Author Archives: D.L. Mayfield

Upside-Down Art: Good Friday Edition

The art I want to talk about is hardly under the radar–Time magazine named it the “song of the century” in 1999. But still, it has the currents of the upside-down kingdom in it, specifically in speaking prophetically about injustice. Take a moment to listen/watch the video of Billie Holiday perform “Strange Fruit”. For more information on the man who wrote the original poem, click here. For the image that inspired the poem, click here

 

 

 

 

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

 

 

Quite a few years ago, my husband and I attended a small, progressive church. For the Good Friday service, there were stations set-up all around the small basement room we met in. I don’t remember all the stations, but one is stuck in my memory for eternity. It was in a dark corner stage, curtains pulled so that the fluorescent lights didn’t show through. My husband and I sat on a faded velvet couch and listened to Billie Holiday wail her song at us. On the screen, an image of a tree with bare limbs flickered. In my memory, there were birds on the branches, but my memory is not reliable.

As an installation piece, it was rather tame. A dark setting, a song, an image projected. But I had never heard the song before, and I had never had to face the picture of history being presented to me. On Good Friday, as I sat and let the words of sorrow wash over me, I was overcome. I stared at the image of the tree, and I imagined the strange fruit, the bodies waving from the branches. And instead of being horrified, of feigning shock, a deep sense of sadness filled me. At that moment, in that church basement, on that old velvet couch, I knew: I had killed those people. I was the one who had hung the nooses around their neck.

On that Good Friday, time and space and all that simply didn’t matter. I was painted a portrait of what sin is, and how it affects us all. I was not allowed to look away, to gain distance or perspective. I knew I was the same as those people who lynched the boys, so full of anger and self-righteousness and a sense of satisfaction. I am no different from them, and I never was. All my life I had been told how my heart was black before Jesus came. But it’s one thing to color in sin, neat and tidy in the boundaries of your heart. It’s another to realize what makes someone kill another is the same that is within yourself.

I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, or overwrought, I am just trying to explain what I felt that day. What I feel when I listen to songs about John Wayne Gacy Jr., or the genocide in Syria, or the killing of Trayvon Martin. You can spend your whole life running, trying to make it appear white as snow. But in the end, we are all the same, and we don’t get to claim otherwise.

The true bitterness of this crop is that we are all growing it.

 

//

 

The other station I remember from that day is the one where we took the Eucharist together. Coming from a realization of my own brokenness, into the harsh light of the basement room, I was finally ready for it. The simple bread and wine ceremony, the realization that this is why He came. He came to pour out his blood, to break his bones over death. He came for those boys, the ones who swayed in the trees. And he came for us lynchers, the red-cheeked, the nonchalant, the ones who are fine with how very wrong the systems of this world are–the ones who profit from it. I ate that bread so slowly, sipped the wine like it was the first time I understood what it was.

It was my first sense that forgiveness often feels like death, and I haven’t been able to shake it since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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i am the beggar of the world

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I was at a writing conference over the weekend, the first one I have ever been to. The highlight was meeting up with my friends, my lifeline, my cheering squad, my angel editors–calling them a writing group does not even begin to cut it. I also had the strange sensation of trying to match people up to their online profiles, with varying degrees of success. I knew, even before the conference began, that everyone would be so much more interesting than I could possibly believe. I wandered from session to session, from poet to writer to thinker to theologian. Sometimes I skipped and sat in the grass with good people. By the end, I was overwhelmed in every way.

During the sessions, my mind would sometimes wander. The conference itself was such a small microcosm: dismayingly white, educated, Christian, social media savvy types. I would think about my other life, the one back home. I kept thinking about my students, about the beautiful chaos of my classroom, my friends. As I listened to smart people talk about smart things, hovering between being accessible and literary, I was thinking about cell phones. I was thinking about how every morning I teach, the cell phones always ring, over and over again. I had given up on outlawing them; dozens of times a day I politely yet firmly tell my students to get up and go to the corner of the room to talk, so we can get on with class.

