2013 In Review (13 Things)

I started writing this late the night of New Year's Eve, some time after the ball dropped, but I was afraid the melancholia which seems to permeate my late-night writings would creep in and sour my reflections on the last year. Which wouldn't be fair. Because 2013 was one of the most incredible years of my short life.

Don't get me wrong; it wasn't all peaches and cream. Once or twice things seemed pretty grim for ol' Jordan. I faced a health scare or two, more car trouble than any one person could ever deserve, relational pains I wouldn't wish on the Westboro Baptist Church and some premium-quality anxiety.

Still, in spite of it all, I look back on the last year and the big picture is actually pretty stunning. After all, in just the last twelve months I graduated college (first in my family), moved back to Springfield, got a new car, bagged two of my dream jobs working with young people (at a juvenile detention center and my home church), got plugged back into Springfield Young Life, and moved in with two of my very best friends. Lots of checks off the grown-up checklist.

So in honor of this insane year, I'd like to share 13 realizations I've had since last New Year's Eve (inspired by this Relevant Magazine article).

13 Things I Realized in 2013:

1. People are beautiful and worthwhile.

I ought to have known this all along, but it's hard to keep sight of the beauty of people when it becomes obscured by infighting, tribalism, materialism, prejudice, power-mongering and youtube comments. Add to this the Church's propensity to dismiss people as being "inherently sinful" or "broken" and you have a recipe for a very low view of humanity, which I bought into wholesale. This year, however, guided by my own church and one of my very best friends Sam Koekkoek (who set out on his own journey to discover the intrinsic beauty of humankind), I learned to see people as being made in the image and likeness of God, loved, chosen and wholly worthwhile. So even when I hear prominent Christian leaders talk about people as if they're garbage God pretends to love, or when my secular intelligentsia friends whine about the sheeplike qualities of the hoi polloi, I know deep in my bones that people are valuable and precious in the eyes of their Creator, and capable of so much goodness and light.

2. Love requires vulnerability.

I couldn't say this any better than two of my heroes:

"I love, therefore I am vulnerable." ~ Madeleine L'Engle

3. Kids are kids.

You'd think the time I spent in juvy this year would have given me some sort of insight into the criminal mind. And in a few small ways it has. But what has become clearer to me over the last five months is that kids are kids, whether in church, at school or in jail cells. By and large the kids I meet on the inside aren't attention-hungry or rowdy because of any criminal ideation; they're attention hungry and rowdy because they're kids. Sure they've made poor choices. Sure, they need serious reformative treatment to undo their destructive behavioral patterns. But what I find so beautiful about juvenile justice in Oregon is just that: it is geared toward restoration and not punishment. Even the most wayward kids are still kids and deserve a chance to live and be successful in the world. After all, most of these kids behave the way they do because they learned it from their criminal parents and neighbors. So many of them hardly stood a chance of living healthy lives. So we're giving each of them a new chance, and it's a beautiful thing.

4. Homophobia is not a Christian value.

As more and more states legalize gay marriage I'm noticing certain branches of the Church digging in their heels to try and stave off the change. Just in the last year I caught some of my facebook friends posting memes mocking the "equals" movement for marriage equality. Then some time later a certain Christian leader promoted disgust toward homosexuals as a viable Christian witness. Still more recently a Christian "celebrity" compared homosexuality to bestiality and terrorism, and what's worse many more Christians defended him. The logic behind despicable behavior like this seems to be that we Christians can save the world by condemning its behavior without concern for the thoughts or feelings of those we judge. So long as we are "right," we have the right to say so whenever and to whomever we wish. But this year it has become starkly clear to me this is not how the Christian Gospel spreads. This is not how God calls us to live. We are to be servants and lovers. We will be recognized for our love, not for our moral superiority or piosity. It is the Father's job to judge, the Spirit's to convict and mine to love. Period. We win this culture war at the expense of our mission, and that must not be.

5. I have an incredible family.

This really shouldn't be a revelation. I've lived with them for the last twenty-plus years and I really ought to have realized before now I'm blessed with a funny, warm, inclusive, riot of a family. Sure, we're messy. We may fight from time to time (and batten down the hatches when we do), but all in all I am so lucky to have an amazing mother, a brilliant sister, the coolest cousin and so many other colorful fruits in my family tree. Granted, I haven't always been the best brother/son/cousin. I've gone off and done my own thing, occasionally neglecting those nearest and dearest to me, but this year I realized God put these incredible people in my life for a reason. They take care of me and I take care of them. That's how it's supposed to be.

6. Home is where Christ is.

I've spent the last few years (and numerous blog posts) bemoaning my inability to settle down and find a home. This year, on the other hand, I finally moved back from college for good (or at least for now) and found a place to live with Tony and Dennis, two of the best people I've ever met. Funny thing is, though, finding a "home" didn't totally suppress those deep spiritual yearnings. I thought it would, but it didn't, and I'm coming to realize why. Frederick Buechner explains it best in his book Longing for Home: Reflections at Midlife, "I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it." Once I read those words some months back, once I realized that truth, I started to feel my heart settle. And I'm coming to learn that once you let go of the expectation that a temporal home will satisfy eternal longings, you can appreciate it for what it really offers: security, warmth, and a place to spend time with loved ones. Home is not the roof, the walls, the carpets and furniture, even if they're really good roofs, walls, carpets and furniture. Home is where Christ is. Home is where God fills you with His shalom. You take it with you.

