The Weekend Wanderer: 17 July 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


“One million hours of prayer for Olympic host Japan” – Emily Anderson in Eternity: “Christians in Japan are asking the world for one million hours of prayer for their nation throughout the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Japan 1 Million is led by the Japan international Sports Partnership (JiSP) and Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA). They are calling on churches, individuals and families across the world to unite in prayer for Japan as it takes centre stage from the Opening Ceremony on Friday, 23 July. ‘What a gift to Japan from the global Church – one million hours of prayer for God’s Glory to fall upon our land,’ said JiSP leader Pastor Keishi Ikeda. When it comes to the good news of Christianity being spread, Japan is the second largest un-reached people group in the world. Less than one per cent of its 126 million population attend church.”


Rene Magritte - The Lovers (detail)“Why We Confess: From Augustine to Oprah” – Elizabeth Bruenig in The Hedgehog Review: “Confession, once rooted in religious practice, has assumed a secular importance that can be difficult to describe. Certainly, confessional literature is everywhere: in drive-by tweets hashtagged #confessanunpopularopinion, therapeutic reality-television settings, tell-all celebrity memoirs, and blogs brimming with lurid detail set to endless scroll. Public confession has become both self-forming and culture-forming: Although in some sense we know less about each other than ever, almost every piece of information we do learn is an act of intentional or performative disclosure. It’s easy to chalk up this love of confessional literature to the seemingly modern impulse to overshare, but public confession itself has an ancient history.”


Jesus-Way“Truth, Justice, and the Jesus Way” – This is an older post from Eugene Peterson at the Renovare blog: “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is king. If Christ is king, every thing, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things — what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’ — is required. We can — we must! — take responsibility for the way we live and work in our homes and neighborhoods, workplaces and public squares. We can refuse to permit the culture to dictate the way we go about our lives.”


“In Kenya, faith groups work to resettle youth returning from al-Shabab” – Fredrick Nzwili in Religion News Service: “In Kenya’s coastal region, interfaith efforts to slow down or end youth recruitment into the militant Islamist group al-Shabab are gaining progress, with some recruits abandoning the extremist group’s training grounds in Southern Somalia to return home. The group — al-Qaida’s affiliate in East Africa — had stepped up secret recruitments in the coastal and northeastern regions since 2011, when the East African nation’s military entered southern Somalia. The radicalized youth, many of them younger than 30, were often sent across the border to train as jihadists. But now, the activity has slowed down, partly due to efforts by the interfaith groups. More than 300 such youths who had traveled to Somalia for training as jihadists had been rescued and brought back to the country.”


Henri, Vincent and Me“Henri, Vincent, and Living in the World with Kindness” – Joseph Johnson in Englewood Review of Books: “Carol Berry first met Henri Nouwen in the bookstore at Yale Divinity School back in the 1970’s. As she recounts in her moving (and brief) book, Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh, he initially appeared like “a man dressed in a well-worn, baggy, moth-eaten sweater with a woolen scarf around his neck” (4). Though Nouwen may have looked like a disheveled, older student, he was actually teaching at Yale at the time, and Berry was deeply moved while sitting in on Nouwen’s lecture on Vincent van Gogh and the nature of the compassionate life. Nouwen is known by many as a deeply kind Catholic spiritual writer, and for me, his writings—and especially letters—have been a real gift. Nouwen felt a deep connection with van Gogh as a fellow wounded healer who desired to connect with other and provide them with comfort, and he worked hard to share this connection with his students (8). As Berry puts it, the hope was that, “Through Vincent’s story, through the parable of his life, we were to come closer to an understanding of what it meant to be a consoling presence” (52). Her book aims for a similar purpose.”


“Sierra Leonean evangelicals approach death penalty abolition process with caution” – Jonatán Soriano in Evangelical Focus: “Pressure from the international community and, above all, NGOs has led to a massive process of abolition of the death penalty in Africa. In 2016, Guinea took this step, joining Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo. In 2018 it was Burkina Faso. In 2019 Equatorial Guinea announced an abolitionist bill, and in 2020 Chad removed capital punishment from its legal system. This year Malawi declared it unconstitutional. As among several sectors of society, within the evangelical sphere in Sierra Leone, abolition is viewed differently.”


