D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Category: Contemplation

Poetry as Empire Resistance

the view outside my window right now. April, so cruel.  

 

April is national poetry month. My friend Amy is doing a link-up today, for non-poets to bravely reveal something they wrote. I view it as a form of Empire Resistance. World wants poets to be esoteric, unattainable, segregated from the commoners. But I think everybody can write poetry, because everybody can pay attention. It's basically just a Cliff Notes For Life--distilling the essence of noticing and feeling into short little words.

I don't have my MFA; I have barely read any poetry. But in my little journal I still sometimes find myself lost until I let the imagery take over. As my act of resistance, I will put one up here. The more I try and resist the urge to be palatable, wise in the ways of Empire, to be successful--the better it is for my soul. The world goes not well, but the kingdom comes. And one of the ways it comes is by being vulnerable, writing terrible poetry, and sharing it with others.

Go on over to Amy's site--and then why not put up one of your own poems? I promise you I will read it, and I will ask it to change me in some small way.

 

 

 

Sister Lawrence

 

Put a penny in your shoe they said

Remember the Lord all the day

A rubbing sore reminder

Of the presence, all around

 

Instead I turned my life to burlap

Rough and raw for  reddened skin

Instead of a penny, the poor and sick

Blurred vision, two worlds, one sun

 

I listen, hum, bless the sounds scraping

The irritants, the pepper, the ash

For every neighbor, the slow suicides

Copper prayers left on the ground

 

Child, your heart is made of corduroy

And the world is so full of burrs

Some days you collect them in the brambles

Let your Father pick them off one by one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*i was this close to naming the poem "Burlap to Corduroy". Christian band puns FTW.

Now seriously. Go resist the empire and write your own poem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upside-Down Art: Bakerwoman God

  Alissa's post today stems from a beautiful poem that encourages us to see God in new ways. I love it. This is also my year of reading/learning to love poetry, so I greatly identified with this piece. Isn't that the point of art--to help us connect with people/Christ in new ways? To create threads between the world we experience and the ones we don't? I'm so grateful Alissa shared this gorgeous piece, and gives us all a chance to think about the One who is kneading us. 

 

 

 

 

 

Upside-Down Art: Bakerwoman God

by Alissa BC

 

 

 

 

 

The summer I found myself perusing the shelves of the public library like it was my job, I was a newlywed, unemployed, college student in a new city. God had grown increasingly and unrelentingly distant over the past year, and by that summer I had become unable to pray, read my bible, or relate in any way to the God I knew, white and bearded in the clouds. So I filled my days with piles of books from the library and old films from the DVD section, alternately attempting to fix and distract myself from my new spiritual realities.

One afternoon, knee deep in the religious section looking for the God I seemed to have lost, I happened upon a book called The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Published in 1984, the copy I held in my hands was old and worn, with an outdated, mustard design on the cover and what I assumed would be outdated contents.

Still, the concept intrigued me. I had not been raised with any sort of awareness of divine feminine nor with the option of calling God She. For most of my life, I had struggled with the concept of a male-only God, but I never once thought to challenge the traditions that had been passed down to me, to see God as both Father and Mother. That kind of thing was forbidden in the evangelical circles I inhabited, condemned as "goddess worship," and I obediently accepted the restriction. Instead, I had worked quietly for years at overcoming the baggage that a male God carried for me. I tried my best to imagine a Father God who was nurturing rather than authoritative, who was loving rather than stern. But by the time I encountered The Divine Feminine, I had lost all ability to feel any sense of intimacy with or trust in the God of my youth. I took the book home.

Over the next few days, I pored over it in small chunks, soaking up each bit of wisdom I found within its pages. Despite having read the Bible in its entirety several times over, I was astounded by the amount of distinctly female imagery for God to be found there. As I read, I took my little neglected Bible and found every verse said to allude to the Divine She, highlighting each one in bright orange so I would never forget it. I learned to see God as Nursing Mother and Midwife, Homemaker and Mother Hen.

But the imagery that captured me most, was that of the baking woman. In this section of her book, Mollenkott quotes the first two stanzas of the poem “Bakerwoman God” by Alla Renee Bozarth:

Bakerwoman God,

I am your living bread.

Strong, brown Bakerwoman God,

I am your low, soft, and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,

well-kneaded by some divine

and knotty pair of knuckles,

by your warm earth hands.

I am bread well-kneaded.

The imagery wrapped it arms around me with its warmth. As I read, I could see Her hands, calloused but soft, moving silently over some divine countertop dusted with flour. I could feel Her knuckles, strong yet tender, digging, digging, digging into the doughy depths of my being. Bakerwoman God was gentle in Her firmness, kind in Her correction. Her kneading was not painless, but it was filled with love. I felt safe in Her hands.

This description of God felt more true and comforting than any I had ever known. It came as a brief but refreshing sip of cold water to my soul that year, allowing me a glorious peek into God's love at a time when I had all but lost sight of it.

Even now, years later, as my feelings of distance from God remain, I often find myself returning to the image again and again. Sometimes, in my darkest moments, the nights when God feels like little more than a deep chasm of absence, I'll close my eyes and remember Bakerwoman God, who even in Her silence is making me bread well-kneaded.

 

unnamed-7Alissa BC is a writer, wife, and mother. You can find her at alissabc.com, where she writes her heart out about doubt, mystery, and other everyday discoveries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all posts in the Upside-Down Art series, please click here.

 

 

 

Upside-Down Art: Disappearing, Endless Love

I so resonate with Deidre in this piece. I am not a huge modern art fan myself, but when I do find a piece that speaks to me--it sort of takes my breath away. I am so grateful for this beautiful, succinct essay on finding universal themes of sorrow and love in art--and how similar we all are despite our world doing it's best to convince we are all alone in our miseries. Any piece of art that asks us to crack our hearts open just a bit wider is to me a blessing from Christ himself.   

 

Upside-Down Art: Disappearing, Endless Love

Guest Post by Deidre Sanchez

 

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). Image from the Brooklyn Museum

 

I am not one for contemporary art. Most of the large scale displays in the big museums fail to evoke any emotion in me. I always feel so disconnected from whatever the artist is trying to say. As if we live on two different planes of meaning and we’re talking to cross purposes. It’s always the Pollacks and Van Goghs that I linger in front of. The O’ Keefes that steal my breath. The Chagall’s that draw me to wonder.  When I visit museums, I dutifully walk the floors of contemporary art, sometimes almost at a run. I don’t want to miss something creative and beautiful just because of my own prejudice but I am always prepared for disappointment. In the Chicago Museum of Art I was (almost) running the top floor, smirking inwardly at the two hipsters stopped in front of some tangled up string engaged in a very serious discussion on how this was so derivative of Lindberg. (I know. I’m the worst).

 

I enter a new room and a flash of glowing color catches the corner of my eye. I spin right. There is a luminous heap of something. Glass? Lightbulbs? I’m not sure what it is that's piled in the corner of the room. It seems so alive, iridescent, incandescent. I thought this pile must be lighted up from the inside: pulsing with color and light as I move towards it. I read the card. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA). Ross Laycock was the artist’s partner and died of AIDs. The pile was originally 175 lbs worth of cellophane wrapped candy, which represented his ideal body weight. Visitors are encouraged to take a piece of candy to represent his slowly diminishing body weight. The artist asked that the museum replenish the pile “thereby metaphorically granting his partner perpetual life.” Love. The word rings like a gong struck in my head. All the pain of loss and love sitting on the ground in front of me. I reach my hand out to take a piece, meditating on the pain of watching someone you love shrink smaller with disease. Is that a universal experience? Do we all at some point lose one we love to deadly disease? Watch them disappear piece by piece. If we could all grant them perpetual life in the vast array of  colorful glory in which they lived!

