It’s not often that I finish a Christian book, a leadership book, or a book with a very boring cover and think “whattttt?? how can it be over?? I want to read more.”
Somehow In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen is all three, but left me craving more of his thoughts and reflections. (All following quotes come from said book.)
Nouwen is aware his ideas are not original, but yet to me they somehow seem fresh. I certainly don’t hear many of his contemporaries sharing the same ideas.
“What I have said is, obviously, nothing new, but I hope and pray that you have seen that the oldest, most traditional vision of Christian leadership is still a vision that awaits realization in the future.”
Here’s the thing about Nouwen’s short mere 90 page collection of thoughts: there were quite a few things I disagreed with, or perhaps have not so definitely made my mind up about, but I didn’t feel attacked. Often when I read Christian books I get the vibe that if I do not agree with the writer I am an idiot, I don’t fully understand scripture, or I just need the Holy Spirit to work in my life, Nouwen does not come across like that. The only other writer I can say gives off a similar spirit is Bob Goff in his F A B U L O U S book Love Does.
Perhaps because both Love Does and In the Name of Jesus are reflective thoughts they are easy to absorb and feel like a conversation with wise grey bearded sage grandfather figures. As someone with 2 grandfathers who are not Christian it is very nice to have someone fill this void.
Nouwen’s reflections circle around the idea that to be an effective Christian Leader is in no way related to being deemed ‘relevant.‘ In fact Nouwen makes a strong case that getting lost in the chase for relevancy (and desire for popularity and the desire for power) make you lose track of God’s true vision for your life. Our very American very upward mobile society is at odds with this belief. We love power and often sneer at the humble, (whether we individually do this is mute point, as a society this is the forbearing culture.)
“Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly.”
Powerless and Humble?
I love Biblical Christian sites, blogs, magazines, Instagram accounts, gatherings, etc that celebrate powerful women, such as Propel Women and Grit and Virtue. Women that break the mold that has been expected for Christian women for hundreds of years. “Be silent. Don’t usurp power. Be seen and not heard.” No longer is this the case.
This is a powerful time for Christian ladies, what great role models we have. Shauna, Christine, Joyce, Beth, to name a few. Why am I now being told to be embrace powerlessness? Why would I turn away from the wonderful strides ladies have made?
Honestly my first thoughts were something like this:
How horrible! Nouwen is writing from such a place of privilege. This hyper-educated, well spoken, well received white man can’t possibly understand what he is asking me to do. To sit back and let God “guide me” and give up all agency over my life. Why would I do that? I want power, I want control, I want to be a leader in my generation. I want to hold the torch in dark places where women cower in fear. Surely God wants that too and knows what’s at stake. God wants me to to push forward in my life right?
“But Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go. The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which out world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”
Okay, so maybe I’m not coming from the most mature place. I certainly am not coming from a humble place either. I recognize that my thoughts and my distaste for what Nouwen wrote isn’t coming from any Biblical place, it’s coming from a place of desire for relevancy and popularity.
“The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all. We keep hearing from others, as well as saying to ourselves, that having power — provided it is used in the service of God and your fellow human beings — is a good thing.”
Power and relevancy are not vehicles of God’s love.
“Power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”
Eeeeeek. Okay. Cut to the heart. Power is exactly what I am demanding and at the same time I am cutting down my faith and trust in God’s power by taking the steering wheel. Jesus take the wheel. God’s power is shown in weakness. I am so “tempted to replace love with power.”
Power feels so much greater than love in this world. Power gets me places, gets me friends, money, nice digs, the job I want. Love slowly gets me treasure, on Earth and in Heaven. Community, acceptance, freedom. Power can be bought, love is freely given and it’s richness lost like pearls before swine in our culture.
This does not mean giving up on the feminist fight, or giving up on empowering women in my community. This means having a Godly posture while doing so; coming from a place of love, not selfish gain. It can be hard to tell the two apart as an outsider. I wonder now how many Christian women in leadership roles struggle with this balance. It can be hard to be patient, or humble, or meek when we want more for ourselves and others like us.
Nouwen doesn’t mention this verse in his book, but it was continually on my heart while I read this book: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Honestly I had never given this verse too much thought other than the casual “yeah, good one Paul,” but after finishing In the Name of Jesus I am more aware of the power of weakness.
I am also reminded (yet again!) of the call to be vulnerable in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly which I read just a month ago. If Nouwen has challenged or pushed me in anything it is in my vulnerability and willingness to be led. Led by God, by my leaders, and by my peers.
Nouwen closes his book with a beautiful, simple, lovely thought. While giving a lecture in Washington Nouwen took with him Bill, a friend and a resident at L’Arche, a home for mentally handicapped folks where Nouwen is a chaplain. Bill asks for the chance to close out Nouwen’s talk, although Nouwen is hesitant at first, he eventually gives Bill the mic. Bill simply thanks Nouwen and the audience for the chance to be there. That’s it, touchingly simple.
Afterward Nouwen is keenly aware of how this small experience affected Bill. Nouwen later thanks Bill for accompanying him on this trip, Bill responds by saying “And we did it together together, didn’t we?”
“The desire to be relevant and successful will gradually disappear, and our only desire will be to say with our whole being to our brothers and sisters of the human race, “You are loved.””
Love, Jen xoxo