Music: Vigilantes of Love, “Skin,” from Blister Soul.

Power and Weakness: Part 3 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

This is the third and final post in a series on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (read part 1 and part 2). I’m writing on this significant book in order to continue reflecting on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which serves as the basis for Nouwen’s writing, and is also the place we are at in our preaching series, “Power in Preparation,” from the Gospel of Matthew. I conclude this series of posts by looking at the third and final part of that book: “From Leading to Being Led.”

The Temptation to be Powerful
Just as Jesus was tempted by Satan to use his power to influence people for his ministry goals, so, Nouwen says, we face the temptation to do ministry relying on power to control others instead of acknowledging our weakness to be led by others.

The true way of Christian service and leadership, according to Nouwen, exhibits these characteristics:

  • downward mobility like Jesus toward the Cross – not upwardly mobile toward what is wrongly called ‘success’
  • willing to be ‘radically poor’ to follow Jesus into unattractive places – not caught up in the wealth and riches of this world
  • allowing Christ to form their entire lives – body, mind, heart – not just intellectually following the ideas of Jesus
  • helping people hear God’s voice in their real lives – not just chattering on about their own ideas

In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer at the end of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage that reads:

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life.

I wonder if our Christian service is shaped by the Cross as much as it is by pursuit of “success,” however we may define it? I wonder, what sort of leaders are we? Do we lead ‘in the name of Jesus’ or in our own name?

I wonder aloud, how can we practically let Jesus lead us in His downwardly mobile, humble, poor, and God-oriented way?

Community and Identity: Part 2 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

Yesterday I began a series of three posts on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. I continue that series here by delving into the second part of that book: “From Popularity to Ministry.”

Doing Ministry Together
I have read this book several times, but I continue to be deeply impacted by Nouwen’s emphasis on the fact that ministry is shared and not something in which we strive “to do something spectacular, something that could win [us] great applause” (53). How often I have seen in myself and others a twisted motivation in ministry aimed at the wrong end: praise, attention, recognition, or accolades. We sometimes become bent on others’ opinions that we miss the true nature of ministry.

True ministry involves proclaiming the gospel together, not lifting up ourselves. True ministry comes from a place of reliance and interdependence, where trust that “the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road” (59).

Think of that. I wonder, when we engage in ministry with others, are we so together in it that we trust God to reveal himself to and through us to others? Or are doing something else entirely? Are we competing with others for the praise and glory of ourselves in the eyes of other humans?

Who We Are – Who We Are Not
Our twisted motivations often come from twisted souls. Nouwen presses the conversation of this second part of the book toward the heart of the matter: our identity in Christ. We need to know our identity and, specifically, that ministry it is not about us, but about God.

Nouwen writes:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. (62)

If you skimmed that section quickly, let me encourage you to stop and read it again. This is so important and challenging.

I wonder, do we know who we are and who we are not when it comes to ministry? I know it is such a struggle. It is vital that we let go of our need to appear competent, to be needed, and to be seen as the source of good in ministry. We are made in the image of God and valuable in that regard, but we are also, in a sense, unnecessary to God. He does not need us to do ministry, but He does desire to work in and through us. There is a holy humility to this aspect of knowing our identity. There is a freedom in letting go of our need for acclaim and simply relying upon God to work.

This can be a fierce struggle, but it also can become one of the freeing joys of truly doing our ministry in the name of Jesus.

Irrelevance and the Love of God: Part 1 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

One of the most incisive handlings I have ever encountered on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 is Henri Nouwen‘s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. While the book is specifically targeted at those in ministry, I believe it has broader application to all believers.

In this and two follow-up posts, I want to interact with that book a little as a follow-up to Will Branch’s sermon this past weekend at Eastbrook, “The Way of the Wilderness,” and my own recent reflections on the spiritual significance of the wilderness. Whether you’ve read the book or not, feel free to interact with what I write here.

Relevance vs. Irrelevance
In the first section of part one of the book, Nouwen connects the first temptation of Jesus with the temptation toward relevance. Nouwen contrasts the irrelevance of ministry with the push within our society for relevance. I struggle with Nouwen’s reflections here because, on the one hand, I do not want my life or ministry to be driven by relevance, but, on the other hand, I do want to communicate God’s truth in a way that connects with people and is not obtuse.

