Our culture values “upward mobility” by staying on a secure career path, maintaining the status-quo, appearing to others as an interesting person, succeeding in business, politics, sports, academics, or even spiritual practice.
The way of Jesus is radically different from the spirit of the world. It is the way of downward mobility. It is going to the end of the line, staying behind the sets, choosing the last place. Everything in me wants to move upward. Downward mobility with Jesus goes against my inclinations, against the advice of the world, against the culture I am a part of and much of the church that I am exposed to.
We don’t rise to greatness, we descend into it.
“We must not measure greatness from the mansion down, but from the manger up.” -Rev. Jesse Jackson
We are called to follow Jesus even if that place is “somewhere we would rather not go” John 21:18. Following Jesus outside the comfort zone into what Nouwen calls spiritual displacement. For displacement to be a real discipline, it has to be voluntary. It keeps us in touch with our greatest gifts of remembering gratitude and compassion.
Voluntary displacement unmasks the illusion that we have to make it to the top and offers us a glimpse of a deeper spiritual reality. It puts us in touch with our own suffering and pain, our own woundedness and brokenness, our own limitations and powerlessness.
For Bonhoeffer, it meant returning to his country from the safety of the United States and becoming a prisoner of the Nazis. For Dr. King, it meant leaving the proper place of blacks and leading a movement for civil rights. For Mother Teresa, it meant leaving the convent and starting an Order to care for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. For Martin Luther, it meant leaving the monastery and becoming a reformer. For St. Francis, it meant leaving his place of prominence in society, tearing off his clothes and living in a cave, but later others joined him and a new society was born, the Order of the Franciscans.
For my family it has meant leaving our large church, reputation, salary, friends, family and replanting ourselves into the soil of souls…in a land where we were strangers.
Whatever displacement means in the concrete life of an individual person, it is a necessary prerequisite to ministry. The remarkable paradox of displacement and downward mobility is that is creates community. Displacement becomes a witness to the basic human condition of brokenness and to the need for God’s grace.