Tag Archives: challenge

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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I am alive.

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I’m not sure if it comes from my stomach, or maybe from my lungs, or if it actually originates in my throat itself. The language, though, is quite apt that it chokes me up suddenly. I may be speaking about something that feels important but only distantly related to me, and I feel it clench in my throat and somehow trigger the possibility of tears. I may be accidentally thinking of visiting someone who is no longer here to visit. I may be caught by surprise remembering rhythms that no longer exist. It may be the newness of new lives, new relationships, new opportunities, new challenges that do it.

Whatever it is, it comes seemingly out of nowhere and reminds me, ultimately, that I am alive.

I am alive.

If it’s singing at volumes and octaves that I would never sing in front of someone else, it’s the reminder of being alive. If it’s weeping suddenly because life is more confusing than anyone ever said it would be, it’s the reminder that I’m alive. If it’s a ten-second gap with a client where something happens and all of both of us comes crashing into a single pregnant and powerful moment and we sit in silence knowing that something beyond us has happened, it’s the reminder that I’m alive. A dance with the dogs. A drive with the windows down. A game with a child. Laughter with friends. Tears in startling places. Thin space with students or friends or clients or coworkers.

We are alive.

There’s the challenge, of course. Even when longing to freeze the moment because it feels like it’s perfect enough and true enough and thick enough to rest in it forever, I can’t because life doesn’t freeze that way. Even when longing to make the moment disappear because it feels like it’s too empty and ugly and sticky and deathly to be worth existing in, I can’t because life doesn’t erase that way.

But in the space between wanting to make something last forever and wanting to make something never have happened at all, I remember that I am alive. And being alive itself is worth savoring and leaning into with all the goodness and all the crap of it, trusting that in leaning into both the goodness and the crap, we lean more into our true selves.

And we are alive.

djordan
Pine Tree

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good men and the practice of resistance [part 2]

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It’s easy to sit in our offices or living rooms, around kitchen tables or restaurant tables, and talk about what we would do if we were in someone else’s shoes. We see others as those in positions of power, and yet we look at ourselves as either the victims or the martyrs. We see ourselves as those who have been taken down by good men gone wrong, or by the bad men gone wrong. Either way, we imagine ourselves as standing for something and going down because of it.

I do, at least. It occurs to me in writing this that not everyone feels that way. We are all of us trying to figure out what we are doing while pretending like we know what is going on. We have all been told by someone above us that we aren’t supposed to let them see us sweat, so we push forward as if we have any idea what forward should to look like.

And all the while, we see others in the positions of power, and ourselves as merely players in the game. We see others as those we are willing to follow, or as those we desire to complain about.

And yet we are, of course, charting the course of the future.

And I think about what it means to either participate in or push back against the regime. I think about what it means to either participate in or push back against the resistance.

I have found myself sitting on concrete slabs in the middle of downtown parks considering whether to blindly trust those in power, or to ask questions and push harder toward what it might mean to be the church in the world, even when I have no idea what that means. I have found myself sitting around tables, weighted with silence, because the powers of blindness are at work in the world and my paycheck has depended on them, but I’m not sure what the next step needs to mean for me. I have found myself in meetings around conference room tables where the truth of the kingdom is harder to demand than the appeasement of the rich Christians who are demanding solace and the protection of status quo, and I’m not sure which I’m willing to push for or lean into. I have found myself in tears with my sisters and brothers on living room floors asking what it will cost to seek first the kingdom before the education of my children, the safety of my family, the reputation of my career, and the pursuit of my own American dream.

And the answers are never easy.

I have found myself, in all of these situations, pretending as though I am all alone so I can have great pity for myself that I am asking these difficult questions and doing the best I can, at least. My pity makes me think it’s honorable. Until, I realize how arrogant I can so quickly become.

I have never been alone.

