Tag Archives: hope

the hollow chair

F619FE2F-DCF7-48E9-94B3-6B7EE35613E9

The chair isn’t just empty now, with its cushion recently turned back over to the “company side;” the chair is at present more like a shadow, hollowed out in form, a two-dimensional image in a three-dimensional space. A grayed out chair in an otherwise room of color that sits right by the door as I walk in.

+++

“Join me in the kitchen” was a command I thought would be funny to teach my new pup, Jacob, starting January 13, 2018, which was the day I drove his tiny little body home from about 45 minutes away, his pouting at and playing with me the whole way home. He learned that phrase quickly, and from anywhere in the house, if I was cooking, grading papers, watching the news, or showing him off to someone else when I said “Jake Jake! Would you like to join me in the kitchen?” he immediately appeared. Sometimes he used the ottoman as a step, but most of the time he leaped directly into the club chair in the kitchen, circled twice, and then sat on his hind legs with his face eagerly pointed toward me waiting for a good reason.

Having lost an incredible dog after twelve years, then soon getting a new puppy  only to lose him ten days after bringing him home to some rare disease, Jacob’s presence in my home became holy when he finally arrived following these losses.

I named him Jacob with the expectation that he would make his name true; I would become “laughter” as he would be “the son of laughter.”

When I came home every day, he would hear my car and be standing in the kitchen chair just inside the door with his hind legs on the cushion (not the “company side”) and his front paws on the armrest licking with excitement before ever making contact with my nose. If I didn’t stay in that spot long enough, he would jump off the chair then back on  repeatedly, pretending to pout until I gave him the length of time he required.

He pulled his thirteen-year-old sister’s tail between his teeth until she would wrestle with him.

He insisted on sleeping under the covers at the foot of the bed, often in the night ending up on his back with all four legs pushing straight up against the sheets making his own personal tent to include his body, my feet, and his kneck wresting over my ankles. I loved it, and it made me laugh every time.

My sneezes and farts were a matter of immediate concern and need for investigation, usually beginning with a jump as if we were being robbed and ending with a look of judgment from his tilted head, his nose to my nose.

Whenever he saw me cry, he got as close as he could, licked away a few tears, and then leaned in until it stopped. Me laughing sent him on a looping rampage through the house carrying whatever toy still squeaked.

These kinds of little things, on dark or heavy days, made the coming home worth it. On good days, they were reminders of some of the inherent good in life. He had made me laugh, and had become the son of laughter.

+++

I yelled “Jacob, would you like to join me in the kitchen?” this morning as I was making coffee before heading to work. He didn’t come running.

I knew he wouldn’t, but it seemed like I had to try. A magical thinking of sorts.

He didn’t answer two nights ago either after he had snuck out of the carport door as I was getting something out of my trunk. He didn’t answer when I yelled around the house for him the thirty seconds after I came back inside. He didn’t answer when I started walking up and down the street.

He didn’t answer when I saw his still, shadowed frame, left side against the glowing pavement in the very center of the intersection, lit in the yellow light of old street lights and shadowed by three college-age students, crying, asking me as I swerved into the intersection and lept out of the car, “Is this your dog, sir?”

I got down on my hands and knees in the middle of the intersection, things becoming slow motion, hearing but not having any idea what the college kids behind me were saying through their own tears.

I’m remembering now kissing the top of his nose and snout. Brushing the hair on his ears between my fingers and wiping bloody snot away from his nose. I cradled his head in my hands like I would first thing in the morning if I were to wake up before him. Nothing else seemed to matter.

Hey, bud. Yeah. Hey, it’s me.
I’ve got you.
That’s right, I’m here holding you.
I’ve got you, buddy.
I’m right here, my love.
I’m not going anywhere.

When I said “Hey it’s me,” I know I saw from the top of his still but still breathing frame a light in his eyes appear as he recognized it was me who was holding him, forhead to forehead, hands and knees on the bloody pavement beside him.

