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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23 thoughts on “thinking about robbers

  1. I don’t have much to say other than, as always, thank you. I don’t comment often, but read every word and love to follow your thoughts as you honestly work this all out. Thanks for the consistent challenge to live better.

  2. charityjill says:

    The other day I was driving to a *second* grocery store to buy the “right” kind of chicken and I was so hungry, I thought I might stop at McDonalds. Then I literally smacked my head. I love this piece. I’m glad it “fell out.” 🙂

  3. I echo Rachel… grateful for this honesty… I’ve been wrestling with this so much, Danielle, and love how you put it all down.
    thank you!

  4. becca says:

    So good. Reminds me of nt wrights “building for the kingdom” essay from surprised by hope … doing our small part knowing that nothing we do in Gods kingdom will be in vain (1 car 15:58 I think) – and that ultimately God will make all things new. Babylon will eventually fall – will be found in bed with her or busy in the kingdom economy of justice and love?

    Good stuff and love your honesty. Its hard and none of us have arrived. Definitely not me.

  5. Matt says:

    Two things I appreciate about the way you right, first your honesty. To make a case against the system that allows a “Wendy’s Value Menu” to exist and still using it is a testament to your character. Thank you for letting us see the reality of the difficult of living our downward mobility.
    Second I appreciate the tension. There is a need for hope both in this life and in the life to come. But a hope that is dependent on the injury of others is not congruent with both of these hopes. Thank you for pointing this out. A reminder I need.

  6. Y says:

    Some of the most joyful people I know are those without large incomes, but with a sense of purpose. It is the way we treat those who help us succeed that finally kills their joy. I advocate for justice by paying people what I know is a living wage, without worrying about the minimums that I can get away with paying them. I also advocate for children’s rights by encouraging others to stop procreating until they have excess resources. Birth control is easily accessible. We have no reason to bring children into our care before we can care for ourselves.

  7. Do you know the work of Esther Emery? Her family is currently living in a yurt in idaho, her husband sewed her underwear out of old t-shirts and girl is a prophet if I ever saw one.

  8. Anette says:

    I wrestle with this daily. I am doing the best I can for the season that I am in and just hope that one day I will be doing a better job. Knowing me, though, I will have to battle with pride in living this way, thinking that I am somehow “better” than those who live otherwise. I will need to find a happy medium and remind myself daily that my salvation isn’t based on what grades I get on things like “Downward Mobility”: C-!

    • Oh girl, you know that is my deal too. That is why the” joy” element is so important. Living in the creativity, empathy, and miracles–That is what I need to focus on.

  9. fiona lynne says:

    “So what makes a lifestyle choice stick? … I think it must be joy.”
    Well this line was just a revelation to me! I had never thought of it this way but it suddenly became so clear to me. I’m unlikely to make sustained lifestyle changes out of guilt or duty. But joy? Joy is contagious! Thanks for writing about this struggle so helpfully and openly.

  10. I was thinking about joy yesterday. That verse “for the joy set before Him He endured the cross”. What is that JOY? It must make such a difference. How do we get that? It would be a satisfaction we can’t find in “things”. Enjoyed this post after spending the day considering joy. More joy Lord. Change me.

  11. […] like how this challenges me to live better: Thinking About Robbers, by D.L. […]

  12. Marilyn says:

    I struggle with this. I struggle because during all the years we lived overseas living simply was so much less complicated. I hate that I make living simply complicated. It shouldn’t be! But on the Joy piece – I have a friend who just got her ‘dream’ kitchen a year ago. Two weeks after she got it, she came home and looked at her husband and said “I’m so tired of the way we live. I want us to make a change” – the outcome was downsizing from 2000 square feet to 600 and selling everything they owned pretty much. And when I talked to her – She was so full of joy, so free. She said she had never forgotten what it was like to live in Pakistan during her sophomore and junior years of high school and the impact it made on her. But yeah – it was the joy with which she told her story that has stuck with me. Thanks for this piece.

  13. Meghan Hers says:

    i think i’ve come to the joy conclusion as well, coupled with a desire to be deeply committed to cultivating gratitude on a daily basis. Reading Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts” was a big help-she articulated what had been bumping around my heart for years.

    i get overwhelmed by the robbers each shift that I work at the large, institutionalized shelter for youth. I get overwhelmed by broken systems and lack of funding and the incredible fragility of teenagerhood and its intensity. I also struggle with what the system that I work for is pushing the youth towards; an expensive university education that will likely not land them a job? a better job and a higher paycheque and the dream of consumer happiness? the ideologies underwriting the social work sphere are pervasive, and seem beyond my control.

    What has been encouraging, however, is the solidarity that has come with real relationship with those in my city who were born into situations that have left them marginalized and longing for love. Laughing about something as silly as pop culture, singing along in the car to Taylor Swift at the top of our lungs, and forgetting the incredible socio-economic disparity that has determined our realities.

  14. […] Thinking about Robbers, by D.L.Mayfield. “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.” (This was a sit-up-straighter in my chair moment this week). […]


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