we may look like losers re-dux

* this post is part of october’s synchroblog which is centered on downward mobility, one of my favorite topics!  read what others are saying about upside-down-kingdom-living by clicking on the link list at the end of this post.  i’ll update it as more posts come in.

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my definition of downward mobility:

downward mobility is a matter of the heart, not financial resources. it is losing our lives instead of protecting them. giving away our hearts instead of insulating them. intersecting with pain instead of numbing it out. entering into relationship with people different from us instead of staying comfortably separated. learning instead of teaching. practicing instead of theorizing.

one thing i am struck with, more than ever, is just how counter-to-the-ways-of-the-world-and-so-often-the-church, too, a life of descent really is.  it just isn’t all that popular.  it doesn’t sell.  it is hard.  it is messy.  it is costly.  it’s a sure way to shrink a church.  but in so many ways, as Jesus reminds us of in the beatitudes, we’re somehow blessed living down here. in all kinds of weird, wonderful, unexplainable ways, once we’ve tasted it, nothing else really satisfies.

some of what’s in this post is in the chapter in down we go called “we may look like losers.” it was based on this original blog post with the same title.  this past week as i’ve been reflecting on how much i love my little beautiful refuge community & all i learn through it each and every day, i have been reminded just how easy it would be to miss what’s going on if you only looked on the outside.  honestly, we look like losers.  we really do.

but when it comes to relationships & community & learning-to-live-in-the-trenches-of-real-life-together, oh, there’s a lot of beauty & healing going on!

i sometimes tell friends that i wish i had “church amnesia” so that i could erase most of what i formerly learned about “success,” “ministry,” “leadership” and what makes things “viable.” in my old circles, valid ministry means constantly “growing,” “getting financially stable,” and “building up new, stronger leaders.” when i look at the refuge against this list, i tend to get a little embarrassed. i hear the words of successful Christian leadership books and see how we are
falling short.

slowly but surely i am learning that none of the old rules apply.

downward mobility is nurturing a way of living that is really only about one thing—relationships. and open-handedly & open-heartedly loving people in tangible ways. this requires an incredible amount of time, emotional and spiritual energy, and grace. it means i must completely throw out the old measures of success and look in one direction and one direction only—where God’s spirit is at work in the hearts and lives of the people right in front of me.

it is incredibly easy to miss.

i will never forget the words of someone who was visiting our community on our one-year anniversary dinner over four years ago. we were in sad moods; it was a weird weekend and not as many people came as we expected. we felt embarrassed and said to this guest, “yeah, we’re sorry, there are a lot of people missing tonight…we’re kind of bummed.” that woman replied strongly, “well i’m here.”

i will forever remember the power of those simple words. “i’m here.” it cut directly to the heart of the matter and was exactly what i needed to hear.

part of downward living is about seeing what’s right in front of us. looking at what we do have, not what we don’t. being thankful for the gift of today, instead of longing for tomorrow. noticing the beauty. appreciating what is.

even though we don’t have many of the resources i’d love to have, when i take a step back and look more carefully i see how many are actually right before me. they might not be big, shiny, clear, or exactly what i’m sure i really need.  but they are here, right before me.  small kernels of hope, reminders that God is taking good care of us, and showing us what it means to trust. i see tiny gifts of love, hope, peace and connection in places where there once was none, stalks of beauty seeping up from the ground, and small ways God says, “i’m here, too.”

i think instead of the old questions about numbers & programs & budgets & strategic plans, we can ask ourselves these kinds of questions instead:

• are people around us experiencing change, feeling more loved, and passing on more love to others?
• are they less isolated and more connected?
• are resources being shared between people in organic, natural ways?
• are people’s gifts and talents being drawn out of them and being used to grace and encourage others?
• are voices being used that were once silenced?
• are fear and shame lessening, losing their hold over people’s lives?
• are we seeing the image of God emerge from people in whom it once was buried?

incarnational relationships are nearly impossible to measure, but they seem to align with Jesus’ ways a lot more readily than what my friend and missional pastor, rose madrid-swetman calls the three b’s: budgets, butts, and buildings. these are standard measures of success in most ministries because they are tangible and easy to measure.

