D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: Syria

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.

 

If You Knew Me, You Would Care

slide_280128_2092282_free Another day, another dollar, another crisis I should be caring about.

Another day, another post, another thought on downward mobility--how the term doesn't work, how it isn't good enough, how if we don't have love . . .

Another day, another question. Not the ones I used to ask (Lord, send me. Let my heart be broken by the things that break your heart.) but the ones I don't care to admit to anyone (have I done enough yet? Can I relax now? When is enough enough?)

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I started a new job this week, it's perfect for me in every way, down to the level of chaotic ambiguity that surrounds the classroom. I teach literacy to adults who may never have held a pencil in their lives before. We meet in a computer lab, a battered fooseball table for my desk. I don't know all of the stories of my students, because we don't speak the same language. I can guess at the little I know, which is laughable. And it is hard, wearisome work, to go over the ABC's a thousand times and then for us all to realize that nobody remembers them still--the after effects of war, trauma, unmentionable acts committed against the body and spirit. Learning to write your own name becomes a symbol of something so much more: you are an overcomer.

Refugees have changed my life in so many ways. Once I meet a group, a clan, a tribe, I want to know so much about them: the way they dress, the tattoos on their face and hands, what their favorite food is. I want to know about their past, if they want to share it. I want to talk about all the ways that America has been kind, and all the ways that she has been cruel. I want to be a friendly face, a listening ear.

I want to know all these stories, and more, because they are the only things that get me to care about anyone besides myself.

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My husband just checked out a book from the library called If You Knew Me, You Would Care. In it there are large, breathtaking portraits of women--survivors of unimaginable traumas. These women were interviewed and photographed by other women, and their stories shock and amaze. Their faces, so large, so human, so crystal-clear, run the range of human emotion: improbable joy, blankness, defiance. I could look at these pictures for hours. The stories, I only glance at briefly. How much more tragedy can I bear?

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Perhaps this is why the images in the book are so big. The hardest quotes, filling up an entire page. To me, they say: Don't look away. If you knew me, you would care. If you stopped to humanize me, even for a second, it would change the way you lived your life. Because caring doesn't equate with an emotion--sadness, shock, gratefulness. Caring equates with tangible, physical acts: cups of cold water, Jesus would say. A coat to someone in need if we owned two. An hour or two out of our day to visit those imprisoned or in the hospital.

But it's easier to close the book, go back to my life of worries. I write blog posts about downward mobility and dream at night of one day having a space for my child to run in the grass; I spend an hour or two praying for eyes to see and hands to bless my neighborhood, and sink exhausted on my couch every night, escaping either into a book or a television show.

Because I know people now, and they have made me care. But here is the other truth that no one want to talk about, that we spend all our time protecting at all costs: our culture thrives on forgetting. On distractions, petty concerns, and the crushing pursuit of individual comfort. Every day is a struggle to care. The only thing that makes it easier is if you are forced to confront it, time and time again. If you put yourself in the position where you can't opt out--where there are no drive-through Starbucks, clean and bright Barnes and Nobles, massive church complexes with state-of-the-art sets. Where instead there are tangible evidences of the disparity of our economic system, where people are much more comfortable in voicing both their joys and complaints in the streets. In order to care, it turns out, I have to be in a place where every day I have to look one simple truth in the eye: my reality is not the reality of the majority world.

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I read an excellent blog post this morning--honest, searing. In it, the author says:

"Can we, being part of the top 10% wealthiest in the world, be trusted?  How does our dependence on wealth color our self-assessment and judgment?  Regardless of how earnestly wealthy Christians try to be directed by the Holy Spirit of God, we've all still got our goods—not to mention our social standing, class, gender and ethnic power.  We remain comfortably perched above global exploitation.  Is that just "the path" Jesus has called us lucky ones down? Or have we neglected something in the 'I'll follow you wherever you go' tune?"

No matter where I go, I'm still comfortably perched. No matter what I do, it isn't enough. Yes, yes, Funfetti and all that. I know that God loves me no matter what I do. But he also loves the people being crushed by the systems that make my life better. He Loves them. He is in constant sorrow over them. He will avenge them, surely. And he would like me to get to know them, for my own sake as much as theirs.

