D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Dispatches from the in-between

Your neighbors don’t want to talk about anything. People are quiet, and still. People smile at you like they need to be deferential, and your heart breaks just a little bit more. The cracks in our facades, our religion, our good cheer are visible. Don’t talk about family. Don’t talk about nieces and nephews and sick mothers you will never see again. Don’t talk about the bus being late, how it feels to be visible and exposed in a country where you are the minority, where you are constantly vilified. Your neighbors say everything is fine, there is no problem, they are grateful. They do not want to talk to the news crew, they do not want you to write a story about them. They want to be left alone for once in their lives, they want to be safe and cook and eat the food that reminds them of their grandma. They don’t want to talk about anything. You sit in silence and eat together, you smile at your children. It is a communion of suffering, and you only partake in the slightest bit of it.

 

Your other neighbors, the ones who live a bit farther away, are saying all sorts of things. They have fear in their heart. Some of them want you to talk more, but in a nicer way. Some of them want you to talk less. Some of them want you to share more stories, humanize situations, try harder to reach the conservatives. Some of them are worried about you and your mental health. Some of them are excited that now they can finally be free to say what they really want to say. Some of them think you are too sad, to angry, too fearful, too much. Some of them think now is your time to speak, and to use your voice in the most strategic and pragmatic of ways. Some of them think this battle can be won with words. Some of them remind you that this is what you have been trying to do for the past decade,

 

 and this is the exact moment when you realize that it didn’t work.

 

Your heart is the field that Jesus adored. He gave you the good news from your neighbors, who are Muslim and refugees and poor and undocumented. Together, you worked the soil, together you made it a place for the gospel to grow and bloom. But there were other patches you forgot about. There are stony places, even now, which feel as barren and as desolate as drained-out dam. You know Jesus is there, waiting to help you pick up the debris. You know, even now, how much work it will be to have softness, to have hope, sprout up in every single corner of your life. You start to entertain thoughts of picking up the rocks, together with your suffering servant king. You know you have committed your life to a God who never leaves a single stone unturned. Praise the Lord, indeed. 

 

 

 

For those, like myself, caught not in the heat of “political” debates but for whom our life and livelihood and loves are now inherently considered controversial: God bless you today. You are seen, and you are known. It is so very hard, and it will not get any easier any time soon. But be blessed, today. Together we are working towards the kingdom of God. Together we are all being transformed. 

dangerous territory

I had a dream last night. My family and I--including my sisters and my parents--were going on a cruise. We had been preparing for this, and we were excited. As we entered the large ship, things began to get strange. I saw piles of shoes everywhere. I saw people sleeping in cots stacked side by side. We were shown to our room and discovered it was a section of the dining hall, that the tables and chairs were to be our beds. I went onto the main deck and saw large shipping containers full of simple food items like bread and water, and people lining up to procure items. I saw people laying out blankets wherever they could find room. I looked around, and as the large ship started to sail I had a realization: this wasn't a luxury cruise ship, after all. As it turns out, we were all refugees, and we were all being sent to the middle of the sea, with no idea of what would come next.

//

What does this dream mean? Is it from God, or my anxiety, or my years of hearing stories from refugees, from recent weeks of absorbing the narrative of how no one wants to help the stateless wanderers of our earth? I don't know. All I know is that for all of my life I have yearned for comfort and safety and clear and correct answers, but I have been propelled into the very opposite waters.

I thought about this dream and I thought about a book that my friend just wrote. It is called Dangerous Territory. What is dangerous? The country that she got kicked out of due to her Christian faith? Or the place she came from, which gave her too many simple answers for the complexities of a world broken by colonialism, racism, misogyny, and inequality? The answer, of course, is both.

I think of the dangerous territories I always wanted to live in as a young and wildly self-assured woman. I never got to go to any of those places. I never smuggled Bibles or started an orphanage or led a resistance movement. I never got to be great. I never got to convert anyone. I never got an easy narrative of victory. 

Instead I have been crushed by defeat, bruised by proximity to the suffering, I have had despair of my own complicity in systems of sin dig deep wells into my heart and then--they were filled by a God who always was and only ever will be love. 

In her book, I think my friend was writing a love letter to her younger self, and to all of us who want to be world-changers. I wish I had been able to read it a few years ago. I wish growing up didn't always have to feel so hard. I wish I had been more aware of all the ways our world can be dangerous, especially if you find yourself at the top of an unequal system. 

//

I do not know where our ship of a country is currently going, and this feels very dangerous to me. But no matter what happens, I do know this: I am grateful for where God has brought me. I am grateful for my neighborhood, my life, my school, my community, my friends and family and neighbors. I am surrounded by those who will be the first to feel the effects of injustice. I am surrounded by people with very thin life vests. I am surrounded by people who have taught me how to be brave. I am surrounded by people who have survived more than I could ever even imagine. 

And together, I know, we will work to see God's kingdom established, on earth (and sea) as it is in heaven. 

