Tag Archives: death

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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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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Lord willing, we won’t keep growing

Our Jackson Home posted a piece I wrote reflecting on this year’s Remember Me Walk for survivor’s of homicide loss. This group is astounding to me, and I’ve copied some of the post below with a link to read it in its entirety. And if you have not yet checked out Our Jackson Home, you should probably get on the ball.

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The crowd was larger this year than any crowd the past seven. The Carl Grant Events Center at Union University was filled with tables surrounded by people of all kinds, ages, colors, and worlds held together by the sad reality that someone they loved has been murdered—some of them fifty years ago and some five months ago. The reality that no one truly understands this grief is echoed in the camaraderie across the room. “Lord-willing,” they say, “we won’t keep growing. We don’t want other people to know what this feels like.”

Grief is breathtaking. All have experienced it, and we know the deep-down grumbling in our guts that must be an echo of the deep-down grumbling in our souls.

A life is lost. A story ends. …

Click here to keep reading on Our Jackson Home

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the era at hand

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At about a hundred miles an hour it came crashing into my chest this morning, moving up quickly to my throat where it stole my breath and then my eyes which began to pour. In the wind, behind sunglasses and under one of my grandfather’s many straw fishing hats, I was skimming quickly to our next drop in spot with three buddies as the sun was coming up over the gulf where we’ve been staying these last few days. The boat’s captain letting us know how far in to drop and what was likely on our line before it ever came into site was scouting out our next most likely location.

The four-word refrain came to mind. I followed it just under my breath to see what song it was connected to, and then, the crashing. First chest. Then throat. Then eyes.

sad fruitful broken true
sad fruitful broken true

I didn’t realize until this morning out there on the dramamine-calmed water that this is the first trip to the beach I’ve been on since losing both grandparents who taught me to love traveling here, feeding the birds, chasing the fish, eating out, cooking in, and laughing hard. As time passed, so did their health, but the beach would still happen. Moves from porch to den to restaurant  became slower and slower, but each still an important move worth taking the time to make.

This morning, out there on the water, still burning by the sun under his straw fishing hat, I realized that it has been the years and years of family and storytelling and value-passing that makes me fight, over and beyond fighting for meaningful work and meaningful impact, for meaningful friendship and meaningful experiences. To see and to feel and to taste the holiness in clinking glasses in my own home or half a world away. To honor and to savor the time spent with and the time spent where.

And in the hurricane of memories that stormed perfectly over and into me this morning, I was at once overwhelmingly grateful and overwhelmingly heartbroken. To have the privilege of three decades filled with enough love and honor and legacy to miss so deeply all at once left me exceedingly grateful and sad. The era of those kinds of gifts has passed. Forever. It’s almost too much to take in.

There is, however, the era at hand. It is in these days, then, that reveal the ways in which I choose to remember all these good things that have in no way been withheld from me. It is in this era that I will either wake up before the sun and meet my buddies to fish deep in the ocean, or I will only mourn the loss of the days that have already passed. To truly mourn, to truly grieve and to truly honor all that is lost must, in the truest of ways, involve making deep and rich meaning of all that is ahead.

And must acknowledge the ripe and possible realities of the present moment. Crashing in and all.

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The words I found after chasing the refrain are from the Sara Groves’ song This House are listed below:

it took me by surprise
this old house and these old feelings
walked round and looked inside
familiar walls and halls and ceilings

where I’d dream and plan
every moment of sunshine
this was my whole world
it was all I knew
like the hull of a seed
this old house cracked wide open
as I grew

hadn’t given it much thought
hadn’t been back here for a while
everything looks so small
seen through the memories of a child

who would dream and stare
from that second story window
that was my whole world
it was all I knew
like the hull the of a seed
this old house cracked wide open
and I flew

sad fruitful broken true
sad fruitful broken true

memories for miles and miles
summers falls winters and springs
Ruby you take it in
see he’s withheld no good thing

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djordan
723 Whiskey Bravo
Seagrove Beach, FL

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moving forward. always.