This moment was holy too, I suppose… I’m not convinced, though. I don’t want to let shit off the hook too easily with piety.

+++

A towel appeared. I wrapped him awkwardly and answered every bystander’s mumbled question, no doubt helpful ones, with silence as I climbed into the driver’s seat of my running car while still talking to him, now holding his bloody body in a bloody towel in my bloody lap.

I don’t really remember driving to the Emergency Animal Hospital, but I do remember slamming on the horn as I pulled in and parked just before slamming into the building. I opened the door as they unlocked it with the buzzer and met me in the lobby.

I looked down at my little ten-month-old lifesaver’s face for the first time since we were forehead to forehead in that intersection, looking for his eyes which have been an answer to prayer and promise of his namesake since January 13 as he has made me laugh and find gratitude more times than I can count. When I fund his eyes, he did not find mine. He wasn’t there anymore, and in that moment it felt like I wasn’t either.

“He’s gone,” I heard myself say. “He got hit by a car, and now we’re gone.”

As I’m transferring my towel-wrapped little buddy’s body to the tech’s arms, I hear myself saying, “Is he gone?” These last hopeful shreds rushed out as if were it simply offered out loud, the circumstances could perhaps change and the answer I already knew to be true would be reversed.

The vet’s stethoscope was placed on my little buddy’s chest once, twice, and the third time the vet looked up over the rim of his glasses as he shook his head “no.”

Jacob was gone.

And so was I.

They started talking or asking questions or telling me something…the two techs and the vet. I heard the words “or cremation?” which was when I stopped caring what they were saying. The selling in my eyes was blocking me from responding with either anger or answers. Reflexively, I shook my hands and walked back into the lobby, sitting down to see his precious blood on my pale legs and arms as my eyes filled completely with the red and white blurs of a tremendous loss.

+++

Two days later, after an unknown time of staring into nowhere, I find myself turning around to look at the chair hoping I was sleeping somehow, or had been dreaming something, and that Jacob is actually sitting there with me in the kitchen.

But he’s not, and the chair is more than empty.

djordan
Pine Tree

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

not most hopeful

It’s been difficult to write.

I’ve not been hopeful.

And having experienced anything other than hopefulness, like wrestling with emotions and under the realities of frustration, anger, depression, sadness, isolation, grief, loss, and silence, there have been few honest words that could be defined as hopeful.

And to project a facade of hope is as offensive as the realities that attack hope itself.

So there has been and in many ways remains quite a season of silence. A season of either hopelessness or silent hopefulness.

Either way, a season of silence. On my end at least.

I’ve heard a great deal from the people in my world: from my history and my past and my world. They’ve been everything between furious and dismissive to piously, self-righteously, “prayerfully,” “worried” about me and my “soul.”

And yes, worried about my “eternity.”

When asked about the refugee, the immigrant, the oppressed, the poor, the person of color: they have no concern.

They’ve not been worried about the present-day life of the neighbor who doesn’t look like me (us), talk like me (us), explain religion like me (us), or… ultimately… the neighbor who is not white like me (us).

But I am a source of concern for these “brothers” and “sisters.”

It’s been difficult to write hopefully.

I wish I could wag a finger and wield a glare at myself for pushing beyond the truth to prove a point, but that luxury isn’t afforded anymore. When a president was elected to the highest office who began his campaign with racist, untrue, and hate-filled remarks about Mexicans, I was told to “chill out” about the response to this un-American position on diversity, human dignity, and individual initiative… I was told this only by those who identify as evangelicals.

When I spilled out concerns about a man who stated: “I hate the thought of black people counting my money” as well as “when you’re famous, you can do whatever you want; you can grab ’em by the pussy,” I was told to think about unborn babies. Told to think only about unborn babies. When I talked about babies born into poverty or what policies and practices actually reduce the occurrences of abortions, I was told it was “fake news” and the conversation had to move back to shopping or gossip.

