Tag Archives: kingdom

an open letter to my students

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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.

 

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almost there. almost enough.

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My fingers have been afraid to push down on these keys. I’m not sure what I have to say or whether it’s worth saying. I’ve been in the world of everyone else, fighting to make sense of the day to day and hoping that every now and then something of meaning squeezes out of it. Paperwork is usually late, dinners are cut short, stories aren’t completely told. And while I feel like I almost have something to write, it seems like it’s a little short of worthwhile.

But in each of those moments, I still know something magical has happened. I’ve met a buddy for a beer or a friend for a coffee. We’ve eaten too many chips in queso or had too many mozzarella sticks. But we’ve been offering rounds of “me too” and “yes, exactly” in the meantime. We share the same anger at the same institutions, the same grieving around the same situations, and the same hopefulness toward the same possibilities.

And it only feels almost there. Almost enough to write home about. Almost enough to remember. Almost enough to be worth reminding others that something worthwhile comes along every now and then. But it always seems just short, so I’ve chosen not to write it down. In the last week, though, those moments of almost have seemed just enough to be worth it. The moments that fall a little short of important seem very important. The conversations that fall a little short of profound seem very profound.

And it leaves me wondering if it’s not worthwhile moments I’m waiting on to write about, but perhaps I have forgotten what moments are worthwhile after all.

So, fingers to the keys and eyes on the horizon. I’m doing my best to pay attention. At least, that’s what I intend to do.

djordan
Pine Tree

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kingdom comes over hot chicken

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Several weeks ago it was at a greenhouse under the South African sun. It was with two friends, one from South Africa and one from England, both in Cape Town now chasing the kingdom hard and fast. One works to transform the way housing is addressed for those living in informal settlements by way of valuing inherent wisdom, skill and reality. The other is working to address issues of gang violence, trauma, and youth development not only in Cape Town but in the hearts and plans of those around the world.

A few weeks later, it was in Nashville, Tennessee. We were talking about whether hot chicken was hot enough or too hot as we prepared for a wedding a few hours later. Friends without the pretense of worry of doing it right or doing it fancy, it was a celebration of choosing to do it and do it together. Friends willing to push through the new uncertainty of what it means to be a community surrounding those who are choosing to do life together. Friends who will argue over the heat of Nashville’s hot chicken in the morning, pretend not to cry at a lifelong commitment in the afternoon, and dance like no one knows what dancing is supposed to look like in the evening.

And this week, like last week, and like the other weeks in between was at the altar rail at a little church on the north side of town. Hands out, breath held, eyes up, it all swelled together. I’ve heard my priest and favorite friend say before that when we kneel at the rail, we share in communion with those with us in that moment, those who are gather at Christ’s table around the globe, and those who have both joined the table in centuries past as well as those who will come after us with the same assurances and the same uncertainties as we knelt at the rail today.

This morning, hands out, I joined them. I joined my brothers and sisters in Cape Town. I joined my sisters and brothers over hot chicken in Nashville. I joined my own local church community, and all those who were at their own churches both in my own city and in cities around the globe and through the ages.

I’ll work toward justice tomorrow and push against institutional power and greed.
I’ll seek beauty and laughter and silliness tomorrow with adults who hate it and children who love it.
I’ll do paperwork and billing tomorrow and wonder what I’m doing and why I care.
I’ll push a few steps forward into and few steps back from the kingdom of God.

And I’ll only be able to do anything at all tomorrow by the mystery of
the power that somehow shakes the rail every time I kneel,
whether at a nursery in Cape Town
or over hot chicken in Nashville
or the altar at my little church.

His kingdom comes.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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us and them

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At the moment it becomes
“us” and “them”
we’ve lost.
we’ve thrown in the towel.
we’ve waived the white flag.
we’ve thrown the grenade.
we’ve waged the war.
we’ve fired the shot.
we’ve sold our sole.
we’ve eaten the fruit.

At the moment it becomes
“us” and “them”
we’ve allowed ourselves
the illusion that we aren’t all connected
the illusion that we aren’t all the same
the illusion that we aren’t all both Cain and Abel
the illusion that we aren’t all both perpetrator and victim
the illusion that we aren’t all,
ultimately,
the best and the worst of ourselves.

