D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: kingdom of god

when i go out, i want to go out like elijah

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Yesterday my friend sent me an old picture of hers from Instagram--a photo of my daughter, age 1, crawling around the floors of our apartment. my friend said "I just want to be back at [your old apartment complex] with you, drinking French Press and getting scratched by your cat Huckleberry. SOB. Can we go back in time a bit when life was simpler? I'll meet you there."

The picture, and the sentiments, stopped me cold in the middle of my day. My baby--so little, so adorable, such a weird little mullet--I had almost forgotten what she had been like at one. Then there was the apartments: the well-kept low-income housing complex where we lived for four years in SE Portland, which in my minds eye seems cleaner and quieter than anything we have experienced since (a dishwasher! no cockroaches! my husband's life only got threatened once!). I remember the huge windows, the natural light streaming in (even if it was a bit cloudy), sitting on my orange corduroy couch and drinking coffee with my friend. How we agonized about our lives, how far they were from our ideals, how we were always itching to get on to the next phase of life.

And now here we are. My friend and her husband moved to Uganda, their lives are a mishmash of experiences I cannot even imagine, her photo stream filled with joy and sweat, me wishing I could reach out and touch her. Me and my grown-up baby and my husband moved across the country and plunged ourselves a further bit down the ladder of the American dream, our lives a beautiful jumble and we can't keep track of all that we have learned or all the ways we have been changed. And as much as I love my life now, I still, just for a moment, longed to go back in time. To sit with my friend, clutching my baby, in my beautiful cozy apartment surrounded on every side by refugee friends and neighbors, to drink coffee and to appreciate the day for what it was.

I told my husband about this. Remember when we lived there? I said. It was a great time to be alive. We were so happy.

I don't know, my husband answered slowly. You always seemed a bit lonely to me.

 

 

 

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There is another picture I thought of the other day, which I tracked back to my Myspace page (oh my word do you remember those?). This is me when I was probably 20, maybe 21. I am untroubled by the world. My face is smooth and unlined, my hair short and swingy, a beautiful baby strapped to my back. i was no doubt running around tacking up flyers for the kids homework club that I started, visiting various families, sitting on floors and eating with my fingers, sitting on couches and being ignored, just showing up week after week for this amazing life that I had discovered in the pockets of America. I did not have angst. I was pleased with myself, pleased with the part I was doing in the world, pleased to know I was using my gifts well.

On second thought, that isn't quite true. I was, after all, there to "practice" on people before I moved overseas, before I really dedicated myself to God, when I had all my theologies sorted out and a team and legitimacy in the eyes of the world. I was testing it out, seeing if I was any good at it, slowly becoming suspicious of all of the people I knew who loved to talk about mission but couldn't be bothered to come once a week and help refugee kids learn basic math. I discovered that I was not good at a whole lot of things: proselytizing, supervising homework clubs with 50+ kids and no other volunteers, doing it all on my own without getting bitter. I was more than a little bit lonely. And instead of being good at anything, I began to realize how much pleasure I found in being with people who were different from me.

 

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I'm thinking about all of this, because the angst has never really left me. Even in this season, it is here, lurking underneath. I recently watched Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins (a personal hero of mine), and it left me more than a bit uncomfortable. I recognized so much of myself in him, both his depths of unhappiness and fierce propulsion to continually move forwards. How can somebody continually have revelations from God, write songs about his love, and then have moments of being completely unconvinced of that truth? But this is how it is, this is the reality of the world. We hear revelations, and we forget. We experience love, and we forget. We witness the miracles of forgiveness and resurrection, and we forget. We see the kingdom come, we are filled with love for the church, we are content to be little mustard seeds and then--it all flows away like water.

I have no doubt that in three years time I will look back at this time, this day, this season in my life with nothing but kindness. Through rose-colored glasses I will only see the good, will only see the revelations, will choose to not see the clouds of forgetfulness. I will be kind to my un-perfect self, realize that if I spent over 20+ years of my life willing myself to be the one who goes out and saves everybody then it might be realistic to think it would take some time to gently undo those faulty beliefs and all the relational brokenness that comes out of them.

If I could go back in time--ten years ago, three years ago--what would I tell myself? I would probably say:You can move across the country, sell all that you have and live in a poorer neighborhood--and you will still feel that restless urge. You will not be able to outrun your demons, the sense that you are never doing enough. You will continue to fluctuate between deliriously happy in the love of God and what he is up to in the world and being crushed by the inaction and apathy of so many around you. The angst is not going to go away. The love will continue to grow until it engulfs you. You will be crushed, and you will be resurrected, time and time again.

