“I am the door for the sheep. 10:8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 10:9 I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. Gospel of John (NET)“Paradoxically, by withdrawing into ourselves…out of humility, we create the space for others to be themselves and to come to us on their own terms.” “The Wounded Healer” – Henry nouwen. pg 97
I’ve had the wrong idea about leadership and who I am for decades. But in 2014, pictures of leadership and pictures of who I am turned around more than in any other year of my life. For years, I’ve been in the process of killing my Mr. Spock persona. In his place? – the words of Henry Nouwen, a since passed-on Catholic priest and professor says it well. He’s been a beacon to point the way to new pictures of who I am and how to lead in the way of Jesus. Let me explain…
“The thief comes to kill and destroy,” Jesus says. The “thief” is full of lies wrapped up in sugar-coated packages. I package that I bought into contained false pictures of myself that essentially said I was worth nothing. If I were to draw pictures of myself growing up, I would have drawn someone barely visible among others. Or perhaps I would have drawn a picture of “Mr. Spock” my old nickname growing up (people often told me I talked like him and thought like him, so I was “assigned” that name.) Mr. Spock has no feelings, no sense of self. Everything was rational; there was no feeling, no passion. Mr. Spock could not sit back and relax, and would feel utterly uncomfortable doing anything that involved feelings, be it watching a football game, or being in a hospital. That was me; I hated being in those contexts. That’s because I was intent on destroying my own soul. I believed that I myself had no value. I embodied Asian collectivist identity to an extreme; everyone was more important to me. Not only did I grow up deferring to everyone else, I had no idea what my wants, desires, passions were. As an adult looking back to my 8 year old self, I can now identify my childhood passions, and it’s been healing…how I wish I could have identified those then! Instead, I constantly was looking for ways to squash my soul, to kill the “I.”
“I am the door.” The first two words are utterly profound; they immediately attack the lies of the thief I bought into. “ἐγώ εἰμι” Jesus says. In Greek, as in many languages, the subject is contained in the verb form, and the subject is not needed. So whenever a subject is included, it’s intentional, as it is here. So that’s an emphatic “I” that kicks off this passage; it’s a bold proclamation of who Jesus is, and presents quite a different picture of the soul than the one I pictured in my heart for decades. Jesus’ pronouncement breathes life into the “I”, to give space for the “I”- soul. He wants to give life to the “me.” Jesus could not be the “door” if he was not the “I AM,” the same “I AM” who existed before, and who kicked off the “big bang.” And if I’m created in image of the “I am,” and if the “I AM” came to die for me, then my soul is infinitely valuable in of itself. The beginnings of the abundant life spoken of in John 10 is rooted in having this right picture of myself.
The health challenges of my family the past few years was what prompted me, forced me rather, to abandon my Mr. Spock, logical-speaking, information-full, Google-brained persona. With those “old pictures” I thought I could fix anything with information, just as Mr. Spock would. But that did not work with my ill wife and the issues I was having with my son. One month, I had to take each member of my family, including both my parents to the ER. My Mr. Spock persona did not help me deal with the stress and grief one bit. It took at least a year to let go of the “world” that was built upon that false picture of me. It’s as if I had to scrape all the paint off of the old picture, and get down the the canvas before I could live from the new pictures, which are in fact, real pictures, able to deal with the stress and challenges of life as of late.
Henry Nouwen went through a similar journey. A professor for a couple of decades, he transitioned to living among the mentally and physically handicapped. And it’s as if life started for him after that transition. And it’s from that place he wrote the words I quoted above. For me, 2014 marked the beginning of a new kind of life. How?
“Paradoxically, by withdrawing into ourselves” – To withdraw into ourselves demands not only that there is a soul there, but that this soul is worth dying for. As I’ve dove into myself, I began to find my passions, feelings, desires, everything that’s been buried for decades. And there, I found new abundance. Using the painting metaphor, it’s as if I’ve scraped away enough of the old painting only to discover that God has painted a masterpiece there the whole time. Then it’s a matter of restoration of what’s been ordained long ago. After enough scraping, enough restoration, you hit a tipping point where the masterpiece underneath shifts the entire perspective. One no longer sees the false picture on top, but the masterpiece underneath. The “real image” beneath now defines the entire painting. For me, that shift happened in 2014.
The fruit that comes out of all this is aplenty. As I make space for my own soul to thrive, I am making space for others to thrive with me. In the past under my old pictures, I sold what I knew…and I had a good number of guitar licks that I sold too. I made a living selling my mental knowledge (and also selling off my guitar skills, 7 guitar classes per week at one time). I’ve retired from selling information, be it technical, biblical, or musical. I started Kingdom Rice because people who relate to an Asian background tend not to see the tremendous values they bring, to their work, to God’s Kingdom, to everything. In the dozens of churches I’ve taught in, especially the Asian ones, whenever I say something like “Asians and Asian culture are an untapped ASSET to God’s Kingdom,” I typically get the “I’ve never imagined that before” kind of stare.
2014 was a year where I feel I’m at the gateway to the abundant life Jesus has always had in store. My old pictures of myself could not sustain the health challenges of my family. It’s been a painful retiring of those old pictures for sure. I declare my Mr. Spock persona dead! And these new pictures have helped me to enlarge my soul, and in 2014, I experienced that more than ever before. Kingdom Rice is another fruit of these new pictures. For 2015, I’m looking forward to even greater abundance, larger soul enlarging, and creating more space for my soul and for the souls of others to roam, and to “find pasture” (the opposite of this is using information-first leading to manipulate others to confirm) I led by serving up contextual information, and I was an expert in it. But there was no “me” in it. In the words of Nouwen, by “withdrawing into myself” I can tap into how God made me, and offer something in my leading I could never before, the “pastures” Jesus speaks of, where our souls could freely go in and out. That is abundant living, living where we are ALIVE!