Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Upward or Downward?

I spent most of Easter Sunday either on an airplane or waiting for flights at airports—primarily in Houston. While not an ideal way to spend Easter, it did allow a lot of time for reading. The day before I left I received a couple new books in the mail and I am thoroughly enjoying them on this trip. The first is a relatively new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. I have a deep and abiding interest in Bonhoeffer's life and writings, so am looking forward to this latest biography and may write some about this in the future (particularly comparing it to the more well-known but inferior biography by Eric Metaxas.)

However, I am captivated even more at present by the other book I received: Down We Go, by Kathy Escobar. I find that I often deeply resonate with things that Kathy writes on her blog (included in my blog list: the carnival in my head) and when I saw that she had written this book I quickly ordered it. I rarely devour books, but this one has captured me and I completed half of it by the time I arrived in Germany. Kathy challenges us that living a Jesus-centered life will force us to live counter to the dominant trend not only in our culture, but also within most churches. This is not in itself a new teaching and Kathy does not claim it is. But she describes more specifically what it means to “live into the wild ways of Jesus,” as the books subtitle declares. She shares a lot of good thoughts and challenging ideas and I plan to share thoughts and reflections from it over the coming days or weeks.

As I traveled on Sunday I took an occasional break from Kathy's book and browsed the in-flight magazine. If you've ever flown you know what these magazines are like: filled with glossy pictures of exotic locations, high-end hotels and spas and glamorous people. The magazine articles invite you to live in this chic world, tempting you with visions of paradise. Apparently even if you fly in coach class you must have the means or at least the desire to inhabit such a realm. And the truth is, it appeals to the hedonist in me in some ways. I wonder what it would be like to live in such luxury that I could travel anywhere, stay in the nicest hotels and never (apparently) have to worry about money.

The irony of the contrast struck me. On the one hand I had this glossy magazine depicting the world's images of success and leisure. On the other I had a book challenging me to live a downwardly-mobile life, to identify with the marginalized, oppressed and outcast. The contrast couldn't have been much sharper (unless perhaps I'd been reading this magazine while walking through the slums of Haiti). To be fair to Kathy, she isn't necessarily calling everyone to give up their material wealth and move into the slums. But she is calling us to live in a radically different way that forsakes power and control; that rejects the upward climb toward success and security. The downwardly mobile life is precisely the opposite of what the world and, unfortunately, often the church encourage and practice.

I'm tempted to pursue the life depicted in the in-flight magazine. Part of me thinks that this would be such a pleasant way to live. But I wonder whether it truly satisfies. It may be comfortable, secure, even influential, but does it fulfill the soul? Does it stimulate and allow for real relationship? I can't honestly say because I don't live at that level, but I suspect that much of it is empty. As strange as it seems, I'm much more attracted to the downward life Kathy writes about. As she says, “It stinks down here but I really love the smell.” I'm not there yet. I think Kathy herself would say she's still learning and growing in this lifestyle, but she's already ahead of me.

What about you? Are you pursuing upward mobility, not just in the material world but spiritually? Or are you willing to take the downward path and enter into the “wild ways of Jesus?”

Look for more on this in the coming days or weeks and I encourage you to pick up Kathy's book and read it for yourself.

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