Tag Archives: tn

you will go to church tomorrow

you-will-go-to-church-tomorrow
About five years ago, I sat next to her the morning she was trying church again. I understand why she had quit trying altogether up until now…the threats and the punches from her husband, the need to stay in the marriage from her old church and pastor, the reality of how in hell to care for her children and protect herself at the same time. I couldn’t believe she showed up to begin with. And on that Sunday morning, the sermon itself was ultimately about how wives should keep doing the right thing even when their husbands’ don’t in hopes that their husbands will come around. God bless.

For people dealing with socks in the floor or toilet seats left up, perhaps this is not a problematic statement. But the reality that more than two thirds of christian women in violent relationships feel like it’s their duty to tolerate the violencemakes it a problem. The difficulty with knowing that nine out of ten church-going, christian women interviewed felt that their husbands used their religion and doctrine to support their abuse2 makes it even messier.

I worked at the church at that time, so I found myself on Monday morning wringing my hands while deciding whether or not to mention this difficulty to the preacher. When walking in that morning, one of the staff who worked there at the time asked if I had been at church the day before and what I thought about it. After playing dumb and answering with questions, it became clear that she was a survivor of domestic violence and left the sermon the day before feeling guilty for leaving the marriage. Another conversation with yet another church staffer made it clear that there were at least two women in the building who had been in “christian” marriages in the past where domestic violence was present. They had both pushed courageously through their church’s tradition that you have to stay, wait it out, and keep doing the right thing in hopes that your male “head of the christian marriage” will come around. The two of them before 9:30 in the morning made it clear that I had to mention this issue to the preacher in hopes that in the future he would be willing to make the caveat to avoid these silent sufferers leaving church thinking God is mad at them for their bravery in avoiding assault.

His response when I scheduled a meeting with him about the issue?

“You can caveat a sermon to death.”

A few days later, an additional response.

“It’s not your place to talk to me like you’re my teacher.”

I managed to leave my employment at that church too many months later after these interactions. I’ve learned in the meantime, now serving my second year as chair for an incredible nonprofit working to empower women and men in abusive relationships to get the hell out, the reality that many churches are afraid to address head on the issues of domestic violence out of fear that people are looking for excuses for divorce.

Please catch your breath with me.

Many churches and their male pastors, in this area at least, are afraid to address head on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault out of fear that women are looking for excuses for divorce. Or, for the incredibly important reason that we can “caveat a sermon to death.”

To my friend that Sunday morning sitting next to me, leg and arm muscles tightening as you received word from the pastor that you should stick it out, I’m so sorry. I wan you I left. I moved on. And I wish I had never invited you. To church staff who pushed through the same issues, I’m so sorry. I left. I want you to know I moved on. And so did you. To the women who are still in church and still in marriages and still wondering whether or not God honors marriage more than your own safety and dignity, I have good news. He is for you.

This past Sunday, I watched as the Executive Director of WRAP, the nonprofit working to empower survivors of sexual and domestic violence, climbed the steps to the microphone at my church during the middle of the service. I felt my watery eyes turn on as she spoke gently and directly about the number of women who show up for services at WRAP and say that they were afraid to tell their churches because they were afraid they wouldn’t be believed. I watched the priest walk over to this woman as she was trying to make her way off the platform as he said, “please don’t go yet. If I can, I’d like to pray for you and the people your organization works with.” I watched him put his arms around her and say, “Thank you God for women like Daryl, and for places like WRAP, and for the work they do as a part of your church to let people know your heart if for marriages and families of mutual respect. You are a God who wants peace in families, and safety for all in the family. We know, God, that you are never for the abuse of your children. So we say today that we stand with you against domestic violence for all reasons.  Empower your servants to work with great power to free those in danger, and know that you are with them.”

You will go to church tomorrow. Is your church willing to honor peace over abusive marriage? Ask. Find out. Make it an issue, and make sure that your church will speak up. The people affected by these issues won’t cause problems in your congregations; they will go home and take another fist to the face. The burden is ours. The insistence is His.

djordan
Pine Tree

If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced domestic or sexual violence, contact WRAP by visiting www.wraptn.org. 