At the conference, I sat and listened to people talking about Novel of Ultimate Concern. My hand wanted to shoot up, to ask the same question in every session I went to: What about the poor? I should get the question tattooed on my forehead. I should make it backwards, just so I have to ask myself it first thing in the mornings when I look into the mirror.What does any of this mean if it is only available for a few?

I am thinking about how my ESL students are at the very bottom of our Empire, but whose lives are very much of ultimate concern. I am thinking about the cell phones, going off every few minutes, similar to the poor around the world, adapting to our shifting, stateless world. I am thinking about how they always answer the phones–not because they do not respect me or because they do not want to learn. They answer every phone call that they receive, because each one is of equal importance to them. They never know who is calling–a family member in Africa, a case-worked in America. They have to answer every single one, because it might be life or death, like so many things are.

They answer every call that comes in because they cannot read, not even the numbers.

 

 

I went to a session with Eliza Griswold, author of the Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, a women who has been on the frontline of war and poverty and religion, all over Asia and Africa. She talked about her new book of poems by Afghan women which she collected, and what they mean for those who create and recite them. Why does she share them? Because they are valuable. Why does she share them with us, with the world? Because she sees the limitations of how we portray people in the media, and she wants to subvert that. “I am not interested in the headlines,” she told us. “But I am very interested in the places where the headlines are happening”.

I’m taking that one for a new life motto. I am uninterested in the stories of poverty that you and I already know. I am very invested in the ones that surprise us, thrill us, knock us on our asses. The humor, the pathos, the sin, the ingenuity. Griswold shared with us one of the poems in her book, from which the title comes:

 

In my dream, I am the president.

When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

 

As you would expect, the rest of the poems are stunningly varied; tragic, violent, romantic, naughty, hilarious, contemporary, ancient. Reminiscent of my students, my friends, my neighborhood. Today, in class, another crisis was revealed, and I at a loss for how I can help, limited by my language and knowledge and the overwhelming magnitude of the problems that the poor and the non-literate face in my corner of the world. The beggars of the world is how some would view it, and I confess at times I am tempted to do the same. But we are not headlines. We are real people, real women, real stories. We are living in the places where the headlines take place, and I on a quest for the work of the kingdom of God in the midst of the violence and greed of our world.

I am thinking of the phones, ringing constantly in my ear, of what it means to never know who is on the other line. I am thinking about the frustration of never knowing how to translate well. I am thinking about how much I enjoy erudite, complex, academic conferences, and how ashamed and small it makes me feel. I am thinking about all the wonderful people I met this weekend, the gifts they are to me. I am thinking about all the people who weren’t there, who felt excluded in some way–due to race or education or religion or money. I am thinking about how rich we are in some currencies, and utterly poor we are in others. I am thinking of how in order to tell stories well we must first be obsessed with them, how love covers a multitude of transcribing sins.

 

I am thinking about cell phones. I am thinking about how little I know, what a beggar of the world I am.

 

 

 

 

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Upside-Down Art: Jaw Harp Jam

It’s trite to talk about culture/art allowing us to break down walls, but in my experience it is so true. Books, music, movies, paintings–all of it has brought me outside of myself and my own carefully constructed ghetto of imagination. I love Bethany’s perspective, because I too have had similar experiences. When you catch a glimpse of culture at it’s finest, so strange and beautiful and free of appropriation. In our world, where cultures vie for survival, for power, the influence of joy cannot be understated. I am so grateful to Bethany for writing this beautiful piece on the legacy of culture. 

 

 

 

 

 

Upside-Down Art: Jaw Harp Jam

By Bethany Bassett

 

When Marcus Mumford and his band of indie folk-farmers hit the scene back in 2010, I had never heard the term hipster. I didn’t know suspenders were the new rubric of cool; I just knew that their music spoke to me, that Mumford’s “newly impassioned soul” plucked the strings of my own longing for a full-volume life. I queued up Sigh No More and played it on repeat for the next six months. Chances are, you did too. The album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 and was the third most downloaded album of 2011. Everyone, it seemed, was getting his or her British bluegrass on.

