Tag Archives: loss

more than our sorrow

we-are-more-than-our-sorrow
He sat down at the table with me briefly while I ate and he waited on food to go from the cafe. Since he knew of the chaos raging, not much had to be said. I looked up and tried to squint in the way we try to squint when working to hold back tears that we are tired of.

The same way we squint that usually fails when someone knows of the raging chaos.

As tears began to crack and run down the edge of my runny nose, he said, “It’s like a bomb got dropped in the backyard.”

More tears. Nods. Then conversation about weather, salads, and other things neither of us cared about.

I’ve noticed a sense of being caught between surveying the damage and trying to move. The quote housed about my desk that refrains often in my own mind and heart when things seems unbelievably devastating felt a little out of reach at this point. To quote it, even to myself, felt like cheating the grief and confusion and fury and loss that was gripping everything inside of me:

We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders. 

– Anonymous Vietnamese poem

I could not imagine myself filling the craters yet, much less singing and sowing because I could not yet fathom or feel the extent of the damage, I could not sense the size of the crater left by the bomb in our backyards. I could only survey the damage. And with every glance, its complexity became deeper and harder to wrap my hands around. I would find myself staring into the crater and disappearing in my thoughts. I was beginning even to have trouble remembering what used to be in it’s place. All I could sense and see was a crater. Impossible to fill.

But somewhere, a sense that we, in community, always fill the craters, kept me from jumping in completely to the loss. Phone calls to friends and mentors. Visits to kitchen counters and living room floors. Weeping and asking and not answering.

And then, somewhere, even while still surveying the damage left by the bombs, something somewhere insists that we are our sorrow, but we are also more than our sorrow. We are also our hopes and dreams and work and errands and children and families and lives and friends and promises of the future. “We are more than our sorrow” Thich Nhat Hanh says, and so we enter into the reality that is the only thing stranger than the reality of the chaos. We enter into the reality that we are all of these things at once, in our humanity, and we must be all of them at once to find a way to move.

And so we move.
Because we are more than our sorrow, even as real as the sorrow may be.

djordan
Michigan Ave, Chicago

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

i ironed every shirt today

photo

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

RELATED POSTS
when it finally has no end
my hands are tied
the ground remains
the long defeat
when there’s nothing else to do
the sum of our hoping

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

when it finally has no end

nicene creed

I was up late, and woke up late, and made it into the church service about ten minutes late. My voice was much deeper than normal, and was still deep when we made it to the words of the Nicene Creed. I think it was the unfamiliar cantor of my voice that made me hear what I said today as if it was the first time I had ever heard it.

“…and his kingdom will have no end.”

+++

There are often moments where I see it. It’s clearly present in ways that don’t make any sense, so I lean back, squint my eyes so that tears don’t fall out, and try to breathe it in. There are moments where I see what Nora Gallagher references as “thin space,” moments where the space we are in is touching the space we will be in when the kingdom comes in all of its fullness.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the monotony of daily chores
the normalcy of singing with the windows down
the clinking of glasses and forks and plates at dinner with friends
the deep breaths after long days of good work.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the deep grief of watching one we’ve lived loving be lowered into ground
the deep heartbreak of waiting to hear the horrible news we’re hoping isn’t true
the deep sadness of holding our hair in our hands because we know we are powerless and things are out of control.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the brilliance of art, laughter, hard work
the sharp edges of a brilliant sonnet, sunset, silhouette
the joy of eyes meeting, hands shaking, understanding.

But every time, for now, these moments of heaven meeting earth
have ends. Endings. They are over after they begin.

They have an end.

And we are then reminded that
the things that feel true, honest, just, lovely, pure
don’t last, for now.

+++

So we stand together, deep voices on early Sunday mornings, and say the words that have come from the mouths of men and women for hundreds and hundreds of years. In the echo of their voices and the startling depth of our own early-morning voice, we hold out hope that the day is coming when it has no end. The kingdom made up of thin space, where heaven and earth meet for good and hold hands for good, will have no end. So those moments where we know and see and tell and sense the truth, and we hope that they would last forever…we wait for the day when they will.

