Tuesday, September 1, 2015

that one time they asked me to speak at church

So I spoke at church on Sunday and the video has some skips.  I'm posting a transcript in case you want a little Jesus today. 

My name is Lori Barfield and when I arrived at FBC in 1974 they weren’t handing out life verses.  Still, by the time I was 6 I had adopted one of my own. Probably because spent enough time with Hubert and Josephine Lowe and Jane Tucker that by the time I got to Mrs. Tillman’s class, I had used a crayon to trace over it. John 13:34 begins with “Love one another” and it was years before I understood the rest of the verse. Jesus says “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  

This verse stays with me because it’s the simple verse that I make the most complicated in practicality.  I’m ashamed to admit to you that I have looked for a translation error.  I relied on loophole between behaving lovingly and actually loving.  I have wished that Jesus put a few qualifiers in there to excuse me from loving the most difficult, but he didn’t.  His commandment was clear.  Somewhere along my way I’d become a fan of Tug of War. You know between those of us who worship correctly and vote correctly and those who don’t. My go to’s were condemnation, judgement and isolation.  I really liked that tug of war and I held tightly to my end of the rope. 

But the phrase, “as I have loved you” always stumped me because I knew how well I had been loved by Jesus.  When I was difficult or offensive, Jesus didn’t leave me. When I was at my least loveable, Jesus comforted me. He never isolated me because of a political or theological stance.  He never stood opposite me.  

I wish I could say that I worked really hard and overcame it, but what really happened was I got tired enough of confessing the same thing every week on my pew there, of being at odds with the world and with Jesus’ commandment. I was tired of the tug of war and I finally asked for God’s help.  

And in short order, 2 things happened: 

First, quite suddenly and consistently, I saw only the brokenness among the people I encountered. It looked just like my own brokenness and there was no room for condemnation, all I could feel was compassion.  It was as if a veil were lifted and I saw that THERE HAD NEVER BEEN ANY US AND THEM. THERE WAS ONLY US.  All of us everywhere were connected by brokenness and a desire for the reconciliation brought by Christ’s love.  My brain was so altered by the beauty of it that I told Kenny I thought maybe I was dying. I wasn’t.  It was only the love of Christ that I was seeing and I was so compelled to participate in it that I just dropped the rope.

And that’s exactly when the 2nd thing happened. Since my hands were now empty, I picked up a hammer. Maybe you remember the $5 mission project we did here last year. My family voted that we would combine our $25 for supplies for me to make leather bracelets from old belts and then I hammered words on brass pieces and attached them. We used words like “faith, peace, hope” and  phrases like “it is well with my soul, love never fails, be still.”  The plan was for my Mom to sell them at Wednesday night suppers for a few weeks but what began as a small church project somehow exploded overnight.  Bracelets flew out of my hands as quickly as I could make them. Every cashier, every stranger in a bookstore, every drive thru worker asked, “Where’d you get that? Could you make me one?” It seemed that people were starving for the messages of God's love, for reminders of His presence and even though my hands ached by bedtime, I would wake up every day with new words and fingers tingling and grateful to be a vessel for it. 

An online store, 3 retail locations, and a year and a half later, I’m not sure how many hundreds of bracelets we have sent into the world to friends of friends, strangers, cousins… but regardless of the message they all head to the post office with a prayer for a stranger’s brokenness and reconciliation. When I dropped that rope, I could never have imagined the joy it would be replaced with.

Today I'm wearing the one I wear almost every day LOVE LIFTED ME - because it did. and on this arm, from Kenny’s belt, LOVE NEVER FAILS. Because it doesn't.  But hammered into my heart is Love one another.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's left behind

We discovered a few years ago that there's few things Olivia Barfield loves more than taking something apart to see how it works.  At least for the last several months, she's been taking various cameras found at antique stores apart and seeing how they work - the fascination with the process explains the workshop vibe that the kitchen has taken on.  Anyway, after lots of discussion about how images reach film and then become actual pictures with her daddy and Granddaddy (notice she knew not to ask me because she knew my response would be, "It's MAGIC"), she started taking photos.  We don't do anything the easy way so her first batch was from an old Brownie box camera. She's since discovered her dad's old 1970ish 35mm Nikon. This thing weighs about 14 pounds I think and requires actual FILM which hardly anybody but your granddad uses anymore.

Anyway, you would know that we are not the sort of people who would enjoy taking pictures of flowers and birds.  In the last few months we have discovered the joys of abandoned buildings. I'm not kidding when I use the word joy - she's skipping over broken glass with pure glee on her little bespectacled face while Kenny and I fight off mosquitos and stand guard with the pepper spray.

It's these questions of what gets left behind and what's waiting to take over that's fascinating to all of us. Typically, I drive, Olivia shoots and Kenny serves as bodyguard and film support.  All of my pictures are me following her around and I like that.  It's fun for the whole family.  We are already mapping out a route of ghost towns for Thanksgiving break.