Nash, S. T., Faulkner, C., & Abell, R. R. (2013). Abused conservative Christian wives: Treatment considerations for practitioners. Counseling and Values (58). October, pp. 205-220.
2. Nickmeyer, N., Levitt, H. & Horne, S. G. (2010). Putting on Sunday best: The silencing of battered women within Christian faith communities. Feminism and Psychology. (20)2. February, pp. 94-113.

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responsibility and recovery | an interview

RadioInterview1

A friend of mine who is currently working on his Social Work degree asked to interview me as a clinician and community advocate who work with a population wrestling with substance use and abuse for a course assignment he is working on. After being forced to pause during the business of work and reflect on his questions, I realized how valuable the exercise had been to me. I’ve decided to share it here, and invite your own comments for those of you working or living in the field. And to all my clients and colleagues in the work, this is a small testimony of your importance to my own development as a human being.

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Dear Donald, 
I have to do an interview with a person who works with substance abusers and since I know you work at Jackson’s Drug Treatment Court and with Pathways Youth Recovery services, I thought you may be a good person to get in contact with. So without further ado, here are the questions: 
1. Why did you choose this occupation? 

I feel like it chose me. Apparently, as a child when I was told I couldn’t help mom or dad do something, I would tell them “If helpers can’t help, they die.” While a little melodramatic even at that age, my heart is with being there when people discover something is possible they thought had already been ruled out or even something they had never thought of before. People dealing with substance abuse and addiction who are seeking recovery are the most honest, holy people I’ve ever met. I learn from them, and they learn (some of them) that there is more available for their lives than they could ever have imagined.

2. What are the unique strengths and challenges of this population?

I often feel, whether in small group IOP (Intensive Outpatient) therapy groups, one on one in outpatient counseling, or in AA / NA group-led self-help meetings, that people coming together, admitting their crap and the crap it has caused, refusing to respond to others in judgment because they are aware of their own need for support and peace, and honestly believing that every day is the beginning of another possibility. These are all strengths. That’s what makes A&D work a holy exercise; it puts the pretense that actual church services can often be to shame. Some of the challenges include, obviously, the incredible chemical, relational, emotional and neurological effects and consequences of addition, and the ways these affect people’s relationships with all the systems they will need to move into recovery. 

3. What do you think are the most effective interventions in working with this group?
Such a tricky question, here. There are TONS of interventions that are evidence-based and therefore effective. Some are indicated more so for certain groups. We used a highly cognitive-behavioral model at Pathways with you, and we use a different motivational interviewing and behavioral model at drug treatment court. I’ve used narrative practices against addiction in one on one therapy before in individual outpatient. A strong therapeutic rapport, good evidenced-based practice, and a judgment-free, dignity-filled therapeutic perception of the client are all major players. And of course, the choice always lies in the client’s hands as to whether any intervention is ultimately effective. Not to shrug my clinical shoulders and wash my clinical hands so much as to honor the reality of the client’s own ability and acknowledge that her success in recovery belongs to her and the system of support that she has created.
4. Do you have any thoughts about what the future will bring for the group? 
Not sure what this question means. My work on the federal and state levels with SAMHSA and TDMHSAS reveals that there is a strong push that continues to be difficult to highlight co-occuring disorders, and to merge the substance abuse and mental health worlds into an effective, connective system of care. This leads to questions of collaboration between multiple agencies, staying with tension and conflict regarding competing agency and group agendas, and how to make decisions about models and interventions and policies in ways that best serve both client and organization. And “best serve organization” always reflects in part how services can be funded and how services that are initially funded by grants can ultimately be sustainable and interwoven into the fabric of the pre-existing system of care. 
5. What has been your most rewarding experience working with this population?​
I learn about myself, my own growth, my own shortcomings and desires to hide them, my own responses to rejection, isolation, stigma, piety, and despair as well as the others’ responses affect me in turn. I always tell group members during one of their initial group sessions, “There’s no difference between this group and ‘those people out there.’ Some have become brave enough to tell the truth about their shortcomings and hopes, and others have yet to find a way to tell the truth. Welcome to the table.” In turn, I am at risk of not being welcomed to the table by the group. They are generous enough to let me in and share incredibly personal things with the table. That’s courage. That’s honesty. That’s holding onto and being honest about, as Parker Palmer would say, the tragic gap between the way things are and the way things can be…and the willingness to stay there long enough for our hearts to break open and new solutions to pour out from it. I am in church every time I’m in group; the good, the bad and the ugly of church. 
6. What has been the hardest part of working with this populace?
Taking responsibility for someone else’s recovery, holding out false hope by getting ahead or withholding needed hope because I don’t yet believe I have no idea what the participants are capable of. There’s always the risk of heartbreak, or heart-crushing perhaps. But it’s the risk that makes people finding their whole lives again possible…and always worth the risk of a crushed heart. It has to be. 
7. Do you think that you will continue to serve this population in the future?
Definitely. 
8. What is some advice you would give to people who are going to work with this population? 
You aren’t saving anybody. People don’t need saving, they need finding. We can help ask the questions that allow individuals to be found. It’s not an “us” and “them,” and stay clear of any professional or individual who ever communicates in a way that sets them on a higher plane than those they serve. The biggest risk is entering the work thinking we are above or over or ahead of those we serve. All are changed in the work, so if you aren’t willing to take the same risks you are asking your clients to take, don’t start to begin with. And, ultimately, the success of those you work with is out of your hands; your excellence and hard work and perseverance and ultimate respect for others is completely in your hands. Don’t blur the lines…for your own sake and for the sake of your clients. 
9. Would you say that this population is a population that is heavily discriminated against?
Yes, but so is every population in one way or another. They don’t need pity or sadness, they need the same kind of encouragement that there is hope for something else just like all of us need. They are on an uphill climb, though, as people associate addition with choice alone, so it becomes a moral issue the way other diseases or not. So not only does this population have to work to regain trust in order to secure work, housing, and relationship, but they have to constantly battle the stigma of being ‘bad people.’ The church should lead in chaining this tone, but AA and NA are doing a much better job at it presently. Luckily, or divinely, the church is all in AA as well. 
10. How has what you learned from your clients affected your practice?
I feel like questions 1-9 address this question. Hope this helps. It is always good for me to stop and reflect; thanks for asking.
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djordan
Madison Ave
Memphis, TN
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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

