D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: community

every day a little thought of gratitude

I thought I hated Halloween, because I hate the specter of death, especially in a society that runs away from truly interacting with mortality. It is the worst of both worlds, I thought to myself as I stared at the ghoulish figures at the grocery store. I am surrounded by people who have survived war and death and none of us need to see this stuff. But we moved into a house and our next door neighbors are older and they really like kids and they hang ghosts and devilish creatures from their trees. On Halloween they are so eager to pass out candy and ooh and aah at all the little children. They were worried my daughter might not come, because she had informed them that their yard was too scary. But she screwed up her courage and went, and everyone was delighted. This morning it is cold and gray and everyone who walks to school walks by my house and our neighbors. The decorations are still up, but they will be packed away soon, and a part of me feels sad. Those ghosts in the trees, I realize now, were a signal all month long, a flare in the dim neighborhood sparking bright and red, hoping for community to come knocking on its lonely doors, preferably dressed in cute costumes. 

 

 

 

 

 

For the month of November a thought or two of mine will get written down here every day. Who knows how much sense it will make? I want to practice being grateful in the presence of a suffering world. Join me?

 

 

five things I will miss about Minneapolis

So this is what I have been mostly been up to:

Which is why it has taken me all week to write this tiny little post. Also, I am super glad we had Ransom here, because it will forever tie us in a very real way to this city. 

 

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Hey guys. So in less than 2 months we are taking our show on the road and moving back to Portland. Our nearly three years in the exotic Midwest (I say exotic to be funny—mostly because I always thought the Midwest was terrible, like how the two coasts are supposed to think about the flyover states—but then I came here for a visit three summers ago and my mind was blown by how awesome and diverse it was) has been amazing and difficult and unbelievably refining (that is Evangelical code for: we got smashed up real good by life and it changed our character in very positive ways). Hopefully in another post I will write about the things I am excited about in Portland, but for now I need to tell you about some of the things I will really miss about Minneapolis. I picked 5, because that seemed like a bloggy sort of number and I realize we all have the attention spans of a gnat. So here they are, in no particular order:

 

 

1. The free/low-cost things

There are so many free things to do here! This is our family jam. There are awesome lakes everywhere. There is a free zoo and a conservatory (technically in St. Paul, but still only a ten minute drive away). There is the most amazing art museum I have ever been in (The Art Institute of Minneapolis) and it is all free (srsly it would take you days to see all that they have there). The public parks all have wading pools for the kids in the summer. MPLS has an amazing theater culture (second only to New York City) and if you are under 30 you can routinely see fantastic, award-winning plays for $10-15 dollars (I have seen more than a couple). There is so much culture to be found here, both the indoor and outdoor kind, and it will be very hard to give that up. 

 

2. The amazing refugee/immigrant communities

This is the original reason why I moved here, after all. It’s hard to explain how glorious it is to find these vibrant, thriving, complex non-western and non-white communities smack dab in the heart of Minnesota. I live right by a bunch of mosques, Somali malls (which literally is the cheapest/quickest way to travel to another country—they are just stall after stall selling the same assortment of gorgeous clothes/headscarves, tea sets, sandals, perfume, and henna treatments), grocery stores that sell sambusas and camel meat; everywhere I go I see people from East Africa and I don’t know what I am going to do back in Oregon. The sheer magnitude of the numbers here (some estimate 70,000 Somalis in MPLS alone) plus living in a crowded inner city means the proximity is just wonderful. I have learned so much from just being a neighbor to this community. Which brings me to . . .

 

3. My job

One of the best things that happened to me here was that I was able to have the job of my dreams. I have definitely been the White Girl Who Charges In plenty of times, and our organization very much tries to do things differently. So at their encouragement, I went a different route. I volunteered, a bunch, and eventually found myself tutoring non- and pre-literate students at the largest housing complex in our city (this particular place I had been obsessed with since day one—unofficial estimates say the 8,000 people live in one city block, most of them immigrants and refugees). True to my nature, I couldn’t help but suggest that we start an actual class catering to the students who needed the most help (level 0, they are sadly called) and then I suggested they hire me. Which they did. The wonderful thing that made this so different was that I was able to hang around long enough to sense a genuine need, and the rest of the community saw it as a need as well. I also had the unbelievable privilege of having my bosses be from East African backgrounds, and I learned so much from them. Also, the school where I taught was actually started and run by the tenants of the apartment complex themselves, which was so awesome. The mutual learning that took place there was unquestionably one of the things I will miss so much. 

 

4. The thunderstorms

They are awesome. Note: this is really the only weather-related thing I will miss. The winters here are more horrible than I can articulate. Just awful. Everyone who lives here should get mad respect (especially the people who come from warmer countries!).

