Category Archives: Spending

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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santa is not sustainable

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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my year in books

I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because the world is in desperate need of originality.*

 

image from Pinterest

image from Pinterest

i have been thinking about gifts lately, and about what are things i actually like to give and to receive–presents that value us as people. and i have to say the first thing that came to my mind were books.

books, books, beautiful books. i am a reader first and foremost; a teacher and a writer second. books are my bread and butter. when we sold almost everything we had and moved to the MidWest, we took clothes and artwork and mostly books. they are important.

i love to give books to other people, and i love to receive them as well. hanging out with people all day who were denied the pleasures of them their entire lives gives one a unique perspective on reading for pleasure. it’s a privilege, one we need to acknowledge, and a gift that is fruitful to cultivate.

all this to say, i wanted to tell you guys my favorite books that i read this year. this was a difficult, joyous year, and as per usual, i read a lot of books. not so much fiction this year; a bit more about the charismatic stuff and food/lifestyle books. here are the ones i couldn’t get out of my head. instead of buying crap that no one needs, let’s all buy books for each other this year! we can scrounge for them at thrift stores, give one to our favorite missionaries or teachers or friends or sisters (or, even buy one for yourself). i have not linked to any websites, but i encourage you to buy local (or use indiebound). anyways, here they are in no particular order:

 

spiritual books

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the life you save may be your own

by paul elie

This is one that will take me a while to get through. Paul Elie weaves together the extensive biographies of notable Catholics: Flannery O’Conner, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day (my hero!), and Walker Percy. It is described as a pilgrimage following people who “made literature out of their search for God”. Excellent stuff, here.

 

 

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miracle work: a down-to-earth guide for supernatural ministries

by jordan seng

Just keeping it real, people. I read books on miracles, because I am intensely interested in them and our world is in great need of them. This book was nice and pragmatic, and while I don’t agree with all of it, it made me question some of my own malaise and unbelief. I also will never be able to pray for people in the same way (Seng models his own prayer style after Jesus, who basically just spoke the truth about God’s desire for the world into people. None of this hemming and hawing).

 

 

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jesus feminist: an invitation to revisit the bible’s view of women

by sarah bessey

Bessey is a friend of mine, and I love how she takes a topic that is battered about left and right and asks us to sit quietly with it a moment. When she writes that “patriarchy is not God’s dream for the world”, something inside me stirs up. You will relate to her, you will thrill to her message, you will be surprised at she refuses to to be controversial.

 

 

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when we were on fire: a memoir of consuming faith, tangled love, and starting over

by addie zierman

Addie is also a friend, and this book is unstoppable (named one of publisher weeklies best 5 religious books of the year!). In almost every chapter, I recognized myself in the pages categorizing the weird, parallel world of Christian culture in the 90s and early 2000s. She is a ferocious talent with a keen eye for the sorrow that undergirds all of our desires to be loved by God and by our peers.

 

 

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speaking of jesus: the art of non-evangelism

by carl medearis

This book lifted a weight off of my shoulders. There is no other way to put it. Medearis spells out the ickiness behind our desires for conversion to Christianity, and instead asks the reader to trust that Jesus himself is worth following. I laid down my idol of Western Christianity a long time ago, but I still felt compelled to save people personally. I am still working through the implications of actually believing the power of the Bible and the Spirit, but it is pretty life-changing stuff.

 

 

literary books

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swimming studies

by leanne shapton

Shapton is one of my favorite designers of book covers, which led me to read her own strange little “memoir”. It is a beautiful, non-traditional look at her years of almost-professional swimming. There is no way to explain the book, but it thrilled me in how it broke out of so many boxes. There is not a boring page in this book, and I am not even remotely interested in swimming.

 

 

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this is running for your life

essays by michelle orange

Orange is a new discovery to me this year. She writes complicated, smart, funny essays on a variety of subjects. If you don’t want to buy the book, just google one of her essays. You will be hooked (especially on the one about Ethan Hawke’s face).