When I struggled as Dr. Ben Carson was video/audio-taped saying that sometimes you have to put your faith and your Christian principles aside for the sake of politics, I was told I was being irreligious or simply lying.

When I said I could not stand or support or accept a man who celebrated sexual assault, proudly proclaimed his racism toward any human being created in the image of God whose skin wasn’t pasty white or bronze-tanned, or bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” I was told I could not possibly be a Christian.

To write hopefully, much less most hopefully, has felt impossible over the last many months.

And now in the last forty-eight hours, the President of the United States has suggested that we should only allow immigrants from predominantly-white, European countries to grace us with their presence in this country.

The President of these United States is suggesting that those who save us in emergency rooms, those who fight for us in the US military, those who rush into burning buildings and die rescuing our families, those who teach our children third grade math or senior-year Oncology and graduate school public health, and those who operate on our grandparents are from “huts” and “shithole countries.” And we don’t want any more of them here.

And then the decision to dig in to and spin these comments rather than confess the hateful, lymbic, ignorant shadows of them and beg for forgiveness. No need to beg for forgiveness; those who claim to follow the human being of table-turning and death-defying faith work hard at defending or excusing these realities. The more common response is a cloudy blend of eye-rolling, huffing, “waiting-for-proof” for the hundredth time, and pretending that obvious fact is a shadowy conspiracy.

The most common response is, “Well I don’t know about all that, I haven’t paid any attention, but I support him.”

These “shithole countries” are the same places I’ve been asked by Sunday School teachers and youth ministers to visit on ‘mission trips’ and to donate to for “missionary campaigns.” I grew up with photos of these––in the words of the President of the United States––I grew up with photos of these folks from “shithole countries” taped to my wall and fastened to my neighborhood lemonade stands as both an attempt at advocacy but more an attempt at guilt-driven capitalism (in the name of Jesus, of course).

The last I’ve heard from old Sunday School teachers and youth ministers was that the promoter of this hatefulness was the person their Jesus wanted and insisted that I vote for. Local and national evangelical, particularly southern baptist, Christian university professors and “theological” or “ethical” polymaths worked hard to find ways to excuse, explain, or defend standing with something and someone who more explicitly than almost ever before acted, spoke, and believed against most of the sermon-on-the-mount ways of Christ…sadly, or opportunistically…in the name of that very same Christ.

So yes, it’s been difficult to write hopefully, to write anything about hopefulness, much less to write with a sense of hopefulness above and beyond anything else. I cannot lie.

And of all the things I feel, I’m not most hopeful.

So what does it require to remain most hopeful when the loudest, self-proclaimed Christians blindly or apparently-blindly defend a sexual assaulter and racist xenophobe who says he is “Christian” and promises economic growth for the richest among us? What is there to do to hold out hope when old friends claim over late night beers around a fire that “blacks” should get out of the country or “everybody should get over it” when the highest office in the land spews racist and Christ-antithetical hatefulness toward anyone who can consider being “other” before heading back to an emotional worship service the next day?

Presidents of “Christian” universities waste no time in the courts, in the papers, or on social media outlining who is not accepted by the king of the heavenly kingdom for their loves or their politics, but have a hard, pressured, or “I don’t recall” time saying anything definitive about much less against the KKK, white supremacists, racism and classism, or those who teach, live into, and most dangerously love and therefore fear the blasphemy of a celebration of wealth, power, and accumulation rather than the hope of a doxology, generosity, and shared abundance.

I’ve wanted to, and have worked to find the ability to do it, but it’s continued to be difficult to write hopefully, much less hopefully more than heartbroken or harrowed.

Youth ministers have posted, spoken, and confirmed support for sexual assaulters and racist pedophiles.

Friends have let me know, via distance and disembodiment, that I can’t be a Christian.

