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.

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.