March 12, 2010

Boring? No. Insightful? Yes.

Book Look

I stereotype books about the Christian life as boring, but I loved In the Name of Jesus from the introduction. It is honest, simply worded, and encouraging. Six pages later, the book started scaring me.

The biggest hurdles I had to overcome while reading the book were the same things that prevent me from showing love: relevance and wealth. One of the main themes of the book is resisting relevance. On the other hand, one of the main themes of popular Christianity is embracing relevance. Nouwen sees relevance as a way to hide behind one's own accomplishments and abilities. Giving that up means being vulnerable and unattractive, but it also defeats prejudices that prevent us from loving. It is very true in my own life that relevance leads to prejudice.

I read relevant magazine. I choose friends that listen to my music, dress like me, and talk like me, because that is what I value. Nouwen challenges that the love of God and the needs of people have to be enough. When Nouwen says that "the Christian leader of the future needs to be radically poor, journeying with nothing except a staff (84), it makes me nervous. Case in point: there is a Godly, pleasant, pretty girl of my acquaintance that I have no interest in dating. Why? Because she is madly in love with Kenya and has no desire to stay in America. Of this, my flesh is afraid. Nouwen convinced me of this when he wrote that "the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places." (81).

My family jokes in church that the pastor has bugged our house when he chooses the topic that dominated our week. In the same way, Nouwen seems to have a direct line to my brain. The temptations that he described are the same that plague me.

He sounds like a psalmist pouring out frustration as he writes, "I have found over and over again how hard it is to be truly faithful to Jesus when I am alone" (85). This truth has especially painful consequences in my life because I am an introvert: People drain my battery, even happy people. Every time I get alone, though, I have to deal with myself. Therefore I fear quiet times. I fear what I need the most.

Sufjan Stevens sings a song about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy Junior. The last line sung as the music fads is, "In my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid." It is a truth I should not hide, I am broken. How I fight against my quiet sins is for me to confess them. "Future leaders... must always be persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister" (64). In context of his own Catholicism, he clarified that confession to one's own priest is not enough. The people I serve need to know who I am.

In the Name of Jesus gave me a vision for how things could be. Random statements he made reached inside of me and made me joyful.

"We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for" (62).
This admission of his feels like chains dropping off my ankles.

"Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own heart and God's heart" (43).
Prayer: time spent walking directly toward Jesus

March 4, 2010

Shocking, Indeed

Dear James,

I picked up your letter, sir, because I remembered you having mentioned something about holding one's tongue and a brief introductory bit of encouragement to get through trials. This morning, however, your first three paragraphs gave me quite a shock.

Must you say "trials of various kinds" (James 1:2-4)? I can imagine stealthily paddling a river boat through a closed country in Southeast Asia, smuggling a Bibles that have covers made to resemble some nationalist propaganda, getting bitten by a mosquito, and counting that itchy spot joy for the sake of the gospel. It's quite another story when you insist I consider my husband's lack of full-time work hours, my uncle's pancreatitis, and the daily bout with dishes and laundry... joy. When I am expecting, I routinely lose my breakfast, lunch, and supper and most of the water I drink for four months, then lose just my breakfast for another four. (I don't expect you to understand this, obviously never having been in that condition yourself). I assure you, it is most uncomfortable. Am I to consider this joy as well? You say that this testing of my faith brings steadfastness (James 1:3-4). I am accustomed to spending more time thinking about the trials themselves and less time thinking of what those trials could produce in my faith.

You recommend asking God for wisdom, if I lack it (James 1:5-8). Alright, I concede. I do lack it. However, in the past, I have found it most expedient to first ask my friends at sewing group and my husband. Their answers are prompt, and require less searching the Word and waiting than His. This will require quite a change of habit.

Your third paragraph was a bit easier to digest, "Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich..." (James 1:9-11). Of courseI read this from the perspective of a "lowly brother", or at least, a "middle-class brother". We live in two bedroom, 1,000 square foot home, certainly not in the best neighborhood. I only occasionally shop for clothes, and then only at second-hand stores. I am not at all discontent with being...
Oh! Please excuse me. I've just looked up some statistics that rather change my view. Apparently, in our current situation, my family is more wealthy than most of the families in Estonia, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, India, Japan, Denmark, Mozambique, South Africa, and approximately 200 other countries. From this, I assume you would consider me one of the rich (James 1:11)? As I read on, I will try to read with this understanding, then.

Your letter is well worth reading, in spite of your affront to my pride. However, I think three paragraphs at a time is enough to set me reeling.

Sincerely Yours