Everyday Poems #14, “Have You Ever Not Feared?”


I’ve got a sermon to work on so not much writing for today. But I do keep coming back to Wallace Stevens’ idea of the poet being “the priest of the unseen.” And I wonder if Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite writers, knew that quote and had it in mind when he asked, “Isn’t it interesting that all of the biblical prophets and psalmists were poets?”

If Stevens is right and Peterson is right, then maybe pastors and teachers within the church would do well to ignore the business leader manuals and marketing strategies – at least for a while – and listen to Hopkins and Dickinson, Berry and Radnoti.

Just a thought.

Have You Ever Not Feared?

Have you ever not feared?
To stand there in all that mercy,
if only for that split second
with nothing to fear, is heaven itself.

Why A Eugene Peterson Resources Page?

By the end of 2009 I was feeding off the writings of Eugene Peterson in an unprecedented way. The goal was not to advance in the Christian life. The goal was the salvation of my vocational soul and get as much sanity as I could. For years I had mined other pastors for their passion. But as 2009 was coming to a close, I looked out across the horizonless landscape of my own confusion and saw I needed to tap into wisdom. Soul-deep wisdom was the need. 

Even though I feared how my own theological tribe would view me, I started blogging about what I was learning, how I was feeling and my new ability to breath deeply. Ever since I have heard from others who have felt the same way about Peterson’s books for pastors as well as his other works. And almost every week since I’ve received at least one email, text message, etc. wanting me to recommend one of his books.

So, this page. A page to grow over time and expand as I read more and more. Hopefully it will become a little corner of sanity in an ecclesiastical world gone mad.

A brief word to young men… You could go ahead and read him now. Although you probably will not listen to him because you think you have it all together. Eventually you’ll grow to realize how much more you knew when you were young. Right now, you are where I once was, only wanting to read what was on the “Allowed Reading List.” May God give you the humility only experience could give me.

It is no secret that my series of blogposts on “The God of the Mundane”, which have turned into a book to be released later this year were inspired by all I was learning from Eugene Peterson. I makes no bones about it. His fingerprints are all over it. If anyone reads my work and thinks the words there sound like Peterson, I’ll be more than happy.

And not only as a pastor have I been helped. As a man, also, I’ve found solace. Since jumping into the deep end of Peterson’s works, I’ve been able to stop and think and take a much needed breath. I can stop, look up into the black canvas of night on which the stars sit so gladly and breath the night air contentedly. Every moment now rings with echoes of grace and mercy – the goodness of what God is doing around me…the reign of this resurrected King touching on all things.

So, the Eugene Peterson Resources Page.

I Really Should Apologize to My Old Professor, Jerram Barrs

(This is actually a repost from my old blog. Soon all these posts on Eugene Peterson will be all in one place.)

I took a class in Seminary class called “Pastoral Theology.” Actually I remember very little about it. A number of fellow students were into it. They loved the class. Me? Not so much. It was taught by Jerram Barrs and everyone sat in awe. I wanted REAL theology. This seemed sorta truncated and secondary. In that class he assigned a Eugene Peterson book.

I remember sitting outside of Edwards Hall on a bench facing in the direction of the bookstore and the upper parking lot. The library was on my left and I remember some traffic of students in front of me. It was after lunch and I was most likely waiting for a class to begin. This Peterson book was in my hands. I was reading it…kinda. Not really. My heart was not in it. The stories were compelling but I was not into it at all. It did not feel “Reformed” to me.

Stupid Feelings.

So here I am 8, 9 years later and I am wishing I had had a whole course simply mining that one book. Eugene Peterson is refreshing; a poet and a pastor…a pastor’s poet. A poet’s pastor. And Jerram Barrs is a genius for assigning the book. Although we should have been made to read the book. Eugene Peterson’s books for pastors are saving my vocational soul right now. I just wished they would have done so sooner.

Everything that young pastors are so geeked up about these days, Peterson was talking about 20 years ago.

Peterson was talking about God-centeredness before anyone.

Peterson was talking about ‘story’ before anyone.

Peterson was talking about the glory in the ordinariness of ministry before anyone.

Peterson was talking about the trend towards silliness in our spiritual lives before anyone.

Peterson was decrying the programmed nature of contemporary churches before anyone.

Peterson beat the drum of fighting against the commercialism of spirituality before anyone.

The whole time I am reading his books — my plan is to read through them all this year — I am laughing at how refreshingly original they were but no longer are. My wife is probably getting tired of me talking about them. I keep interrupting her own reading. You are probably wondering which book it is I should have read. He has at least 4 books for pastors. Actually it just doesn’t matter. You should read all of them. And I should apologize to Professor Barrs for not reading the book like I should have.