We wait for the day when it finally has no end.

djordan
Pine Tree

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

beyond trayvon

beyond trayvon

beyond even the tragedy of a teenage life lost
which is tragedy enough all by itself
is the tragedy that we cannot have
a conversation about the place in which we find ourselves
that goes beyond Trayvon

we have a story on our hands that rocks the airwaves
and makes for good television, whether legal or talk or music or news
and the story gets stuck in the soundbites
ignorant and hollow and poorly polarized
that sell ads for laundry detergent and weight loss aids

and all the while
there’s an issue on our hands
much greater than Trayvon Martin
which is by itself the loss of a teenager walking down the street
and is a great loss all its own

we have an issue on our hands that makes it impossible
to have real and needed conversations with people of the “other”
we know by name, not our token “other friends”
about what it means to live
black
white
hispanic
asian
gay
rich
poor
single
mentally ill

and in the meeting of our differences
we might find the answers that could lead us
from violence and hip-shooting ignorant vigilantism
to the deep and horrifying and necessary conversation
about what it means to work toward
a day when everyone,
perfectly different,
becomes perfectly alike and different together
celebrating kingdom come.
toward justice.
toward compassion.
toward the ordered throwing of stones.

But, because we can’t think outside the lines
given us by the news that sells laundry detergents and weight-loss aids
we run the risk of being stuck in a conversation that ends
with more hatefulness, ignorance and racism.

But, because we know we are ultimately able to think outside the lines
we run the risk of asking questions that citizens of the kingdom ask
with more compassion, empathy, and christlikeness.

and the story changes depending on which risks we decide to take.

God give us courage to take good risks.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

OTHER POSTS ON RACE AND RISK AND COURAGE

it’s dark in here
failure to imagine
rosa parks
let us turn our thought today

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

a people who tell the truth | thoughts on ash wednesday

from dust you came, and to dust you will return

It occurred to me while getting a cross of ash smeared over my brow, hearing the words, “from dust you came, and to dust you will return,” that one of the things I appreciate the most about the faith I’m finding myself leaning into more and more is that we are a people not only allowed to tell the whole truth, not only even encouraged to do so, but ultimately demanded to do so.

We must tell the truth: the good, the heartbreaking, and the completely unexplainable.

And so we operate in a season of lament and reflection. We begin it by marking ourselves with the dust we come from and the dust to which we will return. We take time to fast from things to remind us of our desperation and dependence on the king of the coming kingdom for anything to be worth telling in the end.

And even when shiny churches and slick preachers grin and tell us how to be happy, we must tell the truth that the world goes not well. Injustice abounds and work toward justice often feels like tiny drops in an enormous ocean. Hearts ache with broken families and open wounds. Loss stings years later like the day death stole life from our fingertips.

And so we tell the truth. All of it.

The hope of the kingdom coming is only truly hopeful if it is the refrain after the we see the deep gray all around us, and admit that we are both broken by it and perpetrators of it.

Until all is made new.

And so, for lent, we remember that from dust we came, and to dust we will return.

djordan
Washington D.C.

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

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.

2013-02-01_16-01-42_735

djordan
Summar Dr.

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

on advent | before we sing the song of Christmas

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 9.06.20 AM

My house is actually clean because I threw a party here a week ago.
The Christmas tree has stopped shorting out with the help of an extra extension cord.
All the gifts are in and waiting to be wrapped.
Money is in the bank, and a job waits for me when I return from the holidays.
Evenings and meals with candlelight and laughter are planned nightly for the next week.
There is plenty to be joyful for in the days approaching Christmas for me.

But couples wrestle with miscarriage.
Clients wrestle with families falling apart.
Participants wrestle with utilities being shut off.
Loved ones wrestle with pressing in depression and hopelessness.
Men wrestle with finding a bridge under which to put a pillow for the night.
Strangers wrestle with missing six-year-olds for Christmas morning.
Friends wrestle with the murdered son, husband, wife, daughter.
There is plenty to be broken-hearted for in the days approaching Christmas for me and others.

Enter the truth of advent.

Beyond flashy Christmas programs and shiny Christmas cards
taken twenty times until we liked the way our chins looked,
Beyond rhetoric over guns and entitlement and taxes and “wars on Christmas,”
sits a spinning world that while some goes well,
much goes not well.

Enter the truth of advent.

