Revisiting Our Stories, Part Two
In these days of what feels like endless ache and wave after wave of trauma and demand for resilience, we have the opportunity to develop a greater capacity to know who we are and who God is in the midst of this season. Today we’re re-sharing the second part of a series on qualities of a well-lived story, and we’re excited for you to revisit these conversations with our friends and partners in this work. You’ll hear from one of the most courageous people we know, Danielle Castillejo, who is a therapist, writer, activist, and podcast host, and Jimmy McGee, President and CEO of The Impact Movement, who is someone who exhibits Gospel curiosity in his life and ministry.
- Listen to new and past episodes of Danielle’s podcast, The Arise Podcast
- Read A Shining Affliction
- Listen to a podcast series on “Love and Courage in a Global Pandemic“
- Read How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious by Fritz Ridenour
Rachael: In these days of what feels like endless ache and wave after wave of trauma and demand for resilience. We feel like it’s so timely to spend some time revisiting a podcast series we did about qualities of a well-lived story and in many ways we need examples, we need to see other stories that we can look to and understand how they have shaped the people who are living them. And so that’s part of what we’re doing in this series is talking with, as Dan said, our spouses and other friends and colleagues that we have looked to say this is someone who is living well. And as we thought about who are some of the most courageous people we know our friend and colleague Danielle Castillejo, who is a therapist, a writer, an activist, a podcast host and among many other things we wanted to hear more from her about how has she come to be such a courageous woman in the ways that she lives, loves and brings her gift things to bear in the world.
Dan: We are in the middle of a series on what it means to live a well lived life and story. And we thought, Rachael and I just thought we could talk talk talk, you know, we’ve never had a whole lot of difficulty just talking, but nonetheless, we thought maybe it’s just smarter to bring people in who we look to as reflections of what it means to live a well lived story. And our guest today is a woman whom I have immense respect, honor, and delight in. She is a recent graduate of our program. But as we step in, the reason we’re inviting you to this is we want you to grow in courage and in kindness and curiosity and commitment. Those are the things that we think are most central to what it means to live a well lived story. And this woman, I’m telling you she bears a life of great courage. Rachael, introduce our guest.
Rachael: What a privilege to introduce the fiercely beautiful Danielle Castillejo. She is a mother, a writer, a speaker as Dan mentioned a recent counseling graduate of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. And we’ve also been privileged to have Danielle as a part of our Allender Center training certificates for multiple years. And she has informed even for us some of the work we’re doing and I would say just someone I experience as a fierce advocate and an artist and so looking forward to hearing more from you today and so grateful that you’ve joined us.
Danielle: Thank you so much for having me.
Dan: What an honor we are just going to jump in. And the fact is whether you want to admit it or not, you are a remarkable presence of the Kingdom of God and the way you have lived invites us all to to ponder and to reflect on what it means to live a life of courage. So I do want you to sort of talk at least for a bit, what do you do? And we’re going to get to courage later, but just to give people a better sense of like what are you doing? What are you doing in this world?
Danielle: Yeah, well thank you. What do I do? I’m a mom and I have four kids, I have two teenagers, a middle schooler, and then an elementary student. So I do a lot of that. And simultaneously I try to work and also my partner Luis, we’ve been married 18 years. So I have these things that I’m doing quote unquote or living. And then I’m also involved in leading groups around how to explore your racial identity of whiteness. I’m involved in my community, meeting with women on the ground here and just trying to encourage them, having people over for dinner in a past life. Now it looks more like if you want to drive by and wave at us and say we can still have a conversation that way. I really believe in connecting to community, I really believe in my family connecting to community and you know, Luis and I try to live that out together. And so opening a private practice and hoping to structure it in a way that I can invite people that are experiencing homelessness or other things to be invited and do therapy with me at a lower minimum cost. And so just trying to alter my way of living to fit the way I talk.
Rachael: And speaking of talking, there are some other places people might be able to see other work you do. I know you have your own podcast that you create, the Arise podcast. I love how you guys have talked about it, welcoming the exile home, conversations about faith, race, justice, gender, and the church.
Danielle: Yeah. Maggie and I were like me, I co-hosted with my friend Maggie Hemphill, and we were like, maybe we need to narrow it down. But when we tried to cut something out, it was really hard. I mean there’s a lot of trauma in our own community right here in our space in Washington, and just out in the world, and a lot of times I think as a believer and a faith follower, believing in Jesus, I found myself on the outside looking in and not having a place to belong and not having a place to have these conversations, and so one day I just said, hey, let’s do a podcast. Let’s have a space where we can talk about it, and let’s invite friends and people that can speak to these issues better than we can on our own. So yeah, just kind of trying to create more spaces for belonging.
Dan: Well, let me ask a difficult thing of you and that is we think you’re a courageous woman and I have never met anybody who is courageous who thinks they’re courageous. So let’s just get that out of the way. Of course you don’t think you’re courageous. You’re just doing what, you know, you have to do. And that’s a lot of good stuff. But the fact is you know, I don’t know if it’s humility or if it’s just that indeed truly courageous people are living out something of what they have to do and in that sense of inevitability, they don’t think of it as unique. So again, why would we have chosen you, my friend, to talk about courage?