5 Quotes from "Living the Resurrection" by Eugene Peterson

I started reading Peterson’s Living the Resurrection this morning and will most likely finish this evening. So far, it’s great. Whenever I read Peterson, I get this electric current running through me. I can’t explain it – this tall cool drink of electric sanity. Here are 5 sections I’ve vigorously underlined and marked:

1. When talking about Billy Sunday’s revival messages which were, “…fall on your knees, and receive Christ as your Savior. Then walk out of this tent into the street, get hit by a Mack truck, and go straight to heaven.”

“…it’s a wonderful formula for getting to heaven the quickest and easiest way. And virtually foolproof. There is no time to backslide, no temptations to bother with, no doubts to wrestle with, no spouse to have to honor, no kids to put up with, no enemies to love, no more sorrow, no more tears. Instant eternity.

Billy Sunday is an extreme case of what is more or less typical of the North American approach to the matters” Get it right, but then get it done as quickly as possible. Define your goal and go for it, devising the most economical and efficient means. As a culture we are great at beginnings. We set magnificent goals. But in the in-between, we don’t have much to write home about. when things get bad enough, we just make a new beginning, which we are very good at doing. Or we set a new goal or “vision” or “mission statement,” as we call it, which temporarily distracts us from what is going on right around us.” (10,11)

2. On the patience needed for “Spiritual Formation”:

“Spiritual formation is not something we master. It’s not something over which we have much, if any, control.”

3. On our need to make big pronouncements and announcements and the resurrection’s lack thereof:

“Given our accustomed ways of surrounding the important events with attention-getting publicity and given the importance of this event that’s a big surprise. Bright lights and amplification are not accessories to spiritual formation.”

4. On the need for wonder in spiritual formation:

“Without wonder, we approach spiritual formation as a self-help project. We employ techniques. we analyze gifts and potentialities. We set goals. We assess progress. Spiritual formation is reduced to cosmetics.”

5. The difficulty of it all:

“It is uncommonly difficult to stay centered and absorbed on our primary life-affirming, life witnessing work. We continue to perform the vast array of activities in work and conversation that I’ve listed, and more than that. but we are also under the continual threat of death, of becoming disconnected from life and people and god and just going through the biological motions – mouthing clichés and not participating in life itself.

This distraction and diversion is what makes for a crisis in Christian identity – a crisis current among us. Our basic connection to life is severed, and we begin borrwoing our identities from therapists and entertainers, CEO’s and politicians, pastors and teachers, men and women who appear to be on the frontlines and making a difference in the world.” 

Louis Armstrong, Miss Marple and Jesus: What Does A Peaceful Soul Look Like?

                                                                 Christ in the Storm – Rembrandt

(This is part four of a series of posts: one, two, three.)

When my children ask me what something is, a textbook definition will not do. It may take them deep into the meaning of a word or action, but they will not understand. Before the definition is meaningful, they need a picture or a story. So, like a child, before I even try to define ‘peace’ I wanna get at what it looks like first. In other words, I need a picture.

I want a peaceful soul. But I cannot seem to get there. Today I railed at my kids. Granted, I’m getting over a cold, I slept little and they had pushed that button approximately 4372 times too many. But it showed what I lacked – a soul at peace.

I am not entirely sure I know what it would look like. Or even sound like. Maybe a cross between my father and Eugene Peterson with a little Miss Marple thrown in? Maybe its the color of the sea and hues of an early spring day. Maybe it sounds like late-night Louis Armstrong. In mono.

But mostly Jesus.

All these stories I’ve grown up with and know by heart and never have noticed how at peace Jesus is throughout. He is at peace in the midst of a storm, enough to sleep. He is at peace with God, his Father, doing his will. He is at peace with his enemies even. I mean, the peace which he exudes during the Last Supper – I would have railed at Judas. And everyone else because of what is coming. The pressure would have been too much. I would have cried out in anger against the very nails whose stuff I dreamt up in the dark recesses before time was. And yet Jesus without being an emotionless stoic, is at peace while the created order conspires against him, the Creator.

Also, I never noticed how at peace he is with himself. Maybe because I never thought about such a thing. I think about myself a lot. Too much. But Jesus is at peace with himself. He is certain, fixed like a flint on his mission –  his way of doing things. I question every move I make. Sometimes for years on end. Arguing with myself – justifying myself even as I accuse myself.

You do it too.

