A Reflection on Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson.jpg

I love books.  Find your way to my office and you’ll find them lined against the back wall, overflowing from bookshelves, triple stacked in cabinets, and piled on the floor.  I enjoy learning from mistakes but I don’t have to be the one that makes them.  I’m happy to learn from the mistakes of others.  Stories of victories are helpful as well.

I’ve read 17 books written by Eugene Peterson.  I still remember the first one.  I picked up A Long Obedience in the Same Direction from a local bookstore.  I smirked at the clever phrase in the title and sensed that the bearded author could share a few stories and dose of wisdom.  Little did I know.

As I handle the book now, it is in remarkably good shape considering the number of times its been thumbed through.  It is covered in underlines and asterisks (my note taking cue for something important).  The margins are littered with my chicken scratch.

When I entered seminary, I learned that Peterson was not simply the translator of The Message and the author of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  Rather, he was a wellspring of knowledge and inspiration for those in pastoral ministry.  He was a veteran and skilled pastor, a scholar, and the author of a vast collection of books.  I began to work my way through his writings.  Each helpful.  Each beautiful.

His memoir, The Pastor, is in my Mount Rushmore of books.  It is battered and bruised.  I’ve read it at least once a year since its publication in 2011. Reversed Thunder is the greatest commentary on Revelation that I’ve ever read and unfortunately I’ve read many.  Run with the Horses, a commentary on Jeremiah, blessed my soul at a time when it was greatly needed.  A more recent book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, challenged me as a Bible reader and a Bible preacher.

Eugene Peterson died last week (October 22, 2018).  His death has impacted me more than I ever thought it would.  After all, he never knew me.  Then again, perhaps he did.  He knew the beauty and challenges of pastoral life.  His words often rub against my get-things-done-at-all-cost nature and push me towards contemplation.  He provided me with a full, rich understanding of pastoral ministry.  He gave depth, beauty, and honor to the title “pastor.”

Truth be told, I think of my death far more than I care to admit.  I’ve already picked out the songs that will be sung (all congregational) and the Scripture (a bunch of Colossians and some of John 14) that will be read.  Just a few weeks ago I jotted down notes on the key points I want the preacher to hit.  I wonder most about who will show up to pay respects.

The previous paragraph is likely a detailed look into my self-absorption and narcissism. Yet, I hope it is less that and more of a desire to be faithful to God.  If I’m faithful to God in my role of pastoral ministry, I’ll impact lives.  And people will show up to my funeral.

In the upcoming week Eugene Peterson will have a funeral service in his beloved Montana.  I will not make the trip.  Many others will. I’d like to attend but I’m “too busy” being a pastor.  For those that know the life and ministry of Eugene Peterson, you know how much he would despise the previous sentence.  I still have much to learn.

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