Christian reflections

My Friend Eugene

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Churchgoers have a pastor. Pastors have pastors, too. Folks who have mentored us, worked alongside us, prayed for us, listened to us. Folks who invite us in from the cold when the tough gets going, who help us to gather around the warm fireplace of Scripture and friendship and encourage us to remember once again the work to which we’ve been called.

Back when I pastored in Wisconsin, my mentor pastor would show up at the church office out of the blue, poke his head into my study and ask, “Do ya have time for a walk?” He had twenty years’ experience on me but not a hint of ego or arrogance – quite a feat for someone as successful and beloved as he. Those unplanned snowy walks around my small town, stepping around icy puddles, talking about the challenges and joys of ministry, are some of my sweetest memories from my time there. He had such wisdom, and offered it with such gentleness and grace.

He also never called ahead, which made me kind of crazy. I eventually learned to keep a pair of boots stashed under my office desk after a few unscheduled walks in ballet flats during a subzero winter. His advice definitely sank in more deeply when I wasn’t fishing slush out of my shoe.

Sometimes pastors have pastors we’ve never even met except through their writing.

Eugene Peterson is one of my pastors. I’ve never met him in person, but his books have nourished my soul for years and years. All I know about him I’ve gleaned from his books and from the folks I’ve met who studied under him while he served as a professor at Regent in Vancouver.

I sometimes struggle to read his books quickly because I end up underlining practically everything. He writes with a wicked turn of phrase, he doesn’t mince words, and he knows Jesus intimately. It’s a fantastic combination.

He also had the guts (not to mention the knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic!) to translate a modern paraphrase of Scripture in The Message which is pretty stinking cool.

Peterson’s writing has helped me to become a better pastor. His books have encouraged me to soak more deeply in Scripture, to take it into myself, to read it aloud, to chew on difficult passages, to let the prayers of the Psalms become my own. He’s helped teach me to think Christianly about everything from the evening news to my difficult neighbors, from the cars we drive to the neighborhoods in which we choose to live.

One of my greatest joys has been watching my husband fall in love with Peterson, too, as he’s entered the pastorate. There’s really nothing better than sharing something you love with someone you love.

If you haven’t read any of Peterson’s books and want to give one a try, start with his classic: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It’s a challenging book on discipleship, but not because it’s difficult to read. Only because discipleship in itself is challenging.

And to entice you further, a few of my favorite passages to whet your appetite.

From his book The Pastor (which, if you are not in ministry and want to understand those who are, this is the best memoir on the subject), encouragement on being a pastor and a writer:

The apocalyptic angel sent who was sent by God to deliver the vision, the Revelation of Jesus Christ that John saw on that memorable Lord’s Day, said to him, ‘Write in a book what you see…’ Write what you see. Writer and Pastor were two sides of a single identity for John. It was not as if he added writer onto his vocation as pastor or pastor onto his vocation as writer. Pastor was not his ‘day job’ and writer, the work for which he is best known in the church today, his real job. Nor was pastor his real job, the work for which he was best known in his own seven churches, and writer a mere moonlighting diversion. Writer and pastor are the same thing for John.

From Answering God, Peterson’s work on the Psalms, one of the best descriptions I’ve read on what poetry is:

Poetry is language used with personal intensity. It is not, as so many suppose, decorative speech. Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us. Poets use words to drag us into the depths of reality itself. They do it not by reporting on how life is, but by pushing-pulling us into the middle of it. Poetry grabs for the jugular. Far from being cosmetic language, it is intestinal. It is root language.

I love his books on pastoring – Daryl and our church’s head of staff (who got to study with Peterson at Regent, the lucky guy!) and I are reading through Under the Unpredictable Plant together as part of our spiritual development – but his books for laypeople are fantastic as well.

I’m so thankful for those who pastor the pastors.

If you’re in ministry – who pastors you?

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