 

 

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blue nights

by joan didion

I read this book on an airplane as I flew away from my daughter. I do not recommend this. Didion writes an almost excruciating book on the death of her daughter, her friends, and her own impending old age and ill health. It is beautiful writing, but not easy reading. There is one passage in particular which made me so aware of how privilege does not protect one from harm; Didion herself is a testimony to this.

 

 

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high rise stories: voices from chicago public housing

compiled and edited by audrey petty

True confessions: I have only read a bit of this one. I am saving it for when I complete my manuscript, which hopefully should be done soon (because I want to finish this book!). The Voice of the Witness series out of McSweeney’s is one of my all-time favorite non-profits, publishing works of narrative that will crush your heart and make you sit up straighter. This one is dear to my heart as it focuses on densely populated low-income high rises in the urban MidWest. By letting the residents speak for themselves, we learn so much.

 

 

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rooms in the house of stone

by michael dorris

This was one of those happy accidents, a library book plucked off the shelf for no reason. A few days later and I am in a coffee shop, bawling my eyes out at the grace and severity in the short essays Dorris wrote during the great famine in Zimbabwe. This book will make you stop your life for a few hours and consider what the opposite could be. It is intensely powerful writing, coming from a very complicated man. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

 

 

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refugee hotel

by juliet linderman (essays) and gabriele stabile (photographers)

I got this for my husband’s birthday, but I really wanted it for myself. This is another Voice of the Witness book which details the lives of refugees when they first arrive in America. It is gorgeous and a visual way to engage with the realities that our refugee brothers and sisters face when they come to America.

 

 

fiction

 

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where’d you go, bernadette

by maria semple

Hands down my favorite fiction book of the year (but honestly, I didn’t read very much this year). So funny and witty and charming and fast-paced and very very poignant. I would recommend this to anyone. Anyone! (Read my longer review here).

 

 

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north and south

by elizabeth gaskell

This is one of those I-Have-Read-Jane-Austen-A-Thousand-Times-And-I-Need-Something-More books. I liked it pretty well. Some of the themes surrounding commerce and wealth inequality and factory conditions were fascinating to me. But in the end, it is a period romance. You have been forewarned.

 

 

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the complete stories

by flannery o conner

All the hype is true. All hail Flannery, the lover of grotesque darlings, the one who sees beauty in all of the tragedy. This is perfect reading when your life is both very beautiful and very very hard.

 

 

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the fault in our stars

by john green

My foray into YA fiction for the year (although I did re-read books 6 and 7 of Harry Potter as well–never gets old!) and I did like it. It was very cathartic. It was fun. It was exceptionally sad. It made me have hope for some teenagers. If you hate it when people die in books, then don’t read this one.

 

food/lifestyle books

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depletion and abundance: life on the new home front

by sharon astyk

I don’t believe a book has impacted me like this in a long time. Astyk has gotten me to reconsider nearly every facet of my life that I felt like I couldn’t change: energy consumption, food choices, buying local, making do. And she made me reconsider it because this lady loves her life, and she loves the lives of her poor brothers and sisters. I believe in peak oil, I believe a day is coming where everyone will be forced to change their habits. But I believe our lives can be free from the bondage of materialism, and they we can be more joyous for it too–and that this is a freedom offered to everyone, regardless of status or money. I am doing a terrible job of describing it. Just read it, ok?

 

 

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how to cook a wolf

by m.m.k. fischer

Fischer is one hell of a lady. Cooking food in war time, man. This book is radical and easy to read and somehow very, very encouraging.  I couldn’t help but think about the solidarity Fischer would have had with the millions of people the world over who struggle with filling their bellies with food every night. It will make you think, and you won’t ever throw out your scraps again.

