I have been reading some of Henri Nouwen’s writings. He was a priest and an academic at three prestigious US universities: Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. He “gave up” his academic career to move into Daybreak, a L’Arche community in Toronto, Canada, living with people with disabilities and other “assistants”. Some have severe disabilities, needing assistance with all aspects of daily life.
Henri still received invitations to speak at important gatherings. He accepted a request to speak on Christian leadership to a large gathering in Washington DC. While preparing, he was reminded that Jesus sent his disciples out, not alone, but two-by-two, and realising no one was travelling with him, he invited Bill, one of the men with a disability to accompany him. Bill had some limited language, accepted the invitation and kept saying “We are doing this together”. At the gathering, after Henri was introduced to bring his address, he introduced Bill. Then, he recalls:
I took my handwritten text and began my address. At that moment. I saw that Bill had left his seat, walked up to the podium, and planted himself right behind me. It was clear that he had a much more concrete idea about the meaning of doing it together than I did. Each time I finished reading a page, he took it away and put it upside down on a small table close by. I felt very much at ease with this and started to feel Bill’s presence and support. But Bill had more in mind. When I began to speak about the temptation to turn stones into bread as a temptation to be relevant, he interrupted me and said loudly for everyone to hear. ‘I have heard that before!’.
Bill’s intervention created a new atmosphere in the ballroom: lighter, easier, and more playful. Somehow Bill has taken away the seriousness of the occasion and had brought some homespun normality. As I continued my presentation, I felt more and more that we were indeed doing it together.
When I came to the second part and was reading the words, ‘the question most asked by the handicapped people with whom I live was, ‘Are you home tonight?’ Bill interrupted me again and said, “That’s right, that is what John Smeltzer always asks.” … It was as if he drew the audience toward us, inviting them into the intimacy of our common life.
(As Henri finished his address) Bill said to me, “Henri, can I say something now?” My first reaction was, “Oh, how am I going to handle this? He might start rambling and create an embarrassing situation,” but then I caught myself in the presumption that he had noting of importance to say and said to the audience, “Will you please sit down. Bill would like to say a few words to you.” Bill took the microphone and said, with all the difficulties he has in speaking, “Last time, when Henri went to Boston, he took John Smeltzer with him. This time he wanted me to come with him to Washington, and I am very glad to be here with you. Thank you very much.” That was it, and everyone stood up and gave him warm applause.
As we flew back together to Toronto, Bill looked up … and said, “Henri. Did you like our trip?” “Oh yes,” I said, “it was a wonderful trip, and I am so glad you came with me.” Bill looked at me attentively and then said, “And we did it together didn’t we?” Then I realized the full truth of Jesus’ words, “Where two or three meet in my Name, I am among them” (Matthew 18: 19). In the past, I had always given lectures, sermons, addresses, and speeches by myself. Often I wondered how much of what I said would be remembered. Now it dawned on me that most likely much of what I said would not be long remembered. But that Bill and I doing it together would not easily be forgotten. I hoped and prayed that Jesus who had sent us out together and had been with us all during the journey would have become really present to those who had gathered … . as we landed. I said to Bill, “Bill, thanks so much for coming with me. It was a wonderful trip and what we did, we did together in Jesus name.” And I really meant it.
On reading this story, I decided that whenever I am asked to give a talk, I will take someone with me. I was also reminded that Jesus, from his many followers, chose 12 to invest a lot of time and teaching into. And, from the 12, he chose only three to invest into in a fully targeted way. So, with BB and Leadership I should be realistic and see that I can and should only invest into a small number.
Putting these two ideas together, when an invitation came to facilitate a session at Kick Start – an open sharing session for experienced BB Seniors leaders on issues important to them, I thought, who should I invite to “do it together” with me? Levi accepted my invitation, bringing together a young man, just finished BB as a boy, just joined the staff of leadership and at Kick Start to do his leader training to be an officer, with BB’s experienced leaders. As they shared their concerns (e.g. how to program for small numbers of Seniors), it was Levi who kept the focus of why we are doing it – the primary “theological” focus: advancing Christ’s Kingdom … and … discipling boys into mature and true Christian men”. Levi’s insights were valuable, and he commented later on how he valued listening to the concerns and wisdom of older men, all of which he had written down. Most important though, “We had done it together”.
One of the hallmarks and ethos of Leadership is that we do it together. As an intergenerational, non-hierarchical community, young men in Stage 1 are invited to take on leadership roles, doing it together. And new, younger staff participate in Stage sessions and full staff meetings where they are part of the family, learning and sharing together. Maybe those of us who lead sessions should have a younger staff member doing it with us.
For BB generally in Companies and all other organisational groupings:
The point is obvious; the practice takes some effort. Do you have the young men you are developing and discipling into mature and true Christian men / leaders doing it together, with you?
“L’Arche is an international federation of faith communities where people with and without an intellectual disability share life together. L’Arche, a French word for the Ark, seeks to create communities where people live a simple life of work, care, prayer and celebration. We are a very diverse group from all walks of life, some of our disabilities are obvious, some are hidden but all of us share in the mission of L’Arche, of changing the world one heart at a time. L’Arche has grown into an international federation of 138 communities in over 30 countries.”