D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

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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

Notes from the Margins

Hey all. Just wanted to let you know I am writing a bi-monthly column for Christ and Pop Culture on the topic of the kingdom of God, marginalized peoples, and popular culture. I know, right? Dream gig! My first one is (ostensibly) on Beasts of the Souther Wild, but I get to rant a little bit at the end too (read it here). I would love for any suggestions on anything pop=culture wise that you would like to be addressed. Where are people in the margins being portrayed well (Beasts of the Southern Wild)? Where are they not (um, Honey Boo Boo, reality TV in general)? And what is in that weird in-between (30 Rock, Macklemore, etc). I would love to hear some ideas, so leave them in the comments plz.  

But seriously, it is great to be able to write out some of what I am learning during my apprenticeship year with my mission organization without overstepping any personal boundaries (popular culture is quite large and anonymous). Taking a break from blogging about my personal life has already shown rich fruit in my life of journaling and prayer; meeting up with others in my organization has also lended to me not feeling so isolated and therefore "driven" to write out stories that might be shared prematurely.

 

Thanks everyone for reading the incredible posts we have had so far in the War Photographer series. I am excited to continue this conversation, and excited for the many more voices who will be added to the discussion.

 

Again, I won't be posting here every time I write my column, so if you want to stay connected you can like my FB page or follow me on Twitter.

The Kingdom

This is an experiment, of sorts. Can you watch this video by Eliot Rausch and tell me what you think? Because it killed me dead. And I want to know if it's just me, or if other people get the wind knocked out of them by the mix of miracles and catastrophes that make up this world. In our community here we talk about 2 Corinthians 6:10, how we are sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Do you feel it this morning? It snowed yesterday, and I took it as a sign. As we walk into our days we are finding out: people everywhere are hungry for the signs of the kingdom coming. I see it, every day. Do you?

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/17174656]

 

 

 

 

 

Note: I think I will have to post little excerpts, poems, and videos on Mondays that go along with my theme of War Photographers. There is just too much goodness to share. Watch out for another killer guest post on Thursday. 

The Migrant Mother

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. --Dorothea Lange (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

dorothea-lange_migrant-mother-composite

The other day our car was broken down (again, again) and we walked to the free art museum which happened to be 1.3 miles away. No matter the snow, or the biting wind--we had bags full of snacks and a blanket to wrap around the toddler. As we walked through the streets, past now familiar sights--the corner where all the deals go down, the popular cigarette shop, the statue made of melted-down guns kitty-corner against the park where people still get shot--we eventually found a tree-lined park, and the majestic columns of the art museum. We wandered in, unsure of how we had found this haven of calm, order, and beauty.

Between chasing our daughter (under the stern eyes of the guards) and wandering the many rooms of ancient art, we finally made our way to my favorites: the photography section. There, I was struck by a high-quality print of a photo I have seen time and time again: Dorothea Lange's iconic Migrant Mother, shot in 1936 in Nipomo, California. The look in the mother's eyes, the way her children shun the camera--hair tangled, eyes never meeting our gaze--made me stop in my tracks and look long and hard.

I was gratified to read the above quote by Lange, which accompanied the photograph. The stories behind the photos are increasingly becoming more important to me. When she says there was "a sort of equality about it", I want to believe her. I do believe her. I think Lange knew what she was doing, that she herself had been changed by the landscape, the shifting nature of migrant work, the way it bound and enslaved families in a desperate struggle for survival.

I went home and did some research. I found another article, talking about the photo from a different angle--that of one of the children in the picture, the girl huddled to her mother's left. She talks of how ashamed they were of their situation, how they didn't want anyone to know it was them in the picture. She talks about how ultimately, the photo did and did not come to define her mother (who died in 1982 and whose gravesite reads Migrant Mother: A Legend of the strength of American motherhood.). When asked to describe her childhood, the girl in the picture sees a fuller perspective: "50% good times and 50% hard times."

That last bit struck me. When I see the photograph, all I see are the hard times: the people starving in the work camps, the way the depression settled like dust in the lines of your face, the strain such nomadic and unstable lives put on the children especially. What I don't see are the other times--the music they loved (yodeling, it turns out), their fierce bonds, the normal imaginative play of childhood. But now I do, and it makes the picture even more impactful, makes it less of an exotic mystery (something I read about in a Steinbeck novel, for instance) and brings it directly into focus with the lives of the people I live next to every day. Lives full of hardships, lives full of joy. Moments of desperation buoyed by gratefulness, sickness tempered by celebrations, always the hope that the next crop will come in, that next year will be better.

