Today you get to hear from the best boy yourself. Meet Krispin, my husband–and yes, we are using real names around here today. It’s been a slow journey moving towards the place where we can be authentic and wise in a world stripped of anonymity. I love my husband so very much–he is the thoughtfulness to my flash, the calm to my riot. His gift to people is simply his presence; his gift to us today is his ability to articulate a bit of our family’s journey towards downward mobility.
Downward Mobility as Reconciliation
Guest Post by Krispin Mayfield
Throughout the life of the church, people have struggled to differentiate between universal commands and specific callings. Great commission? definitely a call for all (thus, the “great” part). Being sent across political and cultural borders, like Paul? just for those called. Jesus called the rich young ruler to give up all the he owned, but we wonder, Is this descriptive, or do I just have to be ready to give up all I have?
It is important to keep these command categories in mind. I am a “professional minister,” and part of my income comes from donations from those who do work 40+ hours a week, or more, and sacrificially give to the ministry in this neighborhood. To say all are called to my specific lifestyle is both unbiblical and illogical.
Nonetheless, all followers of Jesus are called to be on mission with him. So it is important to look at what his mission is. Jesus cites Isaiah’s words as his own mission: He is anointed “to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I don’t believe everyone is called to live among the poor, although I do wonder if more are called than the tiny, single-digit percentage of missionaries who are living among the poor (particularly considering that 60% of the world is living in poverty). I do believe we are all called to both care for and be in relationship with the poor. Pick any section of the Bible, the Torah, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels, Epistles–God is continually showing his heart for the poor.
Furthermore, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, both with those separated from God and from ourselves. As disciples, we are called to take part in breaking down walls of hostility between ethnic groups, genders, socio-economic classes. This includes demonstrating the inclusivity of the Kingdom by drawing near to those who are different than I am, which certainly includes the poor.
There’s this theory that if you target those in power in society, “trickle-down evangelism” will occur. This is the idea that if you target government officials, CEO’s, and the like, they will reach out into all of society. This happens sometimes, but I have also heard first hand from poor folks who were forced to sit in the back in church because of their socio-economic status. Sometimes trickle-down evangelism happens. But then again, sometimes the fact that we spent all of our time and resources focused on the wealthy unintentionally teaches an incorrect theology of the Kingdom: that God cares more or less about people based on their income, power or status.
In every society, there are strong boundaries between classes, and it is difficult for the gospel to cross those boundaries. Some have even suggested its best to look at each class as its own culture. For five years, I found it so difficult to connect with my poor neighbors. Then, I attended a workshop that approached socio-economic class the same way I had approached cross-cultural interactions when I lived in China. You’re not going to just “click,” because there are cultural differences – the unspoken rules, values, etiquette, – just like in any culture. It’s even harder to see when the person on the other side of this cross-cultural encounter looks very similar to you and has the same citizenship. But really, it’s a lot of work.
This is the Kingdom, to seek relationship and reconciliation with those marginalized, those who are typically only sought out for cheap labor, high interest rates, and social work projects. But Jesus commands us to seek out the least of these, to pursue relationship with them, to invite them to the table, to invite them to be our friends, our brothers and sisters, our church elders.
When I started off my track of “downward mobility,” in the wake of reading Jesus For President by Shane Claiborne, it was more of an experiment than anything. We were struck by how much of the Bible talked about the poor, yet we knew so few poor people. We wanted to find out, firsthand, what Jesus meant when he said, “blessed are the poor.” We wanted a first-hand grasp on James’ encouragement: “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”
Much of the discussion about downward mobility is whether you should do it. Those who oppose the idea claim, “you don’t have to be downwardly mobile to be more spiritual.” But, really, the Kingdom isn’t about shoulds. It’s more like this: if you opt out, you’re missing out. By seeking out those exactly like us, we are impoverishing our own salvation. If God is King, and his citizens include ethnicities, genders, socio-economic classes, and backgrounds, when we section ourselves off, we are missing out on the entire Kingdom of God. I see the face of God clearer and clearer, as I move into intimacy with those made in his image.
I went to Bible college for four years, and completed by master’s of counseling at the same university. But, sitting down with someone from a different experience than mine helps the Bible come alive, and the Holy Spirit works to show me what I’ve never seen before. The Bible, after all, was largely (though not completely) written by individuals in communities that were under some sort of oppression, were refugees, had only God as their hope. It’s nothing magical that happens when the marginalized read the Bible, but as we study it together, I have a greater, richer understanding of it.
I don’t think everyone is called to live in a poor neighborhood. But everyone is called to love the poor. And so, here’s the secret. living in a poor neighborhood makes things easier. My goal isn’t to be as impoverished as I can bear. But my goal is for reconciliation, and as it turns out, through this process, this is really what dictates my lifestyle decisions.
*Note: many, if not most, of these ideas have from my mentors, community and books I have read. A great resource for these ideas is the book Submerge by John B. Hayes.