 

5. My community

As is true for anyone trying to live out any kind of communal living (and that takes many different forms/levels of participation) you know how wonderful and hard it can be. Three years of being on a team with people who are different from you can change a person. We definitely had some struggles, but overcoming them has proven to be the most absolutely helpful thing that has ever happened to me. You can work with, eat with, and play with people who are very different from you. You can forgive, and be forgiven. You can make mistakes, and move forward. You can choose to see the best in others, and you can receive it when they see the best in you. For these reasons alone, being a part of this Christian community here has made the past three years more than worth it. But I also see how refreshing and encouraging it has been to be with people who are trying to live out quiet lives of simplicity and service. They also love the poor, and feel no need to explain or defend that position. They have also taught me so much about white supremacy, systemic injustice, and are neither defensive nor overly optimistic. They just love their neighbors so much. It has meant everything to me to learn from this posture—love over fear, people over programs, repentance over politics. The more I interact with Christians, the more I realize how rare these types of people are. 

 

 

So there you go. A few of the things I am already processing/grieving leaving behind. I’m not going to lie and say that this isn’t a big deal for me. In particular, leaving our organization is very difficult. Again, we are leaving on good terms (and the reasons why I will articulate in another post) but being a part of a visible, quantifiable organization has meant so much to my identity—something I could point to and say “see! I am a part of this! I am doing something good!” and I am being asked to give up all of that.

It’s hard, no lie, and quite necessary for the next season of life. I am looking forward to it, but in order to go into what's next without bringing along a ton of baggage, I am in the thick of doing the hard work of processing it all as much as I can. Which definitely includes making a list of a few of the things that made this place so awesome. Who knew it was such a treasure trove? Minneapolis will forever be in my heart. 

 

 

on homesickness

There was a moment, just a moment, when the happiness overwhelmed me. I was driving a white minivan through the sun-drenched outer boroughs of Portland, the one where the grass was already dead and brown, where the cars pile high in the front yards, where the hipsters are few and far between. Navigating the streets I know so well, driving on auto-pilot; almost audibly my thoughts came: I'm home. The sweetness inherent in that thought--of being known and wanted and comforted--is quickly swallowed up by the realization: no, I'm not. I don't live here anymore. I am embarrassed, look to my left and my right. But no one is there to see my slip into nostalgia, watch my new life and my old cause confusion in my eyes. It is so cliché, but it must be said: I am homesick, no matter where I am.

One great thing about being married to a counselor is that sometimes they give you free observations about your life. The other day my husband told me that to an outside observer, it might look as though I was compelled to seek out relationships with people who are very, very different from myself. Conversely, he also noted, it appeared that my family and community were consistent sources of comfort for me. These two poles on which I staked my life sometimes seem to be in opposition to each other: what is safe, what is unknown. What is comfortable, what is exhilarating. To pursue one means that naturally, the other falls by the wayside.

Last week, in Portland, I was fed full and watched my daughter play with her cousin, I attended a baby shower for my older sister, I went for long walks with my mother, I made root beer floats with my father. Everywhere we went and ate and played I was looking for others, the worlds hidden between, for the marginalized of our society. They are few and far between in Portland, a city that is supremely silly and somehow never satiated in the desire for acceptance. I walked into a coffee shop where everyone looked so exactly alike that it felt like a slap to me: the calculated outfits and language and coffee drinks totaling up one very exclusive experience, designed more to keep others out than to usher them in. I went to church and cried all during worship, aching at how wonderful it was to see a large group of people together and singing about freedom; I slipped away into myself during the sermon, thinking about all the people who would not be able to step inside these doors. Surrounded by family and friends, I couldn't help but feel a bit homesick for the life I have created in the exotic Midwest, long for my neighborhood and my neighbors

Last week, in Portland, I was driving across town in a white minivan. I was by myself, driving to see very old friends, the ones who first showed me where the upside-down kingdom was. I know every street, have a story for almost each city block. I let myself go down the nostalgic trail of thoughts: I met my husband here. I had my baby here. I went to Bible college here. I met the friends who changed my life here. The other part of me--the one who grew up thinking that those who gave up everything to serve God--quickly pushed these thoughts away. I actively, aggressively chided myself into submission. Geography means nothing to me. My entire childhood was spent moving, every 2-3 years. What was important was family, the new church we were at, the next calling of God on our lives. But somehow I stayed in Portland for nearly 9 years, and the asphalt and the street signs and the brown grass in the summer has burrowed into my bones. I am homesick for a place. And it is completely divorced from any sense of mission within me. I just love it for what it is: my home.

A month or so ago here in the exotic midwest I went to visit a friend who moved into the suburbs. Her and her little family are on their way up, moving out of the cramped and crowded-to-overflowing house in the middle of the city. I am happy for her, even as I am sad at the natural distance that will come at her being 30 miles away. I saw her apartment complex, large and full of similarly placed families, everybody packed tight together, everybody trying to make it. The outside facade so clean, the hallways inside rather grimy. I instantly loved it. As I left, I let my hands trail along the walls, imagining what it would be like to move in there. It was then that I realized that I wanted to live in every apartment building in the city, in the country, in the world.

And even though I know this is not even possible in the slightest, there is a large part of me that wants to try.

