Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

letter TO a Birmingham prison: on MLK Day

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Of course the classy, enlightened thing to do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day every January remains to brighten the cold and often gray mornings by posting quotes, images and videos about having dreams, taking the first steps, and valuing love over hate. We pontificate on justice and look toward the one day when the dream he had becomes a reality, and we feel a little less xenophobic and a little more pious about ourselves.

And then we go to work, or take a day off by relaxing. And that day is often filled with complicit participation in the systems that oppress others and therefore ourselves. We participate in the dreams of power and anxiety and scarcity and fear and clamoring for the top. We participate in tempered and reasoned arguments why Yes, of course these are important issues, but this is the wrong way to go about it. We join in faceless, human-interaction-less debates about getting back to some unreal era when things were better or moving toward some unwon future when the best of humanity is realized.

But on this Monday, every year, we read a letter from a Birmingham prison, a letter in response to 8 clergy’s written request to MLK to calm down and play by the known rules, and we celebrate. We imagine ourselves in the cell with King, supporting his words and thinking his thoughts. After several years of scribbling An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere on pieces of paper and taping them to mirrors and computer monitors, I wondered what the letter written TO a Birmingham prison actually said, and if I might actually, ashamedly find myself supporting their words and thinking their thoughts.

For the causes and the groups of people in the margins those causes are iconic of, we owe our own futures as well as the legacy of King the task of identifying with how much we still speak with the words of these clergy in all their good intentions, whether we want to or not, because in all our tweets and posts about freedom and justice and oppression, we are terrified that if we don’t support the status quo we might end up on the bottom, being treated and imprisoned the way we have been treating and imprisoning others.

April 12, 1963

We clergymen are among those who, in January, issued “an Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

Since that time there has been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experiences of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.

Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.

We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

Signed by:
C.C.J. CARPENTER, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Alabama
JOSEPH A. DURICK, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham
Rabbi MILTON L. GRAFMAN, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama
Bishop PAUL HARDIN, Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the Methodist Church
Bishop NOLAN B. HARMON, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church
GEORGE M. MURRAY, D.D., LL.D., Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
EDWARD V. RAMAGE, Moderator, Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States

And THEN, the letter from that prison:

Letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell from Bradley Williams on Vimeo.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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painfully broken and surprisingly hopeful

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Feeling speechless,
I’m trying to build an altar
a stack of word rocks
a pile of memories
from the last few weeks

I feel quite sure that I’ll circle around to 
this very same place in the 
not-so-distant future
having completely forgotten 
what seems concretely true right this moment
under these witnessing stars 

that while all is painfully broken
in the world,
all is also surprisingly hopeful,
and if we dare run the risk,
the holy and terrifying risk of
telling the truth
which means telling the
broken truth and the beautiful truth
in the same timid breath

we are likely to find that in the space between
the brokenness and the beauty we will
somehow come across the courage to accept
the task at hand to seek whole justice and thick peace
and find the kingdom in our midst.

djordan
León, Nicaragua

it begins with a baby God

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I remember well sitting on the long and curved wooden benches that creak with every move at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville several years ago. I was frantically scribbling lyrics of a song, the chorus ringing in my ears and head and heart for weeks to come. The phrases I remembered out of order I now know, of course, were these:

It’s true, kingdoms and crowns
a God who comes down to find us
and angels sing through the night
Hallelujah.
It’s true.

I’ve later memorized the lyrics from the album which later was released by Sara Groves. But I notice every Year that the album has become a part of my Christmas rhythm.

A few days ago, on a  couple-hour drive back from training, I found myself with blurry vision singing loud and raspy with teary eyes and a heavy heart. Don’t act like you’ve never done it. A lyric from the song I didn’t scribble down that night has come to bear much weight for me and all I find myself working on and with and through toward God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

Heard it told, you think it’s odd
The whole thing fraught with complication
The play begins with a baby God
And all his blessed implications

I find myself in board meetings and counseling sessions, in conference rooms and churches, in arguments and gripe sessions, at parties and dinners,  I find myself noticing over and over again in multiple contexts that in following suit with the prayers we are bold to pray, Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are more often than not called to play the game by wholly other, ridiculous rules.

Let’s address systemic sin, injustice, oppression, blindness and heartbrokenness with a baby God.
Let’s address self-centered, self-righteous, power-mongering and king-complexes with humility.
Let’s address loneliness, addiction, anger, despondency and bitterness with unconditional acceptance.
Let’s address greed, materialism, xenophobia, racism and ignorance with generosity, hospitality and forgiveness.

