Tuesday, April 24

Downward mobility - A discussion starter

This is taken from Geez magazine, a great magazine that discusses social issues through a Christian lense in an artistic, thought provoking way - almost like a faith-centred Adbusters. (I highly recommend it! check out www.geezmagazine.org You can read all the articles online, but I'd subscribe - the actual magazine layout is fantastic, and it's fairly new - they could use the support. enough of my pitch)

1. Gather with one or several friends.
2. Quietly read and reflect on Sections A and B.
3. Consider the questions in Section C.
4. Engage in discussion that is respectful, even vulnerable.


The reality of Jesus [is that] he always descends. And we his disciples have no other choice, no other way than that of the descent. And so we are totally in opposition to our cultures. The world values promotion; Jesus values demotion.
God is hidden in suffering. The great gift of God to humanity is that Jesus is present in the sacrament of the poor.
This is a true sacrament, and like all sacraments, it is a question of believing in this mystery. The tragedy is that the world doesn't know that the poor are a sacrament. They [do not] see the poor as those who arrange and bring order. That is why the rich, the "have's," remove themselves far from the poor. They don't see the poor as the sign of God, as sacrament, as the presence of God-with-us, as those who will free us, heal and illuminate us, as those who will bring the interior unity we crave, lead us into the heart of God.
Jesus came to serve the poor. So he became poor. The good news is announced not by the one who serves the por, but by the one who becomes poor.

Downward mobility is a mockery of working class life. It is poverty made fashionable. Behavior remains the same. Those who don't comply with this "hip" lifestyle are looked down upon.
It is in the establishment of hierarchies that the middle class betrays itself - they always have to look down on somebody, a habitual attitude of power. Downward mobility is the greatest insult yet devised by middle class people against the working class.
Difficult as it is for middle class women to realize how downward mobility strikes us, they must open themselves and see what they are doing to us. I know that for many middle class women, downward mobility was a first attempt at trying to change their ways. However, those women must realize that the irony of downward mobility, its fatal flaw, is that they could afford to become downwardly mobile. Their class privilege enabled them to reject materialism. For those of us who grew up without material advantages downward mobility is infuriating - here are women rejecting what we never had and can't get!
If you have money, sister, don't deny it, share it. If you have advanced skills don't make pottery in your loft, teach us those skills. Downward mobility is a way to deny your material privileges to prove how "right on" you are. We know that anytime you get tired of poverty you can go right back to them.
Downward mobility assumes that material benefits are bad. Material benefits aren't bad, what's bad is that everyone doesn't have them.

1. Are you rich or poor? Explain what that means to you.
2. Consider your social location: would you like to move up or down the scales of power (this includes education, experience, vocation, income, neighborhood, significant relationships, travel, etc.)? Why?
3. How does religion or spirituality factor into this discussion for you?
4. Which of the above readings makes you feel more alive? Explain.


  1. My answers...
    1 - I am so rich, and so poor. I feel like I am rich in the worldy ways - education, housing, seemingly endless and overwhelming opportunity...and yet I seem to be poor in finding effective ways of using these riches.
    2 - I think if I'm perfectly honest, I'd like to move up the scales of power, and yet I feel guilty for that response. I want more education, I'd like to have a more stable and family-sustaining income, I want to see the world...Why? These things feed desires that I have, and I don't think there's anything wrong with those desires. It's hard when they are equated with power, because power has such negative connotations.
    3 - Religion and spirituality factor into this discussion in a huge way - it's the starting and ending point. Because I desire to be a representative of Christ on this earth, these practical matters are important. They need to be one and the same.
    4 - The first reading makes me feel more alive, and I think that's because it has Christ as a model, so it shows that it's possible...the second one sort of squashed me a bit, because the line I hung onto out of the first one is that "the good news is announced not by the one who serves the poor, but by the one who becomes poor", which seems to be negated by the second writing's frustration with downward mobility.

    I think I have more questions than answers.

  2. so here are my thoughts...
    -i love love love geez, i gave it to my mom and recently decided that instead of stealing hers i should just get my own
    -i think social work taught me above all about the idea that privilege (whether material or symbolic) is to be used to better those around you, but not by giving it up per se but by sharing - by being an 'ally'

    1. i am rich, but it's all relative no? i the basics and then some if we're looking at maslow's hierarchy, although there will always be those with more than me. i'm on the 'good' end of all the isms, so i have that privilege too.
    2. we moved to this area for a reason; it means more to me to be part of a community even if that's a community in a poor area. i like and loathe that when i go to the grocery store by my house i am the best dressed/one with the fullest cart most of the time - i like it b/c it constantly reminds me of all the eggs i have in my basket, and i loathe it b/c it's almost embarrassing to have this much around others with so little. i can placate myself with thinking that i give things away, but of course there will always be more for me to give/should give. i also hate it b/c i worry about jesus' warning that it is harder for a rich person to get to heaven etc... perhaps i should spend less time worrying and more time seeking creative ways to share my wealth.
    3. i guess it factors in in the sense of worrying, but also it makes me question it more - i learn in social work all about oppression/privilege/etc, but there is so much more hope when you put Christ in the equation. however there are also more difficulties - what about Jesus' talk about giving away ALL your possessions? i don't do that. i don't want to do that. i'm not going to do that. so where does that leave me?
    4. i hope that my answer does not come across as trite, but i found the second reading to be more alive... i understand the first one, it's the reason why i'm in the field i'm in, it's why i go to the church i do, it's why i get involved in the stuff i get involved in. but the second reading! it's a bit of a kick in the pants (perhaps a bad analogy given my gender :D), so i want to remember it. i once heard a cool speaker talk about how wealth wasn't 'bad' in the xian sense - it's what you do with the wealth that counts. i think i have to constantly re-evaluate whether i'm just giving away my money to fulfill a religious law, or if i'm working (with my money and my social location) to get others up to where i'm at. my issue is, what does that look like?
    to me it's more than giving my tithes to church/organizations, and it's more than volunteering. it's about changing the attitudes we have, and that i think is about changing policies. so does that mean social justice/my faith is played out in protests, letter writing, campaigning?
    that's my current musing anyway.

  3. 1. I am certainly rich by global standards although I do not always feel that way. It is important to remember where we stand in the world and not just on our street. I do feel rich in the things that matter, such as family, friends and God.
    2. There are certain things that I want, although I am not sure it is to gain power. I am constantly gaining more education, but not to use it against others or to gain power, I am trying to learn for the sake of my personal enrichment. I am open to more money, but again not for power, as in moving up the social ladder, but to better take care of my family.
    3. My faith of course is the guide to all these issues for me. That is not to say that I always listen (I am as prone to greed as anyone) but the voice is always there.
    4. I would not say they made me feel alive but I enjoyed the first one more. I agree that the poor are a sacrament, but that does not mean that we must all become poor. Each one has their place in expressing God's presence. Both rich and poor followed Jesus. The biblical standard is not what you have or how much you have but what you do with what God gives you. It is all in the parable of the talents.

    I am glad that you have decided to blog. I find it a great way to share my thoughts and to share info of interest that I come across. I look forward to reading about what God is teaching you.


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