 

I have the piece of candy still. It’s sitting in the basket by my bed. The cellophane wrapper dulled with dust, less stunning now that it’s separated from its mound. Every once in a while I take it out and roll it between my fingers. I don’t know Gonzalez-Torres. I wouldn't recognize him if I passed him on the street. I don’t assume that I have much in common with a gay, Cuban-American artist. And yet his work threw out a thread and drew me in. Into his pain. He tied our shared experience together with one stroke of breathtaking imagery. And when I close my eyes I see the glow of cellophane wrappers lit by a skylight overhead and I think of Ross.

 

 

unnamed-6Deidre Sanchez is a Jesus-follower, wife and mother, a disillusioned optimist, amateur cook and obsessive reader. She currently writes at agapeeverywhere.wordpress.com. Her blog is a personal exploration of the nature of love. It’s an experiment in how far love can go, what it looks like and how people experience it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on the Upside-Down Art series (and to submit your own!) click here.

 

 

 

 

mercy > sacrifice

there's nothing like spending time with family and your closest IRL friends to shine a light on the murky depths in your heart. there's nothing like rest, of sitting down with no screens in sight, of walking on a foggy beach, running in the pale oregon sun, listening/reading/soaking in the good stuff, the words that will lodge tight and remind you of truths you knew as a child but somehow shoved to the side.

everyone has already said it, but i will reiterate: it's hard to be truthful on the internet. the levels of complexity here are fierce. i desire authenticity, and privacy. i want to share the deep parts of my life while never betraying the confidences of my neighbors and context and location. i want to process, i want to empower, i want to stir all the pots and but mostly i want to tie up everything in a neat little bow.

this is not how life is, however. so, here i am to say:

lately, it has been hard to drive. this is how i know my anxiety is getting to a place where it is maybe out-of-control, when the thought of driving paralyzes me, when i make excuses and walk or bike or (when frostbite is a real and pressing concern) have others drive me or simply stay at home. i am white-knuckled behind the wheel, the fear always a river running through it, illogical and senseless and frustrating. i am pulling, pulling, pulling on my bootstraps, and this is just one of many areas where daily pep talks are needed just to get myself out the door. the other day i charted a map in my mind of how my dislike of driving has turned to annoyance, then loathing, and now dread. in the chart in my mind, the fears just went up, up, up. i realized, in that moment, that if i continue on this path, there will come a day--perhaps next month, perhaps next year, or even the next decade, when i will be physically incapable of driving.

writing that down is hard, as i want my life to be all about going and obeying God, not fearfully staying in my apartment because it is the only place where i feel i have control, where i can keep everybody safe. and i am quick to point out that i am still doing a lot, i am still going out and saving the world, i am still busy and productive and i have all my little rags of righteousness clutched in my hand. but the question remains: how long can i hold on?

my anxiety, like many i suppose, is partly due to me and it is partly due to a battle being waged that i don't quite have the eyes to see. oppressions take many forms, both systematic and spiritual, and you can't seem to fight one without fighting the other. and for me, much of my fighting seems to stem from two competing thoughts swimming around in my brain, two slippery eels which propel me forward into places both good and bad alike, and they are these:

 

1. that i am invaluable to the world, that without me the work of the kingdom will stop, all of these beautiful people will be lost, that it is all contingent on me and my small determined shoulders, the entire weight of the world.

 

and

 

2. that unless i do all the things, God won't ever love me.

 

 

 

and i really, really need him to love me.

 

//

 

it's hard to hate the lies, to root them our of your life for good, when they have taken you to where you need to go. i tell other people "don't do anything out of guilt" and yet guilt is the backbone for much of my life, what i wouldn't wish for others i gladly accept for myself. there are so many things i love about my life, adore even, and then there are other aspects--the nagging thought that i could always do more, more, more, the sense of worthlessness if the tangibles are taken away, the hysterical sense that nobody is doing enough--that i could surely do without.

i was mentioning this to a counselor not too long back, rolling out my litany of questions i have about my life, should i be doing more or less, tossing out that word that we in the business so often misuse--what is sustainable? i told this counselor about one of my dreams, moving into the high rises where i teach, taking it to the next level. there are many reasons why moving into this place would be amazing, beneficial, and life-giving. there are many reasons why it would also cause my anxiety to skyrocket, how it would grind down me and my little family,  how many things about our life would get harder. but doesn't that make it the best option?

the counselor nodded her head, listened. and then she said something that shocked me.

you could move in there, she said, that is a choice you could make. and you would be a beautiful flame, a fire burning bright for God. and like the brightest flames, you would not last for very long.

but, she said, tapping into my truest, basest desire:

 

 

you would be very beautiful while you were burning out.

 

 

 

//

the desire to be beautiful is deep within me, which has led me to places that are somewhat close to being extinguished. and i wrestle with this too, because currently in my life i am in a place of smoldering, a sputtering candle, tossed and turned by the winds of the world and the darkness in my own soul. but i think you already know where i am going with this, that it is these half-burnt out flames that Jesus most likes to use.

where my bruised reeds at? he says, looking for the walking wounded, the bent-over men and women, the smoldering wicks. where are my people who don't even know up from down anymore, who can no more suss out what is sustainable than they can solve the problems of the world? where are my people at, he says, the ones who are beating back addictions, dysfunctions, lies that slink in and out around our ears? those are my people, he says, the ones i will not break. they are the ones i will not snuff out.

i used to think there were only two options for life: burning bright into the dying of the light, or sitting quietly to the side, snuffed out by the cares of life. now i am seeing all the middle places, the flickering candles, the fragile ones, the ones keeping vigil, praying, fasting, singing songs of truth, teaching, believing, creating.

but of course everything about Jesus is so upside-down, so the third way, eschewing the false dichotomies we create in order to love or loathe ourselves. he chooses the half-burnt out, the emptied, the white-knuckled. because it is for us, the ones who have tried so very hard to get both God and the whole damn world to love us based on merit, to whom the burden of following a radical servant-king seems light in comparison.

i don't know how to end this right, i still want to say i am healed, i am loved, and everything is fine. but the truth is that right now i feel caught in a middle of a brush fire, all of my precious sacrifices going up in flames. and there, on the horizon, on the char-streaked hills, i see a glimpse of my future, being formed even now. i see a flickering candle, instead of a flame. i see a bruised reed, instead of a sunflower. and i see mercy, mercy, mercy, growing in the hardest heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Fight For Beauty--Guest Post by Marilyn Gardner

Marilyn is a dear presence on the internet, full of wisdom and calm and yet a heart that is always searching for more. I adore her for her heart for cross-cultural relationships and her literary approach to life. Marilyn is totally somebody I want to grow up to be like. Fighting for beauty is definitely an everyday part of life over here (some days it is a  battle, other days it is easy as pie). And the fight for love, truth, and beauty is always worth it.

unnamed-3

A Fight For Beauty

Guest post by Marilyn Gardner

 

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m looking out my window at a blanket of white snow. It is soft and pristine in its beauty. The snow has covered up cars, streets, sidewalks. It has also covered up garbage bins and garbage.

My Greek neighbor has already been out shoveling and I hear the sound of his metal shovel against the concrete. He puts the rest of us, who wait until we have no choice, to shame with his disciplined shoveling and keeping of the sidewalk in front of his apartment snow-free.

The snow is beautiful. But I know in an hour, two hours tops, it will have turned from fluffy white to squishy brown. Because this is the city.

There are times when living in the city is not about downward mobility, when it’s not about relationships or intentional living.

Instead, there are times when living in the city is about a fight for beauty.

This was true in Egypt. It was true in Pakistan. And it’s true where I now live.

We live in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, not the Cambridge of the Harvard elite or the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) nerd. Rather, the Cambridge of the other 80%. The Cambridge that is middle class, refugee, immigrant, or single mom.