After her film is developed (which requires detailed labeling and sorting on her part), we all sit around and talk about what can be done better, what needs to be done again and where we ought to search next. I can't tell you how many of these places we've driven past for years without notice.  It's wonderful especially to see nature slowly push through and reclaim what we don't value.  I want you to see that these buildings aren't tragic - they are filled with the legacy and livelihoods of families, the hopes of communities at ribbon cutting ceremonies held years ago, and now they are filled with the joy of a girl.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


I think a lot about Howard Finster.  He's not new to my radar - you can't grow up 25 minutes from his Paradise Garden and not be a little in the know about the porch preaching tent revivalist who came to art significantly late in life.  He'd done what a lot of novelties do and moved to the back of my mind until Olivia started enjoying junk so much.  We'd spend afternoons in antique stores looking for just the right tiny bottles or spoons to make a junk chime and her delight in all things rusty shook Howard out of the recesses of my brain.

The reason I think he finally even resurfaced was because I was trying to express that the PRODUCT of something divinely inspired doesn't have to be pretty, but it certainly HAS to come forth if a person believes it's been commanded and usually somehow manages to be recognized as a good thing by other people.  I don't think Howard was crazy when at the age of 59 he saw a face on his finger that told him to paint sacred art. I don't think that at all. I think it would have been crazy if he'd tried to NOT paint sacred art at that point.  The great part was that the bicycle repairman did not consider himself an artist before then.  So if he was "picked" by God for this mission, it's not because he was already doing a great job with artwork. It didn't seem to come about with Howard thinking, "Hey I know I'll paint these weirdo visions out with Sharpie markers and stick stuff people have thrown away all around my yard and tell people God said do it and then I'll be rich."  Cause you know how highly the artist community thinks of Sharpie markers.  I think Howard wanted God's direction, listened for it, and I think his compulsion to stay awake all day in his garden and all night in his studio was about fulfilling that mission.  I don't think the money (he said it would have been a distraction) or the recognition, which he surely at times enjoyed, were reason enough for him to invest that time.  I mean, he couldn't have known then that he'd be celebrated as the South's Andy Warhol.  What's crazy is that he undertook this mission without any idea that he would be considered so highly, that all the fame and money and esteem would be attached to the work - the junky, on plywood or maybe a coffee can, elementary work. I love that all of these thrown away items have been reconfigured into something still wonky, but something divinely inspired. It makes me think of people in the same way - that we can be dirty and broken and still become vessels of something divine.

To visit Paradise Garden is a little sad. There's lots of evidence that the work was forgotten but just as much evidence that it's still celebrated.  Rustier and "scrubbier" (his word) than it was originally, some of it is so faded it's illegible.  What draws me there repeatedly lately is precisely that the work doesn't have to be good - it can all be forgotten really (even though I would hate that). What's lovely is to witness the intensity with which God's messages were strewn all about - almost like the words and images where tumbling over one another to get out of this bicycle repairman's body and onto any surface  (ANY surface).  What can't be forgotten is that this place was one man's constant vigilance to fulfilling what God told him to do.  So the shoes and the typewriter and the mailboxes and stacks of bike wheels can all just go to kudzu and you can decide it's not art or whatever, but it's still this rusty testament to faithfulness and the desire of an old man to articulate his relationship with God.  And I think that's beautiful because I like when some person perceived as a crackpot exposes something lovely about the world and about God - even in spite of his own craziness.

Here are some of the pictures Olivia and I have taken out there recently.  Go take a look anyway - it's only $2 for students.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Power Of Words

I've become more and more convinced that we "speak things into our lives" as the saying goes. What you say, what you read, and eventually what you absorb, becomes a prediction of sorts for your direction.  That's why I love making these cuffs.  Because maybe if you see on your wrist enough times the words, "it is well with my soul" you can make that so when it's not so well with your soul.  Maybe you can move closer to being well with that.  The brass and copper loses it's shine and the words maybe fade, but you know it's there and that's the real magic of it.  It sits in your psyche long enough and moves you closer to being well.  Conversely, the ugly words we use for one another, the ones we let slide and don't call our friends on, those words stick on our skin until we soak them in too. Words are things. Just ask Maya Angelou.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Well you knew this had to happen

Two of the best things in my life these last 3 years have been developing this blog and making so many friends through it and developing this small business making leather cuffs from upcycled belts. I've thought since the beginning of the latter that I'd probably need to combine these two things at some point, BUT REALLY WHO'S GOT TIME TO THINK ABOUT IT BETWEEN THE BRACELETS AND THE WRITING??

So TAHDAH!! I found about 15 minutes and made it happen.

It turns out that every creative endeavor is kind of related here. Let's write, read, and create leather cuffs all at the same time.  I want you to know what I'm up to and where the inspiration for it originates.

If it doesn't work, we'll just go back to not talking. OKay? Okay.

Great to see you and great to be back.