 

But this story isn’t about Mumford & Sons. It’s about an almost impossibly obscure group of musicians from rural India who recorded an untitled EP with them.


Image from last.fm user rahsa

 

They went by Dharohar Project (pronounced “Dah-RHO-har”), and the only thing I knew about them was my own disappointment. I’d been hoping for a fresh dose of the barn-dance rock I’d been cycling through my stereo—not the wailing and twanging I associated with traditional Indian music. I gave the MP3 samples a once-over, but they only confirmed what I already knew: Jaw harp just wasn’t my jam.

 

My perspective landed on its head, however, once I saw the video of their live performance in London:

 

 

The quality isn’t amazing, but I didn’t need HD resolution to see the joy reverberating across that stage, bounding from banjo to bhapang, rippling down from Indian bells and up the soles of British feet. Do you see it too? The way they laugh and beat their drums and move to the pulse of their collective art? Do you hear their delight? I had goose bumps within thirty seconds, wet eyes within ninety. This was no gentrified performance with cultural differences smoothed conveniently away; this was harmony at its freest, tribes and tongues and traditions rollicking together to create a new song. I couldn’t shake the impression that I was watching a six-minute preview of heaven.

 

Dharohar Project fascinated me. I wanted to find out more about this group who had brought so much color to my view of Kingdom-come, and as I researched, my goose bumps returned full-force. I learned that the nine Indian musicians came from different castes and religions. Some were Muslim and others Hindu. They came from social classes with barriers as thick as history, but they united to test their belief that music can overcome cultural differences. No wonder I saw heaven in their performance; Dharohar Project’s very existence is a redemption story.

 

I know to some extent what it’s like to break out of oppressive traditions masquerading as birthright. For the Dharohar musicians, it was the caste system; for me, it was the Quiverfull movement. Like them, I was born inside a series of walls, and learning to see the humanity of those on the other side required some hefty dismantling.  I learned through that experience, though, that God is in the [re]construction business: beauty out of ashes, new songs out of olds spites, a bright and harmonious Kingdom out of discordant humanity.


Image from last.fm user rahsa

 

I don’t know if Dharohar Project is still together or not, but I do know that what they created together is here to stay. It’s right there in their name, in fact—what their redemption story entails for their community, their children, and those of us still facing down walls. “Dharohar,” you see, is a word that has crossed from ancient Sanskrit into modern-day Hindi, quietly defying all attempts to confine it to the past.

 

It means legacy.

 

 

 

unnamedBethany Bassett is a fundamentalism survivor, a sedentary snowboarder, and a cappuccino junkie. She originally hails from Texas but has been adventuring in Italy with her husband and their two little girls for the last seven years. She blogs at coffeestainedclarity.com, where you’ll find out quickly that grace is her favorite thing in the world.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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Poetry as Empire Resistance

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Upside-Down Art: Opera Outside the Mainstream

Some of the people who are most deeply connected to the joys and the sufferings of the world seem to lose their minds for the opera. I am not there yet, but I want to be. I absolutely adore this guest post by Newell, because he is writing about himself being the outsider–the one writing the operas for funsies. The history of the form and music also surprised me, in the best way possible. I encourage you to check out Newell and his other writings. This little post is like a teaser for his great, mysterious, music-filled life. 

 

 

 

 

Upside-Down Art: Opera Outside the Mainstream

by Newell Hendricks

 

I am in the process of publishing a collection of stories from my life.  One section of the book is five stories about major musical compositions I have written.  The last story in this section is about my opera, ASCONA.  The excerpt below is near the ending of that story.  

