descent.

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“…the society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.  the way of Jesus is radically different. it is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. it is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.” –
henri nouwen

we’re working on the final cover for down we go and in the process of looking for images that portray the downward descent, the editor made an interesting discovery–an overwhelming amount of the images point toward ascent, not descent.

this revelation is not big or exciting but it is telling.  the world (and i’d add, often “the church”) cries out for security, bigger, better, stronger, faster, more-put-together, upward mobility, and rising up whatever ladder we happen to be climbing.

no one wants to be on the losing team.  we want to be on the winning one.

the wildest part about church culture is that it has become the opposite of the kind of life Jesus points us to.  he says that to find our lives, we have to lose them.  that the first will be last and the last will be first.  that the losers are actually the winners.  that the messy, complicated ways of love win over the technicalities of the law.

i think one of the reasons the church has gotten so messed up is because it has replicated this idea of offering people what they want instead of what they really needwe want ascent, but we need descent.

the “prosperity gospel” is one of the fastest growing messages in third world countries, growing by leaps and bounds because it taps into the idea that with enough spiritual belief & effort, we can somehow make it to the top of the heap (or at least give a lot of our money to the person at the top of the heap who will remind us how good, faithful, and trusting-in-God we are).  i also don’t think that people flock by the thousands into mega-churches to hear a downer message about giving up our life of comforts and the faith that goes with that for a wild, unprotected, unbound, poor one.    we go to hear an inspirational message that strikes a chord in our hearts but lets us stay safe from the muck & mire of “those people”.

downward mobility is not popular.

the tug “up” is so strong. i feel it all of the time.   trying to find ways to make money, to work in the trenches in poverty and pain but somehow feel like a bigger paycheck is supposed to be tied to it.  wanting security.  vying for “success”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.  finding the perfect formula that will make everything click perfectly into place and provide a smoother road.

these are all things i often “want”.

but what i really “need” is to be deeply known and to deeply know others.  to be loved and to love others.  to use the short time i have here on this earth to intersect with real people with real problems in need of real hope.  to use what i have on behalf of others.  to read the gospels over and over again and remember that Jesus’ called us to the weirdest, wildest, doesn’t-make-sense-in-the-world’s-eyes kind of living,  to let go of trying to move up & embrace that the life Jesus was talking about is on the journey down.

yeah, my hope is over time the church will be more brave, be willing to look like losers, and try to cultivate ways to give people what we really need instead of wasting time, energy, and lots and lots of resource on what we think we want….

safe, predictable, comfortable, easy, smooth, secure.  those were never words that Jesus promised. so why oh why is that so deeply engrained in me as the goal somehow?

hard, challenging, bumpy, scary, risky, weird, crazy, wild, unpredictable, against-the-grain.  these are all elements of the downward descent and part of Kingdom living. so are surprising moments of grace, love, healing, beauty, and goodness in the midst of this, which would never be seen if we never took the road down, Kingdom style.

God, show us more and more what downward mobility really means….

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

13 Comments

  • After almost 60 years of believing that upward was the way 2 go, I can’t even imagine living life any other way than downward. I am not quite sure why, but there is a certain beauty living down in the trenches. Ugly, broken & messy, but oh so beautiful.

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  • downward mobility as Nouwen calls it is tough, I find that 4 weeks into this process, I fight it tooth and nail but just last week I had my first breakthrough/surrender into whatever God has for my beautiful family and I. Thank you Kbar. Still owe you some info, working on it. Trig

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  • It’s why we need Lent and Good Friday–the incarnation is down before it is up. Going down is making a start.

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  • I have been strongly tempted lately to start the ascent again, especially in regard to material goods. That strong bias toward consumerism that I have as an American is pulling me towards places I don’t want to go. And yes, the prosperity message is thriving in my poor city, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Almost daily I pass a sign that advertises a school that teaches prosperity by the Word. Ewwwww.

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  • Everybody loves more money, more stuff, a big show, a giant cathedral with ten thousand people. Feel the buzz. Feel the excitement. Feel the energy.

    We tried it twice. Didn’t like it. No one knows anyone. It’s a big performance. Then everyone goes home and gets back to real life. Oh yeah, there were lots of people, but we couldn’t find Jesus.

