On Downward Mobility as a Lifestyle
When I was in college, I pictured myself in my 40’s having a successful thriving career with a hefty paycheck and an administrative assistant, a couple of kids and a fairly cushy life. Somehow I ended up with five kids (ages 19 down to twins who are 11), a job pastoring a little wild faith community making far less than minimum wage, and week-after-week filled with painful but beautiful stories of people on the journey toward change.
It’s not cushy. It’s not comfortable. It’s not what I expected.
But it is so good.
I was not raised in a Christian home, but I always was drawn toward Jesus. Parented by a single mom struggling to take good care of her babies, I remember reading the Bible as a young girl and feeling so connected to Jesus, even though no one had taught me anything about him. Through some twists and turns, I ended up beginning to follow him more actively, but what I initially followed him into was “the church”, not necessarily the places he hung out at in the gospel stories I loved.
The church for me was where I learned about rules, do’s and don’ts, and how to fit in. It also was the place where I learned what I call a “theology of ascent”. To me, ascent worked well with my ideas of upward mobility and success. It was a ladder-like living where each day was a step closer to God and away from pain and struggle. My own life didn’t seem to be so linear, so simple, and the life of many of my friends—when they had a chance to be honest—didn’t seem that way, either. But it seemed like most everyone around me was buying into that idea; so I just followed along.
I felt really guilty that somehow I wasn’t “progressing” fast enough. Even though I was attending a lot of Bible studies, praying harder, and trying harder, I never felt free.
Slowly, I began to see that Jesus doesn’t call us to a life of ascent–where we move further and further away from the things of this world–or toward a life of comfort, predictability or self-protection.
Jesus always moved toward pain, toward the margins, toward those seeking help and hope.
As I began to embrace my own story more honestly, things began to shift. I stopped trying to appear more put-together than I was, more spiritual than I was, more happy than I was. I began to be more honest. It freaked people out. It freaked me out. But it didn’t freak God out. I think Jesus was like “Oh, finally, here’s the real Kathy!”
It was the beginning of a path of descent, where I softened my heart instead of protecting it and began to let God–and others–in to my real life, not my guarded, good-Christian one.
Through this journey I began to learn how Jesus calls us to a life of descent, of downward mobility, where we move down into the trenches of real life, real pain, real hope in our own lives and in the lives of others. Where we begin to see what we couldn’t see before, and our passion for freedom, justice, love, and mercy is ignited.
Way of the Heart
To me, 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.
I think Jesus embodied downward mobility and calls us to the same.
There are so many days when I want to jump off this downward path and scramble back up to the top. When ascent seems like a much better proposition. Where I want to put all my honesty back into Pandora’s box and put the lid back on it. Where I want to talk about the weather instead of pain and fear. But the reality is that I wouldn’t trade this journey down for anything.
It’s the place I keep learning things that need learning. About who I really am. Who God really is. And what it means to love others–and be loved, too.
I am so glad to be part of SheLoves Magazine, and the wonderful team here dedicated to living out our faith and life in all kinds of beautiful, diverse ways. In the months together I’ll be sharing more about a life of downward mobility and what it might look like for us to practice the wild ways of Jesus together–not in theory, but in real life.
- How are you drawn to the idea of downward mobility?
- What scares you about it?
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at www.kathyescobar.com and just released a new book called, Down We Go–Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids.
Image credit: Girl under flowers, by Sharon D. Pruitt