I never noticed how much Jesus talked about peace. I never even once noticed. It’s thematic. And not just in the red letters. Throughout the NT, the Spirit of Christ through the writers seem to have ‘peace’ always at the ready as a subject. Of the NT literature only 1 John has no mention of peace. This tells me something – it is not silly to want a peaceful soul. If the soul is so serious a thing as to be told I should not want to trade the world for it and peace is thematic for the Christian life…then I just may be onto something.

Maybe this is not a divergence but an insurgence into the very heart of God, himself. Maybe this is what we were meant to pursue. And perhaps the strangeness of it is calling us to see how we have not cared for such a thing as we ought.

Why Are Catholics Great Writers and Baptists Are Not?

For a while now I’ve been toying with a question. Maybe a year or so at the most. I’ve had an answer in mind but I still keep asking the question anyway.

Why is it that Catholics are the best writers? And some of my favorites?

Flannery O’Connor. J.R.R. Tolkein. Thomas Merton. Dorothy Sayers. G.K. Chesterton.

And what about those who are far more similar to them than the people I’ve surrounded myself with? You know like the Anglicans.

Shakepseare. C.S. Lewis. Jane Austen.

And one of my favorites these days is Eugene Peterson, who has learned a great deal from those of Rome. Heck, I would have never picked up Merton if not for him.

My first and simplest answer is that they have a sacramental (read: sacred) view of words. Words are precious and full of beauty. They stand by themselves full of value, devoid of their use. But this is not how we evangelicals primarily think of words. We only use them – whoring them out. They have a function. Like machines. Maybe this is why I can think no writer, who is Baptist – outside of Bunyan – who is lauded as a ‘great writer’ by those outside of the evangelical subculture.

What do you think? Can you think of great writers who are Baptists? Who am I missing?

What have you read that could help me think about this some more?

Is it relevant that all of them are Paedobaptists?

Some Thoughts on Tim Keller’s ‘King’s Cross’

King’s Cross by Tim Keller is fantastic. I’ve been reading it devotionally since I bought it a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard. I want to keep on reading.

But it works so well devotionally, I’ll keep trying. What I mean is, I keep thinking about it throughout the day. Not that this should be the litmus test for devotional literature. That’s silly. But there is simply enough for me to think on within each section. Sometimes I read a section twice.

So here are some thoughts after reading about 60 pages…

1. More and more I’m attracted to writers who write like a poet. Their words move. There is life in the way the words are situated, not just used. Most Christian writers only whore out words. They do not love them. They use them. Tim Keller is not so much a poet. But he doesn’t merely use words. He writes clearly. Not many people can do this and still be interesting.

2. Familiarity breeds contempt. But contempt does not always out itself. Sometimes it is there but you cannot see it. I was not excited about a book going through Mark. I’ve taught and read it so much. We should fight against this familiarity while still being glad we have 4 gospels and many places to go when we need to hear from God.

3. I started reading this book at the very beginning of the Rob Bell drama. To read about the life of Jesus as he deals with Pharisees is helpful. That’s all I should say at this point. Except I think Peterson may be right.

4. Keller quotes George MacDonald, “…those who believe more must not be hard on those who believe less.” Then Keller answers why. “Because faith is ultimately not a virtue; it’s a gift.” There is a grand canyon between those two ways of looking at faith. And we are watching that gulf grow at rapid pace. Why? We love to be hard on people.

5. Different groups tend to try and co-opt Jesus. This will not do. He stands athwart the designs of those would ask him to identify with their group and he says, “You must identify with me.”

Random Thoughts

1. My son displays some serious action moves while playing Lego Star Wars.

2. Removing the word ‘Dude’ from my vocabulary has been hard. Hard but necessary.

3. I would like to coin a new gospel-hyphenated term – Gospel-breakfast-meat. Feel free to use it often.

4. Even if I celebrated Lent, I wouldn’t tell you.

5. Piling on.

6. Saw the King’s Speech. It hit a little close to home.

7. Yes, if it turns out that Rob Bell’s new book trumpets Universalism, I will be disappointed that Eugene Peterson endorsed it.

8. The reading of this blog is completely voluntary and never compulsory. You will feel compelled by the wonder herein, but you do have a choice…though it will not feel like it.

9. Started reading Keller’s King’s Cross. And I realized something. Some books are so great, you have to keep reading or you cannot function. Some you have to stop after every few pages. This one is more like the latter. I planned to start and finish it on Saturday but now I plan to use it devotionally.

