Thursday, August 02, 2007


When Henri Nouwen shifted from a twenty year career of teaching at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard to living as a caregiver in Canada in a house for mentally handicapped adults, his notoriety completely vanished. Those he was assisting could not read so they had never heard of his many books. They hadn't gone to school. Thus, they could not be impressed with his academic credentials. When he offered meat to one of his assistants, a handicapped man said to him, Don't give him meat, he doesn't eat meat, he's a Presbyterian.

Nouwen found himself reduced to sudden and frightful nothingness, except for the dependent value of the moment. It forced him to discover his true identity. Referencing his new living quarters and friendship circle, Nouwen wrote, 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, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.

The pressure is on us to get the pressure off of us. This would seem to come about by reduction of self; not escalation. We seem to be sluggish from "The Ladders": social or career or financial or fame. What if we could self-dismantle? What if we could learn the sweet joy of appreciation, gratitude, simplicity, contentment....unpretentiousness?

It could be we are the ones handicapped. It may be the mentally handicapped have a grip on reality which defies us. Don't we spend a significant amount of time trying to conquer before we are conquered? Wouldn't it be wonderful to like right now? Reflect on Nouwen's next statement: I am telling you all 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 own vulnerable self.

Experience tells me vulnerability opens the weirdest and most wonderful doors, but most leaders waste time by trying to enter through windows of opportunity using "Ladders" to success.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Vulnerability who?
Well then, come on in!


Lita said...

What a great lesson! Vulnerability...the very thing that we actually an asset. Hallelujah!

Ky said...

It's interesting that Vulnerability is the thing the minister's try most hard to avoid. It is extremely hard to get a minister or elder not to beat around the bush and tell you exactly what is going on in their lives or the life of the church. Minister's try to keep everything they do private they don't want to be vulnerable. I guess that's just human nature but I certainly agree that vulnerablitly isn't necessarily bad. I just wish more minister's and elders would understand that.

Cary said...

Looks like we both just read the same book. Amazing, wasn't it?

David U said...

Isn't Nouwen incredible? I read his book about the "Prodigal" this spring......amazing!

Thanks bro!

preacherman said...

Wow. Excellent post. Why is it that ministers try to be holier than thou?

Matt said...

Great reminder that we don't need to be reminded that we are great. We need to be reminded at just how silly we are.

Greg said...

Great post, Terry. I worked for a year with mentally handicapped people and discovered a very, very fine line between "us" and "them"! I loved their more honest, simplistic view of life and their place in the grand scheme of things.