Henry Nouwen wrote a short work in the early 1980’s in response to a then new phenomenon: the “Yuppy”—short for “young, upwardly – mobile professional.” The work is called, The Selfless Way of Christ – Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. In it Nouwen expresses views on upward mobility which are very similar to the Sufi Wisdom you send me. While reading it I was struck by Nouwen’s own struggles with God’s call, doubts about his “comforts,” and his enjoyment of “human applause.”
Reading Nouwen’s work focuses me on the radical nature of the Gospel and how it stands against the philosophy of upward mobility; instead the divine way is downward not upward. Yet, the struggle begins immediately because the “Great Paradox” is counter-intuitive and goes against our very nature.
Thirty years later, upward mobility is not a phenomenon but part of or society for many. For a few, success means God is on our side, and if we fail, we have “sinned.” I do not wish to denigrate ambition, progress or success, but to merely point out that they are not ends unto themselves. They must serve a wider ideal.
So in the next few letters let’s explore upward mobility in a context. Nouwen analogizes upward mobility to the three temptations of Christ. He says the three temptations are: — to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful. Let’s loosely use his analogy and go on an exploration. Perhaps as we explore upward mobility we will engage in downward mobility. (There is that paradox sneaking in again.).