 

Writing operas was a wonderful way to spend my days.  I loved it – getting lost in my imagination – feeling the most extreme emotions and trying to capture them in sound and form – living a fantasy life to the max that actually had a tangible notation and had the possibility of being reconstructed by performers and experienced by audiences.  It was a constant high – living in ecstasy as long as I could maintain the energy and distance myself from obvious reality.

That reality is that the socio-economics of our day does not lend itself to the production of operas.  The larger musical forms of western culture evolved under a very different socio-economic system, one in which there was a highly talented, highly skilled, completely exploitable class that could perform the music.  In the Renaissance and earlier, the choir schools of the major cathedrals were where musicians were trained.  The church was also the institution that took in orphans.  This was the pool from which musicians came.  Some of the great composers of the Renaissance were Josquin de Pres:  “Joe from the field,” and Pierre de la Rue: “Pete from the street.”  Well into the Baroque period, many musicians came from orphanages.  All of the Vivaldi violin concertos were written for girls at the orphanage where he worked.  In the Classical period, the cathedral schools were still the center of musical education.  The Kapellmeister would go out into the rural countryside looking for talented peasants, take them back to the school as scholarship students, and train them and use them for their music program.  Hayden was such a student.  Even at the height of his fame, Hayden, the most renowned composer of Europe, had to dress up in his servant’s uniform and report to his patron for duty every day.

And well into the twentieth century, musicians were low down on the economic scale.  They were tradespeople.

It is true that in the nineteenth century a few musicians did achieve star status and became extremely wealthy.  Accompanying the phenomenon of the superstars was the cult of art as religion with these stars having their devoted worshipers.  Opera composers and singers were certainly in the center of this cult and Richard Wagner reigned supreme as the high priest.  His opera Tristan und Isolde was commissioned by a wealthy count who not only paid him a handsome sum to write the opera, but set him up in his summer villa to compose it.  Wagner responded by seducing the count’s wife, making that the story of the opera, selling the finished opera to someone else, and saying that it was a story about “ideal Christian love.”

What was I thinking, wanting to be an opera composer?

I loved writing opera.  It fit with the day dreaming, but I balked at the social role expected of one in this profession.  Denise Levertov, who had written the libretto for my oratorio, El Salvador: Requiem and Invocation, told Karen, librettist for my last 2 operas, that she had never known anyone as bad as me at promoting his art.

The year I lived under a tree I had a job conducting a church choir in Isla Vista, the student housing community for the University of California at Santa Barbara.  The popular service for the students was at 11:00 and was a joyous celebration with balloons ending with people dancing around the communion table singing Lord of the Dance.  I played string bass in the band as a volunteer.  But the church was funded by older people who, for themselves, wanted a more traditional service.  This was the service for which I was paid $8 per week to provide a choral anthem.  I had three women in the choir.  I sang tenor and the organist sang bass and we rehearsed at 8 a.m. before the church service on Sunday.  There was a time when I would go into the church on Thursday night, after the bulletin had been printed, and look at what the minister had written as “The Collect” words that were read by all at the beginning of the service.

For three weeks in a row, I took this text and on Friday and Saturday wrote a simple anthem using these words.  The bulletin simply said “anthem.”  No one ever asked or wondered how I had found the piece which used the same words as the Collect, but it felt good to me.  I was contributing in a special way to the worship experience of this community.

 

I think I would take that feeling over the adulation that Wagner received.

 

 

 


unnamed-8Newell Hendricks, as an opera composer, received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a grant from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts to write an oratorio: El Salvador: Requiem and Invocation, with poet Denise Levertov.   In honor of his 50th birthday, Richard Dyer, reviewer for the Boston Globe, wrote a feature article on him with the headline “An interesting and productive career outside the mainstream.”   This headline would equally apply to his later work leading popular-education-style workshops, his homesteading activities, or his political activism.  Newell lives in Cambridge, MA, with his violinist wife, Barbara Englesberg.   They have two adult daughters, and two granddaughters. Website: newellhendricks.wordpress.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newell.hendricks
For all posts in the Upside-Down Art series, please click here.
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D.L. Recommends vol. 2

D.L. Recommends vol. 2. 