 

 

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an everlasting meal: cooking with economy and grace

by tamar adler

Adler is a bit like the kinfolk’d-up version of Fischer. But this girl can write about food, and inspired me to cook beans at least once a week (the way she writes about them makes them seem precious and beautiful and luxurious). I am not much of a cook, but I was changed by the way Adler described how good it is to eat well for not much money at all. So many books on food reek of privilege, but this one did not. It was accessible, in all the right ways.

 

 

the husband’s picks

(Note: he is a much slower and much more thoughtful reader than I am. Mostly he reads psychology books, but he picked out two for this here blog).

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disunity in christ: uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart

by christina cleveland

I am going to read this when the husband is done, but he can’t stop talking about this one. Christina’s blog is so smart and so well written, I can’t wait for myriads of people to hear her clear voice on reconciliation.

 

 

 

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simply jesus

by n.t. wright

I am sort of in a I-Have-Read-Enough-Theology-Books-By-White-Dudes-To-Last-Me-Awhile phase, but my husband assures me this is an excellent book. He especially liked the chapters on what the ascension and resurrection actually mean. I head him talk about Jesus at a conference recently and had mad respect for his message. For the theology nerd in your life, it seems like you can’t go wrong with N.T. these days.

 

 

 

So, that’s it. I read a lot more, but these are the cream of the crop. 

I would love to hear what your favorite books of the last year. Share, please! 

 

 

*this post is sponsored by Grammerly, (which is excellent for ESL teachers, BTW). all the books and opinions and content are my own, thank you very much.

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Downward Mobility Interview: Suburban Edition

My friend Stina (hey, remember her? She blew up the internets with her “I’m a Downward Mobility Dropout” post) asked me if she could interview some friends of hers. I said yes, of course (and I would love to have a few more interviews like it!). Matthew and Diana’s story is very encouraging to me, and I resonated with so much of what they had to say about joy, community, and sustainability (and bedbugs and expensive rent). Actually, it made me miss our apartment complex in Portland something fierce (currently, we live in apartments where there is zero community space and very few families due to the small sizes of the apartments). I just adore these pockets of kingdom people and kingdom communities, which are all over our cities and suburbs. Let’s keep sharing these stories!

 

 

Downward Mobility Interview: Suburban Edition

Interview by Stina KC.

Matthew and Diana Soerens and their daughter Zipporah live at Parkside, a low-income apartment complex in an affluent suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Diana worked as a public high school teacher for seven years and is now working part-time at their church, Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.  Matthew works as the Field Director for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a national coalition of faith-based groups seeking to encourage changes to U.S. immigration policy consistent with biblical values.  He’s also the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009).  Matt and Diana met while both students at Wheaton College, and they held their wedding reception in the courtyard of their apartment complex in 2011.

Stina KC recently interviewed Matthew and Diana about their downward mobility journey in Glen Ellyn, a wealthy suburb where the median household income is nearly $90,000. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Q: Tell me about your experience with downward mobility. Why did you decide to move into Parkside?

Diana: I spent six months in a rural village in Mexico and I loved the simplicity of that lifestyle. I took a lot of joy in doing things slowly and in the relationship with other women in the village. I wanted to go back overseas after college but the doors were shut firmly so I started getting involved with World Relief, a local refugee resettlement agency. Our church was helping a refugee family and they were resettled in the Parkside neighborhood. I started coming to Parkside all the time and hanging out with Matt because he lived here. His roommate Jonathan had a vision for an intentional community and they recruited me to move into the neighborhood. Then I married Matt! And we never left.

Parkside reminded me about everything that I loved about living overseas without having to leave the suburbs. I loved the neighborhood, I loved that there were people outside all the time, and I loved the hospitality of the neighbors. It was the culture I was searching for, the place I was looking for. It was home.

Matthew: That’s an important point for us. We don’t live here because we want to make some kind of virtuous sacrifice. It’s not that we are focused on living in the most low-income place; we just love living here. If we are going to live in the suburbs of Chicago, this is where we want to live. The culture here is different from the suburbs, it’s much more community oriented and this is where we want to raise our daughter.