It’s makes no sense.
It feels all wrong.
It sounds as good a plan as the whole story beginning with a baby God.
And yet, when we hold our breath and close our eyes and take our steps
in wholly other and wholly odd directions with wholly other rules
kingdom comes, just like it crashed in
when the play boldly began with a baby God.

It’s true.

djordan
Pine Tree

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stumbling toward healing

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The promise brought in by time is hardly ever known beforehand, and even if it were we wouldn’t have the slightest idea what the promise meant. We can’t know until it’s time to know, and we can’t be healed until we’re ready, really. Healing becomes available, but time brings the promise. We can attempt to rush it if we want to, but we’re likely swinging in the dark.

Rev. Becca Stevens’ most recent book, Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling captivated me earlier this year (as written about here). While reading this book, I knew that one of my very closest friends would soon be ordained in November, and I also knew that he was learning more about what it means to anoint those we love, those who are hurting, those who are dying, and those who are wandering with oil.

I love the notion that anointing with oil is a kind of prayer made physical. We put our hands and fingers in oil, smear it on the flesh of those we desperately want something better for, and then hold out hope that Jesus wasn’t killing time when he said that we would take on the kind of life-bringing and truth-telling that he had been doing. We pause for a moment as flesh and flesh separated only by a thin space of an ancient substance. And somewhere in that thin space rests the deep hope and the breath-stealing promise that God shows up when we come together and ask him to.

So we know we don’t know what we’re doing, but like most things worth doing at all, when we show up and do them even while admitting that we are fumbling our holy way through something we don’t understand, God shows up.

Of course God was already there.
Of course healing isn’t buried in the molecules of oils.
But God shows up in a way that he hadn’t already,
and we even become bold to ask him to in ways we hadn’t already.

And so I woke up early the morning of his ordination, pulled out the random collection of olive oil, essential oils and Shea butter, and headed toward the stove. Fumbling over a pan and these tiny bottles that feel like tools I don’t know how to use, I followed Stevens’ recipe for anointing oil. That is, I followed it until I decided I wanted to change amounts and add other things.

Slowly the kitchen started filling up with the scents of rose pedals, grapefruit, rosemary, olives, bergamot, and lemon. I stood over the stove, noting how time has passed and the truth is a little clearer and healing has come at its own damn speed no matter how much I was ready for it to hurry up, and watched a tear drop into the oil.

Even while making my first batch of oil, without anointing and without meaning to pray, God shows up and reminds me that all this time, through the two years waiting to know what promise was on the other side of waiting in grief, I reminded of a the words a friend prayed over me two years ago in Cape Town while pushing in on my chest: “God is holding your heart, Don. He wants you to know this. And he is shaping it. And he is thrilled at what it is becoming. And when you think he is not paying attention, I pray  you will remember that he is holding your heart in his hands. He will push and prod and squeeze, but he is perfectly gentle and perfectly stern. And it is his hands that your heart is held.”

Those words came at a moment when the ground was cracking open and I was most unsure where to stand. I see now that the sky was cracking open as well, and my heart has been in very good hands through all the cracking. And the promise is a little clearer now on the other side of waiting things out.

I gave my friend the small jar with the few ounces of oil in the parking lot after the ceremony, stumbling over words about a gift and an experience and process that has been years in the making. That bottle made it to a worship service the next morning, was used to first pray a blessing over his daughter, then to pray words over those being confirmed. Those being confirmed happened to include not only people I have grown to love, but also people who have loved me and walked with me over these last two years.

Just as the scent of the oil filled the space, the reminder that if I’m willing to stumble my way through things I don’t fully understand while asking God to show up, he is good and ready to do so. And he is holding on to our hearts. And he is breaking them over the things that break his very own. And we are, all of us, stumbling toward healing in one way or another. And we can only stumble toward it in the company of others. And we can’t be in a hurry.

Well, we can be in a hurry, but it’s a waste.

Healing always comes.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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50 years later: on dreams, justice and imagination

Below is a collection of reposts from mosthopeful.com, posted today in honor of 50 years after MLK’s famous dream.
What is your dream today, fifty years later?

“IT’S DARK IN HERE” | REFLECTIONS ON MLK DAY

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….

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THIS POST FROM JANUARY 21, 2013.

 

MLK speech

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

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

In reference to the photos and pictures throughout the Civil Rights Museum of men and women standing up to oppression, racism and violence with a kind of sharp meekness seldom see, Kendall asked, “Who told them they were somebody?”…CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THIS POST FROM OCTOBER 30, 2011.