This is just me; I have no thoughts on what exactly Ms. Lange would have me feel about the photos she took that day--but I do know that they changed her. They also changed the lives of the family in the picture, and deeply connected with the rest of the country. And the world has not changed all that much; Les Miserables are still all around us, dreaming for a better future, working and fighting and dying for it. And so, pictures like Migrant Mother continue to speak to us, and hopefully draw us along to something more inspired than pity, stir in us a curiosity for relationship and a longing for the kingdom to be fulfilled.

I'd be curious to know of other pictures/art that have moved you in such a way that you needed to know the back story behind them. For more information on the thought behind this series, go here.

i'm the christmas unicorn

Two years ago, I saw Sufjan in concert, promoting his new album, the Age of Adz. It was a disconcerting experience. People were flapping around in grubby bird costumes, Sufjan was dancing like a tired kid at a rave, everyone was wearing neon colors in a decidedly self-conscious way. The auditorium was packed with people just like me, enraptured with a story that seemed to have no soul. I myself felt like I was watching the concert behind a plate of glass; I was separated, simply by my need for something real. That concert was the first time my husband and I had left the house together as parents; our first date since everything changed for us 3 months earlier. Since we had our baby, long before she was due. Since I almost died, long days spent in the hospital, longer days spent quarantined at home. Life was now filtered through a different colored lens, and it made frivolity and noise seem juvenile, pretentious, and more than a little stupid. Sufjan, in an interview with Pitchfork, admitted that The Age of Adz was a departure from songwriting, more like an experiment with sound and excess. “This is not a populist album”, he said, “It isn't for everyone.” But from where I was sitting, perched up high in the balcony, I was the only one left wanting more. I was the only one who yearned for an actual message, not some trussed up exploitative meandering song based on another man's mental illness. I wanted my own illness to be addressed. The gaps were widening between the people who were content with strutting and dancing and making art; and those of us who were barely treading water, wanting something to clutch as we floated along.

Like many long-time Sufjan listeners, I wanted something spiritually significant In all my sleep-deprived emotionalism, I nearly cried that night as I watched the performance. I couldn't find anything to hold on to, at all.

//

I am going to see Sufjan again tonight, a part of his Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice Tour. I'm a little nervous, but my expectations are quite a bit lower. I no longer feel the need for popular music to validate my experience; I am getting a tiny bit more sleep now than I was back then.

But Sufjan's music continues to dig into my soul, causes me to lay awake at night and think Big Thoughts. His new Christmas Box Set is no exception--for every silly song about Santa there is a gorgeous, haunting hymn to go along with it. The music seems to sum up the mood of myself, and so many others around me.

I did a weird little review of the album for The Curator, which in my opinion is one of the websites to read on the internet (intellect+wit+soul=magic).

Here's the intro to the piece:

 

Being a Christian in the midst of Christmas is hard. I have tried making presents by hand; I have tried not going to malls. I have tried abstaining from peppermint lattes; I have sat in midnight mass and prayed to feel sober and holy like I should. But time and time again my good intentions get crowded out in the collective search for a holiday that is my own invention. I am overwhelmed by the nostalgia of times with family, before people got sick or moved across the country, before we knew what things were really like around the world. I find myself longing to forget my troubles, my struggles, and instead find myself looking fondly at all the cultural displays—presents, Santa, spiked eggnog. I guess everything does look better under twinkly lights.

 

Why don't you mosey on over and finish the rest?

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.

silver and gold

i am busy writing other stuff. but while i do that, please enjoy this video. it sorta knocked my socks off. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3cfUolJxYg&w=560&h=315]

plus: it is snowing here! i can't even contain my joy. neither can the toddler. she has been running around screaming "winter! winter!" and having epic tantrums every time we make her come inside. this could be a fun, long winter indeed.

it's all happening

My new post for Deeper Church is up.

A riff on an excellent quote by Harry Crews:

If you wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read – if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.

Good advice for writing; excellent advice for the Church.

Go on over and read it?

more links than you can shake a sprained foot at

well. it is saturday. i had great plans for today. they involved roaming around basilicas and sitting still in the quiet; they involved coffee shops in the most crowded neighborhood in the land between chicago and los angeles; it involved escaping my charming and exhausting responsibilities as mother, wife, apprentice, new neighbor. but then i went and hurt my foot (humble brag alert: running 5 miles in below-freezing weather), to the degree in which i cannot stand on it. so now i am sitting on my bed, ice on the foot, alternating between common prayer, scripture reading, journaling, praying, checking fb, and catching up on online life. it ain't no monastery but thanks to lovely friends i have enough toast and jam, coffee and cookies, personalized mugs and journals to last me (that's right. i received even MORE special prezzies from fantastical internet--and real life--friends!).