Here are some things I recommend:

 

 

 

Busting out the Easter Dress Early

I got Ramona an Easter dress at the thrift store that gets all of it’s clothes donated from Target (I know. I found a way to work the system). Yesterday was nearly 60 degrees, so I had to let her wear it early. And go tromp around in the muddy rivers the snow was making. Because you are only 3 once.

 

Turning 30

It’s really quite nice.

 

Reframing the words to excellent songs in order to make them Toddler Appropriate

I used to sing “Oh Yoko” to my daughter when she was a baby, but I changed “Yoko” to her name, and the chorus became “my love will lead you home”. Tonight we danced around and sang it to each other. It was pretty great. Very Rushmore-esq.

 

Found

This is a book by Micha Boyett. I love the poetic-ness, and how she juxtaposes the mundane aspects of the stay-at-home life with the contemplative life of Benedictine monks. Since I am also a recovering savior complex, spend a lot of time with a certain 3 year old, and also yearn to pray more, this book was excellent. Slow, simple, and it made me realize how much space there already was for contemplation in my life.

 

Watching Cat Vines

Vine is very newfangled to me. But watching 6 second loops of cats being cute/ridiculous/funny is seriously soothing to my soul.

 

Eating Sugar Cereal

Having a bad week? Buy a $3 box of sugar cereal (preferably: Lucky Charms) and pour yourself a tall bowl. Aaaah.

 

Throwing Class Parties

As a teacher of adults, it really is my prerogative when it comes to throwing class parties. Sometimes the complexity of it overwhelms me: perhaps not everyone can afford to bring food, what if nobody shows up, how do we communicate (remember I teach level 0 pre-literacy). But I am leaning into this commitment to celebration thing we have going on in our order. This week we had a class party and it was so smashingly fantastic. I had SO much pasta and so many sambusas. East African food FTW!

 

Sambusa

If you have never had one, you are missing out. Like the Indian Samosa, but filled with ground beef and onions and occasionally peppers. The best East African snack/street food EVER.

 

Brooklyn 99

Oh my gosh this is our new favorite show. So funny, the characters are so endearing, Andy Samberg and his big goofy smile just win you over. It is not a cop show at all. It is a show about a bunch of dorky people doing what they love. This show makes me sad for other shows.

 

Applying/Pitching for Scary Things

Grants. Week-long retreats. An article at a place you have never written. For me and my writing, if I don’t push myself, I tend not to produce. And for every 99 rejections, there seems to be 1 acceptance! Yay!

 

Reading YA during Spring Break

I am officially on spring break. While I have a few deadlines to make (plus, I crammed in a ton of socializing time in like I do), I am determined to make it somewhat feel like a reprieve. Enter the Young Adult literature.. I have gotten all of John Green and Rainbow Rowell’s entire oeuvre’s on hold for me at the library. Remember when life was simple but felt really complicated? When you fell in love with the first boy you kissed? When you were s emotional and sure that nobody felt like you, until the one day you realized how beautiful the world was and everyone in it? Yeah, that’s like my norm. So YA just feels right.

 

Listening to Built to Spill While the Snow Thaws

It just feels right.

 

Americanah

You will be hearing more about this book from me at some point in the near future. Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie writes in a way that is lulling and piercing. Her descriptions of immigrant life in America resonated so deeply with me I was almost embarrassed. Her words on racism in America have not left my mind. It’s not ok, the author is telling us, over and over again. Cruelty is never ok. You don’t get to gloss over that fact, ever.

 

Figuring out your Rule of Life

Pope John Paul the II had one. So did MLK.  So do all the Benedictine  monks. Basically, pick a few spiritual disciplines and incorporate them into your life.  I personally like to crib from Dorothy Day (a personal hero of mine): find the face of Christ in the poor every day, and journal journal journal.