Danielle: Have you seen the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? There are these, like at the end Indiana Jones has to pass through these tests, right? And the one test that gets at me the most that I’ve been thinking about the most is he has to step into an abyss and bet that there’s a bridge that’s gonna hold him to get to where he wants to be. And I think I’ve experienced a lot of my life like that. Like God, I know you’re there and I’m stepping out and it’s not always a win and it’s not always that I’m gonna make it, but it’s just stepping out thinking I can’t go back and I’m trusting you to go forward in some way and just stepping down and then hitting ground, like not falling. So I don’t know that’s the analogy that came to mind when you said that.
Dan: And so I’d love for you to put more words to what in your story would help us get a sense of something that you’ve stepped into that looked like literally the abyss air without any bridge whatsoever. And yet something of the goodness of God came through.
Danielle: Yeah, I think. Well, I know that three years ago, actually, 4 to 5 years ago I was in a tough space. My family was in a tough space. We had been missionaries in Morocco for two years and came back and just our church was in turmoil. Our pastor had passed away, leadership had changed and we really found ourselves just alone and not knowing what to do, having a baby that ended up in the NICU for a month and just kind of you know, doing what all good Christians did we powered through, we made it, we got home and a year later just showing up in a doctor’s office and being like, I can’t make it, I can’t do it, I need help. And you know, tried medication, tried some different things, tried therapy for a couple of years and got fired by my first therapist and thinking like what did I do wrong and like how can I get help? And then stepping into an office with another therapist and her just really setting all of the things I brought to her on the side, a stack of paperwork, and saying, I don’t need to know about that, I just want to talk to you, I want to hear from you. And so as I started down that path, eventually she gave me a book called The Shining Affliction by Anne Rogers and I read it and I thought that’s what my therapist is doing for me. She is actually listening, she’s not judging me. And over that time period I decided I want to do what she’s doing, but I have no money, I have no job and I have no idea how this is going to happen. So I just, one day I walked into her office and I knew she was connected to The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and I said I applied and she said you did what I said, I filled out the application, I did it, she’s like, okay. And I am like for the last like six years before that I didn’t even read books. Like I pretended to read the Bible to fit in, but I didn’t really read books and so, but this one particular book actually kind of bolstered my faith and I applied, I went to the interview and I thought there’s no way I’m going to pass through the interview and then I did and I got this call and,I was accepted and I was like, oh no, now I actually have to follow up on this. So I even battled registering for classes, it was like I can’t register for too many classes and my therapist was like just do it. And so I just, I registered for the classes and started showing up without even expecting that I would finish the first semester and keep going. I had no idea.
Dan: Oh goodness, again, I have the privilege of knowing something of the nature of your work and it’s sterling, it’s gold. And so for you to basically be so deeply convinced that you couldn’t, wouldn’t, and probably shouldn’t do that I think the question probably is what would have caused you to be so doubting of yourself and yet willing to take such unbelievable risk?
Danielle: I think internally just fighting off the labels I had given myself and had accepted from other people for years. Just you’re a failure. You didn’t make it in Morocco. You’re a failure. You talked to all these people about your dreams of going somewhere and it didn’t work out. You had your child a month early and I told myself messages like it’s because I didn’t take care of my body. I’m not a good wife, I’m not a good mother, I can’t even take care of my own children. So what would I be thinking, doing, stepping off and going to study and actually try to actually to help other people, like bring healing to other people? How can I do that when I’ve made so many mistakes? And I mean it’s a few of the messages I told myself and honestly the courage came from, I know there has to be something better. And my therapist, once she knew I was in, she was like, you can do this Danielle, you don’t even have to, you can quit every day. But then the next day just try again. And I would get on the ferry someday and be like, yeah, today’s my last day. And then I would go and I’d be like, yeah, I want to go back. And also my husband Luis he knew I wanted to do this. He’s like, I think you were meant for this Danielle, you were meant to tell your story, you were meant to be free. And we’ve had our struggles and our hard times, but something between us felt like we resonated with that for, not just for me, but it was something for our whole family and I know that sounds really big but it’s also true.
Dan: Maybe just a slight diversion, but what have you been put on this earth to say to do to create and to disrupt?
Danielle: I think I’m just figuring that out in some ways and I think it’s probably in process and will continue to shift. I really believe that there is hope after so much experiencing so much destruction and so much devastation and even in, you know, I told a friend recently, it’s almost like we’re living in a white ecosystem that feeds off shame right now. I feel in a sense called to say like we don’t have to live in that ecosystem. We don’t have to, we don’t have to survive on that kind of shame that’s tearing us apart. And so I, you know, am called to bring healing to those spaces and also disrupt some of this ecosystem. That’s just like the air we breathe, like some of the different writers talk about. So I think those are some of the things.
Rachael: And how did you get there? I mean, what’s in your story to wrestle with hope and to in one sense offer really truly a different ecosystem?
Danielle: I think what’s in my story, it’s experiencing a sense of deep hopelessness from the way I grew up to the way I experienced racism and my family growing up to the way experienced not having language for that, finding myself literally silenced for years to the abuse and trauma that I went through as a child and not having anyone that could acknowledge or believe me or name any of those things. And so, having such profound, just a profound despair and almost like walking through it even as a kid and thinking, I think there’s something else, There’s got to be something else and not even really knowing what it was like growing up in a faith tradition and thinking maybe it’s Jesus, maybe it’s not, but I do feel that Jesus loves me. And so I think, you know, even as a child experiencing that, and even then there’s a sense of like, you know, Latinos, there’s a lot of just like hopelessness, you know, and like a sense of giving up, but at the same time it’s a sense of trying again. So these two things seem to happen a lot in our culture and even in between Luis and I like just a sense of giving up and then a sense of, okay, we’re still going, you know, like not like picking yourself up by your bootstraps, but more like, let’s try again with the labor of exhaustion as a Latino and the doors that have been closed and so the intersection of racism and abuse obviously touches you deeply and that you know, that opens the door to a lot of heartache and certainly a lot of people standing and looking in on your life saying why would you want to do that? How do you engage those within your culture, outside of your culture?