My story is somewhat similar to Diana’s. I had come back recently from living overseas for six months and I was living in this really nice house in Wheaton but it was killing my soul. I have been here for a long time, over seven years now.

 

Q: What is the structure to your community? Is it just the two of you or are there others living at Parkside who are there for the same reasons?

Diana: We do Bible studies with the middle school kids. We do basic discipleship with them. I’ve been meeting with the same group of girls for over two years now. It has been great to see how they’ve grown.

Matthew: We have a community meal on Monday nights, which is mostly our intentional community. There are about ten people in our community who live at Parkside who, like us, went to Wheaton College. We have a rotating meal, which is an opportunity to host outsiders and entertain guests. We also have a community prayer time Monday through Thursday evenings.

 

Q: Why do you continue to choose to live at Parkside?

Diana: It would be easy to live in the suburbs and never leave my Christian bubble. I could go to moms group at church and just hang out with my church friends. One reason is to interact with a diverse population and get out of the white Christian bubble.

Only one in ten immigrants have ever been welcomed into the home of an American and I find that really sad. I want to change the way immigrants are received into this country. Being hospitable to our neighbors and receiving their hospitality in return is a big value I have.

Matthew: This is important for me because my job is focused on immigration policy issues. I fly in and out of this community way more than anybody else who lives here; I’m not a typical resident. I work with pastors and politicians, so it’s important when I get home that I am still interacting with immigrants on a relational level.

 

Q: What do you does “downward mobility” mean to you?

Matthew: We aren’t downwardly mobile as much as not upwardly mobile. We haven’t consistently downsized; we just moved into a bigger apartment. But we have stayed in the same apartment complex and don’t plan on leaving. Mobility implies a direction and I don’t think we are systematically becoming less affluent or consumeristic, but hopefully we are capping where we’ve reached.

 

Q: How has your experience with downward mobility changed since becoming parents?

Diana: I have a lot more street cred as a mom with the other moms at Parkside. It opens up a lot more doors for relationships. I love staying at home with my baby here. I think I would go crazy if I lived in a big house; I would die of loneliness. One great thing about living in this neighborhood is that I don’t have to be lonely if I don’t want to be. There are always neighbors to talk to, I can go and knock on somebody’s door, there are kids playing outside all the time.

The most difficult thing is bedbugs. They are horrible and drive you crazy. They have bitten my five-month-old daughter. The level of infestation in the complex means we’re never going to completely get rid of them.

Matthew: It’s difficult because the best way to get prevent getting more bedbugs is to not to let any of our neighbors into our apartment, which defeats the purpose of living here. We have a bunch of kids in here twice a week and after they leave we say a prayer over the space to try and keep the bedbugs away.

Besides the bedbugs I feel like we are doing downward mobility lite, or at least incarnational living lite.  We’re in the suburbs. We don’t have a lot of crime. We don’t live in a food desert; we can walk to four different grocery stores. We have friends who are living in desperate urban areas where there are shootings and crime. We don’t have to worry about getting shot.

Diana: Also, rent is expensive here. I struggle because we could be paying this much for a mortgage and building equity. That responsible financial thinking starts: “Maybe we should buy a house because we’re in that stage of life.”

 

Q: What did your friends and families think when you decided to live at Parkside? Did you get pushback?

Diana: Yes, from my parents. They were scandalized by how much we were paying for rent that goes toward a crummy apartment. And they said, “You’re going to walk out to your car and find it on cement blocks! They’re going to steal your tires!”

And the truth is there is no real crime at Parkside. It has had its fair share of issues in the past, like gangs and drugs and prostitution, but the neighborhood has cleaned up since World Relief has been resettling refugee families here. Our neighborhood is really vibrant and safe and family friendly.

 

Q: Do you have any words of encouragement/resources/advice for people considering downward mobility in a suburban context?

