In all honesty, this series on downward mobility has just about done me in. I find myself in a place of both great confidence and extreme self-doubt–especially when it comes to writing. That doesn’t sound very fun, and it really isn’t. The trouble with writing about downward mobility is that it brings up all of our baggage with money and privilege. So people respond in various ways to me, usually a variation on the theme of feeling bad about themselves. Then I, the writer (or, as is more often the case, the curator) of the series start to feel incredibly anxious. People are feeling bad about themselves! It must be because I am a terrible, horrible, snarky person. And to a degree, this is true. I am 29 years old. I am living my best life now. I am experiencing all the joys of the downward mobility journey, and also some of the hurts and isolations. So I am finding that the processing bit of this series has been a complete failure. There seems to be no way to process my downward mobility journey without coming off as self-righteous or excluding others form the conversation (which is probably why no one writes about this stuff). But it has forced me to really and truly come to my beliefs about this whole mess, what it means to give up some of what we were born with to go find Jesus in the margins.
And, I am here to tell you, I finally believe it: downward mobility is a vocation.
I never wanted to admit that before, because I didn’t want to let everyone else off the hook. For me, vocation is dripping with importance and pomp and circumstance and assurance. When people tell me that living among the poor must be my vocation, I see them distancing themselves from me, turning me into something I’m not, something holy and good and uncomplicated. I hate the word vocation, for it puts me and other practitioners up on pedestals, far above ordinary time, which is a terribly prideful, lonely place to be.
But I know–not everyone can up and move into my neighborhood (we couldn’t hold you, for starters). So I started to read books about vocation, to pray about it in my own intense way as I stomped through the leaves on my way to work, my heart thrilling at the sights and sounds and faces that I now know to be closer to me than they were a year ago, my spirit soaking up the pleasure of living in a place you adore.
There it was, all around me: joy is the root of vocation. Sacrifice is there, to be sure, but the pleasure of the work you were made to do underlies everything. As I was reading books, waiting for someone to tell me exactly what my vocation was, it became pretty apparent. It is what I am already doing, what I have been drawn to since I was a small child, which I will be drawn to for the rest of my days, no matter if I choose to obey it or not.
And that’s the thing. Maybe more are called to this life but it seems unattainable, fraught with danger, impossible to pull off well. And maybe our guilt comes from not being obedient to what would turn out to be our life’s biggest joy, learning and living and working with the people at the margins. The flip side of this, of course, is that if you aren’t called, you won’t last–and could do damage in the meantime. So it has become apparent that the idea of vocation has to be a part of the conversation surrounding downward mobility.
All that to say–today, I am here to tell you to vote for me in an online contest*. I know, right? But I entered my idea for a book and got picked as one of ten finalists for a contest the Barna Group (you know, those Christian researchers). As shocking as this may be to you all, my book idea centers around the idea of downward mobility (with a healthy dose of vocation).
Here’s a bit from the essay I submitted:
D.L. Mayfield—Downward Mobility: Gentrification, Incarnation, or Something In Between?
”We’ve all been living so good we’ve moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood”- Derek Webb
The Rich Young Ruler
A little over a year ago, my husband, baby and I sold everything we had and moved to a neighborhood far from where we grew up–both in geography and socio-economic terms. While some might think this move extreme, it’s an action that is being mirrored in cities all throughout the country. I suspect that others, like myself, have realized that our realities are not the realities of the majority world–and that we might be called to do something about it.
The poor you will always have with you, Jesus said, a phrase we trot out often. But what else did he have to say about the poor? Blessed are they, he said, along with the rest of the world we tend to forget about: the hungry, the persecuted, the sick.
In our current social climate, perhaps no story brings up such divided feelings like the story of the Rich Young Ruler; the story of a young man, eager to follow Jesus, who had all the right doctrines but who couldn’t obey when Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.
For many of us, this story makes our stomachs sink like a stone. Because we are rich young men and women ourselves, people of plenty in an age of hunger. Our fears about our own wealth and privilege color how we read this story. Are all of us called to do what the rich young ruler could not? As testified by the rest of the New Testament, the answer is no.
But for some, the answer is yes.
Read the rest of the essay at the contest page. And vote for the book you would most like to read!
*Contests are weird. My life is so weird. It is also pretty amazing.