The ‘real’ Cambridge, we like to call it. The Cambridge where high school students refer to areas as Coast and Port and where teen moms bring their babies to the day care center at the high school. The Cambridge where cars are broken into and neighborhoods work hard to become safer. The Cambridge where the homeless gather in raucous community at Central Square, oblivious to any great minds that may have walked their path. The Cambridge where Jahar Tamarlaen, the alleged Boston bomber lived and played sports and went to prom and knew my daughter.

And in this real Cambridge I realize that for me it becomes a fight for beauty, a fight to see redemptive beauty in daily life.

In the spring, it’s a fight to find the crocus that has worked its way through hard, city soil and blooms, brilliant blue or yellow. A fight to see beyond city problems to forsythia, that first reminder that spring has come.

In the summer, it’s a conscious effort to see the rose peaking through the rusted chain-link fence; to see sun flowers raise their giant heads tall to the sky against a concrete back drop. It’s a fight to see beyond the cigarette butts crumpled on the ground with last night’s garbage, made worse by the summer rain, and see instead dew drops on sparse grass.

In the fall, it’s a fight to look up and not down – up at towering trees glowing in Autumn glory, taking me away from broken bottles and ugly, barred windows.

In the winter, it’s a fight to see beyond the bitter cold mornings and homeless huddled under thin blankets, grey and worn. A fight to take the extra step and buy that cup of blueberry coffee with 8 packets of the artificial sweetener – because that’s the way he likes his coffee. A fight to find out names and see Sheryl and Valerie and Donald as real people, not homeless numbers. A fight to witness Imago Dei in the eyes of those who walk these streets.

So I walk and I put on my armor so I can fight for beauty. So I can walk with lenses cleaned, eye-sight restored to see beauty in the ordinary, everyday ugly.

A fight for beauty – a prayer that the Beautiful One who restores and redeems will give me eyes to see beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

unnamed-2Marilyn Gardner was raised in Pakistan and as an adult lived, worked, and raised a family first in Pakistan and then in Cairo, Egypt. She now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she works as a public health nurse with underserved communities and vulnerable populations. She wrestles through life, faith, and third culture kid issues through blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

the year of the minivan

we bought a minivan just a bit over a week ago, and i can't hardly believe it. our car, the suburu we drove over from portland, has been breaking down on us, over and over again. the mechanic told us not to put another cent into that vehicle, and we believed him. we spent a Christmas break cobbling together cars from generous friends to borrow, getting the flu, trying to navigate the wilds of captialist Craigslist without getting yet another lemon. kind, generous people donated money, and for the exact amount they gave we got ourselves a swagger wagon, the opposite of every car i have ever driven. the man we bought it from told us about his sobriety, his kids. he was confused when we declared that the dvd player being broken was a good thing. we drove away in our safe, boxy, gas-guzzler, and i am so continually surprised and confused by this life i am actually living instead of the one i would like to tell you about. many of our neighbors do not have cars. we are friends with many people who have large gaggles of kids, all of who get extremely bored in this crazy extreme-weather town where we live. in the past, we could only take 2 at a time with us as we went off to explore lakes and museums and pantheon of american consumerism (it turns out pre-teens really, really like going to malls). as we started to think about what beater car we will drive to its death next, the image of a minivan floated through my brain. no, no way, i said. i am a minimalist, i have a shred of credibility, how will i park it in our inner-city life? but it isn't about me, it never really was, God is having a good laugh about that downward mobility girl driving her 2005 kia sedona around.

because there are somethings that are more important than the ideology i surround myself with, the ways i try to present myself to the world. my life is not about downward mobility, or loving my neighbors, or working and living with the urban poor.

my life is about being obedient, which is all so much harder than that.

and it is never, ever boring.

//

there is another reason we got a minivan. we sent off the papers last week, our application for fost-to-adoption. it doesn't make sense in so many ways, the legion of which i cannot tell you here. but it's the same thing, me wrestling through every single horrible, heartbreaking scenario, the voice saying this is not just about you.

nothing can ever be easy, is what i say in my bitter hours, as i fight my way through another day of chaos, as i long for routines and results, never fully expecting either. my next baby will not be grown in my belly, my next baby will be baptized into sorrows that took me decades to find. the next bend, the next year, will only further explore the broken aspects of my neighborhood, my city, my government. i will teach my class, be reminded every day of the traumas and life situations that brought me these strong, survivor-women who are only now holding a pencil for the first time. it's the year of sending my writing off into the great unknown, of opening myself up for critique and criticism, of struggling to do right by all the people who got tangled up in my story.

none of this is about you, is what i hear, but i don't know how to take myself out of it. all i know how to do is take the next step.

send in the application.

create my lesson plan.

write a chapter.

knock on a door down the hallway.

drive the damn miracle minivan to the mall of america, tired and grateful as the kids riding along with me.

try so very hard not to shut my heart down to all of it.

because more is coming.

//

i'm sending you off as a sheep among wolves, jesus told his disciples. in my mind i see the sheep, marching white as snow, great gray wolves cowering off to the sides. but what happened to his disciples? i think about it now, sobered and shocked by the actual metaphor: the wolves got them, and the sheep did not come out unscathed.

it's hard for me to write this, because i know it is true. we are being asked to be the sheep, and it does not mean we will be safe. it means Jesus is sending us out to be wounded, because that is what happens when you open yourself up to love. you will get hurt, very badly. Jesus made it clear: you could die, you could be tortured, you could be beaten and imprisoned and all sorts of other things. and you will, most certainly, get your heart-broken.

as i pray and think about this next year, i am thinking about what it means to be like a sheep. to trust, to put one little foot in front of the other, to head straight for the pack of wolves.

the other words Jesus said, right before that part about getting torn up, was about going out and proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. i went back and re-read it today; that's all he told his followers to say. nothing about doctrine or even that the messiah had come: just go out and proclaim the kingdom of God: healing the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

and that's where the wolves are--with the ones who are already beaten down by the world: the sick, the hurting, the addict, the broken relationally. the people and situations in my life that scare me the most--the scenarios looping in my mind as i close my eyes--those are the ones who need the most proclaiming. they are the ones Father God has his eye on, the sparrows who are falling to ground in droves, and he counts them one by one. he sees it all, and he is asking me to keep looking, to keep walking ahead.

because it's the year of love, and all the sadness that comes with it. it's the year of authenticity over ideology. it's the year of sheep and sparrows, demons and wolves.

it's 2014, you guys. it's the year of the minivan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missionary Kids, Downward Mobility, and My Friend Sarah--Guest Post by Brianna Meade

Brianna sent me this stunner of a guest post and I love how it swirls together several topics that are valuable to me: missionary kids (I married one), intentionality, downward mobility, and the facing the fears that are inherent when we interact with people who are so different from us. This is a lovely, thoughtful meditation, coming from the best place--in the very middle of a life being changed. I am so grateful for Brianna and her honesty here. 

 

 

 

Missionary Kids, Downward Mobility, and My Friend Sarah

Guest Post by Brianna Meade

 

 

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I'm a missionary kid who didn't want to be a missionary kid. Instead of "I'm from Thailand," I want to say "I'm from Chicago." In fact this is what I do say.

Being an MK is interesting in a, "Wow, that's cool, but I don't understand you at all" type way. Not so great for relating to people. Living in a hut in the jungle on the border of a third-world country doesn't help if you are desperate to fit in. People rarely know how to respond when it's brought up. It can be a conversation jump-starter, but it can also be the type of thing where you start to feel alone as the conversation fizzles out because nobody knows what to say.

When my past is brought up, I'll ramble on about Rice and Elephants and the Thai Language. I'll hedge my sentences and stories with, "I know you don't really want to hear this story, but..."  I'm embarrassed by how I grew up, but the bigger issue is that I feel alone. I don't feel at home in Thailand and don't belong among Americans--especially American women.