Matthew: There is cool downward mobility, and then there is halfway downward mobility where you live within walking distance of a Starbucks. No matter where you are, in a rural context or suburban context or urban context, there are communities like the one we live in. There are almost certainly people in your neighborhood who are living at or beneath the poverty line.

Diana: I know it sounds cliché, but we receive more from our neighbors than we ever give. Even if you don’t live in a diverse or under resourced area, get to know your neighbors and build a community.

Matthew: I don’t want people to feel guilty, like they have to live in a neighborhood like ours, because we are living here because we want to. I think if more people tried it they would discover that they really love it. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a better way to live, but for us it’s a better way to live.

 

 

Thank you, Matthew and Diana, for sharing your story. Feel free to ask more questions in the comments!

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Living More With Less

I bought boots at Target yesterday.

I haven’t bought clothes of any kind there for about 6 years now. I don’t even let my glance fall on the clearance racks, lest I be tempted beyond what I can bear (the hands that made those dirt-cheap goods most certainly were not paid well, you can be sure). But it’s supposed to snow this afternoon, and the snow boots I bought at the Salvation Army last year fell apart, literally, in my hands. Every day off we have we have been scouring the thrift stores, using precious time and gas to try and get ready for winter. But everybody else needs boots too, so there never was any to be found.

I researched ethical, sweatshop free boots and found some. Gorgeous. Perfect for me: I walk 1 mile to work and I need shoes that I can both walk in and then teach standing up in for 3 hours. I found these shoes. They were even a bit hipster! But they were $160, and no doubt worth every penny. I prayed and sweated and heard no clear answer. And then our vacuum died (bought on Craigslist) and the husband has to get a tooth pulled and if we opt to do a replacement that will be $1,200-2,500 (think through that next time popular culture asks you to laugh at people who are missing teeth as being stupid and ignorant and poor. They are missing teeth because state healthcare considers replacing teeth to be vanity).

So. There is no way I can buy these boots, no way my neighbors can, and so I don’t. I see a coupon for 40% off of winter boots at Target, and I go and buy some for $20, and they will keep me warm and dry on my way to teach ESOL. When I buy them, I don’t even feel guilty, except:

I have told everybody that I only shop at thrift stores.

//

I recently checked out a book from the library at my church called Living More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. I’m familiar with the More With Less cookbook (which I adore, to be sure–but more as a book on a theology of food and less as a book of tasty recipes), but I had never read the sequel until now. The original goal of the author was to write a “practical, how-to help to North American Christians who genuinely desire to live more interdependently with the poor.” And she has, although it isn’t as neat and tidy as we would like it to be (in fact, Longacre refuses to use the word “lifestyle” and instead focuses on “life standards”–because she felt “lifestyle” was too easy and flippant a term). She writes in the introduction that “the trouble with simple living is that though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn’t simple”. It demands a complete change of theology and a committment to orientating your life to something much bigger than you and yours.

As I am sure you all have noted, the downward mobility series on this here blog has caused me no small amounts of consternation. Part of the problem is that I lead a rich, full, chaotic life and I rarely have the time to devote to good writing anymore–much less engage well with other writers, readers and thinkers. The other problem is that the conversation leaves out so many people–specifically those who don’t have the luxury of choosing their mobility, and people who have been practitioners for many years but aren’t public about their lifestyles.

Longacre addresses the latter issue directly. As she sought for personal testimonies and stories for her book, she found some intriguing patterns. She writes:

Testifying isn’t easy . . . will people think my ideas foolish? Will they trust my experience? Is my life ever consistent enough that I dare open my mouth publicly?

These are the same feelings expressed by those who wrote (and sometimes refused to write) for this book. Entries began in humble tones, often with some version of “undoubtedly you already have some of these ideas. They may not be usable anyway, but I’ll share them just in case.” Postscripts frequently read, “I know we haven’t arrived” or “I know my living isn’t really consistent”. People everywhere confided that they did have ideas but they were afraid others might find them proud or ridiculous.