 

You will still be so very lonely. You will still be so very loved.

 

I am writing this here to remind myself. There is no doubt in my mind that I will soon forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

War Photographer: Peter Anderson

I'm incredibly excited to have my first actual photographer in my War Photographer series. Peter (and his wife Liz, who you will be hearing from in a few weeks time) are amazingly thoughtful individuals--living a life that most of us would find hard with impossible grace. The words in this post were like a balm for my soul, as were the images that accompanied them. For more stunning photography (and plenty of wisdom as well) check out Peter's blog, Fiercely Alive

 

 

I am a war photographer.

Or I want to be, at least.

When I started playing with my first digital camera, I fell in love with the idea of photojournalism. Good photojournalism has this incredible power to open up new worlds, to tell untold stories, and to expose the hidden parts of society that people usually ignore. Though I was a wannabe young radical with a heart for “urban issues,” I was still finishing college in a very white, upper middle-class suburb of Chicago. So I saw the nearby city as an opportunity to start photographing the real world that everyone else in my suburban area and rural hometown was missing out on. I wanted to jump into the war against poverty, against discrimination, against apathy; I wanted to make a difference. For me, that meant showing how messed up and forgotten our world really is.

I’d hop on the train and travel into the city on a weekend, exploring this unknown urban jungle. With sneaky shots of the homeless, portraits of Latino construction workers, and scenes of gritty poor neighborhoods, I was learning how to shoot while teaching myself to see the details of a city I just knew people preferred to ignore. This was it—with camera in hand, I had found my way to speak prophetically to the world.

After graduating, I’d had enough of the suburbs. My wife had a connection with an intentional community and church on the north side of Chicago, so we moved there (and I wound up on staff at the church a year later). Our new community was diverse, it had immigrants and public housing, and gangs claimed territory on either side of our street. Clearly, this was where we were supposed to be, right?

Our neighborhood offered a plethora of opportunities for good urban photography: I could walk down one street and shoot run-down buildings, down another to find Latino immigrants selling watermelons from the back of a truck, and a third street to discreetly photograph young black men hanging out on the corner. (Note: Please don’t actually do this. Nothing screams “Cop!” louder than a white man in the city taking sneaky shots of teens smoking weed).

Over time, though, photographing in our area became more difficult. It felt awkward taking pictures of people I didn’t know; it felt dishonest representing people from afar. Worst of all, as I built relationships with our neighbors around us, I realized my photos only showed people as “social issues” while ignoring everything else about them.

I had taken our city and turned it into nothing but stereotypes.

My supposedly prophetic photography, which I dreamed could one day change the world, was doing nothing but showing the ugly surface and ignoring everything underneath. I was taking the assumptions and fears of everyone who I hoped would see the truth, and showed them only what they expected:

Look how poor our community is.

Look how dirty and run-down our buildings are.

Look how hopeless and dangerous our youth are.

Look how rough a place the city is.

I was no longer just a wannabe photojournalist, traveling to unknown places and photographing new people and sights. I was a local, a member of the community, a friend and neighbor to the people around me. My community wasn’t just a set of “social issues” anymore: I knew the mother down the street was working three jobs to support her children, I mentored youth desperate for a safe place to hang out and be kids again, and I saw brilliant students on track to college if they could avoid the gangs and drugs their peers were falling into.

I am a war photographer, but my war has changed. I’m a minister, no longer an objective outsider. I don’t need to show everyone how broken the world is; it’s easy to see, and many people are doing it far better than I ever could.

What the world does need—what my community needs—is to see real live people, with real hopes and dreams like the rest of us, who are trying as best as they can to survive the brokenness around them.

What the world needs—what my community needs—is for the people we stereotype to be able to define and present themselves as they want to be seen, to be able to put their best foot forward.

What the world needs—what my community needs—are more signs of hope that grow amidst the problems, not more reminders of the problems.

Does this mean we gloss over the issues in our communities? I don’t think that’s helpful. People need to know, for example, that my current neighborhood in London has the highest rate of child poverty in the country, that young people are often afraid of leaving their neighborhood for fear of getting jumped. But images and stories are able to share this context, this environment, without treating people as merely the sum of their situation.