the refuge has no money, building, put-togetherness, pat answers, or rising stars. we’re just a hodge-podge of ordinary people trying to be open, caring, and dedicated to learning to be together and spread love, mercy, and justice in whatever small ways we can.

i know so many others in the same boat right now, too, in churches & ministries & neighborhoods & groups & unlikely places–people who are putting relationships above programs and finding how hard it really can be.

this is the force that can change the world, though, and is what i believe Jesus challenged us to become–a groundswell of people who look like losers to the powers that be, but are living out love in all kinds of wild & beautiful shapes and forms instead of just talking about it, and who are becoming the kingdom of God instead of just thinking about it.

yeah, downward living means embracing that we might look like losers.

Jesus looked like a loser, too.

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other bloggers exploring downward mobility this month:

  • Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – Seeking the Next Demotion
  • Glenn Hager at Breathe – Pretty People
  • David Derbyshire at Charismissional – Reaching the Inner City
  • Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – A Beautiful Mess
  • Maria Kettleson Anderson at The Real Journey – Down
  • Leah Sophia at Desert Spirit Fire – Down We Go
  • Hugh Hollowell at Hugh’s Views – Downward
  • Leah Randall at Journal From Jarapeth – “Jacked Up”
  • Alan Knox – How Low Can You Go
  • Anthony Ehrhardt – Slumming It For Jesus
  • Sonja Andrews – Diversion and Distraction
  • Leah Randall (her other voice) – How Low Can We Go

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


    • i am glad you liked them. i am wondering what other ones we should add to the list? i’d love to hear any of your thoughts on that!

      • I think that it is summed up in your questions but the one that is circling in my mind lately is the following:

        are they being loved or are they being used ?

        I think that for individuals (especially those in churches) have a tenancy to use people for their ministry benefit instead of truly loving someone for them being made in the image of God.

        I may flesh that out some today.

  • Those diagnostic questions are wonderfully helpful. They help bring the concept of downward mobility into concrete ideas. Thanks, Kathy!

  • Kathy – tears welled up in my eyes when I read the “I’m here” part. Isn’t that what we all long for – a community, a place, a relationship where our presence matters. I appreciate that you are devoting yourself to creating that kind of space and also the way you take the time to inspire others to do the same.

    • thanks, liz. i was really glad i remembered that story, too, especially this week. it’s so easy to forget what’s right in front of us!

    • thanks, leah. i haven’t had time to read all of the posts yet but really look forward to getting to soon.

  • What wonderful questions. I too was very touched by the visitor who said, “Well, I’m here.” Gosh how easy it is for us to miss what is right under our nose. Sometimes when I’m hugging or simply observing the inner-city children that come to One7 on Thursday nights, I feel some of them are shyly and silently yelling out “Well, I’m here, does anyone see me!” Lord, please help me to help them feel more loved. Kathy this is another wonderful post, and I feel I’m getting to know you through your blog and your book.

    • thanks, betty jo. your comment made me think. i wonder if that’s what we’re all saying somehow, in all of our different ways–“i’m here, does anyone see me?” we all want to be seen. i keep thinking of how the systems so many of us live in do not help with this core thing very well at all. the only way we can do it is if we step out from behind all of the things that protect us from each other and be present. that’s what you are in those moments with the kids–there. even for just that time, your “there” really matters.

  • I just read the online article “All The Lonely People”, reporting on AARP’s landmark survey of loneliness among people 45 and older. According to their calculations, 44 million people in the USA in that age group suffer from chronic loneliness.

    We’re seemingly fascinated with Angelina’s latest hair style, which famous actor spent the night with a woman other than his wife (this was like THE big news here in San Diego a couple of days ago), and who is friending us on Facebook (They’re currently on DWTS!). But we’re lonelier than ever.

    Kathy, you ask great questions. They challenge us to focus on people, not programs, not performances, not status, not getting a bigger pile (of stuff & money). This may shrink “churches” but grows the body of Christ (THE church).