When I read that, I sighed aloud in my chair. Here she had summed up so many of my problems with this series in a neat little paragraph, written 6 years before I was born. So, these kinds of issues have been around for a while, and they will certainly be here tomorrow.

Because I do feel proud, and I do feel ridiculous, and I do feel like a failure, almost every day. Writing about these kinds of subjects and asking others to do the same is vulnerable, in all sorts of ways. Many, many people who I would love to hear from stay silent, from these very fears. Longacre later says how many people didn’t want to write because they were afraid of what their family and friends would think–because they often fell short of their ideals. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? We’ve only got the days set before us to do what we are meant to do, and often times we will fail.

//

N.T. Wright shared at the Simply Jesus gathering about how important the interaction in John 21 between Jesus and Peter was.  This is after Peter betrayed Jesus, after he was resurrected. Jesus, playing up on the 3 denials, asks Peter 3 times if he loves him. This anguishes Peter, who replies yes! each time. Then feed my sheep, Jesus says, over and over. Feed my little, precious lambs.

Jesus then goes on to do something strange, predicting Peter’s death. Peter turns around and looks at “the one whom Jesus loves” (probably John, showing off) and says: “what about him? What’s going to happen to him?” And Jesus replies: “what is it to you if he remains until I come? You, follow me!”

N.T. Wright made the point that all of us in ministry at some point will disappoint Jesus, and we will feel our souls crushed as a result. And this passage is so important for us to read, because it shows us that Jesus continues to ask us to follow him. He asks us to stop living in our imperfections, to stop worrying about if the person next to you is following Jesus–and just, follow Him.

I just want to share this with you as a way of extending the conversation here. Lord knows it’s a truth I need to sit with awhile. I love having a few lifestyle choices in the bag that ensure I am following Jesus–like only shopping at thrift stores. It’s a neat thing to say that makes me different from people, possibly even holier. But in reality, in the trenches here, I am finding I don’t have the time, energy, or gas to go thrift shopping. Every purchase has to be carefully weighed out, every vegetable and sock and Christmas present. As I find myself going deeper and deeper into living interdependently with the poor, my easy and neat lifestyle choices no longer hold up as well. I question more, I feel less sure, and at the same time–feel a lot less guilty.

Because that is what it has to be about. It has to be about relationships with those who are at the opposite end of the economic spectrum. And relationships are messy, complicated, life-long affairs. No simple blog post or 10 EZ tips 4 downward mobility here. Just me, and a bunch of other people, plodding along, making mistakes, constantly holding a mirror up to our own faces and asking: are we following Jesus? Are we taking care of his children with our lives?

No doubt about it, we all will fail. We always will. And Jesus will always be there, reminding us that he wants to use us in spite of that.

As I walk through the snow in my boots, you can be sure I will be thinking of all of this. How living simply is not very simple in the least.

But it is rich.

 

 

 

 

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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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art by Banksy

 

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.

 

 

 

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thinking about robbers

We used to live in low-income apartments affectionately known as “Little Somalia”, due to the 17+ Somali Bantu families that lived there. I loved it there, but was also always in a constantly busy season of life: grad school, working two jobs, premature baby land, and everything in between. So I knew all the refugees and non-native speakers in the building(s), due to the English classes in the community room, but had a hard time meeting anyone else.

There was a family that moved into our same apartment complex, who we eventually became good friends with. Their clothes, eating habits, and parenting styles were all revelations to me: they were people who were interested in life, with a gentle, hippie aesthetic.

Their apartment was the kind of place where something was always cooking, something was always being created (cheese, or kombucha, or pizza dough). The radio was often on, and their small apartment was cozy with books, toys, and plants growing in pots all over. They loved people, were interested in them, and they seemed to view life as a grand experiment in caring for others.