Dan: Looking in basically saying you are an extraordinarily bright, capable, competent woman. You could be running that small little firm on the other side of the water called Amazon. Why do you want to do this? Work with homeless folks? Work with racism, abuse? How come?
Danielle: I think I would say, why wouldn’t you want to join me? I think I would say, don’t you want to join me? Don’t you want to be on my team? And if you don’t, let’s talk about it, I mean we’re so committed to comfort, it’s become a value. And I’ve lived most of my life feeling uncomfortable and not that that’s a virtue, but I also think it’s okay to be uncomfortable. And so I would, I would like to say to that person come over to my house, let’s have some dinner, let’s talk about it.
Rachael: And I think that just to me, one of the things I so deeply respect about you is this radical hospitality that is also unapologetic and you know, in our Allender Center world, there is certainly a very prophetic way in which you bring your presence to the world, you bring your voice. I’m constantly learning from you and how you bring your voice to craft language that makes meaning and gives voice not to the voiceless. I’m not going to use that patronizing language, but helps people to understand and find expression for what they might be experiencing or feeling. And is telling stories that people actually have to actively if you cannot see the impact of racism in our world today with what’s playing out with COVID 19 and the communities that are most deeply bearing the impact of it, what is being authorized from the highest office in our nation, then you have to actively look away. There is a sense of not just I’m blind to this. I don’t see this. There’s an active looking away and I feel as though you speak with an unapologetic truth telling. And yet to even hear you say, I would invite that person over for dinner and say, let’s talk about why you don’t want to join me. There’s this radical hospitality, it doesn’t feel, it feels really unnerving and disruptive. And I would imagine there are many people that don’t know what to do with your hospitality.
Danielle: It’s true. In this time, Luis and I actually had some women stop by our house I don’t know, it’s maybe been a month ago, women of color asked if they could stop by and so we said yes and Luis put the grill out in front of our house and then we said, hey, just bring lawn chairs or whatever. And as I, as we sat there with them, I realized this is not going to be a short conversation, this is going to be, this is gonna be a conversation about what’s happening in Kitsap County, in my county. And as that happened, I had just made a carrot cake. We made corn, we made steak and, and then, you know, five hours later wrapped up and said goodbye and one of the women at the end said, why did, why did you make a big meal? Why did you make a big meal? And I said, well, I didn’t know for sure if you were coming by. So that’s why you saw me cooking when you first stopped because I didn’t want to start if you weren’t coming. And I said, but once you were here, I knew that we weren’t here just to chat about the weather. You know, we were here to chat about racism and what’s going on in our county and what, what are we going to do about it? And I thought, well if we’re going to talk about that, we need really good food, we need, we need homemade food because they were like, you could have got a pizza and Luis and I were like, a pizza? It’s like, no, we’re feeling that if people want to engage, there’s just something about sitting together and eating and I’m a little off track from your question, but just noting that there’s something about having something nourishing for your body and something going on and just feeling cared for in that way, like someone cooking for you. It just felt important. And you know, like you said, I write a lot, I read a lot and I don’t want my life just be words on a paper. You know, I wanted to be like, I’m accessible, not unlimited but like if you want to stop by my house, then I will treat you the same way. You know, that’s the goal. It doesn’t always happen, but you know, that’s my hope, you know?
Dan: Well, we’re straying quickly into curiosity, aren’t we? Because I don’t think you can, I mean, I cannot even imagine for a millisecond taking five hours. I mean, that violates every core ethic of my being. So right, there is a level of courage, but with curiosity, I can be captured into days of conversation and clearly that intersection of you are hosting and you’re giving a taste of the coming kingdom. So in part, what I would say is you’re a woman who really believes in the coming kingdom, which is a banquet, which is good food, good drink, good stories, good music, the life of the party. So you create parties in order to deal with some of the harshest and heart breaking realities of living in a fallen world. So, I think that’s in part what I would say has always been stunning there. You create goodness, but you enter into very, very heartbreaking portions of evil and do so in a way that actually feels like this is how normal people live. But you also know that’s not normal.
Danielle: I guess. I mean it feels like again, it’s like why wouldn’t we spend? I don’t want that. That is so Mexican. Like there’s no way you could come by if you came early, you could but we would not, we would not push you out the door. You know, if there was more to say, there was more to say. So In this case there was five hours to say. And my guess is only a beginning truly when you offer that kind of hospitality, the heart begins to realize there are realms of words, volumes of words yet to be spoken. And to create that invitation is in many ways to create the anticipation that there will be more moments like that with those, with those women and with many others.
Rachael: So if I can just sort of get you to talk about, what’s the cost for you, your family stepping into that kind of a life and also what’s the joy? I mean in some ways you’ve already spoken it, but just to capture what’s the cost? What’s the joy for you?
