D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

war photographers

I have been thinking a lot about how all I do here anymore is share videos, other people's writings, random thoughts. The truth is I knew my writing would have to change, would have to evolve as we continue our path ever downwards. For awhile, I had a secret blog (just for real-life friends and family), which I thought would help. But it didn't (plus, a secret blog is surprisingly hard to implement).

So this is our struggle. I am learning so much, and I want to share with everyone. This is a part of my personality, a part of how I was wired. But how much of what I am learning is tied to the lives of people, real flesh-and-blood and full of dignity people--people who you don't know? The responsibility to portray nuanced and appropriate stories is a heavy mantle to bear. It is easier to shrug it off, and to be silent.

A bigger issue might be my own steep learning curve. It is probably not the time for me to be spouting off any deep thoughts or proposed answers or solutions or diatribes or rants; I am still struggling to catch my footing, lest I crush the path or fall off altogether. This is a very good reason to keep quiet, I think.

A while ago, back in Portland, I was ranting about people taking pictures and using them to "raise awareness" (or money). This is a huge topic, I know, and I have some very big thoughts on it. And one of my friends quietly told me a story of a war photographer, and how he justified taking pictures of people in the aftermath (and in the midst of) truly horrifying situations. the photographer said something along the lines of how he felt confident that publishing these photos for the world was the right thing to do, as long as the best interest of his subjects was his intention. he said people knew, would look his lens square and straight, because they trusted that these pictures would move people, would bring the world closer to them and their reality. he got permission from them, from their eyes and their words (where language allowed). and he used his responsibility wisely, to show the truth of the situation.

Thank goodness I can't take a picture for the life of me (and it most surely would not be welcomed in my neighborhood, anyway). But I do like to write, and this is where I have been stumped: what is my role in all of this.

For the truth is that there is a war going on, all the time. Poverty in America is intense, complicated, fraught with both joys and casualties all the time. And by and large, we don't know about it, and would be fine with keeping it that way. In some ways I feel like we need a war photographer or two around here; but something tells me it would take a whole lifetime to earn the sort of trust necessary to share in the task of telling stories.

I am only two months in. For now, I can only share me. But even that has its problems. If I tell you that I have been terrified, several times since moving here, you would only see a small part of my life. If I told you of the difficulties, you might not get the whole picture. Already, in these short months, I have found myself asking questions and dealing with situations (most often: should I call the cops or not? ) that are pretty foreign to me. This is real, of course, but this is only a small part. Far more often I feel bored, or lonely, or tired, or blessed, or cheerful, or industrious, or crafty, or hungry. And on the flip-side, there is the blessing of being in this difficult place. I cannot even begin to process how to go writing about these miracles. For they aren't the ones I thought I was going to tell; it turns Christ wanted to heal me and change me, and draw me to himself.

There is the tension of being "in ministry". We tend to minimize, or maximize, our situations depending on the context. More often than not people working on the margins tend to the former, perhaps out of respect for their neighbors or a misguided attempt at holy stoicism. But bottling up feelings never did anybody any good; the field is littered with burn outs and drop outs who may have been saved had they spoken of their troubles long ago. This is just one conundrum after another, people.

So, let's wrestle through this. I have learned so much from war photographers, from biographies and stories of people living the kingdom out on the ground. If you know any good thoughts on how to best share our experiences in the margins, please share with all of us. Let's make this a conversation, shall we? 

The image comes from National Geographic and the story behind it is stunning. Go here to read it

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