 

Ditching Netflix/Hulu plus for Amazon prime

Guys. Amazon Prime is amazing. Quit your Netflix and your Hulu and instead get free 2 day shipping and access to shows like Veronica MarsPushing DaisiesZach Stone is Gonna Be Famous, and the Pride and Prejudice that has Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Yes. If you divide the cost of Prime over 12 months, it’s like $6 a month or something. Caveat: Amazon is also not the best thing ever. Support local and all that. Make your own instead of consumption. Yeah. But I have ordered a few killer Doctor Who mugs and some organic fair trade coffee at some sweet deals. Just don’t go all crazy!

 

Read Genesis Again

I am in a Bible study with a neighbor and we are going through the Women of the Bible–starting in Genesis. Pretty bleak stuff, ammiright? Except there are so many stories of God hearing/seeing the oppressed. The stories of the Hagars, the Leahs. They just make me want to cry. I am also left with the unshakeable belief that God uses the most crazy miserable mess-ups to bring about his kingdom. I don’t get it at all, but it makes me feel a bit more hopeful about myself.

 

About Time

This movie came out last year and went under my radar. It is delightful–time travel, stiff upper lip British people, Bill Nighy!, that guy who played Bill Weasely . . . don’t be freaked out by the fact that there is a soft-focus Rachel McAdams on the cover. This is not the Notebook. It is very sweet and poignant and witty and just a really great movie (by the same people who brought you Love Actually). There is a phrase on love and death that will never leave me mind. But I won’t tell you. You will have to watch it for yourself.

 

 

 

So that’s what I am recommending these days. Hit me up with whatever you have got!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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translators

I live in a neighborhood where the youth group comes on Spring Break. I see them prayer walking, prayer giggling, prayer flirting up and down my slushy, grimy streets. I hear them, and I am transported back to last summer, when the churches flocked in to the neighborhood parks, put up awnings, cooked a meal, gave a message. People wandered around in T-shirts that said “Bringing Good to the ‘Hood”. I went there a few times with my daughter, happy to eat a free chicken dinner. But I stared at the people running around in their lime green t-shirts, and I was confused. I forgot, for a moment, that I lived in the hood. Thanks for the reminder. I forgot, for a moment, that there was no good here until you showed up with your microphones and chicken dinners and matchy-matchy shirts. Thank you, thank you for bringing it, I shook my head slowly, wiped the sauce off of my daughter’s fingers.  I felt sorry for the do-gooders who I am now willing to assign positive, if not ill-advised, intent. I felt bad for them, not being as enlightened and humble and missional as I was. I ate my free chicken dinner, on the dime of the large church a few blocks and a million years away from what goes on in this park, and I felt smug.

I had lived here one year. I too, in my heart of hearts, believed that I was bringing good to the hood. I had just learned to not put it on a t-shirt anymore.

//

I am an outsider wherever I go. I on-purpose moved into a neighborhood, a job, a life, and relationships with people who are so very different from me. It takes so much work, every day, just to navigate the perils of these differences. To try and understand better. To try and learn better. To try and advocate in a way that is actually needed. To will myself small, like the little seeds Jesus was so fond of.

But inside there are dreams of large trees, big enough to create safe havens for the birds of the air. I am writing, all day every day, in my head. The disasters, the miracles. The despair, the joy. The abuses, the sadness, the mental illness, the addictions, the disabilities; the perseverance, the community, the colors, the embraces. The erasers taped on to the end of a pencil. A box of free bananas in the hallway. The snow slowly melting to reveal a graveyard of vodka bottles, gray and blue and brown. The youth group roaming outside of my window, hungry and scared for that mysterious, inscrutable kingdom to come. I don’t even know it until I write it all down: I love them. I love everything about my life, even as it pulls me down, forces me to see inside myself in ways I never wished for. And that too, I must write about.