so. while i can't imagine anyone has the annoyance luxury like me of being a pampered invalid, perhaps you have a few moments to spare? because i have some things to tell you about.

first: a conversation worth delving into is the discussion on how to tell stories. for anyone involved in working/living/interacting with people from marginalized communities (insert whatever word you use), there has got to be some ground rules. how much do we share? what is exploitative, what is redemptive? i don't believe the answer is to sit on our hands and be quiet, but historically we have not done a good job of empowering people to tell their own experiences. this TED talk (introduced to me by the blog of the lovely Rachel Pieh Jones) does a beautiful job of describing the danger of telling a single story. well worth your time to watch if you have ever wrestled through these questions.

second: i am sort of obsessed with the nanowrimo phenomenon. do people really do this? do "legitimate" writers do this? i don't want to sound snobbish, but is it only the realm of those writing sci-fi? please tell me everything you know about it. i am inordinately invested, because out of nowhere last week i got hit with this fantastic idea for a novel (and trust me, i have NEVER wanted to write fiction before). is this month-long experiment in production a waste of time? i want to know.

third: folk music is the best for writing, no? i have been really into the barr brothers (still), and recently fell in love with sandra mckracken (her children's music makes me teary, but is not available on spotify. but check out the album The Builder and the Architect). what are you listening to? that christmas song sufjan wrote about unicorns?

fourth: i am starting to fall down the rabbit hole of reading Sharon Astyk. described as a female Wendall Berry, Astyk writes about the realities of our excessive lifestyles. in her book, she has introduced me to phrases like "peak oil" and "post-depletion worlds". at first terrifying, this ain't your normal climate change/the end of the world is nigh book. instead, it talks about our homes as the gateways of escaping our excessive economy, which dangers us and more importantly (in my book) our poor neighbors. she writes that living well on less is not only possible, it is our only option. the implications of this are stunning, especially as i find myself in such an urban environment. how are my lifestyle choices today going to effect my neighbor tomorrow? so many of these conversations seem to end up with just a bunch of isolated do-gooders, the rest of us carrying on as normal. i am interested in solutions for the most vulnerable; this seems like kingdom stuff here.

fifth:

there is nothing good on television. there is nothing good in the movies. everything has gone to rot. should i just stay in and read my Brueggemann sermons every night? a girl has got to put her hair down every once in awhile. this is where i need your help. what is actually worth watching?

sixth:

i am finally, sluggishly, starting to feel political. and i don't really like that feeling, since it can tend to harness such unnecessary and misdirected anger. i am much more drawn to the slow process of being involved in cultural and community change. but that stuff ain't sexy, is it? one thing i have been reading over and over again is psalm 146, which i hear-by christen as the "election day psalm". read it, won't you? and let's just all agree that the princes of our world are pretty lame, and thank goodness the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

whoo. that is a lot of information. and i asked you a couple of questions somewhere in there. so hit me up. i can't go anywhere for the rest of the day.

An Open Letter to Rachel Held Evans

Hey Rachel, We still live in a very segregated world. You and I more than most: us evangelicals like to stick to people who look, talk, and think exactly like we do. I've been thinking about this a lot lately; how we emphasize right doctrine, on how this tends to grow us only in certain ways. Want to pastor a mega-church? Target a specific demographic and market exclusively to them. Want to sell lots of books? Find your community and preach what they want to hear.

But you, my friend, have not done this. You have gone the other way, very much embracing diversity in your life, in a time when we find precious little of this in our tribe. You do not live your life in fear, nor do you do away with orthodoxy. Instead, you view differences of opinion and background as a way to broaden your own understanding of God; and that, Rachel, is a beautiful thing to witness.

You champion underdogs, no-names, marginalized people. You let people like myself write for your enormous platform. You make people feel valued, listened to, and heard. You are the opposite of dismissive. You still are the earnest do-gooder of your youth; but now you have cultivated a listening ear.

Without knowing it, our evangelical tribe has nurtured and focused on only certain types of crops. We love us some homogeneity, using fertilizer that can be toxic to everyone but a narrow set. It has proven to be successful, in its own way; it just might not be the way of Christ. So when I hear a voice like yours, continuously seeking to give space and time and grace to those who aren't being heard, who have haven't been nurtured in the church: I listen.

Thank you for doing what you do. The writing is superb, the topics so very timely; but it is your ear, Rachel, for the stories that are actually being lived out, that is your true gift.

So here's to you, on the day your book is released. We are praying for you and all the East Coast in the wake of the storm, praying for the controversies swirling around your writing, praying that the time would finally be ripe for our people to lay down some of their fears in the name of love.