Here is my summary of what Nouwen means by these terms:

  • Relevance: an obsession with success, impact, and practicality that is closely linked with the things we do rather than who we are.
  • Irrelevance: walking the way of vulnerability and weakness in connection with the weakness and struggles of the world around us while living in the love of God

Nouwen writes: “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation” (35).

So, I wonder, is it possible to desire to connect meaningfully with others while simultaneously living out of this sort vocational sense of irrelevance?

Knowing the Heart of God
In the second section of part one, Nouwen draws attention to Jesus’ question of Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ He emphasizes that our love of Jesus is the central issue in our ministry and service for God.

The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, ‘a heart of flesh’, in Jesus. Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, that is not something that comes from God. The sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits. (38)

These words cut to the core of who we are. I am reminded of an old statement a mentor shared with me once: “Have I become so in love with the work of the Lord that I have ceased to love the Lord of the work?” I wonder whether I live in such a way that my experience and knowledge of God’s love is so central that it overflows into proclaiming and embodying the unconditional love of God to others? Is that what motivates me?

Mystic Leaders
Nouwen brings the first part of the book to a close by calling believers to a life of contemplative prayer as mystic leaders. Sometimes the words “contemplative” and “mystic” throw people off. However, what he is really speaking about is our attentive pondering the love of God throughout our lives. The question here is not only do we love Jesus, but do we live a life of love with Him. Read these words:

A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love. . . Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word, and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness? (42-43)

Again, Nouwen pierces to the heart. Who am I as a leader, minister, or servant of Christ? Am I devoted to Jesus? Am I loving Him fully?

The Weekend Wanderer: 28 November 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Thanksgiving“5 rules for better conversations around your Thanksgiving table” – Even though our Thanksgiving the holiday has passed, and even though our Thanksgiving gatherings may have looked a little different this year, these five rules for better conversation from Justin Brierley are worth considering. In fact, they might just be good rules for better conversations with people in general.


chain-light“How Grat­i­tude Breaks the Chains of Resentment” – Every once in awhile I share resources that are not new but are still worth reading. Here is an article from Henri Nouwen on gratitude that was written many years ago but may still be helpful and pertinent to us. In this time when it seems so difficult to give thanks, when our lives have been reduced and changed in more ways than we want to mention, may we learn to move toward God in gratitude instead of living in resentment.


Islam ETS“Muslims Join Evangelical Theology Conference” – “The trimmed-down 72nd annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), held virtually this week, usually welcomes up to 2,000 top scholars to present on the most salient issues facing evangelical scholarship. This year’s theme: Islam and Christianity. ‘We are called to truth, and to understanding the world around us more accurately and thoughtfully,’ said [Al] Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), who also served as ETS program chair. ‘That certainly includes our understanding of Islam, which has from the beginning represented an enormous challenge to Christian evangelism, apologetics, theology, and cultural engagement.'”


John Wilson“‘A Small Good Thing’ An Interview with John Wilson” – John Wilson’s tenure as editor for the now defunct Books and Culturwas wonderful. When that publication shut down it was a great loss. Wilson had a curiosity-sparked meandering sort of way of drawing together various interests into one place. He continues to write for First ThingsThe Englewood Review of Books, and now begins a new run as Senior Editor for The Marginalia Review of Books. Here is a little interview with Wilson by Samuel Loncar that touches on the old days of Books and Culture, as well as Wilson’s more recent endeavors.


Gospel of the Trees“Gospel of the Trees” – Alan Jacobs writes about one of his older projects that has recently gone through a major redesign and upgrade. I encourage you to take a look at it: “Ten years ago my friend Brad Cathey — a designer and the head of Highgate Creative — and I built a website called Gospel of the Trees. Here’s what it’s about: ‘The Bible is a story about trees. It begins, or nearly enough, with two trees in a garden: the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The pivotal event in the book comes when a man named Jesus is hanged on a tree. And the last chapter of the last book features a remade Jerusalem: ‘In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” If you understand the trees, you understand the story.’ Brad has just redesigned the entire site, and the work he has done is fantastic.”


Music: Liturgical Folk (featuring Audrey Assad), “Our Lady Sings Magnificat,” from Advent

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]