LET US TURN OUR THOUGHTS TODAY

“…Let us turn our thoughts today
to Martin Luther King.
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood…”

I’ve been grading papers and cleaning up the house today, enjoying an almost-full day at home which is rare and therefore celebrated. I had headphones on listening to James Taylor because the day felt right for it, and I froze the moment I heard the above lyrics…. CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THIS POST FROM MAY 5, 2012. 

FAILURE TO IMAGINE

I remember the first time I watched Amazing Grace. I felt immediately proud and cowardly, feeling both as I resonated with humanity at its best and worst. Wilberforce looked the status quo in the eyes, evil and injustice and profitable as it was, and challenged it. Of course, he was able to do so because he had the money and the power and the influence to ultimately play hard ball with the good old boys.

But the scene I remember from the film is one where sitting around a table, their inability to imagine how they could continue profitable businesses, orderly communities, and the current status quo made Wilberforce’s audience unable to move forward with the abolition of slavery. They were likely people who sought justice in other ways, but this hit too close to home, and their imaginations could not overshadow their greed and lust for power…. CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE POST FROM APRIL 14 2012.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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just because

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every now and then
not because we earned it
or even because we asked for it
but just because
God knows what we need
when we wake up on Monday mornings,
we are given people
who make our minds wider
who make our hearts broader
who make our joys richer
who make our questions braver
and for those people
we give thanks on Monday mornings
when the real threat
is not to delve into the
wide-minded
broad-hearted
rich-joyed
brave-questioned
but is to choose not to delve into these things.
good friends
near or far
make us people of another kingdom
and every now and then
not because we earned it
or even because we asked for it
but just because God knows what we need
we wake up on Monday mornings
giving thanks for these people.
Amen
djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

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if you know these things…

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If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. + John 13. 17

 

I remember last year sitting in a Maundy Thursday foot washing service. We were at a Methodist church in my neighborhood sharing the duties for a night of Room in the Inn, an emergency shelter program that houses our community’s homeless in churches across the city every night of the year.

I watched a friend of mine who grew up with my grandfather wash the feet of the adopted child of good friends of man. An old man hunches over to wash the feet of a young man who has become a part of a family I care a great deal about. I remember sitting in that room of the sanctuary off of Forest watching my grandfather’s high school classmate wash the feet of my friends’ adopted son. I was sitting in the pews next to our homeless guests who had decided to join us.

Something felt very surreal and very holy.

Tonight, one year later, I found myself sitting in a Maundy Thursday service at the church I have called home for the last several months. I had my feet washed by a very good friend, and found myself remembering one year ago and the ragtag company and heavenly connections that found themselves mixed together in that sanctuary dimly lit observing that evening where that last supper was had in that upper room.

And I know, more than anything, that there is something very serious about this ancient practice that really makes no sense. Water poured over my feet tonight and poured over the feet of the son of friends one year ago by a classmate of my grandfather whom I miss deeply.

And there is some connection with the water and the flesh and the candlelight of what it means to lean into some way of life that makes no sense, and yet not leaning into makes even less sense when we still ourselves to try to evaluate it. And I watch online as friends ands acquaintances wait for pastors and priests and authors to tell them how to draw lines and what to think and where to make a stand on issues of politics and moral legislation.

And I wonder what it would mean to hear men and women push, more than anything, to follow Christ into the practice of washing the feet of those who will betray us, those who will deny us, those who will hurt us and embarrass us. There is a sense of fake honor in standing up against those who disagree with us, but there  is a sense of real humility in washing the feet of those we desperately want to join us int he journey in the dark. this journey in the dark that we hope, Lord help us, is a journey toward the light.

To know is one thing. To wash the feet of another is wholly other. To humble ourselves and serve others in our own awkwardness and powerlessness is wholly other. We can know a great deal, or think we know a great deal, about what it means to follow Christ, but to actually do it is wholly other.

Beware those who announce they are doing the hard thing by drawing lines in the sand. And pay careful attention to those who say little and wash feet much.

To know is not to be blessed.

If you know these things, and do them, you are blessed.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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this whole time

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it’s in life
as much as writing
and no matter what we think we want to do
we can’t force anything
but we can give it our best shot
when we are brave enough

there is a dryness around the edges
of inspiration in all its forms

our only option
is to wake up and write
is to wake up and work
is to wake up and sing
is to wake up and pray
that we will make it past the dryness
into the aliveness

that we know is real, because we’ve felt it before.

and in the meantime,
we can only trust
that we once loved to write
that we once loved to work
that we once loved to sing
that we once loved to pray
that we have made it through the dryness
into the aliveness
many times before.

so we sit down to try
to write, to work, to sing, to pray,
to tell ourselves the truth we don’t believe
and discover it is altogether real
and has been this whole time.

 

djordan
Pine Tree