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