Chapter 1, “Ministry in a Dislocated World” pp. 1-25
Nouwen tells of a young man named Peter who seems adrift and disconnected. He is not moored to past, future, or family. This, Nouwen says, may describe the condition of many modern people. We find a purpose statement on p. 5. “In this chapter I would like to arrive at a deeper understanding of our human predicament as it becomes visible through the many men and women who experience life as Peter does. And I hope to discover in the midst of our present ferment new ways to liberation and freedom.” So Nouwen divides the chapter into nuclear man’s predicament and liberation.
The nuclear man realizes that the same forces which bring progress may also bring destruction. Psychohistorian Robert Jay Lifton characterizes nuclear man “by (1) a historical dislocation, (2) a fragmented ideology, and (3) a search for immortality” (p. 7).
The nuclear man easily sees destruction on the immediate horizon. It is therefore difficult for him to look to the future rather than the end. This is different from previous generations. “Most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man sees himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future” (p. 9). With the historical breakdown the message seen is very disconnected.
Nuclear man “has shifted from the fixed and total forms of an ideology to more fluid ideological fragments” (p. 10). These more fluid boundaries allow people to hold self-contradictory ideas at the same time. “Nuclear man no longer believes in anything that is always and everywhere true and valid” (p. 11). Being confronted with the exclusive claims of Christ creates confusion and skepticism.
Nouwen, with Lifton, suggests that man has an innate desire for immortality but finds the ephemeral nature of many pursuits lacking. They are not connected to life and history.
How does nuclear man seek freedom from this prison? Nouwen suggests that he attempts his escape through mysticism or revolution (p. 15).
There is an interest among nuclear men in mind-altering drugs, meditation, and other measures intended to reach a spiritual liberation. This liberation may be seen as stepping away from one’s own unreality into a reality that cannot be grasped.
As we consider the other way, the revolutionary one, the focus shifts. “Here man becomes aware that the choice is no longer between his world or a better world, but between no world or a new world” (p. 17). The nuclear man is thus provoked to activism, hoping to create some sort of ideal world, or at least prevent the world from collapse.
Nouwen suggests that “in Jesus the mystical and the revolutionary ways are not opposites, but two sides of the same human mode of experiential transcendence” (p. 19). It is in the union of the spiritual and physical found in Christ that we are able to connect with history and our world.