Saturday, April 25, 2009

Book 25: Gracias! A Latin American Journal by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Gracias! A Latin American Journal by Henri J. M. Nouwen


How it was obtained:
I picked up Gracias from

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:
9 months.

Days spent reading it:
3 days.

Why I read it:
There are multiple steps in why I read Gracias! First, I love Henri Nouwen's writings. Second, I read a few excerpts from Gracias! in a Henri Nouwen collection and found some of his reflections interesting. Third, our youth group went on a short term missions trip to Peru, and Gracias! is about Nouwen's time in Lima, Peru. So it seemed like a great fit for me.

Brief review:
Gracias! was a little harder to read than I was anticipating. It's one thing to read a coherent book on a particular topic, it's quite another to read the journal writings of a person as they are developing some of those thoughts.

Henri Nouwen is a Roman Catholic priest who was a successful professor at Yale and Notre Dame. He gave up the academic life and started searching for a different type of ministry. So he went to South America for about 6 months. 3 months in Bolivia for language study, 3 months in Lima, Peru as an exploratory trip to see if he would like to serve there for a longer period of time. Nouwen's insight into human behavior, including his own, is invaluable. He is very open and vulnerable in his writings, which is what draws me to him. However, these journal entries are not a systematic thought about anything in particular. So there are occasional glimpses of great insight. But its in the midst of the mundane of everyday life.

Was it thought provoking? Yes. Was it sometimes boring? Yes. Did it have interesting insights about life and how we live it? Definitely. Am I glad I read it? Mostly. Would I recommend it to others? Not unless they were die-hard Nouwen fans. Check out his other works first, and if you really want to fill in other parts of his life, then pick this journal up to read about his time in South America.

I had one interesting thought after reading this journal. Nouwen ministered in Latin America when Liberation Theology was flourishing. It was getting huge. And Nouwen listened to some lectures by Gustavo Gutierrez, a founding theologian of Liberation Theology. What struck me was this, Liberation Theology has some similar elements to the current Emergent Movement. I am not saying they are synonymous, but simply that they have some similar elements. I also don't think these things are necessarily bad, perhaps the Emergent Movement is taking some of the good from Liberation.

So what are those elements you ask? 1. Extreme concern for the poor. 2. Reframing salvation in terms of freedom from oppression (closely linked to concern for the poor and oppressed). 3. Ortho-praxis (right action) is emphasized, sometimes over orthodoxy (right doctrine). 4. I don't know if this is simply the Catholic Church, Liberation Theology, Latin American culture, or Nouwen's own observation, but Nouwen was well aware of the fact that ministry must be done in small community and outside of the church walls back in the early 80s. This theme is a huge part of the Emergent movement. Do ministry with the people in their environment, live missionally. It seems that Nouwen was doing this well before it became a buzz word like it is today, almost 30 years later.

Now this is not a hard and fast rule. Both movements have many different strands. And this is clearly not a research paper (although, now that I think about it, it could make a very interesting one), just some observations that I had while reading this book. Do with them what you will.
If you do not know what Liberation theology was (is?) or what the Emergent movement is, don't worry about it. This is just one of my quirky interests.

Favorite quote:
"What moves me most in reflecting on these opportunities is that they lead us to the heart of ministry and mission. The more I think about the meaning of living and acting in the name of Christ, the more I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness through which the love of God can manifest itself."

3 out of 5.

Final Word:
De nada?

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