 

 

(linking up with Amy and her blog. I encourage you to buy her beautiful and thoughtful book!)

 

The Time For Welcome is Now: Ten Ideas

My president and his administration are expected to sign an executive order on immigration and refugees that includes banning all Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspending the entire refugee program for 120 days, cutting the amount of refugees we do resettle by half, and halting all travel from 7 specific Muslim countries.

This directly affects my neighbors, and it indirectly affects me. I care for them. They are my brothers and sisters, even the ones who are waiting halfway around the world to join us in a quest for a peaceful, safe life. They have already suffered so much, and yet here again the people in power cruelly condemn them to even more suffering. When I allow my heart to fully absorb the news, I am in anguish. The only balm has been getting up off my couch and visiting with my neighbors and friends. They heal me with their love and care and attention, with their life stories and trajectory of resilience. But I know not everyone is as blessed as I am. 

Perhaps refugees and immigrants are not your literal neighbors. But perhaps your heart leaps when you think of Jesus, the refugee king, and his words of life and blessing for the sick and the sad and the oppressed. Perhaps you take the Bible seriously as a book that asks Christians to fling themselves into places of sacrificial and transformational love that transcends nationalism in beautiful and devastating ways.

Perhaps you want to know how to best welcome refugees, even as our nation's doors close to them. Here are a few ideas that I have:

 

*There are seven countries under the ban: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Find refugees from these countries (and others!) in your city. Locate your local refugee resettlement agency and ask how you can volunteer. Currently, places like Arrive Ministries in St. Paul has seen an uptick in both financial donations and volunteers due to the increased spotlight on refugees. The ways to help are endless—from sorting donated items to tutoring to family mentoring. Beyond the initial re-settlement period many refugees remain culturally isolated. Coming from communally-based Muslim cultures the busyness and individualism of America can be especially hard to adapt to. Jump in and share your life! My personal favorite agencies are World Relief, Catholic Charities, and Lutheran Family Services (but there are many more).   

*Go to restaurants from the 7 countries listed above in your area. Eat delicious food. Thank the owners and staff for being there. 

*Go visit your local mosque with a simple card that says they are welcome. Ask if they are in need of anything or if there is any way you can serve them and their community. 

*Organize a meeting in your local church to lament current policies that are unwelcoming to the stranger and immigrant. Spend time in prayer and reading the Scripture (here is a good starting point for verses) regarding God’s heart for the refugee and stateless wanderer.

*Ask your pastor/the head of your denomination to publicly address the Biblical call to Christians to welcome refugees from the pulpit. According to one study, only 35% of US churches have talked about the current global refugee crisis. Is your church part of the silent majority? Put pressure on to change this!

*Two of the sectors that disproportionately bear the brunt of refugee resettlement are public education and healthcare (specifically hospitals). Find people in your life (church, etc.) who work in these settings and ask how you can help support them as they encounter and love refugees. Ask about volunteering at your local school and tutoring English Language Learners (many of whom need help catching up to grade level).

*If you are a business owner, consider ways you can employ refugees and/or create positions that do not rely on English-only literacy.

*Donate your financial resources to places like World Relief, Preemptive Love, SARA, and other mission agencies and resettlement agencies that work with refugees both here and abroad. Ask that these organizations be vocal in their support of continuing the refugee resettlement program for everyone. If you currently donate to a missions organization, ask that they be public and vocal in their belief that welcoming refugees is a Biblical perspective. If they are not public about their support of refugee resettlement programs continuing on (without bias towards religion) then pull your support.


*Recognize that there is no grand symbolic gesture you can do. There is no Muslim registry you can sign up for. There is just rampant Islamophobia in your friends and community that you will have to push back against constantly, for the rest of your life. Have discussions about refugees (and Islam) with your people. Gently correct misinformation, every single time you see it. Be vigilant against hatred, specifically Islamophobia. Specifically ask Christians to live up to their beliefs when it comes to loving our neighbor (and our responsibility to them). 

*And lastly (but certainly not least): Pray for Christ to replace any fear in our hearts with love.

 

 

 

 

vessels

 

How do we become a vessel for the Lord? How do we become containers for the grief and sin and sickness and trauma and joy and curiosity and humor all around? What do we do as magpies for the Lord*, our eyes wide looking for shiny bits from the other world, the one we know is possible? What do we do when we become obsessed with a kingdom made for the poor, when we ourselves are not poor? What do we do when we long to crack, to spill just the tiniest bit of all that we have held and accumulated so tight?

It will be a mess, there is no doubt about it. It will feel, and look, like a catastrophe. But it’s ok. I never truly wanted to be a pristine vase, high and stately on a shelf. Really, I just want to be a part of the great mosaic, my fragments cemented alongside the fortunes of all the other broken souls. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(every Tuesday my husband and I fast and pray. We are praying that white supremacy will come crumbling down. We are giving back to God the people and the burdens that we have placed on our own shoulders. We are banging on the floors when we no longer have words**. But when I have them, I will try and write down the prayers as I remember them on these days. would you like to join us?)