I know what you are thinking if you know anything about missionary kids. Feeling like I don't belong is a classic MK attitude. MK's feel as if they don't fit in either culture. The whole idea of a "Third-Culture-Kid" came from the theory that those who grew up in two cultures only feel at home in a "third" culture that incorporates both--that is, in their "own" created culture. You'd think the one place I'd feel at home is among other MK's who have the same background, but I don't. I'm just as uncomfortable around other MKs as around girls who grew up in Chicago. During college, many MKs I knew found solace in International Dinners and Third-Culture Kid Retreats. I avoided all of this.

I don't talk about Thailand, ever, unless it is brought up.  My years as a missionary kid were difficult and jarring and ended with a full-blown eating disorder that almost killed me. So when other MKs wax nostalgic for Asian noodles or dumplings or bring up how much they miss their "real" home, I feel disingenuous. I feel numb and apathetic.The twinge of sadness that exists just makes me want to run harder towards the American dream.

When I arrived in the U.S. for college, I tried to assimilate in order to avoid being the "weird" one. I abandoned my MK roots as soon as I could figure out how to dress in North Face jackets and procure boots that looked like UGGs. I tried to assimilate in every way. I steadily acquired pop culture awareness and memorized the names of celebrities.

I rarely claim my childhood in Asia (where I lived for 15 years--more time than I've lived anywhere else) as home. Was it my home? I was always an outsider there too. So where does that leave me?

Every once in a while during college, I would go to a Thai food restaurant and ball my eyes out. On the way out, I would swear never to go back to the restaurant again as I wiped snot off my face. It was too confusing and much too painful.

And so, when we moved to North Carolina, I was still hard at work leaving my past behind. So it seemed strangely serendipitous and out-of-nowhere that our apartment complex contained a greater percentage of people of Asian descent than it did  Caucasians. Did this make me happy? Did it make me feel like I was home? On the contrary, it made me feel more exposed and maybe even a little uncomfortable. I didn't want to presuppose that I had anything in common with my Indian neighbors because I knew (and implicitly felt) that I was just as complicit in stereotyping people--just as likely to misunderstand someone and miss the real story. But in the process of avoiding any representation of my past, of side-stepping my roots and of trying to become someone else, I'd forgotten who I was.

One day I went to the park and found myself surrounded by a large Indian family and several Chinese mothers with their children. I was with my daughter in the sandpit and I felt that familiar feeling of being somewhere you have been many times. Of returning to a place that you have been away from for a long time.

Then we stumbled upon a church that was half-white, half-Chinese-American demographic and oriented towards reaching out to the cultural diaspora that was our town. I felt my shoulders slump a little and my butt relax deeper in the seats. I kind of wanted to cry, but it was a moment that again, I shared only with myself. It was the first time I felt slightly less alone in an American church. The first public place that it might be okay to work out my culture issues and feel safe.

It was also the place where a Southern girl (as American as mac n' cheese) taught me how to re-embrace a part of me I had left behind. This friend was named Sarah*. Sarah and her family are Jesus-seekers and wholehearted members of the small Presbyterian Church (PCA) that we are all a part of.

When I first talked to Sarah, she mesmerized me with her stories of intentionality and engagement. Every afternoon, she takes her boys out to the parking lot, sets up some yellow cones to warn drivers, and they spend the late afternoon riding bikes. By six pm, her Indian neighbors have also come outside and their kids join the fun. She positions her lawn chairs and hands out extra bikes that her family has collected to any kids that don’t have bikes. The Indian boys and girls call Sarah “auntie,” a term of acceptance.

One story Sarah recounted was a turning point for me.The Indian women in her neighborhood often come out in groups for their afternoon walks. One day, all the women came out, gathered their things, and left Sarah to care for all their children.  Then this became the routine.

Sarah felt perplexed by this. Though she was thankful that they trusted her with their children, she felt left out. In Indian culture they explained, the communal aspect and “it takes a village” mentality meant that a single adult sufficed as a babysitter for all the children. One day, Sarah confronted them and said “I want to walk with you. I don’t want to always babysit your kids.” The women tilted their heads and giggled at her as she tried to convey her desire. The discussion was a mix-up of cultural confusion, clumsy language dynamics, and the desire to connect.

And so she joined their walk. She grappled and wrestled to grasp the conversation. She understood almost nothing during the trip.

This is everything that getting to know someone who is different than you should be.  It is the initial terrifying jump into the unknown of possibly offending someone. It is the unwieldy silences between difficult vocabulary words in other languages. It is the complexity of relationship when individualism and village mentalities clash and bang.  When the noise that goes up shatters into the loud dissonance of the family-frameworks and culture we have come from.

It can be a lesson in self-consciousness and embarrassment. It can mean perpetuating cultural stereotypes (sometimes unconsciously), and then backing up and understanding an individual story, turning around in your dialogue and realizing you have, perhaps, gotten it all wrong.

When Sarah told me this story what resonated was her feeling of being “outside” and out-of-her-depth. And I think this is important. When we think about downward mobility and cross-cultural interactions as vocation we are correct. But we also acknowledge that vocation is not easy, comfortable, or natural. Vocation can be gritty, like digging in a sandbox and getting granules of sand stuck under your fingernails. It forces you to question your motives—forces you to think about your own pride and perhaps even your own racism or aversion to cultural nuances. And this is not fun. This is far from fun—but it just might be vocation even though it hurts.

When I think about vocation, I think about writing, in which I feel the flow of an organic creativity that begins in my thoughts and ends up in my words on a paper. But I sometimes forget the agony and disruption of pen on paper, of trying to find the exact word I am looking for, of exhaustive editing and not explaining something well, or being misunderstood. Writing is vocation, but it is not easy, it is not trite. It takes time and patience and humility. Humility as we fight for words, fight to be understood and resist presuming or placing constructs upon other people and ourselves that do not fit or are not honest.

My neighborhood is composed of many Indian families. Should I reach out? By using the words “reach out” am I already conveying a kind of cultural superiority or colonizing mentality that exposes me? Am I okay with silence in between words? With trying to meet other people with open hands and finding closed hands or vice versa?

I think vocation means trying things on for size, even if the pants don’t fit you at the ankles and you have to roll the legs up a bit. Even if you were once-upon-a-time a missionary kid, but feel like that part of you has disappeared into the background. And I’m just at the beginning of this—at the starting line of “maybe I’m called."

Yesterday, I was  coming out of my apartment and I noticed my Indian neighbor standing outside with a little girl my daughter’s age. I yelled, “Hello!” even as my words seemed to echo back at an embarrassing decibel. She looked around to see if I was saying hello to her, and the start of a loud and confusing conversation began. I walked up to her, and we exchanged the formalities of name and relation. Her name was hard to pronounce, and I rolled it over my tongue and under my breath several times, trying to grasp some fluidity. My little Zoe and her granddaughter eyed each other.

And then we had a moment. I don’t want this to seem like a “happy ending” or the conclusion to a story about race and culture and understanding. Because it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t conclusive and it wasn’t definitive.

This moment was mid-conversation. I think it was also mutual. I commented on her granddaughters absolutely gorgeous eyelashes—which were black and beautiful, and I said, “They look just like my daughters. They both have amazing lashes.” She nodded and laughed.

Was this moment as meaningful to her as it was to me? I don’t know. After this, we stumbled through another exchange. She asked her granddaughter to “high-five” my daughter (who refused to comply). Then I asked her questions about her family but I asked them too fast.  I needed to go. We laughed and nodded goodbye.