So how do we do all this? I still don’t really know yet. I’m still trying to learn how to do it well. But I do know what I’m striving for:

Where the world sees poverty, we want it to see a different sort of richness.

Where the world sees violence, we want it to see people longing for peace.

Where the world sees crime, we want it to see neighbors looking out for each other.

Where the world sees brokenness, we want it to see stories of hope and strength.

Where the world sees destruction, we want it to see signs of God’s redemption.

Amidst the darkness, we want the world to see the Kingdom.

 

A trash can in our neighborhood overflowing with rubbish from snacks and fast food. When a community has serious problems, it’s not difficult to show it; symptoms are everywhere.

A local youth in Chicago shows off some of his bike tricks behind his local school. The obvious focus for kids like him is to talk about poor grades, lack of role models, and proximity to drugs and violence. Exploring what they’re good at, what excites them, allows them to be seen on their own terms.

A local barber volunteers once a week to give free haircuts at a homeless shelter in California. Documenting this small event was a treat; the men enjoyed their weekly gathering, and all of them were proud of how they looked after their trim. Despite their difficult circumstances, it was great to show them when they felt at their best.

Young women get creative during London’s first real snowfall last year. What are the signs in your community that people hope and dream for something better?

 

PedroPeter Anderson is a black belt pacifist photographer. He mostly wears black, loves the city but wants to live in the mountains, and thinks walking is a great way to get around. He and his wife Liz are part of InnerCHANGE’s team in the East End of London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the idea behind the series, go here.

War Photographer: J.R. Goudeau

War Photographer: Melissa Gutierrez

War Photographer: Ed Cyzewski

what i'm into: december downwardly mobile

hullo. time to write a hodge-podge post about things i have been into. it has been a good couple of weeks, my brain feeling fired up and ready to go. but the truth is, i don't have loads of people in my real flesh-and-blood life to discuss these things with. but i'll be hanged if i haven't met some lovely people on the internets and learned a lot from them, and what they have been reading/listening/watching. so i will post my own in hopes that it will be helpful, and might even spark a conversation or two.

one thing i wanted to address with this-here list is the commitment to simplicity my family recently took. we are moving backwards in the american dream, ya'll. some things are easier than others (clothes, for instance, or eating out fancy), some things are not nearly as bad as i thought they would be (i had a horror of washing dishes by hand by now i find it oddly soothing--as long as they don't stack up and completely overwhelm our miniscule kitchen). and other things that i thought would be fine tend to be a little trying on the soul (not being able to read every book that i would like to, for instance).

so here's my list of things things that i am into this month, and they are almost all completely free/accessible to all (although many of them require a computer. but libraries have that too!). so here we go:

listening

i have been really into sufjan's latest christmas album, silver and gold, which i find so beautiful (the hymns) and so sad (the other songs). this album is quite a bit darker, if you look under the superficial christmas cheer. this is a song about longing for a time when everything was perfect, even though you know it never was. this is an album for advent, when we live into the reality that we need a savior, and he is nothing like we expect.

(you can listen to the album for free on spotify).

watching

oh, pbs. i have recently rekindled my love for you. in the past month we decided to quit our huluplus account because i had a sudden and intense hatred for all our situational comedies that i used to love (modern family, new girl). they just seemed so . . . stupid. and privileged. and i do believe that zooey deschanel might be the anti-feminist right now (but that is another rant).

enter pbs.

good ol' dowdy, serious, public television. except, the quality of the programs are quite a bit higher than the masterpiece theater's of yore. i got hooked on a bbc show airing on pbs entitled "call the midwife", set in east london in the early 1960s. although the show should come with a trigger warning for anyone with past traumatic birth experiences, i found their take on poverty very refreshing--showing the need, but also showing vibrant culture, and a variety of stories. i loved it. unfortunately, i think the free run on pbs might almost be over. but look for it on dvd soon.

i have also started watching a series of videos on poverty from pbs, called Why Poverty? I have only seen 2 of the 8 documentaries available, and they have kept the husband and i up for hours, talking and discussing (and that is saying something, as the child has started waking up several times a night and we are tired!). the first one we watched was on wealth inequality in America, and why we should care about it. I'm not going to lie--this one raised a LOT of questions for me, and I would love to discuss it with some other folks if you get around to watching it. The other one we just finished was an animated history of poverty--a really unique (and not western-centric) take on the various phases and histories of poverty around the world. I feel like my brain is growing two sizes and my heart is struggling to catch up. Both of these films brought out the fact that I am slow to catch onto: we really do live in an age where there are an unprecedented amount of riches existing side-by-side with untold sufferings as a result of poverty.

