July 5, 2014

The Gospel of Downward Mobility: Why I Want my Kids to Smoke Marijuana. ~ Anne Bailey Campbell

Photo: Torben Hansen via Flickr

Our world would be a better place if more people did nothing.

If more people were unmotivated. If we could just stop doing stuff.

Does this fly in the face of American culture?  You betcha’. It’s akin to blasphemy in a culture that only values productivity.

One of my favorite countercultural things to do as an ordained minister is baptize babies. It’s always a great opportunity to remember that God’s grace is given to us without our ability to be productive members of society.

Babies, themselves, cannot contribute to our gross national product, yet they are valued.

They can remind us, when everything around us is saying, “Do more. Have more. Work.  Work. Work,” that we need to learn to resist. Our resistance will not be celebrated, though. Our worth, as adults, is measured by what we can produce, and how quickly and consistently we can produce it.

Our public schools are in the process of morphing into corporate recruiting mills—dropping subjects not directly related to productivity in the workplace. We are indoctrinated into a worldview where constant and infinite growth  through our labor is possible, when in truth, it is not.

Why is it such a big deal if we do nothing?

Why do we need to be always busy?

The Protestant work ethic, which says that success and productivity are evidence of God’s favor, is still a very powerful force in our society. The other day, my son, a 17-year-old with ADHD, primarily hyperactive type, came home from school with a detention slip. It read, “Jacob refused to do anything during study hall.”

When I asked him about it, he said that he had been sitting at his desk doing nothing because all of his homework was done and he had left his book home. He was not talking, not trying to use his cellphone, not tapping his pen or fingers on the desk or his feet on the floor, not disrupting anything at all.  

Needless to say, sitting still and doing nothing takes a lot of effort for him, yet he was being punished for it.  

My oldest son, Luke, now that he is graduating from high school, is constantly fielding questions about what he is going to do now. “I don’t know” is not deemed a sufficient answer.

On a national level, I find it funny when people complain about Congress doing nothing. Considering what our elected representatives have done in the past, I am very pleased to have them in deadlock. I appreciate the two-party system for that very reason.

Nothing gets done.  It’s a beautiful thing.

I have tried to practice downward mobility in my life. When I graduated from seminary at the top of my class, I was told that I would be able to land a big church easily. I have now been the pastor of a small country church, membership around 60, for 10 years. I hope to stay there for a long time.

Some friends and family members feel that I am not living up to my full potential.

I’ve been in many situations where leadership positions were offered to me, but I have almost always refused. This confounds those around me and, of course, my income is not what it could be as a result. I’ve even been known to say that procrastination is a good thing, because it weeds out some things that didn’t really need to be done in the first place.

Downward mobility is counter-cultural. People don’t like it. Try it and see.

Those of us who are attempting to follow Jesus Christ, know that he embodied the gospel of downward mobility. Being offered the world, he rejected worldly power (Matthew 4:1-11). He said a few things about giving up possessions, seeking to be servants, and living differently.  Within Luke’s account is the essence of the downward mobility gospel:

“He [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!  And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” NRSV

One of the ways I have encouraged this gospel of doing nothing is by telling my boys, now young adults, that I would rather they smoke marijuana than drink alcohol.  

Yes, pot is still illegal in my state.  

Why would I, as a parent and a pastor, encourage my sons to make this choice?

Because I know that drinking alcohol causes us to do stuff. Sometimes bad stuff.

Smoking pot causes us not to do stuff.

I have a friend who, when she tried pot for the first time, was amazed by the fact that the voice inside her head, the one that always tells her to keep working, finally shut up. She said she was at ease, not compelled to do something, do anything, to be useful.

She liked it. A lot.

I’ve never understood the question, “What are you doing on your vacation?”

Uh, nothing.  Is that okay?

I’ve been called lazy, unmotivated, an underachiever (I like this one the best!). I’ve been told that I am “wasting” my potential. Doing nothing, seeking downward mobility, is not for the faint-hearted.

Sadly, in our culture, it is a lot of work.



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Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Travis May

Photo: Torben Hansen via Flickr

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