By His Fruits

colson2Let it not be said that nothing good ever comes out of public television. Although Christians have sometimes had reason to criticize PBS and its programming—I have, anyway—they have also given us a lot to celebrate. Their newest offering that I can recommend is a documentary that many PBS stations across the country are airing this Easter season, “Journey of the Heart: The Life of Henri Nouwen.” Nouwen, before his untimely death a few years ago, was one of the most influential Christian thinkers and writers of recent times. I had the great pleasure to meet him when he was teaching at Harvard. After I had given my testimony and a little apologetic message to the students at Harvard Divinity School, we went back to Nouwen’s apartment for coffee. He questioned my use of apologetics, turned to my wife, Patty, who was with me, and said, “Why don’t you just say you love Jesus the way you love Patty?” I said, “But they’ve just met Patty. They know she exists.” He was something of an existentialist, but he was an inspiring man. At the peak of a brilliant career, he took time out to live at the community of L’Arche Daybreak in Canada and help care for the physically and mentally disabled—serving the least of these. Now, of course, the fear is that when such a figure is profiled on PBS—or any TV station, for that matter—that his faith will be watered down and his message diluted into some vague feel-good pap deemed acceptable to the multiculturally minded. I am happy to report that that is not the case at all in this documentary. The emphasis is often on Henri’s message of God’s love for humanity and the fact that each of us is God’s “beloved child”—a message that, tragically, is often distorted today to make it sound as if God loves us so much that He does not care what we do. But Nouwen did not make that mistake, and the film doesn’t either. “Journey of the Heart” emphasizes repeatedly that the source of Nouwen’s faith, calling, and identity was Jesus Christ. And the cost of discipleship in Henri’s life—to borrow a phrase from another great Christian thinker—is also very much on display here. Many people interviewed for the film discuss his struggles with depression or “self-rejection.” It is made clear that the reason for his emphasis on God’s love, and his ability to identify with the broken and wounded, was precisely that he often felt unloved and unworthy. Now, the film acknowledges that Henri Nouwen was no perfect saint. But the way he lived out Christ’s love should be an inspiration to all of us. One of the most moving parts of the “Journey of the Heart” is when disabled members of the L’Arche Daybreak community talk about how much Nouwen meant to them and how much they still love and miss him. What an example of the truth that Christ spoke when He said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” If “Journey of the Heart” airs in your area this Easter season, why don’t you take a moment to contact your PBS station and thank them? If it’s not airing in your area, contact your station and ask them to air it. You will find a list of stations with their contact information below. Public response is key here, and PBS needs to know that the message of Christ’s love, as lived out by one of His modern-day followers, is a message to which many of us gladly and thankfully respond.  
Today's BreakPoint Offer
The Good Life: Seeking Purpose, Meaning, and Truth in Your Life by Charles Colson with Harold Fickett.  
For Further Reading and Information
Learn more about Henri Nouwen and find out whether and when “Journey of the Heart” airs on your local PBS station. Find resources for “Journey of the Heart” here. Learn more about L’Arche Daybreak. Harry Forbes, “‘Journey of the Heart,’ Film on Henri Nouwen, to Air on PBS,” Tidings, 30 March 2007. Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (Crossroad, tenth anniversary ed., 2002). Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (Crossroad, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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