Feb 28 – Mar 5: From Popularity to Ministry

Reading: Part II – From Popularity to Ministry (p 51 to p 70)

It has been a blessed Lenten journey thus far and I want to thank those that have enriched our book discussion with your heartfelt and meaningful sharing, in particular those who have recently begun sharing.  This week we turn our attention to Jesus’ second temptation, Peter’s call to ministry, and the disciplines of confession and forgiveness.

Knowing that we are all ministers in our own way,  you are encouraged to prayerfully consider the temptation, the question, and the discipline and to reflect on are how the truth of the Good News and the  discipline suggested by Henri may be related to your own life and spiritual journey.  I’ve included several questions that you may find helpful.  As always, to the extent you are comfortable, please share your thoughts and insights on these questions or anything you find meaningful in the reading this week.

1.  Henri tells us that his move from Harvard to L’Arche caused a significant change in his approach to ministry—from the individualistic ministry he learned during his formation and practiced as an educator, to the shared ministry that resulted from living in a close-knit community of caring and wounded people trying to live faithfully together.  Henri writes, “Jesus refused to be a stunt man.  He did not come to prove himself… When you look at today’s church, it’s easy to see the prevalence of individualism… Stardom and individual heroism… are not at all alien…” 
a)  What was it about Jesus that allowed him to reject the powerful temptation to be spectacular?
b)  What has been your experience with individualism and the tendency to stardom and heroism in your church community and its leadership?  In your own life and ministry?

2.  Henri draws our attention to John’s Gospel where Jesus gave Peter the task of ministry—that same task that we are given today.  Henri emphasizes Jesus’ intent that
“…ministry is a communal and mutual experience… We are called to proclaim the Gospel together in community.”  And he makes it more personal by writing: “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.”
a)  How have you been chosen and called to ministry—to make your love the gateway for God?  Is your ministry a communal and mutual experience or is it more individualistic?
b) What concrete steps can you take to adopt the servant leadership mentioned by Henri and to proclaim the Gospel together in community?”

3.  In the challenging discussion of the discipline, Henri tells us that ministers must be,
“…persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister… (they are) called to be full members of their community… called to minister with their whole being, including their wounded selves.”  Yet Henri also emphasizes that for ministers to explicitly bring their own sins or failures into the pulpit or their daily ministries would be unhealthy and imprudent.
a)  Have you seen Henri’s vision of imperfect (i.e., human) ministers living as full members of the church community sharing their whole being, including their wounded selves, in a healthy and prudent way and what was the response?  What about in your life?

Thanks again to all of those sharing this Lenten journey with us.  We look forward to hearing from you this week.

May the Lord give you peace and may you feel his presence walking with you this Lent.

Feb 21 – Feb 27: From Relevance to Prayer

Reading: Part I – From Relevance to Prayer (p 25 to p 47)

Thanks to each of you for joining us on our Lenten journey—whether you have posted a comment or are following along quietly.  We have been richly blessed by those of you that have opened your hearts and shared your experiences and insights so beautifully.

This week Henri leads us to look at our lives through the twin lenses of  Jesus’ response to the temptation to turn stones into bread at the outset of his ministry and the three-fold question “Do you love me?” that he posed to Peter—and to each of us—as his earthly ministry was ending.  Henri captures the essence of the Gospel and the challenge of our mission to build up the Kingdom of God when he exhorts us:

The great message 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 human life. (p 30)

And Henri then offers us the discipline of contemplative prayer to help us live our calling.

As will be the case for three consecutive weeks, you are encouraged to reflect on the temptation, the question, and the discipline and to prayerfully consider how they are related to your own life experiences—either now or in the past.  I will pose several questions that may help get you started.  Finally, please share your thoughts and insights on these questions or anything you find meaningful, to the extent you are comfortable.

1.  In reflecting on the temptation to be relevant, Henri describes the modern secular world  and the challenges it poses to Christian ministers, indeed to all Christian people.  (L)oneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world… (M)ore and more people are suffering from profound moral and spiritual handicaps without having any idea of where to look for healing.
a) Does Henri’s characterization of the secular world reflect circumstances you observe in your own life or in the lives of others?  b) How are you or other Christian leaders you are aware of responding the challenge posed by Henri?

