My Advance Copy of Peterson’s Memoirs Has Come In

No need to be impressed. I simply contacted the Publisher, happened to get the right person and they said they would be glad to send me an advance copy. A first born child might or might not have been promised.

It was delivered today.

Blogging could be light over the next week or so as I intend to write a review for this blog. It may in fact show up elsewhere. I hate book reviews. But I love books and I love to write about them. Maybe I can eek one out.

It is late Wednesday evening. As of right now, it is sitting about 8 feet from me. Painful as it is to wait, I will not begin till the morning. Sleep would be impossible if it was begun now. My biography of Garbo will have to tide me over till the morning.

10 Lessons Learned From Eugene Peterson This Year About Pastoral Work

eugene

(Update: For obvious reasons, this is a very popular post. So popular, I have become a Peterson reference for dozens and dozens of men, mostly pastors. Most want to know where to start with his works because they are exasperated with what they have been sold as pastoral work. I used to tell them to start with The Contemplative Pastor since it is the book in most direct opposition to everything other way of thinking about the pastorate that is popular today. It is a quiet manifesto of insurrection. But now it may be good to start with his memoir – The Pastor I still get emails thanking me for the review I posted on amazon. Usually, it’s because a pastor thought his was alone. Now he knows he is not.

A word to young pastors…Read Peterson now. Eventually you will most likely thirst for his sanity and long to get off the hamster-wheel. I know most of you will not do it, you are drunk on trends and excitement.)

I’ve been slowly reading through Eugene Peterson’s books this year. I’ve learned a lot about being a pastor that is in direct opposition to the way I naturally think…and most people think, I would hazard. The following are ten of those lessons.

1. Pastoral Work does not look “busy.”

2. The hard work of a pastor is done in the quiet of study and prayer.

3. Most pastors are pragmatists because they have never seen any other kind of pastoral work done.

4. You will never get the job of pastoral work down to a science.

5. Read novels as a part of your ministry.

6. How-to sermons are rarely – if ever –  helpful.

7. Don’t listen to the conventional wisdom.

8. It is so normal for bullies to fill our pulpits we can no longer recognize the problem.

9. Pastors should not seek to be part of the super-spiritual crowd but seek to be normal – only more so.

10. God and his work in Christ are our subject.

Thoughts At Christmas For the Rest of the Year: Part 2, "The Impossible"

Part 1, “The Waiting”

Stories have a way of telling us things we could not have heard any other way. Eugene Peterson calls it “telling it slant” (using Emily Dickinson’s words). We are not always happy to see things about ourselves when told outright. But stories reveal our heart’s motives – sometimes through the heroes and often times through the villainous. They show us the sins we hold dear. And stories can reveal the virtues we lack. Reading the story of Mary, the soon-to-be-mother of Jesus, did this to me.

I started running recently. A few months ago – all to lose weight and get in shape. When I started I was not happy to be doing so with the wrong gear. For one, my shoes are at least six years old, I bought them from the LL Bean “clearance store” back in 2004 and have been cutting grass in them for a number of years. Also, I really wanted one of those cool Under Armour shirts. In Blue. It felt impossible that I could get to my initial goal of losing twenty pounds and running 5K with such pitiful gear.

But I did.

Twenty-five pounds lost later and now able to run more than 5K and thinking about a half marathon this Spring, I now laugh at my thoughts of what was possible. I looked at my circumstances and my problems and thought, “impossible.”

Mary started out thinking the same thing. I mean, it was a good question, “I know you are saying all these great things about what my son will be and do, but there is one little problem… ummmm, how do I put this lightly? (Whispers) I’m a virgin. Sooooo, how could this be possible?” But God, not put off by such circumstances and problems answers through Gabriel, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

When you look at Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ real close, you start thinking God is doing some incredible stuff through what looks like an impossible situation. Through the scandal of a pregnant unmarried teenager, “all the nations will be blessed.” Through an event sure to draw judgment from gossipers “he provides mercy from generation to generation.” Through a backwoods town, Nazareth, “he shows strength with his arm.” Through the poverty of Galilean peasants “he scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” Through a baby “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones.” Through a child who depends on his mother’s milk “he has filled the hungry with good things.” Through a virgin he will make a baby and fulfill the promises he made to his people.

