Torn Between Two Kingdoms: Guest Post by Dane Johnson
I’m a 27-year-old white guy from an upper-to-middle class family that set me up for a good life. But rather than bounding onward and upward into my bright future, I’ve been stalled lately. I’m to blame for this pause in forward progress. Well, Jesus is partially responsible too.
I vacillate between two very different kinds of life; the one that seems obvious, responsible, and stable, and the other, which involves following Jesus wherever.
Musing over the eternal kingdom, and believing it’s accessible through Jesus, makes spending a lifetime in alignment with cultural norms and parental hopes dull in comparison to a life spent chasing God’s mystery. Throw this idea of “downward mobility” into the mix and I wonder if I should be working to make a “life” for myself at all. Insert parental eye roll.
My internal wrestling match centers around these two questions; do I strive to live up to the potential that my family, education, upbringing, and society have offered me? Or do I strive to live up to the potential of being a servant vagabond like Christ the King?
Since graduating college five years ago, I’ve struggled to find the balance between a recklessly abandoned life to the humble way of Jesus and the more socially acceptable way of citizenship in the culture I was raised to maintain and, hopefully, outdo.
In 2012, I was offered to be bumped up from a part-time job I held at a county agency to a full-time position. It was a career path known for adequate financial compensation, health benefits, and job security. However, it offered me a version of a life that I’d never wanted to live, but, suddenly, seemed somewhat appealing because I’d once and for all be a contributor and participant in the world of the socio-economically-acceptable. I’d belong somewhere “normal.”
I considered it. My life and education had promised opportunities just like it. But I didn’t want it.
In an act of rebellion to much of what I’d become so far, I declined the position, condensed my life down to two backpacks worth of necessities and bought a one-way plane ticket to the other side of the world.
I wanted to see the world anew, and changing everything seemed like a good way to ensure my complete discombobulation. I thought about Francis of Assisi and how he stood on his head in the town’s square so that he could begin to see the world right side up. I wanted to stand on my head for awhile and not be expected to call things as everyone else saw them.
Truth is, I don’t see things as most people see them anyway, so this wasn’t a catastrophic change in my own mind. Rather, it was a much-delayed cooperation between my heart and my choices.
I wandered around the world for a while and got away from the influences of everyone I knew. I saw what other, developing world, countries defined as success and witnessed what they valued. I began to forget about America and all that we strive after over here. It forced me to just be. I was terrified to find that I didn’t know myself very well outside of my usual contexts. I was no longer musician, student, employee, leader, participant, or anything. Sure I was an American, but even those stereotypes didn’t fit me very well. I was just me alone, out of my element, observing the world, and wondering what role I played in it all. Being, and being aware of it, is mind-blowing.
I had longed to be emptied, so that I could be refilled with something new and real, and God answered my prayer, but not in as epic a way I’d seen play out in my thoughts. I’d imagined triumphantly shouting from a mountaintop about my newfound freedom in God’s perfect plans, but reality would have me sobbing like a full-grown baby man, alone, sitting on an old mattress in a hotel in Chiang Mai.
Once I’d broken out of my mold, simply broken, there was a temptation to make a mad dash to find somewhere to fit again. It’s easier to follow the way that someone else has already gone, and accept what’s already plain to see, but I’m not able to live that way. I wish I could, but I’m too curious about the other ways that don’t exist yet. And I want to see things that are far from plain.
I’ve found camaraderie in knowing Jesus as a brother and a guide. He’s been here before; late twenties, single, living on earth, but bound for glory.
Countercultural, Spirit-driven, servant life is no walk on the beach. I’m not saying that as someone who’s an expert, but as one who is aiming for that life by letting my ideas about living a “good” life fade into the provision of God’s goodness.
The path toward downward mobility may not get me pinned to a cross, but the sacrifice it requires will forfeit a life. It surrenders the life that would allow me to feel at home in the culture and society I was bred to enjoy in exchange for servanthood and dependence on whatever God has in mind.
I was set up to live a really nice life, but Jesus pressed pause on those plans and is graciously unveiling the painful beauty of the downward way. Down, down, and away I go.
Dane Johnson travels the world, writes songs for his folk rock band, works odd jobs to stay afloat, and has plans to see as much of the world as he can before he dies, writing about it as he goes. He’s been striving to live as a Professional Rambler, both in word and deed, and has to ignore a lot of skeptics to live up to the title. When he’s not on the road, he lives in a loft in Northern California where his drums reside year-round.
For more information on the Downward mobility series, click here.