Danielle: Yeah, I think I want to say that not only did they visit, II know that we were blessing them, but because often in our community, when we have invited people, not everybody, but there’s been a lot of cases when we have said, hey, come over for dinner to folks of dominant culture and they would, you know, they always not come sometimes they invite us there, but they don’t come. I think there was such a joy for Luis and I to have them accept our gift. They stay to know that they want a gift in a sense and to be able to offer it and to have them delight and enjoy it. And it felt like a moment where you know, they weren’t Latinos like us but they felt this profound connection like we’re in this together. Not only did you need care and you came to our house but off actually being able to offer our care and have you accept it was so different that even when they left Luis and I talked for a long time about how good it felt to be able to offer goodness from our culture and have it, have it accepted. So that’s just a side note. But on the cost, I mean people hate you, people hate you Or you know, they want to work out their struggle, they want to text you. They want to call you randomly and talk to you. They want your input but they don’t want your input. Some people want to quote unquote, pick your brain and you’re like that’s actually not for sale anymore. There are all kinds of demand. So there’s a demand I think because I’m biracial, I connect to a lot of white folks and then also connect to a lot of people of color. So I do often feel pulled, stretched in two ways and especially now to have demand to do, hey, can you work with white folks? And yes I want to. And then how can I feel a pressing need? Like I want to offer care and offer also what I have of my energy to people of color. Women of color specifically. And then I went to the dentist and the dentist was like, you have high blood pressure today, what’s going on? And the hygienist said, let me guess. She said it’s race and COVID just like that. And I felt immediately relieved and just to have that kind of awareness like, okay, like even though I’m involved in doing this, like my body is actually processing the stress and so too just take some purposeful time to care for myself and take a break. But I mean that’s part of the cost. You know, just from the family to high blood pressure to, you know, headaches, you know, it’s there and there’s a way to escape it. There’s a way to in one sense buffer the realities of what we’re being invited to engage in and the joy. There’s so much joy that the opportunity to sit with these women. Luis and I will remember that for a long time because not only did they delight in Louisiana but my kids were running around because you know they’re from a more collective culture. This was not a sense of I have to keep my kids quiet, I have to manage this for you. This was like so much joy for them to just see my kids. So it’s like that experience has brought me so much joy and informed the reason I’m doing this and given me so much hope. Honestly, the group my colleague and I are doing is for white folks on race. I feel it’s hard but afterwards we both feel so much hope for the world. We’re like if people can get together and sit down and have these conversations and process shame and do these things, there is so much hope. So that’s where the joy comes from.
Rachael: I’m so grateful, so grateful for you and let me again say the Arise podcast is where people can come and hear you regularly and let me just add to that because if you have found man, I want to learn more from this woman and I want to hear and understand what she’s saying. You can also find her at her website and you can become a member of the work she’s doing, you can support her in the work she’s doing. If there was ever a season, it’s always this season, but if there was ever a season to take intentional movement to support the women of color in our world who are doing justice work, who are leaning into the gospel with courage and curiosity and ferocity now is the time. So you can also find access to the Arise podcast there and it’s just one of the things I love about you Danielle in just thinking about um your curiosity and your courage is you are a learner and you have a posture of humility and learning and um we have just been so privileged um to know you and um to witness some of your work in the world and hope that there are many more opportunities for partnership in this season ahead.
Rachael: And finally, our friend and partner in this work, Jimmy McGee, the President and CEO of The Impact Movement, we find him to be someone who has exhibited the kind of gospel curiosity that makes for a ministry and a life that is sustainable in the face of insurmountable lead, injustice and trauma. And so we spend some time exploring with Jimmy how his curiosity has led him to a kind of study and deep rooted faithfulness in the midst of all the tensions in life with Jesus on this earth hold.
Rachael: We’re back today and I’m here with Dan and we would really love to welcome back a former podcast guest and our friend and ministry partner, Jimmy McGee, CEO and President of The Impact Movement. And as we have been in this series on qualities of a well lived story and we’ve been journeying through what does it mean for someone to exemplify a story that really embodies what we understand to be the gospel of Jesus Christ, one who is in pursuit of justice, who loves mercy, who walks humbly and is bringing people along. And so as we come to today, we’re really going to be leaning into these characteristics of curiosity and commitment and Jimmy McGee, I would consider you a mentor, a teacher and a friend and I see you as someone who embodies these characteristics in all their complexity and would love to just dive in more with you. So, Dan tell me, you know, in some ways what you see and what draws you to this conversation with Jimmy?
Dan: Well, he’s a troubled man. I mean, let’s just say, you know, you can’t trust any human being who’s not deeply troubled, but on the other hand, whose heart is really pure, I mean whose heart really longs for goodness, individually corporately, culturally longs to see redemption, and when you see those two things, a broken human being who’s got a holy heart that grows other people to become what what what they’re meant to be in the context of following Jesus. So we’ve had some wild days with this gentleman opening the door really truly to a far deeper understanding of racial trauma, of the reality of just not just social inequality, but a diabolic commitment to doing harm to people of color. So this has been, this has been a life changing presence in each of our lives, but I’ll just say my life. So it’s such an honorJjimmy to invite you to begin to address the question of how did you become who you are? And I know that’s a loaded question, but when we begin to ask of you, how did you become so deeply curious?