Here's to you, RHE.

 

Thanks to the big-hearted J.R. Goudeau for her wonderful idea to gather the internets up this day for a show of support for our dear Rachel. Head on over to her blog to find many more Open Letters today. 

On Cruise Ships and Changing the Conversation

I doubt anyone will care about this post, but I do. If you don't know anything about Geez Magazine or David Foster Wallace, then this little rant might not make sense. But it was cathartic for me to write. KTHNX.  

Geez magazine recently sent two journalists on a Christian cruise for singles. My husband was upset, because we had been talking about doing the same thing ourselves. We could eat delicious food, lounge in the sun, and say snarky things about Christians! But alas, it has now already been done.

In reading the piece (the longest, and most ambitious that Geez has ever published) which was a part of the Leisure issue (tagline: our lives are full of time-saving devices, so why don’t we have more time?) I found myself on edge. I read it because I was very interested in the premise, the very squeamishness of Christian singles events plus the excessive monstrousness of a cruise. But the author, Mr. Froese, admits from the start he is a somewhat lapsed Christian (and that Geez sent him with the intention of making the cruise look bad), which eventually detracts from the story in a glaring way.

Here’s the thing: anybody can make fun of a bunch of desperate people looking for an escape from their lives. It isn’t clever or interesting at all, actually. Mr. Froese takes a wonderful opportunity of observation and squanders it for the chance to get his own views told, to share his own testimony about post-Christian enlightenment.

I don’t know why the article rankled me so much. Is it because I truly love Geez and was expecting something more? Is it because I am intimately familiar with both people who would gladly take a singles Christian cruise and people who would mock them for pay? Or is it because I couldn’t stop thinking of another essay on cruise ships, by David Foster Wallace himself, that said it all so much better?

In his essay for Harpers, DFW goes on a 7 day luxury cruise and recounts his experiences. I first read this several years ago and was struck by both his neurotic nature and also his intense interest in everyone around him. He is always the star character in his essays, but it is for a reason: it allows the reader to be off their guard, to be brought to realizations that they might have otherwise missed. DFW manages to entertain while bringing up the despair inherent in a cruise as well as the ultimate lie that the western world has swallowed: that luxury, or pampering, can make us happy. That we could be fulfilled, once and for all, by living out a few of our fantasies on the sea.

I love DFW, was devastated when I found out he had committed suicide in his mid-40’s (I somehow discovered his writing a mere 6 months after he died). He was a brilliant, troubled writer, and was expressly concerned with how alienating and tedious life can be, and how we must find ways to engage and care for other people.

This is what I want. For myself, and my Christian tribe. I want to be someone who is fully committed to engaging in the plight of whomever is next to me. It is easier to scold, besmirch, or even laugh at those who disagree with. Much harder is the task to seek after commonalities, to give up the power of forcing conversions or conversations. Geez, with their motto of “Holy Mischief” seemed to miss an important point. Beyond smuggling in bottles of vodka and getting 2nd place in the “Sexiest Man” contest (which didn’t seem very mischievous, only rather frat-like), there is no humor in predetermined experiments, in journalistic endeavors with the angle already written.

I am not there yet, but I want to get to the place where I can write an essay on cruises (be they Christian or not) like DFW. Where the struggle against self-righteous alienation is overridden by a genuine and true interest in the thoughts of all, in the real and true experiences we share. Where we all stop defending ourselves long enough to really and truly observe our neighbors. Where we all stop being the star of our own essay.

The Great Lent Experiment Wrap Up

So the Mutiny Against Excess is over . . . or is it?

Me and Haley came up with this idea for Lent, and it got a little bigger than I had thought. I have talked to lots of people who let the ideas of doing without and downward mobility influence their lent. It was exciting to even be talking about these issues with so many people.

It really didn't feel like 40 days, did it? Now that the Easter celebrations are over I can start to process what this Lent Experiment meant to me.

The Easy Parts:

Limiting shopping for food and eating from my pantry/freezer was pretty easy, mostly because we only did this a week at a time. I did get . . . creative at some points. Hamburger helper (sans hamburger) with frozen vegetables and yogurt? Well, a certain little toddler ate it, and so did my husband. I really enjoyed the push to get out and walk to the farmers market every Wednesday at the local co-op. I do feel the roots of the importance of food and how we think about it taking shape in my life. And I'm glad.

Not buying new clothes also got a little easier  . . . It has now been several months since I stopped thrift storing for funsies. I did go to Goodwill one time for my birthday and got a killer dress and a killer pair of shorts. So. There you have it.

