Tag Archives: civil rights

silence encourages the tormentor

elie-wiesel.we-must-always-take-sides

“Are you German?” he asked as three friends stood beside him; two stood to his left, one to his right.

“No. Of course I’m not,” I answered, realizing as the words came out of my mouth that being a white American to me meant I was only American; I was not German or English or Jewish or Irish or Scottish or Russian or French or Norwegian.

“No. I’m not,” I answered, realizing how blond-haired and blue-eyed I was when the question was asked, and realizing that I felt guilty because the color of my skin and the hue of my eyes and hair about five seconds after the question was thrown into the hallway as we sat waiting on others, now at the end of the Holocaust museum in Israel.

A profe soon rushed him and his buddies out of the museum hallway and through the exit doors moments afterward, I say now with a more red and more sweaty countenance waiting on the roughly eight dudes behind me in my group who were making their way through the horrifyingly real and terrifyingly factual Holocaust museum in Jerusalem over ten years ago. I rub my hands through my blonde, nappy hair.

We left the space soon after.
We ate dinner in New Jerusalem.
I sent a girl two tables over dessert for her birthday through our server who afterward informed me she was engaged “but appreciated the knafeh.”

I’ve gotten so old.

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Elie Wiesel died today.

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If I was reasonably intelligent and generally wise and not from West Tennessee, it would not have required the “Oprah Book Club” stamp several years ago on his book Night for me to have ever heard his name walking through Target looking for Coke Zero and classy toilet-bowl cleaner.

But I’m not reasonably intelligent and generally wise, and I am from West Tennessee, so here I was.

And here I am.

A white American male who has been told both it’s all my fault and also I must protect what I’ve “earned” at all costs. I’m left confused.

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I walked through the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few years ago with friends and coworkers from one of my employers and an organization that values my deepest insecurities and deepest hopes.

I wept.

We wept.

We debriefed later that evening, and I could only wonder, “Would I have been that one random white dude standing in a sea of black men and women demanding justice, respect, and equality.” I told our folks at dinner, black and brown and white and pale, “I hope I would be one who stood up against those plowed by horses, intimidated by canes, and hung by ropes in the days of my parents (not my grandparents).

I later learned, driving through Alabama to visit friends, these hangings were in my own day. They were not carefully removed to parents or grandparents; It was the right now.

But I could only hope that I would have been one of those few white folks in the crowd demanding justice, respect, and equality for the “other” in those days.

Those days which are these days.

Elie Wiesel died today.

And I am hoping in my less trustworthy but more important parts that I will lean into Wiesel’s character and spirit and honor.

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It may take me down, but I must stand up for those who are pushed under. I do have blonde hair and blue eyes. I benefitted from both slavery. But I need to answer “no” to the teenagers in the final hallway at the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. And I need to answer “no” to my coworker. And I need to answer “no” to the person who checks me in to vote a few months from now where I’m held at ethical gunpoint and asked if I stand for nothing or if I’ll fall for anything.

Rest in peace, after such incredible chaos, brother Wiesel.

I cannot be neutral.

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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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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mother’s day proclamation

woman in the kitchen

In the culturally Christian environment of the south where the rules of who women should be and what they should do, mixed as strongly with who they should not be and what they should not do, I am reminded today of the women and mom’s in my own world who have lived into the fulness of themselves for the sake of the world. Those who seek to follow Christ have just as much lived into themselves for the sake of the kingdom come. In areas of health, justice, faith, education, art, academia, research, motherhood, women are pushing what it means into the heart of what it actually does mean.

So on this mother’s day, as reminded by this recent article, here’s to the women who are changing the world as they were made and meant to do, not quietly living into a solemn story someone else told them they had to act in. And to my own mom, thanks for teaching me to ask the questions.

Below is the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” written by Julia Ward Howe in in 1870, pushing women to pacifism and resistance.

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly…
“Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God –

For the article by Diana Butler Bass on the history of Mother’s Day as a day celebrating radical mothers, CLICK HERE.
For an article posted today on women seeking to pray through the violence of tradition, CLICK HERE.
Or for a more light-hearted open letter to Moms by Kid President, CLICK HERE.

djordan
Pine Tree

 

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from a long line of rule-breakers


History is marked by those pushing
into uncharted waters
unexamined worlds
and mostly unacceptable arenas
where people who were not to be
allowed
accepted
approved or
appreciated

were asked to
contribute
comprehend
compose and
conspire

against the ways that things are
and toward the way that things should be

in the kingdom
in the beloved community
in the new ecology
of a world and
of a community where
rich and poor
sick and well
like and unlike
loud and quiet
important and ignored

sit together
eat together
serve together
weep together
laugh together
learn together
give together
sing together and
hope together.

