Henri Nouwen wrote this short work during the time he spent as a professor at Yale Divinity School. It was serialized in 1981 in Sojourners but never was published until now. At the time, the culture was caught up in the mad pursuit of money and success, and the phrase "Yuppies" captured the selfishness of a group of young, urban, upwardly-mobile professionals. In the foreword, Robert Ellsberg states that "More than a decade after Nouwen's death, his words continue to challenge and enlighten." The themes of the book are greatly enhanced by being placed in juxtaposition to a series of drawings by Vincent Van Gogh.

Nouwen rightly points out that we live in a society that is obsessed with competition and success. From the moment we begin to interact with others, we are trying to become winners, since losers get left behind.

"Our parents, teachers, and friends impress upon us from the moment we are able to pick up the cues that it is our holy task to make it in this world. To be a real man or woman is to show that one cannot only survive the long competitive struggle for success but also come out victorious."

The Christian Scriptures base salvation not on upward mobility but on the freedom that comes from downward mobility: "The divine way is indeed the downward way." God took flesh in the carpenter from Nazareth, and he never once adhered to the model of popularity, success, or power. Nouwen calls us to walk the selfless way of Christ and to serve others in humility. Here are words that are very authentic, and one can almost hear the author turn them toward himself:

"Our true challenge is to return to the center, to the heart, and to find there the gentle voice that speaks to us and affirms us in a way no human voice ever could. The basis of all ministry is the experience of God's unlimited and unlimiting acceptance of us as beloved children, an acceptance so full, so total, and all-embracing, that it sets us free from our compulsion to be seen, praised, and admired and frees us for Christ, who leads on the road of service.

"This experience of God's acceptance frees us from our needy self and thus creates new space where we can pay selfless attention to others. This new freedom in Christ allows us to move in the world uninhibited by our compulsions and to act creatively even when we are laughed at and rejected, even when our words and actions lead us to death."

Nouwen wants us to eschew the lure of upward mobility and the temptations to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful. Instead the Gospel presents the allure of a self-emptied heart and the disciplines of spiritual formation — the church, the book, and the heart. This little book packs a strong message that is delivered with creativity and √©lan.