Not spending ANY money besides gas/groceries was actually pretty fun too. At first I was terrified, because spring weather in Portland is so so so bad and my baby can barely walk. So, when in doubt we go to a coffee shop and hang out. Since this was not a possibility for 2 of the weeks of Lent, we found other avenues:

1. New Seasons: they have amazing samples and free water! Plus everybody smiles at you and their hand sanitizer smells like lavender. We went here several times.

2. Petco. Or, as I like to call it "the free, tiny zoo". The baby loved it.

3. The library. Which we already frequented, but during Lent we went there on average 3-4 times a week. I even got the courage to do my first mommy/baby story time activity, and we didn't die! The baby is fixated on reading books about being "black and unique", which makes me feel super weird as I read them out loud to her. Ah well.

The Difficult parts:

The no-media week was hard, because I seem to have few de-stressors that don't involve 20 minutes of TV. Also, you know that feeling when you read TOO many good books and you feel like you might explode? Yeah, that happened. I am still assessing my dependence on media, and I know this is an issue I still need work on.

The Exciting parts:

The no-stress week was difficult (I am unused to the rhythms of contemplative life), but ultimately it turned out to be amazing, and I have continued to use Common Prayer every morning. To really engage in the Scriptures and the prayers for others does take a lot of work, but it feels like such important work. Even though I am easing into it slowly, creating a life where prayer is my first thought and not my last is high on my list of priorities. On good Friday my church opened their doors for a 24 hour prayer session and I actually went! You guys, I want to pray all the time now! And I am not just making this up to sound spiritual. It feels like a real, pressing need. I don't know where this is coming from, but I am so grateful.

In summary, I am so glad I embarked on this journey. I want my life to flow by these rhythms: prayer, creative free time, doing without, purging possessions, finding joy in the simple.

Did you learn anything from Lent this year? Were you inspired to create new patterns?

If so, I want to know!

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.

The Great Lent Experiment (AKA our own "mutiny against excess") Week 3: Media

In case you missed it, I wrote about possessions week here.

I never thought I would be one of those people. You know, those who watch current shows on TV. Like, watch an episode every week. I used to be really busy and then watch an entire season of some show on the rare weekend I had a chance. And for some reason, I watched more movies.

Now, TV is the way the hubs and I relax at night. We work alternating nights and the baby wakes up real early, so we usually watch one 20 minute episode of something nearly every night. I don't know how it happened, it just did.

I have always admired people who did "kill your TV" week or month or year, but it never crossed my mind that I should do that. But then I gave up Facebook (for all intents and purposes) and that was not even a big deal. Out of all the weeks, this one seems like the one I most DON'T want to surrender. So I am sure I need it, badly.

We over here are giving up all TV/movies/facebook/twitter/pinterest. Even the baby, who has become alarmingly hooked on Elmo (I really don't know how I am going to cook dinner without that 20 minute reprieve during the "witching hour". Which makes me realize that this is getting ridiculous). We will still listen to music (and the occasional podcast? I dunno. You guys need to act as my counsel and tell me if you think that is media). I am still going to read my blogs via googlereader, but only once in the morning.

I am excited to read more books. I am currently reading Interrupted  by Jen Hatmaker and The Barefoot Church  by her husband, Brandon. I am re-reading The irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne, because we all need a little inspiration for creativity. I am also reading Still  by Lauren Winner (the jury is still out on that one) and maaaaaybe am re-reading the Hunger Games in anticipation of the movie. Maybe. Plus, the ol' Bible and Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. And a bunch of Christian parenting books.

Whew.

Before I get too enmeshed with all the reading and the brain-spinning that happens as a result of reading, let me just say that so far Lent has been a season for actively seeking the voice of God. And listening. And waiting. And receiving--just not in the ways that I would expect. But it has been very encouraging to experience that His voice is all around, and sometimes we just need to take some small, sacrificial steps in order to hear it. And I expect that from this week as well.

Ok, after all that ranting, here is the breakdown for this next week:

Week three: Media: We are a culture that loves to be entertained. How much more space for others (and God) can we create by shutting off all of our devices for a week? This will be a great chance to practice old-fashioned community and hospitality. Fill up the silence with good things: worship music, good books, coffee with friends, or just hanging out with your family.

Practical Fasts: Commit to a week without media: no facebook, twitter, pinterest, television (hulu) or movies. Limit cell phone and e-mail usage

Prayer: Use this week to focus on communicating with God, allowing silence and a space for listening in your relationship. Use your downtime to get together with other Lenten observers and pray together in true community!

How was week 2? What are you doing for week 3? Let me know!

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