Reflections on “In The Name of Jesus”

This is a short reflection on insights I took from Henri Nouwen’s brief yet brilliant book, In The Name of Jesus.  Its not a review, so if some of it doesnt seem to connect, or even if it does connect, I recommend you read the meditation on servant leadership.

Nouwen’s opening  section, after the introduction, is particularly valuable to me because I have long been struggling with the need to be relevant in my own life and ministry. Like Nouwen I am caught up in the lie that “I” have something to offer; I mean who really gives a damn if I have some higher level degrees, or preach at congregations around the world or have an above average IQ? No one cares about that, they care about being loved so that they can open themselves up to be loving. Like Nouwen, I have found that this is most apparent when I am with the poor in Spirit; when I am sitting the park with my homeless friends, or hanging out with inner city kids. I am drawn to the truth in Nouwen’s words, “These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim the unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.” (28) I said that “I” have nothing to offer, but perhaps it is exactly “I” or grammatically correct, me, that I must offer in all vulnerability as Jesus did. As Nouwen astutely points out, this can only happen when I have “an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word, and to take fully God’s infinite goodness.”(43)

Another insight that Nouwen offers throughout the book, especially in the beginning of the second section, is that when one is willing to move from Harvard to L’Arche, suburbs to inner city or from heaven to earth then one must face the pain of loss, maybe of death, to gain the reward of renewal and resurrection. I hate pain, but I love gain. This is a terrible condition to have if one wants to be like Jesus, yet it is this reticence in the face of potential suffering coupled with my prevailing desire to be noteworthy that I have found to be at the very core of my own being. Again Nouwen expresses my sentiments in a much more poetic and brilliant way, “I came to see that I had lived most of my life as a tightrope artist trying to walk on high, thin cable from one tower to the other, always waiting for the applause when I had not fallen off and broken my leg.”(53) I want the applause, I crave it, but I will avoid the fall at nearly any cost.

Nouwen says, “The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending at the cross.”(81-82) In reply, out of my own frustration I say “dammit.” Like a child I whine, “I don’t want to” or “you can’t make me.” Though I know he is absolutely right in this assessment, and some part of me wants to cheer for this truth; I can’t help but wonder just how much ‘everything’ Christ really means I need to give up to follow him. I am learning that a life of simplicity in the Western world in which I find myself may only be possible as a result of miraculous divine intervention. I struggle more because Nouwen suggests that deep theological reflection is the key to living such a life, but he goes on to say that seminaries and divinity schools should be the primary place where this takes place. To me that seems somewhat contradictory, because most seminaries only take the best and the brightest, and those that have enough money for an education. How does this in any way look downwardly mobile? Yet, this is exactly where I find myself as I try to know God more; as I try to understand Christ and his cross and what it means to take up my own and follow him.

I am at a bit of an impasse as I consider how I may keep these insights in front of me, because there is some way in which they are all already in my heart, yet there is another sense in which I am well aware that my life will often crowd them out. I believe that Nouwen’s insights came from a life, as he suggests, of prayer, theological reflection, and service. This leads me to believe that I must dedicate my life to these very practices in order to keep them in front of me. The only way to keep these truths present in my life is to live them, but the irony is that it is living that usually pushes them away. May God have mercy on me!

I dont recommend too many books these days, perhaps because I read so many that they get all jumbled together, but I implore you to pick up this short yet extremely moving book. Nouwen’s words have blessed me and I trust they will bless you too.

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