“…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 need. we 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….