10. I wonder if anyone ever said to David, “Hey dude, your Psalms are sounding a little cynical as of late.”

A Non-Review of Eugene Peterson’s Memoir, The Pastor

…I want to insist that there is no blueprint on file for becoming a pastor. In becoming one, I have found that it is a most context-specific way of life:the pastor’s emotional life, family life, experience in the faith, and aptitudes worked out in an actual congregation in the neighborhood in which she or he lives – these people just as they are, in this place. No copying. No trying to be successful. The ways in which the vocation of pastor is conceived, develops and comes to birth is unique to each pastor. – Peterson

Hand-cuffed. I don’t even know how to write a review of this book. A review is what you write when it isn’t personal. A review is what you do for books. The Pastor is far more than a book. You need to understand that Eugene Peterson saved my vocational soul just over a year ago. And since that time I have been pointing people – especially pastors – to his books. Especially young pastors. So how about a non-review?

Maybe the evangelical world has been a circus for a long time. But I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice all the center rings, high-trapeze acts and dancing bears. And the unspeakable horror of then realizing you not only paid for a ticket but got paid to take part. You walk out of the arena with sticky soles under you, past the sideshows and into clean air but you have no idea if you should go back in. Who will help you now? Is the insanity the only choice? Is there a voice of sanity in this wilderness?

I remember lying in my bed. The weight of being a pastor was on me and I wanted it off. I knew I needed some help. Maybe circus is the wrong way to describe what is happening in America. For I was surrounded…hemmed in by managers and CEOs, shopkeepers and PR men and women. Marketing analysts and door-to-door salesman of religious goods were everywhere. But I needed a pastor. Lying there, I would’ve said, “I need a wise old sage.” The need was for sanity…Spirit-given sobriety in a religious subculture drunk on the cause célèbre. I needed gray hairs, wrinkles and the experience of someone outside the world I had found myself in. The need was not for all the right answers but good questions. I needed the wisdom of ‘a long obedience in the same direction.’

And then, like gifts, memories. Memories of a professor assigning one of Peterson’s books for pastors – which I never really ‘read.’ A friend – a fellow pastor – recommending another. And a frozen scene of someone else reading one, the title of which burned in my memory.

So I began reading his books, swallowing them whole sometimes and sipping from them at others. For all of last year. Each was a well-written refuge from the chaos. Every thesis leaving its mark.

Again, sanity.

So when I found out he was releasing his memoirs, I was elated. Do you remember when you were a kid and you kept going back to the same page in the toy section of the Sears Wish Book over and over, reading the description, looking at that toy, the one you wanted more than any other. That is how it was with the description page for The Pastor. And then I got my copy from the publisher. It was late in the afternoon. Too late to start, I waited till the morning. A few days later I was finished. My wife asked me if I was sad. “No, I will begin again tomorrow morning.”

Reading a memoir of Eugene Peterson is as reading in another world. A world bereft of ‘how’ but full to bursting of ‘what.’ A world without pretension, devoid of formulas. A tome of sober reflection. No romantic vistas of pastoral success. No cheerleading.

Peterson’s vision of the pastorate, as dictated by the scriptures, stands athwart the ideal American pastor. Patience over results. The ordinary over the celebrated. People over programs. Dignity over function. Leisurely spiritual direction over ministerial busyness. Prayer over a PR campaign. The even-keeled over the events. It really would be impossible to document how differently he thinks than the current zeitgeist on the definition of pastoral integrity.

Almost everyone knows him as the author of The Message. For this he is loved and hated. But Peterson was a church-planter before it was cool to be so. He was thinking and living through methodology and theology and those inevitable emotionally lean years long before most of today’s church planters were born. He was thinking about the dangers of a consumer driven religious atmosphere raising the banner of relevance before we had a category for such.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a cheerful book. It’s just not full of the saccharine sentimentality or the gritty (edgy?) cynicism we have come to expect from so many famous ministry leaders. Smiles stretch across the pages. Contented belief pervades every chapter. Bound together by the common thread of the work of Christ for sinners – the message once delivered for all the saints sits fixed like an anchor between the covers.

Chronology holds no sway over Peterson’s account of his life as a pastor. Poetry does. He moves like a poet through his experiences and insights. His love of words and their sanctity – not just utility – is witnessed in how every word counts. He has no interest in just relating stories for us to learn from. He, as the Pastor, is glorying in them as memories enlivened through words.

But there is a lot to learn.

I Just finished Peterson’s Memoirs

I just finished Eugene Peterson’s memoirs which will be available next Tuesday. A review is coming…actually I hope to write a non-review review. I hate book reviews. Suffice it so say, for now, I loved every page. It was far better than I even could have imagined. Actually a lot of people will hate it. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing. And not doing.

It’s sad really. The young pastors in my world should be made to read it. But they won’t. They will read ‘how-to’ books and learn better how to sell Jesus. And update him. Make him cool. Palatable. Cool for a culture tyrannized by as much.

The non-review is coming next Tuesday. I’m about to read it again.