2.  In presenting the question, “Do you love me?” Henri describes the unconditional and unlimited love only God can give as “God’s first love.”  And the the broken reflection of that love that we receive from parents, our spouse, our children, and others in our community is the imperfect and sometimes painful “second love.”  Henri writes:
Jesus’ heart is the incarnation of the…first love of God…  Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving him are the same thing… And when we live in a world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than to bring healing, reconciliation, new life, and hope wherever we go.
a) How does Henri’s description of God’s first love and human second love align with your experience?  b) What steps have you taken or seen others taking to open your heart to Jesus’ heart and to bring God’s first love into the world.

3.  In describing the discipline of contemplative prayer, Henri says, The original meaning of the word “theology” was “union with God in prayer”… Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-formed opinions about the burning issues of our time.  Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus…
a)  What disciplines or practices do you or others that you know use to develop a heart that knows God intimately through “union with God in prayer”?   b) On page 45 Henri compares the Christian leadership of those rooted in a relationship with Jesus and those that are not.  Have you experienced these different approaches and what was the result?

We look forward to another rewarding discussion this week.

Peace and all good.

Feb 14 – Feb 20: Prologue and Introduction

Reading: Prologue and Introduction (p 11 to p 23)

Thanks to each of you for joining the vibrant group of seekers forming this spirit-filled community. At the outset, I want to thank each of you for making this, as was noted in a comment last week: “…a safe space of open mindedness and support. What a refreshing change of pace from the snarkiness of so much of the outside world.” It is great blessing for me to be able to share his experience with each of you.

We have had a wonderful start to our Lenten journey with your warm introductions and heartfelt sharing.  It is a great joy to reconnect with previous participants and to welcome many others joining us for the first time.  Everyone is welcome and valued here; we are all blessed simply by your presence—whether you actively post comments or follow our discussion silently.

We learn in the prologue that this book is largely based on a talk Henri Nouwen gave in Washington, DC shortly after becoming the pastor at L’Arche Daybreak, a community for the mentally handicapped, having resigned his position teaching future ministers at the Harvard Divinity School. We also learn that he did not travel by himself, something we will return to in several weeks.  In our reading this week Henri reflects on his decision to move to L’Arche and how that changed his perspective on and approach to ministry. The issues that Henri confronted in his own life and ministry are those facing ministers today–and we are all ministers in our own way to the people in our lives.

The following questions are meant to prompt your thinking and to get the discussion flowing but, as always, you should not feel limited by them. Please feel free to respond to one or more of these questions or whatever comes up for you in the reading.

  1.  In preparing his 1986 talk Henri looks back 30 years and reflects that, “…nobody in the 1950s could have foreseen the situation of most priests today…” (p 12)
    As we look back 30 years to when Henri gave this talk, what challenges are you as a person and a minister confronting as a result of the relentless change since that time and how are you addressing them?
  2. Henri writes, “God is a God of the present and reveals to those willing to listen carefully to the moment in which they live the steps they are to take to the future.” (p 13)
    In our rapid-paced world, how do you experience the “God of the present” and what steps do you take to “listen carefully to the moment”?  How do you respond?
  3. In introducing us to Bill Van Buren, his friend and fellow minister of the Gospel, Henri writes: “…he felt deeply touched by Jesus and knew what it meant to be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit.” (p 16)  Henri asks,”Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?” and he realized “…my success was putting my own soul in danger.” (p 20)
    Reflect on your spiritual journey.  What is your experience of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?  Are you growing closer to Jesus as you age? Has the worldly call of “success” challenged you on your journey? Share to the extent you are comfortable.
  4. Henri tells of how God answered his prayer for “clear and unambiguous” direction writing, “In the person of Jean Vanier… God said, ‘Go and live among the poor in spirit and they will heal you.‘”
    How have you heard from God or experienced his presence in your life?  Have you prayed for and received God’s “clear and unambiguous” guidance?  What was the result?  If you are willing, share your reflection.

We’re at the beginning of our Lenten journey together and we look forward to the always meaningful thoughts and insights of those commenting and to the continued participation of those following along silently.

With gratitude for sharing our Lenten journey.