And that was it. Perhaps my vocation for downward mobility is a budding one even though I have past multi-cultural experiences. Maybe it is for you too. Maybe you aren’t equipped. Maybe you're not sure you even want to go out in your neighborhood and meet people who have different backgrounds. Maybe, like me, you've left a part of you behind, and you need to reach out because it will help you even more than it will help them

 

 

 

unnamed-1Briana Meade is a 20-something writer and blogger at brianameade.com. She is a contributor to Early Mama, a site for young mothers and often writes about the intersection of faith, culture, and motherhood. She lives with her husband and two children in the Raleigh-Durham area and is a graduate of Wheaton College

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all posts on downward mobility, please click here.

 

THE WONDER YEARS IS coming (or, the year 2013 in fake status updates)

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So, today is the last day of 2013. I have the flu, naturally. So instead of some insightful meditation on the past and a hopeful reflection on the future, I am just going to post a bunch of screen shots assembled from the What Would I Say? app, which takes your FB statuses and creates new ones. It is a time suck. It is also the best thing for insecure narcissists who have the flu! You should go to there. But first, read these fake/yet strangely based in reality “statuses” from me.

I was super into humblebrags:

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I had a lot of sage advice/poetic reflections:

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What? I truly want to know. Why did I leave myself hanging like that?

 

 

 

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i want to know what those are.

I had some suggestions for the world:

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Some of these fake statuses were surprisingly accurate:

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yup. I did that. for reals. a lot.

 

 

 

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truth.

 

 

 

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pretty sure that actually all happened.

 

 

 

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yup.

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always. except downward mobility.

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so many of these were about polish dogs. and Ghandi, weirdly enough.

 

 

 

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well, i prefer "thrifty".

 

 

 

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what? ok.

 

 

 

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totally.

 

 

 

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exactly.

 

 

 

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hmmm. maybe this one should be in the humblebrag category?

 

 

 

I was super into pop-culture/spiritual status mash-ups.

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(this one is for Addie)

 

 

 

Aaaaaand here it is:

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are you ready?

 

 

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and that, my friends, was 2013.

 

 

 

 

(thanks to Marilyn Gardner for introducing me to this delightful app).

 

 

 

 

santa is not sustainable

Perhaps the first image of the modern-day representation of santa--done by Haddon Sunblom for Coca-Cola in 1931.

 

 

Sustainability is something people in our line of work talk about a lot. How can you stay for the long haul, and not burn out? How can you make sure programs, traditions, and services are not based solely on you and your work, but can continue on for many years? Sustainability is like the opposite of how many evangelicals typically work: quick, fast, results oriented, crash-and-burn. One of the reasons we were so drawn to our mission organization is that they have a commitment to contemplation--recognizing that without taking the space for finding God in your own life, you will never be able to care for others.

Which is why it is super helpful to think about what can be sustained for the long haul when it comes to strategic decisions regarding time, money, and emotional energy. 

Like Christmas.

We made the decision that it wasn't sustainable to fly to Oregon every Christmas. It's a hard decision (um, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Dean Martin is on repeat this morning, along with "A Tender Tennessee Christmas" by Amy Grant, even though I never lived in Tennessee. Because Nostalgia). But it's the right decision for us. Neighbors and friends have come out of the woodwork, and we are going to have ourselves a patchy, somewhat merry, somewhat sad little Christmas. Which seems pretty sustainable for our future.

What about celebrating Advent?  

We light Advent candles with our daughter, read some Scripture, and pray. She gets super excited to blow the candles out, and the rest is probably over her head. Is this sustainable? Yes, I think it is. As one of my friends pointed out, if one of my neighbors asked how we celebrated Advent, this would be an affordable, accessible option. Is unwrapping a piece of the $50 Playmobile nativity set every day of Advent a great way to engage your kids in the story of the birth of Jesus? Sure. Are "kindness elves" awesome? Totally. Are fair-trade chocolate Advent calendars the best thing ever? Yes, absolutely.

But are these things sustainable, for our neighbors both near and far? I don't think so. Many people do not have the resources to pull off these bits of "Christmas magic" that we so casually revere. I am all for whimsy and encouraging imagination and celebrating with some good fair-trade chocolate, but I also want to recognize how so many children do not experiences these privileges in any way.

Which brings me to Santa. 

Santa, and his cultural counterpoint of the perfect, Norman Rockwell family christmas, took ahold of our cultural imagination many years ago. I used to not care at all about this. Growing up, we were pretty lackadaisical about it all (and my parents refused to lie--so if we asked, they told us santa was a fake). But we still laid out the cookies, got a few presents labeled "from St. Nick". But my biggest memories were of Christmas eve services and sitting quietly in front of a brightly lit tree. 

Now, in my neighborhood, I can't help but see images of a weird, materialistic holiday everywhere. Red-nosed reindeer and some fat man with presents, as far as the eye can see. And I am starting to loathe it. Because Santa is not sustainable.

For those who grow up poor in America, Santa is another reminder of failure. Kids can't help but grow up and be saturated with the story, which puts pressure on the adults in their life to find the time/money/energy to get the presents the kids want. People go into debt, people spiral into depression, kids are disappointed and feel shamed, Christmas morning turns into another reminder of the inequalities of the world. The picture-perfect family Christmas is the same way--for many, all of these images we see in the movies and on tv are just a stark reminder of our own families--the mental illness, the addictions, the abuse, the empty seats around the table. The myth of the perfect family Christmas is not sustainable either, because our nuclear families were never supposed to be the point.

What is sustainable, then? 

I have learned some things from my Muslim friends. Their holidays are smashingly good--count yourself blessed if you ever get invited over for Eid. I have seen Eid celebrated in several different states and countries, and there are always striking similarities: the celebrations are marked by food, friends, family, prayer, and generosity. 

That's it.

A lot of food, or just a little. Your family, what remains of it, plus your new family you have formed in the diaspora. Friends, neighbors, co-workers invited to experience the richness of your culture and celebration. Prayer, early in the morning, and throughout the day, thanking the One who created us all. Generosity--extra food cooked, coins given to the children--reminding us to always extend our table.

That, my friends, is sustainable.

I've started to think about what I want the holidays to look like for me and my little family. Food, friends, family, prayer, and generosity. All the elements have been modeled to me from the beginning from my own parents, and it is time to claim them for my little space now. Even thought sometimes I will be far from my parents and sisters, i will still value family, and use the definition that Christ gave me (we are all brothers and sisters). I will cook food, even if it doesn't look pretty. I will pray the prayers that have been spoken throughout the centuries to celebrate the coming of Christ (the Magnificat, my friends, is extremely sustainable). And I will try to be generous, try to escape the pull to only seek out what is best for me and mine in these dark and bright weeks. I will try and stick around long enough to have space for those who have been bruised and battered by the cultural expectations of Christmas. And there are so many of these souls, more than we can possibly know, longing for a real, sustainable celebration--firmly anchored in this real world, yet a mirror of the great parties we will have in heaven.

 

Like Mary, may our souls magnify the Lord. May we seek out the humble and exalt them, fill the hungry with good things.

And most of all, may we be ever mindful of His mercy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mammon -- Guest Post by Kevin Hargaden

Well. You best sit down before you read this one. The internet introduced me to Kevin, and I am so grateful. One day he will write a book that with all of his Irish humor still manages to make us bleed. Besides being smart and theological, Kevin and his wife are the goods. They sent me and my husband a care package--complete with Irish Tea, Irish poetry, and a handwritten letter filled with quotes from the Pope. I know!  This post gets to the very heart of the matter, I believe. It's so easy to make downward mobility a game of sorts-- all about material possessions, what I have done for God, see what a difference I have made with my second hand clothes! And sometimes people like myself need to be smacked in the face in regards to what is actually going on: how God longs for those living under the oppression of wealth to be set free. Because he loves us too. And he has been trying to free us for a long, long time.