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when it’s too late | on john 11

First Baptist Fire, Jackson, TN 2012

It is just after the time when it’s too late.

Our prayers are guided this way. We pray leading up to the time when it is obviously too late. And then we explain why he didn’t show up. Why he didn’t answer.

When our prayers are answered the ways we ask, we give God thanks, and remember it as a way to explain that God indeed does answer prayers.

When our prayers are not answered the ways we ask, when they are not answered in time, we explain that God knows better. We talk about his soveriegnty, and our need to trust him.

We say things like, “Our ways are not God’s ways,” and, “We will know when we should know.”

And in many ways, we come up with explanations either to give God credit, or to let him off the hook.

We pray, and still families fall apart.
We pray, and still jobs are lost.
We pray, and still the famine continues.
We pray, and still we are abused.
We pray, and still we abuse.
We pray, and still the fire burns it all the way down.
We pray, and still the gunshots are fired.
We pray, and still the son is lost.

And so, we say, God knows best. Our ways are not his ways. We will know when we should know.

But not Martha. She is angry.
She had faith, and called him early. When he got sick, she sent for him to get there.

But he did not. He was too late. And she let him know, “If you had only been here.”

And this time, of course, he was not too late. In the ways that he is never too late. There is no too late. Time waits for him, and he does not need time to work in his favor.
And this time, the too late was just on time. When the stone gets pushed out of the way, he comes stumbling out wrapped up like a mummy.
And we talk of the sovereignty of God, Jesus’ power against death, his ways as being other than our ways.

And we are comforted, for a moment. The story helps us take a deep breath, and say to ourselves, it is never too late for him.

But still, we are sitting in the aftermath of
families that have fallen apart.
jobs that are still nowhere to be found.
famine that is murdering millions and millions.
abuse that does not stop.
abusing that cannot stop.
crumbles of chard homes, businesses, churches.
gunshot wounds and hospital noises.
gravestones of our sons and daughters.

And to say the he is never late feels poisonous escaping from our lips.

Martha says, “But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask him for.”

In some ways, this makes it worse because we are sitting in the murky puddles of loss and hopelessness.
In other ways, this makes it better because we know that we have seen you more than once defy time and loss and death.

Help us let this make it better.
And when it does not, and we cannot, call for us as you called for Mary, from our mourning…

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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