Not only have I never been alone because God himself has been there, however cheesy and ious that may sound. But I have never been alone also because I have been sitting on those concrete slabs with others. I have been sitting around tables, sitting in conference rooms, sitting in tears on living room floors with others who are pushing through the very same things. We don’t always end up in the same places, but we told the truth together.

It is these same people that I have clinked glasses with in celebration and in hope, because we know we are on the edge of something better and truer and a little more hopeful than the places in which we find ourselves or once found ourselves. And it is in doing life with these women and men who have been known for breaking rules and asking questions that I am pushing against the regime into the resistance, knowing that while the world goes not well…the kingdom comes.

I have no choice, really. Forward it is.

djordan
Pine Tree

This post, written by Donald Jordan, is part 2 of a two-part post. Part  1 is a guest post by Wes Gristy which can be found by clicking HERE.

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monday mornings are the clearest view

Monday mornings are the clearest view

of the sharp contrast in which

we live and breathe:

the ideals of the weekend

Saturday and its rest

Sunday and its ethereal musings.

And then Monday morning;

push comes to shove

injustice comes to work

greed comes to pocketbooks

arrogance comes to interactions

distraction comes to dinner tables.

And instead of pushing to bring

the truth of the weekend into play on Monday morning,

we are tempted to

wait for the weekend

and curse the week.

But the week waits desperately.

djordan
Pine Tree

RELATED POSTS: the way a snail carries his shell | the presence of absence

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to the graduates with great expectations

My thoughts today are with yesterday’s graduates for some reason. And not just yesterday’s from college, but those who graduated last weekend from high school as well. These are students I’ve become friends with whether through church, through teaching, through internships or through other friends. You have spent your time working or laughing at my house, working and laughing around the world, and working and laughing in the classroom. We have met for late-night meetings, early morning meetings, lunch meetings, last-minute meetings.

And you fill me with great expectations!

More so than I remember other groups in the past, you are a group who is asking good questions to bad answers, and who are reading beyond the first page of other people’s thoughts and lives and situations. You are eagerly looking into what else it means for you to be a Christian in the world besides living a certain-kind-of-looking life in the middle of an otherwise chase for the American Dream. You are hesitant to gate yourselves in, block yourselves off, and cover your eyes and ears from the world in which you have been placed. You will argue and laugh with one another in the same breath. You will take off on a whim to aid one another. You will stand up to yourselves when one of you is standing on top of another.

And you fill me with great expectations!

Now that you’ve graduated, you will be challenged to move quickly into certain kinds of worlds.

You will be challenged to quickly move into worlds where money and perception and privilege and status quo are fought for, killed for, lied for, settled for.

You will be challenged to quickly move into world where it’s better off not trying and not being disappointed than seeking justice while, of course, being burned in the process as he told us we would be.

You will be challenged to quickly move into worlds where it is, of course, the best thing to do to challenge the status quo, the powers-that-be, the way it’s always been, but reminded that now is not the time, this is not the place, and not if you know what’s good for you and the future of your career.

You will be challenged to quickly move into worlds where you do not associate with that kind of person in those kinds of places with those kinds of thoughts because it’s something of which to be very afraid.

You will be challenged to quickly move into worlds where you read the first page, find a word or name that scares you because you are not familiar with it, and therefore are urged to close your eyes and ears and repeat what you have been told before.

But you fill me with great expectations!

Whether in the classroom, at dinner, in church or at work, I have already seen you move.

I’ve already seen you care nothing about money and perception and privilege and status quo; I’ve even seen you be willing to do lay down your life so that someone else can have something more.

I’ve already seen you choose to join the long defeat because you have decided that it is better to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly in obedience rather than fight for great ambitions or personal success.

I’ve already seen you suggest that now must be the time to pursue justice while challenging the powers-that-be and the status quo, because you know that it is never the right time for those on top to work for the best interests with and for those on the bottom.

I’ve already seen you enter into deep and honest relationships with the wrong kinds of people in the wrong kinds of places, and I’ve already seen God honor your choices by making you and them more like himself in the process.