One time my neighbor, Leah, told me excitedly about a new way they had found to cook beans. “You just take a pot of water, put some beans in it, and just heat it up to a boil on the stove. Then, put a lid on the pot and wrap it with towels. Put that in a suitcase, and close it for the next 10 hours. When you open it again, the beans will be cooked! All without using hardly any energy!” As she described this method to me, she just looked so happy. And I thought: I want to be like her. Their curiosity was contagious. I started thinking that I could maybe venture out into some new territory of my own.

Some days it was hard enough just to get through life, much less think through the implications of the clothes I was wearing, the food I was eating, all the minutia of purchases that we must fight against every day as people in the land of credit. People were so great and so broken, and that was basically taking up most of my time. How could I even begin to turn my eyes to the systems that were over all of us?

 

 

In my current organization, we talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan. How there is always a need for someone to get down and help: find food, shelter, water, medical care, a roof over their heads. And this type of ministry is so good and needed, especially with the most vulnerable. But there comes a point, after you have helped your 6th, 7th, and 8th person, where you start asking questions about the systems that create such bruised and battered souls. You start thinking about the robbers.

 

 

Thinking about the current systems of food and material goods in the U.S. (and beyond) is not fun. It does not have the benefit of us meeting face to face with someone, and we have to think large. But the more I research, the worse it gets. The more like cannibals we all seem, feasting off the sweat, tears, and even blood of people far away from our eyes. Even as we learn about the levels of atrocities that people experience so we can consume more, we are slow to change our living habits. For myself, I know it is directly tied to a feeling of helplessness. How can I ever know enough, make a difference, live in a way that is good and holy? It all seems like too much, so I am tempted to stop before I even start.

One thing that has helped me on my own journey towards ethical living has been a renewed focus on simplicity. And the rewards of this type of lifestyle are great–less clutter, a sense of satisfaction at making do with what you have, vast of amounts of creativity being unleashed–but there is always room for improvement in this area of my life. Sometimes I get tired. Sometimes I want to buy something new. Sometimes I justify. I have been known, on more than one occasion, to eat beans and rice and scrimp and save in order to buy the happy free-range chicken at the co-op, only to have a major emotional meltdown the following day and order something off the “value” menu at Wendy’s. Real talk. It happens.

I know we are all tired of doomsday prophets preaching to us about global warming, sex trafficking, child laborers, human rights abuses, etc. Even the good samaritans get tired of the dire warnings, after a while. So what makes a lifestyle choice stick? After watching and observing and hanging out with a bunch of cool people who are working through all of these sorts of questions, I have come to this conclusion: I think it must be joy.

You will be hearing more from Leah later on this week, and her family continues to move farther along the continuum of exploring how creative life in the kingdom can be. I don’t think she realizes how much her family modeled to us the joys of living well with less. We all need people like this in our lives, don’t we? People who point us towards the great satisfaction that comes in loving our neighbors next door, and those around the world as well. I am excited to share some of these stories with you, as they have helped me tremendously in my life.

One final note: a question has been brought up–is everyone supposed to pursue downward mobility? Don’t we have hope for the poor, that they could move up on the continuum? This is a very real question that needs a good and nuanced answer. But the short of it is this: the world cannot sustain every single person living like we in the west do. It just can’t. So we have some real choices to make, don’t we? We can’t simply pretend to look away at the inequalities. We can advocate and purchase mindfully, we can pursue justice for the poor in order to see them fed and clothed and sheltered. And we can also confront the robbers in our lives, the systems that whisper the great lie that happiness can be bought, that comfort is our main goal, that the suffering of the people underwriting our lifestyle doesn’t matter. It’s time to look the robbers square in the eye and say: we aren’t buying it anymore.

What have been your resources for discovering the realities of our economic/food systems? Just the other day I read a devastating essay on the conditions of people who more likely than not grew the tomato that is sitting in your fridge.  What has awakened you to the robbers in our own society? What have resources for pursuing simplicity with joy? Let’s share some resources here. We are all on this journey together, aren’t we?