 

*many thanks to David Dark for this visual image

**thanks to my new friend Melissa for this advice

the loneliest month

the temperatures are so cold here, for Oregon. we live in a burned-out suburb in the shadow of a beautiful gorge. the wind whips through the tunnels that rivers have carved out of stone and it hits my children in the face. their cheeks turn bright red and the baby screams. we don't have the right clothes for this, why spend the money when we only have to struggle through a month or two of survival. we huddle inside and turn up the heaters a tiny bit more, my heart anxious about the bill, our feet perpetually cold.

oh, the loneliness of cold air coming at you with the speed of car going down a main road. oh, the loneliness of putting my children into the car and driving the half mile to school because we can't bear to walk. oh the loneliness of driving past so many people that we know who don't have cars, trudging into the wind. oh the loneliness they feel as they walk, scarves held up to their mouths, feeble peacoats barely protecting them, heads held down as they place one foot in front of the other. oh the loneliness of rough and red hands without gloves, of afternoons spent indoors, of children looking longingly at the outdoor world full of sunshine that is too cruel for them currently. 

some seasons are harder than others. currently i am taking a break from social media and it is wonderful. the loneliness of wondering about what my life could be has dissipated. the fears for the future have lessened. i do not think that knowledge, or fear, will save me or my neighbors. i have time to sink into my loneliness as if it were a friend. the constant black cat that follows my shadow, and emblem of the salvation of my soul. loneliness has always been one of my great character flaws and loneliness has also always made me put one foot in front of the other. i am trudging towards other people, the ones who are transparently just trying to survive. 

my Jesus was sometimes very lonely, it seems to me. he knew what radical love was like, and he knew suffering. in him i see what i both do and do not want for myself: an un-quiet mind and a bleeding heart and eyes to see all that we would rather not. 

my loneliness is my good friend. in the cold sun of a terrible January,  i close my eyes before mustering up the courage to go back outside. it looks beautiful, and it will cut me to my core. 

 

 

 

 

The Best of a Bad Year

Some say 2016 was the worst, but for others it was hard just like every year. For me, it was punctuated by the Big and Good (first book published, bought a house, read at Powell's) and also the Very Bad (none of which I can discuss in public, alas). Then, we have the whole freaking political situation plus every day life with small kids and jobs and bills and church and . . . you have a year that you survived. Here are some of the things that helped with that endeavor.

 

 

BOOKS

 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Everybody read this book last year (and for good reason). A great (devastating) way to get inside the housing crisis. For me this book had a special impact in that I watched as neighbors of mine were forced to relocate over and over again. Christians need to get on a theology of safe and affordable housing, and soon! 

City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence

The title is a reference to the thorn fences that surround the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya. I have friends who have lived here, so I was very invested. Again, this is a relatively risk-free way to enter into the stories of some of the most marginalized people in the world. I highly encourage everyone to read it.

The Very Good Gospel: How everything wrong can be made right by Lisa Sharon Harper

I love this book and read it in a day (though it takes much longer for all the truth contained to sink in. Harper is a smart theologian but she also weaves in current events and life experiences which makes for a much richer text. Why couldn't I have read this in Bible college? It's deep and topical (#blacklivesmatter!) and Harper brought her communities with her as she wrote about Jesus being actual good news. I can (and do) see myself giving this book to a very wide spectrum of people.

Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I always Wanted by Shannan Martin

Caveat: Yes, Shannan is my friend. She is friends with lots of cool people :) But what makes her book so special is that it is a subversive work of practical and applied theology. What if living our best life now meant diving into chaos, disfunction, a lack of a savings account, and drawing a very wide and wobbly circle around who is in our family? Oh man this book is funny but will also cut you like a knife. Be warned!

 

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah

Full disclosure: I am not all the way done with this one. But I already know it is one of my favorites. It is like the most intensely timely commentary on the book of Lamentations you will ever read. In one or two sentences Rah will upend so much of what I was taught in my childhood--and he does this over and over again. It's gorgeous and makes me feel like I recognize the God the world that Rah is talking about.

 

 

Fiction:

I'm not a huge fiction person but I read a few this year that I can't stop thinking about. These are like bonus picks for intense non-fiction me :) 

 

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

This book is about a missionary going to another world in order to convert the locals. Already relevant! Then it takes a harrowing turn as the main character communicates with his wife back on earth, where things are slowly falling apart. This book brought up so much for me to process. If you have read it, lets chat about it!

 

The Story of A Girl by Sara Zarr

Ah, the holy grail of YA that is actually grounded in non-middle class sensibilities and conflicts . . . I think I read this book in a day? Definitely some heavy themes (but hey, all the teenagers I know are all dealing with very grown-up problems) but the writing is wonderful and fast-paced and it is a really good portrait of living with quietly angry adults in your life and how to overcome. Bonus: this is being made into a movie this year!