I’ve already seen you read widely and thoughtfully, ask broad and dangerous questions, and engage in thoughtful and humble dialogue for the sake of seeking the truth. I’ve already seen a God––who needs not be protected––honor your search as you together discover him newly.

Because of what you have already shown yourselves to be, how you have already shown yourselves to move and breath in the world, I am filled with a new kind of courage as to where you will take us, where we will go together, what we will ask together, what we will learn together and what we will see God do together as we seek first his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

You make me incredibly proud, and fill me with great expectations.
Well done.

djordan
Pine Tree

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to mormon church we go

“We chase them out with a rake!”

I remember as a child talking to a friend of mine at church who lived next door to the Mormon church in our town. We were children, granted, but I remember her saying one day when I asked her about Mormons that she chased them with a rake. There is no telling what actually happened, and there is no telling what stories people could tell about me. Neither is the point.

I am teaching “Poverty and the Church” this semester for the School of Social Work at our local University, and the issue of diversity is inherent in our conversations about poverty and the church. As an extra credit assignment, I asked my students to attend a church that was unlike their own, and write about their experience. One student, raised as a mormon but since evangelicalized, invited me to attend “Mormon Church” with her. So alas, Sunday Morning, it was off to Mormon Church.

Part of why I mention my conversations with a childhood friend is that I realized walking through the parking lot that morning that my fear was based on very, very little. I have a remedial understanding of Mormon belief, enough to know I can say, “No, Thank You” to people who ring my door bell at three thirty on Sunday afternoons.

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As a side note, the power of fear to shape our experience of people is fascinating and terrifying. If we are taught to be afraid of someone, are we not more likely to be unjust, violent, discriminatory, and hateful? The danger is startling, but where I live there is still, sadly, a value to propagating fear of “the other,” no matter the ignorance required to do so.

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So, I noticed as soon as I sat down that my clothing choice was incorrect. Every other male in the room had on a white button up collared shirt and a tie. I had on neither, and it was obvious. I was asked if I was a visitor…yes, what gives me away…and then asked my name. A minute later, my last name. I must admit, I panicked when asked for my last name. I was tempted to lie…I remember making up a name on the school bus one day when asked for my name, naming one of my dad’s law partners. “Jordan,” I said. “Donald Jordan.”

What strikes me most about the day, save my own uninformed fear and therefore ignorant judgment,  was the content of what followed in the sermon. The message was given, instead of by one person, by three different members of the congregation, two females and one male. I liked the thought of this, assuming that the congregation might have a great deal of insight and wisdom to share with the congregation. I then learned that the sermon topic had been assigned as had the reference for their thoughts. The sermon topic was “Sustaining your leadership,” and the references given for the speakers to use were not from scripture itself, but rather from past talks given by previous “apostles” from their previous meetings.

They went on to quote prior leadership saying that the health of the church depended on not questioning the leadership, unity based on not questioning leadership, true calling being made known to them from the leadership, and faithfulness being measured by their allegiance to the leadership.

Fascinating.

The ability of an organization to propagate itself by instilling the value of not asking questions, not holding leadership accountable, and even doing so by associating position with a certain amount of divinity…

Fascinating.

I left thankful for those who have taught me to ask good questions, to think carefully, and to follow the truth, even when it leads away from common accepted wisdom.

What was most startling is how I have learned to be afraid of a group of people I have never really met, and also how the things that ultimately bothered me most about this past Sunday morning were not unique to the Mormon church.

One of the “missionaries” who spoke, around my age or a little younger it seemed, said to the crowd in  a way that made me feel she was saying it to herself as much as anyone else, “I believe this is the true church. I have to. It’s like I heard someone say one time, ‘show me something better, and we will talk.'”

I thought, as I heard those words come off her tongue, “I don’t know much at all, but I know something better.”

djordan
Pine Tree

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