The problem is: I have so many homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Neighboring and Staying -- Guest Post by Deanna Martinez

It's been one of those weeks. Two people were killed in a drive-by close to us, and the mood at the park was somber yesterday. A semi-famous Christian political figure came to my neighborhood to buy barbeque sauce and told news reporters it was like stepping into a third world country. It's hot, and people are just trying to survive. But there are also the joys: people sharing food, neighbors telling me all their favorite state fair memories, the friendly pre-teens who splash with my daughter at the public pool. It's one of those weeks where the good and the bad are so intertwined, and I don't have the energy to untangle it all.

Which brings me to this guest post. Deanna is one of the reasons I stay in this blog-writing (and hosting gig). I just met her out of the blue internet, and here she is encouraging us all with her insight and obedience, her sorrows and her joy. I too have been encouraged by the gentle writings of Bob Lupton, and encourage you all to do the same (my favorite is this one--thanks John and Jill!). It is clear to me that Deanna views her neighborhood, with all it's mess and trauma and glory--with a sense of gratefulness. It is a gift to her, given to her by God. And that's exactly how I feel about my own little corner of the MidWest.

 

 

Re-neighboring and Staying: Some Thoughts Living and Teaching in the City

Guest post by Deanna Martinez

 

The idea of downward mobility has fascinated me since I first started to grapple with what Jesus meant when he said that in His Kingdom, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth, and the Kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit. The life and teachings of Jesus subvert power structures and confound the wise in such a way that I feel drawn to him. I understand a bit why Peter says "Not just my feet, Lord, but my hands and my head as well!"

 

Life in this upside-down kingdom brings freedom.  My security does not come from my savings account.  My authority is not based on having advanced degrees or a library of leather-bound books.  My value is not determined by my zip code.  I desire a life where bridges are built and barriers are taken down.  I am convinced that God’s heart is with the marginalized, and I want to find myself there.  My prayer is that my life would be an instrument of his peace and reconciliation.

So long story short, I live with my husband and son in Compton, California- a city made famous by the gangster rap of the 90's, stories of corruption by notorious city officials, tales of poverty, screwed up school districts, and all manner of dysfunction that comes with the "Inner City." I was not born here. I did not grow up here. Why do I live here?

 

Sometimes my response depends on the day, but we have been influenced by the writing of Bob Lupton and others in books such as Return Flight. Lupton talks about how healthy communities are diverse in every way- culturally, economically, and racially. As people flee urban centers because of crime, unemployment, and lack of housing, there is a drain of resources. The new enclaves that are established by the people that have left also suffer. These neighborhoods are often marked by a distinct lack of cultural, racial, and economic diversity. One of Lupton's solutions to this issue is that people begin to return to areas that have been largely abandoned by those with resources. He calls it "re-neighboring."  The goal is that all neighborhoods would be integrated and diverse.  I can contribute to my city’s development by paying property taxes, buying my groceries here, and sending my kid to a local school.

That's the idea anyway. If care is not given to ensuring that affordable housing options remain intact and mom and pop shops don't get pushed out by big box stores, criticism of gentrification and economic changes that don't bring benefit to all residents are legitimized. Sometimes I have to refocus my motives in all of this. What is the metric of "improvement?" Is it when people stop leaving their couches on the side of the road? When front lawns are nicely manicured and teenagers stop tagging up the ally around the corner from my house? When we get a frozen yogurt shop? When these things are my focus, I must acknowledge how entrenched I can be in my middle class values and culture. That is not why I live in Compton.

 

I also am also confronted with this in my profession.  I teach at a school not far from my home.  Education is often touted as the great hope for students in disadvantaged areas.  Get good grades!  Got to college! Get up!  Get out!  You can make it!

But what if my student sincerely loves working with their hands?  Is there not value and dignity in leading a quiet, honest life, working each day to support your loved ones?  As an educator,  I value learning.  But when I reflect on what I really want for my students, the narrative of upward mobility is not necessarily one I wish to promote.  Rather than climbing the ladder, I desire to plant the seed of another Way.  What if they excelled academically?  What if they become doctors, lawyers, and engineers?  And then what if they stay.  They don't have to, but they choose to.

 

My students know well the frustration of having a health care provider that doesn’t speak their language, or of social service providers who don’t understand their community or where they come from.  So my question to them is, “What if it was you? Why can’t it be you?” Development does not mean things get neat and tidy and clean and Compton simply turns into a place where people can hide their messiness with money.  Development means that people have access to opportunity.

 

My street is getting better and I will tell you how I know. I know that kids play in the front yard now. They ride their bikes up and down the street. Houses that once stood vacant for months, sometimes years are now inhabited by hard working families. There are birthday parties with plenty of pozole to go around.  And I find that I our lives slowly intertwine.  And my son is going to grow up like this.  And I would not trade this choice for anything.

 

 

 

deanna 004Deanna and her husband live with their son in Compton, CA.  She's not hard to make happy- a good cup of coffee, the neighborhood kids hanging out in her kitchen, or life shared over a meal is all it takes.  She is figuring out on a daily if not hourly basis what it means to love her neighbors well.  She sometimes writes about it at www.whatmakesitgreat.wordpress.com, and occasionally tweets much more superficial thoughts at (https://twitter.com/DeaBeEm)

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