D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Category: november gratitude

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. 

day 20

 

today at church I got to talk for a bit and it felt good. there was a choir singing this morning, a special treat. the choir was mostly people from the larger parent church, and it packed out our little place. the worship was like being at a party. the songs were so loud, led by an amazing woman. I couldn't decide what to do: close my eyes and clap my hands loud or look closely at all of those faces singing loudly for their Lord? you know what, I chose the latter. I couldn't decide which were my favorite faces: all of those old, white men in the back row, deeply serious and heartfelt? the young, hip girls in the front row, all earnestness and curled hair? no, I think my favorite was a guy right in the middle. he had long hair and a long beard and was dressed in coveralls, like a very neat and tidy mechanic. it was half duck dynasty and half weirdo portland. he shut his eyes so very tight and he was sang his absolute guts out. oh, to sing with such abandon. i tried to do it a bit myself. I still have a long way to go, the world is still so very loud in my ears. But I have a good song to sing, and I will keep practicing. 

day 18

one of the girls I write about in my book (I call her Khadija) sent me me an essay yesterday. It is about her dad dying, and how she always felt like royalty when he was alive, and how all that changed after his death. I cried and cried and then dried my tears. this girl can write. this girl has a story to tell. and it is coming, and just like I knew it would it will change us all. 

 

day 16

I swear I have changed 8 poopy diapers today (baby has a bit of the runs) plus slathered my child in lotion twice (eczema) plus soothed him back to sleep when he woke up too early and too cranky plus fed him three meals and a billion snacks and THEN cleaned up all the food he flung on the floor. I have made sure he is not too cold or too wet or too tired or too thirsty. I have gotten him down from the top of the table one hundred times. I have read him 10 picture books. I only let him watch a few episodes of something. I tried to rock him to sleep but he pushed me away and pointed to his crib and said "night-night."

Earlier, I caught him looking at a book by himself for a blessed moment. He softly made the noises of an owl as he turned the pages. There is a little angel somewhere in that tiny, glorious little whirlwind. There is a little bit of the divine breaking through me as I care for him day in and day out. There is a little child transfixed by clouds and leaves and owls; there is me, a little girl still struggling to believe in a good God who made them all. 

 

 

day 15

here is where we are the same: some days we believe God is in control, some days we can't sleep at night due to the terror of the things said by the man who is now the most powerful in the world. some days we ping back and forth between these emotions within an hour. 

here is where we are different: they are Muslim, they wear headscarves, they are working hard to learn English, or already mastered it, they have non-white skin, they have family members who are desperate to visit but now are devastated. 

here is where we are the same: we both like ginger. oh, it has taken me so many years to finally find something I can bake that my friends will like. for so many years I made my rainbow-tastic funfetti and tried not to mind when only the children ate it. I liked it so much, you see, and it seemed so festive and celebratory, me sharing my culture. but my friends and neighbors didn't really like it. so now I make ginger molasses cookies and bring them to share and three women from Somalia today invited themselves over to my house so they could watch me make them. they want to make them for their children. they liked that they were soft and chewy and not too sweet and full of spicy flavor. I put extra ginger in the cookies, because I knew they would like it. it has taken me so many years to get here, ginger cookies instead of funfetti, thinking of others in small ways before myself. oh Lord, how long will it take me to be like you?

I suppose I am grateful you will not tell me the answer to that question.

 

 

 

psssst: I wrote a manifesto for creating Radical Spaces of Welcome for Sick Pilgrim and I wrote about how refugees can help us move forward post-election for Red Letter Christians. Also, I highly recommend anyone who is struggling (as I have been, and still am) with feeling like it is the end of days to read this post by Jonathan Martin. It will knock your socks off. 

 

day 14

It was late start Monday but I was going to drive my daughter to school because it was so rainy. But when we went outside it turns out I had locked my keys in the car the day before, so we had to change plans and walk in the rain. The baby loved it, God bless him, and my daughter was happy with her Finding Nemo umbrella. On the way back I got to walk with two mothers, one from Myanmar and one from Somalia, and we talked fast and furious for those ten minutes. My friend from Somalia carried her baby on her back in a sling and wore a rain poncho--the baby's head poked out of an armhole. She was like a little owl, huge eyes and a pouty, pointed lip, black curls hidden underneath a wool beanie. Her older sister walked with us, she was too young to be in school as well, she sucked on a juice box and smiled every time I caught her eye. We got to my house first, and both me and my baby quite wet. The four-year-old yelled goodbye to me as they continued to walk down the street, and you know what? I was grateful for the chance to be with others on such a dreary day. 

day 12

I ate my first of 3 Thanksgiving dinners this year tonight, complete with green bean casserole made with love and condensed soup and also two kinds of pie. My mom told me I had a wild look in my eye. I was raised to believe in the apocalypse, is the thing, and then I went and spent my life living and working in communities of people who have seen their lives crumble in front of them. I don't seem to have much middle ground in my feelings. The world is gorgeous and amazing and a gift and it is all full of suffering and death and destruction.

But I drank sparkling cranberry juice tonight and talked about politics with family and survived. We gathered together a week or two early because we were celebrating a friend who is heading off into a recovery program, a friend who is currently blowing up my phone with all sorts of hilarious and stupid and funny memes. She is trying to cheer me up. It is helping, at least a little bit. It is helping for now. 

 

 

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