No Parking At the End Times by Brian Bliss

This is another YA book with a fascinating plot: twins whose parents completely embraced an end-of-the-world cult. The twist is, we meet this family right after the world DOESN'T end. The tension in this book is real, and I could vividly sense what it was like to be in the main character's lives . . . well worth the read!

 

 

(Bonus bonus: kids books!)

The Story of Ruby Bridges.

 

 

 

PODCASTS

Here are some podcasts that I really dug this year:

 

Pass the mic

This podcast is from the Reformed African American Network. I am neither African American nor Reformed and yet this podcast has helped me so much! The hosts (Tyler Burns and JEmar Tisby) use much of my evangelical language but they infuse it with new belief. I love this. This is such a great way to learn from POC if you are in mostly-white spaces. 

Pop culture happy hour

Still my go-to for when I need to switch my brain off and listen to witty ramblings about pop culture. Love it.

Code switch

This is a fascinating podcast on all things related to race in America. I learn so much and have to wrestle through a lot while listening--which I enjoy!

Pray as you go

This is so awesome for people (like myself) who need some help being contemplative. Every day there are scripture readings, songs, and reflections. Some of my favorite memories from the past few months involve me wandering around my neighborhood in the early mornings, listening to pray as you go. 

 

 

TELEVISION

 

Brooklyn 99

Still my favorite comedy on TV. Fresh off the Boat was in second place but this season has felt rather heavy handed . . .

Mozart in the jungle

This show is weirdly delightful. There are a couple of storylines I could do without, but I think the characters are fascinating!

Man in the High Castle

Ok so I have not seen the second season yet. The conceit is--what if the Nazi's won? It is the only drama I really watched all year and I was totally on edge. Now I am wondering if it will all seem too applicable . . .

Super Store

This little comedy was a sleeper surprise--I think it tackles issues of class and religion in ways most television shows don't. Also as someone who worked in retail for many years I highly relate to it.

 

Bonus: Kids Shows!

For kids, I love Puffin Rock (Chris O' Dowd is the narrator!) and when my daughter is older I can't wait to watch Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street with her.

 

 

MOVIES

Honestly, I didn't love most of the (few) movies I watched this year. Here are the three I could come up with wholeheartedly recommending.

Song of the sea

Sing Street

Babettes feast

 

 

MUSIC:

I'm not a super big music person these days but here are my highlights:

Hamilton (duh)

Hamilton Mixtape (even better than I could have imagined)

Teenage Politics by MxPx (somedays you just want to be as self-absorbed and angsty as a teenager)

25  by Adele

 

 

FOOD ITEMS

Pho (and trying to make it myself)

Little Debbies Christmas Tree Cakes

Chili oil

Afghan-style bread by my neighbor, who is a baking genius. 

 

 

 

And there it is--my rather random list. What are some things that helped you survive this past year? I want to know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Year of the Bully, The Year of the Artist

If I could characterize it, I would say that 2016 was the Year of the Bully. Personally and on a national level this was true for me and mine. If you love all the things that come with oppressive power—perks, privilege, your own empire safely guarded—you probably had a pretty good year. But if you are someone who has suffered at the hands of others, if you are not at the top of any particular ladder, then you know that crushing feeling when you realize it is the one who wants to harm you who once again gets all the power. It was a year where it became crystal clear that our world is oriented towards the abusers. 

When Donald Trump was declared the winner on Nov 8th I could not sleep at night. My own energy already worn thin by life, I suddenly discovered I was down to the dregs of my ability to empathize, and it went to a scary place. I imagined the children sleeping in beds all throughout my neighborhood. I felt their fear, their worry, the way they were grown beyond their years. I saw myself, safe and sound in my house—white, privileged—and I saw everyone around me that I loved be carried off by a wave of hatred. I watched myself remain while everyone else was swept away into suffering. I was paralyzed by grief. In my mind I started prepping for the end of the world.

But as luck (or providence) would have it, I happen to live surrounded by survivors. My neighbors, mostly refugees and immigrants, when they have chosen to share, display a wide range of reactions towards the past year and those upcoming. What they do choose to share is both heartbreaking and inspiring. They will not ever stop putting one foot in front of the other. They push me to do the same.

I’ve been learning from others, as well. People for whom America has never been the promised land. This is the year when the majority of white evangelical Christians were loud and proud about their bullying ways, revealing true natures that I have long tried to apologize for. To save my faith in the wider church my husband and I drank like people dying of thirst from the books and podcasts of people of color. They reclaimed our religious words and infused them with real meaning. Is it possible that the Jesus we have tried so hard to follow really is good news for everyone? Is it possible that God’s kingdom has a place for my neighbors? Is it possible that white supremacy is not God’s dream for the world? These pastors and prophets and poets said yes. Their faith is like diamonds in my eyes, something glorious and true that only comes out of intense pressure and suffering. 