Jimmy: So, undoubtedly, you know, I’m gonna mention a couple of books, so I’m just gonna just say that out there. But I will say this, that I would say I’m moving from fragmentation to wholeness, that I was a very fragmented individual when I was coming out of college. I did not have a very strong connection between who I was as a person. I saw streams of who I was when I was younger, of course one of them was an athlete. I love to run and play basketball. I’m not so much of an athlete now, I bike and I walk. So that was a part of my life. I think the central part of my identity was, I continue to think about it in three different spaces. It was being black in the United States, being urban because Atlanta is the smallest city I’ve ever lived in. And so I’ve always lived in these spaces and then also being Christian and quite frankly they were siloed with very little connection between the three of them. And it caused a lot of discouragement within me because when one aspect of my humanity was challenged or violated, I could not find other parts to come to his rescue. So with me as a black person, even in Christian spaces was violated. I didn’t see that Christian aspect building a bridge to come to my rescue. And so I wanted to grow and I was fearful of just following wind. So right at a very young age, I decided before I go any further, I needed to write my own statement of faith. And so I wrote my own statements of faith and I kept down, these are the basics. I’m not gonna go away and deep now it was kind of alone, but it was still, it was malleable and there were certain key things that I wanted to do. And then I made decisions about where I was served. Not based on the capacity of the organization, but the capacity of the organization to help me to discover who I was. So it wasn’t about doing something, it was about me and eventually becoming someone, becoming who God created me to be in. You know, I’m reading this book now. It’s Robert Winston’s first book. I’m a big fan of his, but I’m glad I waited. It’s called Between the Dreaming and Coming True. And he talks about that when we introduce ourselves, where people will always talk about what we do and that we’ve got something wrong there because what we do is not always the case of who we are and for me what I am doing is a part of who I am. So I am dealing with issues of making whole people. And so what happened to me over these past 25, 30 years was this idea of realizing that I didn’t know everything that was in his faith. And so I kept seeking out mentors whether it was in my organization or out at the time who I felt like I could help me grow in understanding and they closed the gap of these three personalities until they finally became a piece in one body. And so that in my body, I am black, I am urban, I am Christian and I am whole, but I’m becoming more whole every day and that’s, that’s what happened to me. And a significant part of this happened in the early 90s. I was working for Innervarsity at the time and there was a very popular book called More than Equals by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. It came out and the head of our campus ministry nationally sent me the book and said, hey, I want you to read this book. What do you think about it? So I got the book, I opened it up, I threw it in bed and I went about my life and my wife came back to me and said, Jimmy, you ought to read this book. I just read it. I think you’ll find it curious. And when I began to see it was to me a road map to how evangelicals were pursuing the issue of race. And I was troubled by the book. These guys are six hours from my home, so I decided that I was going to engage them. I wasn’t just going to just read the book. I was going to take my urban project and engage them in this dialogue. And we began to go back and forth about this because I felt like some of their conclusions were wrong and I was still unsettled in evangelicalism of how they were addressing the issue of race because they were doing it. And look realistically, they weren’t aware of what God was doing historically through believers who adamantly love Jesus but would never call themselves evangelical. And I know people find it hard to phantom that, but there’s plenty of people who are dogmatically committed to Jesus and aren’t evangelical. And so I was watching Oprah one day and a guy named C. T. Vivian was there and I fell in love with his presentation. I later put in my mind that I had actually went through his training when I was in college through his partner at the time, Charles King. And I met Charles King before he died of cancer. So I pursue C. T. Vivian for about two years until I finally met him in 1995, 25 years ago. And I would tell you part of who I was and my curiosity was the idea of being true to who God made me was as a black urban Christian. And that meant there were certain things in me that I desired to be, that white evangelicalism was almost forcing yourself upon me of what they desired me to be and what I found in C. T. Vivian and I’ll be brief was the embodiment of what I wanted to be in a black man. I saw in him this incredible combination of Dr. King and Malcolm X of how you could be nonviolent, direct, masculine and pastoral and sensitive. When he died, when I used to visit him, he had over 5000 books in his library. I was already on a reading tear and he just pushed me further.
Dan: Well, you’ve chosen to do something that I think most people wouldn’t even think about doing. And that is if somebody intrigues you, you go after them, you can knock on their door.
Jimmy: Absolutely. You invite yourself for coffee and you begin conversations. Absolutely, Robert Benson, let me give you a quick story. This is a true story, Robert Benson, his first book I read was Living Prayer. It changed my life because there’s another aspect to me that really is drawn through spiritual formation because I’ve gone through burnout. I’ve actually been depressed in my life. And I felt like what evangelicalism also didn’t give me was the idea that Jesus really called me into a relationship with him and not for me to be his pure slave to just do his bidding, that he really wanted to know me and I should get to know him. So I read Living Living Prayer and then I read The Echo Within, those two books were right off the top. Now I got like eight of his books. And so while I’m reading Living Prayer, I have a speaking engagement in Nashville. So I sent him an email and called them and said, is it possible that I could meet with you in Nashville? So I get back home, this is before we have smartphones, I have my flip phone. And I see this voice message from an unrecognized number and it said it was Robert Benson saying I apologize I was unavailable to meet with you. So fast forward. I’m now the president of Impact. I’m peddling his books, I’m advertising it and I have to go to Nashville and I said, I’m gonna see if I can meet with him. And sure enough, we met in one of the coffee houses that he describes in one of his books. And I told my wife, I said, hey, I know you read one of his books, would you like to go with me? And she said, no, I’m gonna let you have your bromance to yourself. I drove over and we met in his coffee house for about two hours. He signed most of my favorite books by him and then he rebuked me in the midst of just talking to me about his life. And so I’ve done that over and over again. You name people, John Stott, Eugene Peterson. Back people, I mean I think of James and people were around Dr. King. All these people played a significant role in my life.