Old family friends have pushed (privately and publicly) piously-decorated support for a human being who is, in all ways of both word and action, antithetical to the king and his coming kingdom. But my own religious ancestors-in-present of evangelicalism are the pale group who put him there, work to defend him, and spiritualize his hatefulness toward the least of these.

And they have all continued to push, or “prayerfully encourage” me to fall in line.
Or at least be calmer or quieter if I’m not in Orwellian-step with the rhetoric and propaganda.

Hopefulness has been a distant courtier; but hopefulness has been a persistent courtier.

And so to honor the best of my youth ministers, my Sunday School teachers, my old friends, I’m obligated to keep seeking Christ and his kingdom––the kingdom of the least of these and the last in line––I’m pushed, in honoring a memory of those relationships that are apparently no longer based on the same values, to believe what I was taught by those very folks at their best about a new way of living and being in the world.

The world does not go well, but the kingdom comes.

So for me, it’s for Christ and his kingdom. Hopeful or not, this is what I, at my best, am called to follow and working to lean into. Difficult or not, we bend the arc toward the beloved community.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

until we know ourselves

A young boy in KKK robes sees his reflection in a riot shield held by an African-American state trooper. Taken in Gainesville, Ga., in 1992, this photo by Todd Robertson has resurfaced through social media. via Poynter.org Quote by Krista Tippett in Becoming Wise (2016), "...the human condition, in all its mess and glory, remains the ground on which all of our ambitions flourish or crash. The adage that "he who does not know history is doomed to repeat it" doesn't go far enough. History always repeats itself until we honestly and searchingly know ourselves.A young boy in KKK robes sees his reflection in a riot shield held by an African-American state trooper. Taken in Gainesville, Ga., in 1992, this photo by Todd Robertson via Poynter.org

the human condition, in all its mess and glory, remains the ground on which all of our ambitions flourish or crash. The adage that ‘he who does not know history is doomed to repeat it’ doesn’t go far enough. History always repeats itself until we honestly and searchingly know ourselves.

Krista Tippett, from Becoming Wise (2016). New York, NY: Penguin.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

an open letter to my students

i-also-remember-this

An Open Letter to My Students on the Eve of the Orlando Shooting.

June 12, 2016

Dear Students,

You likely woke up today as I did: late. You may or may not have turned on the news as is my morning wake-up custom, coffee in hand and multiple snoozes later. Within moments it became clear that there was yet another mass shooting while we were sleeping. This morning’s shooting at a gay night club in Orlando. Over 100 dead and injured.

I remember thinking ‘My soon-to-be godson is to be baptized today. My responsibilities seem yet-again larger now.’

I’m late to the service by a few minutes this morning; I know you’re not surprised. I stood too long at the television in my bedroom, clenching the wooden ledge on top of the dresser left in the room by my great, great-aunts who were the unusual of their era; they were highly educated, remarkably fashionable, and unusually independent women from a time where that was not allowed. No doubt they were recipients of both celebration and judgment. The dresser left in the bedroom of this house they used which I now sleep in has new fingernail marks as of this morning, left accidentally as I should have been dressing for a baptismal service but was instead being washed again in the blood of others.

“I also remember this, and wish I did not,” as Didion once said. I remember that I was not surprised.

Yet another killing, this time the largest mass shooting in our states’ history and the largest terrorist attack on US soil since my freshmen year of college when I sat in a lecture hall of Blanchard at Wheaton and watched the towers fall before my eyes.

I remember this morning thinking that I was surprised that morning as an 18-year-old hopeful, but that I am not surprised now as a 32-year-old hopeful. And it is the hopefulness of my better wiring which has been wanting to talk to all of you all day long today, even though you’ve managed to sneak away from me for the summer. I’ve managed to talk to you in one of our random, side conversations all day long in my head regardless. Then I decided that I hope you might hear it.

Many of you value your faith deeply; I do as well. Because of this, those who believe differently from you are owed your love and honor. The faith you claim has told you so; the faith leaders you are bothered by have challenged this. Follow your faith.