//

I got the chance to go to Montgomery for a few days last week and I took it. I paid my own way, but along with a crowd of other people who spend their lives thinking about Jesus and Justice, I got to spend a morning and afternoon at the Equal Justice Initiative, the place where Bryan Stevenson has poured his heart and soul into. Is it a law office or an art gallery or a museum or a halfway house or a living testimony to a history most people would prefer we forget? It is all these things, and more. I was only there for a few hours and I knew: it was kingdom ground. 

If you haven’t read Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, I urge you to stop now and remedy that (I wrote about it and Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman last year). In Just Mercy, he highlights the dire inequality of the criminal justice system, looking mostly at death row cases in the South. There is a reason Stevenson moved his life and work to Montgomery. As he met and talked with us, he told us just a bit of the history. On the wall behind us in a conference room there were rows after rows of glass jars, filled with soil. They were gorgeous, filling the room with rich tones of red and brown with hints of gold and green. But upon closer inspection, you discover: the soil in each jar is from a specific lynching that happened in Alabama. To stare at that wall, the jars towering above and on either side, knowing this is just one state, these are just the documented ones, this is just the smallest slice in the terrorization of black bodies that has been sown into the very ground of our nation. 

A man came in to talk to us. His name was Anthony Ray Hinton. He was on death row in Alabama for 30 years for a crime he did not commit. He is a lovely man. When he spoke it felt like a testimony in the truest sense of the word. “I wish I could tell you that the state of Alabama made a mistake, but the truth is—they didn’t.” They arrested and tried him on purpose, because he was a poor black man, and they could. Anthony speaks in a gentle voice and tells us funny and sad and poignant stories of how he learned to deal with his life in prison. He told us about how he went away in his mind, how he travelled all over the country, how he came back occasionally to check on his body. He made us all laugh, is the thing, he was and always will be a man with a sharp sense of humor, he made us see how he survived, at what people who are like him have to do to make it out. 

me and Anthony

me and Anthony

Anthony does not hate. Anthony loves God. Anthony bought himself a California King sized bed when he got out but he still can’t sleep in it unless he curls his knees up to his chest, because that is how he had to sleep on his tiny bunk in his 5x7 cell. When Bryan Stevenson came to visit him in prison Anthony said he heard a voice saying “this is God’s best.” Bryan worked and got famous ballistics experts to prove the bullets from the crimes committed did not match the gun found in Anthony’s mothers bedroom. They had to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court since Alabama refused to re-open the case. And finally, finally when they were forced to, they said they no longer saw what they had 30 years ago. And Anthony walked out, he felt rain on his face for the first time in 30 years.

There was so much more I learned in my few days in Montgomery. I hope to share more about it at some point. But what I want to say right now is this: Anthony is God’s best to me, and to you. He is a prophet, revealing the true nature of our systems, how they only work with those who have power. 

Every year for Anthony has been the year of the bully; for so many people I know and love they can say the same. For me it is new, and it tastes sour like betrayal, bitter like fear—and yet, there is something else. Bryan Stevenson, Anthony Ray Hinton, and countless other people I have been listening hard to this year—they all say the same thing: we have to have hope. Faith is easier, said Bryan. You can keep doing what is good just because you know it is right, without ever believing that you will change anything. Having radical hope in the face of extreme injustice is much harder. And yet, it is vital for the days coming.

//

If 2016 was the year of the bully then 2017 will be the year of the artist, I think. 2017 will be the year when Matthew 25:40 becomes the watershed verse for those professing to be Christians. “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” 2017 is the year we can change who we are listening to. 2017 is the year we stand up to the bullies. 2017 is the year we look for God’s best exactly where our culture tells us to see the worst. 2017 is the year our faith becomes true, and beautiful, and terrible to those who are in power.

And lastly, it is my hope that 2017 is the year the least of these will lead us, in all ways—through stories and songs and testimonies and Facebook videos—it is the year they will lead us to Christ himself.

 

 

 

 

 

*If you have a moment, I invite you to explore the Equal Justice Initiative's website. It is a treasure trove of information

 

 

 

 

2016 in writing

It's been a hard year for so many of us. It wasn't the worst year of my life but it was pretty darn close. I am still struggling to come to terms with it all, honestly. Being on social media less helps, a lot (I will most likely go dark for the majority of January, for mental health reasons). But looking back and reflection helps me too.

It felt like I didn't get to write or read very much this past year. I had two kids to look after, one which needed my attention an awful lot. I helped at homework clubs and english classes and started a welcome center at an elementary school. I published my first book (which was so much more work than I could have ever realized). We moved into a house around the corner. We started going to church more. I tried very hard to hang around and get to know my neighbors, which takes a lot of time.

But I just went back and looked at the past year. And you know what? I did manage to write every now and again. In fact, I wrote over 30 articles for various publications. This doesn't include my monthly newsletters and the countless blog posts  I wrote (including one every day in the month of November). Also, I was on 7 podcasts and was interviewed 6 times, and spoke at 4 different events/conferences. How is this possible? It truly feels like I spent all of 2016 picking bits of crusty food off of the floor and staring despondently at the news on my phone. 

