D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: dorothy day


Leah is the neighbor that I wrote about earlier this week--she is a dear friend and I am thrilled to share her words today. Leah and her husband John have unquiet minds--they are always thinking, dreaming, planning, and scheming up new things to try and do. Their creativity is boundless (efficient stove technology, gourmet foods, artisanal pizza food carts), and they were the best neighbors a girl could have. Currently they are living it up in Paraguay but someday they might move back a little bit closer to me. That would be awesome.  

Imagine: guest post by Leah Eads. 

Imagine the world you want to live in;  Create that world;  Live in it. - Inspired by Ghandi


As I think about downward mobility, my mind is flooded with friends new and old who have modeled this for me over the years. A middle-aged artist couple who told me “you don’t have to be rich to live a life filled with elegance and beauty”. Soon after I met them they gave away everything they had and joined a Dorothy Day-style community. A boss who moved to the country to work his own land and begin raising as much of his own food as possible. An economics professor who began every class with, “Here’s another Bible verse you don’t believe...” (usually relating to money or possessions.) Friends who cook exclusively on a wood stove which also heats their water and their house.

 And I can’t deny the influence of my parents: they raised us to understand that we were rich not because of the new, expensive things we had but by making sure that we interacted with those who lived on the fringes without the comforts that we enjoyed-- folks living with AIDS, others without stable housing or enough food, hitchhikers, refugees. They built a house themselves using passive solar principles and drove old cars. They decided that our family would give homemade gifts for Christmas long before ‘Advent Conspiracy.’ Now in their fifties, they continue to choose faithfulness to their values over conventional wisdom about careers or planning extensively for retirement.

 As I got older, read more, traveled more, I felt more and more uncomfortable with the huge gap between rich and poor, finding myself on the “rich” side. I could not deny that simply by going about what was considered normal for my culture, I was participating in vast exploitation of people and the environment. So one of my goals became to fight through that cultural insulation that shelters us from the full stories behind what we consume and live creatively within the economic gap.

 We vote with every dollar we spend, and I want to cast those votes against greed, injustice and environmental destruction every chance that I have. Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking that if I only had more money, I could take the moral highroad and buy that sweatshop-free skirt, that upcycled bath mat, that biodegradable detergent. But one need not be wealthy to have a conscience when spending money-- by not buying the fair or green option I am not by default forced to buy the generic alternative. I discovered soapnuts and mix my own cleaning supplies. I knitted a bathmat out of old t-shirts and just said “no” to buying that skirt for an already-stuffed closet. It’s about finding that creative, DIY way to live off the waste that is the wake of excessive consumerism.

 I was about to say that we live on less in order to work less and therefore have more time to do what we love. In actuality, John is a pro at creating a job out of what he loves to do. Instead of “work” being what we do for money and “play” being everything that is done outside of earning money, we run our own business which is a combination of a whole lot of work and a lot of fun. At home, cooking everything from scratch can feel like a lot of work, but who doesn’t enjoy making their own whole-grain mustard for a fraction of the price or getting together with friends to can a year’s worth of salsa straight from the garden? This is the kind of work that really pays!

 From time to time, friends have mentioned that they envy us... having a successful small business and all. And then we let them in on a little secret: our income has always hovered just a little above the “poverty” line for our family of four.

So in every aspect of life we look for that creative “third way” that involves little money and little guilt. I have to be totally honest: in our family, John has the imagination. His “extreme” ideas like switching to a veg oil vehicle or taking on a “100 mile” diet (two things we are currently considering for when we move back to the US in a few months) are often met initially with my protesting and pointing out how it will not be possible. But in time I come around. Perhaps not surprisingly, this creative exploring often leads us to a choice which is not only cheaper but closer to our intention in life: to demonstrate that peace, love and beauty on this earth have not been extinguished by the powers that be.

 Take for example the perception that eating entirely organic, local and or fair trade is just too expensive for the average family. With careful planning, buying in bulk, cooking from scratch and the occasional dumpster dive booty from friends we are able to eat 90% organic/local/fair trade on a very tight grocery budget. And the benefits are not only nutritional: less packaging and plastic, less fossil fuels, and more of our dollars going to support local businesses.

