D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: privilege

Moving Downward, In Spite of the Safety Net--Guest Post by Annie

Oh my goodness. I opened up my e-mail last week to this stunner of a guest post sitting quietly in my in-box. These stories, from people in the very process of figuring it all out, speak to me so deeply. I identified SO much with what Annie writes here (being in America, my safety net is that much closer and more tantalizing and convenient). It is also a testament as to how not theoretical this conversation is. When you are friends with poverty, certain questions must be asked (and not always answered). I am very thankful Annie found this series, and that she added her own contribution here.   

 

 

Moving downward, in spite of the safety net

Guest post by Annie

 

 

 

I have a friend who decided to sleep on the floor for a few months, right next to his bed. It was an act of self-denial. But even as he spent his nights on the hard, unforgiving floor of his room, the bed was within arm’s reach. He might never choose to sleep in it again, but it was still there.

This is perhaps the biggest struggle of it all for me.

This downward mobility stuff is hard. As much as I want to deny myself, it is nearly impossible to forget that there is a wide, comfortable safety net around me. There is always somewhere to fall back on. And I know that. Even in my subconscious, I know that. I try to turn off my peripheral vision and forget that it is there in order to reduce my dependence on it, but the reminders are constant.

On most days, my privilege ostentatiously dances in my face and frustrates my desire to really, truly live in solidarity with the people I am surrounded by. The voices that call this pursuit of downward mobility "ignorant idealism" ring louder and surer than my unsteady, but wishful, belief that this type of living is not only beautiful, but possible.

I see it everywhere.

A terrorist attack occurs in my city of residence and I am keenly aware that, if I wanted to, I could be on the next plane out with so many of the other young, single American girls serving here--so quickly and easily removed from a perceived threat to my own safety and wellbeing. Somehow my safety is more important than the ones I moved here to live in community with, with no questions asked.

I offer a cup of coffee to a friend while we are out running errands and can see it in her face that she is uncomfortable with anyone spending 250 shillings ($3) on something that will be gone in 10 gulps. Why would we pay $3 for something that we can make for 20 cents when we get home? That much money can feed a whole family--all day long. And more than just knowing that (like me), she knows it.

A young girl is stuck in an unsafe environment and the only good option seems so glaringly clear in my mind...move the child. And fast. But what my mind doesn't account for is all of the unplanned costs that will accompany this decision. How will the family possibly afford this swift action? They are in many ways trapped and I realize that I have never in my life felt trapped in this way. How can I know even an ounce of this pain my friend endures?

An unexpected illness strikes and a family is left with very few options -- attempt to treat the child and acquire bills that exceed the amount that passes through their hands in 5 years, or take their child home and pray. I get a sinus infection and already have a prescription sitting there waiting in my cabinet. And if anything serious were to happen, you better believe my insurance would be airlifting me to Dubai or back to America for the world-class medical treatment I deserve.

I'm aware of my privilege when the weekly grocery bill is the same amount that my friend who supports an entire family makes each month. Bread and rice are not luxury items in my world; they are things I am allowed to groan about having to eat, again.

I'm aware when my spoon pushes even a small pile of bread crusts or stale crackers into the trashcan, now even further from mouths that are hungry. The guilt-inducing images in my mind aren’t from those Christian Children Fund infomercials of the 90’s, they are images of friends and neighbors who I care for deeply.

I'm aware when I frustratedly declare one of my things "broken!" and throw it in my closet or the trash can and my friends quickly scoop it out and ask for the chance to try to fix it themselves or at least take it somewhere to be saved.

I'm aware when paying $1 for a motorbike taxi is the obvious choice over walking for an hour in the hot sun, for free.

I lay in my bed that is surrounded by dozens of sleeping children, listening to the dogs’ howling alarm that things are not right outside the orphanage compound tonight. My thoughts race in wondering if the thugs get into our home tonight will my laptop, DSLR, iphone, and ATM card be accepted in exchange for the children's protection? The undeniable reality is that I have something to offer.

Friends sit in jail cells for things that just don't seem right and my privileged friends and I are calling everyone we know, using our “connections” to fight for what we consider justice. He is out within days, while others sit and sit and sit because their families and friends have known since childhood that their fighting doesn’t mean much.