It’s pretty incredible. But we don’t really believe he can do this kind of thing. Most of the time. Most of the time we think everything must be just right in our lives and and in our churches. Belief is not enough to change us as individuals and the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments is not enough for our churches.

Our spiritual lives need super-spiritual crazy experiences and our churches need audio and visual excellence. We think we need lots of extra stuff, you know, to help out the Sovereign God of the Universe. Who created everything. Out of nothing. We think we need something else and we need to remove everything that looks like a problem – for God to work. We think we need the best preaching and the nicest worship space. We think we need new songs or old songs. And lots of resources.

God began the most significant act in history through what looked like an impossible situation and we think we need more gear.

We are not like Mary, at least the Mary after the Angel reminded her what God was capable of. Maybe we need a reminder. You know, God has been doing this for awhile. A huge family making up a nation from two really old lovebirds. Armies defeated by lamps and jars. Marching around a wall and taking out a city. Five smooth stones. More clay jars.

And it did not stop with Mary. The Disciples had to have thought, ‘impossible’ while Jesus’ limp and bloodied body hung with shame upon a Roman cross. The circumstances were bleak. The problem stood before them in painful stark relief. Their hopes – dashed against a rock that looked like a dead man’s skull. And yet through this, far more was accomplished than they could have ever imagined during the three years while they were dreaming of him vanquishing the foes of God’s people.

Through what looked impossible the One, Who, by the way, makes all things possible, did the unimaginable. He rescued not only those who had followed him. But all who had rebelled against him and looked to him for salvation. And even now those who look at their own black hearts and think ‘impossible’ can be rescued when they with Mary believe, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

One Year With C.S. Lewis As A Mentor

At the end of 2009 I found myself teetering on the brink of quitting the ministry. I am not sure I told anyone this at the time – not even my wife. The taste in my mouth had become bitter toward the ministry. Not the gospel, just vocational ministry. It felt like business. The mystic and prophetic elements that drew me in seemed all but missing. So I thought about quitting. Sitting in a pew sounded wonderful. It still does sometimes. I remember praying one night while walking around my neighborhood alone. The air was cool. Christmas lights were lit already. All I could really say was, “help.” This sounds more dramatic now than it was then.  Then it just sounded pretty pitiful. Thankfully, he provided that help.

I started reading Eugene Peterson’s books for pastors.  And they were refreshing. For the first time in months I could feel my heart warming to the idea of being in ministry again. So I decided to start reading through more of his books and so I gave myself a year of slowly reading through his writings. It has been very rewarding despite the fact that some people literally think he is going to hell for writing The Message. I wish I was young and brilliant again.

This brings us to 2011 and my decision to read through C.S. Lewis. While I am not new to Lewis like I was with Peterson, there is a good bit of his work I have not been exposed to. And there are a few books about him I want to read. I can only guess his sobriety and skill in writing will be helpful. Refreshing even.

My plan is for this to be a little more intensive. Not only do I plan to read about 30 or more books this year – either by Lewis or about him and his work – I also plan on blogging through them. As of now, I am thinking about starting a companion blog devoted specifically to this while linking to each post through this blog. If any readers would like to read through any of the books “with me” they will be able to do so.

(On a side note I plan on reading some classic Greek mythology, George McDonald and all the usual books I read in a given year. All in hopes they will add some interesting insights.)

I do have a request from my readers. Are there any books of Lewis you would recommend as must reads for me? Chances are I am already planning on reading it but I am sure I am missing something someone has read and found interesting. So please send me some recommendations and feedback on what you think about this project of mine. And if you have any ideas on how to make this project better, let me know.