    “Church” so easily degenerates into a performance, “looking-good”, pretending to be something we’re not, complete with paid actors, a stage complete with stage sets, and so on. Church is the Kingdom of God here and now. The least are included. We’re all equals. We’re here to help and love each other (not to use each other).

    I also do not have everything I’d really like to have (I’m not just talking “stuff”), but it helps me depend on others and on God so much more.

    • thanks, sam. can you send me that link at some point? i cut out an article in the denver post a few months ago that addressed this and now i can’t find it! it was about exactly what you’re saying–the epidemic of loneliness. whatever small part we can play in combatting loneliness is worth it & somehow a powerful reflection of the kingdom in the here and now.

  • Oh how this concept has turned my entire world upside down. I think that the really hard part-for me at least, is that in the moment & the day to day trenches of downward mobility, it doesn’t always look pretty. The beginning of my faith journey, both directly and indirectly, taught that “ministry” done well = things wrappped up with a pretty little bow.

    Things have for sure shifted on my planet, to say in the least. I realized (so recently)that I never felt truly wanted and loved before.. As I grow into myself, hopefully the love that I pass on and recieve continues to come from a real place. That is what I am currently learning in incarnational ministry. 🙂

    • damn we miss those bows sometimes, don’t we?? i know i do! but alas, they are pretty elusive down here. along with that magic pill to make the pain go away and the men in black glasses, too. but what is present is a heck of a lot of people who keep showing up & reminding-us-of-the-truth. that we’re not alone. and we are loved. thanks for sharing & being here!

  • For a while I belonged to a “winner” church. It was huge, and — wow — worship felt GOOD! thousands of hands in the air praising God. I LOVE that feeling. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that at all. But I was easily able to walk out after service, get in my car and go home. I’m shy (no, I mean really, really shy) so i liked it that way. I had my circle of friends, and they were all a lot like me… middle class, all the same age, good people.
    Now I belong to a tiny church. We’re struggling in many ways. (And now I saw “we” and not “they,” because I’m involved. It’s hard not to be when I see the need around me.)
    I’ve found an unexpected blessing. Now I pick people out of the (tiny) crowd to say hello to after service, and I don’t have much choice. Some people are — ahem — not exactly what you’d call photogenic. Some talk too much. Some are old, or young, or very poor. I’m forced to get to know the losers. It’s uncomfortable at times, but I’ve discovered that (big shock!) I like these people! How about that? God has the strangest ways of giving us what we need; not always what we want.

    • hey carrie, oh i read this this weekend right after our refuge gathering and i was like “you nailed it on the head” in so many ways. i love what you said: “God has the strangest way of giving us what we need, not always what we want…” it’s so beautiful that you see it & are tasting it, the “unexpected blessing” as you call it. we’re definitely ruined for anything else; once we’ve tasted it, there’s no turning back. thanks so much for sharing, that was really good for my soul!

  • Several years ago I was working at a church. As I was gathering up the “visitor cards” to contact them I was overwhelmed with the thought that each one of those cards represented a person’s life. Something had shifted in their lives to bring them through our doors… maybe a move to a new area… maybe a hurtful church experience… maybe an inner prompting that there might just be a God. I realized how precious each one was to God, and what a treasure they could be to us as a body. They might be partners in service, or someone who was wounded and could teach us in a new way what really loving each other meant. I was so aware that we are really God’s greatest gift to each other… each one of us with our messy, imperfect lives. In the end the big bitchin’ program isn’t going to mean much. But really living in the moment with each other, and having the opportunity to witness the miracles in each other that is the transformed life is worth more than anything. Here’s to pouring our lives out with each other. The older I get, the more people over program always wins. I am so thankful for people who populate my world and for the whole beautiful mess that is the body of Christ at it’s finest.

    • welcome, linda! thank you so much for taking time to say hi and to share, too. so beautiful! i love that imagery, too–these are not just names on a card, these are people’s beautiful, amazing, precious, tender lives. so good.

  • Kathy… I just wanted to mention that I stumbled upon your blog and your church info and what you are doing so resonates with me. I’ve been downwardly mobile for years now and see the value. It’s always great to find other people with a similar heart and vision. Thank you. 🙂


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