7. Prayer works.

Disclaimer: I don't mean "prayer works" in the transactional sense, that whenever "righteous" people pray, and have enough faith (as if you can quantify faith), then whatever they ask for will come pouring out of the Cosmic Vending Machine (God). I mean, rather, that prayer, as communication with the Creator and Sustainer of the whole of creation, affects reality in palpable but mysterious ways, just as it affects the hearts of those praying. This year prayer (the Jesus Prayer and the Lord's Prayer in particular) got me through car troubles, illnesses, and friend-drama after friend-drama. This year prayer helped me draw closer to the heart of God. This year prayer saved me.

8. Cynicism is easy; hope is hard.

My generation is so cynical. We cannot enjoy trends without attaching irony to them. We must be wary of expressing too much enthusiasm lest we come off desperate or uncool. And honestly, for a pie-eyed romantic like me the whole thing is exhausting. I'd much rather just like stuff, dance when it feels good, and sing like no one's listening. But I'm not supposed to be that way. I'm supposed to be critical, realistic, somber. I'm supposed to be so over the whole thing. But I'm not. And I'm learning it's ok I'm not. After all, when trouble strikes it's all too easy to give into the negative and wallow in it. Cynicism, sarcasm and pessimism are cheap and tasty but ultimately hollow. What takes more courage, more conviction, is to be hopeful in the face of disappointment and rejection. The world will give you too many reasons to give up hope; don't let it go without a fight. 

9. Women are people.

Ok, here me out. This one sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed how many facets of our culture paint a different picture. Once you have ears to hear it, just about everywhere you turn you notice somebody attributing a woman's behavior to her gender rather than to her individual personhood. Even in 2013 women are regularly pigeonholed into certain roles, in the home (housewife), in the workplace (subordinate), even in the church (subordinate housewife). In fact, it is my own experience in Evangelical church culture which has caused me to feel so strongly about female empowerment. While I was lucky enough to belong to an egalitarian church (the Foursquare denomination was founded by a woman!) for the bulk of my Christian journey, and to attend a Quaker university (another denomination favorable toward women in leadership), I have not totally escaped the particular brand of fundamentalism which precludes women from preaching and leading. From time to time in Christian culture I have encountered that very attitude and almost bought into it myself once or twice. My time at George Fox mostly freed me from such oppressive notions but it wasn't until this year when I read A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans and Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey that I was truly won over to the side of justice and equality. And now I'm in the game.

The title alone strikes fear into the hearts of Christians and feminists alike, the whole world over.

10. You can't make people stay.

I like to consider myself a friendly person. Nothing brings me more pleasure than making new friends, especially new best friends. I have this tendency, though, to over-invest, to lose myself in relationships and put myself on the line for people who tend not to treat me all that well for it. And a couple years back I poured myself into a particular handful of friendships, all of which I watched fall apart in the last year (not for my lack of trying). I can honestly say I would take a bullet for any of these young men who want little or nothing to do with me, and it stings in a way not much else can. So I reach, I scramble, I beg and plead. And then, when I am rejected or ignored for the thousand-and-first time, I let them go. I can't make anybody stay with me, stay my friend. I can only pray and cry and grieve and, God-willing, move on. Maybe these friendships will be resurrected on those final days when the rest of us are. Maybe. Please Lord, let it be so.

11. Stuff is just stuff.

In the last year or so I saw two separate cars crap out on me. I lost much of what I own in the dozen moves to and from college. I found a home with two of my very best friends only to have persistent struggles with mold for much of the time I've lived there (I'm allergic to mold). And I'm beginning to get the message. My good friend once quipped that God would never let her have a perfectly running car because she'd never remember to pray. Now I don't necessarily believe that God is intentionally damning me to only have crappy things, but the whole ordeal sure has given me a much more laissez faire perspective on material possession. Stuff is just stuff. Even if it's shiny.

12. There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind (C. S. Lewis).

I used to hate change, even priding myself on my unwillingness to try new things. Which is, when you think about it, a pretty tragic attitude for a child to have (usually it takes some maturing before cynicism like that sets in). I'm beginning to realize, though, that to grow is to change, that if we're not growing we're dying. Those are the two options: grow or die. And I choose life. Sure, new things are scary, but so are most worthwhile goals at the outset. My propensity for nostalgia, to believe the best is behind me, has plagued me for years but is now being blown apart by the new horizons I'm exploring with my Lord. He is showing me the best is yet to come. And won't that be fine.

13. God takes care of His kids.

God as parent is a metaphor. Granted, it's a potent metaphor but a metaphor nonetheless, as God did not literally conceive any of us (unless you count that one guy). The idea behind this metaphor is that God, like a parent, guides us, protects us, teaches us, and helps us grow into mature, whole people. Where the metaphor breaks down is there is a point between earthly parents and children when the latter no longer depend wholly upon the former. Once they've learned everything they can from their parents, most children venture out into the world independent and autonomous. As God's kids, however, we are not designed to achieve autonomy from our Divine Parent. We do not stop needing God just because we learn how to tie our shoes or do our own taxes. To be child of Yahweh means to remain in this place of spiritual nourishment, of utter dependence. So even now that I'm twenty-two years old and like to think I'm a grown up, I know in my heart of hearts that without God I am a toddler wobbling around in a dark room. Without God I'm screwed. But thankfully I am not without God. He promised to take care of me and He has. And He is. If you've any doubt see items 1-12.


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