I don't generally make a habit of praying before meals because it seems ritualistic and unnecessary. They pray before meals because they are genuinely thankful that God has remembered them and provided food, even when they personally know so many who are without.

I wait in the crowded line of the government hospital for the schizophrenia medications that keep my friend functioning well in society and others ask me “wow! You’re ‘mad’ too?” I strangely want to say “Yes! See, we are just alike! I feel your pain! I’m with you!” but instead I bow my head and say “no, they’re actually for a friend.”

Maybe these examples are extreme, but they just begin to describe how I sometimes I feel like I am just playing dress-up. I put on a costume and play the part of friend to the poor, friend to the sick, and friend to the orphan, but remain so far above them (much to my dismay) that it seems a laughable feat to really live in solidarity with them. If I lived in America, I would most likely be dependent on government assistance. But here!? Here I am rich. I am healthy. I have family who call me their own and always have my back. I have people who would fight for me, if I needed it.

I cut back and I struggle, yes -- but I have never been hungry. I have never truly felt trapped in a horrible, threatening situation because of an empty bank account. I have never had to choose between treating a sick child and putting food on the table. And most of all, I have about 10 people in my speed dial who would do anything to bail me out of whatever unfavorable situation I find myself in. I also like to believe that if I was in real trouble, my home country would fight for me—fight for justice for one of their own who is being oppressed in a foreign land.

As much as I hate that I cannot truly empathize with situations my friends find themselves in day after day, I am able to feel a portion of their pain because they have become my family. I want their pain to be my own and Jesus is so kind to grant that. I am learning there is so much to be said for “weeping with those who weep” even (and especially) when your own personal, present circumstances don’t call for weeping. And in my experiences, they have been so gracious to receive my weeping instead of resenting it.

We dream about our futures together and I decline engagement in the “big house, perfect job, lots of money, healthy and happy family” reveries because I have learned that these things don’t satisfy. I have had those things and quite honestly, could still have those things. I don’t have them because I don’t want them, but my access to them is undeniable… and I hate this. There is something almost prideful about having the option of this lifestyle, but turning it down.

As much as I want this to be a struggle of the past--something that characterized my first few steps down the staircase, I am not sure that will ever be the case. As difficult as it is to live in this tension, I cannot help but believe Jesus is glorified by our, albeit fumbling, attempts to live in solidarity with the poor, orphaned, outcast, widows, homeless, sick, and lonely.

One of the things I love most about Jesus and the way He used His time on earth to teach us how to live is how mind-blowingly clear He is. I am simple minded and need straightforward directions; He graciously made it so that we do not have to make any assumptions or decode any messages to understand His heart for the poor. He is crazy about them. He honors them and cherishes them and calls them His friends; not for charity’s sake, but for love’s sake. I love the way Father Greg Boyle defines this solidarity: “kinship– not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.”

Above all else, I want to know them and I want to struggle alongside of them. I want them to know me and struggle alongside of me. I want to share what I have with them and I want them to share what they have with me. I want to cry with them and I want to dance with them. I want them to cry with me and I want them to dance with me. I want to pray for them but I also want and need them to pray for me. I want to get angry with them about injustice and I want to fight alongside of them—arm in arm, not one in front of the other. I want to learn from them, but more than that I desperately need to learn from them.

This is what I want. And this is what God is doing, slowly but surely, and not without pain and difficulty and awkwardness and lots of fumbles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

unnamed-5Annie lives and works in Kenya where she has the privilege of helping to manage a transitional care center for infants. The best part of her "job" is being a foster mama to the little ones while they are rehabilitated and long-term solutions are sought to enable each child to grow up in a family. One of her greatest, but noblest, struggles is keeping sarcasm and dry humor alive in a county that does not (yet) recognize it's worth. She rambles often, and sometimes posts it on the world wide web at www.ramblations.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

a few words on downward mobility

   

For the people who critique downward mobility, the term: 

I'm sorry. It's just words. Use different words if you need to. I use it as an easy, succinct way to describe consciously choosing to not pursue climbing the ladder of the American dream. Smaller living spaces, simple living, done with reconciliation and relationship as the goal. Arguing about the terms is boring and useless. In fact, arguing in general just tires me out.

 

 

For the people who critique downward mobility, the practice:

This is probably not the series for you.