But it all happened. And moving forward, I will keep writing. Because it will be the artists who teach us how to resist evil and injustice. We need to keep reading and writing and singing and sculpting and crafting and creating music. We need to keep producing for the sake of our hearts and minds and souls. We need to immerse ourselves in the works of people on the margins, because they will be the ones to lead us. 2016 you got me down. But I am going into 2017 with a goal: I am looking for truth and hope from the artists. 

And with that, I will leave you with a few of my favorite articles I published in the past year:

 

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Sadly, I feel like I could write this all over again today. After spending a few days in Montgomery this is fresh on my mind. When will we ever truly repent and lament our history of white supremacy and violence against people of color?

 

Shane Claiborne-again

This piece was heavily edited but I hope the spirit and heart behind it shines through. I have been so influenced by the life and work of Shane and so many others, and I wanted this to a be a sort-of love letter to people who want to do this kind of work moving forward.

 

Raising Ramona in a 21st Century Portland

I got to write about my daughter, Ramona Quimby, and sneak in a bit about gentrification. Perfection!

 

Staring into the Sun

I think this piece is a good summary of my life and work within refugee communities, and the challenge of maintaining hope in traumatized communities. 

 

Gentrification in Portland

This was probably the biggest piece I wrote in the past year and I am still so grateful for the opportunity and the experience. I pray the church wakes up to the moral crisis happening in Portland.

 

Chimayo

This essay means a lot to me because I got to weave in a few very personal reflections on death and motherhood and inequality and injustice, as well as do a bit of travel writing (which I love). 

 

 

 

So there you are. Read, enjoy, and then go and work on your own stuff! We have so much work to do in 2017.

 

 

 

Christmas Promotion Time!

Merry December, y’all! Today it snowed for about 30 minutes, we got our janky lights put up outside our new-to-us-house, and I am currently laying down with an ice pack on my back as I try and type this out. So, you know, just living my best life now.

Ok, so obviously I am a working writer and as much as it is about the art and craft of it all, book sales do factor into the world of writing as well. Nobody likes self-promotion, but it’s just something us plebes have to do. So, in order to make it a little more fun, I decided to pair a bit of self-promotion with a gift that is both beautiful and strengthening. And while I don’t love consumerism and all that jazz, I do think that buying people books is one of the more fun (and beneficial!) things we can invest our money in. But hey—I am a reader and a writer, so I might be biased. 

I am going to keep this super simple, because that is how we roll. Here is the deal: if you buy my book for someone else for Christmas you get an awesome print to throw up on your wall for free. 

 

 

The story behind this print is that my good friend and co-conspirator Lindsey (who lives around the corner in our beloved apartment complex) gave me this Scripture on an index card. I kept it in my bathroom and stared at it every day. What if I believed it was true? What if I decided to live like I might one day see small signs of the kingdom of God in this day and age? Every time I looked at it, I could feel the promise sinking deep in my bones. Even in the midst of postpartum depression, an anxiety disorder, no money, publishing a book about my most vulnerable thoughts, listening to my neighbors share stories of trauma constantly . . . I started to believe it. Eventually, that index card got splashed one too many times by my rowdy children, so I asked my artist friend Emily if she could make a print for me.

This is what she came up with:

 

 

I know, right? And thanks to her generosity, she is offering up a free digital download of this print for me to give to anyone who buys my book for someone else for Christmas. (If my mother and/or my sisters are reading this then HI! THIS IS YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENT, SORRY FOR THE SPOILERS)

So that’s it. If you already bought it for someone, that’s great! Just email me (dlmmcsweeneys @ gmail . com) and I will send you the link to the digital download. If you were thinking about buying Assimilate or Go Home as a present for someone, now is the time—it’s currently on sale on Amazon for under $9—but if you want to support a local business that is great too! We will just do this the honor code way and I will believe you at your word—no receipts necessary :) I also won’t tell if you read it first BEFORE you give it away to someone, but I did want the focus of this promotion to be on sharing the book with others.

Emily does gorgeous watercolors and prints over at her Etsy shop Coopey Creek. She also does custom work for very affordable prices. Please go check out her shop here. Also, her husband Paul wrote a book about the Holy Spirit that I dearly love. You can find that right here.

 

Thank you for reading along, and making it through this self-promotional post :) I'm so grateful for all of the connections I've made here. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing what this stunning print looks like on your walls!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

day 30

today my husband took the baby out to run some errands, to give me some peace and quiet. he told me they went to a bagel shop to split a snack. while sitting there, he couldn't help but overhear two older gentlemen talking about refugees, and muslims in particular. he thought he heard snippets of the conversation float his way--something about the commander in chief being a muslim, something about people needing to be sent back--so my husband ambled over and introduced himself. he told the men that working with muslim refugees changed his life, that muslim refugees are a blessing, not a curse. the men were surprised, and then went on to talk about their churches and the ministries they were involved in. they wanted to keep talking and talking, my husband said, but eventually he told them he had to go.