So at the moment that we choose
to buy into the lie
that it’s “us” and “them”
we buy into the lie
that we can treat others in ways
we would never allow our own to be treated.
that we can make choices for us that have consequences
we would never allow ourselves to be the recipient of.
that we can speak in ways that objectify others to an extent
we would never allow for those we love.

So at the moment that we choose
to buy into the lie
that it’s “us” and “them”
whether defined
by race
by income
by status
by guilt
by geography
by belief
by doctrine
by ideology
by education
by gender
by any of the other illusions of separateness that have
proven to be crutches since we
stabbed each other in the back when it all began
it is in that moment that
the very “us” we are hoping to protect
is lost to a state of
otherness that we thought
we were guarding against all the while.

At that moment,
we lose what we thought we were fighting for.

djordan
Pine Tree

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it begins with a baby God

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I remember well sitting on the long and curved wooden benches that creak with every move at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville several years ago. I was frantically scribbling lyrics of a song, the chorus ringing in my ears and head and heart for weeks to come. The phrases I remembered out of order I now know, of course, were these:

It’s true, kingdoms and crowns
a God who comes down to find us
and angels sing through the night
Hallelujah.
It’s true.

I’ve later memorized the lyrics from the album which later was released by Sara Groves. But I notice every Year that the album has become a part of my Christmas rhythm.

A few days ago, on a  couple-hour drive back from training, I found myself with blurry vision singing loud and raspy with teary eyes and a heavy heart. Don’t act like you’ve never done it. A lyric from the song I didn’t scribble down that night has come to bear much weight for me and all I find myself working on and with and through toward God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

Heard it told, you think it’s odd
The whole thing fraught with complication
The play begins with a baby God
And all his blessed implications

I find myself in board meetings and counseling sessions, in conference rooms and churches, in arguments and gripe sessions, at parties and dinners,  I find myself noticing over and over again in multiple contexts that in following suit with the prayers we are bold to pray, Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are more often than not called to play the game by wholly other, ridiculous rules.

Let’s address systemic sin, injustice, oppression, blindness and heartbrokenness with a baby God.
Let’s address self-centered, self-righteous, power-mongering and king-complexes with humility.
Let’s address loneliness, addiction, anger, despondency and bitterness with unconditional acceptance.
Let’s address greed, materialism, xenophobia, racism and ignorance with generosity, hospitality and forgiveness.

It’s makes no sense.
It feels all wrong.
It sounds as good a plan as the whole story beginning with a baby God.
And yet, when we hold our breath and close our eyes and take our steps
in wholly other and wholly odd directions with wholly other rules
kingdom comes, just like it crashed in
when the play boldly began with a baby God.

It’s true.

djordan
Pine Tree

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the it of it all

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I’ve had the conversation with others before
proud of myself, of course,
that I might have arrived at such brilliance
and yet I don’t seem to take it in actually
which suggests I’ve actually arrived at nothing.

It’s only in evening in the cold in the rain
finally driving home
that the reality actually strikes me
leaving a kind of embarrassing ignorance
looking back at me in the rear-view mirror
having been my guide far too long.

The “it” of it all,
I’ve said proudly to others before
isn’t only in the everything-working-out-ness
isn’t only in the everything-happening-right-ness
isn’t only in the everyone-getting-along-ness

The “it” of it all
is actually in the middle of
the things-struggling-to-work-out-ness
the things-not-really-happening-right-ness
the people-not-completely-getting-along-ness

and in that push and pull
and in those ups and downs
we see our true selves
and we see their true selves
and we find deep effort
and we discover true longing
and we stare our own confusion and frustration and struggle in the face
while staring our own humanity and the humanity of others in the face

and we decide
against all odds
to seek first his kingdom anyway
in the things-struggling-to-work-out-ness
in the things-not-really-happening-right-ness
in the people-not-completely-getting-along-ness

because so much more than the places
where all works out and
where all happens right and
where everyone gets along

we are likely to find the truth of the kingdom
and the “it” of it all
in the mess and the muck
in the paperwork and the policy
in the everything but the “it”
of the day to day
the fuss
the finance
the meetings
the schedules
the people
the stuff
that we’ve been thinking all this time
only gets us to the “it”
when in fact,
it is the “it” of it all.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