    Then we walked the streets, talked to the hurting people there, some literally across the street from the churches full of happy, clappy people. Hey, we found Jesus out in the street. We found him as we sat with a dying friend. We found him at a gay party. We found him at the homeless shelter. We found him in our home at our New Year’s Eve party as our neighbors got to know each other. We found him just last night walking with us as we delivered some extra chocolate stuff to a lonely widow and to an even lonelier widower.

    We found him a few weekends ago in our garage, in our closets, in our attic & at Home Depot as we gathered blankets, coats, pants, sweaters, plastic sheeting , socks & shoes (lots and lots of shoes), laundered them and delivered them to our homeless friends who were facing two cold nights outdoors in freezing rain and sleet. Our Sunday morning worship service? – I bent over the deep sink in a cold garage scrubbing shoes. I am certain I’ve never participated in better worship. I am certain Jesus was there, and at the same moment was with the cold, the hungry & the hurting.

    Lord, teach me today how to use my body, my time and my stuff to serve you and the people you love. Remind me that it’s not all about me.

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  • Wow. This one is hard. My history – the childhood voices – hear this message and say to me, “See? What are you doing thinking you should want anything? Get on your knees and ask God to forgive you and think about how much better off you are than others.”

    And the truth is, I am better of than many. I am not living on the streets.

    But…deep breathe. Where is the balance? I am unemployed with $40 and not sure where May’s rent is coming from. I have a 20 years old car that needs major repairs that would cost more than it is worth.

    I know that this is not what you meant, Kathy. But man, does this message have triggers for me. I need to look at that, I think.

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  • “the tug ‘up’ is so strong. i feel it all of the time. trying to find ways to make money, to work in the trenches in poverty and pain but somehow feel like a bigger paycheck is supposed to be tied to it. wanting security. vying for “success”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. finding the perfect formula that will make everything click perfectly into place and provide a smoother road.”

    I can really relate to this, Kathy – it is a constant battle to be present and content in circumstances and to not look for a way out (or up). Even as we teach and preach about redefining success, the old measures continue to speak loudly. Thanks for a good reminder that “safe and predictable” is not the goal, particularly when it means compromising being true to the life and ministry of Christ.

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  • Sometimes it is so so important for reminders, in big and small ways, that the descent is worth it. It can relly get so hard and exhausting in the trenches.. I know that I need moments of reflection to step back and realize the point of it all….

    The tug back up is a strong & alluring current… it just seemed so much easier, no question. However, there is absolutely no comparison in terms of purpose and fulfillment..Personally, it really feels like life actually matters down here. Thankful for an amazing model of what can be… 🙂

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  • mike – yep, those are the words i’d use, too–ugly, broken, messy and oh so beautiful.

    dtrigueros – thanks so much for sharing. my heart & prayers are with you guys on this wild, beautiful, scary ride you are on…

    annie – thanks for commenting, i so agree; it’s also so clear why so many churches & people like to get right to “sunday” and forget about friday’s death & saturday’s grief. the rhythm of friday-saturday-sunday living is very underrated & many people like sunday-sunday-sunday. i was like that for a long time, so i can relate & even though in my heart i know friday & saturdays are so important, some other parts of me often want to skip over them, too. i am thankful what lent & holy week draw me back to, i always need the reminders…

    laurie – thanks for sharing & oh, when i was in africa those billboards were everywhere! it was so painful.

    sam – beautiful. love your prayer….

    katherine – dear katherine, thank you so much for your honesty. i am glad you know that’s the last thing i would want it to connect to…it is all so tricky, no clear-cut answers for sure, but i do believe that message that comes with a voice of condemnation can’t be it. i also know it’s easier to talk about it when i’m in my comfy house & my bills are all paid. it also reminds me of something that brene brown said about “comparative suffering” and how easy it is for us to feel shame about our story compared to others in some way and put our circumstances down because they’re “not as bad as others” or “better than it could be” vs. accepting that we all have our own story that we’re living & it looks and feels unique to us. my heart is with you across the mountains in all kinds of ways…

    susan – thanks for sharing. oh yes, those old measures speak loudly, don’t they? i have found over and over again just how easy it is to compare & all the brain damage it causes when really it’s comparing apples & oranges. peace to you in the trenches…would love to catch up one of these days & hear how things are going..

    stacy – thank you for reminding me over and over again that it is worth it..

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