I want to end this month of blogging about gratitude in the midst of great sadness on a bang, I want it to be momentous. but I am afraid that is not how life actually works. for the next good long while this is what our life of grateful resistance to the empire of fear looks like. it looks like inserting yourself into conversations when people need to be reminded that their are lives at stake. it looks like paying attention and speaking up. it means resisting with your entire life a culture of fear and hatred and indifference and self preservation. it means a commitment to reconciliation, even when it seems so hard to dream of.

thanks for reading along. thank you for practicing being grateful, and awake. here's to advent: may we learn to wait for a kingdom of love to be established; may we see glimpses of it in the here and now. 

 

day 29

Yesterday, walking home from school, we talked about snapping fingers.

I was walking with my daughter, pushing my cranky baby in the stroller. Mohammed (not his real name) walked home with us, his toothy grin peeking out at every opportunity. He was wearing a necklace he made himself, he had skinny ten-year-old legs, he was wearing an oversized sweater. I thought hard about what we could talk about on the ten minute walk home, because Mohammed doesn't speak much English. So we talked about snapping fingers (a conversation of utmost important to my six year old, who is desperately trying to learn). Mohammed showed us his skills, and they were impressive. Not only could he snap his fingers, he could also whistle like it was his job, and he also knew how to do this amazing slap-snap thing. I'm not sure what it's called, but my younger sister (who has traveled the world) can also do it. You shake your hand really fast and sort of slam your fingers together? I'm not describing it correctly, but it is amazing to watch, and something a sad American like myself could never attempt.

This kept us busy the entire walk home. There was so much I wanted to ask Mohammed about, but I kept it to the basics: how is your mother, how are your sisters, how is your brother? But what I really wanted to ask is: how is everyone else?

Mohammed is from Syria. I don't know his whole story. I actually don't know any of it. I visit with his family from time to time, but we only have google translate to help us, so we stick to pleasantries and baked goods. He has been here for five months now. I hope life gets easier for him. 

Mohammed is who I think of when I hear reports about what is happening in Aleppo. A few days ago I read that the city was 10 days out from starvation. I myself had just had the third of my three thanksgiving meals. I was satiated and satisfied, until I heard that news. There is no pretending this away. This great suffering, happening half the world away, it hits me so hard. The children of Aleppo are my neighbors. They are Mohammed, walking home from school and trying to make my baby giggle.

Please don't look away just because we have that ability. Please take a moment out of your day today to lament and cry out to God to intervene on behalf of our precious neighbors in Syria. Ask for prophetic imagination for next steps forward. How can we, in the here and now, start to see the seeds of an equitable kingdom grow? Are there Syrian refugees in your city? At your school? Had your state decided to not accept them? Who can you petition, who can you already support? 

You can go here and see what Ann Voskamp has put together in response to the moral crisis of Aleppo. Sign the letter. Ask your church to pray for Aleppo this Sunday. Gather people together. Let your lament spill out. Talk to your children about the realities of life in Aleppo, the reality that their world is not the same as so many others. Pray and plead and act and hope. And in your spirit, open your doors a little wider to whatever your next step might be. Stand #withaleppo. 

I keep searching the Bible but I have yet to see where it says to focus on your own family, to raise good and holy children, to protect them from all the bad things in the world. Instead I see it say that the whole heart of God is summed up in loving our neighbors as ourselves; in choosing to live with the incredulous belief that we are equally worthy of justice and peace. Neighbor-love is the good news of Jesus; it is good news for all of us, not just our own individual little souls. But neighbor-love is also brutal, especially in times when our neighbors are suffering so greatly.

Lord, teach us to do what is impossible. Teach us to love our neighbors as much as we love our comfort and ignorance and safety and security. Holy Spirit, do what you do, and replace our own desires with better ones.

Amen.

 

day 28

" Christian communities arising from celebration do not want their lives changed, because their lives are in a good place. Tax rates should remain low. Home prices and stocks should continue to rise unabated, while interest rates should remain low to borrow more money to feed a lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

Lament recognized the struggles of life and cries out for justice against existing injustices. The status quo is not to be celebrated but instead must be challenged. If tax rates favor the rich, they should be challenged. Redistribution of wealth would not be a catastrophe but instead a blessing in contrast to the existing state of economic inequality. The balance in Scripture between praise and lament is lost in the ethos and worldview of American evangelical Christianity with its dominant language of praise. Any theological reflection that emerges from the suffering "have-nots" can be minimized in the onslaught of the triumphalism of the "haves."

What do we lose as a result of this imbalance? America Christians that flourish under the existing system seek to maintain the existing dynamics of inequality and remain in the theology of celebration over and against the theology of suffering."