It’s all a mess, of course.
We run into it knowing that we have a plan
We run into it knowing that we have the knowledge
to fix it
to solve it
to make it better
We burn to fix it, to solve it, to make it better
So the fact the we have the change to
put the plan into action
and use our knowledge to make it better
must mean that all will be well
because
we are ready
to make it well.

But then,
we wake up to the news of
all gone wrong.
all unexpected.
all that is against all we’d hoped for
worked for
longed for
waited for
prayed for.

It’s in that moment
of course,
that we realize it’s all a mess
and we begin to wonder if plans and knowledge
and we begin to wonder if the burn to solve it, to fix it
are an existential mocking of sorts.

And yet
even waking up to the news of
loss
death
murder
backward
pointlessness

we can’t help but rub our eyes and
do our best to face forward
and look upward
and work to put our plans and knowledge
back to work
knowing that we may not actually ever get what we hope for
but knowing even more that
we are not willing to hope for less.
Even in the mess.
So we move
forward.

always.

and so we are bold to pray.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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i ironed every shirt today

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I ironed every shirt I ever actually wear today. I stood in the den ironing and hanging one after another on the pull up bar connected to the door frame.

I’ve noticed my own ironing habit over the last twelve months. It’s often after a long day at the office where people allow me the chance to journey with them through their personal, familial and communal junk as we work to find what good can be uncovered in its midst. While some days it’s an archeological journey worth photo-ops, full of good findings and the perfect blue skies to offer backdrop to their discoveries, many days end after journeying together where we don’t actually find anything.

We may have found better questions, or better ways to let go of bad questions, or better standards by which to gauge ourselves and others, but we end without any picture-perfect discoveries. We end without the pain and the mess being over. We end, after having given it all we know to give and finding that there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel. Not yet, at least. Not today.

I often come home on those days, pull out the ironing board, and start working on a task that I know will begin and end well in one try. It helps me suspend hope, if just until the sun rises again, that some things get settled, some things end up making sense, and some things work out before the sun goes down.

Today was not a day of counseling, but a culmination of multiple days of reminders that many good people holding out great faith can’t make the pain stop and the heartache end. We can’t hope our way to the phone call giving us the news we were begging for. Today began with the news of loss. The loss of a man whose personality and gestures were in themselves reminders that there is another world buried under this one that creation itself can hardly wait to see break through. The loss of a man who made it clear, even on the day of his murder, that there is something rumbling underneath the cracking present age that speaks of a kingdom of light and a community of icons of God himself.

And we can hardly wait either, you know. We can hardly wait especially on days like today where we know what is good, but we don’t know how to get there and we feel powerless to bring it here. So we iron ourselves into some kind of sanity, so we can see something finished and something in order like all of our button-up shirts hanging on pull-up bars.

But night falls and morning rises, and we realize that as much as we would like to settle ourselves with tasks that we can see from beginning to end, neatly pleated and orderly hung, we also realize that our hearts are only truly alive in the tasks that leave us with great heartbreak, for now. And so, while they are too big to carry, we can’t help but doing our best to pick them up again. And, in the words of the pastor calling us to move toward the kingdom, it’s in picking up the things that are too heavy to carry that we realize we are actually on our way home.

djordan
Pine Tree

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worried about big legos

worried-about-big-legos

During a week filled with worries about class schedules, family illness, nonprofit fundraisers, big decisions, and tax nightmares, I found myself most concerned Wednesday afternoon about whether or not I would have a chance in the “intergalactic battle” being created at my feet with enormous legos.

I needed to type out a quick note for his grandmother on letterhead before our session was over, and I asked him if he preferred I do it at the beginning or the end. He said he would start building his army while I typed the letter, and then I could build mine, and then the war.

Halfway through the paragraph-long letter, I caught myself looking down at my feet and thinking, “How am I going to beat him? He’s built a fortress around his robots, and he has soldiers lining the wall on the inside and outside! I need to get finished with this letter so I have a chance at all!”

