Saturday, April 14, 2012

Down We Go: Embracing Downward Mobility

When I began to read Kathy Escobar's book Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus my heart immediately resonated with her message. In fact, I would say it is not her message at all but the message of the Gospel, the call to join Jesus in identifying with the outcast, the marginalized, the powerless and voiceless. It is the call to authentic relationship, to honest and open vulnerability, to giving away power instead of accumulating and clinging to it. I have heard this Gospel message before, but over the years it has easily been lost or buried in the voices around me that proclaim a different Gospel, one that calls us to an upward path. Kathy describes it this way:

“For years, I had been taught that, with enough prayer, scripture and Christian fellowship, I wouldn't struggle. This ascent theology definitely catalyzed my secular longings to 'rise above' and 'make it to that place where I wouldn't have to struggle anymore'. However, I discovered I couldn't reconcile this idea with the realities of my own story and the stories of so many others.”

For an alternative Kathy looked to the Beatitudes as a pattern for the Jesus life. This pattern, she saw, calls us to welcome pain, to honor doubt, to give away power and privilege, to practice equality and remove boundaries rather than raising them, to demonstrate love, mercy, compassion and justice rather than judgment, condemnation, and to live authentic lives rather than trying to present an image that we've got it all together, that life with Jesus is, as the old sacchariny-sweet song said: “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” That's a nice sentiment, but it's not the reality many—maybe most—people live.

The Beatitudes mess with your life, Kathy says. They don't make sense in our world and in our contemporary culture.

“Success, war, vengeance, power and strength are the guiding principles of our day. Humility, gentleness, desperation, spiritual poverty, advocating for justice and being persecuted for standing on the side of the oppressed are sure to make us inconvenienced, challenged and humbled.”

Unfortunately much of the contemporary Church, especially the conservative evangelical American church, has effectively embraced the story of power and success—even in churches that do not advocate a prosperity Gospel. While we often seek to minister “to” the poor, we generally live apart and above them, reaching down to them from our positions of power and privilege. (More on that later as we examine other chapters in the book.) We have excluded people more than we have included, directly or indirectly communicating to people that they cannot really be “in” until they change and become like us. And in some cases, such as with women, we've basically said they can never really be equal because, well, because they don't fit our image of what it means to be a Christian. They really aren't qualified to lead and their stories don't have a place in our churches.

I'm realizing more and more how wrong we are in this. We've emphasized power and control, comfort and security. As a white male from a middle class background I have benefited from and by choice or by passive non-choice have perpetuated this system. I've been wrong to do so and now repent of my choices and failures to act and am seeking to change my course to the downwardly-mobile Jesus life that Kathy has called to my attention. But the change is not easy and it's not an overnight one. Like Kathy I would say “Embedded in my DNA is a desire for clean, neat, tidy, and 'successful'.” Like her I am kicking, screaming and resisting this downward momentum, largely because I'm scared. I'm scared to follow a path that tells me that the things the world (and often the church) say are valuable have no value in the Kingdom of God. I'm scared to encounter the poverty of others, to enter the place of the outcast, the marginalized, the powerless and voiceless. I don't want to surrender my position of power and privilege.

Nonetheless this downwardly-mobile life calls me. It calls me because it leads me to become the person I want to be. I resonate with Kathy's description:

“I want to be a person of humility, willing to give up my safety and comfort for the sake of others. I want to be a person who risks, engaging in the dangerous work of living the Bible instead of only learning about it. I want to be a person of hope, sacrificing my current circumstances to participate in building a better future. I want to be a person of courage, boldly practicing love.”

Kathy herself is much further along on this journey than I am and she acknowledges that still for her it is not always easy. She admits that the view from below is not always beautiful. “Yes,” she says, “sometimes it definitely stinks down here. But I've learned to really love the smell.” I hope that I will learn to as well.

How about you? How do you respond to the invitation to live a downwardly-mobile Jesus life?


  1. Great post Andrew. This is something that I am wanting as well. Very counter-culteral.
    Its a brave journey to embark on.

  2. Thanks Micky. It's good to have companions like you on the journey!