we may look like losers re-dux
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
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.
Kathy Escobar loves people, sees beauty in the ugly, parents 5 kids, co-pastors an eclectic beautiful faith community in North Denver called the refuge, thrives on chaos and blogs regularly at the carnival in my head, where this post was first published in October 2011.
Other bloggers exploring downward mobility in October include:
- 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
- Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Flightplan
- 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