 

 

For the people who feel guilty, or shamed in regards to conversations about downward mobility:

I'm sorry. Nothing good ever comes from guilt. But everything beautiful comes from love.

 

 

For the people who feel like failures: 

You're not. You're not. You're not.

 

 

For the practitioners, the people who are trying to live this out, in one or two or twenty very small ways; to the people living with mice and cockroaches and bedbugs, those with neighbors who slam doors in their faces or cook them a lovely pot of curry; those who lay awake at night thinking about violence and abuse and neglect and grief; for those with one coat or one bike or pots with no lids; for those who work all day with little or no recognition, who hang out with the mentally ill and the lonely and the brusque; for those who love the urine-soaked city streets and the quiet rural poor; for those that cook big pots of lentil soup, who leave the doors unlocked, who see the world as big and broken and offer up what little you have, the tiny, laughable loaves and fishes of your life, your privilege, your face, your body, your hands and face and smile, day after day after day, in the neighborhoods far from where you grew up:

I love you.

May the peace of Christ be with you, wherever he may send you.

Torn Between Two Kingdoms

Dane is an old, old friend (I don't want to embarrass him, but we were both in the same evangelical punk band in our early teens). I was thrilled when he contacted me to submit a guest post. He is such a great guy (I may or may not be trying to recruit him to my organization). What I like most about this piece (and Dane himself) is how honest he is right smack dab in the middle of the questions. He doesn't tidy it up at all, just leaves them all there hanging. And it feels good, and weighty, and joyful. As life should, I believe. 
 
 

Torn Between Two Kingdoms: Guest Post by Dane Johnson

I’m a 27-year-old white guy from an upper-to-middle class family that set me up for a good life. But rather than bounding onward and upward into my bright future, I’ve been stalled lately. I’m to blame for this pause in forward progress. Well, Jesus is partially responsible too.

I vacillate between two very different kinds of life; the one that seems obvious, responsible, and stable, and the other, which involves following Jesus wherever.

Musing over the eternal kingdom, and believing it’s accessible through Jesus, makes spending a lifetime in alignment with cultural norms and parental hopes dull in comparison to a life spent chasing God’s mystery. Throw this idea of “downward mobility” into the mix and I wonder if I should be working to make a “life” for myself at all. Insert parental eye roll.

My internal wrestling match centers around these two questions; do I strive to live up to the potential that my family, education, upbringing, and society have offered me?  Or do I strive to live up to the potential of being a servant vagabond like Christ the King?

Since graduating college five years ago, I’ve struggled to find the balance between a recklessly abandoned life to the humble way of Jesus and the more socially acceptable way of citizenship in the culture I was raised to maintain and, hopefully, outdo.

In 2012, I was offered to be bumped up from a part-time job I held at a county agency to a full-time position. It was a career path known for adequate financial compensation, health benefits, and job security. However, it offered me a version of a life that I’d never wanted to live, but, suddenly, seemed somewhat appealing because I’d once and for all be a contributor and participant in the world of the socio-economically-acceptable. I’d belong somewhere “normal.”

I considered it. My life and education had promised opportunities just like it. But I didn’t want it.

In an act of rebellion to much of what I’d become so far, I declined the position, condensed my life down to two backpacks worth of necessities and bought a one-way plane ticket to the other side of the world.

I wanted to see the world anew, and changing everything seemed like a good way to ensure my complete discombobulation. I thought about Francis of Assisi and how he stood on his head in the town’s square so that he could begin to see the world right side up. I wanted to stand on my head for awhile and not be expected to call things as everyone else saw them.

Truth is, I don’t see things as most people see them anyway, so this wasn’t a catastrophic change in my own mind. Rather, it was a much-delayed cooperation between my heart and my choices.

I wandered around the world for a while and got away from the influences of everyone I knew. I saw what other, developing world, countries defined as success and witnessed what they valued. I began to forget about America and all that we strive after over here. It forced me to just be. I was terrified to find that I didn’t know myself very well outside of my usual contexts. I was no longer musician, student, employee, leader, participant, or anything. Sure I was an American, but even those stereotypes didn’t fit me very well. I was just me alone, out of my element, observing the world, and wondering what role I played in it all. Being, and being aware of it, is mind-blowing.

