Tag Archives: college

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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from invictus to hip hop

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 11.57.37 PM

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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remembering my first class ever

In preparing for a brand new online class, created from scratch, I’ve been reviewing a lot of the materials I’ve used for other classes. In wondering how to teach through an online class, my first ever, the 5 Guiding Questions that I use in every class I’ve ever taught, I came across a blog post from the very first college course I ever taught. They appeared one day in class, to help guide the conversation, and they have been on the board, in the conversation and on the tests and quizzes for the nearly 10 different classes I’ve taught since then.

In reflecting on them this evening, and reflecting on where they were coming from as I was teaching that first class ever…in reflecting on the friendships and colleagues that the students in this picture have become, in reflecting on what I’ve learned since then, they become even more meaningful.

I had agreed to teach this course while still working at a church. I found out between accepting the role of teaching this course while working at the church and when the course would actually begin that I would be encouraged by the pastor to give my resignation because I didn’t fit with his vision. I realized later, in that same conversation, that the problem was I viewed leadership as engaging the people, the congregation, the community in discerning what God was doing and where we should be going.

I learned then, and later, that these five guiding questions had guided me out of a job that I loved but could not stay in, and into several jobs that I’ve since fallen deeply in love with. To my students that very first class, you really were the best first class ever. You taught me much, and your friendships have proven invaluable, restorative, and inspiring.

djordan
Pine Tree

The original post can be viewed by clicking here. 

I debated before my very first classroom teaching experience whether or not to pretend like I knew what I was doing. Whether or not to tell the truth when we began that they were joining me on a journey that was the first of its kind for me, or “Don’t let them see you sweat,” as I’ve heard people in leadership say to me before. It never settled well with me. We all sweat. Why shouldn’t they see it?

I think when I walked into the room, I still had not made up my mind. They were seated quietly (this once), waiting to see what the shape of the class would be. I was just as curious as they were.

“Well, I tried to decide whether to pretend like I know what I’m doing with you folks, but, I feel like I should come clean: This is my first undergraduate teaching experience. So there. Now you know.”

Apparently, my mouth had decided the game plan but had not remembered to inform my mind.

“Uh oh…” someone said, then the room laughed, and then we began one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. Definitely the best first class ever. Admitting that I would likely sweat that very first day allowed us to sweat together, and made something very communal, spiritual and human possible and present in the room.

We engaged for the next semester in a class about “faith-based social service,” and the wheres, hows, whys, and whats of how the church and people of faith bring the good news that God through Christ will make right all things cursed by sin, bringing his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Things you can get fired for talking about. Things like the human heart, sex-trafficking, homelessness, planned poverty, economic injustice, christian arrogance and ignorance, poverty, greed, pride, loneliness, mental illness, individualistic idolatry, systemic injustice, abuse, trauma, and on and on and on.

“As far as the curse is found,” the old hymn reminds us. And it’s found far beyond only our human hearts and inside our churches, but in our broken communities waiting to see and hear the good news all the same. The big and broad good news that has more to do with everything else than it has to do with us.

And as a class, we began to engage these issues, tried different typologies out on them, dressed them in different best-practice approaches, and delved into scripture to see what it is we work toward and how we are called to work toward it. Throughout, we explicitly tried to guide our discussions and studies with a few questions that we would ask of each other, authors of the texts, practitioners in the field, and pastors in our churches:

1. Is it a bad either or?
Are these bad either/or scenarios that we are working within? Have we picked a side on something that may not (although it very well may) be a real either/or situation? How can we back up enough to see this clearly?

2. What are the assumptions?
What assumptions are we working from but ignoring as we move forward? Have we questioned these assumptions, and are we okay with them if we are building on them? How can we notice these assumptions? Who or what can be engaged to reveal them to us?

3. What are the power dynamics?
What power dynamics are at play, and what are they costing us and those we serve? Are we being honest to notice them, or are we trying to convince ourselves that they don’t exist? Whose voice and eyes can help us see them, and readjust?

4. Where did this information come from?
Where did this information come from? Is it valid? Is it biased? (Yes.) So where is the other side of the bias, and have we considered it? Are we looking for the truth, or looking for something that defends our current stance?

And finally,

5. What is absent but implicit? 
Built out of the narrative therapy tradition that has stolen my imagination, this question is important and fresh. What have we left out of our questions, our conversations, our research, our planning, our programming and our praying? And what can its absence reveal to us about how we may be thinking wrongly or ignorantly about the issues? Whose voice, opinion, insight or criticism are we ignoring, and what does that reveal about us and our work?

When the class would be engaged in discussion, and a student would offer one of these questions to help push us into more clarity, I would feel my insides jump for joy. More than any solutions or approaches we came to as a class, or read about in our texts, the impact for Christ and his kingdom that is likely to be had will come from a student being guided by the curiosity and humility that these guiding questions encourage. So when they were thrown into the conversation by the students themselves, I would immediately envision them running organizations, pastoring churches, or working in businesses in the future, throwing out these same questions from the field, the pulpit, or the boardroom.

It makes me beyond hopeful.

And then, the best of all, toward the end of the semester, I was challenged––called out––by a student when I made a comment beginning with a phrase I had warned them to be wary of. In talking about a particular issue, the words, “Well, it all boils down to this: …” came from my lips.

I didn’t hear them. But my students did. One spoke up from the back, “But Donald, does it really?Does it really all boil down to that?” Much like that first class, we all laughed, someone says, “Uh oh….” and we continue with a more honest, more appropriate, more life-giving conversation than ones stifled by a person in the front informing everyone of how complex and nuanced issues “all boil down” to something that they of course do not and cannot. I had been called out, and it was the most rewarding experience of the entire semester.

So to those students, the best first class I will ever have, I give my deep thanks! You have taught me to be comfortable with what I do and do not know. You have taught me that laughing at myself and the clumsiness of the process creates space for honest dialogue and true progress. You have taught me that respect comes in the form of accountability and honesty, not position or title. And you have taught me that making room to be called out can be most rewarding.

And you have taught me that there is much to be hopeful for as you enter the world with the good news of Christ and his kingdom. The practice fields, the pulpits, and the boardrooms you operate in will be graced with a fresh humility and curiosity that will always be pregnant with the hope of all things being made new.

I look with great anticipation toward your futures.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr

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