Dan: Well, I’m so grateful that you are not a shy man and that you have in many ways followed the curiosity, but your own brokenness to desire something far more. And I don’t know how to ask it better than what you understand with regard to your life that has brought you to this level of intrigue and curiosity. I don’t mean I hang out with academics and we do a lot of reading, but I’ve never known any human being who does more reading than you do. How did that come to be?
Jimmy: You know, I would have to give blame to my mom and dad first. When I was in school, they recognized early on, and I think it was intuitive, I don’t think it was really intentional, but they just knew there were some things I just was not getting in school. And so they bought me a book called Great Negroes, Past and Present that I later on bought for my wife because she had never heard of it as a child and she said I would love to see that book. And so as an adult, I buy that book for her. And from that when I finally went to college and actually I got addicted, it was a new drug of introducing me to concepts and ideas that I knew I didn’t know. And so, therefore, I had to learn more and I started reading in my courses. And then when I recommitted my life, I remember going to the Christian bookstore and said I need to have my Christian faith be as strong as my academic life and I didn’t know where to start, I didn’t have this plethora of people I could choose from. And I remember going in articulating what I’m kind of pining for and the person said, well here’s a good book you might consider. And it was by Fritz Ridenour called How to be a Christian Without Being Religious and was over the book of Romans. And that was the first book and I read like five or six of his books after that.
Dan: Well before we go much further, I just wanted to loop back to something just to acknowledge, I’m just aware of that C. T. Vivian, you mentioned it, he passed away on July 17. And it’s one thing for those of us who know him as this icon of the civil rights movement, as a person who has lived just a profound life of integrity. It’s also another thing to lose someone that you actually know and pursued, and had a relationship with. So I’m sorry for your loss, especially at such a time as this.
Jimmy: Yeah. He’s a general that we need now. He was 95. His birthday is next week. He would have been 96. And on his 95th birthday, I got my wife to make some ginger snap cookies and I went by his home and gave it to him and I can still remember getting into us and it was pouring down rain and I came through the garage and he’s dressed as always in a suit and we sit down and at this time his daughter and son and are living in the house with him and I gave him some cookies. So he saw the gifts, he begins to take the ribbon apart and he started eating the cookies and they were still almost warm from coming out of the oven and I said, well you know those are homemade and as only he has always said, he looked at me, he said, is there any other kind? He began to eat them and enjoy them. I had vast amounts of conversations with him in his home in restaurants for seven years, facilitating, training with him at university. And then he introduced me to his son who took over some of the mantle of that training in university and that works with us now and Impact. It is a huge loss and, but you know, I’ve lost some other guys. I’ve never deleted them from my phone. I can’t forget them now. They all made a huge impact on my life and with great opportunity comes great responsibility of saying how can I pass on C. T. Vivian, Tom Skinner, how can I pass these people on to the next generation? And that’s been my conundrum that I continue to answer, which I think makes this connection to commitment.
Rachael: You know, one thing I so deeply respect even about how you’ve shared how you came to be a curious man and this language around wholeness and I think it’s just important for our listeners to hear so often, so many of our Christian concepts have been co-opted in ways that are actually detrimental. And when I think about the word integrity, when I think that’s what I hear you saying, this sense of what does it mean to have the fragmented parts be integrated as we go and as a part of our healing and as a part of what it means to be faithful and to have the capacity to bear the responsibility of what we’re given. And I think that’s one of things I just so deeply appreciate about you and would want to ponder more with you. I do experience you as someone who is deeply committed to passing on all the gifts you’ve been given, for the sake of life and the gospel of Jesus. And so I’m just curious because I hear the question of, I’m not always sure how to do that. What is it that compels you to keep trying to keep imagining?