Every day I surround myself with people who are so different from me. Every day I write. There are so many ways I could do it better, so many fears of not doing it right. Like translating poetry, as my friend J.R. says. We have a choice: it is too much work, too perilous, too fraught with complications and you leave it be; or, you pick up your courage and try your darndest to translate to the very best of your ability. Either way, your heart comes out a little bit more broken.

One of my writer friends was talking to me about her own feelings on the subject. She mentioned the War Photographer series we ran here, and how she thought about it often. I just wish, she said, that so many people hadn’t ended in the place of “well, it’s really hard and complicated, so I guess I better not tell any stories”. Her voice is ringing in my ear, echoing what I don’t say often enough, but I believe right to my very core: there are so many stories waiting to be told, and they need to be told well.

I am in the thick of it; my life is a fine balance between learning and practice. Of getting high and mighty and then getting the smugness kicked out of you by life. Of blundering, learning, making mistakes, asking for forgiveness, picking yourself up and trying again. Of becoming paralyzed by our privilege and choices and systems, and forging on to be the miserable, lonely, messed-up agents of reconciliation that we really are.

I still have dreams of large trees, of beautiful safe places for the sparrows of our world. This, of course, is one dream in the kingdom of God. But for me, these types of dreams are so tied to productivity, problem-solving, tangible proof that I am bringing good, one small step away from a lime green t-shirt of my own. And the reality, the way I have seen the kingdom at work in my life is like seeds spilled and scattered on the ground. I am the farmer, oblivious and bumbling, not knowing how in the world these seeds sprout and grow. But they do, the seeds of Christ and his love for his world, they are sprouting all around. Some look like weeds to me, some look like fruit, they all look like people I know and love and am in relationship with. I always thought I would be ready for the harvest, a sickle in my hand, content to reap and be proud of all the good work I had done.

And instead I am being told to sit tight, listen hard, and watch the kingdom grow.  Be prepared to have your heart broken over and over again. Pray for the day when you are no longer needed, and until then translate those poems you are privileged enough to see, the ones that often enough look scattered, lonely, decayed and forgotten.

And stick around long enough to see the good that grows up and out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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.

 

 

 

 

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Upside Down Art: Anita’s Appalachian Art

This simple post is about one of the oldest forms of material story-telling: quilt making. I love thinking about the history of quilts, and how Yvette brings to mind that there is still a desperate need to help keep people warm in many parts of the country. Quilts are practical, and a form of expression–which is pretty great if you think about it. In many ways, quilting reminds me of hardcore DIY culture–and I am starting to think I might like to start myself . . .

 

 

 

Upside-Down Art: Anita’s Appalachian Art

by Yvette Autin Warren

 

So much of what we call “art” is simply the ways in which others tell their stories. Artworks are often celebrations of the lives of everyday individuals. These celebrations can be created in many differing forms. In Appalachia, a common way to memorialize special moments, beliefs, and memories is with quilting. It was not uncommon, in years gone by, to see quilt frames fastened to the ceilings of family living rooms with pulleys for lifting them out of the way when the room was needed for other purposes.

 

Women would sit around the frame, telling stories as they stitched stories from fabrics not large enough to be used for anything other than quilt pieces. Most of these masterpieces were actually used to keep kids and other family members from freezing. In many areas of Appalachia, quilting has evolved into an elaborate art form.  At the home of Anita, in Coker Creek, Tennessee, this evolution is amazingly advanced.

Anita seems to quilt like other people breathe, both as gifts for her family and for many whom she will never meet. She is involved in an effort to soothe children who are experiencing trauma with the gift of the handiwork of many women who quietly care. In the tiny artists’ hamlet of Coker Creek, Tennessee, hundreds of quilts are made by dozens of women working separately and together on artistic Quilts For Kids, which happens to be the name of their organization that spearheads the group’s efforts. For more information on the group, you can click here.

 

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©2014 Yvette Autin Warren

 

Yvette Autin Warren is the author of 3 books, available here. Her other writings can be found on Patheos here or TnMtnHome.blogspot.comOneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com, and http://worldpulse.com/user/13827/journal.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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