 

 

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Mammon

Guest post by Kevin Hargaden

 

 

I’m totally behind the downward mobility movement. Quite literally. My wife and I are downwardly mobile. We’ve swapped prosperity in a beautiful university town on the edge of a bustling EU capital city for a life on the wrong side of the tracks in a provincial town on the edge of a region most famous for a legendary, mysterious sea monster called Nessie. We are from Dublin, where we have lived our whole life. My wife had a fantastic and rewarding job. We had a large circle of friends. My family were minutes away. Everything was familiar and wonderful. We love our hometown with a passion.

Now we live in Aberdeen, which is a grey city on the coast of the North Sea, buffeted on one side by Arctic winds and surrounded on the other by the mountains that rise into the Scottish Highlands. We have been here six weeks. My wife’s fulltime pursuit has been job-searching. Today she got word of her first interview, for a temporary role, in a low level administration position, at about 40% less than her last salary rate. The reason we are here, in a city more northerly than Moscow that has less than six hours of daylight in winter, is for my PhD. Ironically, as we quickly accelerate downwards towards destitution, I will be researching a theology of wealth.

While today the circumstances press in on me hard and as I feel the pressure I paint a particularly dim picture of what we’re doing, the reality is that we are involved in a grand adventure. We have never lived abroad before. We have never started again before. We are doing a hard thing but it is exceptionally cool.

So we probably meet whatever requirements can be imagined to classify a couple as part of this radical downward mobility movement. And presumably if you check back in on us in three months we will have stories about how it has liberated us. And I suspect that our life will always be indented by the experience of profound freedom that came from unburdening ourselves of all the possessions that we had accumulated over years of mimicking Western-world middle class comfort. We were possessed by them.

But it is exactly at this point, when I reflect on how our (relative but very real) wealth warped our view of the world that I begin to part company with the largely brilliant conversation about downward mobility.

***

I am haunted by the words of Jesus. My life has been transformed by reflecting on his parables, which I think are the greatest stories ever told. They are simply divine.

In Matthew 12 we find an image that we could spend our lives reflecting on. In context, Jesus is disputing with Pharisees who are accusing him of being in league with Beelzebul. He answers them (29): “how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.”

In these two sentences, Jesus gives us a peek at his entire intention. As Jesus sees it, the world is held captive. The New Testament gives us a range of different words to describe the captor. At base the captivity is at the hands of a personal force, referred to often as “the Satan”.

Jesus very clearly loved the world he inhabited. He loved the terrain of his homeland and he loved the seasons of the farms and he loved the fruit of the vine and the culture of the cities. But his perspective was that this world was echoing a glory that had been smothered by a force that held it captive. He came to bind up the strong man who was claiming this world as his own. On Good Friday he goes into battle with the strong man and at dawn on Easter Sunday he comes up triumphant. The strong man is bound so that bound Creation can go free.

This is not the only way to think of God’s Gospel, but it is one of the ways we find in the gospels that describe it. There is a false power that held the world captive under its hollow authority. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God overthrew this fake potentate and now we, the church, join him in this non-violent liberation.

***

Paul takes up this way of seeing things in Ephesians. At the end of that letter he summarises the kind of battle that Christians are called to engage in. He is clear that the battle is not a violent one of war and fighting. Instead, “our struggle is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

I want to propose that one of the powers of this darkened world that Paul is describing here has been named by Jesus. He called it Mammon. He seemed to use that word to describe an impersonal force that controlled the affections of people by making them love money. Adam Smith, the great father of modern economics spoke about the market as an “invisible hand”. His words, which are a gospel to capitalism, have a dark hue when heard against Jesus’ warnings about Mammon.

***

So here is what I have argued:

  1. Jesus saw the world as held captive by a darkness that had to be subverted.
  2. Paul says that this darkness manifests itself in forces, “powers and principalities” that rule the world.
  3. Jesus names one of these powers as Mammon.

And here is my tentative proposal:

  1. To be wealthy is to be under the realm of Mammon.

Which leads me to my conclusion, which makes me sound like quite the crackpot:

  1. To be wealthy is to be captive to Satan.

***

If I am right, then the judgement of God is upon those of us who are wealthy. And everyone who has access to a web browser with an internet connection and the literacy skills to read my convoluted prose is bound to be wealthy.

There are smaller problems with downward mobility. For one, it seems self-defeating since only the wealthy can imagine a scenario where they could relinquish their wealth. For another, intentional poverty has a long tradition in the church but it is fraught and complex. There are technical problems in that individual acts of solidarity and solitary acts of divestment alone make absolutely no difference to the justice, politics or material conditions of our unfair world.

But the biggest problem with downward mobility is that it underestimates the problem.

***

If we, the wealthy, are to be pitied as those held captive by a force that although defeated, retains residual strength, then we cannot possibly hope to be freed from by our own action. If my theological hunch is true, and we the wealthy are blinded from reality by the warping effects of having so many things at our disposal, then the only hope for us is an intervention by someone strong enough to bind up the strong man.

Being less consumerist or more frugal, moving in with the poor and the dispossessed, spending our life in advocacy and agitation for environmental justice or economic transformation or political revolution – we may be called to all of these things but none of these things will suffice.

Since camels don’t fit through the eyes of needles, we, the rich men, are screwed. With man, it is impossible for us to get to heaven. But in uttering these awesome and rarely reflected upon words, Jesus says with God, all things are possible.

The problem with downward mobility is that it imagines we can decide which direction we should go. In our downward mobility we seek to disposses ourselves of privilege and power, wealth and influence. But that dispossession is always an illusion if it is true that the wealth we are seeking to let go of is imposed on us by Mammon. The dispossession we are all called to is to be dispossessed of our delusion that we can set our own course or define our own destiny.

***

If we pursue downward mobility for downward mobility’s sake, we pursue nothing to nowhere. We are just caught up in another endless maze of self-justification that Mammon erects to distract us from the returning King.

We must wrestle with the fact that the inequality in our world is an injustice. But if we are to undo that injustice, we have to first see the gangster at the top tied up. The strong man must be bound for the captives to be set free. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ seems to involve the claim that the rich are cursed.

We are cursed.

Unless we can be set free.

 

 

 

 

SONY DSCKevin was born and bred in the Dublin suburbs. He has an Irish aversion to writing bio-pieces since they invariably sound cocky. He is training to be a minister with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, but is studying for that at Aberdeen University. He can't sing but he does lisp. He loves the Simpsons, the parables and making lists but perhaps not in that order. He blogs at www.hargaden.com/kevin about faith in contemporary Ireland and he can be found on twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Fellow Traveler

It's been a little quiet here, but it doesn't mean my life has been like that. Since January, when I decided to stop writing about my every day life, I have experienced a profound change. I love letting this blog go. I love pouring out my angst into safer vessels (my journal, husband, and *gasp* even Christ). I love giving up a piece of myself that I was finding just a bit too much identity in. And identity, and vocation, have been very much on my mind as of late.

I started the War Photographer series because I had a lot of questions in relation to my identity as a writer; what I got instead was a collection of thoughtful, hopeful treatises on the inherent value of our neighbors, and an admonition to do absolutely true by them. To love people well, to write about them second. To live life together, and out of the overflow of relationship speak. In the end this is what I discovered: I don't think we are ever truly meant to be a War Photographer--it is a vocation borne out of the brokenness of our world. The true ideal is much simpler, much less grand: we are called to be neighbors, not transients reporters.

The reflections on War Photography have changed and moved me, and I am grateful to the myriad of voices that contributed. I still have a few more guest posts in the works that you will not want to miss, and then this series will be done. I created a tab at the top where you can find the entirety of the series, in the order that they were posted.

