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Monday, November 19, 2007

a coffeehouse catharsis

A while back I had plans to meet a couple of students at Chapters (a local coffee/book shop here in Newberg) for coffee. Somehow, I got the time wrong and ended up sitting at the table alone, a full hour before they were to show up. As someone who would sit in a coffeehouse for hours each day if I were able to, I decided to take advantage of my newly found extra time; I started browsing through books.

I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just something that would catch my eye, or my fancy. (Side note: Do I really have a fancy? And if so, where is it located?) I thumbed through Good to Great a management book that another student had recommended. I quickly realized that it was not what I was looking for at that particular moment. My slow meander continued from the front to the back of the store. Near the back, I came to the Christian book section where I decided to look for books by Henri Nouwen.

I didn't know much about Nouwen. In fact, until I arrived at George Fox, I don't know that I had ever heard of him. On campus though, he seemed to be everywhere: quoted in chapel, brought up in meetings, and name dropped in random conversations. All I knew about him was that some pretty smart people, people that I look up to and respect, seemed to think quite highly of him.

On a bottom shelf, I found two or three of his books. Not knowing if one was better than the others, I selected the one with the best looking cover (that could be an interesting blog topic), In the Name of Jesus. I also think the book's tagline had something to do my choice. "Reflections on Christian Leadership" was too strong of a hook for me to resist. As a Christian who has always considered myself a leader, and who is now becoming more certain of the need for these two characteristics to be permanently yoked together, I returned to my table with this little book in tow and began reading.

Due to my "type A" inclination I dutifully read the Acknowledgments, Prologue, and Introduction before getting into the book itself. I'll be honest, they didn't change my life. If Nouwen was some sort of spiritual genius, I didn't yet see why. Then I hit chapter one. Less than two pages in, I came across a sentence that hit me squarely between the eyes.

"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."

Shortly after reading this, the two guys that I was meeting with walked in. Still stunned by the rawness of Nouwen's words, I quickly copied them down so that I wouldn't forget them. I went home that night still thinking of this passage, almost haunted by its call. The next day I bought the book and finished it. I enjoyed reading the rest of it, but could not get past this one sentence. In fact, this quote is one of the primary reasons I decided to create this blog.

I have a desire to be more vulnerable with those around me; to share my heart. It's just not something that comes naturally to me. I pray that over time it will.