He was talking the entire time I was typing, which was adding to my stress. “You know I’m going to beat you, Donald. This wall is impenetrable. And these robots can break through all of your walls. Are you getting scared yet, Donald?”

And I WAS getting scared. I found myself trying to type faster so I could get to work on my own fortress and walls and robots.

So for about fifty minutes on Wednesday afternoon, I was laying on the floor in my office with an incredibly brave nine-year-old, who recently found his mother dead in her bed and called the police, worried about whether I had enough mega blocks to make an army big enough to contend with his.

I didn’t, of course. He won, not that I was trying to go easy on him; I wanted to win, but he beat me. We began to talk about his planning, his bravery, his skill, his initiative. These were all the things which led him to beating me in our intergalactic war on the bamboo rug in my office.  There were all the things which also led him to cope in miraculous and hope-affirming ways with the loss of his mother and a world turned upside down.

And it would be his lesson in these things which made me consider my class schedule, family illness, nonprofit fundraisers, big decisions and tax nightmares with the eyes of a nine-year-old who is much braver and stronger than I.

Every conversation is  privilege with answers waiting to be found by all involved. If it doesn’t feel that way, our arrogance is leading.

djordan
Pine Tree

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things regarded as dead

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I woke up Easter morning to find an email from a friend that only read:

“Today may you start seeing God’s resurrection of things regarded as dead.”

One week later, I’m not sure in what ways I’m starting to see the resurrection of things regarded as dead.

I let a lady check out in front of me today at the store, and she replied that chivalry might not be dead.

Another lady at another store had to ask me a million different questions and try to sell me on a million different offers during the checkout process. I thought nothing of it all until she leaned over the register and said, “thanks, at least, for being nice about all this, young man.”

I went to the funeral today of a good friend’s father who got sudden news of serious cancer, and within weeks, goodbyes were said and tearful thanks given for the notion that the end of life might not actually be an end at all. As much as it still hurts like hell, of course.

And so I wonder, one week after Easter, what it means to begin seeing God’s resurrection of things regarded as dead.

Chivalry.
Kindness.
The lost life of a father.

What about hope that good can overcome evil?
That generosity can overcome greedy anxiety?
That humility beats out power and success and ambition?
That justice can break its way into dark injustices?
That forgiveness is stronger than any force of revenge and retaliation.
That families can come together, no matter how they’ve wrestled apart.
That marriages can make it.
That children can make it to adulthood.
That adults can remember the joy of childhood.
That abundance can make its way to those living in great scarcity.
Abundance and scarcity of money, identity, understanding and freedom.

We don’t build our church buildings next to our graveyards anymore, and we’ve likely forgotten altogether the resurrection we’ve been counting on as a ragtag group of women and men and liars and lovers all these years.

We’ve also likely forgotten that things we’ve already written off and sealed up and buried deep as dead impossibilities are waiting, one week after Easter as much as easter morning itself, for the resurrection.

Hope, generosity, justice, families, marriages, children, adults, abundance, scarcity and equality, identity, understanding and freedom.

Chivalry isn’t dead.

Neither is the hope, and therefore the prayer, that God’s kingdom come, and his will be done, on the earth this week after Easter Sunday, as it is in heaven.

djordan
Pine Tree

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and once again we sing

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 uber-personal, is in reality communal and fundamentally social, the words are becoming more and more haunting.

As the church moves into communities of violence, systemic injustice, stigma, poverty, materialism, greed, addiction and isolation, we are often afraid to sing songs that the people waiting for the kingdom have sung for hundreds upon hundred of years…

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 
(from Psalm 137)

As a people waiting and working for transformation, before we fill the craters, before we take on life again, we must tell the dirty truth about our loss and despair and all that is wrong and evil and messy and undone in the world, in our private and personal worlds, and in our communal and social worlds. If we, those who hold the promise that life never surrenders, can’t tell the truth about the mess of it all, then we aren’t yet ready, aren’t yet brave enough, to sing and sow once again.

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djordan
Summar Dr.

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