I wrote a little bit about this journey for my good friend J.R., over at her excellent blog. Here is an excerpt:

I am currently in a season where it is not valuable to write about my life; relationships are still in infancy, my own emotions are all over the map. In the future, there may be a possibility of doing it well. But for now I am in a place where I am learning to dig deep wells, both within myself and my community. I am in a place of seeking solitude, of sitting with my questions, of discovering who I am and what I believe. This is not a time to produce, to be subject to the whims of the crowd. This is a time to dig deep, to enter into the wilderness with no knowledge of when, or how, I will ever come out. Like Buechner says: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” By stepping back and allowing some silence into my writing life, I have found the antithesis of fear. I have allowed love to open up my thoughts, words and actions. I have given up the right to represent people, to use them, and to process through them. I am trying to give up my idols of being understood, of being recognized, of putting the entire burden of the world on my small and stooped shoulders. Instead, I am busy pursuing reality, and it is more beautiful and terrifying than I ever imagined.

 

Go on over and read the rest. 

 

 

But: just because I will not be writing about my specific context doesn't mean I won't be writing.

Stay tuned for some exciting new stuff.

 

a life lived fully

instead of contemplative year-end posts, i am likely to make wild decisions about social media usage. around december, the clamour of facebook, twitter, and the blog world starts to get to me. i crave books, edited words and thoughts, quite and contemplation, a re-set on my own frenzied mind. this year is no different.

last january i quite facebook (for a month), and it was good for me. in the past year i started both this blog and a twitter account, which has been fun and annoying, to be perfectly honest. i still don't know all the rules about these things. the crowd, it turns out, is a fickle thing. some of the posts that i liked the best hit the floor with a dull thud, while the ones i shot off rather ill-conceived and in haste got passed around like popcorn. i don't get it. and it has started to influence me.

in social-media-land, i tend to want to stick to the easy stuff. just like in my missionary life, i want to write only about the miracles in the support letters. or how when i am having a bad day, instead of praying "jesus be near" i would much rather tweet about how terrible someone else is.

but this kind of easy engagement doesn't work for me. because both doubt and faith, sin and redemption, miracles and tragedies are the realities of my days--i can't pick just one or the other. but for whatever reason, in our times nuance does not get rewarded. and i am a creature that is trained by praise just like everybody else.

i want to write about good and true and hard things: about the miracles of god at work in the world, the ways i fall short every day, and laments about the evils in the world. and if i am not writing about these things, then i get myopic, narcissistic, and shallow. in this regard i have seen how social media land has a large pull for me--immediate reactions and gratifications, allowing me to feel connected. which brings up another point: because the reality is i am starting to feel more and more disconnected, every day. in my not-online life i have experienced so much change and craziness in the past 12 months i feel like a champagne bottle ready to pop. but if you asked me how i am doing i would say "great" and leave it at that. if you asked again, i would say "well, you know, god has really revealed a lot to me in the past year. he's really working on me." if you gave me a stern look and asked one last time, you would probably have a sobbing mess on your hands, a broken girl who is alternately exhausted and exhilarated about life on the frontiers of the kingdom.

if you really asked, i would probably talk about seeing prostitution up-close for the first time, of learning to recognize the smell of crack, of the many times i have wondered "wait, should i be calling the cops right now?" i would probably talk about the amazing food, the ways people have risked everything just by extending me friendship, how happy walking the streets of my neighborhood (the most diverse one in america) makes me feel. i might talk about the boredom of being home alone in a new city with few friends and no family, with a two-year old that gets sick a lot, how i start to click re-fresh on my facebook so often it feels like a disease, how my life seems to be heading in different directions from most everyone i know. i might talk about co-ops and community gardens and esl classes and somali language classes and being the only white girl in an east-african parenting class. i might talk about the loneliness i have experienced, and how i am only now starting to realize that maybe christ is all i need, after all.

so there, now i told you. but i am still struggling with how much of my life needs to stay private, protecting the dignity of my neighbors and friends. how much of my writing is helpful for others, or is simply just a way of me processing my emotions? i have already started plaguing people in my mission organization to write more, because those kinds of books changed me. but i know why they hesitate, and i see how they are so busy living out the kingdom they don't have time to sit down and write about it. i see the need, and i see the pitfalls. just like my own writing life.

so for me, this new year is going to start looking differently. i feel strongly like i am supposed to write, just not necessarily for this blog. i feel the need to curb my reliance on instant gratification, and the desire to cultivate my own inner voice. i want to achieve excellence, which in this time and place means stepping back. i want to be able to process, freely, without holding back all the grit or the glory. while this is only for a season, i am excited about the possibilities.

this doesn't mean this is the end, of course. i am actually planning on doing a series about how we share the hard stories in our lives that aren't our own (look for more information on this coming soon--plus, i have some FABULOUS guest writers/artists!). i am looking forward to sharpening up whatever this space is meant to be.

but in the end, it all comes down to what i want to pursue in my life. excellence in writing, leaning away from the reactionary and towards nuance. a renewed focus on contemplating what it really means when i am bored, lonely, and fretful, instead of turning to social media for distraction and community. relying on my family, my neighbors, and christ to fulfill my needs of friendship and understanding, to know and be known. really, it can be summed up with a quote by thomas merton that my friend cate recently posted (on facebook, naturally):

"If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for."

merton is so right. and as i am slowly learning to identify those things which keep me in limbo, living in two worlds at once, not happy in either: i am excited. because if this year has taught me anything, it is this: the sooner i give up my life, the sooner the whole word opens up for me, my eyes finally able to see the miracles everywhere, hiding in plain sight.

so for this next year, it is all about cultivation: of my eyes, my ears, and my mouth. that i would taste the bitter and the sweet, see the beauty and the horror, and speak the truth of the kingdom. and for me, this means taking a step back from the thousands of voices which would seek to influence me, for good and for bad.

 

 

i'd like to know: how has social media changed your writing? what are the benefits/drawbacks of blogging/tweeting/posting on facebook? what things are you being called to give up in order to live your life fully?

 

 

ps: this stepping back has been some time coming (based on my own reflections/journaling/prayers), but was recently re-motivated by the reading of The Crowd, The Critic, and the Muse by M. Gungor. I highly recommend this book on art and creation and everything in between.

poetry and prophecy

It's two days before Christmas, and this will probably be my last post on the subject. So it's fitting to end with a poem that my husband wrote, his reflection on the world we live in, our new neighborhood, and Advent in general. He makes me coffee every morning, gets up with the toddler in the middle of the night, listens to my every wandering thought, and writes killer poetry. I know.  typical.

Advent

by the Maiden Name

Shootings, and sweatshops, rising regimes sometimes it feels like your ever expanding rule is nowhere to be seen, like a seed in the ground that’s yet to start a sprout you tend to sometimes circumvent instead of intervene looking around as the almond branch turned the boiling pot north and drained out the drowning lifeblood of the guiltless poor

it’s beginning to feel like the harvest is passed, summer has ended and we are not saved someone’s crying in the closet for all our ill-mannered misbehaved We’ve sown wheat, and we’ve reaped thorns For the mountains and the wilderness I’ll mourn So do not listen to your prophets, your dreamers Until we break the yoke of the shorn

Our exile has been long enough to grow a bounty that has been taken away, time and again, by country and by county Are you coming quickly? Please, tell me you’re coming with haste Some say they’re patient, some say they can wait But I’ve seen abusers go their own way, unchained and I’ve seen oppression walk the streets midday and the wolves live among the sheep without dismay while we pine away

Flannel pajamas, soot-stained script Candles in the kitchen, I remember always watching that wax drip As we sing songs of the one coming, and to the one who came And it’s all sorts of awkward, the highs and lows that we sang

and I still practice advent, even in my own home my daughter calls it a birthday cake, we say it’ a private protest against Rome but we still fail and find ourselves at the mall and department stores and a few other of places I’d tell you about, but I find it too embarrassin’ of all those who might have trouble falling asleep on Christmas eve amongst all the children, it seems the empire should be most at unease

I tried my hand at Advent Conspiracy and at Buy Nothing Christmas, But justice and peace seem to just be unpurchased items on my wish list Oh well, that’s how it goes, maybe I’ll get it next year And I sing hallelujah as I chug chug chug down the cheer in the most jolly of fashions but this can’t last, it won’t last forever so our eyes are on you, King of the broken, ruling from a manger

 

 

Nothing like reading the prophets while we think about the babe in the manger.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. 