I had longed to be emptied, so that I could be refilled with something new and real, and God answered my prayer, but not in as epic a way I’d seen play out in my thoughts. I’d imagined triumphantly shouting from a mountaintop about my newfound freedom in God’s perfect plans, but reality would have me sobbing like a full-grown baby man, alone, sitting on an old mattress in a hotel in Chiang Mai.

Once I’d broken out of my mold, simply broken, there was a temptation to make a mad dash to find somewhere to fit again. It’s easier to follow the way that someone else has already gone, and accept what’s already plain to see, but I’m not able to live that way. I wish I could, but I’m too curious about the other ways that don’t exist yet. And I want to see things that are far from plain.

I’ve found camaraderie in knowing Jesus as a brother and a guide. He’s been here before; late twenties, single, living on earth, but bound for glory.

Countercultural, Spirit-driven, servant life is no walk on the beach. I’m not saying that as someone who’s an expert, but as one who is aiming for that life by letting my ideas about living a “good” life fade into the provision of God’s goodness.

The path toward downward mobility may not get me pinned to a cross, but the sacrifice it requires will forfeit a life. It surrenders the life that would allow me to feel at home in the culture and society I was bred to enjoy in exchange for servanthood and dependence on whatever God has in mind.

I was set up to live a really nice life, but Jesus pressed pause on those plans and is graciously unveiling the painful beauty of the downward way. Down, down, and away I go.      

WRPicDane Johnson travels the world, writes songs for his folk rock band, works odd jobs to stay afloat, and has plans to see as much of the world as he can before he dies, writing about it as he goes. He’s been striving to live as a Professional Rambler, both in word and deed, and has to ignore a lot of skeptics to live up to the title. When he’s not on the road, he lives in a loft in Northern California where his drums reside year-round.

 

Blog: www.ramblewithaplan.blogspot.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ramblewithaplan

Instagram: http://instagram.com/ramblewithaplan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ramble-with-a-Plan/157354487684715?ref=hl

For more information on the Downward mobility series, click here.

War Photographer: Harriet A. Long

I first met Harriet through Twitter--and I was stunned by the evocative, no-nonsense language of her writing. She is what I think of as someone who is in the trenches. She is someone I want to learn from. She is someone who is living it out, and is graciously sharing her prophetic voice with us today. She hails from Ireland, where she is no stranger to conflict--but she has an amazing, visionary view of what social change really means. Read along and find out what I mean.  

 

Since early December 2012 Belfast, Northern Ireland has been torn apart by the most disruptive and sustained violence and protests for over fifteen years.  This is a piece I wrote as a sequel to Under My Skin (first published on 6 January 2013) – these two essays had an extraordinary reaction around the world…

picture from a recent riot

 

What Could and Might Happen Next… (First published 13 January 2013)

 

We did an art project once that the young people were really proud of, got right into, got their hands and clothes covered in paint but we were told by ‘community leaders’ that we had used the wrong community artists and so the right ‘community artists’ painted out our young people’s work. We worked really hard on a film project with a young guy playing the starring role, a guy that one of my volunteers had to hold back from punching his sister several times one night for making faces at him, he was so emotional during the filming, it was cathartic, he was so proud of himself and wanted his mum to see it. A few days later the family were told to leave the area because the mum was dating the wrong guy. He was gone, and so was the time and exhaustion that had been put into him over weeks and months.

  We took the young people to the Abbey Centre for a shopping outing – they said it was crap, because it wasn’t their own shopping centre. We took them to an ice cream shop and they laughed because all the flavour names were so weird or stupid. We took them to the Silent Valley and they kept asking where the shops were.

  The years of my early working life showed me what I had in terms of a stable family background, some education and some skills in stark comparison to others, but it also showed me the assumptions I made, the ignorance I had and the pity I carried that took me somewhere that it wasn’t wanted. I learned in the Lower Newtownards Road about justice, I learnt that real transformation would only work if some of this strength, privilege, stability and safety was shared and/or given away. I felt then as I feel now, listening to helicopters overhead and driving through scorch marks on the road, that there are not many leaders in that community who understand, share that vision or have an understanding of what that really looks like. For too long in my view, when violence bubbles and erupts this small corner of the world is forced (by what I am not sure) to turn to its politicians, ex-prisoners and police in positions of leadership who carry a narrative of the past and often have no empathetic insight into the social needs of whole communities to flourish regardless of flag colours.