A couple years ago we were trying to figure out how to use less energy-- as renters we couldn’t install solar panels or start cooking on a rocket stove-- so we turned off water heater breaker except for when we really needed hot water. (We were already taking a modified Laura Ingalls Wilder approach to bathing.) Turns out it cut the electric bill by 20%, and we adjusted to an “inconvenience” which is the norm in most of the world!

 I realize that I am not going to make a noticeable difference for the environment or people in war-torn countries by personally eliminating all plastic from my grocery cart or totting my cloth-diapered kids around in a bike trailer or making my own mayonnaise. There are plenty of inconsistencies in what we do and don’t choose to afford. But when my grandchildren grow up and say “How could people have let this happen?” I want to be able to say I did everything within my power to not only imagine a better world, but to live accordingly. 



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


Today, I read this in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (sorry if it seems like I can't stop talking about this resource--it is just so good).

What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that   little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little that we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did he fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seeds fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest --- Dorothy Day

Well, that certainly puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I am so quick to dramatize situations (There are so many poor people! Why is nobody working with refugees? Fix all the things!) and then I turn around and feel like a miserable failure for trying in my own small way to be a part of the redemption.

Obviously, I need to get over myself.

Another quote from the reading today: Give us patience and humility with our feeble efforts at faithfulness.


Also, a sense of humor never hurt anyone. All of this talk about bread made me think of the Hunger Games (see what I did there? Smooth transition). So I will leave you with this (decidedly unspiritual) image, found via Pinterest:

Aaaand, I just can't help myself. I just don't like Gale and his violent rhetoric:

Lent: A Mutiny Against Excess. Week 2: Possessions!


OK, yesterday I was feeling it on the food thing. I was also really cranky and wanted nothing more than to go buy a pastry. But I didn't. and I feel proud. Also, I am feeling so lazy (and recovering from crazy other things in life) that we might not make it to the store today. Something with eggs for dinner it is!

So here is the lowdown for the next week:

Week two: Possessions. In this week we will focus on both clothing and possessions. Focusing on reducing our clothes allows us to be free from the tyranny of fashion and trying to impress people. Focusing on reducing our possessions will allow us to de-clutter our lives and highlight what we truly need to live in the kingdom of God. Set aside extra time in this week to go through your house and be prepared to get rid of a lot! As we reduce our possessions we should also look to a future where re-using, recycling, and doing without becomes our new normal. Stuff will never make us happy.

Since this is not only about living a more simple life but also doing with less so that others can have more, we would like to do a community garage sale at the end of Lent with all the proceeds going directly to help establish a safe house for children coming out of trafficking in Haiti. If garage sales aren’t your thing, feel free to donate to a women’s shelter or a local clothing closet or better yet–give it to people you know that are in need.

Update: If you live in the Portland area, Haley has graciously offered her place for the garage sale. We are thinking the weekend of Spring Break (the 24th-25th). Contact us for more details!

Practical Fasts: Clothes: Sort through your clothes (and your families clothes) and reduce by ⅓-½. There is no need to hoard when so many people in America are struggling to clothe their families. Think about what really fits you and what you actually wear (not what you want to wear). Make a commitment to not buy new clothes for the week (or, for the rest of Lent). Note: If you do choose to purchase clothes between now and Lent, consider shopping at thrift stores.

Possessions: Do not buy any new possessions this week. Commit to weed through your possessions. Tackle different areas on different days. If at all possible, save items for a garage sale. Areas to target include: Kitchen Bath Books Toys Decorations

Prayer Focus: Pray for the church to become less materialistic, and pray for Christ’s rule and reign in our hearts. Pray for our gospel to become bigger than success, and pray that we would get to know our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Resources: (AKA things that have helped me mutiny against "stuff")

The Corporation  (a documentary that will change the way you shop. Guaranteed).

A Better World Shopper (click here for the website). (A great resource for finding out what is a sweatshop and what isn't)

Clothes Off my Back clothing closet (A clothes closet my mom started to help the community in Park Rose. If you don't want to mess with a garage sale, this would be a great place to donate your clothes! E-mail me at dlmmcsweeneys@gmail.com if you would like more info).

What are your resources? What are you excited about for this week? What makes you nervous?

Powered by Squarespace. Background image by Kmayfield