw our perceived or desired success. We throw some of our pleasures and comforts that require the pain and heartache of others for us to afford them. We throw our reasons for why what affects us is more important that what affects the “others”. We throw our grudges and our bitterness and our stinginess and our insecurities and our greeds. It’s like we are taking off all of our clothes and throwing them up there to the cross of Christ. Then we find ourselves, if we dare throw all that up there, naked and embarrassed at what we actually look like now. I often can’t even get around to throwing my arm forward to send the devil’s works to the cross of Christ as the children are throwing it even more dramatically. Their innocent leading makes me feel a little more like a fraud if I were to join them.

leader: all our hopes
kids/congregation/me: we set on the risen Christ. 

The leader isn’t hurling anything forward to the cross anymore, and neither are the children. Their hands are up and usually open. Reaching out to the only place we know to reach with our fragile little arms to communicate where the kingdom has come in Christ’s resurrection, we reach up and out to the skies because we know there is more out there than we have ever understood. We know, too, that right here in the moment and in the space and in the wrestling brother and sister who’ve now been center stage too long to remember their mother’s threat of an after church mingling with no snacks if they misbehave, we are reaching out to something that we must have.

That hope we are reaching out for as if our lives and sanity and humanity depended on it.

We’ve been brave enough to speak out loud with our words and our bodies of our problems, our difficulties, and the devil’s works that we have co-opted and coauthored. Because of the courage of the kids and the costume of the priest, and because even our choking-up makes us know we must be telling a little more of the truth than usual, I’m able to lift up my right arm to the unknown skies, or the ceiling of this sad little building, and decide to set my hopes toward the impossible kingdom that I can’t stop thinking about, and the impossible king who has been causing impossible problems in our storylines since the very first story was ever set in motion.

all our problems
we send to the cross of Christ
all our difficulties
we send to the cross of Christ
all the devil’s works
we send to the cross of Christ
all our hopes
we set on the risen Christ. 

djordan
Pine Tree

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stained copper bartop

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The copper bar top engraved with stunning rings
stained, overlapping, spreading, uncleanable
resisting the wipe-away desired by those in power.
They speak of conversations
some flavored with fear and trepidation
some with lust and the shadow of caution
some with hubris and the needs of the small

but some speak of thick laughter and deep honesty
of finding similarity beyond surface of geography, of system, of class,
Bent rather similarity of heart, of experience, of longing, of hope

These rings stained into this copper bar top
may very well speak,
at least quietly or in a half-sure whisper,
to the promise of connectedness
in the work
in the struggle
in the pain
in the insecurity
in the embarrassment

and also to the promise of connectedness
in the work
in the triumph
in the resilience
in the honesty
In he camaraderie.

We find ourselves in the honesty
of another
of anothers
And we realize that while the
narratives are so often laden with the
arsenic of loss, of trauma, of despair,
of finales and of failings and of fallings,
they are also laden with the
lace of humanity, of hopefulness, of possibility
of collegiality and of curiosity and of connectedness.

So we take a moment,
between knowing deep belly laughter
and knowing deep gutted tears
to honor the reality that
we
are
not
alone.

So even the person sitting quietly with book and drink
looking down at the stained copper bar top knows
he is part of a conversation and a community
whose reach is as much in the present as it
has ever been in the past or will be in the future.

Cheers.

djordan
Seattle, WA

the chime of the bells

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I heard the sound of the dog lapping water from the kiddie pool in my back yard.
The kiddie pool I get in when I get home from work on the days I actually get home from work.
I heard the sound of the dog lapping water from the kiddie pool in my back yard,
and then I heard the chime of the bells across the street from the Presbyterian bell tower,
the one I imagine when reading Buechner’s sermon, “The Clown in the Belfry,”
and then I clinked the ice cubes against the edges of my glass and returned to the book
to read the academy’s take of disaster and trauma in communities,
and the promise of resilience and growth and hope
in the face of destruction and death and doom.

And it was silent for a moment.

I was struck with the promise of life
as I was struck again today,
holding a child in my lap as the words of the New Testament were read aloud
by people believing and
people wanting to believe and
people who are furious they ever believed at all.

But I was struck with the promise of life today
holding a child in my lap as the words of the Lord were read aloud
prayed aloud
sung aloud
questioned aloud

And I remembered the lapping of the water in the kiddie pool,
And I remembered the workday filled with stories of life and loss and love and heartache
And I remembered the child in my lap who was waited on and prayed for
And I remembered the dinner with a new friend asking the same questions
And I remembered the old friend reminding me of my answers
And I remembered the everyday nature of the moments when
all promise and reminder of the kingdom crashes in unannounced

And I heard the chime of the bells across the street from the Presbyterian bell tower,
and the lapping of the dog from the kiddie pool,
and the promise and the boldness of the prayer on
mornings when I believe it and
mornings when I d0n’t
was echoed louder than all the hymns I’ve heard this month:

As our Father taught us, we are bold to pray:

Your kingdom come
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

djordan
Pine Tree

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the ministry of watching sparrows fall to the ground

D.L. Mayfield

image found here: http://the-worship-project.tumblr.com/post/54327156660/his-eye-is-on-the-sparrow-civilla-d-martin image found here

It has been a few weeks. Death has been stalking this neighborhood. Suicides, both passive-and-not, have haunted us. I have sat in the apartments of recent widows and had nothing to say but “I’m sorry”. I have listened to people as they told me about all of their possessions going up in a blaze, looked at the floor where they and their 8 children now sleep. I have had people clutch my arms, tell me their stories in snippets, beg for bus money. I have heard so much that I cannot share with anyone.