Skipped for Christmas morning by many churches and Christians
following in line behind consumers and the mighty dollar,
Advent waits in the dark nights before Christmas morning
telling the truth
allowing the tears
holding out hope
that while the world goes not well
the kingdom comes.

And when advent is allowed to enter
and linger under candlelight,
the words of the old hymn make a little more sense,
and make Christmas morning a little more important,
because we were allowed to wait for Christmas.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Until the new heaven and earth own their King,
May we tell ourselves the truth of Advent
before we sing the song of Christmas.

Amen.

djordan
Pine Tree

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

no longer on our own

you’ve been walking a while
mostly in the dark
trying your best to make a map
of where you’ve been
in hopes that you can make a guess
of where you’re going

but the hill has been upward
for such a long time now
you’ve almost decided
you’re not going anywhere or
you’ve been pointed in the wrong direction

but you’ve done your best
to hold out in hopefulness
that you’re almost to the break in the climb

but it’s been in the walking
mostly alone
that you’ve learned the deep value
of holding on to the lantern
with a dim and fickle light
because it’s all you’ve had
to make out where you’ve been
and maybe where you’re going

but we see you now
coming up on the break
in the hill you’ve been climbing
mostly in the dark
mostly alone

and we know what you’re feeling,
mostly we do,
because we remember that climb very well

because of what we remember
we feel our own hearts
jump in our own chests
because of what we remember well

the lost and lone ranger
we remember the fear
we remember the conversations with ourselves
we remember the almost giving up
we remember the almost freaking out
we remember the almost giving in
we remember wondering if we’ve lost our minds
we remember the choice of going back to the crowds
because it felt like the only alternative
to being lost and alone forever

all here together
we now see a glowing
just above the crest of the hill
and all here together
we know that soon
our lights will wrestle the shadows together

you see us
we see you

suddenly that walk was worth it
suddenly the lost and alone and the lesson inside them
have done their work
have done their time

and now, all together
we walk with the light
wrestling the shadows
learning the path

the hill always breaks
and there’s always a crowd ahead of us
waiting, with hearts jumping in chests

because finding each other
is as thrilling as being found

We are no longer on our own.

djordan
León, Nicaragua

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

the class who shows up | on the 5th annual homicide-loss walk

After five years of standing in line watching men and women, propped up babies on hips and grandparents escorted with walkers, this year was different altogether.

It is both encouraging and discouraging to see the crowd grow year after year at the Commemorative Walk for survivors of homicide-loss. It’s been my privilege to listen to and learn from these men and women in a weekly support group, but to see them walk through candlelit paths holding photos of their murdered husbands, sons, grandsons, wives, mothers and grandmothers is altogether horrifying and holy at the same time.

And it has been every year these last five years since the very first walk. It is always holy in the way honestly telling the honest truth is always holy and almost always horrifying.

But this year, there was something new for me as I stood in the evening’s mist.

Looking into the line of men and women with faces barely glowing from the candles in their hands, I saw my students. The clock strikes nine every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and my students are faithful to be patient with me in class as I dance onto tangents, threaten with grades and bribe with food. They have listened to me grow awkwardly teary about the histories of movers and shakers from the margins of the field whom God has used to bring kingdom change across the globe. They have held on as we’ve acted out counseling sessions, as we’ve debated the reasons for poverty and welfare, and as we have pushed the questions of power dynamics and our goodwill to the limits. They always show up.

But this night, lining the sidewalks where women and men who have become dear to me walk through their glowing candles and make clear that their murdered loved ones will not be forgotten, my students showed up. As tears filled my own eyes, I lost my breath in thinking that these very students were standing physically and symbolically right on a dangerous line. They were being both witness to the hard and horrible and hopeless truths like rampant homicide in a community, and were also making a symbolic promise that as social workers who are Christians they will join in the kingdom work to make peace on earth as it is in heaven.

My prayer for those students and any of my students, is that some day in the not-so-distant future there will be professors of Social Work or Theology or Education or Business standing up in front of their own classes telling the names of my students, and talking about how they pushed in from the margins to make peace and to change the world with and for Christ and his kingdom.

And when I hear those stories told, I’ll remember the way their faces glowed this night.

djordan
Pine Tree

RELATED POSTS | what they are teaching me | what they are teaching me 2 | when others tell their stories

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