In the Name of Jesus and Scary Close.
In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership
by Henri Nouwen
This was a gift from my mom, after I asked for leadership resources. As such, I was expecting leadership advice derived from Christian principles. There is some of that, but the book is tightly focused on leadership of Christian communities, both a diagnosis of the current state of affairs and a vision of what Christian leaders should look like in the next century. It’s short – a transcribed and edited lecture, easy to read in a few hours – and dense with wisdom.
A common theme is the ways Christian leadership must respond to contemporary challenges by being more countercultural, not less. In one passage that stuck me, Nouwen sounds like he’s describing a false belief of the secular world, but I think he completely nails why the church no longer feels relevant to so many people.
The secular world around us is saying in a loud voice, “[…] The problem is not lack of faith, but lack of competence. If you are sick, you need a competent doctor; if you are poor, you need competent politicians; […] God, the church, and the minister have been used for centuries to fill the gaps of incompetence, but today the gaps are being filled in other ways, and we no longer need spiritual answers to practical questions.”
That might be exactly right. Where in the past religion has been right at the center of medicine and education and politics, it’s now easy to find examples of Christian groups promoting outdated or downright harmful policies in these areas. Meanwhile, a lot of good is done by secular organizations. Nouwen doesn’t argue that this secular voice is wrong. Instead he suggests it’s missing an important part of the picture. There are needs of the human soul that the secular world cannot address.
The [Christian] 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.
In a sense, the Church’s failure to remain relevant to those physical needs has become a forcing function. We must find the heart of our ministry in things the world can’t provide, and the leaders in that movement will be exactly the people who are least relevant in other ways. As a person spending a lot of time trying to become a competent technologist, that’s a personally damning observation.
Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy
by Donald Miller
This was a gift from my sister. In a series of vignettes from the year leading up to his wedding, Miller describes what he’s learned about intimacy and the barriers we put between ourselves and others. The book reads like a confession, a catalog of failed relationships and old habits to be broken, and also a hopeful recounting of the people and tools that have helped.
Much of the book wasn’t news to me. I have the benefit of great teachers and role models and my wife and I are about to celebrate ten years of marriage. We’ve already been over the importance of radical honesty, the danger or manipulation, that it takes two healthy individuals to make a healthy relationship. Still, it’s a quick read and a good opportunity to reflect. It left me with renewed enthusiasm for building a marriage we are proud of. If you are a person that’s struggled to form intimate relationships, this might be a genuinely helpful read.