Lately I have taken to chastising myself– what right do you have to be sad? You are just a newcomer, an outsider. Don’t co-opt the grief of others and pretend like it is your own. So I have settled into a numb sort of dullness. Objectively identifying situations with my lips: yes, yes…

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Holy Saturday

I’m learning from those around me––those I’ve interacted with in church, in the hospital, in the community, in the classroom, not to mention those I live in community with––that brokenness and mess is everywhere, seeping into cracks we didn’t even know existed. With each client that comes in my office, or each friend that sits down to the table, there is this secret notion that no one else is wrestling with the grief, the guilt, the conflict, the doubt that she or he is.

And there is a kind of comfort that flashes across faces when they learn they are not the only one, but they are one of many.

It is only a flash, though. There is a certain amount of comfort that comes in knowing our misery shares company, but then we are stuck in misery with others.

But still stuck nonetheless.

And that is where some of the magic of the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday exists. Holy Saturday, Low Saturday, Easter’s Eve: It is that day where the black drapery still hangs over the cross and the Easter lilies, unless the church staff were too eager to prepare for the bright whiteness of Sunday morning.

The silence of the Saturday seems to be the place we find ourselves in most often. We have the luxury, now, of knowing that Good Friday leads to Easter Sunday, but we sit in between the two with our fingers crossed and our noses raw from rubbing them with tear-stained tissue.

And I believe, as I interact with these men in women in my office and in the community and in the churches…I believe that God honors our tight stomachs and heavy hearts on the Holy Saturdays of our lives and worlds. We must challenge the need to jump to Easter Sunday, and honor the grief and struggle on the day before the inauguration of all things new.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

Switching on the lectern light and clearing his throat, the preacher speaks both the word of tragedy and the word of comedy because they are both of them the truth and because Jesus speaks them both, blessed be he. The preacher tells the truth by speaking of the visible absence of God because if he doesn’t see and own up to the absence of God in the world, then he is the only one there who doesn’t see it, and who is then going to take him seriously when he tries to make real what he claims also to see as the invisible presence of God in the world? Sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy, they divide the world between them and where they meet head on, the Gospel happens. Let the preacher preach the Gospel of their preposterous meeting as the high, unbidden, hilarious things it is. 

+ Frederick Buechner, from Telling the Truth

Originally posted April 7, 2012

and once again we sing

most hopeful

Vietnam B-52 Bomb Craters

Throughout my last two jobs, I’ve had the same folded-up xerox copy of the first page of a memoir which has the following lines attributed to an anonymous Vietnamese poem taped to the wall above my desk:

We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders.

These words struck me when reading the memoir, but these days I don’t remember why. Over the last three years, I’ve thought a great deal about trauma and grief. First motivated to begin understanding it more while working with the survivors of homicide-loss, and then through my own personal journey through difficult work days, and now in the context of the lives of my individual clients as well as communities in which we work for transformation and development.

The notion that suffering and pain, while seen to be inherently private and…

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when your heart breaks

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when your heart breaks
you
and everybody else
work their hardest
to shuffle the pieces around
to arrange them in some kind of order
to make sense of how it broke to begin with
and we join them
because we aren’t used to a broken heart
and we only accept it when we are forced to
and we are only forced to
after it’s broken completely open.

When our hearts break
we
and everybody else
do our best
to come up with reasons
to find the connections
to uncover the mysteries
in the futile hope
that there’s sense to be made of a broken heart
that there’s sense to be made when our hearts break open.

But
we
and everybody else
realize
there’s no sense to be made of a broken heart
there’s no order to put the pieces in
there’s no reason that brings clarity
there’s no connection to be made
and if there is,
it does nothing toward putting pieces back together.

There’s no comfort in rearranging the pieces
of a broken heart.

So we finally take a huge gulp
of air from the world that turned its back on us
and we use that holy breath
to tell ourselves the painful
and maybe one day hopeful truth
that as of right now
a broken heart
is only a broken heart;
and that hearts are broken
until kingdom comes
on earth as in heaven.
But in the meantime
we are pushed with the challenge
to love and let our hearts break
because love comes from
the kingdom that
finally puts hearts back together.
finally. 

ER, Skyline Dr.
djordan