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

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Low, low prices

I went with my friend the other day to Costco, stepped into the air-conditioned warehouse and immediately sighed with relief. Everything was so familiar: the plethora of bulk goods, the queues of old people lining up for samples, the lack of odors and the extra-wide aisles. It had been months since I had been in a Costco, since I had given up my membership when we moved across the country. But even though I was in a new year and in a new state, everything about this place was the same. It didn’t change, and this filled me with such a sense of security and nostalgia that I could have almost cried.

I wandered around the aisles with my friend, idly checking prices and snapping up each free sample of a frozen pizza bagel or Habanero pepper jelly on artisanal crackers. I looked at the table full of best-seller books, the racks of sensible summer jackets and one-piece bathing suits, the patio furniture and fresh Alaskan crab. I had no need to buy any of it, of course, but it was a pleasure just to look. In Portland, I received a membership through my dad, but hardly ever used it. Bulk goods are wasted on the young, apparently, although I was addicted to the $1.50 polish dogs.

My friend made her few purchases, and we drove the 15 miles back to our apartment complex. It was only later that a thought started to nag at me. Why was wandering around Costco so pleasurable for me? What sort of nostalgia did it create? Why did it feel so restful, like a respite from my rather intense, wonderful life? It felt like a world to itself in there, the cool gray cement absorbing the anxieties of the day as the pleasant middle class bought enough to feed their own small armies for the month. There was a pervading sense of life being on the up and up, like there would always be room for impulse buys like craft beers, prefabricated tree houses, and hummus party platters.

None of this is inherently wrong, of course. But for me, it is increasingly becoming not the norm. At the grocery store within walking distance from my apartment, I routinely have panic attacks. Fights are a commonplace occurrence. Long lines are a given. Somebody is always out of food stamps, has to decide right then and there whether to take home the chips or the apples, then counts out their pennies to the cashier painstakingly slow. It is chaotic, it is necessary, it is not very fun.

And so, for a brief moment, I longingly thought of signing up for a membership at Costco. Even though it was far, even though I drive a car perhaps twice a week, even as I knew there was very little I was tempted to purchase there–I still wanted in. The cheap part of me struggled, however–the prices were reasonable, but not seemingly good enough to warrant why I should have to pay money to shop there. And then I realized: that is the whole point. Memberships exclude. That is why they were created–to give special privileges to only a few. Costco is an inherently exclusionary place, but I had never been able to see it before. Costco was created for people with disposable incomes, with cars, with the ability to cart and store large amounts of product. In my neighborhood, this is not the reality for most.

I am sobered by how much I am drawn to these warehouses of surplus and order, of the American dream being sold for a song. But the costs of exclusionary living, no matter how mundane they might appear, are very high. The danger of upward mobility is always about who is excluded, and how cleverly we disguise the inequalities our systems of commerce create. It is designed to justify me only wanting to be around people who shop like me, look like me, eat like me, and live like me. They have created a box around me, and I don’t want to leave.

I am learning to ask myself different questions. To consider why I feel comfortable in some places, and not so much in others. To choose to ask myself: are my choices good for my neighbors? Does everyone have the same level of access that I do? Does this help my community in any real way? If the answers are a resounding no, then I am learning to be creative and look for other options. But the truth is that this doesn’t come naturally.

 

The world is hard, outside of the store. Sometimes, I just want to stay inside forever.

 

 

 

I am going to be writing about downward mobility for a good long while on this blog. I am interested in stories of trailer parks, lonely hearts, obedient teenagers and quiet lives. Click here for the introductory post, and then think about submitting your own story. 

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Waiting for Advent

i'm the christmas unicorn-felt ornament.

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.

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what i’m into: december downwardly mobile

hullo.

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

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

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

listening

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

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

watching

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

enter pbs.

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

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

lord, may your kingdom come.

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

reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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