  We will not flourish if we seek to maintain our strength, we will not flourish if we seek to hold our privilege and we will not flourish if we seek to protect our own safety to the detriment of others. We must use our strength, privilege and safety to help others become strong, privileged and safe. When political and community leaders use the language of persecution, loss, corrosion and trampling when it comes to culture and identity, this will translate as a threat to communities who have been taught to respond to this threat with violence. I found that this was the only dominant language and response passed down, incentivized and sustained by symbol, ritual and fear.

I walked away and signed up to be a foster carer, I couldn’t bear the two hour slots with the unsettled, unknown and chaotic children and young people any more. On the one hand I left something destructive and on the other hand I invited destruction (or the potential for it) into my home and my family. However, I found all those poverty and violence issues were redundant with the small child who needs a regular bedtime, stories read, songs sang, nutritious food, hands held and three layers of clothing. With the teenager who is told to stay in and not walk the streets to see/find friends or the eight year old who needs a blast of fresh air to resolve his ‘ADHD’ problems. Fostering isn’t for everyone, but it’s the perfect fit for us. It is these therapeutic and attaching activities and relationships that I find to be missing in the peace building discussions we are hearing in the media over these past days and weeks, I wince when I hear that all these matters can only be resolved through ‘democracy’ and the ‘political process’. This is a community that struggles to listen, to communicate without getting angry, that is being told it is under threat, that has been taught what to do when threatened, that has experienced not only the trauma of community violence but also the multiple traumas of family breakdown, mental ill health and multi-generational unemployment (to name but a few).

  How does this community relate to, let alone engage with ‘democracy’ and the ‘political process’?

I’d like to take the politicians away on a listening course, I’d like to see them sitting in their jeans reading stories to families, supporting couples at domestic violence mediation sessions. I’d like the community leaders and ex-prisoners to do an intensive attachment and loss course, I’d like to put a pin in words like ‘culture’ ‘war’ ‘violence’ ‘flag’ and ‘loyalism’, acknowledging them as a backdrop but have them sit with someone who has a mental illness as they rummage through their one hundred pieces of paper to find their address. I’d like to see teachers, counsellors and social workers being consulted on the ‘peace process’.

  For those on the outside, those who are judging, who are angry, who are upset or feeling powerless? The last thing we want is for communities whose violence is on the surface to interpret these questions as an attitude of ‘We are not like you. We are not the problem. We have nothing to learn from you. You’re the problem and you can fix it by being like us.’ What the ‘peaceful’ can and should learn from violence and fires on the streets of Belfast is that where there is poverty and violence then it is a mirror showing us our ugliness as a broader community, if one is hurting amongst us then we all are. In years to come our children and grandchildren will look to us and ask us what we did. It may not be Burma, it may not be India, it may not be the Civil Rights movement in the US but something is making it possible for violence to be prepared and executed on the street a mile from our houses and we are linked into the systems and structures that sustain this possibility.

  It’s really isn’t money that will make us flourish here, it is relationships. It really isn’t politics or dare I say democracy that will bring peace here – it is the quiet dignity that should be bestowed on every single human being around us – regardless of flag colour.

What happens next…?

 

Links to the full pieces here:

Under My Skin: http://harrietlong.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/under-my-skin-some-of-my-me-the-lower-newtownards-road-story/

What Could And Might Happen Next…:

http://harrietlong.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/what-could-might-happen-next/

iCbh9Harriet Long has lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for nine years.  She spent three years living and working as a youth and community worker in the inner city community of East Belfast, one of the top five most deprived wards in Northern Ireland.  A Loyalist (Protestant) community, led by politics loyal to the British crown, policed by both legal and illegal organisations.   She now works for a small regional charity supporting victims of crime.  She remains closely involved with the community of East Belfast, continues to worship and support the community outreach there, living half a mile up the road.  She is a passionate body theologian, writer and blogger and a busy foster carer.  She’s also keen on films, china, cake and hikes. She writes here and can be found on twitter here

 

 

 

 

 

 

To read the rest in the War Photographer series, click here.

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