Photo “People in Motion” by Dennis Chunga

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deep heartbreak and deep hope

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when we feel trapped between
the way things are and
the way we know things should be

between
the work we have and
the work we can actually accomplish

between
the hours in a single day and
the heartaches in a single day

between
the insolvable injustices and
the imperative to seek and to do justice

between
the eyes of those we publicly hold responsible and
the eyes of ourselves that we privately shield from responsibility

we ask for a deeper and more burdening reminder
that you are the one who has built us
to be unsettled and undone
until justice comes
until peace flows
until humanity looks like itself again
until humanity is an icon of you again

and in that deeper and more burdening reminder
we ask that you would give us
deep breaths
deep honesty
deep heartbreak and
deep hope

that kingdom comes and
that kingdom will come on earth as in heaven
finally.
and until the finally,
we work toward the impossible things we have no power to change
knowing the desire to work toward them
is a gift from the God who has a habit of doing impossible things

amen

djordan
Pine Tree

 

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the ways of the king and the kingdom

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He’s stressed about work and life and pressure
and as we pray for each other
he uses the words
“on the chopping block.”

I’m waking up in the middle of the night
thinking about what has to be done, finished, started, explained, reminded
trying to remember more than I stress that the work is good work
and the ends do not depend on my ability to think up the means
because the rules of the kingdom of heaven
don’t follow the rules

but I hold my breath
and I clench my teeth
and I hunker down
over computer
over printer
over keyboard
over paperwork

hoping that all works out
so that we can do the work we hope to do
because God knows even on our worst days we know
that those we serve deserve it.

The trick, though
is that on our worst days
we forget that it is the kingdom they long for
we forget that it is the king they are waiting for
and we take on the pressure of the kingdom and the king
when the only pressure waiting for us is
the pressure of getting caught up in
the ways of the king and his kingdom

So as I wake in the middle of the night
with him in mind
neck on chopping block
and with me in mind
sanity on chopping block,
I do my best to remember
that the kingdom comes.
period.
and my prayer is to be caught up in
the ways of the king and his kingdom.

djordan
Pine Tree

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he loves the justice

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I got an email yesterday afternoon from a friend and coworker in Nicaragua. She is fighting for justice in a case of child abuse, and has seen this thing from the very beginning to where it currently stands. We’ve been praying together via email and Skype conversation. We’ve been spreading the word and asking others to pray who hold the child and the situation close to their hearts and minds.

We pray, of course, when we don’t know what the hell to do.

She arranged for many bodies to be seated in the courtroom when the case was heard to make it clear that we are watching, the eyes of many from around the world are watching, and we seek justice. And we demand it.

I received an email from her yesterday afternoon that brought me to tears.

We correspond often, and I speak horrible Spanish and she speaks incredible English, but one can only imagine the wrestle of trying to make sure we understand what is being said and what is not being said.

Her email, however, made it perfectly clear. In a kind of correct English from the words of a highly-educated Nicaraguan spoken in a way a native English speaker never would have spoken, I have been repeating her phrase both in my mind and out loud since.

We’ve been waiting, you see, for news from the trial. Will those who’ve committed abuse against children be held accountable? Will reasonable measures be taken to ensure that they are no longer able to perpetrate violence against other women and children?

Her email had this phrase buried in with many other words, but it is this phrase in particular that has been on my mind ever since.

“Thank you for praying. Our God he hears our prayer. And he loves the justice.”

Words from an attorney, among many other things, who is working tirelessly toward kingdom come on the ground in Nicaragua where justice doesn’t have the luxury of being a theological issue; where the luxury of whether or not or even how to talk about the kingdom of heaven is not a conversation, but rather a life and death issue. Words from her speak so clearly about the heart of God in the middle of seeking the kingdom where all points to hopelessness and loss.

“Thank you for praying. Our God he hears our prayer. And he loves the justice.”

The perpetrator of violence was found guilty in the courtroom that morning.
The story is not over and the work is not done, but the anthem of his people remains:
Our God, he loves the justice.

djordan
Salt Lake City, Utah

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