lord, may your kingdom come.

all of these videos are available for free on pbs.com until the year 2019. so go get on it!

reading

the library card might be my most valuable piece of plastic right now (more on that another day). although, i have been a little grumpy by how slow the system here in the midwest works (maybe they just have way more readers than the system in portland?) whatever the case, there are about 10 new books that i have been wanting to read SO BADLY but i am way down the line of library holds for them. at this point, i will read most of them late next year.

so i have been looking past the big-name newbies and discovered a new favorite fiction author in Anne Tyler. Her novel St. Maybe is a funny and more than a little sad look at family, with a surprising amount of forgiveness and atonement sprinkled in. I love it. I  read it and wished somebody had told me about her long ago. So here I am, telling you: go to your library and get it.

I am also reading my apocalyptic subsistence economy books and still loving (and hating) it.

Also, i have been rereading the earliest books in the Harry Potter series. Because escapism.

On the blog front, there are too many good things going on so I will just tell you about my favorite writer that you have never heard of: Becca of Exile Fertility is nuanced, funny, wise and passionate. I just love every single thing she writes, and decided not to be selfish and share her today. Go check it out.

There is probably more I could share right now, but Sesame Street only lasts so long (starting the child early on her PBS!).

I am linking up with a bunch of others talking about what they are into, and I would love to hear yours.

Feeble

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.

Amen.

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:

The Hunger Games and Oscar Romero

It is really hard to explain my love for the Hunger Games to people who haven't read the books (BTW, I read the books long ago, back when the only people reading them were actual Young Adults and some random YWAMers). I am a pacifist, so the preface of kid-killing-kids did throw me off. But, as Heather so eloquently writes, that isn't really what the books are about at all. The relationships are wonderful, and so is the critique of our modern society. I loved it. (PS. A real [i.e. smarter] pacifist reviews the movie here. excellent). I saw the movie last night, and it was a slightly different experience. To pay money and wait in long lines to watch kids be killed (by other kids) made it all a bit too meta for my taste. It felt too much like we were the capitol. I couldn't shake the feeling.

Plus, for a team Peeta gal like myself . . . well, after watching the movie you can begin to realize why people might be team Gale. The Katniss/Peeta bit didn't do it for me. Which is a shame, because Peeta is one of my top male protagonists in literature (I also dearly, dearly love Edmund from the Narnia books, and Ronald Weasly). Peeta reminds me a lot of my own husband: pacifist tendencies, self-deprecating, cute, and funny.

 

 

OK, enough talk about movies. I am truly loving this week of prayer (although I have forgotten a few times, the 3x a day of liturgical prayer have been awesome) and I wanted to share something from the reading today on http://commonprayer.net. Today there was a little bio of Oscar Romero, and it quoted some of his writings on the kingdom of God (it is rather long, but worth the read!):

 

"It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.” (emphasis mine).

 

Isn't that inspiring? I need to take a step back every now and again. Because I want to do my small things very, very well indeed.

Happy Birthday to Me

I have a long history of having an identity crisis on my birthday. The hubs asked me very politely several days ago not to do this. I agreed, if only because I have had a few too many of those lately, and could use a break. In reality, this has been a banner year for some confirmations of things (column gigs and various magazine articles and copious amounts of constructive/positive feedback). I became a real teacher. I became the mom of a toddler. I was a pretty good wife.

But none of that really matters, because that is not truly who I am.

And I couldn't tell you even if I knew: all I know is this very second. The way God likes it when I sigh and squirm and then sit quietly on my own little carpet-square of a story.

For my birthday I got 2 books (one on adoption, one on the upside down kingdom) a worship CD, and a funky necklace made by women raising money for overseas adoption. A very, very tiny part of me thought: but what about an H&M giftcard? Glittery Toms? Chocolate bon bons? (PS: this is why the hubs hates birthdays: I declare myself free from consumerism and then pout when he doesn't buy me stuff). But I realized (and I am not saying this lightly) that I really didn't want anymore stuff. Plus, it is so cute that the hubs believes me when I say I want to want less. And what we do gift, I want it to be about something more.