Soong-Chan Rah, The Prophetic Lament p. 23

 

(I'm thankful for books that make you sit straight up on your couch and shout AMEN! at the cat)

 

 

 

day 27

at first I hated the advent wreath Krispin made so many years ago (tiny, made out of cardboard and covered with paper and glitter) but now I love it. I love how wonky it is. I love how we can never find candles to fit it because he made it himself. I love how he tries so hard to get our daughter to care about passages in Isaiah. I love how earnest he is in his belief that a kingdom of Love is coming. In his belief that we will always have prophets telling people to stop running away from God, in his belief that one day all of our tears shall be wiped away.

We blow out the candle. How long, O Lord?

day 25

ok so I missed a day. I guess it was because I was so surrounded by people, which is how holidays should be? 

Today I am so grateful. I had my third and final thanksgiving meal of the season. Of course we invited so many different refugee families and of course they didn't show up (every year is different--sometimes too many come and there is not enough food, usually you make too much and nobody comes or nobody eats). Except two girls who are spending the weekend with us, two girls I have known for so very long--one, since she was born, the other since she arrived in America when she was four. 

Build a bigger table, is what a friend of mine likes to say. For the first time in my history I live in a space with an extra bedroom, where we can have people crash with us for the weekend or longer. I'm good at many things but as an extroverted introvert sharing my own private space is very hard. We are easing into it. Easing into the next gloriously uncomfortable thing God will ask us to do. All God ever does is talk to us. All God ever does is say how infinite his love is, how wild it will make our lives turn out to be. 

I'm full to bursting on cream and butter and sugar and PEOPLE. Glorious, horrible, complicated, abusive and abused, precious and light-filled, full of sorrow and shame and thanksgiving people.

I hope you are, too. 

 

 

day 23

 

NPR interviewed a white supremacist the other day. I didn’t want to listen, but my husband said I should.

The weird thing is, I agreed with parts of it. “It’s only natural for people to want to self-segregate.” Boy, if that isn’t the truth.

I write and think a lot about our natural tendencies to want to be around people who are just like us. It is something I have observed in recent years, but because I am white it never really seemed that big of a deal to me. My culture was neutral, my culture was the norm. All others were exotic, had large gaps to be bridged by myself (the intrepid missionary/explorer). I had a natural curiosity that led me to propel myself into situations where I experienced other parts of American life but my heart and mind were still segregated. I still thought of myself at the top of the hierarchy. But then I met other people. Poor people. People of color. Muslims. Immigrants. Refugees. Mentally Ill people. Children. And oh, the things they revealed to me about God and faith. They taught me so much more than the books I read in college. 

So once I started to learn from others about a real and tangible and good God who was up to all sorts of stuff in the world, the questions loomed larger. Why did I assume I had all the right answers, when it was so obvious I had only a portion of the picture? It felt like falling off a very tall ladder. It felt like a death of sorts. Now I see it quite differently: I have been reborn, made new, scales have fallen from my eyes. Richard Spencer, the white supremacist, talks about the need to come to terms with European/white/American identity--and this is true! We need to confront our history of oppression, our normalizing of ourselves and our othering of everyone else, our lack of interdependence, and our lust for power and control. 

Now here is the where the good news actually starts to seem good: the kingdom of God is the opposite. The kingdom of God is in direct opposition to Richard Spencer, white nationalists, Donald Trump, people who terrified of Muslims or angry at undocumented workers, and to me wanting to just be in community with others exactly like myself. 

I have vacillated in the past few months between fear and despair and anger and sadness. But the truth is the sentiments rising to the surface have been here all along. White supremacy is in the foundation of America and we cannot pretend otherwise. It is a principality we have to struggle against. It is demonic. It is the opposite of the transformational work of Christ that was obsessed with neighbor-love. It calls for protests and prayers and fasting and tambourines; it calls for our lives being oriented around being in community with the suffering. And right now it calls for creativity and commitment, to usher in a season where all is exposed, and where so many can be redeemed. 

Because I truly believe more than ever, that are we going to see the kingdom explode into full bloom. It starts as small as a mustard seed: a chance encounter that causes you to rethink your beliefs, how you were taught to accept inequality and injustice as the norm. And then before you know it, God has turned that seed into a tree, the branches stretching up high to the heavens, small enough to hold the birds and their babies, the most vulnerable parts of our world.

 

 

day 22

today at the brightly-lit, crowded library I realized how much I loved that space. here's my three favorite places for meeting people from backgrounds very different from mine: 

libraries

public schools

community centers

these are the places people gather, hang out, get access to resources and services, learn how to be together, are places of mutuality and acceptance. 

I long for the day when I could add "church" to that list. when we would be known for our diversity, instead of our segregation. 

 

 

day 21

the kids cough at night, grating on me. the baby has had a snotty green nose for a few days now. i know where he got the sickness, he got it from other sick little kids, most likely from the english class that we do, or maybe his sister just passed it on. he got sick because he doesn't live in a bubble, he shares germs and spit and grubby fingerprints with so many other kids. we get sick when we risk being in relationship with others, is a truth I am learning. we suffer from being in proximity to others, especially those who are the most vulnerable. love is a wound, love is a cough, love is the Mother that pats our backs in the middle of the long, dark night. 

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