Jimmy: Well one thing is Mrs. Dorsey, she was my 4th and 8th grade teacher and she used to say to me, there’s no such thing as a bad question. So she always tells me I should entertain questions no matter my opinion of the question or who is asking, and so what I’ve been taught, good leaders are not people who provide answers. Good leaders are those who provide questions. Because one of the things that I’ve adopted being in your world from a friend who was honest before it was, Derek McNeil, is about the opportunity for people to do their own work. And I really find that what C. T. Vivian did for me, he didn’t just give me something. He gave me the wherewithal to do my own work and everybody kept letting me know that I had work to do. And so this curiosity is to realize two things and I think it’s connecting to the Allender Center’s notion about evil. And so when we’re born in this world, we’re troubled in two ways, we’re troubled inwardly just by coming through the gate of the wound with sin, that something inside of us. But I think the other part of it is we’re unaware of the evil that we’re engaging once we come out of that gate and how it confronts us and shapes us. And so my idea now is I don’t divorce my Christian faith with other disciplines. I don’t divorce it from history, sociology, anthropology, or even economics. Now, I actually tried to see the attachment because using the term intersectionality, if Jesus is really Lord, then he’s Lord of everything. So therefore I got to find out what’s his opinion and how does he speak into everything. Because that’s the kind of world that I want to prepare more students to be. You know, we changed the mission statement of our organization by saying the very last phrase is that The Impact Movement desires to make disciples of black students and every aspect of their life. So the very tension that I brought in my own life as the CEO is the very tension that I want to give to my students. I want to let them know, I’m not giving them a pass that they can just go to Sunday school and think they’ve done good going to church every week. I don’t really care about that, to be really honest. What I do care about is their intersectionality of what their life looks like Monday through Saturday? Because two hours of Sunday, there’s not enough for me to get happy about and I want them to go to church and I want them to be a part of a Christian community, but I also want them to see the interwoven this, of life and not compartmentalize that and that’s something that they miss. And so that’s something that I am forever doing. And so if I’m really honest with you, uh I would love to have a conversation with Jimmy McGee at 28 years old versus Jimmy McGee now who’s 58, and I’m telling you, we will have some knock down drag outs. So I saw a tweet the other day about a guy who said the summation of Jesus coming into this world was to die for sin and to save us from hell. Now the 28 year old, Jesus said, spot hard, right on. The 58 year old guy said, no, Jesus came into this world to die, yes for sin and to let us go to heaven. But that was not the end. That was the means to another end and that’s his kingdom and that’s a full life and combating evil. There’s a lot more than what 28 year old Jimmy would have said. And I’m discovering now that there’s a lot of conflict today that we’ve truncated things to such a simplistic state that I know it’s not true, I know it’s not true exponentially. I know it’s not true when I read the scriptures and I know it’s not true because the ruin I see in people’s lives. I want to hear what that 28 year old is going to say back to you. I want to hear a conversation between those two, the 58, 28, oh the 28 year old would say, dude, first of all, the only thing you should be concerned about is to scripture itself that 28 year old was a fragmented 28 year old because no one connected the dots of how Jesus saving us from sin And not having us going to heaven was really connected to every aspect of his life that 28 year old could play basketball and cussed like a drunk sailor on the court because Jesus didn’t play basketball, Jesus was in Bible studies, so why are you even introducing this notion that Jesus can hoop with you? And so he led a fragmented life because those who were discipling him only gave the best of what they knew and they didn’t model that type of integration. And so that’s what happened to me
Dan: Well and in the response then back to you that 28 year old may have been as you describe him, somewhat bold, maybe even a touch arrogant, but nonetheless he was open. He was seeking, he was actually knowing something about his world that was not whole. So what if you can kind of look back and say, what are the transitions that helped you in one sense? Stay faithful in a calling, addressing not in the entirety, but a large portion of your world has been coming to grips with the reality of racial trauma and you told me one of our first meetings, you said, people who begin to address this often die. And you, there are a lot of white folk who start on this and begin to get a sense of the complexity, the heartache and from my standpoint, the kind of spiritual warfare that’s involved engaging this. And I know from my own life how I have dabbled, stepped in, stepped back, but once you’ve stepped in, you stay in and it’s more than just the inevitability of your own racial reality. There’s an integrity to, in one sense mixing things up to create disruption. Is that a fair reading of you?
Jimmy: Yeah, I think so. I think a phrase that I don’t use as often now, but it’s still true of me is that I’m never afraid to process. So if I’m in process that means I’ve got to go through the process, I can’t rush it, I can’t accelerate it. And quite frankly, to accelerate my process actually brings more damage to me. And so I need to go there. So one of the earlier things that I became aware of as a 28 year old, I will say this and I think this is true that is still maintaining me, I can read and see people in scripture that God engaged at 15, 16, 17, 18 year old individuals and he had this dynamic peak that he was moving them towards. Whether it was to be king, whether it’s to be a prophet, didn’t matter whether it was going to be in Egypt, like Joseph didn’t really matter, but the idea was God knew when he told him that’s what he wanted to be, that they weren’t ready even at that young age and that there was a process to prepare them there, a process that would help them understand and become acquainted with humility, a process that would make them aware of integrity and and and also not fear darkness. See, and I think that’s where people get out of it. They are afraid of darkness. And the interesting thing that I know Skinner taught me and I think you brought up again recently that I understand is that for whatever reason we really think of the Christian life is actually avoiding darkness. Actually, the Christian life is really seeking darkness. It’s moving to put light in dark spaces and to engage that. And the 28 year old knew that. And I’ll tell you, even though he would have corrected, engaged me 30 years later, the problem with the 28 year old, he also knew he didn’t believe everything he was saying at that point, he knew that there was some stuff he just didn’t know. And so and one of the things I remember in my life, early on, I had just hit maybe my second year of university and then all of a sudden they started saying, hey, I want you to be an area director, a middle manager. And I said, I’ve only been on this job for two years and now you want to put me over somebody. And I said, I’m not prepared to do that. I think it would, it it wouldn’t have fed my humility, it would have fed my arrogance and I decided to withdraw that and to really push it. And most people don’t realize that for 10 years, I was just a regular campus staff and a director of our urban program. But I had national influence because of my passion and my curiosity and my intolerance of darkness and wrong. And I, and that’s what pushed me to that place.
Dan: So you cause trouble.
Jimmy: Yeah, John Lewis says it’s good trouble and I still think there’s not enough of that around right now. Also, Dan takes one to know one, you know, like throw that out, just, well, you know, this is a group right here of good troublemakers. I was going to return to you Rachael and say it takes one to know one to know, okay, so now we’re going to start a 12 step group.
