D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: beauty

Upside-Down Art: Prison, Beauty and Common Grace

I'm so excited for this first guest post in this Upside-Down Art series. RO contacted me about an area she is passionate in--prisons and their inhabitants, whom she views with such grace and love. I had heard of writing/oral history classes with prisoners, but never art projects. This post eloquently explains the horror of incarcerating people and withhold from them the beauty of the world--while still showing that God is still there. A challenging, thoughtful post for us on the outside.   

 

 

 

Prison, Beauty, and Common Grace by R.O.

 

There have been times in my life where depression and anxiety have walked every step with me. Their weighty bodies cemented to my shoulders like gargoyles, mouths permanently open-wide, hissing into each ear: “You are not good enough. You don’t work hard enough. You will mess up everything good in your life.”

But even in the midst of these lies, God finds ways to remind me of his truth. So often he does this through the beauty of the world around me. I see pink light from the setting sun angled on a grey building, hear something as simple and amazing as an echo, feel cold air sting my cheeks. And I think, “even if I fail at everything, no one can take this away from me.” This everyday beauty of the world, available to me in some form no matter my circumstances, is God’s common grace to all people. It is our Father reminding us that his love for us does not depend on our good performance.

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It seems sort of simple when compared with all the atrocities of prison— the state’s misguided idea that trading violence for violence will end violence— but the profound indignity of denying a person God’s common grace of this world’s everyday beauty is striking to me. Prisons are designed for exactly this. They replace the beauty of creation that God would give to every person with cinderblock walls, artificial lighting, a stainless steel bowl acting as toilet a foot from your bed, access to an “outside” patch of concrete surrounded by walls for maybe thirty minutes a day—day in and day out, all the same.

And still there is beauty.

Prisoners become artists, creating the beauty that prison denies them, and I consider myself blessed to have heard some of their stories. There is the fourteen-year old boy who wrote poems in his cell, the man who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole who paints scenes of the world he hasn’t experienced in over thirty years, the girls at the youth prison who wrote and performed in their own musical, even the tough-looking young men who draw intricate and delicate designs on the backs of their letters.

These are people who are often excluded from that popular new category “creatives,” but they still are made (and are making) in the image of our Creator God. They create because there is no beauty unless they make it themselves. They create for the same reasons we all do: to comfort, to entertain, and to tell their stories. There are still more imprisoned people who are without the support of prisoner-arts programs, some without even pencil and paper, some in solitary confinement; let’s not forget that they are creatives, too. This is God’s common grace, which no one can take from us, that he has made us in his image; he has made us all creatives.

“For his participatory project, Some Other Places We’ve Missed artist and photographer Mark Strandquist held workshops in various jails and prisons, and asked prisoners, ‘If you had a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?’ Along with the written descriptions, individuals provided a detailed memory from the chosen location, and described how they wanted the photograph composed. Strandquist then photographed and [an] image is handed or mailed back to the incarcerated participants.” from Prison Photography:

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R.O. is a Midwestern law student who will soon be a Southern public defender. She loves to talk (and learn) about justice and mercy, living in the upside down kingdom, and criminal justice reform. Her Enneagram type is 5 and she is an INFJ, if that means anything to you.

 

For more information on the Upside-Down Art series, click here. And submit your own essay!

 

 

 

A Fight For Beauty--Guest Post by Marilyn Gardner

Marilyn is a dear presence on the internet, full of wisdom and calm and yet a heart that is always searching for more. I adore her for her heart for cross-cultural relationships and her literary approach to life. Marilyn is totally somebody I want to grow up to be like. Fighting for beauty is definitely an everyday part of life over here (some days it is a  battle, other days it is easy as pie). And the fight for love, truth, and beauty is always worth it.

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A Fight For Beauty

Guest post by Marilyn Gardner

 

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m looking out my window at a blanket of white snow. It is soft and pristine in its beauty. The snow has covered up cars, streets, sidewalks. It has also covered up garbage bins and garbage.

My Greek neighbor has already been out shoveling and I hear the sound of his metal shovel against the concrete. He puts the rest of us, who wait until we have no choice, to shame with his disciplined shoveling and keeping of the sidewalk in front of his apartment snow-free.

The snow is beautiful. But I know in an hour, two hours tops, it will have turned from fluffy white to squishy brown. Because this is the city.

There are times when living in the city is not about downward mobility, when it’s not about relationships or intentional living.

Instead, there are times when living in the city is about a fight for beauty.

This was true in Egypt. It was true in Pakistan. And it’s true where I now live.

We live in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, not the Cambridge of the Harvard elite or the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) nerd. Rather, the Cambridge of the other 80%. The Cambridge that is middle class, refugee, immigrant, or single mom.

The ‘real’ Cambridge, we like to call it. The Cambridge where high school students refer to areas as Coast and Port and where teen moms bring their babies to the day care center at the high school. The Cambridge where cars are broken into and neighborhoods work hard to become safer. The Cambridge where the homeless gather in raucous community at Central Square, oblivious to any great minds that may have walked their path. The Cambridge where Jahar Tamarlaen, the alleged Boston bomber lived and played sports and went to prom and knew my daughter.

And in this real Cambridge I realize that for me it becomes a fight for beauty, a fight to see redemptive beauty in daily life.

In the spring, it’s a fight to find the crocus that has worked its way through hard, city soil and blooms, brilliant blue or yellow. A fight to see beyond city problems to forsythia, that first reminder that spring has come.

In the summer, it’s a conscious effort to see the rose peaking through the rusted chain-link fence; to see sun flowers raise their giant heads tall to the sky against a concrete back drop. It’s a fight to see beyond the cigarette butts crumpled on the ground with last night’s garbage, made worse by the summer rain, and see instead dew drops on sparse grass.

In the fall, it’s a fight to look up and not down – up at towering trees glowing in Autumn glory, taking me away from broken bottles and ugly, barred windows.

In the winter, it’s a fight to see beyond the bitter cold mornings and homeless huddled under thin blankets, grey and worn. A fight to take the extra step and buy that cup of blueberry coffee with 8 packets of the artificial sweetener – because that’s the way he likes his coffee. A fight to find out names and see Sheryl and Valerie and Donald as real people, not homeless numbers. A fight to witness Imago Dei in the eyes of those who walk these streets.

So I walk and I put on my armor so I can fight for beauty. So I can walk with lenses cleaned, eye-sight restored to see beauty in the ordinary, everyday ugly.

A fight for beauty – a prayer that the Beautiful One who restores and redeems will give me eyes to see beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

unnamed-2Marilyn Gardner was raised in Pakistan and as an adult lived, worked, and raised a family first in Pakistan and then in Cairo, Egypt. She now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she works as a public health nurse with underserved communities and vulnerable populations. She wrestles through life, faith, and third culture kid issues through blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.

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