D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: 2016

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.

 

 

 

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