Many of you think
public policy,
issues of social policy and social welfare,
wealth and poverty,
emails to your governors and senators and representatives
(unanswered as most of them go…which you will remember),
childhood development and influence,
family structure and complexity,
group norms and roles,
mob mentalities and social capacities,
and research formulas and findings
aren’t connected in any real way
to your deep desire to help those who are in need.

The crimes of today should remind you that these things are all connected.

The language and now law signed in by Governor Bill Haslam in Tennessee that allow therapists to legally hate and discriminate by refusing counseling to those of the LGBTQ community affected by today’s mass shooting is an issue of policy, welfare, wealth and poverty, legislators who listen and those who ignore (and are paid to do so, which you will remember), legislation and its [silent] funders, biological development and its influences, structure, complexity, norms, roles, mob mentalities and social capacities, research and its findings…

This language and this legislation and these legislators and these voices are the authors of the men and women who will come into your offices and onto your caseloads wounded, orphans of those killed by this morning’s violence, orphans of those who had parents who lived lives of silence or submission to a norm, or stood silently in the back of your sanctuaries on mornings like these as you went to church and thought it was a regular Sunday morning.

I felt the need all day long today, now pushing the clock to make it honest, to let you know that I expect the world of you.

I am pretty sure I have told you this. You will be the best.

I expect a whole other kind of world from you. I expect you to wake up on days like today with the news of the moment and the heart of a saint that is both willing to break the rules and willing to break the norms to dig your fingernails into the wooden ledge on top of the dresser and be late for something planned and appropriate because you decided you had to stand up and speak out for something possibly inappropriate because it puts all of our humanity at risk.

So in class, when I hound you and harass you and rap at you and sing at you and yell at you and take points from you and even when I feed you in an effort to buy you, please know this: I do all these things so that some day, some Sunday morning when someone is waking up and committing to go to church and pledge gratefully to be a godfather for a young man or young woman who has not yet learned to distrust the world…

I do all these things so that you will remember that it will never be okay for us to not be surprised at this kind of hateful news that greeted us this morning.

I’m counting on you.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Easter Monday

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 10.51.30 PM

Easter Sunday feels both impossible and a little too easy.

To claim impossible things hours upon hours across the globe as the meridian moves in single-hour increments.

Bombs. Easter egg hunts. Incense.

We celebrate ridiculous hope one time zone after another;
That’s what we do on Easter Sunday.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our jobs
where we are in trouble for questioning the reasoning,
and caught between our ideas of Easter Sunday and bottom-line Friday.
And we make our choices.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our churches
where we are in trouble for questioning the lessons and the allegiances,
and caught between character and piety and donor-approval.
And we make our choices.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our neighborhoods
where we are pushed to hate and discriminate for the sake of something…
and caught between partisan and party and allegiance.
And we make our choices.

Easter Sunday is as holy
and easy
and gutless as
Christmas Sunday.

Unless we decide that somehow
ultimately
Easter changes everything.
And the Monday after Easter
is going to make us different
in all the ways
we hoped to secretly stay buried in
the tidiness
of our own racist and pious histories.

But Easter Monday means we crash into our
jobs
and our
churches
and our
neighborhoods
uncomfortably different than we left them.

And once we notice where we are,
we ask ourselves,
What about Easter Tuesday…

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

human beings

14c48aec284ac841e08ac8545945491e
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

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

that’s a gift

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 10.58.49 PM

To stop wondering
if what you have to say
is valid, acceptable, reasonable, or appropriate:

That’s a gift.

And to say something
because you need someone who knows you
to hear it
and accept it
and after hearing it reply to you
saying

“I hear you”

without solving it
without explaining it
without answering it:

That’s telling the truth.

And the gift and the telling the truth together:

That’s friendship on a Sunday night
over bourbon and crying babies.

And it’s a sign that the kingdom of heaven is real.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,