And while we are still so far behind
we have moved so far ahead
of where we have been

and only a few moments of remembering
will give us the wisdom and the humility
to pray to God–our only hope–that we will keep moving forward
faster and surer than the ways we are pulled to move backward

and we will remember
in our trepidation and
in our eagerness for
things to stay the same

that we are descendants of a long line
of rule-breakers
of peace-makers
of hope-holders and
of kingdom-bringers.

And now is not the time for stillness.

Amen.

djordan
Pine Tree

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lick the elevator, pregnant at VBS | weekly mash | 04.21.2012

Here they are! From Vacation Bible School pregnancies to edible elevators, from neurology in Pre-K to CEOs in gang recovery programs, here are the articles, thoughts, essays and ideas that I’ve been thinking and stewing over this week. Enjoy, and let me know what you think about the articles!

Education and Apartheid in the USA | www.good.is

We are way past the civil rights era, right? And we say “What a shame” about Apartheid because we would never behave in such a way, right? Take a look at the details behind education for the poor in the USA.

CEO Rehabbed in Anti-Gang Program | www.fastcoexist.com

Homeboy Indsutries and Homegirl Industries in California is one of the few anti-gang groups making progress. To get out of the gang-life, there has to be something worth going into, like Homeboy Industries. See why ARM watches Homeboy as we plan for The HUB Club, and see how it helps meet gangbangers and CEOs.

Food or Medicine: Between a Rock and a Hard Place | The Global Journal

It’s one thing to argue about healthcare with terms we learned from magazine news shows; it’s another to think about having to choose between food or medicine. And then to know the choice is made by people every day, people very close to home, adds an element of at least valuing the conversation.

Bringing Kids’ Art to Life | www.denydesigns.com

Every kids’ dream come true… real-life versions of their very own drawings. Yes, please!

Teen Pregnancy Down Except for the Bible Belt | www.theatlanticcities.com

Across the nation, teen pregnancy is down, except for those states in the Bible Belt where to get pregnant as a teenager is a huge scarlet “P” for the rest of your life. What makes the difference, and why should the church be paying attention to its ways of being in the world?

Ever Licked an Elevator Advertisement? | www.foodrepublic.com

I don’t even know what to say. I’m equally intrigued by the grossness and the coolness of this London-based advertisement experiment. One thing to make time in an elevator with others just a little more awkward.

Making Education Brain Science | www.nytimes.com

Think little kids are only learning about blues and reds? Think again! The Blue School is teaching kids to think about HOW they think, teaching them how to observe their own thought, emotion, and learning processes…something most of us wait until far too late to do. Way coolness.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

National Archives (England’s) Release Colonial Papers including Obama’s Father, son of Revolutionary

Magnificent Maps: Cartography as Power, Propaganda, and Art

So what do you think?

djordan
Pine Tree

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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.

I was reading a review this week of Taylor’s new book, “A Slave in the Whitehouse,” (referenced here in this week’s MASH) where she described President Madison as one who worked for fair treatment (relatively speaking of course) for slaves in the country, but upon his death did not free a single one of his own. It was Taylor, the reviewer of the book, who stated, “Madison did not believe that white and black Americans could live side by side on terms of equality and amity. His failure to imagine a world more capacious and tolerant than his own helps explain a good deal of subsequent history, and America’s resistance to the very practice of equality that Madison otherwise did so much to foster.”

I think about Martin Luther King.
I think about Nelson Mandela.
I think about Mahatma Ghandi.
I think about the nameless men and women who follow their imaginations into a different kind of possibility for the future. Not just for and around issues of civil justice, but around issues of technology, healthcare, development, education.

They were no doubt met with others whose imaginations had been stifled, and therefore could not wrestle themselves away from comfort and power to risk them both for the sake of a more kingdom-like future.

And so my mind now turns to those schools, churches and organizations that foster imagination and second-guessing as a guiding principle. It is from these communities that we will see change happen. Of all the downfalls I am at risk of meeting, I hope that one of a failure of imagination isn’t the one that takes me down.

My friend Craig has said before, “Of all the ridiculous things God has called us to do, defending the status quo is not one of them.” And whatever is to break the status quo always begins with a strong imagination.

Pine Tree
djordan

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rosa parks | in remembering and in hoping

Rosa Parks | February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005
On thoughts of Black History Month 

Rosa Parks Black History Month

+ “Rosa Parks” from Walter Brueggeman’s Prayers for a Privileged People

djordan
Pine Tree

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