I’m still planning on reflecting some before blogging about Nouwen’s reflections on Christian leadership in his little book In the Name of Jesus. But in light of our voting for General and Jurisdictional Conference plus alternates, I must share just a little Nouwen’s first chapter. For context, Nouwen says that our first temptation in ministry is to be relevant–to know ourselves primarily as people who are useful and can do things for others. He identifies our calling to prayer as an appropriate subversion of this temptation, in answer to Jesus’ question to Peter, “Do you love me?” He says that contemplative prayer is the discipline Christian leaders must live. “To live a life that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant but is instead safely anchored in the knowledge of God’s first love, we have to be mystics,” he says.
On our means of addressing the pressing issues within the church today, Nouwen says that most of our dialogue happens on the “moral level.” Nothing wrong with that level, it’s a good level. Just inadequate, according to Nouwen. Hear how he talks about it:
“But that battle is often removed from the experience of God’s first love which lies at the base of all human relationships. Words like right-wing, reactionary, conservative, liberal, and left-wing are used to describe people’s opinions, and many discussions then seem more like political battles for power than spiritual searches for the truth.”
Sounds like Nouwen might have something to say to us, no? When I was commissioned as a probationary elder, one of our top large church pastors preached a heck of a sermon. It was a GC election year and the politicking from all corners was pretty hot and heavy. He laid the axe to anyone in his path with the story of the Shibboleth from Judges 12. Countrymen killed one another because they figured out how to sort out who belonged where–the folks who grew up pronouncing the word “sibboleth” and those who grew up pronouncing it “shibboleth.”
Our preacher said: “If it’s about doctrine, that’s one thing, but if it’s about who gets to call the shots, it’s as impoverished as the folks in Judges 12 administering the password to family to determine who to keep out.” I still think about that sermon.
Something to think about…and not just for the other person.