Dan: No, we need more trouble and again, what I’ve sensed and seen about you is that you, you can engage incredible heartache and deep injustice and bring both passion but playfulness and humor, not, not cruel humor, not mockery, but you seem to have the ability to bring well grief with those who have grief and, and laughter with those who have laughter again, has that been noted before?
Jimmy: It’s been noted, but I don’t think that’s something that is indicative of me as an individual, as much as the community I was born in, I think they have inherited a group of people who know what resilience and perseverance and grief and laughter and they can hold all those things at the same time without dropping them. And, I’ve been going out of my way to learn that from my elders and you know, I think about my remaining years. I’m the CEO of this organization, but not because I thought one day I was going to be such a person. My problem is that I don’t know how much life I have left and losing C. T. Vivian tells me we need an army and I don’t know if we’re gonna get as vast an army as what the United States has, but we need, some navy seals, some special forces, and that’s why I actually live now,I live today because I realize my life is going to end and I need some other people that I need to pour this stuff that I got into them because we need replacements. In 2016 I had an interview with Bryan Stevenson. He wouldn’t let us in here, he wouldn’t let us record his presentation, but he did let us record an interview. And I remember sitting down with him and I told him, I said, Brian, you shaved all the hair off your face and hair. So everybody thinks that I’m older to you, but I know better. But I told him, I said as much as you’re doing a good work, you’re gonna die. And I’m not happy about that because we actually need people to replace you. And I said, the reason why you’re at the Impact Movement not because of what you do, is not because of, you know, you’re a great orator and your ideas are exceptional. The ideas and I’m hoping that some of our students will be stimulated to know that they need to replace you because once you die we need more of you.
Rachael: And I just want to say as one who comes in some ways behind both of you, to me this is a huge part of what it means to live a well lived story, to have an imagination, to know that the work will continue and must continue and that it is that urgent and I would just say I don’t encounter many leaders who actually understand have that kind of commitment to live into the Kingdom of God to know that part of being faithful and part of being curious and part of being kind and part of being courageous and part of pursuing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly is to make disciples so that the work continues is to give away what you’ve been given. And I think it takes such Biblical hope and such courage and tremendous humility to entrust To people who are those 28 year olds who you know, want to have that conversation with you and to entrust them with things to help them grow and to learn and in many ways to give away authority and to give away power. And I just as someone who has benefited so deeply from both of you want to say thank you, thank you for being men in my life and in the life of many people that I can say like, you know, as Derek McNeil was telling our staff the other day just reflecting on this, this language of like well done, good and faithful servant. I hope you can receive those words today even as we all know, there’s much to be done and much yet to be lived in these ways that we seek to be people who reflect the story of God in our own complex, broken and beautiful lights.
Dan: Well, thank you Rachael for, for both of us, I’m a hungry man and I want more. If Jesus is who he is, then I know I’ve got very little of Jesus and I want more and I looked at people who seem to have that interplay of, they are complex, broken and very beautiful and Jimmy McGee is one of those two things. Before we end, Jimmy, you do a lot. But how, how can people who are listening to this podcast get access to some of the remarkable work you do, you know, basically tell us a little bit about your live streaming.
Jimmy: Well, there’s a couple of things that I can tell you that we’re doing we’re doing Facebook live. We started March 26 the idea was how can we be a dispenser of information to help people interpret life? Certainly the pandemic, but even now with the trauma that’s happening in the deaths of Brianna Taylor of George Floyd and Ahmaud are very, let’s say their names now, and we’ve been doing this over and over again and we’ve been trying to pay attention to what’s happening in the real space and I’m just amazed about where we need to grow in this world. And so right now we’re dealing with this whole conflict of white evangelicalism engaged in the issue of race and, and we feel like we got to get it head on. And so if they would watch us on our Impact movement channels or on YouTube or on our Facebook live, they can see that we’re also beginning to train our staff or our students rather through digital spaces. So we just completed our first National Digital Impact Leadership Institute. We have two more. What we’re really trying to build leaders who are curious and the overarching theme we talk about is becoming because we want our students, that they understand that they live in the present tense, not in the past tense or future tense. That becoming is something that we’re always doing and that’s true for me is true for both of you. So I think that that’s a great space. I think the other space that they would see if we, once we get out of this pandemic, they can begin to see and understand the partnership between us The Allender Center and The Impact Movement. I think we did something that’s only been done once in terms of our partnership, but it’s something that must, I think if we’re going to be responsible and that means the responsibility is bigger than us organizationally. But to the kingdom, we gotta figure out how we help people really move forward to handle race trauma and this good news? And I think it’s one of the conundrums that historically believers have troubled with in this country. One brief story, I would tell you about C. T. Vivian again, I remember talking to one of my colleagues about my introduction to C. T and what he was teaching me and they came up and they said, oh, so a C. T of Vivian a Christian now and because they were leveraging and using their white evangelical, very truncated idea, did he say a prayer? Did he say these words? And then, and then because they’ve got to be the words that people understand and believe in to say that and what they fail to realize is that that man had a profound faith and that his life was really showing us what it meant to be Christian. And so I think that some of the work that we have yet to do between us organizationally, that I think responsibly, I think we could really shift a lot of practitioners in a way to engage fragmentation, to engage wholeness of the good news and to engage that. It’s not something to be done is something to be and through their beings. We can facilitate change.