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Bias from the Bottom

From the Bottom Up: Introduction

Bias from the Bottom
Friday, January 6, 2017
(Feast of the Epiphany)

Another aspect of the phrase “from the bottom up” has to do with the biblical and Franciscan emphasis on the path of descent. Most of religion is ideological: it defines reality from the top down. It begins with a transcendent God up there in heaven, and then we try to explain everything down here in relationship to that transcendent God. But what Jesus actually taught was something much more akin to “from the bottom up.”

In other words, Jesus taught us to find God incarnate in this world, in our neighbor, in the Eucharist—that is, in the ordinary elements of this earth. That’s a very different notion of religion. This perspective is sometimes called the “bias from the bottom.” It turns everything on its head. That is why today we celebrate three kings paying homage to a poor baby in a feed trough.

Let’s be honest, our culture places the most value on fame, power, and money. Even people who call themselves Christians are much more fascinated by celebrities and so-called success than they are by the downward path of Jesus. Once you can see that God is in the ordinary and that you don’t have to climb upward or be more pure or perfect to find God, you start honoring God in what Jesus calls “the least of the brothers and sisters” (Mathew 25:40) and in the very common earth beneath our feet. Thus God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for this is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Jacob used an ordinary rock to mark the place where he dreamt of a ladder to heaven (Genesis 28:12).

Brian McLaren offers an honest, prophetic critique of Christianity’s misplaced values in domination and artificially contrived success:

Growing numbers of us are acknowledging with grief that many forms of supremacy—Christian, white, male, heterosexual, and human—are deeply embedded not just in Christian history, but also in Christian theology. We are coming to see that in hallowed words like almighty, sovereignty, kingdom, dominion, supreme, elect, chosen, clean, remnant, sacrifice, lord, and even God, dangerous vices often lie hidden. . . . We are coming to see in the life and teaching of Christ, and especially in the cross and resurrection of Christ, a radical rejection of dominating supremacy in all its forms.

The theological term for [this] is kenosis, which means self-emptying. . . . Rather than seizing, hoarding, and exercising power in the domineering ways of typical kings, conquistadors, and religious leaders, Jesus was consistently empowering others. He descended the ladders and pyramids of influence instead of climbing them upwards, released power instead of grasping at it, and served instead of dominating. He ultimately overturned all conventional understandings of . . . power by purging [it] of violence—to the point where he himself chose to be killed rather than kill. [1]

The apostle Paul urges us: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Gateway to Silence:
Create in me a new heart, O God.

[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), 90, 91.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, video interview, November 28, 2016,

Image credit: Galapagos Before Sunset (detail) by Iris Diensthuber, summer 2007.
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