So thanks to my husband for believing me, and believing in me. I am excited for my 28th year, mostly because I get to spend it with him.

Oh, and this one:

 

Treat. Yo. Self.

Ah! I am working on a column about the kingdom of God. How do you explain this concept to a bunch of over-educated hipsters? Or to church people, for that matter. I am starting to realize that I talk about the kingdom all the time. It is the churchiest language, but to me it is so practical. Currently, I am in a Paul-what-in-the-world-is-up-with-you phase, and I am finding refuge in the gospels again. We can't just lean on the tidy doctrines and big theological words of Paul. We also need the prodding and fire of Jesus (and his kindred spirit, James) urging us towards lives that actually look like God is our king.

With that preachiness out of the way, here are two photos for you (both taken by my friend Haley, who is super cool and has an i-phone and the requisite awesome app, and who is also one of the most generous people I have ever met in my life).

First, the cute baby:

Secondly, the most awesome keychain in the world (which the generous Haley got me):

And in case this picture makes no sense to you, here you go:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1ebBsl5WhI&w=560&h=315]

See? It's funny because it's like the opposite of the kingdom! I do love me some ridiculousness.

My practice of parenting: Callings

Hello! Sarah is one of my favorite internet writers, and today she is doing a Practices of Parenting Carnival (!) which sounds quite celebratory and rakish. She invited anyone and everyone to write about their own best practices of parenting, so here I am. It is always nice to have a little push in a direction for writing a post.

So, here is my practice I wanted to share with you all:

I am trying to live into God's call for my life.

Now, doesn't that so spiritual and awesome?

From a young age, I have dreamed of being an apostle, an evangelist, of living out all those crazy stories in the New Testament. I loved Jesus and I wanted everyone to know about him. I read missionary biographies extensively, and never once considered an alternative to the wandering, nomadic, Bible-preaching life.

But what happens when an fired-up young single woman missionary falls in love and gets married? And then has a baby (a preemie, high-needs baby at that)? And then gets a good job? And then, and then, and then.

One of the most difficult transitions to motherhood thus far has been the perception that my life now revolves around the baby. Which, to be fair, it totally does (the baby happens to be very, um, particular about naptimes and bedtimes and routines and all that, much to my chagrin). But just because I might be in a relatively short period of my life where I am sleep deprived and getting re-acquianted with Sesame Street characters does not mean that my earlier callings are somehow over.

I am still called to be a strong, missionary woman. But now, I have a baby on my hip.

And believe you me, some things have changed. I can't do as many crazy refugee adventures as I used to, nor do I have all the spontaneity that is often required for non-Western celebrations and events (which can last for 14 hours or MORE). It now takes much more effort, planning, and intentionality to make things work. For awhile, I taught English classes for refugee women in my apartment complex while wearing the baby in an Ergo carrier. Nowadays, that doesn't fly for the baby, so instead I invite all the neighborhood kids over for an after-school play time. It is messy, loud, chaotic--and so much fun.

While there has been a stretch of a month or two at a time where I feel like my vision becomes narrowed, thinking only about bills and how many hours I spent awake in the middle of the night and whether or not the baby will ever start walking--coming back to camp on the promises that God has given me has been vital.

This time right now, the longest/shortest time, is yet another dimension of my calling. My first calling is not negated, nor do I need to abandon it.

I think about my mom, someone who was always thirsting for God, and how I absorbed the immense importance of that relationship. My mom spent an hour every morning walking and talking to God, and my childhood was spent being taken on various adventures: to the wild islands of Alaska to work with natives, to the depths of rural Mexico, to the homeless shelters and Special Ed classrooms and Bible studies in whatever city we lived in at that moment. And because my own mother was obedient to her first calling, that of a Christ-follower, my own growing-up felt magical, exciting, infused with the excitement of bringing the kingdom.

So here I am, struggling to live out my missional life. It is hard work to beat back the trappings of Western motherhood, the isolation and perfectionism, the consumerism and the incurably inane.

And then I go back to my calling, the ones I received as a little child and a tearful teenager and a depressed young-twenty something. The calling to live for others, and not for myself. The calling to bring a kingdom of justice and love and mercy. The calling to surround myself with the least of these, lest I get too comfortable. The calling to choose to actively be a part in all that the Spirit is doing now, and to not content myself with what is easy and temporary and crowds out the voice of God.

We are trying to live out our callings over here.

What are your Practices of Parenting? Come check out the Carnival!

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