Advent in the Abandoned Places of the Empire

url My writing always goes in waves--just like this week.

Today I have a guest post up at my friend Amy Lepine Peterson's blog. She is currently in the midst of a series about Advent wherein she posts something every.single.day. I admire this girl, for so many reasons (intellect, quality writing, her amazing critiques of pop culture). But our friendship was cemented into soul mate statues due to her love of certain 90s era Christmas movies.

So I wrote a tiny post about Advent, cribbing from Common Prayer, naturally. Here is the passage I wrote off of:

Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighborhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us. But the gospel calls us to something altogether different. We are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves up to the stranger. Advent is the season when we remember Jesus put on flesh and moved into our neighborhood. God’s getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up even in the forsaken corners of the earth.

Head on over and read the rest?

 

 

Image by Amy Friend, found via Pinterest. Just made me think about how Jesus is the light and the incarnation, never me.

Waiting for Advent

i'm the christmas unicorn-felt ornament. December is creeping along. The midwest does not have as much snow as I would have thought; I wish it did, for snow seems magical and new.

We are several months into our move, several months in to this new way of life. We have learned so much. My brain might explode. Someday, it would be lovely to talk about some of it with you all. But I am still young and tend to sound angry when I rant, so I will let these things keep percolating. Also, I have been realizing lately more than ever, that we are playing the long game here.

This is the first year I feel like the word "Advent" is starting to make sense. For the past several years I have been wandering around December, adoring every kitschy light display there is, and then complaining about how I just want to get back to the true meaning of Christmas. This year, many of our safety nets have been stripped. Without family and friends (and our annual Christmas parties--last year was themed "A Tender Tennessee Christmas Party" and we encouraged everyone to dress up like their favorite CCM star from the 90s) it feels sort of like . . . a winter month. Another week, another head cold, another blustery day. I find small comfort in the fact that for the majority of people in our neighborhood, they feel the same way. It is not all hot cocoa and marshmallows, gift-guides, warm fuzzies over here. It's another season of getting by.

But I feel the wait, this year. I have the space the feel the bleak midwinter, and I am grateful. It has given me the clarity about Christmas I have long wished for. I long to see Jesus and his kingdom come. As tempting as it is for me to think about Jesus coming to save the rest of the world from their brokenness, I have been both shamed and thrilled to realize he came for my own darkness. As I am spending this time waiting, I am encouraged: may the light of Christ rise up in my soul, may he cause me to see his light in others.

I would love to end this post on that dramatic, soulful note (I kid, I kid), but later on in this week I will be sharing some of my favorite Christmas movies and music with ya'll. I am still very much not into gifts-you-can-buy-at-a-regular-ol-store, but there are elements of celebrating Christmas here in America that I am hell-bent on redeeming. Horribly ugly and thoughtful crafts, treats baked with butter love, engaging all of our senses in this period of hope and expectation . . . now THAT I can get into. I'll also highlight some friends of mine who are churning out thoughtful (and thought-provoking) pieces about this season.

So hit me up: what are you doing as you wait for Advent?

Ps. That awesome ornament was found here on Etsy. But, poor you, it's sold out. So make your own! And give it to me.

,

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.

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.

Eid Mubarak

It is Eid al-Adha, and I am sitting in Target eating Pizza Hut. We drove to the edge of the neighborhood, the toddler and I, and she is swinging her legs and saying "no, no, no" quietly to herself. Around me, men and women walk by in the holiday spirit, wearing long white robes or bright head scarves, talking and laughing and shopping. I am embarrassed by my pepperoni, by my lack of devotion, for caving in to the allure of getting out of the house and using up my gift card. I keep forgetting where I am, all the time. I am in Target. I am in the middle of East Africa. I am in the middle of the country. The dichotomy of this neighborhood will never stop surprising me.

In all the space this long week afforded, I met a girl at the park, here visiting from Denmark. She was Somali-born, elegant and professional. As we sat in a burnt-out little park on perhaps one of the last nice days this year will have, she gestured at the city skyline a mere mile away. I have never seen this before, she said. This kind of place where all the poor are so close to all the rich. I looked around, and agreed. The infamous park where so much loss has happened, the big cavernous churches standing empty, the streets crowded with activity. And then, separated only by the freeway, is the glittery allure of downtown: big money, fast walkers, cafes and brewpubs. In the long silences of this week, hats shoved down on our heads, the baby girl and I have been walking. And the dividing lines are real and nearly visible here, I knew what she meant. This way of containment, of narrowed lives, have never been a part of my story.

On Sunday, a church next to the park has a fleet of blue busses, parked in a row in front of the sanctuary. That electric blue seems so out of place, that it leads me to wondering: How does it feel to be bussed to church? This leads to other questions--How does it feel to stand in line to get food for your children, to get a coat for the coming winter? How does it feel when you can't leave your apartment after dark for fear of getting mugged? how does it feel to grow up with so much trauma and anxiety as a child due to inner-city life that you develop PTSD and are labeled attention-deficit?

I don't know, how this feels. That is sort of the whole point.

 

 

It is Eid al-Adha.

 

 

I watch this video, and I am overwhelmed. By the enormity of a holiday that most of us don't even acknowledge; at the sheer number of pilgrims on this earth. And for some reason this thought makes me both sober and feel less alone. I feel every inch the apprentice, the novice, to this new way of life. I feel like I am taking small steps on my own pilgrimage. There is some mutuality here, after all.

 

I am sitting in my apartment, wondering about the ways people sacrifice, every day. Eid Mubarak, indeed.

Jesus be near

A week or two ago Seth Haines was asking around for contributions on a series centered on the prosperity gospel, on the ways it creeps into our life. Sign me up, I said, calculating my angle. I was going to rant about women and oppression and Half the Sky (which I had just watched, and which had left me undone) and our horrible pursuits of blessing. I was probably going to write something also about confusing American blessings (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness--often at the expense of others) with kingdom blessings (you know, those pesky fruits of the spirit that are born out of things like . . . suffering). But then tragedy came and slammed us hard, knocked us down, dragged us to the door. So my rant evolved into a quiet little question: what do you cling to when it all hits the fan?

It's funny how things change, so fast.

Head on over and read it, probably one of the more vulnerable pieces I have ever written. The husband left today to fly to Japan and here I am, alone. Very little for me to cling to here--no family or heart friends or people who have known me for more than a few weeks. I don't know my neighbors, don't know all the customs of this place, I am scared to drive and the baby hasn't napped in 2 days. I am freaking out, a bit.

But someone prayed for me yesterday and it changed things, inside. I could feel the tears already starting. We always think we will be successful in our pursuit of happiness, just one touch away from it. If only I was closer to my family. If only all of my neighbors wanted to be best friends. If only the heaven rained casseroles for a week straight. If only people didn't get in car crashes. Then, then I would be finally happy.

But what if I gave all that shit up? What if I realized that right here and now, in the most mystical and mundane way, Jesus Christ wanted to fulfil all my needs and longings, how he knows them anyway and came to carry them into himself; what if I believed it? But I find myself arguing but that's too simple; someone has to pay for this world, for the way things turn out. And then I hear, so small and simple: someone already did.

I think that is what this lonely week is for. I feel the hard parts I have worked hard to build up collapsing; I feel my identity shifting. I feel like I don't know how to explain this without reverting to the Christian language I grew up hearing, but this is terrifying and life-altering stuff here.

And the only prayer I have been praying for these past two days is pulsing with life, calming my spirit. It is the only thing I can think of, and it is already healing my fears.

Jesus, be near.

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