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Created, Redeemed and Loved

Greetings All,

This week's thought comes to you from Henri Nouwen, a prolific Dutch writer and at various times a professor of Christian spirituality at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. His last few years were spent at one the L'Arche communities, caring for mentally handicapped people. This profound insight comes from his time working in that community and has to do with how we in our culture measure our value as people. It is found in his book "In The Name of Jesus." Enjoy.

"The first thing that struck me when I came to live in a house with mentally handicapped people was that their liking or disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then. Since nobody could read my books, the books could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to school, my twenty years at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard did not provide a significant introduction...

Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety. I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment. In a way, it seemed as though I was starting my life all over again. Relationships, connections, and reputations could no longer be counted on.

This experience was and, in many ways, still is the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity. 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 that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, and open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.

I am telling you this because I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life...

Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and the a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world... Feeling irrelevant is a much more general experience than we might think when we look at our seemingly self-confident society... More and more people are suffering from profound moral and spiritual handicaps without any idea of where to look for healing.

It is here that the need for new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there."

Nouwen's book is well worth a read. I would like to quote more, but the longer the quote the less likely people are to read it! All the places where you see the.... is an indication I skipped over a section to keep it as short as possible. A complete reading of In the Name of Jesus is recommended.

Yet, what is written here is enough to help us to ask: "What do I base my value on? What do I consider to make me a person of worth? Is it my accomplishments and achievements? My competencies and talents?"

Or is it as Nouwen discovered by being in a place where none of that mattered: "That God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love." And have we, like him, realized that we are not simply to affirm that truth, but realize that as Christ followers God has "chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life."

In the Bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff