Eugene Peterson has been one of my heroes for almost as long as I have been a pastor. I have twenty-four of his books sitting on my bookshelf. Peterson first started and then pastored Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland for twenty-nine years. After he resigned he went on to teach at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Regent College. He is now retired and lives on Flathead Lake in Montana in the family home that he helped his dad build in 1948.
I just finished reading Peterson's latest book, The Pastor: A Memoir. I love his writing for the following reasons: 1) he truly is a writer who takes language seriously and knows how to use words; 2) he is biblically and theologically rooted and almost never leaves you without a biblical story or text to ponder in anything he writes; 3) he is culturally astute and perceptive and is not afraid to point out where and how he believes the church has wandered from its moorings; and 4) he is well-read across numerous disciplines such as poetry, fiction, philosophy, language, theology, and biblical studies which means I always learn about a new author or book to read when I read Peterson.
Two lines from his memoir grabbed me when I read them over the weekend: "The life of faith cannot be lived in general or by abstractions. All the great realities that we can't touch or see take form on ground that we can touch and see." Earlier he defined that unseen and untouched realities as "God and souls - immense mysteries that no one has ever seen at any time."
Throughout his life and especially in The Pastor Peterson emphasizes and writes about "things local." The space and time in which God's salvation story is written into our stories. Thisness and hereness. Peterson defines the pastor as "the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to what is going on right now between men and women, with one another and with God - this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerfully without ceasing."
To be honest, I feel like I see dimly. Like I have missed out on so much as a pastor - as well as a human being - by being so caught up in trying to make things happen that I miss what is already happening right in front of my nose, orchestrated by God himself. Peterson sounds a call to all of us to slow down and be present to the present moment for that is the moment in which God is at work if he is, in fact, at work in any of our moments. Thisness and hereness.
What does this mean for me as a husband, a father, a friend, and a pastor? For me as I pray, journal, study Scripture, write my sermon, or lead an Elder meeting as well as shop for groceries, talk to my neighbor, run four miles, calculate college expenses for one of my daughters, or sit around a campfire with my friends?
Peterson always stops me in my tracks. Causes me to think and evaluate. And long for something better and more glorious than what I often settle for.