Talking about downward mobility doesn't even begin to scratch the surface when we are talking about the suffering of people in places like Syria right now. Almost every day I am in contact with someone who has experienced their own form of Syria, has overcome so much more than I could ever imagine. Every day my hands are open, empty, pleading. I don't know how to help. I don't know how to do anything except show up again, to prepare to be overwhelmed once more. I look into their eyes and think: that's why I moved into your neighborhood--so then I can't escape your reality as easily as I would like. 

Shane Claiborne worked at a mega church for a year, and this is what he walked away with: "the problem isn't that there are rich folks and poor folks in the world--the problem is that the rick folks don't know any poor folks".

Because we all have the image of God in us. And if we knew the poor--as in, longer than a week, a blogging trip, a year in the ghetto--we would care. We would care to the point where love would compel us to do things both crazy and mundane. Our lives would revolve not around safety and security but around justice and righteousness.

And we would all be richer for it.

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My internet friend Marilyn contacted me about spreading the word about some tangible ways we can help Syria. She put together a blog on some practical kits that concerned people can put together. Click here to read more at her space, or you can go directly to International Orthodox Christian Charities for more information on the kits.

All images from If You Knew Me You Would Care, by Rennio Mafredi. For more information on the book (a part of Women for Women International), please click here.

 

 

One Very Small Thing, A Thousand Very Small Things

This week I wrote a little piece for my good friend Addie on one small change we can make in our lives in order to see justice come. For anyone that knows me, I don't do one small things very well. I want to talk about ALL THE THINGS, ALL THE TIME. I'm a teensy bit intense. But the more I thought about it and talked it over with a few friends, we all agreed that when it comes down to it, the only thing you have to do to turn your life upside-down is open wide the doors to whatever it is that God is calling you towards. It's really that simple, but trust me--it will get complicated and wonderful and terrible, fast.

So I wrote about opening wide our doors, and how for me that happened when I started volunteering with refugees.

As I wrote, I couldn't shake the image of Syria out of my mind. I couldn't escape the bits of rhetoric and argument I caught on social media sites, the words of the President shocking my ears. I couldn't quite figure out what I thought about the whole mess, because I was being told that bombing was loving and that not bombing was hateful. I thought about how perhaps the best way is the smallest way, the mustard seed way, the upside down kingdom way. How maybe instead of rushing into Syria with weapons, we can open wide the doors to our hearts, our homes, our cities, and our countries to other stateless wanderers, people whose lives have been stolen by the greedy and the powerful.

It's hard to type this out here and hit publish. I know already what people will say, how childish and foolish and micro it all sounds, knitting away while Detroit burns (or teaching ESL while gangs kill each other, or praying for people you have never met who are starving, or in danger of being gassed, or dying of preventable diseases). It is all those things, of course: small, weak, and seemingly naive. But I have placed my hope in places where Jesus told me to look for his kingdom: with the poor, the meek, the mourning, and the merciful.

And, of course, the peacemakers.

One of my favorite writers, Heather King, has been writing some excellent posts about war. In one, she quotes Pope Francis and his recent speech about Syria: "Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence"..."War never again! Never again war!"

Those last lines rung in my ears like the song I had been searching through for days now. My spirit lifted, I felt it gasp and breathe deep at the possibilities of that sentence. War never again. Never again war. I had been daring to hope that this was a possibility, that this was indeed God's dream for the world.

One of my other favorite writers, Shane Claiborne, talks a lot about the idea that another world is possible. This, to me, is the essence of the teachings of Christ, the words found explicitly in the manifesto that is the Sermon on the Mount. It doesn't make sense, that the peacemakers will one day be upheld as the children of God. It doesn't make sense to turn the cheek, to eschew the violence-for-violence rhetoric of the powerful and the scared. It doesn't make sense until suddenly it does, when you realize that all along you have been dying for someone to tell you that it wasn't supposed to be like this. That we can stop demanding violence and war and death and payment, and we can start living like we believe that one day there will be no war.

Pope Francis is calling for a day of fasting and prayer for the Syrian refugees on Saturday, September 7th. I will be joining--will you? Are we ready to believe that our very small prayers matter? I am.

I believe that there is a God who loves all of us, and that he does not conform to the patterns of the world.

Nor should we.

 

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You can read my One Small Change Piece here.

Sign up for beautiful and thought-provoking prayers for Syria to be e-mailed to you once a day.

Heather King's excellent blog.

Sweden leads the way in offering residency to all Syrian refugees.

Today is a really good day to read Jesus' manifesto on the ways of the kingdom of God.

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